A dream within a dream

I just came back to the idea that the whole world is just a simulation on a nice super-computer like in the old science fiction film “Die Welt am Draht” from Fassbinder oder in the film “the 13th Floor”.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

There is always the problem how to hide from the simulated entities that their world is quite limited. I believe in our world they found a nice solution to this problem, they made it round! 😉

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Rails Plugin Documentations

As computer scientist I am working since 20 years now and since 2 years I have a lot of fun programming in Ruby or better in JRuby.

At the moment I am working on my first bigger Ruby on Rails project and have to state something which I wouldn’t perhaps have agreed with in my earlier years too:

Code (even well documented) is no substitute for good documentation!

I would like to address this specially into the direction of some developers who are writing really great plugins for RoR. A little bit more documentation about the basic ideas would lower the threshold for Rails newbies like me a lot. Naturally I am able to figure out how a plugin really works without documentation and I am sure that I can learn a lot from this experience. But eventually I will end up writing my plugins myself because that makes me faster then figuring out how something works which another programmer has developed.

So please keep in mind: Writing code in a computer language which is easier to understand and comes more natural does not subsitute for a good documentation!

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Blog enhanced with WPTouch

Since I am one of the guys playing around with an iPhone now I thought it might be a good idea to make my blog a little bit more readable on the iPhone and other PDAs. After a small research I decided to install the WPTouch plugin and have to state: great work, thanks!

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Buying an iPhone in China

Lately it was the time that I had to replace my old PDA with something new because I dropped it one time too much on the floor. Because we had business in Shanghai and found a shop with “original” iPhones we decided to switch to iPhones.

The first question when you buy something like an iPhone in China is: How can you be sure it really is an Apple iPhone and not a chinese clone? First I would suggest to search for some detailled pictures of original iPhones, they are very slim and have a characteristic position and border of the embedded camera. But I think the easiest way to identify an iPhone is the software on the phone. If you make a photo with the phone and scale it with the multi-touch ability of the iPhone the image scales and corrects the image resolution at the same time so that you can hardly see pixels while zooming.

So we went into this shop and in total bought 3 iPhones. The iPhones were neatly packed, seemingly in original, brand new boxes and my test showed that they were real Apple iPhones.

Before I bought the iPhones I didn’t now anything about jailbreaking and unlocking. I just tried my chinese and my german SIM card in the phone and both worked.

Back in the hotel the problems started. I reconfigured my phone and it didn’t work with any SIM card any more. So we went back to the shop and they made it run within 5 min and gave it back to me. While leaving they told me better not to update the software on the phone myself which finally made me really curious and back in the hotel I started an internet research to find out if the iPhones where original ones.

Especially the Apple Service and Repair webpage was very helpful. One of the iPhones was a replacement part without any guarantee, the other two were already several month old. Conclusion we bought refurbished iPhones sold as new ones. When the battery life of the replacement part showed that the battery was already quite old we decided to go back to the shop another time and ask the sellers directly about the fact that they hid that they sold refurbished iPhones.

The result was not really satisfactory. They changed the replacement iPhone with the damaged battery to another one but that was all.

Because one of us was really pissed off, she called the police later to ask them what to do. The police forwarded us to a special unit which deals with these matters and they told us that only China Unicom is allowed to sell iPhones in China and therefore they will do nothing about our case.

After we got this information I finally understood what happend to my iPhone which suddenly didn’t work any more and had a closer look on the installed software. The iPhones were original China Unicom phones which have been jailbreaked and unlocked!

As final resultI can only warn you to be aware that most phones, even in official China Mobile Reseller Shops like the one where we bought our phones, are fakes or refurbished. This puts the price we payed into a complete new perspective!

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The Nonsense of Software Patents

I am Software Developer and my opinion is that Software Patents are not only Nonsense but also counterproductive!

There are not infinitely many ways to program something. Computer Science Theory already shows that for many problems there are only few methods to solve the problem with programming in a reasonable way if they are solvable at all. And then there are best practices in programming which simply evolved from many programmers coding a huge amount of code and trying to make everything more manageable.

On the other hand there are the software companies who try to claim every idea as theirs to gain control over their competitors or even a part of the software development universe. This turns programming more and more into a run through a minefield and I am already sure that one day when I finally think that I get a big success with one of my programs there comes one of these big patent hoarders and wants its part of my cake because I violated some sort of broad spread patent.

As I can read on Heise Online today this time someone tries to get his piece of cake from our dear competitor Microsoft. It seems that the Canadian company i4i holds a US Patent No. 5,787,449 which describes the separate manipulation of architecture information and data of a document within the same file.

Not that I am not a little bit mischievous that it hit Microsoft, one of the biggest supporters of software patents and rigorous enforcer of his own “rights”, but I have to state that I am a little bit astonished that such a patent is possible after all! I mean, the patent was filed in 1994 but at this time we had already the Java Programming language since 1992. And together with this language came the famous JAR-file which is an zip-archive enhanced with a metadata file. This metadata file describes the “architecture” of the jar-archive and can be manipulated independently from the class files which normally constitute the data. It becomes even more obvious that this method is common sense when you examine the usage of ear- or war-archives because with the appearance of J2EE the usage of XML-Files within the archive for configuration and architecture description of the data within the archive went a huge step further.

Since 2006 the Open Document Standard is specified, which actually does what every smart programmer would do without any guidance. It packs together the formatting information and the data of a document into one archive, the exact same path which was already prepared by the jar-archives.

So, especially in direction of Microsoft, I would like to ask: Does anybody else have the same impression as I that software patents are really counterproductive an therefore should be forbidden?

I for myself have never in this business seen a striking innovation where I would have agreed that this should be protected by a patent. But I am only about 20 years in this business. Perhaps this point is still to come.

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