Let Your Hyperlinks Live Forever!

It is the the duty of a Webmaster to allocate URIs which you will be able to stand by in 2 years, in 20 years, in 200 years. This needs thought, and organization, and commitment. (https://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI)

Joel Spolsky did it:

 I’m bending over backwards not to create “linkrot” — all old links to Joel on Software stories have been replaced with redirects, so they should still work. (November 2001)

More than once:

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to [several people] for weeks of hard work on creating this almost perfect port of 16 years of cruft, preserving over 1000 links with redirects… (December 2016).

Most of the outgoing URLs linked by Joel of Software have rotted, with some notable exceptions: Jakob Nielsen’s URLs do still work, so they live what he preached – in 1998:

… linkrot contributes to dissolving the very fabric of the Web: there is a looming danger that the Web will stop being an interconnected universal hypertext and turn into a set of isolated info-islands. Anything that reduces the prevalence and usefulness of cross-site linking is a direct attack on the founding principle of the Web.

No excuses if you are not Spolsky- or Nielsen-famous – I did it too, several times. In 2015 I rewrote the application for my websites from scratch and redirected every single .asp URL to a new friendly URL at a new subdomain.

I am obsessed with keeping old URLs working. I don’t like it if websites are migrated to a new content management system, changing all the URLs.

I checked all that again when migrating to HTTPS last year.

So I am a typical nitpicking dinosaur, waxing nostalgic about the time when web pages were still pages, and when Hyperlinks Subverted Hierarchy. When browsers were not yet running an OS written in Javascript and hogging 70% of your CPU for ad-tracking or crypto-mining.

The dinosaur is grumpy when it has to fix outgoing URLs on this blog. So. Many. Times. Like every second time I test a URL that shows up in my WordPress statistics as clicked, it 404s. Then I try to find equivalent content on the same site if the domain does still exist – and had not been orphaned and hijacked by malvertizers. If I am not successful I link to a version of this content on web.archive.org, track down the content owner’s new site, or find similar content elsewhere.

My heart breaks when I see that it’s specifically the interesting, unusual content that users want to follow from here – like hard-to-find historical information on how to build a heat pump from clay tablets and straw.

My heart breaks even more when the technical content on the target site gets dumbed down more and more with every URL breaking website overhaul. But OK – you now have this terrific header image with a happy-people-at-work stock photo that covers all my desktop so that I have to scroll for anything, and the dumbed down content is shown in boxes that pop up and whirl – totally responsive, though clunky on a desktop computer.

And, yes: I totally know that site owners don’t owe me anything. Just because you hosted that rare and interesting content for the last 10 years does not mean you have to do that forever.

But you marketing ninjas and website wranglers neglected an important point: We live in the age of silly gamification that makes 1990s link building pale: I like yours and you like mine. Buy Followers. Every time I read a puffed up Case Study for a project I was familiar with as an insider, I was laughing for minutes and then checked if it was not satire.

In this era of fake word-of-mouth marketing you get incoming links. People say something thoughtful, maybe even nice about you just because they found your content interesting and worth linking not because you play silly games of reciprocating. The most valuable links are set by people you don’t know and who did not anticipate you will ever notice their link. As Nassim Taleb says: Virtue is what you do when nobody is looking.

I would go to great lengths not to break links to my sites in those obscure DIY forums whose posts are hardly indexed by search engines. At least I would make a half-hearted attempt at redirecting to a custom 404 page that explains where you might the moved content. Or just keep the domain name intact. Which of course means not to register a catchy domain name for every product in the first place. Which I consider bad practice anyway – training users to fall for phishing, by getting them used to jumping from one weird but legit domain to another.

And, no, I don’t blame you personally, poor stressed out web admin who had to get the new site up and running before April 1st, because suits in your company said the world would come to an end otherwise. I just think that our internet culture that embraces natural linkrot so easily is as broken as the links.

I tag this as Rant, but it is a Plea: I beg you, I implore you to invest just a tiny part of the time, budget and efforts you allocated to Making the Experience of Your Website Better to making some attempt at keeping your URLs intact. They are actually valuable for others – something you should be proud of.

Gödel, Escher, Bach, and Strange Loops: Nostalgia and Random Thoughts

I am curious – who read the book, too? Did you like it?

I read it nearly 30 years ago and I would also tag it one of the most influential books I read as a teenager.

[This might grow into a meandering and lengthy post with different (meta-)levels – given the subject of the post I think this is OK.]

GEB QR preview featured

A modern variant of the ambigram presented at GEB’s cover. The shadows created by this cube represent the QR codes of Wikipedia articles about Gödel, Escher, Bach, respectively.

In 1995 author Douglas Hofstadter said the following in an interview by Wired – and this also resembles similar statements in his book I am a Strange Loop published 2007. He utters frustration with the  effect of GEB on readers and on his reputation – although he won a Pulitzer Prize for his unusual debut book (published 1979).

From the Wired interview:

What Gödel, Escher, Bach was really about – and I thought I said it over and over again – was the word I. Consciousness. It was about how thinking emerges from well-hidden mechanisms, way down, that we hardly understand. How not just thinking, but our sense of self and our awareness of consciousness, sets us apart from other complicated things. How understanding self-reference could help explain consciousness so that someday we might recognize it inside very complicated structures such as computing machinery. I was trying to understand what makes for a self, and what makes for a soul. What makes consciousness come out of mere electrons coursing through wires.

There is nothing metaphysical in the way the term soul is used here. Having re-read GEB now I marvel at the level Hofstadter was able to provide an interpretation devoid of metaphysics – yet elegant and even poetic. Hofstadter is quoting Zen koans but he does not force “spirituality”  upon the subject – he calls Zen intellectual quicksand.

GEB is about the machinery of mind without catering to the AI enthusiasm shared by transhumanists. It has once been called a Bible of AI but maybe today it would not be considered optimistic enough in the nerdy sense. It is not about how new technology might exploit our (alleged) understanding of the mind – it is only about said understanding.

When I read the book nearly 30 years ago I enjoyed it for two main reasons: the allusions and references to language, metaphors and translation – especially as implemented in the whimsical Lewis-Carroll-style dialogues of Achilles, Mr. Tortoise and friends…

And yet many people treated the book as just some sort of big interdisciplinary romp whose point was simply to have fun. In fact, the fun was merely icing on the cake.

… and,  above all, that popular but yet mathy introduction to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem(s). Gödel’s theorem is presented as the analogue of oxymoronic statements such as I am a liar or This statement is false – translated to math. More precisely there are true statements about integers in sufficiently powerful formal systems that yet cannot be proven within those systems.

Originally, the book was purely about the way the proof of Gödel’s theorem kept cropping up in the middle of a fortress – Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead – that was designed to keep it out. I thought, Here’s a structure that attempts to keep out self-knowledge, but when things get sufficiently complex and sufficiently tangled, all of a sudden – whammo! – it’s got self-representation in it. That to me was the trick that underlies consciousness.

I had considered Gödel the main part of the trio and I think I was sort of “right” due to this:

So, at first, there were no dialogs, no jokes, no wordplay, and no references to Escher or Bach. But as I typed the manuscript up in ’74, I decided it was written in an immature style. I decided to insert the dialogs and the Escher so that the playfulness became a kind of a secondary – but extremely important – part of the book. Many people focused on those things and treated the book as a big game-playing thing.

I am afraid, I did. I read the chapters dealing with a gradual introduction of the theorem more often than the parts about consciousness. Blending something abstract – that only hardcore nerds might appreciate – with wordplay, Escher drawings and musings on musical theory (pun not intended but obviously this is contagious) was a master piece of science writing. It seems this has widened the audience but not in an intended way.

But isn’t that the fate of nearly every real well-written science book transcending the boundaries of disciplines? Is there any philosopher-physicist writing about quantum mechanics who had not been quoted out-of-context by those who prefer to cook up metaphysical / emotionally appealing statements using scientifically sounding phrases as ingredients?

Anyway, focusing on the theorem: The gist of Hofstadter’s argument is that inherent contradictions were introduced directly to the very epitome of pristine rationality, Russell’s and Whitehead’s attempted to create. So we should not be surprised to find self-reference and emergent symbols in other systems built from boring little machine-like components. In a dialogue central to the idea of GEB his main protagonists discuss about holism and reductionism with a conscious ant hill – made up from dumb ants.

The meticulously expounded version of Gödel’s theorem is the heart and the pinnacle of the storyline of GEB in my point of view, and it is interesting to compare Hofstadter’s approach to the crisp explanation Scott Aaronson gives in Quantum Computing since Democritus. Scott Aaronson calls Gödel’s way to have formal statement talking about themselves an elaborate hack to program without programming. Aaronson makes the very convincing case that you could avoid all that talk about grand difficult math and numbering statements by starting from the notion of a computer, a Universal Turing machine.

Model of a Turing machine

Model of a Turing machine (Wikimedia, http://aturingmachine.com): an idealized computer working on a tape. It can move the read forward or back, (over-)write symbols on the tape or halt. Its actions are determined by the instructions on the tape and its internal state. Given a program you cannot decide if it will ever halt.

Gödel’s Proof then turns into a triviality as a formal system envisaged by Russell would be equivalent to having found a solution to the halting problem. The philosophical implications are preserved but it sounds more down-to-earth and it takes about two orders of magnitude less pages.

As Hofstadter says implicitly and explicitly: Metaphors and context are essential. Starting from a proof involving a program that is fed its own code probably avoids unwanted metaphysical-mystical connotations – compared to cooking up a scheme for turning statements of propositional logic into numbers, framed with Zen Buddhism, molecular biology, and art. But no matter in which way I might prefer to think about Gödel’s proof I guess I missed the mark:

(From the Wired interview – continued)

I had been aiming to have the book reach philosophers, people who thought about the mind and consciousness, and a small number actually saw what I was getting at, but most people just saw the glitter. At the time, I felt I’d lost a great deal by writing a book like that so early in my career, because I was no longer taken seriously by anybody.

If you did not get the message either you are in good company. David Deutsch, says in his review of I am a Strange Loop:

Hofstadter … expresses disappointment that his 1979 masterpiece Gödel, Escher, Bach (one of my favourite books) was not recognized as explaining the true nature of consciousness, or “I”-ness. I have to confess that it never occurred to me that it was intended to do so. I thought it merely explained the problem, highlighting stark flaws in common-sense ideas about minds. It also surveyed the infinite depth and meaning that can exist in “mere” computer programs. One could only emerge from the book (or so I thought) concluding that brains must in essence be computers, and consciousness an attribute of certain programs – and that discovering exactly what attribute is an urgent problem for philosophy and computer science. Hofstadter agrees with the first two conclusions but not the third; he considers that problem solved.

I can’t comment on the problem of consciousness being a yet-to-clarified attribute / by-product of computing but I find the loopy part about brains that must in essence be computers convincing.

Accidentally I have now read three different refutations of the so-called Chinese Room argument against strong AI – by Hofstadter, Aaronson and Ray Kurzweil. A human being in an hypothetical room pretends to exchange messages (on paper) in Chinese with interrogators. They might believe the guy speaks Chinese though he does only lookup rules in a book and mindlessly shift papers.

But how could you not associate the whole room, the rule book, the (high-speed!) paper-shuffling process with what goes on the system of the brains’ neurons? The person does not speak Chinese but “speaking Chinese” is an emergent phenomenon of the whole setup. Mental images invoked by “rule book” and “paper” are called intuition pumps by Hofstadter (a term coined by his friend Daniel Dennett) – examples picked deliberately to invoke that sudden “self-evident” insight along the lines of: Of course the human mind does not follow a mere rulebook!.

[Pushing to the level of self-referential  navel-gazing now]

Re-reading the blurb of my old version of the book I am able to connect some dots: I had forgotten that Hofstadter actually has a PhD in physics – theoretical condensed matter physics – and not in computer science or cognitive science. So the fact that a PhD in physics could prepare you for a career / life of making connections between all kinds of hard sciences, arts and literature was certainly something that might have shaped my worldview. All the author heroes who had influenced me the most as a teenager were scientist-philosophers, such as Albert Einstein and Viktor Frankl.

If I go on like this, talking about the science books and classics I read as a child I might get the same feedback as Hofstadter (see amazon.com reviews for example): This is elitist and only about showing off his education etc.

I am not sure what Hofstadter should have been done to avoid this. Not writing the books at all? Focusing on a narrower niche in order to comply with common belief that talents in seemingly diverse fields have to be mutually exclusive?

Usually a healthy dose of self-irony mitigates the smarty effect. Throw in jokes about how your stereotype absent-mindedness prevents you from exchanging that clichéd light bulb. But Hofstadter’s audience is rather diverse – so zooming in on the right kind of humor could be tricky.


And now I do what is explained so virtuoso in GEB – having pushed and popped through various meta-levels I will not resolve the tension and return to the tonic of the story … a music pun, pathetically used out of context.


You might wonder why I did not include any Escher drawings. There are all copyrighted still since  less than 70 years have passed since Escher’s death. But there are some interesting DIY Projects on Youtube, bringing to life Escher’s structures – such as this one.


Further reading The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think (The Atlantic)

Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, thinks we’ve lost sight of what artificial intelligence really means. His stubborn quest to replicate the human mind.

Scott Aaronson’s website, blog and papers  – a treasure trove! His book is not an easy read and probably unlike every so called science book you have ever read. It has been created from lecture notes. His tone is conversational and the book is incredibly witty – but nonetheless it is quite compressed information containing more than one course in math, quantum physics and computer science. And yet – this is exactly the kind of science book I want to read when trying to make myself familiar with a new field. One “warning”: it is about theory, not about how to build a quantum computer. Thanks to wavewatching.net for the pointer.

Carl Sagan’s Glorious Dawn: The Promise of Cosmos

Trying to catch up I am wading through social media streams and notifications. I am delighted to discover a post that echoes EXACTLY what I feel / have once felt as a teenager and high school student who had just decided to become a physicist. In his reflections Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Samir Chopra said it better than I would have been able to do. Quote: “I react the way I do to “A Glorious Dawn” because when I watch it I am reminded of a kind of naiveté, one that infected a part of life with a very distinct sense of possibility; I am reminded indeed, of an older personality, an older way of looking at the world. You could call this simple nostalgia for childhood; I think you’d be partially right. This nostalgia has many components, of course. Then, science, its methods and its knowledge, seemed sacrosanct; its history the most glorious record of human achievement, rising above its sordid record in other domains. It seemed to document a long struggle against many forms of intellectual and political tyranny. Because I was a student of science then–if only in school–I felt myself tapping into a long and glorious tradition, becoming part of a distinguished stream of humans possessed of epistemic and moral rectitude. And because I felt myself to be have just barely begun my studies, I sensed a long, colorful, adventure–perhaps as dramatic as those that I had seen depicted in Cosmos‘ many episodes–lay ahead of me.”

Samir Chopra

The YouTube video titled “A Glorious Dawn” starring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking (their voices run through Auto-Tune ), and snippets from Sagan’s epic  Cosmos , has now racked up almost nine million views and twenty-seven thousand comments since it was first put up sometime back in 2009. (Mysteriously, in addition to its seventy-seven thousand ‘Likes’ it has also attracted over a thousand thumbs-downs. There’s no pleasing some people.)

To that count of nine million views I have made several dozen contributions. And cheesily enough, on each occasion, I have detected a swelling, a lump in my throat, and sometimes even, most embarrassingly, a slight moistening of the eyes. I am a grown man, supposedly well above such trite sentimentality. What gives?

Like many of those that write those glowing comments on YouTube, I too watched Cosmos as a youngster. I learned a great deal of astronomy and the history…

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The Web As I Want to Remember It

This title might be due to unknowingly plagiarizing dejavu.org – The web as we remember it.

I haven’t visited dejavu.org in years, but I did now as I felt I need to wax nostalgic. This might be due to my recent tinkering with my websites‘ layouts.

As a child I crafted 200-faced paper polyhedra whose plans I developed from images of crystals in mineralogy books. I am maybe in the same state of mind today when I am moving around pixels, editing style sheets or debugging my home-grown content management system for these sites. This is raking my virtual Zen garden.

It is an anachronistic approach to what should today be interactive, responsive and created from templates. However, it really reflects some doubts of mine about what the web has become.

The first website ever - Tim- Berners-Lee's project

The first website ever – Tim- Berners-Lee’s project. The project has been made available at the historical URL again in 2013.

The web has been a quiet place. My sites have always been my secret fortresses on the web, only known to the most persistent stalkers. A new colleague in a project greeted me once appreciatively with You are The Subversive Element, aren’t you? As an aside: I have found that so-called personal websites – that ought not to interfere with business according to common wisdom – are perfect filters to single out people who are fun to work with.

I think there is no better exercise in becoming unimpressed by feedback, likes and comments than authoring a non-interactive website for years. The fact that somebody could read it provides just enough sense of accountability for the content. I wonder what it must feel like to grow up today, immersed in a web culture that fosters craving attention.

But what is more important:

We have given up on the noble notion of a page.

Today’s sites are frontends to applications that create a dynamic dashboard of widgets, thus dynamically re-arranged snippets and tidbits of information – very often ads on many popular sites but this is not my point.

I noticed this when mulling about responsive design, that is: making websites compatible with the limited display options of different devices. The main content – usually presented in some main reading pane should probably be created in a way suiting this presentation: Chopped to digestible tidbits instead of walls of text.

But guess what would be the perfect responsive design: The most ancient, 1995-style html page, consisting of header and body, and some paragraphs contained in that body. As long as you don’t start to create containers or columns in order to organize the content and/or make it appear more appealing, you will see the text flowing nicely from left to right on mobile devices, too.

I am just a dilettante web developer so please go ahead and prove me wrong. You can use this perfectly straight-forward (and interesting) website for testing.

Quite ironic in a sense that we tried so hard to layout our pages: First using these now abhorred frames, then tables (I killed my most obnoxious ones recently), and div containers controlled by CSS. Now we have a difficult time in letting all that nested automated stuff flow again from left to right.

I have found another, equally ingenious way to make a site responsive without actually doing so technically. I randomly picked Brain Pickings as it is very successful website. The site is the whole business – so it has to be user-friendly. Again I would ask the professionals to debunk my theory. Checking the code and using tools such as ScreenFly the site is not responsive in terms of adapting the presentation to the device. But the content pane is just 500px wide and thus fits into the width of many smart phones when those are rotated by 90 degrees.

What I like best: If you scroll down – everything moves! On many really responsive sites elements jump or stay in place when I did not expect it. And some of them simply do not work on desktop PCs as if they were designed having only the target group of 15% readers in mind.

It is exactly that anything-moves-when-scrolling that gives pages – including mine maybe – a dated look now. Do we expect to have different elements on (what was formerly known as) a page a life of its own?

I am reminded about what Nicholas Carr said about the emergence of eBook readers in The Shallows: He is not so much concerned about feeling and smelling physical items – an argument I could never understand anyway. But as soon long-form texts formerly known as books become available on eReaders, their content might get splintered into sharable little pieces. Readers might rather look for share-worthy snippets instead of reading the whole content.

Giving up on the ancient concept of a web page and replacing it by a sequence of twitter-like pieces presented in an intriguing way is probably the next stage in content evolution.

We have come a long way.

Tim Berners-Lee's First Web Server

Workstation used by Tim Berners-Lee as the first web server on the World Wide Web, displayed at Microcosm, the public science museum at CERN. Note the sticker! (Wikimedia)

Quarterly Search Term Poetry Results (Overdue!)

Due to my time-out from social media search terms submitted in Q2 2013 have not yet seen the light of day. Shareholders, I apologize!

Going for a new level of efficiency in creating poetry I try to anticipate your comments and questions. I have announced it several times: I am poeticizing your comments now! I am combining just anything –  search terms submitted by anonymous users, only known to Google and the NSA, with snippets of comments you have left on my previous post.

Rules are as follows:

  • Any line of the search term poem (including titles) is copied from the search terms as displayed in WordPress Stats.
  • Editing is not permitted. Words must not be cut out from the middle of search strings, but search terms might be truncated at the beginning or the end.

The same rules apply to processing of comments. Formatting rules for this poem:

  • Bold: Search terms promoted to titles.
  • Regular: Search terms.
  • Italics: Comments on my last post.

what is a professional online persona
quote life being a cliche
abilities in narrating an event

Ignoring cooking and flint knapping

why does a spinning top not fall over
gyroscopes are magic
engineering vs physics jokes
i dropped physics and i feel stupid

Todays challenge

can mice get into microwaves
jurassic park determinism
“control system” cyber security

I am very curious

how does a refrigerator work
information theory
spaceship glass panel
enigma chipper machine

you are even more correct than perhaps you were aware.

physic for everyday life
time travel movies
popular science books enjoy
what are some of the classical mechanics for a slinky?

Perhaps this is going back-in-time

zen capitalism ltd
wiggly lines
flattering poems
brilliant education limited

objective knowledge was limited by the capacity of human memory

theories of hard work
die hard 4
outdoor security
the tough-guy macho culture
the strangest man in physics

do your own electric lighting

poems on my new bag
skawee reweert
1960s commercials
art of error message

I am bound to like your choice

Analogue modem

This is a hint for those (kids, generation Y-ers) who did not get the Skawee Reweert joke.

mad tea party physics
satire and technologies
garden hose to flush out toilet
timeline reduction in toilet flush

the more critical is the load

surfing theory
six elkements of weather
gone fishing “best out of office reply”

time has passed

no time for blog awards
funny comments on theory is much more easier than practice

And, this is calculated to help me sleep better?

This is how this poem sounds! SKAWEE-REWEERT

Edit / Update: Actually I am not able to find Skawee Reweert on any older article of mine. I had referenced it on my subversive website though which includes links to the latest posts on this blog. Why did it show up in WordPress Stats?  #NSA #surveillance #machinesgoingmad #panic

Intercontinental Discourse on Cheery 1960s Commercials

After two walls of text I owe you some light entertainment.

I have learned from the comments on this post that the song has been ingrained in the minds of American children in the 1960s and 1970s. True, I hear it in my dreams now, too. It’s Slinky, It’s Slinky! For fun it’s the best of the toys …

This is a service to my non-US and non-CA readers. Go indulge in this very retro black and white version.

Mind the delayed motions of the animals’ hindquarters (and their funny voices). I believe they give prove of the slinky’s secret as discussed in these comments: The bottom of the falling slinky needs some time to notice that the top had been released. In a similar way, the rear parts need time to notice that the animal has been pushed.

When walking down a stair, the segment of slinky that touches the next step of the staircase first needs to wait quite a while until it starts moving up again – in contrast to jumping compression spring or a rubber ball.

But the most important question to me was:

Which 1970s ad has influenced us over here in middle Europe?

The first one that came to my mind was hard to find although many people seem to search the internet  – posting heartbreaking requests: Does somebody have this video? I would pay any price!

So this is it: In German, very short, probably recorded by filming the TV version on a phone. It is an ad for detergents – I believe you get the message, the language barrier notwithstanding. It is about people being very happy with their clean and soft laundry, but – and this was maybe revolutionary: No Happy Housewife in this commercial, but little cartoon characters inhabiting your laundry.

These creatures have a legendary name – a literal translation would be: The Fabric Charmers. This name and this jingle has been ingrained to the brains of German speaking children. I have found websites featuring the large version fluffy plush version of those – and owners still proud of them.

Though these are talking creatures, just as the slinky animals, their voices are more cartoon-y. The average frequency (pitch) have been increased – most likely by using a higher play back rate than recording rate, not by letting the singers inhale helium.

Today little creatures cannot be found in the microstructure of the laundry anymore. Instead, we see ads of tiny monsters living in toilets on TV, especially under the brim. These monsters seem to have been created from material found in Pixar Studios’ dustbin.

Similar creatures do live in Australian toilets.

What can we learn from this intergalactical and intertemporal comparison?

Did the economic crisis kill the cute, fluffy pre-oil-crisis Fabric Charmers and replace them by Mutant Toilet Germs?

On Writing or: What Do I Need to Smoke to Understand Your Websites?

This is a verbatim quote.
(“This” refers to the second part of the title. The first one is a lame reference to Stephen King, of course).

It is a question asked by a former colleague some years ago who had been exposed to my proto-blog websites for the first time. These websites are subject to my ongoing Website Resurrection Project.

I had planned to give you a dull, corporate-status-report-style update on the project, but there is nothing more to say but: To my utmost surprise I am really maintaining these websites still, in addition to this blog, in addition to our so-called company blog and websites (hardly discernible as such) … and in addition to excessive usage of social media since last year.

The more interesting question is: Why?

Why am I writing (pseudo-)blogs and why am I engaged in so many different conversations?

This post has also been inspired by Michelle Hatzel’s post on Virtual Dwellings. (Edit: Posting not available offline as per 2019).

I confess, my very first website was a business website (even discernible as such) – this was in 1997, the golden age of IT, before the dotcom crash – and me an aspiring freelance IT consultant. The Y2K version of this (German) site is still available, tagged as archived.

Thus I am not a serial website creator and deleter – I migrated the old stuff over and over to several new platforms and my rule is not to delete anything and cross-link all my profiles and websites. I am fascinated by the intricacies of Digital Legacy, by the way. (Edit – 2019: article now behind paywall. So much for digital legacy!)

The only exception to this was taking large parts of the website offline and gradually ‘resurrecting’ them now. I dare say one of the reasons I am writing online is my desire to confront myself with my dated writing and thinking.

I am intrigued by ambiguity and by attempts to bridge chasms, most notably the ones running through my own (online?) persona. This was what made me craft the lengthy site title of this blog and this made me create three different sites back then – different in layout, style and content. In this blog I am aiming at exactly the opposite by combining everything.

Often I felt compelled to or obliged to write an ‘expert blog’, e.g. on cryptography and digital certificates. Theoretically this is the way to build an online community and reputation as the social media experts tell us, and you should give back to the community and add to the free repository of knowledge that had been invaluable to me as a professional.

But I already felt bored before I even got started. Though I do write about science and IT I cannot disentangle that from personal stories and weird associations.

I called my personal website e-stangl.at my personal console – replying to my individual WHOAMI – and that’s exactly what it was. I started experimenting with the interaction between language, content, layout and the technical underpinnings of websites. I have spent hours in moving something one pixel to the left or to the right and musing about which colors to pick in order to perfectly represent the spirit of a website. (Voice from the future – 2019: I consolidated this site with my other two sites in a single one – preserving all the content and also the old URLs, at least until 2019).

Adding a disclaimer I need to state my web tech knowledge is dated now and I don’t say that my sites are particularly beautiful or well done. But my own web design and web writing is one of the few things I ever tried my hands on that are devoid of my – otherwise all-encompassing and irritating – perfectionism.

My ancient websites are based on a homegrown ‘content management system’ that antedated some of typical blogging softwares’ features, but it lacked the options of adding categories and tags in a flexible way. This is due to my former belief in being able to really categorize in advance what you are going to write about. But I am an avid re-tagger and re-categorizer, and re-arranging my web content is really raking my personal Zen Garden.


Yes, there is nearly only navel-gazing at these websites, and – in a sense – this is an upside of making a website your fortress on the web, your personal dwelling. Though I had received unsolicited feedback via e-mail now and then, I know I am writing only for myself. Since these are technically not blogs and not hosted on a well-indexed platform they are basically not found. The whole point is writing with an imaginary public audience in mind that theoretically could read it, but not in your wildest dreams expecting any feedback ever.

I started this blog with the same ‘intentions’, but suddenly the fortress with its well-defined boundaries turned into a conversation. Years before I had loathed the concept of my comments published at other websites and other bloggers’ comments published to mine – blurring the boundaries between ‘mine’ and ‘your’ virtual territory. I imagined all kinds of stalkers and fringe scientists invading my websites. Unfortunately that did not happen.

Now I consider myself part of that large network and I don’t care about the boundaries. It is the process, the endless stream of different conversations that meet in a place that I might call my online dwelling. It is like a roundabout or crossroads, not like a building.

This is most likely the reason I plunged in to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ gleefully – as a rather late adopter. Again I finally ‘got’ the idea of resharing and retweeting existing content which seemed absurd and useless to me before: It is about being a thought leader DJ. I accepted that all human utterance is entirely plagiarism (Mark Twain) and came to terms with all of writing (any myself) being cliché. No, this time I won’t pingback to my article featuring Sandra Bullock as the nerdess. quoting my article about cliché has become cliché it its own right.

The greatest mystery to myself was probably why I am blogging in English. About 10 years ago I had suddenly decided I needed to have an English version of subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. I planned for a 1:1 correspondence of English and German pages and I failed epically on that: I dreaded keeping them in sync. The English version just never wanted to be a translation of the German one or vice versa. It was more like: Here is a keyword – now write down your free associations in German and English.

I am not sure if this explains anything but my English reading at that time comprised the following books that I still consider most influential.

The following website – my first English-only website has materialized itself out of the blue in 2005 after having devoured such books in parallel to your daily dose of ‘corporate communications’. It was about a ‘group project’ whose activities I had the honor to chronicle.


EPSI is a prestigious middle European Think Thank dedicated to: Elementary research, painting blogs, collecting space and doing something. (This was our logo).

For better or for worse: My brain switches to English when pondering on smart aliens who plan to subvert the corporate world, for example. I had written extremely weird stuff in German also – that triggered the quote used as header, but German and English weirdness cannot be translated into each other. As an important initiative in The Website Resurrection Project – I started commenting on my former, weird German ‘Subversive Newsletters’ in English, and I started adding ironic and sarcastic comments on my former Pivotal Articles in German such as my graduation speech.

This post has reflected an important characteristic of all my online writing: It is a about trains of random thoughts, loosely connected, and not all planned strategically. It is finally about a global conversation, not so much about exposing my monolithic work of art to the public.

If you do not know how to close a random post – add a quote:

We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

— Christopher Locke in Internet Apocalypso, Chapter 1 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site.
Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

— Thesis Nr. 22 of 95 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

2012: The Year We Make Contact

What happened?

  • I started blogging here in March. My posts evolved from lengthy walls of text to geeky stuff. Thanks to my readers who follow this blog despite the strange combination of topics covered. But I know: Resistance is futile.
  • I have halted pseudo-blogging to my ancient non-blog sites for some months, but resumed it  to write again without support by commenters and likers. Thanks also to my readers over there! Live long and prosper!
  • I have finally embarked onto new ventures. Thanks for all the fish, Geeks! … goes to my former clients in the IT sector, for many years of professional and cordial collaboration.

Actually all of my private and professional milestones have been captured essentially in the new ‘tagline’ I added to my professional profiles:

I am a physicist running a small company together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology he is  Chief Engineer and I am Science Officer. We work on planning and optimizing heat pump systems that utilize unconventional heat sources.
I have designed and implemented Public Key Infrastructures (PKI, applied cryptography) for enterprise customers since 2002 and I have phased-out these activities in 2012 in order to reconnect with my roots as a scientist and engineer and to focus on renewable energies.

I am particularly interested in the interfaces between building technology, energy engineering, applied physics, and IT infrastructure… and basically in all of physics, all of the history of science and all of the interdependencies between science and society.

I am obviously in self-centered navel-gazing mode so I do not feel motivated, qualified, or prepared enough to comment on what happened in the world and the universe at large.

As a replacement I will craft some search term poetry again that should represent what The World is trying to tell me.

I am mixing terms from: WordPress stats and Google / Bing webmaster tools:

poetry by crowdsource
theory and practice are different in real life – poem
your search term
status report
resurrection project 2012

the darkside took me
combine 2 cliches
trying to be strong through art
nostalgia and steampunk
retro geek
being cliche

physicist philosopher
irony vs oxymoron
blank sheet theory
philosophy and weird intuition
f as in
fringe science theories
quantum physics in a nutshell
moonlighting with einstein
theory about stupid questions

microwave oven day 2012
can a mouse get in a microwave
rodent electric chair
a sustainable product

the first heat pump
it was built
fundamental research in physics done by outsiders
calculate -18+25-(-15)
full steam productions
vapor ever
braving the elements

 dark side strong it is
newbie kafkaesque
how to avoid inflation
total topics kafkaesque
people become interested in the dark side and want to gain knowledge in using it to their advantage

wholeheartedly cliched?
original idea already cliche

Clockwork universe by Tim Wetherell

Clockwork universe by Tim Wetherell (Wikimedia). What else would be an appropriate illustration of the meaning of this end-of-year-search-term-poem than a steampunk clock?

Almost There: Celebrating a Special Day

No, this does neither refer to the End of the World tomorrow(*), nor to Christmas, nor to the End of the Year.
(*) In 8 minutes in my time zone.

Since I have alluded to a ‘leap of faith’ and ‘passing through worm holes’ here or here I owe you a sequel. In a sense it is also a prequel.

I am celebrating an anniversary today: It has been the 20th of December 2003 when I travelled to Tenerife. Escaping snow, cold and Christmas-related rituals.

I had just finished one of those Need-to-be-done-before-Christmas-it’s-so-funny-to-spend-the-nights-in-the-office projects. At the airport I bought popular science magazines on quantum mechanics and the history of the Curie family.

Actually, I was embarking to another journey and slowly I am realizing today that I am almost there. Fortunately I have not known it would take to long, but I believe the journey has constituted a reward in its own right.

Meandering Paths. Tenerife.

Meandering Paths. Tenerife.

My visits to the Canary Islands have always been entangled with career and life decisions: I have been to Lanzarote nearly 20 years ago as a PhD student – when I was pretty sure I will not stick with academia forever. In Fuerteventura I recovered from having been promoted to my first management position and decided to return to the pleasures of working as a geek specialist soon.

At the end of 2003 it has been a year since I had started to re-read all my university physics text books and lecture notes again ‘for fun’. The pop-sci magazines were intended to serve as light entertainment on the airplane, but finally they triggered a process that could not be stopped ever since. I was determined to work my way back or forth from corporate global IT to physics and engineering. More than that I wanted to invent my own peculiar way of doing that – as explained previously neither academia or a corporate position were an option for me.

Pine trees in Tenerife.

Pine trees in Tenerife.

Actually, one of the outcomes of the Tenerife episode was an offer to work in a project on applied quantum physics shortly after my travel. Quite flattering, actually. But I declined after some sleepless nights and decided to stick with IT for some time (and gradually transform and control the way I work) instead of returning to postdoc life.

It took one more trip to La Palma the next year in order to finalize the next step – in our joint journey. We founded our company another year later,  focusing on some very specific fields in IT. Actually, the final preparation was done when traveling as well: We visited most of the villages and cities in Austria whose name starts with a ‘z’ – an idea created in the company of like-minded strange lifeforms. This trip had a surprising impact: Since the z criterion was so random you were forced to visit places neglected by tourists (Some villages consisted of a single street basically). And all of a sudden you realize how rural and down-to-earth the country is where you have lived – and how immaterial, weird and bizarre the world of global corporations seems to be. It was like Dilbert working on a farm – the ultimate outdoor experience.

Breakwaters. North of Tenerife.

Breakwaters. North of Tenerife.

Nevertheless, I spent some more years at airports, in chilled data centers, and steel-and-glass office towers, and air-conditioned hotels. But it was a tremendous improvement to work as a self-employed consultant versus working as an employed consultant: No more goals in terms of utilization and billable hours! Paradoxically, I did not work less, but I had the chance to say yes or no to every project request and I was able to become even more specialized in an area I had selected – instead of working on the projects that are on the table and need to be done to meet the numbers.

I was still reading physics stuff including really hard text books, but I admit I focussed on beating my own numbers every year. I am still proud of my achievements and in particular about the fact that I never did anything remotely resembling marketing. Unless you count ‘drinking coffee with old friends’ as marketing.

Mountains in Tenerife

Mountains in Tenerife

I was in Lanzarote at the beginning of 2010 – considering a career change really seriously, but not yet sure about how to start exactly. I had acquired a ‘licence’ as a ‘Professional Engineer in Applied Physics’ by the end of 2009 and we have started to tinker with an unconvential heat pump system.

Fast forwarding to end of 2010 – I was stressed and nearly burnt-out by the end-of-year deadlines, not so much by the work load but by what I called a lack of meaning. Suddenly I felt like the anti-security consultant who tried to help really productive people to get their work done despite security and compliance. Ironically, IT security was (and is) still ‘hot’ – I have been busy with declining project requests long after I had stated firmly I will not do this any more.

In December 2010 I would have loved to write a good-bye e-mail to all of my customers, but I was not ready for that yet. I left hints between the lines on some of my websites but nobody noticed. The difficult part in the decision was not about renouncing of future revenue, it was rather about disappointing all of my ‘fans’ who invented nicknames as ‘Grande Dame of PKI’ for me.

Then there was Easter vacation and accidentally I heard some stories about friends from friends who had been forced to change their careers – due to the economic crisis or health issues. And then I knew that my personal challenge was to initiate the change all by myself.

Natural swimming pool. Tenerife.

Natural swimming pool. Tenerife.

After having considered zillions of postgraduate studies since 10 years (incl. philosophy, computer science, mathematics, psychology, science communication) I enrolled for another master’s degree program in energy engineering immediately after Easter. Our personal heating system project proliferated into a research project. I informed all my customers, one by one, experimenting with the way I presented my story. I got amazing feedback and heard interesting stories of other IT people who wanted to do something else or who basically stated ‘Finally you are doing what you always wanted’. During the time I was already phasing out my IT activities I had a meeting with a new potential business partner nonetheless, playing my IT role for the last time (I thought). Months later I confessed to this partner and he told me right away that it was clear to him from our lunch small talk that my heart was in science and engineering. I could not even remember I talked about science with him.

So here I am: Aspiring consulting engineer in renewable energies, the transition period is going to end soon. The pilot system is doing fine and I am entering the final purt in the third term (of four) in my master’s program. I am delighted by feedback and questions from potential customers and partners – during the stealth mode period.

Wind Park in the north of La Palma (2004)

Wind Park in the north of La Palma (2004)

More often than not in the past I did not celebrate achievements or milestones, but rather executed the perfectly designed plan. I did not travel the world after completing my first Master’s or PhD studies, and between jobs I spent two weeks of vacation maximum. But this time I take every single step with utmost awareness.


Further reading / context: Reading and contributing to discussions on www.physicsforums.com helped me a lot to develop my personal strategy. My postings over there allow for tracking the gradual shift in my attitude.

Website Resurrection: Status Report

It’s nearly EOY (end of calendar year) in corporate lingo, and thus it is time to prepare the last reports and try to meet some deadlines set by top management for political reasons.

Corporate thinking is in my bones so I need to apply this approach to my personal Website Resurrection Project.

I registered three personal domains – for the reason of avoiding a website that is all over the place (as this blog is now).

I have offline-ed most of the existing pages in spring 2012, and I am gradually taking them online again, adding more content, and replacing 1px by 2px or #CCCCCC by #BBBBBB. This is my virtual Zen garden. It does not mean that my websites are particularly professional or sleek.

I am was[*] bold enough to utilize Gravatar’s / WordPress’s snapshot service here to create preview images. Note that some weeks ago these preview images had been replaced by what I called spammy images.

[*] Comment from the future – 2019: Removed those as I consolidated all my sites later, and the preview of “different” sites does not make sense anymore. But for completeness, here is the dynamic image as of the date you are viewing this:

radices.netPersonal Website

I had setup my first small business website in 1997, and this website – e-stangl.at – morphed into a private one in 2001.

It’s like a blog updated half a year maximum. It is this site that held enigmatic hints by the end of 2010 – at the time when I decided (yet unaware of having decided) to leave the world of IT and global corporations, but when I was still not ready to state Dear customers, due to personal reasons I have decided….

I still like the colors despite or because of the solemnity and the proto-twitter stream at the top. As per today, most of the pages have been resurrected and most recent updates has been added.

Weird Website

In 2000 I attended a management training. I learned about www.cluetrain.com – not all so called business books are written in Dilbertesque jargon. I made Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy my favorite quote. My take on Cluetrain in retrospect is here.

These were the days when I became The Subversive Element, which morphed into The Subversive Elkement later. To my utmost delight the valuable domain subversiv.at was still available. It become host to any weird and bizarre stuff that came into my mind.

Currently I have resurrected less than 50% of the website, and I added some new content. I indulge in linking to the blog or following-up on the blog – for the fun of creating strange self-referential loops. I have also crafted a hand-made XML feed.

Science Website

radices.net has been registered shortly after the other ones. The name indicated my desire to re-connect with my roots as a scientist. Yes, I have come a long way. The content is rather similar to my blog posts on physics here.

Ironically, the Latin word radices (roots) is also used by sites inclined to esotericism, but one of the main drivers to start this site was my (skeptical physicist’s) fascination of fringe science. I have tried to explain my position earlier.

I have resurrected more than 50%, added new content, and a hand-crafted XML feed. And fixed a CSS bug.

This is all not too exciting probably, but project reports never are.

However, there is a particular website that resists all attempts of resurrection, amendment and updates. It is an artefact. It is monolithic. Think of monolithic as in monoliths – such as the ones in 2001 A Space Odyssey .







Imagine to listen to Thus Spake Zarathustra.

This is it:


It is a weird website that emerged from nothing in 2005 due to the joint efforts of four exceptional individuals.

We had an org chart and job titles, of course. The Element was in charge of:

Subversive Non-Coordination & Chief Desperate Dreamer.

This might be tomb, but an impressive one.

And to this day you may find snippets of the El(k)ement’s writing associated with artistic or refined websites or some other pages of EPSIs.