What If a Tree Fell in a Forest and No One Hears...

This is a classic philosophical puzzle: what if a tree fell in a forest and no one hears, did the tree fall? I take this essentially as a question on existence: does something exist if it does not register on anyone's mind? The tempted answer is yes followed by the further question "but how do you know that?" The difficulty lies in the confusion of the knowledge of existence and existence itself. In physics, quantum mechanics has provided an amazing distinction between the two and I shall explicate that in a later article.

My answer is simple. The event exists, i.e. the tree fell, and if you ask how I know it, I will respond: you just told me that. My point is that the knowledge of existence requires existence whereas the converse does not hold in general or there is no way to test such condition: in the example, you have to convey that to me in the question. Because for us to know that something exists, we must observe it, i.e. in daily experience, existence and our knowledge of it are bundled together. (That explains the common confusion of the two concepts.)

P.S. Existence is a deep issue in many disciplines and it fascinates me for long. I will try to remark on it from different perspectives in the future.

Anxiety over Options

I thought at length how to "allocate" my content on the web. Nowadays, in stark contrast to the past, there are many portals for hosting/presenting personal content: social network sites, blogs, video hosting sites, photo hosting sites, etc. Sometimes, this creates anxiety as where to share a specific piece of content: maybe LinkedIn for professional stuff, Facebook for fun, etc. And the ease-of-use offered does come with a price which is the uniqueness of representation, what many people long for. So I have come to these conclusions:

  1. personal websites are definitely not dead yet and I think its niche lies in the radical pursuit of identity, e.g. it is cool to own the domain name same as your name.
  2. there is inherent ambiguity in the intended use of web services, e.g. your mother just friended you on Facebook, using Google forms as database (I recently went to a business school workshop in which the speaker built his minimal viable product using free/very cheap web services), etc.

I think seeing all the web services as tools is helpful. Like what Marx once said, the discovery of functions of an object is history, as opposed to viewing functions of an object limited to its initial design. A good example is apple, i mean, a real apple, not Apple, Inc. Imagine that scientists discovered besides of being a delicious snack, some scientists discover its anti-cancer effect someday. It might be argued that the anti-cancer effect has always been a function of apples and my point is really about the human knowledge of functions. But that is crucial bit: even if the function is eternally associated with a certain object, it is useless without our discovering it (c.f. the question about existence). And in fact, I do not subscribe to the view of regarding functions as inherent properties of objects, but human constructs instead.

Okay, back to the question on personal content allocation, my solution is to use this blog really as a public log (the term blog came from web log) and will share most of my meaningful thoughts here for the ease to maintain (and then put the links onto other social sites) and build a very simple website as a portal for unique identity.


Polishing My Blog

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I stopped blogging for a while and I blogged when Wordpress did not exist (and Blogger was still Blogspot). The balance between ease to use and detailed customization is hard to achieve. Wordpress chose the radical strategy to provide its source code, thus the (almost) ultimate customizability while supporting an extensive set of add-ons (similar to blogspot's): I think the opensource aspect arguably popularized Wordpress and made its extensions more successful.

My experience with Wordpress comes from the building of a few websites for my friends and organizations: Moneythink China (http://www.moneythink.cn/) and CSSLC (the site I built was closed and this is the new site: http://csslc-focus.com/). Overall, I had a positive experience: there are some issues with add-on compatibility but it is not hard to fix it with some PHP knowledge.

I have played around with the new gadgets and customization Blogger provides over the weekend to polish my blog a bit. I started with a ready-made template by Awesome, Inc. for better browser compatibility (the dynamic template does not run on iPad) and adjusted some Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) code, added my own title background image (I guess I will call it Beyond Limits: it is a wooden fence common in Texas in the foreground) that suits the color theme of the template, drew my own favicon (and that was fun), etc. One complaint I have for Blogger is the long load time which is probably due to the amount of redundancy in CSS code:
the page is rendered 2.41s after GET request: I think that is quite slow considering that I have very little static assets on the page.

A cleanup of redundant CSS code is recommended by Google Chrome Developer Tools.

I am not surprised by the redundancy since the add-on's come with their CSS and the template will try to override them and then there is user customization but if a user is allowed to go in and have more control over how a page is rendered: in case of Wordpress, you can edit (almost) everything!

The other complaint I have is the customizability for the mobile template: the default page is usually clean and slick but the way how customized items from the web version are used in the mobile version is outside of user control and that might mess things up.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions about the look of my blog.


Refining My Google+ Profile

Continuation of the talk on online presence management.

As you might notice, yesterday Google undertook an aggressive move to push its social network Google+ by integrating results from Google+ into Google search result. I am excited to see this because I planned to talk about how to make yourself more visible while controlling the content with Google+.

Visibility is subtle: you want to show the right people the right content. And Google+ lets you do just that with circles. I had updated my Google+ profile to include my contact information and associated my profiles elsewhere: you can even control whom to share the information (almost) per text field. 


Monitor Your Online Presence

Online Presence Management is a big topic and is growing with ther availability of personal info online. I am learning how to do things right in this area and I intended to log what I did and hopefully this will be useful for others.

The approach I took to accomplish the goal
controlling what others see about me on the web
starts with understanding how someone finds you.

The answer is rather obvious for most people: Google. Therefore we should care about the google search results of our names on the first few pages (or as many as you feel adequate). Seeing what others will probably read about you will guide the future moves.

The natural question here is:
Google search results change with time (like everything else), how do I keep up with it?
set up a Google alerts!
I have set up Google alerts for my name and email addresses so I can receive notice as soon as new search result regarding them appear.

You might also want to know a few handy Google search operator: <item1> OR <item2> returns search results that matches either item1 or item2 and * is the wildcard that matches anything.

Weibo Redirecting Loop Fixed (Finally)

Yep, I used Sina Weibo and this is me @ weibo. I have been annoyed by their redirect loop for quite a while. So if you use the handy tool curl to look at weibo.com with
curl -I weibo.com
(the -I switch gives only the returned header). You see that the domain is redirected to www.weibo.com. It used to be that www.weibo.com redirects back to weibo.com, thus the loop. (The way you get out of it was to directly visiting your weibo profile (such as www.weibo.com/falcondai). I think they just fixed this problem in the past few days and www.weibo.com no longer redirects back to weibo.com


Domain Mapping Verification with Nslookup Command

I have been setting up my domain name(s) and redirection in the past few days. This process is frustrating for me, a starter for the speed of DNS record propagation in the web which might take up to 48 hrs. Basically main name servers around the world will update their records with each other. And my default DNS server which is provided by my ISP might not have a updated record of my zone file and this delays my testing.

I used Windows to do most of my development and I found a good use of its nslookup command to speed up this process by designating the nameserver to the one hosting my zone file using this command
nslookup -d <your_domain_name> <your_nameserver_url>
(the "-d" is optional and with it the command returns more details.)

For example, I used GoDaddy to host my domain zone files and my updated zone file lives on ns65.domaincontrol.com (and ns66.domaincontrol.com) as indicated in the screenshot:

For more info on nslookup on Microsoft Support: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/200525


Rebooting My Blog

Recently struck by the urge to share what I have been thinking and the need to persuade myself that I have learnt something during my soon-to-end undergraduate life at University of Chicago, I decided to pick up blogging as a channel to share my ideas, passion, and above others, life.

What will change? Well, I have been learning to develop mobile app and web app whereas most of my previous experience with programming has been with non-network apps.

So what am I going I planned to mainly write about the following categories: my path into the dev space (I hope to share my experience and learn from my readers), tech ideas, physics/math/philosophy meditation and perspective (my majors and lifetime curiosity), cooking (I love to eat and experiment with food), maybe art and social issues like my old posts.

As for style, I will try to keep things concise and clear. I might also post in both/either English and Chinese.