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Dear visitor (if there is any) please note the following: The blog "Broken Radius" is hosted at Google Blogger's server. I can therefore not guarantee that your visit to the blog or any comment you write wont be recorded by the NSA. If you have any worries about this, you can visit instead my alternative blog Letters-to-a-Persian-Cat. This one is hosted at a European server which hopefully acknowledges visitors privacy.

21.9.17

Hardcover vs. E-Book

My sister works in a big public library in Berlin, and she gave me access to her E-book flat rate account. She herself is not using it at all, because of emotional reasons. It happend already several times that I call her to express my gratitude to her, when I enjoyed a new Gary Shteyngart novel, an old Philip Roth novel or another collection of short stories by Amoz Oz. But she interrupts me, and through the telefon I can almost feel her aversion for e-books. She is a romantic, for her reading is synonymous with feeling the weight of a hardcover book in your hands, changing pages by physically picking the paper between your fingertips, and using artisan bookmarks.
I fully understand this nostalgia, since without all this we would have perhaps never went beyond the stage of cuniform inscriptions on clay or hieroglyphs on Egyptian papyrus. And of course I will always advocate that books of high literary quality should be printed in equally high quality books. But for daily use, E-books have certain advantages, but also disadvantages. 


Advantages:
- smaller size and weight for a larger book collection
- adjustable font size, if you have problems reading small letters or forgot your glasses (important if you are not a teenager any more)
- Easily copy and past text, if you want to comment in a blog, or send passages to a friend or a critic
- Sand on the beach wont get stuck between the pages, but might leave scratches on the screen
- No danger that the wind will blow through your pages
Disadvantages:
- if the battery goes down, you are left alone
- at intense sun light, the screen contrast is extremely poor



Several times in our vacations on the Black Sea coast, I therefore switched back to an old-fashioned hard-cover book. It also has its advantages in certain situations:

 
Advantages:
- Excellent contrast even in the strongest sun light
- People around take you as a very intelligent person (in particular if you read a 1600 pages novel by Thomas Pynchon)
-  Sand wont cause permanent damage to it, but can temporarily get stucked between the pages
-  Operates with renewable energy (sun light)
Disadvantages:
- Reading in dark environment requires an extra light source
- Strong wind will turn over pages unwantedly or even tear pages
- with bad vision, one needs spectacles



12.9.17

Hidden Power

Well, other nations are involved in endless arguments about who deserves most credits for discovering the magic power of electricity. The ancient Greeks claim to have given it the name Electron, after they have noted that after rubbing amber with a piece of silk fabric the former will attracted tiny pieces of fiber (electrostatic force of differently charged bodies). Italians, however are convinced that Alessanro Volta and Galvani earn the greatest honors, since they firstly described electro-chemical potential and electro-conductivity by metals. Serbia, Croatia, Austria and Czech are still on a debate about which nationality the great magician Nicola Tesla, inventor of alternating current and of the principle of high voltage generation by electromagnetic transformers, belonged to. And of course the usual suspects England, Germany and the Netherlands earn the merits that great physicists from their countries, namely J.C. Maxwell, G. Kirchhoff and H.A.Lorentz, who formulated the electrodynamic and electromagnetic theories.
Bulgaria entered the row of great discoveries in the field only recently, when a poor tomato farmer found out that by the help of some scotch tape and iron wire from his goat fence he can make the electric power meter in his house runs slower or even stop altogether, while the entire household including his old fashioned Rakia distillery and a self designed electric red pepper roaster consumed almost unlimited kWh of energy. His patent application for this "custom designed electric perpetuum immobile" was not granted, but forwarded to the Bulgarian authorities for fraud prevention.
 But beside of such rather questionable contributions to the progress of finding cheaper and environmentally friendly forms of energy, Bulgarian artists with their great sense of style, humor and beauty started some years ago an initiative to give the electric switch boards along the streets of the capital Sofia a new, eye catching design with added value for the community. Every year I visit the city and I am amazed by their latest electric artworks.






7.9.17

Failures of the big promise: Matchmaking Algorithms

In our modern times, the biggest hope for people desperately looking for ideal partnerships are the notorious online dating and matchmaking sites. They promise to filter out Mr. or Mrs. Right from a dozen of million candidates, whom one would have otherwise never the chance to meet or to give them a trial. Even for the minimal version of real life check, the notorious One Night Stand, people on the search would had to spend decades of their life to test just a few thousands of potential partners, and already after the first few mornings-after would  probably ruined their emotional integrity completely. And this is where the online matchmakers (like Parship, GMatch, Tinder etc) discovered their market: to promise everyone desparately hunting for an ideal partner the power of computer algorithms, big data and anonymous candidate lists, which ulimately will do the job better, safer, easier and more efficient. A recent study by Samantha Joel and colleagues from three US universities, however, raises serious doubts on this promise. They show that mutial attraction between girls and boys (student volunteers) during a recorded random dating survey had next to nothing to do with a wishlist of personal characteristics that the participants had to fill in in advance. It appears that throwing dices to pick a candidate date partner is not less succesful than having powerful computer programs doing the job.

In two of their speed-dating studies, romantically unattached individuals completed more than 100 self-report measures about traits and preferences that past researchers have identified as being relevant to mate selection. Each participant met each opposite-sex participant attending a speed-dating event for a 4-min speed date. Random forests models predicted 4% to 18% of actor variance and 7% to 27% of partner variance; crucially, however, they were unable to predict relationship variance using any combination of traits and preferences reported before the dates. These results suggest that compatibility elements of human mating are challenging to predict before two people meet.

It also raises the question if we really know what is good for us, or if we simply repeat stereotypes which the public and social media always show us. Do we know, what we want ? Do we know, what we need ? Do we know, what we know ? And if have already doubts about what is really good for us, and who is really good for us, how than should a simple computer algorithm know ?

What could remaine a funny trial and error experience for young people, however, remains to often the last hope even for candidates in their second half of life. It is disappointing to see people who should be life-experienced enough putting all their hope of finding a good partner in the hand of online algorithms.