An Italian in the States: Part 4 - Language

The language barrier was the hardest part of my move to the States. My memories of the difficulties with the English language are somewhat amusing today, but at the time it didn't seem so.
The first few months were the hardest. I was able to understand only about 60% of what people were saying. Everybody was very nice about it, but it was very hard on me and my ego. In Italian I loved to play with words, discuss the various meanings and interpretations of various ways of saying things and I loved to dig deep into the details of the Italian language.
All in a sudden I felt very “slow” and somewhat lost.
In general I could express what I wanted, but I couldn’t get most of what was told to me. Do you know how frustrating that is? You ask something, you get a 5 minutes answer but you understand only 3 minutes of it. You hope that the other 2 minutes weren't very important. At the end you look lost hoping that there is more, but there isn't. Usually the worse is that the 5 minutes speech included a final question that got lost in translation. The person is now staring at you waiting for an answer or some kind of sign but you have no idea what the question was, or if there was a question at all.
There are a few uncomfortable seconds where the person you are talking to realizes that you are lost, and his expression goes from a smile to something different. You start looking thoughtful to take time and you end up asking “can please you say that again?”. The second time you get the short version of the answer, which doesn’t usually contain what you really needed to know.
After a year or so, things started to slowly switch in the other direction. All in a sudden I reached the point where I could understand 90% to 95% of what people were saying, and I developed the ability of making up for the lost 5%-10% with reasonable accuracy; but now I found myself not able to talk in the way I was able to understand. I couldn’t express the complex thoughts and concepts that I wanted to express. I had to simplify everything (hard for somebody that loves to discuss details like me). This phase wasn't as frustrating as not understanding others, but sometimes it can be somewhat embarrassing.
You are there trying to find the right word or expression and you know from the listener's faces that you are not making any sense. Even when you can say it, you can’t quiet get the correct and exact meaning that is in your head.
Another “danger” in this phase is that you try to translate directly from your original language words that you don't know. This works some of the times, but some of the times what you say is simply not English (I still do this at times).
The worse is when what you say happens to be English, but its meaning is completely different than what you meant!
I'll give you an example. In Italian "corn" is called "mais", pronounced "mice". This word doesn’t sound Italian, so it is one of these words that I would try to use without translating, hoping it was understandable for the listener. Now imagine being in a restaurant and asking for a mice salad.
Another hard thing to do is mastering these sets of words that in English sound the same and to an untrained hear ARE the exact same. A classic example is “bear”, “beer”, “bird” and “beard”. Gosh! It took me forever to be able to say the right word at the right time. You end up saying things that sound like “I’ll have one more bird and then I need to go shave my bear because it’s getting late; I really want to be done in time to watch that documentary on beards and beers on the Discovery Channel.”. Oh well.
Another twist on these difficulties is when you know the word in English, but you pronounce it in a way that ends up sounding like something not appropriate for the circumstances, or maybe even offensive. A horrible word for that is “sheet”. My mouth wasn't able to say it without sounding like something else (not exactly white). I was aware of it so I was always trying to avoid having to talk about sheets. The same thing for the word “beach”. I would simply try to avoid speaking that word in public with fear of offending somebody. Eventually you get used to the fact that people here can hear your accent and they know exactly what you are trying to say. Nobody really cares about these mistakes.

Suprising Scientific Fact #2: Holograms Distributedness Properties.

Holographs have a suprising property called “distributedness”, which means that any fractional portion of the recorded hologram contains sufficient information to reconstruct the complete original 3-D information pattern. This is evident if you take a holographic plate showing a 3D image and you break it; each piece of the plate will immediatly show the complete original image.
DNA has a similar property. Each complete DNA strand contains enough information to describe the whole organism it is part of.

Suprising Scientific Fact #1: Frictionless Mediums Exist!

Is science able to explain everything? No! We have so much to learn that keeping an open mind to our observations and intuitions is crucial for progress of human kind and science itself. That's why I believe that absolute skeptics, who tend to disbelief blindly any evidence against their mindset, are dangerous. I often read surprising evidence of incredible and documented findings that we cannot explain with our limited knowledge. Note that absolute and professional skeptics will tell you that concentrating at these facts confuses science, so they just ignore them. An interesting position. Personally I think it just confuses them. To learn you always have to study what we do not understand.

I decided to post some suprising scientific observations as I find them in various books I read. I'm fascinated by the subject. I hope you'll find it intriguing as much as I do.

Can a pysicial medium (or matter) be frictionless? Surprisingly, yes!

In 1911 a Dutch Nobel-prize physicist Kamerlingh Onnestook took helium (normally a gas) and cooled it until it approached the absolute zero of temperature (zero Kelvin). When the temperature of the helium reached 4.2 Kelvin a dramatic change occurred. Helium became a liquid and, under equal pressure, it became 800 times denser. When Onnes cooled this superdense liquid helium still further, at 2.17 Kelvin another change occurred: the liquid hellium became superfluid. Supercooled helium, though it is superdense, does not resist objects passing through it. It flows frictionless though cracks and apertures so tiny that nothing else, not even a much thinner gas, can penetrate them.

Source: "Science and the Akashic Field", by Ervin Laszlo.

Woodwork/Metalwork: Envelope Opener

This is my latest project. I started by experimenting with hardening steel. I made a few carving chiesels that I hardened with a simple process (let me know if you are interested in more details). The carving knifes ended up pretty hard and sharp. After that I had to try something more challenging and I ended up working on this letter opener. I started with this material:

From the top to the bottom: A piece of steel (not the highest quality unfortunatelly), a piece of Purple Heart and a piece of American Black Walnut. I don't have any photos of the various stages (next time!), but here is the result after about 4 hours of cutting, polishing, carving and finishing.
Here it is closed:

Here it is opened:

A detail of the purlple hart and Black walnut handle:

Ok, perhaps is a little too sharp to be used as an envelope opener. I think it will function better as a fancy rough carving knife...

Eventually I'll put some filework on it, but I've never done it and I need to experiment on something else first.

Woodwork: Miniature Furniture

A piece I built for my wife for x-mas 2004. This miniature "tallboy" is a jewelery case. It's about 14" tall and it is built in Peruvian Walnut.

Software: service or product?

Is Software a "service" or a "product"? This question had a somewhat clear mainstream answer a few years ago, but with the Internet connection possibilities things are quickly changing. Somebody calls this Web 2.0.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what is the nature of Software and discussing this requires some degree of hair splitting.

A discussion on how to "label" software depends on the definition used. I'll start claiming the definitions I found in a mainstream dictionary that I'll use in this discussion:

Service: Work done by one person or group that benefits another.
Product: Something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process. .

Based on these definitions a service is provided when somebody does something to benefit somebody else. On the other hand a product is something *produced* by a person, a machine or nature (and not the act of producing it).

The first question that pops to mind is: can a service being considered "something produced by human". In other words, is it possible to define as a product the concept of "work" in the service definition? The answer to this question is critical for this discussion.

Work is defined as "Physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something". In light of this, I could substitute the word "work" with its definition and rephrase the definition of service as:

Service: Physical or mental effort or activity, done by one person or group, directed toward the production or accomplishment of something that benefits another.

At this point, it seems obvious that physical objects are not services (we knew that!). The action of creating the objects can be considered services, if these objects benefit somebody.

The problem of labeling Software is that Software itself is not an object. It is, per se, also not a "physical or mental effort or activity" (software can be THE RESULT of the "physical or mental effort or activity", but it is not THE "physical or mental effort or activity" itself, unless you consider a computer a “person or group”).

We discussed the definition of service and product, but what is the definition of software anyway? Obvious you say? Not really!

Software: “The programs, routines, and symbolic languages that control the functioning of the hardware and direct its operation.”.

Some may disagree with me but I don’t consider the “Floppy”, “CD”, “DVD” or the Paper Manual being part of the Software itself. That’s kind of the necessary transport media it comes in (like the cereal box for cereal), but it is not what I buy software for. Matter of fact I often purchase software that I download, and I still properly call that Software.

This is different than a book. When you buy a book you buy a product. It is a physical object. When you download an e-book you buy really just Software. So, is Software a product?

I’m going to split some more hair here, but it is a necessary pain for this discussion.

I would say that the strict “collection of routines and symbolic languages that control the functioning of the hardware and direct its operation” in the English “software” definition is a PRODUCT, because can be strictly described as “Something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process”.

Both human produced and automatically generated Software are strictly products.

The interesting part is that what you buy when you buy Software is NOT just strictly and purely “Software”. You don’t buy the software product, you LICENSE the software product.
When I buy a screwdriver (product), I can sharpen it and make it into a knife if I like. It is perfectly ok. I have the right to do so because I OWN the screwdriver completely.
When I “buy software”, most often I cannot legally modify it in any way shape or form. Read the license.

What you pay for in a software product often (not always) is:

1) The right to use it.
2) The rights (full or partial) of what you produce or gain with it.
3) Updates and support.
4) Actual or potential access to services that you can access using the software.

So, my conclusion is:

Strictly “Software” IS a product indeed.
In practical terms what you buy is almost never a Product, but is the RIGHT to use the product and the actual or potential services that came along with it.

Given the continuous evolution of technology the software as a product has very little value in the medium and long term. It ages quickly.
What gives longevity and continuous real value to the software is the continuous work done by the makers or supporters that benefits the end users. In other terms, a service!

So, when you buy a piece of software, think about this: you are really most likely paying for a service, not a product! Check exactly what you are buying and make sure the price matches with your expectations.

When you produce software, think about this: customers most likely expect to get a service too, not just the right to use YOUR product. Be prepared to offer a great service and charge what you need to charge for it.

An Italian in the States: Part 3 - Coffee

Coffee. A big deal here in the Pacific Northwest, and certainly a big deal in Italy. The interesting thing is how different the two coffee cultures are!
When I first came to the States I was told that around here coffee is wonderful. I thought: great! I love coffee.
During my second day in the States, first thing in the morning, I asked for a "bar". The look I got told me that I probably said something odd. After describing what I wanted I discovered with a certain embarrassment that "bars" in the States are places where you drink beer and hard liquor. Oooops! Yes, I know (now), you can go to a bar in the morning in the States if you really like… but usually it doesn’t say good things about you and is not something that most people would want to mention too often to strangers.
In Italy bars are places where you have breakfast in the morning and drink coffee at all hours of the day. A coffee shop in other words (and… yes… they happen to also sell hard liquor, wine and beer, but not many people really drink that in a common bar… don’t ask…).
I corrected my mistake and proud of my new knowledge asked for a “coffee shop”. It sounds so much better than “bar” I thought. The person I asked told me that the closest coffee shops were “Starbucks” and a “CafĂ© Ladro”.
The choice wasn’t too hard. “Ladro” in Italian means “thief”, and the word is also used to describe somebody that rips you off. I decided that taking the Ladro was too much as a first experience (later I discovered that “Cafe’ Ladro” is actually pretty good).
Starbucks sounded a bit like a game arcade, but that is at least safe; plus it was right behind the corner (surprise!).
I went inside ready to order my Espresso.
First of all, how do I order a coffee? Seems easy, doesn’t it? Well… not really.
In Italy this is one of the classic dilemmas; a very simple every-day fact that is overcomplicated. In fact how you order a coffee depends on the place.
In some coffee shops you stand in line to pay first. When you pay you get a receipt. With that you go to a second line at the counter. Once your turn comes (or once people have stopped getting in front of you) you give the receipt to the barista, the barista looks at it, finds out what you ordered and makes your coffee.
Well, that would be simple enough, except that in other coffee shops you are supposed to go at the counter first and order your coffee. When you are done drinking you are supposed to go to pay for it at the cashier. In these coffee shops if you go to the cashier first you may not get a receipt at all and you may have to debate that you need it to go get your coffee at the counter. In Italy we like to make things a bit complicated, and then debate forever on the perfect way of doing it. The debate is not really aimed to change things, or really solve a problem. Nothing really ever changes. We just like to debate.
I’m digressing; but now you know why I had to wonder how you buy a coffee.
Well, it didn’t take long to find out. I observed the line going smoothly from the door to the cashier and from the cashier to the counter. I observed the barista write stuff on some sort of strange paper cups; panic; I started wondering if I was in the right place. I didn’t see anybody drinking coffee in ceramic espresso or cappuccino cups. I just saw people receive these large paper cups with a lid and semi-full of some kind of steaming substance. I saw people leave the place drinking it. Strange! What are they drinking?? The idea that they were drinking beer crossed my mind for a split second. Only much later I learnt that you can't actually drink a beer on the street in the States.
I was immediatly reassured by the fact that I could smell the coffee, I could see coffee beans and big steaming coffee machines; I WAS in the right place. Calm down Lorenzo! It is just different!
I looked at the menu, and saw an endless list of choices with quasi-Italian and strangely spelled names. I wondered why a “Caffe' Espresso” had 3 different prices, when I realized that perhaps it dependeds on the size.
“Size? It’s an Espresso… isn’t it?”
I then noticed that the 3 prices where categorized under “Short”, “Grande” and “Venti”. I knew the meaning of the English word “short”. That already suggested that it was a size. Kind of strange given that “short” seems to indicate a "small length" more than a "small cup".
But, what do I know!
I also wondered if “Grande” and “Venti” were the Italian words. In Italian “Grande” means “large” (and that would make sense), and “Venti” means the number twenty (huh? no idea!).
I went in line listening carefully at what people were saying and how they were ordering. When it was my turn I immediately forgot everything that I learnt while I was in line and ended up asking “Can I have an Espresso?”. They even understood me! Cool!
The barista was now pointing at 3 cups glued on a piece of painted plywood. The smallest was the size of a common water glass (Italian size). The largest was the size of a small bucket.
I don’t know if you ever saw an Italian espresso cup. It’s designed to contain a couple of tablespoons of liquid coffee, and that’s what you usually drink. It’s literally one shot. One. Done.
I asked if they had something smaller.
“Are you crazy?”
The barista looks at me. She knows I’m lost. She tells me that she could fill the small one half-way if I really didn’t want a full mighty “short”, but that it would cost me the same price of a full short and she was suggesting that I take the full one and that I dump what I don’t want.
I asked if she could fill it up one quarter of the way.
"You are crazy!"
At this point she really thought I was crazy, or just stupid.
I insisted and had my tiny shot of hot Espresso. Probably the smallest the barista ever served in her life.
What a relief! It had been embarrassing, the Espresso was a bit watery… but not too bad.
Well, six years had passed now. Today I never buy anything smaller than a “Grande”.

Algorithm: fire simulation

Back in the mid 90's I worked on a project that required to graphically simulate a roaring fire.

At the time I wrote the algorithm in assembly. The algorithm was rendering the flames as fast as possible writing straight into the memory of the VGA.

The algorithm to create this animation is very simple, but the effect is suprisingly good.

A few days ago I stumbled across this old code and decided to port it in UJML. The port was very easy and took no more than 30 minutes.

A demo can be seen from your Java enabled web browser simply clicking here: flames demo

Now, let's talk about the algorithm. It is very simple.

Let's assume that we want to have a fire defined by an image composed by 40x70 pixels. This particular dimension is the one used in the demo, but any other dimension could be used (in my original assembly code, for example, the fire size was 640x480).

The algorithm uses a fixed 256 color predefined palette that defines the various colors of a fire. At index 0 we find black, or the darkest color of the fire, and at index 255 we find white, or the brighter color of the fire.

The colors are picked carefully to go smoothly from black, to blue, to red, to yellow all the way to white. These are the colors of a realistic wood fire, but any other color could be picked to simulate different types of fires. For example a gas fire could be made out of shades of blue. I'll leave this as an exercise for the reader :)

An array of 40x70 elements is used to represent the fire image.
Each element of the array represents the index of a color in the palette.

The array is initially set to all zeros. This is done to simulate the fact that the first frame represents the image of no fire, or fire off. It's all black.

Then the algorithm starts by randomly generating a raw of pixels at the bottom of the fire. This raw of pixels is the "burning area", were all the flames are generated. These pixels can be either white or black. White is a "hot" spot, and black is a "cold" spot.

With each iteration (or frame) the algorithm calculates the new values of the colors of each pixel of the image. The calculation of each pixel is based on some of the neighbour pixels below the current pixels being calculated. This simulates the fire roaring upward. The basic idea is to darken the various pixels as the fire raises. This simulates the fire getting colder further from the burning material (bottom raw).

Some adjustment is done to shorten the length of the fire (different adjustments could be done to make it longer, depending on the desired effect).

The code is pretty self explanatory and I invite you to take a look. The UJML source code is public domain. Do whatever you like with it.

The UJML source can be viewed here.
If you want to download the pure source just right click here, select "Save Target As..." and save it on your hard drive with name "flames.ujml".

Note that this algorithm has some very interesting properties. It allows, for example, to simulate fire balls, burning objects , fires going in any direction, fires moved by wind etc...

If anybody is interested in these variations let me know and stay tuned. I'll publish them in some future posts on this blog.

An Italian in the States - Part 2 - Television

I don’t like Television much. I probably watch between 1 and 4 hours of TV a week at the most. When I used to live in Italy it wasn't very different, but at least I had good reasons for not watching it.
Have you ever watched Television in Italy? There are 6 major channels. 3 are under the influence of the government (partially socialized RAI1, RAI2 and RAI3), and the other 3 are private (Rete 4, Canale 5 and Italia 1). That's it! Everything else is a bunch of minor local channels. All they air is infomercials or unknown B-movies from the 1970s. Don’t know if it is different today, but in the mid 90’s that’s how it was.
On all (6) channels, and in movie theaters, everything that is foreign is dubbed. Literally! Everything! I don’t think I have ever seen a foreign movie with subtitles in Italy. If I did I probably didn’t like it because I was completely not used to it. I was so used to watch movies with mouths and voices being out of sink that I didn’t even notice it.
When I watched original Italian movies it was actually weird to see mouths and voices perfectly in sink. It wasn’t only me to think it this way either. Consider that several Italian directors (especially from the ‘70s) decided to film movies in English and then have them dubbed in Italian to create the… Hollywood film effect!
A very popular type of television is the “variety show”. Usually these are talk/game/comedy shows with guests in living room type of setting. Hosts and guests are plopped on sofas or chairs talking about miscellaneous subjects. These shows can be up to 3 or 4 hours long, especially during Saturday afternoons. Each section of these shows is usually separated by some kind of modern dance. Usually the dancers are pretty girls in skimpy clothes.
You would immediately notice this aspect if you watched Italian TV. It’s very obvious. Not surprising in a country where a porn-star (Ilona Staller, AKA “Cicciolina”) created a “love party” and made it to parliament from 1987 to 1992.
As a generalization Italians have a very different relationship with television nudity. What in the States would be considered “edgy” (or outright “R” or “NC-17”) in Italy is considered pretty much normal. This is evident everywhere. It’s normal, for example, for billboards on public streets to depict images that could be straight out a Victoria Secret catalog.
This is the common Monday to Saturday Italian television panorama. Sundays are different. On Sundays there is only one subject on TV and radio: soccer. Almost every show on TV is either a soccer game, a soccer talk-show, interviews with soccer players or soccer fans, a recap of the Sunday’s soccer games and events, soccer forecast, and so on and so forth. Usually this extends to Mondays as well. Pure hell for people not interested in soccer such as myself.
Another interesting aspect of the Italian TV is the people in it. As a classic example one of the most famous show hosts is “Pippo Baudo”. Born in 1937 he has been around since the ‘60s. How many faces in American TV have you seen on the small screen for 46 years and still going strong on very popular prime-time TV shows targeted to people of all ages? Pippo is just one major example, but there are many others. Male television personalities have a job and they stick around forever. They disappear only when they retire for old age, get permanently ill, go to prison or die. There is no space for new faces and is almost impossible for new people to make it in the television industry unless an old-timer retires leaving one spot open for the second in line, and creating a void at the bottom of the pile.
For women this is a little different, and fresh pretty faces are always welcome.
The result of this strange combination of facts is a lot of television with a bunch of old man acting like young men and pretty girls in skimpy clothes. An odd scenario if you think about it. This unfortunately trickles down all the way to some of the Italian cinema. There is a whole line of silly movies (that never make it out of the boundaries of Italy) where men in their 60’s act like high-school kids going after women in their 20’s. Strange.

Belle, quote of the day.

For lunch today I ate a sandwich with salmon. After lunch I was talking to Isabella (Belle), my 4 years old daughter.
All in a sudden she looks at me and she says: "Daddy, you smell like meat!". Pause. "It's a compliment!"

An Italian in the States - Part 1 - Restaurants.

This is the first part of a series of posts that I intend to write on the experiences I had when I moved to the States from Italy. It has been a wonderful ride, and I don't want to forget what I felt. These memories are from several years ago, but still fresh in my mind.

Let’s begin…

I remember the first time I was in the States. I had no idea how things work and I experienced first hand the concept of cultural shock. Today I experience the same kind of cultural shock when I go back to Italy.

In Italy we have a very different relationship with food and drinks. From food ingredients, to coffee, to alcoholic beverages, to restaurant etiquette; everything is very different. I remember when I first went to a restaurant. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but I remember vividly that my poor English wasn’t nearly enough to understand almost any of the items in the menu. It looked like Greek to me! I was trying to find the rigorously ordered sections of a classic Italian menu marked as Antipasti (starters), Primi Piatti (“first dish”), Secondi (second dish), Contorni (sides), Frutta (fruit), Dolci (dessert), Caffe’ (coffee) and Amari (liquor). In fact in Italy you start with a starter, you go to a pasta dish (called “Primo”), you move to a meat dish (called “Secondo”) that you eat together with a side dish (“Contorno”), then you move to the dessert (“Dolce”) after which you have an espresso (NEVER a cappuccino, that’s breakfast!) and, if you like, a little glass of a very bitter liqueur called “Amaro” (bitter) o “Ammazzacaffe” (coffee killer).Well, I was shocked to find out that there is really no standard defined dish order in the States. People were ordering sandwiches and as drinks 16oz. coffees (a real “bucket” o’coffee for Italian standards) or milk shakes (almost a dessert in Italy or perhaps something you would have as a dinner if you were on some kind of sport diet).I observed with amusement (and horror) people spread butter on bread and receive all the food on a single platter containing the various courses together. I was shocked and intrigued by the differences and highly amused by the discovery process.When I finally decided what to order (with some help) I received my food almost immediately. An incredible five minutes, instead of the thirty minutes standard Italian waiting time. The waitress asked us “how does everything taste?” twice during the meal.
“Do I look that disgusted?” I thought…
In Italy the first time this question would have raised some eye browse and the second time would have received an impolite answer such as “it tastes just like it did 5 minutes ago, thank you”. After eating, we immediately received the bill. This is considered highly efficient here in the States, and I learnt to appreciate it. However at the time it was like being told: “get out! we need the table for some other customer!”. In fact in Italy when you go to a restaurant, the table is yours “for the night”. You sit there, and you can stay there until the place closes. It is normal and expected. Perhaps that’s why restaurants in Italy rarely grow into chains and most often stay small family businesses.I thought I saw it all, but the biggest shock had yet to arrive. The waitress noticed some food leftover on my plate and she politely asked “would you like a doggy-box?”. Not having any idea what a doggy box was, I just looked at her trying to figure out what she meant (“did she just call me a dog?” crossed my mind), then I looked at the people at my table and asked for help.
They explained that if I wanted I could bring home the leftovers.
I found it really funny. In Italy if you asked a box to bring home the leftovers you would obtain the same reaction of asking a piece of soap to wash your hands in the water pitcher! Anyway, I did take the box to get the full experience, and I liked it.

The role of skeptics

A skeptic is "someone who habitually doubts accepted beliefs". There are many kinds of skeptics in society. Some are harmless, some are funny, some are purely annoying and a few are dangerous.

The Casual Skeptic (or ignorant skeptic) is someone who doesn't know anything about a field but has preconceived opinions on it and, refusing consciously or unconsciously, to get to know the subject, simply doubts and dismisses it. These are harmless skeptics and we probably all have been casual skeptics on some subjects. Casual Skepticism can be useful when some incredible and dangerous claim is made and you don’t care about it. For example when people claimed that at 11:59:59PM on December 31st, 1999 the Earth would come to an end, most of us where “Casual Skeptics”. Most of us (including me) said “whatever”… and went back to the usual business. Without a little bit of Casual Skepticism we would be worrying about everything and anything and our life would be sucked away from us.

The Scientific Skeptic is someone who has notions on a subject, researches the subject extensively and based on that knowledge doubts it but is also willing to change mind if he discovers new evidence or proof. The Scientific Skeptic search actively for such evidence or proof and does not wait for somebody to "bring it" to his attention. This kind of skepticism is healthy and is at the base of the scientific method (make a hypothesis and research and be open for the proof).

The Professional Skeptic is someone who made a career out of laud disbelief of some specific field or claim. These individuals life is dependent on their abilities to find holes in someone's belief or claim, feed other disbelievers with assumptions and rhetoric reasoning and they will not change their mind no matter what. Their career depends on been skeptic! A change of their mind requires a change in career. These kinds of skeptics are usually either annoying or funny and often are also Absolute Skeptics (see below). Their followers are mostly Casual Skeptics that stumble randomly across their articles, and after briefly agreeing with them move on forgetting all about it. Some of their followers are also the Absolute Skeptics, who love to add some more arguments under their belt to prove their point during their campaigns. Professional Skeptics will claim scientific evidence, but the evidence they bring on the table is carefully filtered to prove their points. They will simply ignore any other evidence (even if such evidence seems convincing even to them).

The Absolute Skeptic (or super skeptic) is the only really harmful type. This kind of skeptic, which is most often also a professional skeptic, claims to know everything in the field, but in reality knows only targeted information that confirms his disbelief. The Absolute Skeptic will study the evidence that confirms the claim and will try to find holes in it, even to the point of making up facts or fabricate assumptions. He/she knows everything that dismisses a claim and absolutely refuses to acknowledge the validity of anything that proofs the claim. If something seems to be proving the claim beyond any doubt, the absolute skeptic will attack the source of such information, will make up evidence against it or will refuse to acknowledge that such proof even exists. The absolute skeptic will attack any believer of the claim trying to destroy his or her image and reputation in any possible way. Some examples can be easily found in history. When Galileo Galilei claimed that the Earth revolves around the sun, the Catholic Church attacked him to the point of forcing him to claim that he was wrong. The Church acted as an Absolute Skeptic in that context. We see examples of absolute skepticism in politics, in science and in many other fields. These people decide (consciously) to take a position and do not and will not hear or admit (consciously) that anything else can be even remotely considered right. Absolute skeptics are a plague of humanity and their blindness often slows down human progress and scientific discoveries. Be aware of Absolute Skeptics!!

Software Releases Name Conventions.

Historically the software industry has adopted some ill-defined (or not well defined) standards to identify product versions. The need for a version has been particularly important in the software industry because its products have a short (but not super-short) life-cycle, lack of phisical apparence and a continuous revisioning and refining. These factors put together pushed sotware makers to keep track and assign meaningful names to their products.

During the years I saw many different schemas adopted by different companies. The classic version.revision notations has been almost universally adopted to identify major releases and small revisions. Labels such as "alpha", "beta", "gold", "preview" have been added to classify the status of a release. In the mid '90s Microsoft came up with a new versioning schema releasing windows 95. Other smaller software shops followed that approach, but the majority stayed with the well known version.revision system.

The issue with all these schemas is that they really make sense only for the software vendor and they have been used and abused to the point that they make little sense today.

I saw both "alpha" and "beta" being defined as somethinig from a release of a software with missing features and crashing bugs, to the release of a software with all the features and few bugs. The differences are in the eyes of the developer, and sometimes in the eyes of the marketing division. I saw software titles releasing the first version as 2.0 or 3.1, just to give the sense of a mature product.

Even in the WWW context things are confusing today, and standards are becaming even less standard.

Google for example has been providing gmail to the public in "beta" form for years now, creating the concept of the endless beta model.

The question is: are these schemas and names meaningful for anybody today?
Why isn't software is just software?!? I mean, when you go to the grocery store and you buy cereal, do you need to know the version number of the recipe? All you really want is (1) to know what's in it (2) a product that you like and (3) that perhaps improves with time so you don't get too bored with it. If you keep liking it, you keep buying it.

Do we *really* need version numbers in today's software?

In a world where software updates itself automatically while you are sleeping, it seems that software is really mostly a service and not really a product. Often software is free, and what you pay for is the service that comes with it anyway. Sometimes you don't even pay for that and you pay with your attention (conscious or subconscious) on a piece of advertisment that pops up or shows up somewhere.

Today my expectation when I spend money to use a software technology is that I buy something that works, and if there is something that doesn't work... well... one day it will start working magically without me even knowing it. I gladly pay for that "service". If I trust the maker, I'll gladly pay for something that "works enough" now and that I know it will work better later. It never has to be perfect (impossible), it just needs to get better with time and do very well only what I really need. Please do not charge me for a huge amount of features that I never use. Please stop adding stuff that nobody uses! Just make it do well what I use every day!
If for any reason at any point I don't like where the product is evolving, I'll stop paying and I'll buy something else.

Software is a service. Not a product anymore. Version numbers should be berried in some advanced information box and used only in case something is wrong and you have to contact the customer service. In that case the version number is useful to tell the customer service exactly what you are running.