Tuesday, December 30, 2014

YouTube: the 1% sweet spot in ratings



Many reasons may lead you to watch a video on YouTube. Maybe you're a frequent YouTube user like I am and you're subscribed to 200 channels. Or maybe you're arguing with someone who told you to watch that one ultimate video that supposedly puts the debate to rest with rock-solid arguments.

YouTube lets viewers rate the video by giving it a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". From my observation, and it's just a hint of the video's quality you can expect based on the ratings, the sweet spot of a really good video is: 1% downvotes against 99% upvotes.

There are exceptions of course, and there are social dynamics that may affect the rating of a video. Imagine for instance that an interest group, an online community, decides to "raid" the video of an opposing group! The rating will go down, down, down. But this kind of raid generally has effects limited in time. So over the years, more viewers are likely to come by and vote sincerely, without the bias of the raid, and balance the ratings, thereby reducing the bias caused by the raid. But raids are not entirely negative ; though YouTube viewers may be somewhat representative of society at large (but a bit more progressive in average), the "active" viewers likely to take part in such raids may be more learned than the average. Which is why YouTube ratings are generally favorable to progressive scientific ideas and unfavorable to bigoted ones.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Xmas




No real article. Just a topical image and a wish of happy end of year to you, dear visitor.

Monday, December 8, 2014

To be in love, and to love



This is inspired by a conversation I had a few months back with a couple of friends. The question was: "what's to love? and what's to be in love?".

Obviously, the question is about what it's like to have a love relationship with someone, at the beginning of the relationship and late into the relationship. Drawing upon my personal experience, I have proposed that being in love (early relationship) is selfish and narcissistic. You are attracted to the other person for a combination of reasons: beauty, intelligence, tenderness, humor, admiration, but it boils down to winning this person over, to owning her or her assent in some way, so it's pretty much about ourselves, seeking validation, fulfilling our desires or urges, and comforting ourselves with regards to our power of seduction which has somewhat become a social pressure.

Loving, on the other hand, after a relationship has matured enough, is (in my fallible opinion) about looking out for the other person's satisfaction, needs, and comfort. The self quiets down and becomes more of a vigilant caretaker. We still need regular tokens of validation from our partner, but feeling more secure than when we're single. As we get to know each other better, we can anticipate more or empathize more with the other person.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time magazine: a magazine of cowards




Almost a year ago, I wrote an article which I entitled Time magazine: a magazine of traitors, as they suppressed Edward Snowden's unquestionable role as man of the year 2013. They instead nominated Pope Francis, and when people look back on Time magazine's persons of the year in a decade, they very well may have no idea of what really went on in 2013.

This year, it's not about the person of the year. Since 2011, Time magazine has been inviting the public to vote for the words that should be banned in the year to come. The list this year included the word "feminist". According to the person (a woman, btw!) who crafted the list, people at Time magazine are kind of bored with every celebrity having to declare publicly that they are a feminist. Hence the presence of the word "feminist" in the list of candidates for words to be banned next year.

Since I've been paying real attention to feminism, and that would be the last 2 years, I've seen that the current feminist movement is not anymore about equality. The feminist movement has always been diverse. It has always counted in its ranks men and women whose views differed on some issues. For instance, the 2nd wave of feminism brought the whole movement to a stop as a result of the divide between sex-positive feminists (pro-porn, pro-prostitution) and the sex-negative feminists (anti-porn, anti-prostitution). There are other divides. Today the feminist movement is, as far as I can tell, in majority led by "radical feminists", whose analyses and interpretation of society is what we call "feminist theory", being taught in "gender studies" or "feminist studies". This kind of academia is rooted in postmodernism, which I'd personally call voodoo. The defense of equality has vanished and today's 3rd wave feminist movement is about playing the victim card, which works wonders in the media, and pretending that men are all stupid, incapable of empathy, potential rapists, mansplainers, rape apologists and whatnot. To make a long story short, today's feminism is about claiming that anyone who disagrees with you should not even be given a chance to explain themselves in the media because giving them this opportunity would be a denial of your very own very precious very true side of the story. And with the exception of a few wonderful outlets like The David Pakman Show, who covered pretty well the GamerGate scandal, the media has been taken for a ride by feminists.

So, Time magazine launched its poll to know what word should be banned. AVFM (A Voice For Men, a Men's Rights Movement association) has encouraged its listeners to vote and ban the word "feminist". Then 4chan did the same. And after a few days, the results were crystal clear. "Feminist" was ranked #1 on the list of words to be banned, with 45% of the votes. Word #2 garnered 14% of the votes, while all the rest got between 1% and 4%. So there was no debate. The "winner" was a no-brainer. And that's when Time magazine caved to the feminist associations who petitioned it to remove the word "feminist" from the poll. And that is exactly what Time did. Those cowards! Those spineless journalists! There is a real debate to be had in society about feminism and not surrendering to the surreal interpretations that radical feminists (leaders of the movement) give about reality. There is a real debate to be had about what inequalities women still endure, but also which ones men do endure as well. After all, the life expectancy of men is years shorter than that of women. Men are depicted as clueless in advertisement. Men are denied access to free breast cancer screenings, even though men also fall victim to this disease. Men undergo stressful jobs. They're still expected to be the breadwinners. Yet they achieve less academic success than women. They're still expected to be the one who makes the first step in a relationship. They're the ones who predominantly put their lives at risk in military duty. They're more often the target of violence. Their livelihood is threatened by the payment of alimony in case of divorce with women predominantly obtaining care of the children. And in the USA, taking into account the imprisoned population, rape on a man is more frequent than rape on a woman.

There is a valid conversation to be had, a valid debate to be taking place, about genders and about how the feminist movement is not anymore about feminism, if you consider feminism to be the promotion of equality. Time magazine doesn't like pressure. Time magazine doesn't like debates. Time magazine cowered and it decided to pull the word "feminist" from the list of words to ban. Shame on you, Time magazine! How long ago did you ban the word "journalism"?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Viral marketing trolling the public




If you use social networks, you're constantly exposed to buzz and viral videos. Here's a recent video that went viral. If you haven't been exposed to it yet, have a look before reading further!




Done watching? OK, so let's recap what we saw in this video! This lady is presented as a professional of marketing who worked for the food industry. In her presentation, she explains 3 "tools" used by marketers to deceive the public :
  • putting nice-looking stickers on egg boxes rather than photos of factory farms
  • diverting the attention of the public towards discussions other than the living conditions of farm animals
  • last but not least: the public's willingness to turn a blind eye and be taken in

And the video concludes on how we should treat animals better and recommends a charity that focuses on this subject.


So... did you see the trick?


...before I discuss the trick, honesty requires to acknowledge that the content of the presentation is accurate. Of course it is the job of marketers to deceive the public in order to make the public buy stuff.  That's the very definition of their job. And of course, animals living conditions are a concern for which we should make sure that animals are treated well. By the way, on this subject the USA seems to have a problem, as some states are passing laws that criminalize the documentation of animal abuse in farms, following a handful of scandals. It would have been preferable that they criminalize abusive treatment of animals.

Now back to the trick of the video: The lady giving a presentation is not who she is portrayed to be. She's not a marketer from the food industry. She's an actress, named Kate Miles. And while the video is a criticism of marketing, this video itself is marketing. It is an advertising campaign for the aforementioned charity. And it uses 2 other tools of marketing: emotion and stealth. Emotion because it is a very efficient way to pull people to your side and short-circuit rational arguments. And stealth because the video format looks like a lecture when in reality it is advertisement.


Conclusion

When you see something surprising or shocking on the internet, you should be skeptical and question the reality of what's presented to you.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Don't say people are scared to believe the things you do



I love debates. I just love them. Debates pit 2 world views against each other and no matter whether you're a debater or a viewer: you'll get to contemplate arguments in favor of a thesis that you don't support. Exposing yourself to such contradictory arguments is a path to uncovering more truth.

But there's a lot of bad arguments and shameful tactics. One of them is the "Scared Argument". It is a form of "ad hominem" attack where one of the debaters claims that the other one does not share his view because he is scared.

People who believe in UFOs, astrology, homeopathy and all sorts of crazy things claim that people are scared to admit the reality of such things. Religious people say that atheists are scared of letting go of whatever. And I've also seen the reverse: atheists claiming that religious people are scared of letting go of their religion.

In some cases, it might actually be true that the other person is scared. But this is never an argument that alone keeps a person from changing her opinion. People stick to their opinion because they're dishonest. Or because they're too uneducated to be able to assess 2 propositions and judge adequately of which one has more merits.

But claiming that a person sticks to an opinion because she's scared is not a good argument. It is a lame argument. It is an ad hominem. So if you ever hear someone using this argument, whether in favor of your opinion or against your opinion, ask them to not use this tactic and stick to more rational arguments!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The story of W (short novel)




A young person came to me today and wanted me to recount events of my past. I asked the youth if it was OK that my tale was a bit lengthy, a bit vague or boring at times, maybe even contradictory as my age and reckless events may have confused my memory. The young person didn't care for these minor errors of my tale so we sat together on a couch and I started from the beginning.

I was born in the Middle-East 5500 years ago in a booming city named Uruk, with a flourishing economy. In today's words, you would call that place a trading hub, and according to today's maps, the place would be located in the South of Iraq, though it was known by a different name then. My parents were traders of cereals and cattle I think, but through the mist of time I have few memories left about them. They gave me the name "One" because it was simple, and my name was imprinted in a small fragment of clay that I would wear around my neck. I would have liked it to be attached with a stripe of leather but these were the days, and a string woven from straw would have to do.

As a boy, I learned additions and substractions and I learned to keep count of who owed what to whom and in which quantity. Such was the family trade and I excelled at it. A boy's life back in the day was not like a boy's life today. There was no school and you didn't start looking for a job at 18 years old. You would learn everything from your family and you were part of the family's economic activity as early as 5 years old. Of course, you would still play around the house with the children of the neighborhood, and you would play tricks on people and receive a beating every now and then. But you had to take care of the family business. By age 12, you were an adult and you would be married to someone you might or might not know, based on economic interests. It sure sounds shocking today because there is now so much wealth that people have the luxury to choose any spouse and that this choice will have little to no influence on their parents odds of survival beyond the age of 30. But you should dismiss your shock at the idea of organized marriages: different era, different rules.

A few years into my adulthood, I met foreigners through my trade. They told stories of landscapes I could not imagine. Their stories got to me so someday I left to see their land. How could I think of what a desert is, when I hadn't seen one? How could I envision the sea? I turned my back on my city and accompanied the foreigners' caravan towards Egypt. Enriched by my encounters with people with different lives, different desires, different knowledge, different beliefs and different resources, I grew. I learned to use the papyrus, which Egyptians used to record their deals. This country already had its traders and I felt I could make myself useful as a caretaker on some construction project. It is a little like trading. You keep track of incoming and outgoing resources, but you need additional knowledge to anticipate sequences of events. One task leading to another, I found myself organizing logistics for the great pyramid.

However ambitious the project of the pyramid, it took too long and I grew bored. I was already old by human standards but I was young compared to my current age and I was relentless. And I was nostalgic of Uruk where things must have changed greatly over the years. So I returned to the city of my birth and I met the great king Gilgamesh, who hired me as a scribe. It took a while to record the tale of his fantastic journey, his encounters with gods and monsters, his struggles and his triumphs. This man, or this god, I am not sure... his life must have been even more exciting than my own, but in a jealous way, I was pleased that this king would not have been able to record his story if not for a modest scribe like me. He was glorious, adventurous, courageous, charismatic, inspiring... and yet his obsession with death revealed a fundamental weakness of the man. The object of his obsession had the last word. I stayed for a while and met another great king: Hammurabbi. This king had the idea of creating clear limits to what people are allowed or not allowed to do, and he codified how people can interact with each other. Because so far, not killing your neighbor had merely been a form of respect... while killing your neighbors was probably OK-ish though it carried the risk that some relative would find out and get in touch to make you pay the price of blood. Suddenly, thanks to Hammurabbi, everybody had responsibilities and duties.

I left Uruk again. This marked the beginning of a period of my life I call "the time of voyages". Word of mouth got me to visit new places, meet new people, discover new civilizations. I must have been 2000 years old already and my best years were still ahead of me. I passed through China and wise men taught me the art of calligraphy. Travelling on the wind, I reached Mexico where I was a stone carver for a while. I pushed my travels further and found some peace of mind in Greece. A few smart guys were really fun to hang out with like that musician named Pythagoras. He actually invented music theory. But he had a big mouth and some unhappy guy someday simply set a lynch mob to burn and pillage Pythagoras' school of philosophy. So my friend died but his work remained and later inspired one of the most inspiring stories ever written and which made timeless comments still valid to this day: Plato's The Republic. That period is often known as the empire of Alexander the Great. But at the same place and at the same time lived the most powerful man that ever lived: Diogenes of Sinope. He was a beggar but he had everything he wanted. His secret? having modest desires so they could be fulfilled. And he could afford to talk down to Alexander the great.

After that, I traveled probably everywhere in the world and met almost everyone. I applied myself to the study of all subjects. And I intend to continue doing so forever.

Yesterday, I met a person whose old age was hinted at by the leathery look of his skin. The wrinkles he bore told me he must have traveled through events even I could hardly imagine. I was curious of his story. I wanted his words to assemble together like paves are assembled to build a road that would take me to a place of wonder. He warned me that the tale would be a bit lengthy, a bit vague or boring at times, maybe even contradictory as his age and reckless events may have confused his memory. I was OK to go through that so we walked to a couch and he started from the beginning.

His story was a lie. As is my story. As will your story be, when you tell it. But it doesn't matter, as long as you make it interesting.


Side notes:

I wrote this short novel a few months ago. I was kind of bored and decided to be curious of something that I hardly ever did, hardly ever thought about. And I found "creative writing". So I watched a couple YouTube videos on the subject, read some Wikipedia articles... the usual stuff.

The first few creative ideas come easily but developing a long enough plot is demanding and it requires to do some research on subjects that you want to mention and yet don't know much about.

There are definite flaws in this short novel, but re-reading it after a few months, I find it not too bad. I hope you do too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The hard words of philosophy





Philosophy is a vast domain. If you consider that philosophy is essentially the art or science of thinking correctly, there's a lot on philosophy's plate.

Thinking correctly is not easy but if you know a few good tools like logic, you're more assured to reach valid conclusions.

One difficulty, though, remains and seems intimidating to me: words. When you listen to talks about philosophy, you encounter some words that you hardly ever meet anywhere else. I think it's useful to list a few of these words and their definitions in order to help people who have a curiosity about philosophy but might be intimidated.


Deconstruction: is a fancy word which means "analysis". As in "serious" analysis. It doesn't matter if you think of analyzing ideas through thought experiments or analyzing things through scientific/engineering means ; deconstruction is just a fancy word meaning analysis.

Dialectic: is the art of resolving an argument through discussion by considering consecutively the various conflicting opinions. To put it in simple terms, dialectic is the honest consideration of all points of view.

Empiricism: is the reliance on observation as a source of knowledge. Weak empiricism could consist in mere inductions/inferences from observations and is highly subject to cognitive biases. Strong empiricism, like that of Karl Popper, will insist on concise enunciation of refutable assertions which are then put to the test.

Epistemology: is the branch of philosophy concerned with finding out what's really true. It is sometimes called the "science of sciences" because it deals with finding out how we know what we know. Epistemology tasks itself with making the difference between knowledge and belief. So in a sense all sciences, because they care about making demonstrations, have an epistemological aspect.

Nihilism: is the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life. In particular, nihilism can be opposed to epistemological or ontological arguments and nihilism can be applied to morality, positing that morality does not exist in itself but that it is merely a set of conventions. Though the term is often used pejoratively, nihilism is legitimate as a sort of anti-ontology or anti-epistemology with regards to things that actually do not exist.

Ontology: is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being and existence. For subjects where epistemology is not applicable or not relevant, ontology takes over. It is often invoked in a fallacious way in discussions about the existence of gods (of which existence is pretended to be beyond scientific inquiry), but it is relevant in the exploration of the existence of ideas in language and in thought. Ontology also holds a role in the field of psychology since technological methods, even fMRI, do not yet allow an epistemological approach of a patient's psychology.

Skepticism: is the attitude of questioning the reality of things and ideas. It is easily associated to epistemology but when pushed to the extreme, skepticism may lead to questioning everything about everything and lead to extreme aspects of solipsism or nihilism.

Solipsism: is the notion that we can't be totally sure of the existence of anything outside our own mind. Our mind's existence has to be taken for granted because we think and because it is inseparable from the idea of self. But we can't be sure of the reality of anything outside of our mind. Solipsism can be considered at various degrees, but beyond its role as a thought experiment, it is not productive.

Teleology: is the examination of final consequences. It is the idea that things serve a purpose or that there is a purpose to everything. Which is arguable. It is a notion that will easily be found in religions (the meaning of life, God's plan, moksha...) but which will have opposition from epistemology and nihilism.


Conclusion

I hope this is of help to anyone who is curious about philosophy but would have been intimidated by the big words thrown around.




Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hiatus

I haven't published anything in a while. I've gotten so much into the ins and outs of IQ and Mensa and other High IQ groups that I stopped writing for my blog. I want to report on the subject of IQ about the reality and the myths and the personalities and... there's really a lot of things to say on the subject but I'm still going through discovery. I'm meeting people regularly. Some are undeniably smart and some (I'm thinking of 1 in particular) are dumber than the dumbest people I've ever met.

In other words, there's a lot of angles to the subject and I haven't found the right ones yet. I had started writing 1 massive article but the more time passes and the more it seems like a wrong approach.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mensa



Recently, I was talking about Mensa and about taking the Mensa test. After a long wait of 5 weeks, I have finally received the results, which are positive. So it means I'm joining Mensa. Just need to send them my form and subscription fee.

Receiving the positive results is a nice moment that boosts your ego, and I'm sure I'll keep my smile until bed time. But of course new questions arise like the precise measurement of all my cognitive abilities.

When I took the Mensa test, there were 3 exercises of 25 questions each

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Abstract reasoning

I knew that I rocked the verbal reasoning test since I finished it way in advance and I had plenty of time to review almost all of the questions. And indeed, I obtained a perfect score.

I knew that I did good with the numerical reasoning. I finished it a little in advance and had enough time to double-check 2 or 3 questions that I was not totally confident about. And indeed I obtained a perfect score.

Last, I knew that I didn't do so well for the abstract reasoning. I realized that I still had 5 questions to answer only 2 minutes before the time expired, so I quickly answered "A" to all of the last 5 questions and only had the time to correct 2 of these. So I obtained a not-too-good score only worth of the 4th percentile. But fortunately, it doesn't disqualify me.

I'm pleased to be accepted, especially considering that of all Mensans I've met so far (about 10 of them), not a single one had joined based on the Mensa test. All of them joined based on a WAIS or WISC test.

Mensa is an organization I've been looking up to for a couple of years but I had been moving around all too often to be able to really apply. Finally, this chapter has come to a close and a new one, as a Mensan is beginning. It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me and I'm feeling good.



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Windows XP is the new asbestos



At the beginning of this month, I was publishing an article about Windows XP being dead. As predicted in my article, but I admit that it doesn't take a genius to make such predictions, Microsoft released an ultimate security update on the day that it declared WinXP's support to be over.

I was also predicting... (still doesn't take a crystal ball) that computer mafias would have a peak of activity in launching their new viruses for Windows XP, since nobody's gonna come and save the day for WinXP users.

Microsoft has recently released an advisory bulletin about a security issue with Internet Explorer (IE). It concerns all versions of IE on all versions of Windows. This issue is critical and is already being exploited by malicious people. Just by visiting the wrong website with IE, the website would be able to remotely take control of your computer and install whatever program it wants so that the mafias can, whenever they have the time, do what they want with your computer. That means recording all your keystrokes and making screenshots of what you do so that they obtain your credit card details. That also means copying your computer's files in case there's anything with a resale value. That also means using your computer's calculation power for mining bitcoins, which they won't share with you. It also means using your computer to launch attacks against new targets (DDOS or just using you as a proxy). Or using your email program to send viruses to your contacts. Or using your hard drive for storing and streaming illegal videos that perverts will pay for viewing. Or finally, encrypting all the content of your hard drive and demanding a ransom before they unscramble it.

That security issue in IE will NEVER be fixed for Windows XP. If you're still using WinXP, your system is now obsolete and it is risky to use it.

Conclusion

WinXP is the new asbestos. Get rid of it! Replace it! FAST!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Echoes of uncertainty





3 weeks ago, I have taken a test to join Mensa. We've been told that the results may take up to 1 month before hitting our mailboxes. So, I have no complaint about the time it takes though of course, impatience is growing. But in the meantime, I've been reading a book about gifted adults, reading articles about high intelligence, joining a forum for gifted people, listening to recordings of radio shows and watching documentaries and lectures about high IQ.

I see myself as a smart guy. Don't we all? But I have the arrogance to imagine I might be among those who are qualified as "gifted" who compose the top 2% of the population in terms of IQ. At first, I know that saying "top 2%" sounds very restrictive and elitist. But the top 2% of a country's population or even a town's population... that's still a huge crowd. Considering my town and its urban area that have a population of 500,000 people, the top 2% represent 10,000 people. Enough to fill a quarter of the seats of the local football stadium.

But while I'm waiting for the results of the Mensa test, it is exhausting to keep pondering: "Am I one of them? What if I'm just an average person and I've deluded myself into recognizing myself in the descriptions of gifted people?".

It seems vacuous when you think that it will probably not matter a lot. After all, if I am in the 2%, it means I've been in the 2% all my life and simply didn't know about it. Also, having a confirmation (or confirmation that I'm not) will not suddenly change my taste of foods, or the kind of people I feel comfortable with. It won't suddenly make me distaste philosophy and enjoy watching sports on television.

At the same time, having a confirmation will certainly encourage me to go and get a more thorough IQ test like WAIS 4 in order to understand the finer details of my cognitive dispositions. This could be a useful start to later make plans on how I choose to develop myself. Depending on who I want to be, it could be helpful to know if I'll be able to develop some specific sets of skills in only half the time of normal people or if on the contrary I'll need double the time of normal people. It could help also to figure out if I'm more efficient in learning small quantities of information on a regular basis, or if I'm better able (as I believe) to soak in huge chunk of information in a short time. The discussion with a psychologist could also help me to decide if spending efforts on disciplines for which I'm not gifted is a waste of time or a winning long-term strategy. It also seems (though it's not clear) that some of my cognitive abilities may be favorable to coveting higher hierarchical positions professionally while some others of my cognitive abilities would be unfavorable. This could help orienting my professional career in a direction that is compatible with what I'm good at and with what I like doing.

Because people who are "diagnosed" as gifted aren't the kind of superheroes who excel at everything. There is some amount of validity to the quantity represented by the IQ score, but it seems that the most fundamental difference between the majority of people and gifted people is in a different way of working. It's not so much a matter of being better but more a matter of being different. At least, that's what the books say and that's what the psychologists and psychiatrists say. High intelligence doesn't guarantee your socioeconomic success (33% of gifted people are jobless) nor your happiness.

In the meantime, I don't have a lot of certitudes regarding my results. Positive results would open the door to being a member of Mensa. I'm not sure it would be very useful, especially considering that Mensa is under-represented in France. And negative results would... well I don't know. I suppose that near-pass results would keep me on edge and would push me towards the WAIS test anyway. But terrible results would probably be depressing and make me turn my back on all of the high-IQ things.

There's plenty more to say on the subject of intelligence but that'll be for another day. Gotta go check my mailbox :-)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sex, Gender, Sexual orientation, and Chromosomes




In western societies, matters of sexuality have improved dramatically in the past 100 years. Women used to be considered property. They're now equals, at least legally. Homosexuality is now legally recognized as a normal thing and as I'll show further, we now recognize more degrees than the black and white vision of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality. But even though homosexuality is making its way towards equal rights in many countries, minds are not changed and prejudices don't disappear overnight. Transgender people also need more inclusion and their gender is the object of much curiosity, fear and rejection.

Also in France, where gay marriage was legalized but a few months ago and where conservatives are still fighting to preserve their prejudices, the economic crisis polarizes political tensions and people on the far right wing of politics are lashing out against the "gender theory" which they see as a form of left-wing propaganda which will bring society into decadence. So I thought it could be useful to dedicate an article to this complex subject (more complex than I initially thought) of sex, gender, etc.


Sex

What we generally refer to as "sex" is the set of observable organs associated to the act of copulation. For a majority of people, it's quite straightforward: a penis or a vagina. In addition to this, breasts are not a sexual organ as such but they're associated to the typical female body and contribute to the distinction between women and men.

Sex is essentially the outside appearance of an individual.


Gender

Gender is the sexual identity (not orientation) that a person identifies with. For most people, gender will match their sex: people with a penis will identify as men and people with a vagina will identify as women. But for some people, there is a mismatch.

The most familiar cases of mismatch are transgender people. Before discussing transgender, it's useful to define a few terms. Transwomen are people born with a male sex who identify as women. They are trans and they identify as women, so: transwomen! Reciprocally, transmen are people born with a female sex who identify as men. A note of vocabulary: as a contrast to transpeople, the non-transpeople are identified as cispeople, which makes me a cisman and the makes the average woman a ciswoman.

The religious taboo on all things sexual in Western societies has led to several propagandist approaches on how to discriminate against transpeople. The prejudice that still sticks today, even though it is false, is that transgender is a mental disorder. In fact transgender is predominantly an expression of a biologic determinism.

Transpeople used to describe themselves as women born in a man's body, or vice-versa, and modern science has found that it is really the case. Part of the human brain has a strong influence on our gender and it's been observed that transwomen do have brain structures and brain functioning similar to those found in ciswomen (women born with a female sex).

More complex and rare cases exist where people identify simultaneously with male and female genders, or with no gender at all, or as a different gender altogether. An example of intersex person who identifies as both male and female is Tony Briffa, a mayor in Australia who recounts his life story about gender in the following video:



Sexual orientation

For a long time, the standard of sexuality has been exclusive heterosexuality, but a surprisingly large (imho) part of the population identifies its orientation differently. The notions of homosexuality and bisexuality are rather commonplace in modern society even though they are still frowned upon by conservative and religious fringes.

But the spectrum of sexual orientation has been described with the Kinsey scale as a 7-degrees gradient + an 8th option of disinterest for sexuality.

RatingDescription
0Exclusively heterosexual
1Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6Exclusively homosexual
XNo socio-sexual contacts or reactions

It should be noted, however, that a person's sexual orientation may evolve during the course of this person's life.

According to Kinsley's reports, 46% of males react sexually to both sexes and a surprising 37% of males (later confirmed as 36.4% by another study) had at least 1 homosexual experience.

I don't have all the statistics, so I don't feel comfortable representing them on a graph. However, the statistics listed on Wikipedia suggest, once again contrary to my intuition, that female homosexuality is only half as prevalent as male homosexuality on ranks 3 to 6 of the scale.


Chromosomes

The recurring opposition to transgender by conservatives is that whatever organs you're born with define what you are and should be in terms of gender (and potentially sexual orientation). And there's a huge presumption on the conservatives' part that whatever organs you're born with are in perfect concordance with your genes. But nature is capricious and it's not as simple as we may wish it to be.

A rather rare (estimation of 1 in 20,000 "genetically male" people) condition is called Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS). It is a case of the organism being partially or completely unresponsive to male hormones. In this case, the fetus and later the individual may develop into a full female in terms of looks and sex (vagina and breast), as illustrated on the following photo which shows exclusively subjects with AIS.

Image license:  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (source), author: Ksaviano


Conversely, it is possible to be born with a female XX genotype but to develop a body and sexual organs of a male, as a result of Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.


Conclusion

What I hope is clearer by this conclusion is the distinction between the observable genitalia, the genetic makeup of a person, the gender that a person recognizes for him/herself, and the sexual orientation.

A lot of us are born with a rather clear correspondence between all of these aspects, but we need to recognize that when a phenomenon represents a majority of cases, we should not fall into the trap of considering that minority cases are flaws that require a rectification, or that a person in a minority case should be considered of less value than a person of the majority case.

I also hope to have provided a concise enough coverage of the subject, even though it is clear that many of the topics covered are much deeper than what I have the space, time, or courage of covering here.


Afterword

This is probably the most difficult article I've written so far. Medical and neurological considerations are complex to apprehend and I've given up on them or simplified them to the extreme.

Also, this article covers a diversity of subjects, each of which could undoubtedly require a big blog article to be covered appropriately.

Finally, the gathering of information especially on transgender has been really time-consuming. The Wikipedia articles on this topic are numerous, long, and complex. And I've also watched a number of YouTube videos dealing with many facets of this topic: coming out, hormonal treatment, effects of hormonal treatment on personality and mood, sex reassignment surgery, sex orientation, relationships with coworkers, opinions of people who date transwomen, timing the "public" coming out with one's career, sexual harassment, religious views, etc. And I want to give a special mention of 1 YouTube user who is a transwoman and who provides a great example (herself) and a great coverage of such topics: TreasureThaDiva... but she's just had breast augmentation so don't be shocked by the thumbnails that reveal her new shape and check her list of uploads to see the diversity of her videos!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Visitors?


This blog is a tiny personal blog. I don't receive a lot of hits nor do I try and lure visitors to this corner of the internet. Some contributions on other blogs have however led a few people (mostly from France) to come and check some of my articles.

So I don't have a lot of readers but out of curiosity I always check the statistics when I connect to my account.

Today, I had a phone interview with a foreign company. I won't disclose whom nor from which country. But I had only 1 interview.

And look at those statistics of visitors: a spike of visits from the very country where I'm applying! And the few articles I published that deal remotely with work have been visited.

Coincidence?
:-)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Windows XP is D-E-A-D



Back in January, I was already publishing an article about Windows XP that was going to be discontinued by Microsoft. This is happening NOW. Or rather, this is happening on April 8th, merely 5 days from now.

Microsoft is likely to release an ultimate security update on April 8th but then it's over ; you're on your own. If new viruses are put out there... you're done. 28% of computers in the world are still using Windows XP.

So, try and think like an evil virus programmer who wants to steal credit card details from people or do something shady like encrypt people's hard drive and take their data hostage until they pay a ransom of 20-30 dollars. Will you spend your programming efforts on making a virus for Windows 7 which is a tough nut to crack and for which Microsoft is still publishing regular updates? or will you attack 28% of computers (that should be around 500 million computers) which you know are not protected anymore? There's no doubt. After April 8th, viruses for Windows XP will be like a disease that remained dormant for a while but then suddenly produces its effects with full force.

If you still have Windows XP on your computer, you have only 5 days to do something about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A map of philosophers




Recently, I was listening to the (legally free) audiobook of Plato's "The Republic". The Republic is composed of several books and even though the first one is of outstanding quality, I kind of got bored by books 2 and 3 so I switched to Carl Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World". All of these undoubtedly deserve a full article of their own, but that'll be for later and as a reminder for myself, I'll mention that it's a shame that Sagan's book has not been translated into French language and published in France.

While listening to Carl Sagan's audiobook, there was a mention of Sir Francis Bacon who was, according to Wikipedia, considered by Voltaire and Diderot to be the father of modern science, or rather the scientific method.

So I downloaded the (also legally free) audiobook of Bacon's essays. And one thing leading to another I went back to the great map that you can see at the beginning of this article. This map was created by Simonraper and is based on Wikipedia's content. Philosophers represented with a larger circle are philosophers whose Wikipedia article is reachable from the most numerous other philosophers' Wikipedia articles. So the size of each circle is arguably a representation of the philosopher's influence. But the more modern thinkers are likely to see their influence increase in the near future either because they're still alive and they're still producing intellectual content, or because their production is so young that not many other thinkers have had the time and opportunity to analyze and build up on.

This map is also a source of inspiration for my future readings (or rather my listening sessions thanks to Librivox) but the size of it is definitely intimidating.

If you want to see the full map, check it out over there: http://drunks-and-lampposts.com/2012/06/13/graphing-the-history-of-philosophy/

PS: there's no clear mention about the choices of color. I suspect it is related to the field of philosophy in which the philosophers specialized or earned their recognition.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fitness Day 5

So let's call last Thursday (March 20th) "Day 1" of my fitness program, since I had a 90 minutes trial mentioned in a recent blog article. Today (Monday) is therefore "day 5" or "D5".

On D2, I felt very good. I had sore muscles, though. Especially biceps and pecs. But I felt more energy than other days. Was this just a psychological effect? Or was this a hormonal effect triggered by D1's trial? I know that after being hurt, our brain releases endorphin, the pleasure hormone, in order to cope with the pain. So it could be that!

On D3 and D4 I still had sore muscles. As I build muscles, the soreness should be less persistent and go away in 1 day maximum. At least, that was my experience when I used to go running every couple of days, 10 years ago.

Today is D5 and I officially subscribed and did my training session. In terms of exercises, I did almost the same as last time except I skipped the abs, spent 15 minutes cycling and 25 minutes on the cardio. I can already notice some improved performance on the bench press and the squats (which I've also done at home during the past days).

Tomorrow is gonna hurt but I feel good. I still have my big belly, but this is just the beginning.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

USA: how about you start using standard units?




Standards exist for a reason: making it easy for people to understand each other.

Not all standards are created equal. Some standards are very square, easy to understand and they make sense. Other standards may have some minor qualities but are overall cumbersome and they're just a legacy from a distant age of obscurantism. Granted: I'm being emotional about this!

To put it in plainer words: there's a smart system and a not-so-smart system. That's why international experts have been gathering to discuss the issue and have decided that the smart system should prevail while the not-so-smart system should die.

The metric system is smart. Everything works based on magnitudes that can be divided by 10, which happens to be the base we use for mathematics.
1 cm = 10 mm
1 m = 100 cm
1 km = 1000 m

I am currently interested in everything there is to know about woodworking. And of course the most plentiful resources are in English language. But Americans are sticking to a not-so-smart system and that's a massive pain in the neck to have to convert because of the laziness of peope using the not-so-smart system.
1 inch = 16 sixteenths of an inch
1 foot = 12 inches
1 yard = 3 feet
1 mile = 1760 yards

Really, USA? Really? You know you can do better than that! In reality, the USA have decided to switch to the smart system since the 1970's. But the USA have been sitting on their hands since then.


Practical case

So I want to know the ideal height of a workbench for me, considering my height. I measure 1.73m which easily converts to 173cm if I want to use a finer unit. I googled for information and found this:
On most benches, the working surface is somewhere between 33" and 36" high. If you're average height (between 5'9" and 6'0"), that's usually a comfortable height. But even a change of 1" up or down can make a big difference in how easy it is to work at the bench

So OK... Am I the average height? The average height is given here in a combination of 2 units: feet and inches. Because a single unit would be too simple. So I need to first convert my height into inches. Then I need to convert inches into feet... but only take the integer value for the number of feet while converting the rest back into inches.

COME - ON!

So then I find myself a bit short of the average height (but I knew that already), so maybe I'll just scale things proportionally to me. But if I want to do that, I need to calculate a ratio, and that means going back to a scale using a single unit (inches only or normal metric units only). And I need of course to convert the standard workbench height into the normal metric unit.


Conclusion

This article certainly sounds somewhat whiny but here are important facts:

 - The USA decided that they should adopt the metric system almost 40 years ago. 60% of the USA's population wasn't born when that decision was taken. To which you may add roughly 10% in order to account for immigrants (and not counting twice the young immigrants who are under 40 years old).

 - Only 3 countries in the world use the USA's system: USA, Liberia, and Myanmar.

So please USA: start using the metric system already!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fitness




So, I haven't blogged for a while. I still feel held back by the article I'm writing on sexuality. It's really a big one, so I often feel that I'm losing courage when looking at the size of the task.

Anyway, today I'm talking about fitness. On YouTube, I have been watching some videos by Lee Lemon who has a channel about fitness. And since I have some spare time, I decided to get back to sports after 10 years of mostly dodging any kind of physical activity ...though I did a bit of scuba diving and I had the occasional team event like cricket, bowling or whatever.

So I looked for a gym near my place, went there a couple days ago and they proposed me to come for a trial, which was this morning. Aside from getting to know the coach and talking about food, about my objectives (priority: losing fat), etc, here's the list of activities that occupied me for 1 hour and a half:

  • warm-up for 10-15 minutes on an elliptical cardio machine
  • rower: 3 minutes
  • bench press: 20 kg. 4 series of 15 reps (last series: I reduced to 14kg) 
  • dumbbells: 5 kg. 4 series of 15 reps. But I moved up to 6 kg and that became really hard.
  • seated pulls with a lat bar: 4 series of 15 reps
  • squats: 4 series of 15 reps
  • v-bar press down: 4 series of 15 reps
  • plank: 4 series of maintaining for 30 seconds

After I was done with all of this, I observed a few things. First, I was surprised that I did drink almost all the content of my 1.5 liter bottle.

Then regarding muscles, I was surprised at how easy it is to reach your limit. The most shocking exercise was with dumbbells. You have 1 dumbbell of 6 kg in each hand and all you have to do is lift these. The first series went smooth. Then in the second series, after maybe 7 or 8 reps, I couldn't bring my arms to the horizontal. After I just lifted the dumbbells to a 45° angle, it's like I was hitting a wall. Really surprising!

And now, 2 hours after I finished my training session, I can feel that something is going on in my muscles, especially the biceps. And merely lifting my hands from the center of my keyboard to reach for the "delete" key requires an effort.

Hopefully, I'll feel good enough (no pain) to go back to the gym tomorrow or the day after. And I really hope that I can keep it up.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lottery


Today I bought a lottery ticket.

As a scientifically-minded person, I most often take the point of view of scientists. But on the subject of lottery, I think the scientific community (SC) has lost track of an important point, though it does not invalidate completely what they usually say.

Members of the SC (like Steven Novella) describe lottery as a tax on the poor. In a sense, it is true, considering that the less well-off participate more to lottery than higher classes. Also, the individual cost of each lottery ticket is comparatively higher in percentage when compared to a low salary than when compared to a high salary. So, the criticism is valid.

However, I think something important has been forgotten about lottery. It gives you hope and dreams, plus as a consequence, it also gives you the occasion to discuss with your peers about such dreams and hopes. Certainly, giving hope is not always a good thing, especially if you give people false hope.

But I think national lotteries are rather straightforward and therefore the hope is not false. The chance of taking the big prize home is tiny (1 in 13 millions back in the day). And when considering the total amount of prizes awarded for each rank of winners, players will statistically gain less than what they gamble. That's normal. That's the basics of chance games. And concerning the European lottery "Euromillions", the redistribution rate is 50%. Simple!

I think that these hopes and dreams are what's often dismissed when considering lotteries. This is also the core reason of why people should not buy more than a single ticket. People suck at statistics and they often get the idea that buying 2 tickets increases their chances to win. They're wrong. Lottery is statistically a losing game, so buying 2 tickets will only double their chances to lose. And buying 2 tickets does not increase the hope that you get by buying 1 ticket. The increase in hope and dreams is marginal.


Conclusion

Don't buy more than 1 ticket!

Lottery is statistically a losing game, but you can play for the hope of winning rather than for winning itself.

Tonight's draw has €100,000,000 for the 1st rank winner. Thinking of it, it would certainly help me in some ways, but I'm kind of wary that this has the potential of messing up one's life badly. As a matter of fact, studies have even revealed that you're more likely to become a happy person when losing both of your legs in a car crash than you are to become happy after winning the lottery... which is totally counter-intuitive because our intuition sucks, but that's a different story.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

One issue with blog platforms

This article will be very short, because I have an appointment in a few minutes.

When you own a blog on a platform like blogger, you're limited in tools to identify and/or block the undesired visitors... in short: automated spam software that tries to publish comments in order to advertise for some commercial website selling whatever products.

This is a tiny blog in terms of visits and the majority of my visitors seem to be spam bots and other malicious software. Ideally, I should have my own server and write my blog on a blogging platform that I would customize for my needs. But that's an ideal case and I don't really have the resources to do that at the moment.

Blogger offers some identification of spam comments but it only works partially. It's not as good as the email spam filters. And I'm also kind of scared of having my Google account falling into a bad standing with Google if the majority of visits comes from malicious software. That's why I have phased one of my articles offline in the meantime as it was particularly targeted.

Gotta go to my appointment. I told you this would be a short article!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why there's been no recent post




Writing and researching takes a lot of time.

Of course every blogger is different. Some of them use their blog like a long version of twitter where they'll tell every detail of their life. Others use their blog like a version of delicious to keep a list of bookmarks. Some simply use it as a gallery of photos. My personal use of my blog is to write meaningful articles. And if I don't succeed in this, at least that's what I'm trying to achieve. And with this purpose in mind, it takes me longer to produce articles than it would to just tell about my last sandwich.

When writing about a topic, you want to research it. In my case, it takes me to 3 main destinations:

  • Wikipedia, which I've already praised in a poorly written article
  • Google, which takes me to a variety of blogs and web sites
  • YouTube, which provides plenty of videos on almost any subject

But what you don't see, if you don't have a blog of your own, is that research takes a hell of a lot of time. Typically, I think a 2-pages-long article takes 6 hours to put out. Maybe it's because I'm slow. Or maybe it's because I'm thorough.

The article I'm currently writing about is on the topic of sex, gender, sexual orientation and genetics. It could be broken into several articles, but I think it makes sense to keep things in a coherent global article. Certainly, there will be room to expand on the subject of transgenderism, but for now I'm busy researching a variety of sub-topics and that's why I haven't published anything new in a few days.

So I'm still blogging. I'm just held back by a big pile of documents to process.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Inattentional blindness





Did you ever look for an item that was right under your nose? Did you ever fail to notice something that was obvious and happening right in front of your eyes? This is a phenomenon called inattentional blindness.

The following demonstration requires that you don't read the rest of this article before playing the following video and taking the test.

Note: play the video in full screen for better effect!



The author of this test explains that it works for about 50% of the people. And people for whom it didn't work have a hard time imagining how other people may not have seen the gorilla. But we're all susceptible to this inattentional blindness. If you didn't get fooled by this test, you would be, by another test.

In order to push further this notion, psychologists have decided to test expert observers to see whether they're also susceptible to inattentional blindness. So they tested radiologists whom they tasked with finding pathologies in CT scans of lungs. 83% of them have been blind to the extra little thing:



Conclusion

When we haven't noticed something, we should not conclude that it wasn't there. And this sort of reasoning is important in courts. There are other famous(-ish) examples where we didn't see something very visible like the Pandoravirus which was so big that researchers never even thought about looking for a virus of that size.

There might be a cow in your living room right now, without you noticing! ;-)

Food for thought.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Logic



This article is part of a series of articles on skepticism, science, and topics like paranormal/supernatural/religions which would greatly benefit (aka. disappear) from skeptical and scientific inquiry.

This is possibly the most important, most fundamental subject that I will ever write on. And that's exactly why I will fail. A quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery says that perfection is achieved not when there's nothing more to add, but rather when there's nothing more to remove. But the problem is that perfection and popularizing are different. So, I'll add explanations and illustrations and make it less perfect. But by doing so, I'll try and make it understandable. And I'll probably come back to this article 100 times and edit it 100 times to tweak, rephrase, prune, add, patch and fix. In other words... bear with me and if something seems amiss, let me know!


Making sense of the world

There are various ways to make sense of the world we live in, and build knowledge. The most basic way is the one we have developed through natural selection and which other animals also possess: we observe what happens around us and we draw conclusions or we instinctively respond to what happens in our environment. It works to a certain extent but it has limits. Here's an example: you walk in a street of London and you hear the sound of hooves behind you ; you don't expect a zebra! You expect a horse. But sometimes it will be a zebra, and you've been fooled by your intuition.

I mentioned something similar in the article about pareidolia: for survival reasons, we evolved an intuition that makes us prone to overestimating danger and to react quickly to imminent danger. The result of that: our intuition is often mistaken and it is especially bad at estimating long term consequences.

Our brain has also evolved in an environment where we have to deal with finite quantities. As long as we manipulate quantities around 6, 7 or 8 our mental abilities can cope. A famous example of this is when you give people a list of words to memorize in a limited time and 7 is the average number of words that people successfully recall. That is to say our intuition and our mind are flawed tools. They're efficient in a number of specific situations but they're not reliable.



Another tool available to us to make sense of the world is logic. Logic is an intellectual construct which is incredibly powerful. Since it is an intellectual construct, it is not intuitive ; not in its details at least. Therefore it takes time to master.

Logic is the connection of premises in order to obtain conclusions. The age-old example is:
Premise 1: All men are mortal
Premise 2: Socrates is a man
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal

This is a very simple, very limited example but logic is what binds the conclusion to the premises. And most important of all: if we hold the premises as true, then logic binds us to admit the conclusion as being true too.

Ultimately, logic is the most fundamental tool to understand reality and empower us to build even more understanding and granting us the power to act.

Logic allows us to understand that identical causes will bring about identical consequences. This gives us the capacity to predict outcomes just by looking at the initial conditions. And that is the root of philosophy, knowledge, mathematics, science, set theory, electronics, etc.


The limits of logic

Sometimes we think we are using logic but we are only using what people call "common sense", which is a misleading term more akin to "opinion" than it is to "logic", because it is only based on cultural cues.

Logical fallacies, or errors to apply logic, are also a common pitfall. Logical fallacies are so numerous and lead to such horrors of thought and behavior that they'll deserve several articles and will need to be mentioned in topics related to religion, conspiracy theories, pseudosciences, science and skepticism.

Erroneous premises: sometimes we use valid logic but our premises were just wrong. Here's an example:

  • premise 1: men are immortal
  • premise 2: Socrates is a man
  • conclusion: Socrates is immortal
  • The logic is absolutely valid but the conclusion is wrong (since Socrates died) because the 1st premise is wrong.


The limits of our understanding and knowledge: there are specific fields of science where the laws of nature reach extreme cases where our knowledge breaks down. Such is the case for example of our understanding of the earliest moments after the Big Bang.


Conclusion

Logic is the fundamental building block of human knowledge and understanding. How well or poorly it is employed is a different subject altogether but logic itself is necessary to extract meaning from chaos. Logic is not the conclusion but the mechanism by which we draw conclusions from initial statements.

Anything that has no logic is chaotic. Therefore anything that has no logic is unpredictable or unreliable. That's why logic is the end-all be-all of human knowledge and rationality. That's also why there is a rational basis for rejecting the illogical claims of religions, pseudosciences, and other forms of quackery, but these will be treated in separate articles.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Excel Games and inspiration


Being a fan of Microsoft Excel and video games, I was in disbelief when I once saw an article linking to a YouTube video about a Super Mario clone being created in Excel. And yet it is real as you can see on the following video:


When you're not a Excel programmer, you'll probably just think: "This is cool." or "Yay! More ways to procrastinate at work!".

But as a developer, I find it absolutely awesome. Here's a technical analysis of the great things I see in there:

1) Mario is animated. His feet and arms move relative to his body as he walks. When he grabs a mushroom, his body does not instantaneously become big, but it progressively extends. Enemies are also animated, as are mushrooms, flowers, coins, etc.

2) Mario is subject to gravity and stands on platforms. Moving a character horizontally is easy. But for the character to be able to move around, be blocked when walking into a wall, or standing on platforms, it takes some coding. Try and figure out how YOU would code this!

3) There is music. And not just that! The music changes with the context. When Mario grabs a star and becomes invincible, the music is instantaneously changed to the invincibility music. Handling music is not that easy in Excel, or maybe I just haven't spent enough time programming with music. Great stuff!

4) There are other sounds. As if managing music was not enough, some game sounds (like jumping on an enemy) will also be played on top of the music. I have to wrap my head around this and figure out how he did it!

5) It manages keyboard input. OK, this is probably not that hard to do, but it requires attention to detail.

6) There are blocks of many natures. Jump under a mushroom block and it will give the effect of producing a mushroom. Press "down" when standing on a pipe and you access another level. Jump on the flag and you end the level. Jump under a breakable block and it disappears.

7) It has the levels stored somewhere and it loads them in the main window.

All in all, it may not be that big of a project, though I am clueless about the sound aspect of things... but it is a nice accomplishment that requires good skill.


From the author's page, I followed this link to the download page, which contains other remakes of retro games like Bomberman or Qix, and I find it really inspiring. In the next few days, I'll certainly create a few copies of simple games and use them as examples of VBA programming.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Excel VBA tutorial 01: record, edit and run macros

A reason for creating this blog, and which I have left aside too much is Excel and VBA tutorials. This will be the 1st VBA Tutorial and is intended for people like my past colleagues who asked me how they could learn VBA to avoid doing the same manual tasks every day.

Purpose

In the world of telecom operators, we care about QoS (Quality of Service). We have a lot of antennas & equipment to supervise of which quality fluctuates day by day. In order to monitor the quality of equipment, metrics are recorded. These metrics are very numerous (hundreds or thousands). Here's some example of what we record in order to monitor quality:

  • call attempts
  • call successes
  • call drops
  • etc.

I'm keeping it rather non-technical since the focus of this article is on VBA, not telecoms.

So, in our network, we have more antennas than we can humanly check every day. And in order to improve the network, or prevent its degradation over time, we want to know which antennas (which we call "cells" as in "cellular network") have a lot of dropped calls. We will therefore create a macro that sorts our data so we can see which cells need urgent care.


Developer mode & keyboard shortcuts

First things first: we need to make sure that "Developer" appears in the ribbon menu. It will make life much easier to access macros.

by default, the Developer tab is absent. But we'll see how to bring it up


In Excel's "big button menu", click "Excel Options".

In the "Popular" category, check the checkbox to show the Developer menu. That's it!



If you prefer using keyboard shortcuts, the following ones will be useful:

  • ALT + F11: brings you to the VBA code window
  • ALT + F8: opens the macro menu, letting you choose which macro you want to run or edit




Recording the macro

For our example, we'll assume that we have files containing very basic data:

  • cellid (identifier of the telecom equipment)
  • drops (number of calls interrupted)
  • calls (number of calls initiated)

By default, our file is sorted by cellid, but we want to see it sorted with the highest number of drops at the top.


Now, think of the way you would sort your data to have the highest number of drops at the top! it would take the following operations:

  • select columns A, B, C
  • go to tab menu "Data"
  • select "Sort"
  • do the sorting: sort by drops, sort on Values, order Largest to Smallest


We will do just that but we will record it in a macro. That means we will

  • start Excel's macro recorder
  • do the manual sorting
  • stop Excel's macro recorder
Start the recorder by clicking the following button in the lower left hand corner of your Excel window!
note: if it does not appear in your Excel window, you can also find it in the tab menu "View", ribbon menu "Macros", submenu "Record macro..."


After you click the "OK" button, your next actions will be recorded in the macro entitled "Macro1" (you can change this name now or later). So just click OK.

You'll notice that the button in the lower left hand corner has changed to this:

Now you can do the complete manipulation and press the square button (stop recording macro) when you're done.


Analyzing the recorded code

Now, we want to see the code that has been produced when recording our moves, and understand what it does. That's how we will understand how Excel works and how we can later do changes to the code to suit our needs.

Open the VBA window by going to the tab menu "Developer" and clicking on "Visual basic"... or you can do the same with ALT+F11.


In the modules, find Module1 and double-click on it. Single click is not enough.

You should get the same content as shown here, except you will have different colors. I have changed my colors in order to have a black background that preserves my eyes after long hours of programming.

So let's see the content of the macro:
Columns("A:C").Select
...that's pretty straightforward. This selects columns A to C.

All the rest is gibberish, but it has the word "sort" in many places, so we can safely think that it's doing the sorting. However, we will notice a few things:

  • it mentions "Sheet1" many times. So if we want to later reuse this macro, we'll have to pay attention to the sheet name.
  • It mentions Key:=Range("B2:B15") as well as Order:=xlDescending. That's obviously the column B (drops) which we are using for sorting data.
  • we see SetRange Range("A1:C15") which is the area containing my data. We see that it is limited to the 15th row. So if someday we have more than 14 rows of data (15 rows minus the header row), the macro might not process data beyond the 15th row... but that can be modified of course.

Change the name of the macro to something meaningful. Maybe it will be like:
Sub SortByDrops()


Checking the result of the macro


Let's go back to the Excel window. Our data is already sorted by drops, so we need to put it in a different order so we can run the macro and check that it does its job.


Sort the data by cellid.

Then open the macro menu (ALT+F8 or from the menu "View", "Macros", "View macros")

We see our macro, so we can simply launch it by pressing the "Run" button.

And voila! You now have your first macro which can sort data.


Further exercise

Now, make a copy of the macro "SortByDrops", which you will name "SortByCellid". With this new macro, we will try and sort data by cellid so that we can easily come back to the initial state of our Excel file.

Modify this new macro by changing
Key:=Range("B2:B15")
into
Key:=Range("A2:A15")

Go back into Excel.

Run this new macro.

Observe the result. It should be "almost" what we were looking for. You can find by yourself what detail is wrong and how to modify this macro to make it perfect.


Conclusion

This is a very basic tutorial. The 2 macros themselves are not very useful but what's very important is that we learned:

  • how to record macros
  • how to check the code and modify it
  • how to run macros 


It might be very crude, but that's truly the starting point for writing VBA macros.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Voices of a Distant Star (2002) ★★★★★



Foreword

I think this is the first OAV that I review on my blog. Certainly, the cartoonish aspect is a turn-off for people who are unfamiliar with Japanese media. In Japanese culture, cartoon is not exclusive to children but it is an art form in itself which can be employed not only for children but also for any genre from thriller movies (Perfect Blue), to adventure (Wings of Honneamise), comedy (Samurai Champloo), action/fighting (Hokuto no Ken),  horror/gore (Elfen Lied), erotica... This OAV is targeted at a teenage and young adult audience and is a romantic psychological drama.


Plot

Mikako (a girl) and Noboru (a boy) are 2 junior school friends. Thanks to her excellent scores at school, Mikako successfully enrolls in the army as a mecha pilot and is sent to fight extra-terrestrials discovered in the surrounding of planet Mars. As the chase brings Mikako ever further away from Earth, her messages to Noboru take longer and longer to travel, extending to months and even years between the transmission and the reception.


My verdict

A true jewel, though short: 25 minutes only. Let's tackle the criticisms first! English voices are definitely stereotypes of the whiny girl and the indecisive boy. The character design is a bit simplistic, borderline doujinshi. That's it for criticism! That was fast. Now let's see the good of this movie!

The melancholy and the heart-wrenching feeling of separation in a long-distance relationship are very well transcribed (and I know what I'm talking about). With the time passing, we also perceive the evolution of the teenage characters into adulthood and the evolution of their relationship. The scenes and landscapes are splendid. Even though it's kind of a cheap move to use still backgrounds, it fits the epistolary nature of this story. Mikako's fights are violent verging on a gore side and I think this is a denunciation of the army in general and a factor explaining how the different daily experiences of both characters push them to evolving in different directions. The choice of putting the girl in the fighter role is a good alternative to the stereotypical gender roles in society and it allows both characters to focus on their feelings, while avoiding the nauseating representation of the heroic male worshiped by a stay-home vacuous female. In just 25 minutes, and with very little text, this OAV delivers a very rich scenario. Final verdict: 5 (not distant) stars and an enthusiastic recommendation.
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