Saturday, October 27, 2007

The social network prophecy

When we look back at the past, into the history of humanity, we see how people used to live under harsh environments of all sorts. If we could roll backwards in time and eliminate one after another all technological advances, life quality quickly degrades. Leisure time decreases. Hard physical work becomes a dominant activity and the ability of global and fast communication is reduced to local mouth-to-mouth story telling. "How hard life must have been in those times!", we say. Gratefully---and automatically---acknowledging that we live in such advanced society. Nevertheless, we are the primitive people for those that will be here a thousand years from now. Were are lucky enough to have lived at the beginning of the computer era. We are witnesses of how communication has been made available to everybody by the simple stroke of the keyboard. We can chat, talk and see people that are oceans apart in real time and express our ideas in our blogs and social networks... and that is what my glimpse into the future is about.

In the not-so-far-future, when a child is born, he/she will be added to the huge electronic database of citizens of a given country. When the kid has grown enough he will start meeting people, first his parents then little fellows at school. In those times everybody will have a digital camera as now everybody wears a wristwatch. Everybody will be in a social network like hi5 or facebook or whatever---not by choice---but by law. Your choice, though, will be on what you are willing to share with the world. Then our fellow will be accumulating pictures and videos about his life, adding more and more friends as time passes. People will realized that peeking into their friends comments and pictures from time to time, they will never be out of contact. Once you know someone, the social network will keep people in the "sight" for as long as you wish. And that is the social network prophecy! Just imagine, for any event in your life, you just send a invitation message to everybody. No more wondering what happened with those kinder garden friends that you had, the guys from the boy scouts, the people you met at a conference or even those relatives that you haven't seen in years. But not everything is happiness... the social network would also tell us when the life of our friends has ended. Our friends' profiles will be a record of their passage in life, future generations will have a faithful journal of their great-great-grandfather! And for the people of that future day, the idea of losing contact with your primary school classmates will be one of those hard things that people had to bear in the long-gone days of the past.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Old calculations

Recently, I came across the chemistry notes of my girlfriend. I immediately recalled my firsts chemistry lessons in high school. In a place where a even a pocket calculator was banned from math and physics courses, the brazen idea of using a scientific calculator in the chemistry class was very exciting. Having keys with cryptic labels like hyp, exp, deg, hex, etc. used to create a halo of intellectual mystery around the gadget, hinting that were mathematics far beyond my current understanding. But the real breathtaking, admired and feared objects were the programmable calculators. Those hybrids between a scientific calculator and a computer, where you could code your own routines using BASIC. I learned the basics of coding in one of them, the Casio FX-880P. I was 15 at that time and I admit that I became a real geek on those grounds. Probably, I read the user's manual almost completely. I coded dozens of small routines from simple math calculations to a baseball game. How nice was to have that little computer in my exams! Chemistry definitely didn't need such amount of computer power. Although I coded a game that asked randomly from the symbols of the elements in the periodic table. That was a fun way of memorizing all of them! However, when it came to my high school statistics course, my little computer was a luxurious advantage that allowed me the cross-check my results. That's nothing amazing. Most pocket calculators can give you the mean and standard deviation. However, what we were asked in the exam was to count the frequency of occurrence of nearly 200 numbers in given intervals. So it seemed that the easiest way was to sort them first. Such a horrible time consuming task! But thanks to my secret weapon and the code that I wrote, I just had to wait until all the results were nicely displayed on the screen. What a glorious moment that was! I think you can call that "cheating". But I have to say, it was elegant and clever cheating. The same kind of deeds that you enjoy when you watch in Ocean's eleven movie!

These days my little computer lies in some drawer. Its moments of glory belong in the past.