Tagged: linguapolis

Killing dead time

Social media is not about losing a lot of time by being social instead. It’s about being productive in the dead-time-continuum. Let me explain…

If I were to become an autobiographist, «killing dead time» certainly would rank high in a list to qualify for a good title. Not that my life is that interesting – although describing the life of the people in it would be an interesting perspective – but it is true however that my life is filled with time that politely asks to be killed.

I used to love walking. I live in Ghent and walking from one side of town to the other is something I preferred rather than riding a bike. Why? If you would have asked some weeks ago I would have answered: “because I’m too lazy to maintain a bike”. But the main reason lies elsewhere. Being on the road gives you the great opportunity to overthink things. For instance if I go to a meeting on foot I know that when I enter the room I will be better prepared. Taking thought-consuming types of transport, such as a bike or a car, will make you lose your X minutes of thinking-time.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who has dead time – dead time being the time you are not doing your maintask -. A good friend of mine told me he always uses the toilet for approximately 16 minutes. That’s exactly the time he needs to finish this mobile phone game, extending his visit but making it a lot more fun. Of course we can recite an endless list – such as queuing at the grocerystore, waiting for a bus or plane or train, sitting on a bus or plane or train… – but that’s something every person can fill out for him- or herself.

When I discussed this idea with my father, people having too much dead time, we were thinking this could actually have a positive side-effect: people may actually do productive things. As he works as a researching in computer assisted language learning at the university of Antwerp he figured this might be exactly why language learning apps are very important. When are you going to learn a language? Not when you’re at your computer working for that customer whose product should have been ready yesterday, but when you’re at the airport waiting for the plane, or even on the plane, on your way to the next customer.

Seems like we weren’t the first to come up with this idea. Although our idea will get better implementations 😉

I think this is the reason for the success of social media. If you would look up the geolocation of your friends’ tweets (twitter messages) I bet you would be able to find out the exact location of the bathroom in their building. This is also the reason why I like the iRail project a lot: apart from planning your trip, iRail will also try to make your commuting as fun and interesting as possible: providing real-time social media updates from your train, letting your friends know you’re on this train or playing augmented reality games such as http://www.chromaroma.com/.

It may be interesting to know that I just got of my bus, which I prefer taking over walking home now. During the trip I’ve catched up on twitter, I have read my email and wrote this blogpost.



My final words on .NET

The first thing you learn when taking a course in software design is this:

You’re never done developing a computer program

This is a huge contrast with business-models in which we’ll produce hammers: we’ll need a metal bar and a wooden stick; and once you finished designing the production process, on which you will probably want to take a patent because you want to benefit from your great invention, you will have perfect products which do not ask for modification. In this model patents stimulate the quest for better solutions.

The Ones We Don’t Mention (from now on: TOWDM) copy this model to this digital environment, but instead of stimulating improvement they are slowing it down to minimum speed. Patent trolls appear: companies who’s only goal is to register new patents and to sue anyone who’s infringing them.

geekandpoke.typepad.com - CC BY-ND

It becomes a major problem when those companies’ only interest is to sell more copies of their product. They will try to create monopolies through closing down standards, implementing their own closed protocols, closing their source code, patenting their frameworks, … This only leads to bogus software which will require the end-user to pay another sum of money to fix a small problem.

What if the head of our hammer fell off? Right! We’ll glue it on! What if there’s an error in closed proprietary software? You’re not allowed to fix it and should wait for an update which can take for ever, or you’d better buy a newer version.


My father is a famous (at least, that’s what he claims) linguist which has done, and is still doing, very interesting research on computer assisted language learning (CALL). Our Saturday morning chats mostly consist of discussions on how to make even better software designs and coffee. One of his first projects was a program on which people could study French verbs: verbapuces. This program, released 20 years ago, was a big hit, and it was the best software for studying verbs ever. I’m 20 years old, and when I was 12 I studied my verbs using verbapuces. Verbapuces was written in pascal, and it was written so it could fit on one of those large wobbly floppy discs (sure you remember those, but you probably don’t remember them containing 3000 different verb conjugations). I’m not exaggerating: A quick google query returned this forum in which this topic asks in 2009 how to copy verbapuces diskettes from 1995 onto a usb-stick to use the software on the train. This probably won’t work, since the program is written for MS DOS, not longer supported by MS.

What has become of verbapuces? The source has never been released (even I never had a glance at it) and this timeless piece of software (equally timeless as emacs/linuxkernel) is gone. No-one will ever be able to use the software he was using in his youth. Do you call this technological innovation?


I’m afraid the same destiny awaits any .NET application you write. The patented .NET framework is constantly changing to be able to bring new products which could sell more copies of the latest version of visual studios. It is not portable to any other upcoming operating systems you would want to develop for.

There have been attempts to port the .NET framework to other operating systems by implementing the .NET specification: eg mono by novell which is ‘protected’ by microsoft’s community promise. Although microsoft seems to do a great deal for the communities driven software world here it is not a big gift at all. Why would we trust a devil’s promise? They have sued tomtom for implementing FAT in the linux kernel in the end. And… If you read the ‘promise’ a little deeper you’ll notice only the basic packages are protected, but the more advanced packages someone might need are left ‘sueable’.

I do not want to sound disrespectful towards my parents. I look up to my father and when he talks about software design I try to be attentive as possible. He’s the best at finding incredible effective solutions for questions that sound incredibly simple. He taught me programming is much more than typing code into a computer. On the contrary, programming in the open source way is only 10% coding, and 90% thinking without implementing it on modern/old technologies.

Although I’m your son and I’m programmed to disagree with you, you’re right: a software design should be made without thinking about technology at first, but please, don’t make your software depend on patented software.  1% of that 10% consists of choosing which technology you’re going to use and which developing model you’re going to apply. This choice cannot be overrated and it makes the difference between a timeless product and a product that will survive for 2 years.

-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca