Theory of Zuma

If you've been to the Temple of Zukulkan, Quetzal Quatl and Popo Poyolli on the same day without leaving your computer, then you've probably been playing Zuma.

I'm sure you already know this addictive game (pick up a copy or play it online at popcap games). As with any other puzzle-like challenge, when colors unite they explode! So your goal is to make the long chain of balls disappear - by shooting like-colored balls and creating chain reactions.

The thing is: the balls coming out don't seem (at least to me) to be doing so in a completely random manner. In the beginning it seems much easier to make combos because of the distribution of the balls as they come out. Also, the ball you shoot out frequently seems like it's the least favorable color you could have.

This makes me think there must be some algorithm that determines the color of the balls coming out, as well as the ball you will shoot out. I could spend months playing zuma full-time, registering endlessly the order in which colors come out and the ones you shoot and later analyze the data to try to crack the zuma code. But I have better things to smoke. Besides, it wouldn't be a real discovery (zuma's programmers already know how this works).

But in any case, imagine for once that you could know beforehand the sequence of balls that will come out, and the color of the balls you'll shoot. It wouldn't be too difficult to find a way to solve the puzzle with the best possible sequence (i.e. the one which makes the chain disappear faster - be it by making combos, hitting coins, etc.). This time taken to solve the puzzle in the best possible way I call the optimum time. So the idea is that given a sequence of colors, there is (at least) one solution to the puzzle which yields an optimum time.

If you've played zuma before, you know that when you finish it tells you your time (the time you just took to solve the puzzle) and an ace time (the time an "ace" would take to solve it). Sometimes you finish under ace time (by a lot) and wonder if you actually made a mistake, or actually achieved a perfect zuma (optimum time).

I think it would be a great addition to the Second Advent of Zuma (if the Zuma Gods ever wish it so) to add an "optimum time" after each puzzle (which, of course, would be variable because every puzzle is unique - or rather pseudo-unique :) ).

Once you've finished a game, the sequence of balls is known, and the computer could calculate what the optimum time would have been if you had made the right choices (hit the coins, make the right combos, use the gaps, etc.). Even cooler: a feature that would let you actually see (a sort of "replay") what you should have done to achieve the perfect zuma.

In hopes of living to see the second coming of zuma (imagine zuma on the wii!), I'll keep on playing Zuma Deluxe, the next best thing.

"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist."
"Honest criticism is hard to take. Particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger."

- Zuma


How much is this blog worth?

I found this tool by Dane Carlson (Business Opportunities Weblog) which computes the "value" of your site.

"Inspired by Tristan Louis's research into the value of each link to Weblogs Inc, I've created this little applet using Technorati's API which computes and displays your blog's worth using the same link to dollar ratio as the AOL-Weblogs Inc deal."

Now my blog is officially worthless!


A Look On Google Part 4 of 4

Future Directions – Don’t be Evil?

Google is continually making technological progress and giving it out for free in exchange of information. After all, information is what makes AdWords work efficiently, and this means money for Google.

Yet what is at stake is increasingly more important. As new information enters, more is exposed to the outside world. Google vowed (from the day of its creation) never to "be evil", but, how much do we really trust Google? What about corrupt employees or an outside attack? Any vulnerability in the system could compromise all the data we have fed into the system, and thus, the more information we make available, the greater the blow we may receive.

Some argue that Google’s image (esteemed for its clean, do good attitude) may not resist the pressure of one or two privacy disasters, making it just another internet company.

Google has also been compared with the Microsoft from ten years ago: with a powerful, main product (Windows for Microsoft, and web search for Google) and a long list of half-finished products. Google News (algorithm-based) is always a step behind Yahoo! News (where news are ultimately "human-selected"); Google Video has been surpassed greatly by YouTube to the point where it had to buy YouTube to actually get a lead in the video marketplace; and Google Talk has not yet taken off on a world where instant messaging is still largely dominated by Microsoft Messenger, Aol’s instant messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger.

This comparison has led observers to note that, like Microsoft, Google may be hampering innovation – because in any area in which Google steps in, a smaller firm already in that area will have to leave or be lucky enough to be bought by Google. Google does not easily accept this comparison, yet, it seems clear that even though they may not want to BE evil, the fact is that they are one of the biggest multinational technical corporations nowadays. And being a large corporation means many things, including power and influence.

In all, Google’s technical abilities are undisputed – so it may well maintain its clean image. Yet it will have to start behaving like a normal company, because it is only in its best (own) interest. It will have to buy out competitors, make pacts with its enemies, and possibly stand trial for privacy issues or take its competitors to court – whatever “evil” means.


A Look On Google Part 3 of 4

Economic Success – A Googol of Revenues

Google started out as a search engine, with no visible way of making money. In fact, it was not after a couple of years as leader in the search industry that they
decided they needed a way of making money (without harming their interface’s simple style).

The internet’s traditional way of making money online (if you have a webpage) is through banners. But banners didn't work for Google, as they would destroy its elegant and simple style.

The answer came with a system called AdWords in the form of small, unobtrusive and highly relevant text advertisements alongside Google’s search results. These “sponsored links” are placed on the results page in an order determined by auction among the advertisers. Yet advertisers don’t have to pay unless a user clicks on one of the banners, therefore establishing a sort of “pay-per-click” model, that works for the advertiser (because someone who has clicked on the link does so because he is interested) as well as for Google (they get money every time someone clicks on a “sponsored link”).

On the other hand, users can easily ignore these “sponsored links” or can actually learn to love them. So, if PageRank was what made Google’s search engine the leader, then AdWords (with its carefully chosen ads) constitutes the economic success of Google.


A Look On Google Part 2 of 4

Philosophy – To Organize the World’s Information

The technological difference between Google and the other search engines was the PageRank algorithm, developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. With it, they were able to extract order out of the apparent chaos that reigns on the internet. It is often regarded as a perfect example of an abstract mathematical application to a practical, everyday, example – not to mention a very lucrative one: both of Google’s founders are now worth over $10 billion (US).

The mathematical genius was bestowed upon them by their parents. Sergey Brin is the son of a professor of statistics and a mother who works at NASA, while Larry Page’s parents are both computer-science teachers. They have established mathematical rules to understand the internet, and believe all information can be understood in mathematical terms. And have carried with them this deification of mathematics to Google.

Google is the natural home for geniuses. It is where computer nerds just finishing college hope to work at, and where researchers from other leading technology companies (i.e. Microsoft) are migrating. And they want to work at Google, not (just) because of the high paying salaries (which are always an excellent attraction), but because they feel they are making a contribution to humanity: they are organizing the world’s information.

And not just web pages. Google has started scanning entire libraries, thus bringing offline information to the online world. They now offer web mail (Gmail), which also scans and indexes your mail. They have also developed other technologies, which allow them to amass more information (in the end, that’s what they’re after, information).

Among these technologies, we can count: Picassa, which lets users edit and organize digital photos; Orkut, a social networking site; Blogger, which lets people create a professional-looking Blog in a matter of minutes; Gtalk, for online messaging and PC-to-PC calls (it will be broadened to allow calls to landlines – for free); Google Desktop, which allows you to organize files; Google Earth, with 3d maps of the entire surface of the planet; Google Pack, which allows you to set up the main programs you need on a new computer – including free antivirus, browser, anti-spyware, etc.; an online site called Google Video, a marketplace for uploading and downloading video files which has teamed up with YouTube, effectively gathering so many users it is the undisputed champion in the video blogging realm; and Google Docs & Spreadsheets (formerly Writely), which allows users to create text documents and spreadsheets, just like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, and share them online.

All this software is provided for free. They are also about to launch a new technology called the Gdrive (or the Google Grid), which will provide us with massive online storage space and possibly free internet access. This would be, of course, ad-supported, and they would be able to scan all data on their drives to index it (“organize it”). Yet indexing it, also means they are able to read anything you store, so personal privacy is essentially lost.

Some speculate that Google will later on link all these diverse systems (each of which with a massive database of stored information), creating what H.G Wells called the “world brain”. This global, all-knowing supercomputer would fulfill any geek’s artificial intelligence dream, and, in theory, possibly be capable of passing the Turing Test. [N.B. The test’s aim is to discover whether the response received through a terminal screen was produced by a machine or a human, provided we only communicate with it through our keyboard and the response is always text displayed on the screen.]

A Look On Google Part 1 of 4

The Importance of Search Engines - Historic Review

One might say that the key difference between the online and the real world is that online it is much easier to find things. Whereas in the real world, you might have to look for an almanac, check the index, look for the page and find the information you are looking for – say, Japan’s population –, online you just need to type in a simple query (“What is Japan’s population?”) and the answer is just a click away.

This simple procedure, taken for granted today, was not technologically possible a few years ago. It was not until the arrival of Google that web searching became a user-friendly task that produced outstanding results.

Sure, search engines have existed long before Google, yet the technology that drove them was significantly different. For example Yahoo!, the first popular internet search engine in the 90’s, was actually an online version of the yellow pages: web creators would submit their URL (the address at which a webpage is found), along with a commentary and related keywords. This information was stored in the Yahoo! database and used to produce results when a user typed in a query. But anything not submitted to Yahoo! did not exist on the Yahoo! database, and therefore could not be found.

Then came AltaVista, with a technology that allowed it to briefly become the best search engine available. It employed web-spiders, which are computer programs that automatically scan and index web pages, thus yielding many more results than Yahoo! ever could.
Yet the results where not ranked, and this meant that any simple query returned a vast amount of results, but you then had to sweep through the results in search of the piece of information you were actually looking for.

Google solved this by introducing PageRank. Assuming that an important webpage (say, BBC’s homepage) has more links and more pages link to it, than a less important webpage (say, my personal blog), then PageRank assigns a value to each of the pages it finds on the internet, according to a complex mathematical algorithm involving the hyperlinks between web pages.
This value allows Google to rank pages in order of relevance to the search query. Directly, it meant that users did not have to sort through the result pages to find what they were looking for, as the most relevant results are displayed first on the result pages. Indirectly it meant that other search engines, such as Yahoo! and AltaVista had met a rival that, in just five years, would manage 80% of online searches.

Main Source: The Economist

How to handle rejections

So you applied for a position somewhere and you didn't get chosen? Not to worry, you're just a couple of lines away from reading the perfect follow-up letter in such a case.

I found this sample letter a couple of years ago on the Riley Guide, but there was no information on the original writer of this precious gem, so no credit can ultimately be given to the mastermind (names have been altered for privacy).

Anyway, here's the letter, enjoy:

March 14, 2006

Professor Mc Milan
Chair - Search Committee
Department of Biochemistry
University of Towanda Health Sciences
Towanda, IA

Dear Professor Mc Milan,

Thank you for your letter of March 6. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite the University of Towanda's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this May. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.


Goddard Youville

Turn your PC into a Mac

We all know Mac is cool and Windows is dumb. This is no news. Common sense would tell us to buy a Mac the next time we need/want to change computers. They're more stable (it's based on Unix), they're virus-free, very user friendly and - let's face it - they're beautiful!

On the other hand, there are also very sound reasons not go that way, most importantly:

1. We may simply not need a new computer for the moment.
2. We depend on software that only runs on the Windows platform.

Happily, there is now a (VERY) easy way of getting the Mac's eye-catching beauty on any Windows XP. You can still use all the games and software you've "bought" along the years (and gotten used to) - you're system will still be a Windows XP. But, graphically you'll see it like a Tiger OS.

For a long time, many tweaking programs have existed, but you needed a different program for tweaking different areas (ex. WindowsBlinds for the windows and GUI, Icon Packager for the icons, install the dock, change the cursors, etc.).

With Flyakite, it has all been summed up in an easy point-and-click package that does everything for you. You just need to download (30 megs) and run (the link comes from here). It even turns your MSN Messenger into MacSN, which has the word Mac in it, so it's cool.

The full Mac OS look includes an Object Dock at the bottom which I didn't get used to, so I just un-clicked the Run at Start Up box and forgot about it for the rest of my days. But in the end, the idea is you can keep what you like and remove what you don't. It's even easy to remove it completely and revert to how your desktop looked before any changes were applied (gasp!).

Anyhow... here's a complete manual on the matter, and some general system requirements.

Be Svaj


Svaj Malizo finally gets a Blog!

That's right, this young dude is taking time off his busy schedule to keep you posted on the interesting stuff that surrounds him.

I'll try to make this blog ad-supported so, if you like what you read, leave a comment or click on an ad - or better yet, DO BOTH!

Anyway, that's all for the moment, peace bothers.

Svaj Malizo

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Svaj Malizo - Design by Dzelque