Thursday, 3 September 2015

Quitting time

For years I've had a large backlog of blog post drafts to draw on here. I wrote myself new software to deal with them all and make sure I was posting only the highest quality thoughts here, at least of the ones I'd written down.

Right now, as of this second, I have just one entry left in my backlog, and I think it's terrible. I haven't been writing much new for a while now. I've been posting more than I've been writing, anyway, so the number has been rapidly shrinking. I think I passed the threshold of actual quality a little while ago, and started deleting more posts unfinished than I found worthy of posting.

I've been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a couple of months, is what I'm saying, and I think it might be time to call it quits. Bye, guys. It's been ... well, it's been exhausting and, ultimately, pointless, in fact, but it's helped me sometimes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't believe I've been doing this for ten years.
PPS - And over 3500 posts, too.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


I don't summarise well. I always feel like anything I say needs a lot more context to make sense, so I try to add it, either starting a long way before the point I should, or rambling on a long time after the point is clear. When I try to summarise, I go to the end point I'm trying to make, but still feel the urge to fill in more details after the fact.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I feel like I should add more to this.
PPS - But that would demonstrate a stunning lack of self-awareness.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Validation through memorisation

In primary school, I remember a kind of status indicator being the memorisation of song lyrics (at our age, mostly that meant Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, if I recall). I placed great importance at that time on my memorisation abilities, and now I wonder if I have ever really grown out of that. I attend trivia competitions regularly, though my knowledge is narrow rather than broad. I still take pains to learn song lyrics, not just to be able to sing along, but to be able to impress people by singing along. The urge still happens to me to this day. So I'm really not sure I ever grew out of that need for external validation, and that idea that having an impressive memory is the way to get it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I didn't need external validation to feel good about myself.
PPS - It would simplify my life enormously.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Enough time

Does it ever get to you, that there's never enough time for anything? There's so much to do in life and no matter how much you do, or how fastidiously you focus on your passions, you will never stay afloat. You will never read all of the books, see all the movies, watch all the TV, paint all the beauty you see or tell all the stories you are dying to tell. You are always running out of time, and that's the saddest thing I know about the world. Well, one of the sad things that is, at least, universal. Rich or poor, we all have only the same number of minutes in the day.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I never feel like there's enough time.
PPS - Which is why my chosen superpower would be super-speed or else freezing time.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Revoking access

Access revocation is impossible if you give up everything right away. There's no such thing as decryption that stops working after a certain time. If someone has the keys, the ciphertext and the decryption method, you've given up all control. The only place that access revocation can mean anything is for ongoing services that can't be copied and require a live server to provide. Compare movies to games. If you have a DVD that's encrypted, and it gets decrypted every time you watch it, it can be copied and you can watch it from then on in any format you like, at any time you like, on any device you like, because you've got the decrypted form and it can be copied perfectly. It makes no difference at that point if the DVD publisher puts out an update to their players that says "don't decrypt this movie any more", because the copy is already made.

Conversely, if you need server access to play a certain game, then one day that server won't let you in any more, you can't do anything about it. The previous games you've played don't do you any good. They're over. Backups, news, and social media are like that, because you need access or new content to use them. Your old backups aren't good enough if your provider refuses access. Gradually stagnating news isn't any good except as a historical reference.

Access to books, music and movies, however, is like the first case. Once that genie is out of the bottle, that's it. You can't stuff it back in. If you've got a closed system like the Kindle you can reach out and revoke copies of books, but if the DRM has been broken (which is very different to breaking encryption) and a copy already taken, it doesn't matter.

Key revocation would require the universe to have the property that I can tell you a secret that is only knowable for a specified time, or whose use is, in some way, dependent on a secret I didn't tell you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That can't actually happen, as far as I can see.
PPS - Granted, these things don't always make sense to me.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

I would time-travel back to university

The one time in my life that I might go back and try again would be university. As with most of my life, I never made enough effort to socialise, but with uni there were so many rich opportunities for it that I missed. I could have lived on campus and learned a lot of life lessons that way. I could have spent more time with fellow students if I didn't have to spend an hour each way on the bus, too, and that would put me in (or near) the city by default on weekends, along with every other on-campus student.

Also, knowing what I do now, I would start applying for graduate job positions in the middle of my final year, rather than spend two years unemployed after graduation. Those are my university regrets: I studied too hard and didn't get out enough. I got really good grades, though! ... which left me unemployed for two years after graduating.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might also have been because I graduated when the .com bubble burst.
PPS - Also, I couldn't have afforded on-campus or even near-campus student housing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Grand gestures

Kids, take note. I'm gonna smack some middle-aged wisdom down on your heads. Are you ready? Too bad.

If you love someone, but they don't know you exist, a big, grand, public gesture declaring your love is about the worst thing you could possibly do. You may have been getting mixed messages about this. In some TV shows and movies, it works out really well, especially in those proposal videos you've seen on YouTube. In other shows and movies, it doesn't work out so well, and everyone is embarrassed. That's the realistic one. The proposal videos are a special case, because you'll note those people have been dating for long enough that it makes sense for them. If you're trying to get someone's attention out of nowhere, grand gestures are not the way.

The flip side of this is that it's all going to fade away anyhow. When you get embarrassed like that, rest assured it will pass. In a few years, as long as you don't let that embarrassment define you, you'll laugh about it with your university friends, your spouse, your kids. Your life is most definitely not over.

The take-home message is this: if you're thinking of making a grand public declaration of love to someone who doesn't know you exist, here's what to do: go home, lock yourself in your room, think about something else - anything else - and don't come out until you stop feeling that urge.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not much use as advice to young me.
PPS - Young me barely had the courage to daydream about this, let alone attempt a grand gesture.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Anti-Mid-Century Modern

In contrast to "Mid-Century Modern" architecture, which seems almost designed to kill children in accidents (indoor reflecting pools, open spaces and levels, no handrails anywhere), what would architecture look like if it were designed to coddle and protect children even from themselves? My best guess is single-level homes, waist-high railings, gates and doors everywhere, every surface rounded and padded, (but not carpeted, because kids spill things) and nothing installed below shoulder-height. That would start looking pretty odd, is my guess, like someone built to one style up halfway, then another style from there up, for the adult headspace. Some of it, especially in the kitchen, would make the house a lot more dangerous and inconvenient for adults, too. Anything that could potentially damage a child would have to be done at height, and that introduces a secondary risk of dropping something on the child or of being preoccupied up high and failing to see the child down low. Is that a trade-off we must make at some point? Safe for kids is always going to be a bit inconvenient for adults, but when it gets downright dangerous for adults, we should draw the line.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is, quite often, what I think about.
PPS - Though, thankfully, not everything I think about.

Monday, 24 August 2015


Occasionally, I refer to myself as "broken", but I don't mean it in the severe way most people seem to perceive it. My mental image is not like a shattered vase, impossible to repair or, even if it were, full of holes and obvious glue lines. It's more like a bruise - a bit damaged, though not too severe, and quite capable of healing.

I think we're all a little bit damaged like that. Nobody's perfect, and nobody gets through life without scars. That's just how it goes. It's nothing to be ashamed of, nor, quite often, anything to even worry about. It's part of the process we all go through to learn how to live. It is my particular scars that make me unique.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, to deal with other people's issues, I need to be at least aware of my own issues.
PPS - Preferably, I'd deal with them completely in that case.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Choice exhaustion

Perhaps part of my exhaustion with modern life is seeing big corporations getting bigger and more powerful, screwing over their customers and employees, all the while making their product and service offerings more confusing and harder to choose between.

That's a big thing, the problem of choice. I don't find myself subject to analysis paralysis most of the time, though - if I'm given a few clear choices, I'll decide rather quickly and easily. It's when the different features don't directly compare that the problems start. If I'm trying to choose between laptops, one of which offers a touch screen and reversible hinge while the other is much cheaper, has a larger screen and a more powerful battery, what am I choosing between? Even if I know which features are most important to me, they won't all be on a single model, which means everything I do, all day long, is a compromise and a disappointment.

That's draining, long-term. It's oppressive. Even with a pretty good life, it can easily feel like everything is disappointing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not always, just most of the time.
PPS - Which is enough.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

On, by Adam Roberts

I recently finished reading a book called "On", by Adam Roberts. The concept itself intrigued me: what if the world was a tremendous vertical wall, and its inhabitants clung to life on the ledges and crags? It's a high concept, and a fascinating one, and Roberts does a good job of developing a lot of this world, as well as (eventually) backing it up with an explanation of how such a world came to be.

The book follows the adventures of a boy called Tighe, who falls off the world from his home village and travels far, learning the mysteries of the world wall. In this, the book does not disappoint. We get to see rather a lot of the world wall and learn a good deal about its inhabitants, very few of whom, it seems, are pleasant, well-adjusted people.

The problem, for me, was that the ending was too abrupt and was far from the inevitable conclusion it felt like it should have been. Tighe's travels seem somewhat aimless, too. By the end, I wondered what it had all been for, except to speculate on a world turned sideways. So, my final assessment is somewhat mixed. I enjoyed the concept, and the story was told well enough, but the ending made me feel that the whole enterprise was futile.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I looked up some other books by Roberts, but I won't be reading them.
PPS - High concepts aside, I need to enjoy the story, too.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Misleading assumptions

How do you deal with a person who has asked a misleading question, but does not want to be corrected? Not just in the courtroom sense of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" but a question based on some erroneous assumption that renders an answer impossible or meaningless. I mean, I try not to correct people, in part because it's annoying to them, and in part because I might just be wrong. Still, I guess when that situation comes up, you kind of have to refuse to answer the way they want.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As nicely as possible.
PPS - Or not, depending on the situation.

Just be kind

All I want from the world is for everyone to be kind to everyone else - especially to me. This is probably the basis of my pathological attention-seeking behaviour of inciting pity. When people pity you, they treat you kindly. From that point of view, I'd rather have a severe mental illness and be treated kindly for it than to be fully mentally healthy but have any mistakes count very harshly against me.

I want the world to be kind. Can we just do that?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I try to be kind in all circumstances.
PPS - Maybe this isn't the best move, but I prefer the world to be kind.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Edited fandom

Most people who claim to love the Lord of the Rings books actually don't love the books J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. They love a version they constructed themselves by removing all of the songs and poetry.

There are other books and movies subject to this kind of fandom-consensus editing, too. Many people reject the Matrix sequels, or the Star Wars prequels. So the question is: how much of a right do we have, as an audience, to "edit" what we consume?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That probably depends whether you ask artists or non-artists.
PPS - And probably varies between artists, and on whether those artists do remixes and mash-ups.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Shut Up and Dance With Me

"She took my arm,
I don't know how it happened,
We took the floor and she said
Oh don't you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me,
I said you're holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me."
Shut Up and Dance With Me, Walk The Moon.

It's presented in a very upbeat song, but the more I think about it, the more this sounds like one awkward young guy in a club who was being laughed at behind his back, and the kind, energetic girl who made a point of dancing with him so that he would never know. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The next lyric about her being his destiny just adds to the heartbreak.
PPS - But maybe all this is just me projecting onto the lyrics anyway.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Your data on someone else's server is not secure

"Keeping your data private on Facebook" is kind of an oxymoron, but it's still nice that they let us play pretend with their security settings. Just remember that data you don't control is insecure by definition, and data on someone else's server (which is just about everything on the internet) is not under your control, no matter how much they might say it is.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, expect that every server that lives long enough will get hacked.
PPS - This is not just a Facebook problem.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


To an extent, I think all questions of classification - that is either "what defines this type of thing?" or "is this thing a member of that category?" - are ultimately meaningless. Whenever you get too deep into one of these questions, you find out that all the particular questions, exceptions and qualities are fluid and difficult to pin down. Is this person gay? Well, people may be attracted to a broad range of other people, including males and females, with different intensity, although ultimately even their genders are more of a scale than a binary proposition, so what you're really asking is whether this person is attracted to other people of a significantly different outward gender expression than their own, and that's before you get into issues of transgenderism, particular sexual behaviour preferences and changes to all of those things over a lifetime or the other factors that contribute to attraction and have nothing to do with gender at all.

And that's just one question of many types of classification questions that may, ultimately, be too vaguely-defined to even answer. The problem is that we like easy answers, dichotomies and being correct. When there is no "correct" because the question is based on wrong assumptions, we need to let go of those assumptions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, this makes the world a much more confusing place.
PPS - As is the case with a deeper understanding of anything, really.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

3D models for shopping online

If you're buying something online, you know what might help? A digital 3D model file, to scale. That way, if you have questions about the dimensions of the object, you can measure it any way you like, inside the computer, as if you had the physical item with you, more or less. Or if you prefer physical objects to check, say, whether a particular toaster will sit on your kitchen bench easily (and you have access to a 3D printer) you could print out a model to test the fit in real space. I think this might easily be a feature of online shopping in the future, at least for some items.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously it wouldn't work for clothes.
PPS - And a rough paper cutout model would be more accessible for most people.

Monday, 10 August 2015

My new notes program

I've been working in my lab on something new, or a new version of something old. First, of course, I need to give you some background.

I have a note-taking program I use every day that saves text files to Dropbox, based on hashtags I supply for each note. I also have several computers, some of which are offline sometimes, because I write on the train or have no internet access at work or just haven't switched on my desktop in a day or two. All of this combines to cause problems with the text files - namely, conflicting edits. Dropbox helpfully preserves each copy of the file and I can usually mash them back together again, but sometimes I can't, or it's a lot of work.

So I've written a new version of my note-taking program that doesn't suffer these problems. It uses a design called event sourcing which means that, instead of writing the text files directly, I write a record of the events and actions that occurred, like making a new note, editing an old one, attaching tags and so on. What this means for the program is no more conflicts, or at least not the same kind. Each event is written to its own file with a unique generated name, so they never conflict when Dropbox synchronises. Everything is always perfectly and effortlessly preserved.

The down side is that I am no longer working with plain text files. I can't just open up a text editor and change an entry, or delete it. I need to go through the proper channels to make sure the event stream is preserved. For the sake of never having another conflicting edit in my text files, though, I think this might be worth it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's still in testing, but it's coming along very nicely. From the UI, you can hardly even tell that it's changed.
PPS - The library and pattern will be used on all my other similar programs from now on, too.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Comparing paths

Sometimes I compare my life to others, and of course this doesn't go well. The main point is this: I'm not really management material. I probably won't ever be supervising a team or running a project on my own. This feels wrong. It feels like someone at my stage in my career should really be starting to develop those management skills and moving up the ladder. The fact that I am not doing so, nor likely to do so in the future, fills me with shame.

But here's a recent realisation. There's the management track, where you gain a greater altitude and less involvement in the day-to-day work, knowing more and more about people and less and less about the details of how they do what they do. Then there's the craftsmanship track, where you just get better and better at what you do, down at the low levels, until you are well-recognised as skilled and a producer of quality work. When I get upset that I'm not on the management track, I need to remind myself that those guys have chosen to withdraw from one kind of work in order to do an entirely different kind - one in which I have no interest.

Now, this choice may backfire on me later in my career. Very few companies will want to hire me in a couple of decades as a 50-year-old developer who can't manage a project on his own and can barely mentor anyone else. Still, it's the path I've got, and I enjoy being here. That's what counts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the right path for me.
PPS - At least for now.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Planning for when you get hacked

If you're a business of any decent size, then you have servers for your computer networks. If you are following good practices, you have backup and restoration plans for them - maybe even disaster recovery plans, in the unlikely event that the entire server room catches fire one day. However, something that seems increasingly clear to me is that you should be planning for the day you get hacked.

If your servers are internet-accessible (and, for some businesses, their entire business model hinges on this) then you will be hacked one day. Passwords, credit cards, personal details - all of this data is vulnerable and enticing to hackers. What's more, no matter what your security practices are, your operating systems and firewalls won't prevent 100% of attacks. So you will definitely get hacked - it's not a matter of "if" but "when", and it will do serious damage to your company's image and reputation, not to mention the bottom line.

How can you plan for being hacked? Well, you need to take a hard look at everything that is on your servers and imagine that a criminal had full access to it. What could they get? What would it mean to them? Would you know they'd been in there? Starting from those observations, start locking it down. Remove everything non-essential. Encrypt the hell out of absolutely everything else. Make sure that, when (not "if", remember) someone gets into your server, all they find is a minimalist database containing values only meaningful to your company, all locked up with encryption so tight that it would take until the heat death of the universe to crack open.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, maybe not that strong.
PPS - Maybe aim for "strong enough that cracking it is not worth it".

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Rodeo safety

I've been to a couple of small, local rodeos in the past couple of years, and I've seen several cowboys hurt rather badly. It's always a worrying time with the paramedics huddled around, making sure this person is at least okay to move out of the arena. The announcers always have to fill in the time and distract from the accident scene, and they always make sure to say that, of course, this is part of the risk of the sport.

What I haven't seen is a lot of helmets and body armour. My best guess is that this is a machismo issue. If you believe yourself to be tough enough to ride a bull, why would you need a helmet? Or if none of the other guys wear helmets, why would you do so? Do you want to be the only wimp who needs armour to protect himself when sitting on top of a 500kg mad bull? The very same bull who, minutes earlier, gave someone a concussion and broke someone else's ribs?

My guess is that protective equipment will, in fact, become more common, as it has in other sports. Even when I was a kid, you wouldn't see cricketers going to bat wearing a helmet, but these days you won't see a single one without it. You'd be crazy to face down a hard ball coming in that fast with an unpredictable bounce that is, quite regularly, aimed at your head.

That's a ball. You can see it coming. It can still kill you, as has been proven, but it's still a small ball and the bowler might want to scare you, but doesn't want to kill you. A bull may be just one letter away, but it's heavy, its hooves are just as fast as a cricket ball, it's less predictable, you spend a lot more time a lot closer to it and it has a temper. So, in brief: rodeo cowboys need to wear helmets and body armour. Come on, guys. You're not riding kittens out there. Those bulls often want to kill you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might just be our very small, local rodeos where protective equipment is uncommon.
PPS - And it may be that "rodeo safety" is another oxymoron.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

When the well runs dry

I wonder sometimes why life has to be so hard. It just seems, some days, like the littlest things, like picking up little bits of rubbish around the house, washing dishes, the endless mountain of laundry, is just too much to manage. Those days, I feel like I'm on the verge of a mental breakdown, which is ridiculous, because this is just freaking laundry man. It takes minutes to load the machine and minutes to hang out. How can that get on top of me? So I dig into some reserve and I just get through it.

But I worry that reserve is going to run out one day. One day I'll just curl up on the ground and stop dealing with life because it's so much easier that way. And it is easier, but it's not fair to anyone else. Dig deep, get through that as well.

Days like that, I feel like it's better that I don't have kids. If I can't handle laundry on a bad day, I'm not going to raise a well-adjusted child who knows how to deal with life, am I? If I'm huddled in the corner, rocking back and forth, unable to deal with life as it comes up, let alone in the crisis moments, then no matter how much I might love my hypothetical kids, I'm not going to be doing right by them, am I?

I can picture the parents responding to this, now. "You just get through it, because you have to. You won't know your strength until it's tested, and you'll get it done. You will." I don't know about that. There are moments when I feel myself just detach and start to slip away. Dig deep, pull it back, don't quit on me yet. It would be so easy, though, to stop swimming upstream. To reject the way the world rewards hard work and endurance with a heavier load and just say to hell with it, I'm done. I'm not dealing with your problems any more, world. You can keep the struggle, the constant change, the barely-above-water feeling of existence and shove it deep in whatever dark hole you can find. I'm just done getting through it and surviving. I want to enjoy life, not feel like I'm just barely managing to keep it from crushing me.

Dig deep. Power on. No time for self-pity here. People depend on me. Dig deep and pray that the well won't run dry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or maybe this is just burn-out.
PPS - I haven't taken any days off in a year.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Fire escape slide?

Could really tall buildings provide a fire escape slide instead of the usual stairs? I wouldn't want to evacuate down 50 flights of concrete steps if I were in a hurry. I expect it would be a major selling point, too. The real-estate agent would bring you up, give you a tour of the place, then say "And here's the fire escape! Whee!" and you all slide down to the ground floor where your kids bug you until you buy the unit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's probably impractical, in the end.
PPS - And a pain to clean and maintain.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Dolphin language

I saw a TED talk about a team of researchers who are trying to decode the language of dolphins so that we can communicate with them. They have started to do this with wearable computers and games involving toys, and have included new sounds for the names of those toys and also for themselves. So far, the dolphins seem like they might be communicating to some degree. This all sounds very exciting from one angle. Dolphins might have a language! Maybe we can communicate with them! Share with us the wisdom of the sea, oh gentle beasts!

Rewind about thirty or forty years, though, and exactly the same thing was done with chimps. A lot of research time, a lot of money and a lot of hope went into those projects, teaching chimps and apes sign language, only to find out that they couldn't learn anything past a two-year-old's disjointed use of vocabulary and they had very little to say to us besides "want that".

As much fun as the researchers might have, and as much interesting science might come out of it, I think we'll find that dolphins, like chimps, might have some intelligence, but it is a far cry from the human levels of sophistication in language.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They probably can't even grasp the concepts behind "So long, and thanks for all the fish".
PPS - Or maybe they could, but it would be much more like thinking in pictures.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Multiple exclamation marks!!!

Terry Pratchett described multiple exclamation marks as the sign of an unstable mind, and that has always cast any exclamation marks in a negative light to me. So even when I'm excited, I tend to avoid them in my writing. This can make my writing sound cold, analytical and heartless. It's probably something I need to get over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or just stick my fingers in my ears and ignore it forever.
PPS - Which also seems like a sound strategy.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Someone should sell fraud insurance

I think we should allow people to buy fraud insurance, in case they get taken in by a scam. We can base their premiums on a test for gullibility.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Really, though, I'd need some harder evidence on scam victims first.
PPS - which would probably be incomplete, since people won't want to admit it.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Functional keyboards

The modern keyboard design trend, at least on the laptops I've seen and on my wireless keyboard, is to omit the Function keys and instead provide them as a secondary function on the number row with a special coloured "Fn" button. I don't like this much, because I'm a big keyboard user. I type. I code. I use keyboard shortcuts to make my life faster and easier, but when those shortcuts use Function keys, and the Function keys don't exist, that becomes a big problem for me. Instead of being able to close a window with Alt+F4, now I have to use Alt+Fn+4. Three-finger shortcuts are terrible and always slow me down. There are lots of Function key shortcuts I use every day - several times an hour - in Visual Studio: F5 to run a program, F10 to step through code in debug mode, F11 to step *into* code in debug mode, F12 to go to a variable, function or class definition, and of course the F4 functions to close tabs or windows. Oh, and F3 for searches. Add an extra key to them and you definitely slow down my development.

The very worst part is that this type of keyboard usually also omits the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys, too, in favour of the Fn versions. The Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 I'm currently trying out has Page Up and Down, but Home and End are Fn key combinations, which is more annoying than you think.

And, yes, this is all a big first-world problem, because I'm whining about how my amazing, powerful, portable computing and communications device is sometimes a little bit slow to use, but here's something else I like to say: we made these machines, so what good are they if they don't serve their human masters? Humans are undisputed masters of the built environment, but it's pretty pointless to go and build it wrong.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am otherwise very impressed with the Yoga.
PPS - I did have to adjust the console window font size.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tracking your non-disclosure agreements

It's not really a broadly-applicable problem, but some people might benefit from NDA tracking software. I see it on Wil Wheaton's blog every now and then: he gets to work on some really exciting thing, but has to sign a non-disclosure agreement to say he won't talk about it for a certain amount of time. He gets excited about it, though, and posts to his blog about how excited he is to be working on this top-secret thing that he can't tell anyone about, and then usually about how grateful he is to be able to work so regularly on such exciting (secret) things. Then months later, when the NDA expires, he can't remember what the post referred to, so he never gets to update it.

So the idea is this: when you sign an NDA, you enter the details into this tracking software, which stores its data locally, strongly encrypted (because gathering NDA data on a server on the internet would be like waving a big "HACK ME!" flag). It gives you a random unique ID - possibly even just a plain integer starting from 1 - so you can talk around it publicly and still know, yourself, what you meant, without revealing anything to anyone. It would look like "Hey, guys! I just wrapped up work on this really exciting project, but I can't talk about it here yet. I'll come back and update you when my NDA5 expires." Then every week or so you can come back to the app and check for expired agreements, search for any posts you've made about them, then update with the details you are now allowed to tell.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I needed this.
PPS - There's honestly not much to it, though. I guess even a spreadsheet would work.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Big secrets don't get to be kept

Most big secrets don't get to be kept. The big, world-spanning conspiracies don't get to continue. The bigger the scope, the harder it is to keep secret. Conspiracy theorists love to feel that they are on the inside, recognising the massive lies told to the entire world by an inexplicably powerful group of people. However, while it is possible for a large group of people to be deluded at once, and for that delusion to persist for a very long time just because nobody looked at the evidence properly, if your assessment of the possible delusion is that it persists because of powerful and deliberate lies, you're wrong, every time.

Basically, I'm saying that if the moon landings were faked, or if there were a second shooter on the grassy knoll, our best evidence wouldn't be photo analysis. It would be the leaks from several dozen people who got tired of keeping the secret decades later and came forward to tell the truth. The most hilarious thing, to me, about conspiracy theories is that all the conspiracy theorists are all sitting around buying each other's delusions and lies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Wake up, sheeple.
PPS - Where, in this case, "sheeple" = "conspiracy theorists".

Thursday, 23 July 2015


When I see this:
Nano Bible no bigger than the tip of a pen
I immediately wonder how people would misuse and market the idea. I picture a lot of products undergoing a process I'll call "baptism", for want of a better word. I imagine companies mass-producing these things by the billions and putting them in everything. Think of bible-infused makeup and deodorant, a phone case flecked with dozens of nano-bibles, table salt with occasional nano-bible grains. House paint, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, clothing, keyrings, sheets and blankets, floor tiles, all of this off the top of my head and they keep coming.

Basically anything that could accept the adjective "bible-infused" with a straight face. Except toilet paper, I assume.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is a terrifying future, for a few reasons.
PPS - And it may be on its way.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


To me, the idea of haggling over price assumes a kind of fundamental dishonesty of the human race. I realise that some salespeople will try to get away with something by pricing their goods high, and that sometimes they need to be called out on that. My problem is when this becomes the normal state of affairs. When you have to assume that all prices are negotiable because all items are overpriced to begin with, it starts to feel like we're wasting our time together. Just tell me what you think is a reasonable price. Don't make me work to extract this information from you with a dance of offers and counter-offers including a big show of how much it would hurt your business to give away these goods for this lowered price.

That's how it feels to me. We begin with a lie (the initial asking price), then we proceed to histrionics and performance (haggling) until we finally arrive at the accepted price, which is, if this has gone right for you, the vendor, higher than the true acceptable price.

You can't compare in that environment. Vendors can't compete on price, because all prices are fluid. You can't shop around without doing the haggling dance at every vendor, but by the time you finish with one of them, that is assumed to be a completed sale.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do know some people who love that game, though.
PPS - So maybe it's me. I find it insulting, exhausting and inefficient.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


I don't like improvising as an actor. I never have. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's just that I prefer the comfort of knowing there's a script and knowing where the scene is going. Maybe it's lazy, because if nobody else is doing anything too strange, I know how to react to it. Maybe it's fear - since I so often say things the wrong way or baffle people with my words (not by being clever, mind you, just by choosing the strangest, most awkward possible phrasing) I worry that I will derail the whole scene for everyone else and look like an idiot on stage. Or maybe it's a learned response, over years of half-written church skits. When people at a small-to-medium-sized church hear that you like to act, every now and then they'll grab you to be in a skit, which usually involves a vague briefing five minutes before the service telling you to "just stand over there with those people, say some mean things, then fall over when I throw the box." It's the second-most awkward possible form of acting I've ever done, the first being job interviews.

At the same time as feeling awkward and inadequate when improvising, I recognise that it's a pretty big part of the job. If you can't get into the head of a character and at least work close to the script if not completely off the cuff, then you're not much good as an actor. Missing a line is definitely going to derail the whole scene, throw off the other actors and make me look like an idiot.

And, of course, like so many others of my personal flaws, I seem to have only enough self-awareness to recognise it, not to know how to fix it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I figure that part out, I'll let you know.
PPS - Exposure therapy would probably help.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Exercise app review: Zombies, Run!

I took the exercise app Zombies, Run! for a spin on the weekend, just through "episode 1". For the full experience, I used no music and had zombie pursuits switched on. On the whole, I like the app - I get the feeling that the story will unfold in an interesting way, and that's probably what I'm in for. Base building is not much of a draw to me, but I see the appeal for other people. As I said, I'm mostly in to see how the story plays out, and I'm keen to do more running to discover more of it. Which would be the whole point.

The feature that didn't get me were the zombie pursuits. The voice announced "Warning: zombies nearby" or something to that effect. Okay, I thought, better put on a bit more speed. They're zombies, though. No need to overdo it. Pretty soon, the voice announced "Warning: zombies 50 metres". Oh, okay, they must have started closer than I thought. Better speed up some more, to a fast run. I swear, before I'd gone another 10 metres, "Warning: zombies 17 metres". What? Alright, done with this. I break into a full sprint. "2 items dropped, zombies distracted". I slowed to a walk, exhausted.

This pattern continued a few times over my run, and it got tiresome (which I suppose is better than winding up dead in a real zombie pursuit). This did not seem to be helpful to me. How fast am I supposed to be going? My usual speed is 9.5 to 10kph. Granted, this weekend I was not at my best. I'm recovering from a cold and I haven't been for a proper run in a few weeks. Still, when the voice tells you "If you've got two legs and can go faster than a slow shamble, you should be fine, right?" it's demoralising to have three or four successful zombie attacks per run. I went looking for how to switch off that feature later and couldn't find it. I hope that doesn't mean I'm stuck with it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I can turn zombie pursuits off again, I'll keep using the app for now.
PPS - If not, I'll start using my running time to catch up on podcasts.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Modem not included

I am currently in the market for some new networking hardware, and I like the simplicity of a single device to cover the modem and router parts of that equation. Unfortunately for me, it's rather difficult to be specific about this when searching for reviews and suggestions online. It feels like I'm having this kind of conversation with Google:

"Hey, Google, what are some good routers I could buy?"
"Here's a list of popular and well-regarded routers (modems not included)."
"Okay, I guess. How about modem-routers? You know, all-in-one devices?"
"Here's a list of popular and well-regarded routers (modems not included)."
"Ugh. Say, Google, what are the best modems on the market?"
"Here's a list of popular and well-regarded routers (modems not included)."
*deep sigh* "Google, what are the best modems on the market, excluding routers?"
"Welcome to Momento Demento, a festival of uncertain purpose! (website not available)"

The comments at the bottom of these router articles are along the lines of "Where are all the modems?" or "I bought one of these based on this article but now I need a separate modem too, what the hell?" which are usually followed by extreme networking nerds saying things like "Of course you need a separate modem, because the all-in-one things suck. Just get a cheapo modem and hook it to one of these awesome routers. Works for me!"

So my question is this: why can't anyone (apparently) build an all-in-one modem-router if all you need to do is add the cheapest, nastiest little modem to your kick-ass, blazing-fast router to get it online? That seems like the entire industry suffering from some kind of spot-blindness to me. All the network nerds nod to each other knowingly, saying that of course this is the way things are. How else could they be?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm a bit frustrated.
PPS - Especially with our ongoing Netflix performance.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Unreliable autopilot brain

When I'm on "autopilot", I have terrible spatial awareness. This is bad, because I tend to stumble through my physical environment on autopilot when I'm exhausted, such as when I've just woken up in the dark hours of the early morning, or when I've just come home from the gym. Last night, just home from the gym, I felt like I was crashing into the walls, barely balancing as I rounded the laundry basket and coffee table and basically hit Deb in the face as she was looking in the fridge. What I need, when I'm in that tired mode, is an autopilot that reliably steers me around obstacles and keeps me from flinging a rogue hand into walls, furniture and people. Instead, it seems, as with most things in life, that you can only have it if you don't need it. When I'm most exhausted, what I need is to engage more fully with my environment, expanding my awareness and amping up my alertness to its fullest extent. When I have energy to spare and plenty of light, then I can switch off and coast. That's like only driving to conserve fuel when you have plenty, and then flooring it when the fuel light comes on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sometimes my mind frustrates me.
PPS - And that's getting kind of meta.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Predicting stories

I think, when I spent a year writing one flash fiction piece per week, I did get a little bit better at it, but one of the biggest effects was that I became a better reader/viewer/audience member. I paid more attention to what stories were doing and why. While it's certainly possible to just sit back, brain off, and let stories pass through you, I enjoy recognising these little pieces that the author is going to bring together ahead of time. If it is in the story, it matters, so how is it going to matter?

One other thing I've encountered is the fact that nothing ever goes smoothly for characters. The straight line plot leads straight from boredom to boredom through unbelievable dullness. If something is going right, it won't go right for long. If there's a plan, there will be a hitch. Things go wrong for characters that have to keep going forwards. That's what stories are. You can end with all of the wrongness turning on the villain in one glorious moment - where the wild babboon picks up the gun that the mental patient loaded with the silver bullet just as the werewolf comes through the door - or you can have it all go horribly wrong for your heroes so that nobody really wins, but unless something is going wrong, your story is not going right.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I could bring more of that to my stories.
PPS - I have plenty of ideas for settings and characters. What I need are plots.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Security is a social decision, too

How empowered are ordinary web users to start encrypting all their web traffic, to protect it from the NSA, GCHQ, other over-reaching government agencies and the many criminal organisations that are, no doubt, doing exactly the same internet spying but aren't trying to tell us it's for our own good? If I wanted, for instance, to start using a social networking tool that couldn't be (easily) spied on, what are my options? Keep in mind that "social" part of "social media", too, which either means I need to convince all my friends to come with me and install pain-in-the-arse encryption software or it needs to be seamlessly compatible with their existing social media tools.

See, I could jump ship off Facebook and start using some hypothetical third-party encrypted social networking website, but unless the rest of my social network comes with me, it's just me. Yes, it's better for their privacy if they come too, but how do you convince every single one of your friends to take their medicine and eat their peas like good boys and girls when they're already set up on Facebook and it seems to be going fine?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So I think we are kind of locked into insecure services if they're insecure by default.
PPS - Which just means everything should be made secure by default.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Planning for kids that never leave home

Because young adults are going to have an increasingly-difficult time gaining and keeping work, and paying rent or for a mortgage, it is becoming more common for them to stay living at home for longer. I think, because this pattern is becoming more common, families will start planning for it as an expected stage of life. We'll build our houses to handle a few adults in transition to independence, rather than planning houses for young families that assume you'll be out the door when you hit 18.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's going to be a subtle difference.
PPS - Or no difference at all, depending on who you ask.

Friday, 10 July 2015

What's in a name, and Who's on first

I would love to hear of someone naming their dog "police" or "fire". Calling him in for dinner would be weird but totally worth it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also think any police officer with the last name "Down" is in for some confusion.
PPS - I once had an acquaintance who named his dog "Oi".

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Data safety

If you've spent your life naively polluting the dataverse with your detailed life story and now decide to take your personal data security more seriously, how do you find out what data is out there and get people to delete or amend it?

Getting a company to update your details with something fake is probably the best you're going to do, assuming you can find the particular company with your data in the first place. In many cases, this won't be an option, because current, correct data is required. For instance, if you try to list a bogus name and address for your credit card, that's not "protecting yourself". I'm pretty sure it's credit fraud, in fact. As long as you have that card, you're going to be giving away purchase data to your bank, and there's really nothing you can do to protect yourself from that, except to cancel the card.

The point is, data safety is much more than not sharing certain details on Facebook, although that matters, too. Real data safety looks a lot like being a spy on the run - using disposable and fake details for everything, and refusing most of the modern conveniences like paying bills online, being on Facebook, reading your email in any kind of normal way or having a mobile phone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You are, in general, much less private and secure than you think.
PPS - This is why so many people feel powerless to stop Big Data.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Fake video glitches as artistic features

Recently (well, for a while now, I guess) it's been somewhat fashionable to introduce video artifacts like stutter, visual pause and digital glitch artifacts into video art. Take a look at the opening credits of Revolution and Falling Skies, or see if you notice it on a video billboard ad. It's like we're living in a Max Headroom revival.

My point is this: streaming video or even DVD and Blu-Ray playback is so often glitchy or a bit unreliable these days that I can't always tell whether the glitches and artistic choices made with the video are intentional or not. When a TV show opts for a momentary freeze frame and I'm watching on Netflix, I am never sure if that's deliberate or if it's Netflix screwing up and recovering quickly. Do it several times in a montage and I will probably pause the video to make sure it's buffering properly. There's a video billboard at the train station now that is so glitchy in general that I still don't know if the title screen is supposed to do what it does.

So is it going to stop? I doubt it. Maybe we'll see less of it over time. Maybe directors will start experimenting with something else, and that will be next year's fashion. I don't know.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or maybe streaming video will get so good that I never expect it to stutter or glitch.
PPS - Well, no, probably not that.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Writing the right software

Writing software is easy. Writing the right software is hard. A lot of the time, that's the problem: teasing out the requirements from the client, and then separating the blue-sky dreams from what should actually be done. A lot of software projects, even if they're on track for budget and time get into trouble when the clients ask for more. Cowboy developers who grew up writing their own software on their own time for their own amusement can take a while to learn that "could" and "should" are different. That is, in a way, even more important than the correct architecture. Badly written software that still functions is a pain, but software written to the wrong requirements doesn't do anyone any good.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You have probably encountered both kinds.
PPS - Older software can drift either way, depending on whether the requirements change over time.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Martian

This week I finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and I loved it. Ask anyone around me: I couldn't shut up about it. I wanted to keep reading, and I stayed up late to do it, which is a big compliment for me.

The story is about an astronaut who gets accidentally stranded on Mars when his team has to evacuate. That sounds more careless than it was, though - they had good reason to think he was dead and good reason to leave early when they did. A lot of the book is Mark's personal log as he struggles to survive in a harsh environment with equipment that was never meant to last that long. The sense of humour and resilience he displays through the ordeal is endearing, and the way he solves his technical problems (and causes some others) is fascinating to me, too. The writing flows surprisingly well for a book that is (almost) all mission logs, and I was with the story right through the end. It wouldn't get out of my head.

So, basically, I loved it. If you love stories of survival, the idea of manned space exploration and good-natured characters with indomitable humour, this is one for you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think the movie has great potential.
PPS - There are no aliens in this sci-fi. Mark is "the Martian" because he lives on Mars.

Friday, 3 July 2015

True forms are worn in

The true form of anything is worn, bruised, broken and used, not pristine, because that's what occupies the bulk of life. Things are meant to get used up. Yes, it means they'll go away, that they can't be "enjoyed" by future generations, but if you lock up your possessions in glass boxes, you're not enjoying them and neither is anyone else. Things get dirty, scratched, faded, worn down, and that's okay. That's life. It doesn't mean you don't have to treat your stuff well, because if you take some care, it will last longer, but if you don't use it at all in order to make it last forever, then it's wasted as much as if it were tossed away immediately.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I hate waste.
PPS - It extends to a problem with destruction and loss, in general.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Safe employment or following your passion

If I had the option, I think I'd rather be writing and acting for my career, rather than working on software. It's not that I don't like software, it's just that the other things appeal to me more and, in the end, I know it is possible for people to make a living doing them. The real question is whether I, personally, could make a living writing and acting. And of course, the longer I wait, and the more time I spend writing software instead of fiction, the more time I'm not spending getting better at my craft. If it takes ten years of dedicated effort to become a sellable writer, and I'm only half-committed to it, then it's going to take me twenty years to get good enough for publishers to notice. The same kind of argument goes for acting.

I could just quit and focus on writing and acting. That's a scary thought, though, because the amount of money I've made from them, in total, so far in my life, is not enough to buy dinner for two. If our mortgage payments rely on me making money at writing and acting, I predict a rapid descent into despair and homelessness. That might be an irrational fear, but I know the money is a real risk.

I saw Jim Carrey encourage a graduating class to follow their dreams by saying that you can still fail at what you hate, so you might as well do what you love. The trick is, sometimes what you love is a much bigger risk than the other option. That's why they call it the safe choice, the stable career. Sometimes you will lose your job as an accountant or as a software developer, but as a writer and actor, you are defined by unemployment, with brief periods of work. That is a life of never-ending risk and work-seeking, and I get exhausted enough looking for one job every couple of years after my various contracts run out or my employers go through rounds of redundancy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unemployment is fun only for about three days.
PPS - Or maybe up to two weeks.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

This post revised for positivity

I wrote this whole post before, from a very negative standpoint, and I've had a change of heart. I had just ranted about all the "clickbait" headlines being thrown around the web these days, urging you to find out new facts or see photos and videos that will "blow your mind". To see things that will "change the way you think forever" or that you just "won't believe". It's a tease, like a six-year-old jumping around saying "I know a secret! Not telling you!" It's deliberately uninformative, which is the opposite of a good headline (unless you define "good" as "lots of clicks", which is clearly what has happened). It's designed only to pique your interest enough to click the link, after which they get their ad revenue and they're done. It offends me as a writer, in part because they're all exactly alike. Throw in one or two different keywords and the whole headline changes. Pair it with a picture of boobs and you're guaranteed legitimate clicks from soon-to-be-disappointed readers. It's hard to be positive in the face of this, so the only positive thing I can say is that I'm going to focus on other things that deserve more of my attention. Jump up and down in your clown suit all you like. I'm going elsewhere. If something you say is that important, it will come up in another, more respectable form some other time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Defining "clickbait" is really tricky.
PPS - If you're looking for examples, though, try Buzzfeed.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Reboot your car

We used to tell jokes about what cars would be like if they worked as badly as computers. That's starting to be the reality now. I've heard stories of entire cars refusing to run because the computer that controlled the headlight washer fluid broke down. One company recently decided to install DRM on their batteries on a permanent rental scheme. Pretty soon, yes, you might have to stop on the highway to reboot your car to get it working again, and it's not a joke. Welcome to the future, where nothing works quite properly, but it's all supposed to be awesome.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's kind of the bleak side of robot cars, I guess.
PPS - Google tends to do good work, though, so theirs might not suck.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Declarative programming for tomorrow

I strongly suspect that, in the future, there will be much less imperative programming and more declarative. That is, we will spend less time, as programmers, telling our computers "this is how to do this task" and spend more time telling our computers "this is what the task is". Defining the conditions around the task at hand is a powerful mechanism, and is very well suited to, say, manipulating large sets of data in one go, or running in massively parallel circumstances.

My honours thesis at university was written in a declarative language called Prolog. It was designed to do calculations on certain types of code conditions which, in time, could have become part of a compiler that would tell you if your real-time conditions were likely to be met by your code. Complicated stuff, and we expected it to function only if it had certain solid numbers to work with. However, because of the way Prolog works, when we fed it symbolic data instead of concrete data, it managed to swallow the whole thing and still produce results. In computing terms, this is like teaching a child basic arithmetic and finding out later that they've conquered algebra all on their own, based only on your arithmetic lessons.

That's another kind of power declarative programming has. It can sometimes go beyond your expectations in perfectly valid and logical ways. It didn't make any difference to my program if it was manipulating "x" or manipulating "2". They're all symbols at some level. We need that kind of power, natural parallelism and simplicity of expression to conquer tomorrow's programming problems. We might not be able to expand today's most popular languages to handle these problems, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's likely there will still be declarative parts of these new languages.
PPS - It's difficult to avoid them.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Games on smart watches

I'm starting to wonder what games will look like on smart watches. On phones, we got things like Angry Birds, although now there are a lot more desktop-like games for phones just because the power has increased so much. Smart watches will increase in power, but the size of the watch is likely to remain a very tiny touch target. "Idle games" might be a viable option, since they require little to no interaction, and it's possible that the ready accessibility of the watch screen could result in more "running around" games that only require occasional screen interaction. If your game is heavy on touch interaction, on the small screen, that is going to prove both difficult to use (because precise touch is difficult on such a small target) and no fun (because half the time your finger would get in the way).

You know what might work? Sliding puzzles where an edge-to-edge swipe now and then works well, or possibly slow card games, whether played online or against the watch.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Something you can look at for a few seconds, then put down for an hour.
PPS - Someone will do it right, I'm sure.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Enjoying board games

I don't seem to enjoy board or tabletop games much, or at least not all the time. I'm not sure why this is. Part of it might be that I kind of suck at them, and losing all the time has a way of draining the fun out of games. For me, the process of playing has to be fun, regardless of whether I win or lose, and I don't see that many games with fun-to-play mechanics. The fun is meant to come from winning, but that can only happen for one person, usually. If your board game is only fun when you're winning, then, for a four-player game, that means your audience is 75% not having fun.

Now, for some people, trailing behind has this kind of invigorating effect. Their response to losing is "Must Try Harder, Must Play Better", and that push - the pressure to do better somehow - is a thrilling kind of fun for them. For me ... I don't know. Maybe I'm over-competitive in my own way, but losing at a board game and knowing that I'm losing is pretty disheartening. It doesn't spur me on to greatness, it puts me down in my place. "Look, you're losing! See how much you suck? This is how much you suck." It might be and expression of depression, too. Even knowing that depression lies, though, is not enough to pull me out of the losing-and-sucking funk.

So what do I do? We only have about 4 games that even work with two players, which is how we find ourselves most of the time, and most of those fall into the "win or no fun" camp. Many of the games we play also seem to derive their fun from composing and enacting a complex and cunning strategy for winning, and I guess I'm not quite there yet, either. I need more games that are just fun to play, win or lose, or at least games that could be won or lost right up to the very end, and it's anyone's guess who the winner might be until then.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also don't seem to play many video games.
PPS - That's probably more because I have so little time at home on the computer.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

All for 'naut

Although the terms "astronaut" and "cosmonaut" were coined independently during the Cold War space race and don't really mean anything different, we seem to have adopted both of them in English, plus some others like "taikonaut" so that we can't talk about a space traveller without also designating their nationality. That seems counter-productive if we're forming a worldwide society, to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Although, of course, we don't yet have a worldwide space program, either.
PPS - Unless you count private enterprises, but those seem less global, to me.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Why phone companies won't take excess data charges from unused call credit

You know what would be awesome? If my additional data charges could be taken from my unused call credit on my mobile phone plan. See, I get about $300 of call credits on my phone every month, and I use maybe $20 of it on average. I also get 300MB of data and use about 700MB which, on my provider (Vodafone) means I get a $10 charge for an additional 1GB of data credit. So, I'm just thinking, why can't that $10 charge come from my unused call credit? I'll even let you triple the charge if it makes you feel better.

Of course I know why this doesn't happen: revenue. If you start letting customers flex their charges between call credit and data, well, phone company revenues would take a hit. The only way to make it up would be if that type of plan attracted all the customers of other companies, too. Then, of course, they'd start doing the same thing and the only winners would be the customers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that sentence is board-room poison.
PPS - Still, it's nice to dream.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Smart Whatever of the Future

I don't know if we need to build "The Smart Home of the Future ... Today!", or any kind of item you can name in place of "Home" there - car, bike, kitchen, fridge, whatever. I think we're just going to keep making things a little bit smarter as time goes on. Cars are getting self-parking routines built in now, and it doesn't seem like it will be long before they're driving themselves in some places. Houses are getting smart appliances like self-learning thermostats, programmable light switches and power points. We will keep building these devices and attaching them to existing infrastructure, and the best ideas will be built in to the next generation. Going whole-hog from the beginning seems like a recipe for over-complication.

What we should do, as much as possible, is to build our homes, cars and other devices or structures with the capacity to be improved, to add on, to upgrade. Ease the transition into the future by allowing today's devices to be tinkered with.

Of course the flip side is maintaining security, which is another problem, often with conflicting demands.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And history has shown that erring on the side of convenience over security will bite you in the end.
PPS - We need adequate security when our very homes and cars are online.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Being the infrequent grown-up

Remember how your parents used to hang around with weird people their own age who were always trying to talk to you or tell you how big you've grown, and then you don't see them again for about six months? Well, you know how your friends now have kids of their own and you only see them once in a while?

Congratulations. You're now the weird older people your friends' kids only sort of recognise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The other thing I remember is being told often how much I'd grown.
PPS - Which might be interesting to the adult, but kind of pointless to the child.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Mature software project management

I have a feeling and a hope that, as the software development industry gains maturity, it will also gain some better, more solid theories and practices of project management. We have had some false starts in this area, I think, and also some very good developments, too. New languages and new tools are always being advanced, enabling new features that let us set up some really solid patterns of architecture. However, I still run into as many bad managers as good ones - those who don't understand software projects in general, or those who don't understand programmers. The clients, also, underestimate how long it takes to get something done, so unrealistic expectations are set. There is as much bad software as good in the world, or probably even more.

Would it help to teach everyone to program as part of the school curriculum? Yes, of course. It doesn't mean it's something we really need to do, though. I'm sure there are plenty of accountants, pastry chefs, firefighters and jet pilots who wish everyone knew more about their jobs to better appreciate how hard they are and how to set realistic expectations. It's probably better to develop a specialised course - "Programming For Non-Programmers" - to instill some of the necessary skills and knowledge for people when they need it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've made it as far as that title before.
PPS - Maybe someday I'll put together at least a hypothetical course outline.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Smart watches need a new mode of UI design

The smart watch proliferation is interesting. It's a new kind of device, for which a new theory of UI design will be needed. Where a phone can be used with two thumbs at once and can show a fair number of items on screen at a time, a smart watch, because it's worn on one wrist, can only be used one-handed, and can probably, in a pinch, show up to four touch targets at once. It's hard to write software in those constraints, but it's possible.

Is it good enough for most interactions for most people most of the time? Probably not. I think smart watch owners won't ever be able to use it as their primary computing device, unless their needs are very limited. If you just make calls and get reminders, maybe that would work. If you send lots of texts, though, I don't think it's going to work very well without an alternative keyboard. This might finally be the format where we have to do away with QWERTY and go to dictation for most tasks. So maybe you could get away with a watch and headphones. Maybe. I think you'll still have a computer, the way most people don't just own a phone or a tablet. A watch is a terrible primary screen.

I'm prepared to see that change in time, though. Maybe, as smart watches get people used to the idea of wearing their computers on their wrists, we'll start seeing sci-fi-like forearm computers with bigger screens, or maybe some other form of interaction will take over.

Smart watches can do a lot, and I'm glad they exist, but we can't think of them as little phones. I think they need a different mode of thought for them to work properly.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - By my count, this makes at least five basic form factors to design UIs for.
PPS - That's watch, phone, tablet (touch), desktop/laptop (mouse & keyboard), television (remote).

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Will Netflix force Foxtel to unbundle channels?

I think the most interesting effects of disruptive services like Netflix will be the responses of traditional pay TV companies like Foxtel. When on-demand streaming TV is so popular that it's basically the Millennial version of pay TV, how does Foxtel respond? They've started offering on-demand services via their "Box Sets" service, but to compete on price and choice, I wonder if they will finally have to start offering a-la-carte channel choices.

Since the beginning of their existence, Foxtel (and basically every pay TV provider in the known universe) have gouged their customers by separating high-demand channels into different "bundle" packages. This means subscribers, who might just want Fox8, the Comedy Channel, Discovery and movies, need to pay for the "Basic" package, plus "Comedy", plus "Documentary", plus "Movies", all for significant additional monthly costs. But now that so much content is available on demand, and even individual channels like HBO are being sold as a stand-alone streaming service, the only way to compete with that is to offer individual channels for reduced prices or else die as a company.

They've already cut their subscription fees in half. I wonder how long it will take until The Great Unbundling.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or whether they will choose to die instead.
PPS - Or focus all their energy on building up Presto, their own streaming service.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Home power management

I've seen videos of new home power systems including power usage monitoring and reporting, which is said to allow people to check their power usage and change their behaviour in response. With these newest systems, including solar power and backup batteries, people are able to switch to batteries and solar when it suits them, to minimise their bills.

This is all good stuff, but it assumes that people will be willing to keep checking on their power and make decisions about whether they should be on battery power, solar or grid supply at any given time. The assumption behind such a system is that people are merely unable to do this, not unwilling. I think you'll find, though, that most people would rather have a system that attempts to minimise their power bill automatically, as long as it delivers reliable power.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, that's what I would want.
PPS - I prefer automation over manual tasks in most things, where possible.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Cleverness in The Fear

I know it's an older song now, but I just realised that there's a bit of a clever lyric in Lily Allen's "The Fear":

"I look at the sun and I look in the mirror,
I'm on the right track, yeah I'm onto a winner."

So just this week I figured it out. She's not just talking about vague self-reflection, gazing off into the distance or examining herself, although it's that, too. Because, you know what? The Sun and The Mirror are tabloid newspapers in the UK. She's talking about getting tabloid-famous! How did I miss this? Well, probably because I don't live in the UK and I don't read newspapers at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I like discovering that kind of layer in music.
PPS - Or in anything, really.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Democratic work approvals processes

Could you run a business where a team's approvals are democratic? I'm thinking of things like timesheets and leave approvals, and using online tools to keep visibility for everyone. That way, everyone can see what days everyone else wants off work and can approve or reject it based on that, or can see what time everyone has spent on which projects, and whether that might be a problem.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, it gives everyone more work to do, too.
PPS - And doesn't relieve the need for managers entirely.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Over-structured data

Data can be overstructured. That's as bad as too little structure, because it doesn't take exceptional circumstances into account. For instance, say you've decided that a postal address always consists of a street number (strictly numeric), a street name, a street type (eg "Road", "Street", "Avenue"), a suburb, a state and a postcode. Well, in this case, maybe you missed a street type in your list, which means a certain type of street (eg "Place", "Esplanade", "Boulevard") is excluded. Or what about unit numbers? They all share the same street address, but delivering to unit 7 is very different to delivering to unit 17. You get the point. You need to strike the right balance between structuring your data to give it meaning and consistency, and leaving it unstructured to allow for unforseen circumstances. It can be a tricky balance to strike.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The worst part is that the right structure is always changing.
PPS - Everything is always changing.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

I don't channel-surf online

I don't feel like I have "bookmarks" any more for sites that I need to remember to visit every day. I have three places I go for online entertainment: feedly, Facebook and Pocket. The only reason Facebook is on that list is because I can't get my friends' posts in Feedly. Pocket is where I put items from Feedly that I can't (or don't want to) read or watch right away. That's it. If your website doesn't provide a feed I can load into Feedly so that it comes to me automatically, I will probably forget about you forever.

Is this harsh? I don't think so. Is it unusual? Perhaps. The thing is, I'm not looking for my internet experience to be like channel-flipping on a TV. I don't gain any pleasure from hunting around for something new when I could program it all to come straight to me. That makes far more sense, to my mind, plus it means I don't miss anything just because I didn't go to this or that website today. This is important if I want to read certain web comics, because they're telling one long story, in order. Missing one is like missing a chunk of the story, a chapter of a book, and the rest never makes sense again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - One day, perhaps, I'll have to accept missing out on some articles online.
PPS - The best articles should show up in multiple places, though.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Internet law and order

What should be the law enforcement model for the internet? A police force that patrols and investigates to prevent and fight crime? An armed force that develops an arsenal and deploys troops to trouble spots? A spy agency that secretly infiltrates hostile or potentially-threatening organisations to destroy them efficiently and covertly from the inside? Private fiefdoms with individual guard troops to defend just their own territory? Something else entirely?

It matters how we think of this, because it affects the way we treat the internet as a resource and the threats we find there. If we imagine a war metaphor, we will talk about collatoral damage, attacks, strikes and operations of attack. If we talk about spies, we prioritise exploiting vulnerabilities instead of fixing or reporting them. Right now, we're working with a mix of everything I've mentioned.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I believe it should be a combination of police and private security.
PPS - And that unfixed vulnerabilities make us all less safe.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Two kinds of habits

Building a habit of quitting is much harder than building a positive habit. When I talk about a positive habit, I'm talking about, for instance, doing pushups every morning when you wake up. It's a definite action. When you wake up, you do some pushups, then you know you're done. Even if you do it later in the day, that's a kind of success.

To quit something is a much more empty kind of act. Say you're quitting smoking. Today, you throw out your cigarettes and don't buy more, but the victory is when, every single time the urge to smoke rises up, you do nothing. Then tomorrow, when you want to smoke, you do nothing. You continue doing nothing until, hopefully, eventually, the urge to smoke doesn't come up again, and "not smoking" is no longer a goal or a victory but your default state of being. There are certainly rewards to quitting something destructive like that, but they're less tangible and more long-term than the satisfaction and reward of doing something positive.

Perhaps that's something to consider. Instead of aiming just to quit something, you should aim to take up something positive instead, like the pushups. Maybe, eventually, you will associate the same triggers with an urge to do some pushups instead of an urge to smoke. I'd like to see that clinical trial.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure it's been done.
PPS - It seems to be common enough advice, anyway.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Satire of yourself

Playing satire in public where people have to know you to know that you're kidding is a dangerous thing. If it starts to reach enough people, plenty of them won't know you're kidding, just because they don't know you well enough to know that's not "really" you. At that point, the honest defence of your actions - "I was just kidding!" - sounds over-defensive and insincere.

So, to summarise, if you tell a joke by acting out of character, someone won't get it, and then it's very difficult to take it back.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm aware I'm advocating a chilling effect.
PPS - Or, from another perspective, a good PR move.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Thick skin

People sometimes excuse their own lack of tact by saying that people need to develop thick skins, and they're only helping out. But needing a thick skin doesn't mean that nobody is ever going to be nice to you again, does it? There are plenty of people being mean in the world, or just being tactless. Be one of the good ones.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I like to think I am.
PPS - I guess most people want to believe they are the good guys.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Too tired for your mental health

Like muscles that are overtired and can't work properly any more, good mental habits can be undone by mental stress or overwork. Those "good mental habits" might be anything you've learned in your lifetime, such as "not having panic dreams about being naked in school just before a test you haven't studied for" or "not slipping into bottomless depression for no reason".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The funny thing is, sometimes you don't know you have these good mental habits until they disappear.
PPS - And then you don't know how to get them back.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Encoding trust

Security of any form is a system of trust. So what is trust? It involves delegation of authority - I allow you to act on my behalf - and it also implies an alignment of goals or interests, or at least an assumption of such. I believe that the actions you take on my behalf, or the actions you take that will affect me in some way, will be in my best interests, or at least will be a decent compromise I can live with.

Employers trust their employees to act as part of the company. Spouses trust each other to respect boundaries of online accounts or to treat shared finances with respect. Friends trust each other to keep private stories, pictures and other shared secrets private. In many cases, fear of social or professional repercussions are the limiting factor. If we violate this trust, we lose our friends, lose our jobs, put strain on our relationships.

A lot of the time, though, trust is a very difficult thing to codify into a computer system. Real-world trust can be very granular. I trust you in this area but not in that. I trust you only for about half an hour when left alone, and only if I lock up the petty cash. I don't trust either of you alone with these nuclear launch codes, but I trust you together to keep an eye on each other. What you can never account for is secret intent. If I have decided, on my own, that my employer of fifteen years is doing something corrupt and illegal, and that my best course of action is to take some evidence to outside authorities, how can you tell what I'm doing? If I normally copy certain documents every morning for work purposes, and today I'm copying similar documents in the same way but for untrusted purposes, the computer system won't know that, no matter how it is coded.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Whistleblowers will always be a "threat" to corporations.
PPS - Personally, I think whistleblowers are a security feature for society.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Is there any freedom of speech online?

Is there a public space on the internet, or just a series of private spaces we all perceive as public because they're available to everyone? People arguing against "censorship" online are often actually arguing for their "right" to say whatever they want in "public" spaces, but when every space on the internet, from Facebook to Twitter to your own blog is actually owned by someone (your blog is probably owned by Google, Wordpress or your web host) then there's no space where someone else doesn't have the right to take down what you say because they, personally, disagree with it. From that point of view, there might actually not be anywhere on the internet where the notion of "freedom of speech" even applies. There is nowhere you can say something online that someone else can't just say "no" to, and take it down again, no rights violated.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am not a lawyer, though, so don't take this as any kind of legal opinion.
PPS - I'm also not American, so the American Constitution, with its Amendments, does not apply to me either.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

I missed a spot

Yesterday may have been the first weekday in years that I've not posted here. I'm not going to go back and check how long it's been, though. I think, sometimes, in the past, I've even back-dated a post just so that it still looks like I've been diligent. This time, though, I think I'll just leave it.

I've been sick, on and off for the past two weeks or so, and this has been a major disruption to my normal routines, including blogging. The details of my sickness are disgusting, so I won't share. The secondary effects are lots of sleeping and staying home from work. I really hope, this time, I can recover properly and put it behind me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also haven't been writing or reading much.
PPS - At home, I gravitate more towards YouTube and other internet activities or television.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Could anything replace Linux?

At this point, could some other open-source operating system topple Linux off its perch as the dominant open-source OS? There are others around, but they'd have to match Linux's stability, functionality and support levels before they'd be seen as a significant contender. That would mean attracting the same number of dedicated developers, and that's unlikely, in my opinion. All the developers who would be working on some other open-source operating system are already either working on Linux or on their own pet project. Those pet projects, lacking the developer effort and organisation of Linux, will move more slowly and will therefore feel like they're being left behind by all flavours of Linux, not to mention Windows and OS X as well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It takes a lot of effort to make a modern OS.
PPS - And in software, effort means time and people, which in turn usually means money.

Monday, 25 May 2015

On this day in the future

On this day in the future:

2084: The Olympic organising committee votes to allow traditional pole dancing as part of the female gymnastics program. Lobbying for male pole dancing inclusion begins immediately.
2123: The majestic Cadbury Creme Pigeon, source of all Cadbury Creme Eggs, is declared extinct. The last specimen goes on display at the Cadbury Natural History Museum in New Atlantis.
2191: A motorcycle with a horse's brain, called Grey Matter, wins the Melbourne Cup in 58 seconds. Muddy conditions the following year prevent Grey Matter from retaining the cup.
2208: After lengthy discussions between the Australian and New Zealand governments, The Commonwealth of Australia finally accepts statehood in New Zealand.
2253: Arnold Schwarzeneggar's brain dies at the age of 306. A stand-in brain is hired to complete filming of his 267th movie.
2288: Brazil successfully enters an ape in the Olympics for wrestling. Broadcasts are stopped mere seconds into the ape's first bout for undisclosed reasons.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wrote these all at different times, for different reasons.
PPS - There's more about the sports and brains than I remembered until I put them together.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Removal of software features

Software sometimes faces the removal of features as it goes on in life. This is especially true of large, complex software with lots of users. Maintaining features through upgrades costs time and effort in development and support. Sometimes the justification is made that this or that feature or option is being removed and replaced with a permanent setting based on how many people don't use it, or the way most people keep the setting. This stands to upset as few people as possible.

The problem is that it does upset some people, and if you have thousands or tens of thousands of users, you're going to be upsetting a large number of people, however small the percentage is. That can get lost in the analysis. If "only" 35% of your users sort oldest-first, but the majority keep their lists sorted in the default newest-first order, you may be tempted to set the sorting option to newest-first permanently. However, if you have 100,000 users, you're about to cause problems for 35,000 of them. Some will adapt. Some will leave for software that still does what they want. Are you willing to risk those 35,000 users for the sake of not maintaining a sort option?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For me, a lot of my software has an audience of one.
PPS - And when it doesn't, removal of features is not up to me.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

One-way content sharing

I'd like to know when and how the "roach motel" business model for online service providers will fall down again. Well, I say "again" because I think it's similar to the Compuserve and AOL "walled garden" business models of the early web. Those companies aimed to provide everything their users could ever want or need in curated collections, but the Weird Wild Web outdid them and they collapsed. These days, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are all vying to be the only service provider you need, but in a different way. Now they provide search, calendars, personal posts, email, maps (or some significant subset) and all their APIs are aimed at getting content in, but not letting it out. Google demonstrated their commitment to this model recently by shutting off external RSS feeds of each user's YouTube subscriptions, forcing tech-savvy users like me to go directly to YouTube instead of keeping up to date on my subscriptions via my feed reader. Content checks in, but it doesn't check out.

Can this business model succeed where the walled gardens failed? I don't know, but I kind of hope not. The one-way sieve operating here is strong, and it's difficult to disrupt. You can start yourself as a tiny content provider, but as long as the big players can suck in your content, they get all the same benefits without needing to change. If you don't allow them to pull you in somehow, then you wither and die because they are the gatekeepers of online attention now.

The only bump in the road I can see is if they start disrupting each other. If Facebook users want to start sharing content from there to Google+ for some reason, and they can't, and this problem grows larger, then Facebook has to cave to user demand, but this would just lead to them being swallowed up by Google, in my opinion. They need to defend this border or they die.

So I guess I don't have an answer. The only remaining idea is that these giants of the internet get too big to keep growing and break apart on their own, like some kind of Google Civil War. Perhaps a generation from now, when their founders are gone and the core ideals rotted from the inside, there will be a breakaway group that forms a new company, large enough to compete but small enough to react to the web we will have 20 years from now.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Whatever that will look like.
PPS - If I knew that, I'd be rich already.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Nobody can do no wrong. Your heroes are fallible human beings who make mistakes, overlook things, and sometimes hold problematic opinions. They tell lies, they dislike some things you love, they love some things you hate. They say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. They get into accidents, sweep things under the rug, would rather not discuss certain topics. They run out of energy, get sick, get injured. Sometimes their bodies don't work properly, sometimes their minds don't work quite right. They forget, they remember incorrectly and they will occasionally deceive themselves.

It's easy to forget, when you only interact with them one-way, from their public persona and appearances to your perception and mental image of them, but if you weren't familiar with their work, you could sit next to them on the bus and never know how much they mean to the world.

They are people, and people are fragile, complex, emotional, intellectual beings with faults and failures as big as their strengths and successes. Try to remember that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You probably won't remember it all the time.
PPS - I certainly don't.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Does my ideal job even exist?

When I think of the kind of job I would like to do in my 40s or even closer to retirement, I still think of software, fiction and acting. As always, however, I tend to picture a job that doesn't involve any of the things I dislike doing, or that fill me with a sense of dread and disgust. Those would be any sales and marketing activities, and, if I'm being honest, management and leadership, too. I don't want to be a leader. I've never wanted that. And if my mental self-image ever overlaps with smarmy, greasy, sharks-in-suits salespeople (which is obviously a caricature or stereotype) then I'll be very disappointed with my life.

I know everyone has to do things they don't want to, but every now and then, you come across a person who, with a huge smile, says she is exactly where she wants to be and, if they stopped paying her tomorrow, she'd still be doing this job. That's the kind of job I want. Is there a place for me like that? If not, I'll happily take the financial freedom to just retire.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As would plenty of other people, I'm sure.
PPS - But I asked first, so there.

Monday, 18 May 2015

No, I did not have "man flu"

I've been sick for several days and counting now, but I'm back at work, coughing, sneezing and snotting my way through the day, trying not to infect every surface I encounter. I've been asked by some coworkers if I had "the dreaded man flu". Now, because I am a man and had flu-like symptoms, some people will not believe me regardless of the evidence I present. As a man with flu-like symptoms, of course, my judgement cannot be trusted on this issue. However, I would like to present Exhibit A: fevers, experienced over the first two days, Exhibit B: constant nasal and sinus congestion and Exhibit C: a cough producing yellow-green phlegm from my lungs. I'm sick. No question about that in my mind, and I wouldn't call it "man flu".

To me, "man flu" means exaggerating your symptoms, demanding to be waited on while lying comfortably in bed. Picture Homer Simpson, lying on the couch, ringing a little service bell and yelling for Marge to come and serve him some specific food or drink. He's clearly not as sick as that, and neither am I. I'm still running the domestic micro-errands requested by the lady of the house ("Can you get me some water, please?"). If I were to accept the diagnosis of "man flu", that would have to be the first thing to go.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could possibly have gone back to work one day earlier.
PPS - Since I wasn't getting paid time off, however, that's my call to make.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Crowdsource what can't be computerised

To a large extent, almost anything you think can't be automated by computers can be crowdsourced. Do you think an HR job can't be taken over by a robot? Try asking 10,000 people for hire/fire decisions on your potential and existing workforce and compare that to your HR department's decisions. I bet they'd be close. The only question is whether crowdsourcing is cheaper, faster or more reliable than hiring one good person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The problem gets very meta when talking about hiring HR people.
PPS - I'd love to see how well a crowd can act as CEO.

Thursday, 14 May 2015


Escapism should be used as a way to get an external perspective on your problems, rather than trying to leave them behind. All within reason, of course. Nobody will begrudge you a little escape now and then, the same way you're meant to take regular holidays from work. The point is more for creators. Take the time to make your creations relevant to the problems you see in the world, they'll have more depth, even if most people don't realise why. To me, that's a pretty good win.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And a very tricky thing to do.
PPS - But worth it, I think.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Too big for Twitter

I'm sad to hear that Joss Whedon quit Twitter. It seems, lately, that social media is a bad place for people to get attention. Or maybe I'm trying to say that a lot of attention online will also bring you a lot of negative attention, regardless of what you do, and exposing yourself to that level of toxicity is less likely to get you any super powers and more likely to get you into therapy.

This is what we do to famous people these days. Back before Twitter, famous people were a rare bird, only seen in sleazy paparazzi rags, publicity events and their own work, or, if you were very lucky, in a random encounter on the street. Then Twitter opened up and said "We have the celebrities! In a cage! Come and poke them!" And we did. Oh, how we did. They didn't like it much, but what could they do? Not be on Twitter? Please.

Except it seems like that's the best option now. Rather than trying to filter a little signal out of the torrent of noise, gaining a tiny bit of happiness for hours of wading through humanity's excrement, your better odds for happiness are to avoid the general public altogether, which is how it used to be anyway.

There was a reason celebrities became recluses. It's because humans, en-masse, are terrible people, who will abuse, berate and harass you for making the things that they love.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Thankfully, being too big for Twitter would have some pretty great consolation prizes.
PPS - Like huge piles of money.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Can we convince trolls that it's not funny?

How do you change someone's mind that trolling is funny? We all go through this stage, it seems, when we aim to get a rise out of people online (or in person) because we find it funny, because at some time during puberty we turn into gaping a-holes spewing poop at the world - just coating it in our stinking, festering monkey-poop - and lauging at people who get upset that we have covered them in our poop. Then some time later we realise that, when we did that, we were being gaping a-holes who didn't deserve the free room, board and internet we got from our parents and we settle down.

Is there a way we can train kids early on not to be that particular kind of a-hole to each other? Is there something we can say to them to indicate that the descriptor "clever insult" doesn't apply to the phrase "you should shut up and kill yourself"? I hope so. The internet gives our words vast reach and permanence, so when you're an a-hole in person, it can be damaging, but when you're an a-hole online, it can be so devastating that people do kill themselves.

So, pre-pubescent trolls, listen up: when you aim to make someone upset online, I'm going to need you to explain to yourself, first, why it's hilarious. You need to go far deeper than "It just is, because now they're angry, so shut up". You're angry, too. That's most of the reason you're smearing your own feces on the internet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you can explain why it's funny, it still has to be something you'd be happy for your parents to read.
PPS - I'm well aware that this post, on its own, won't change any troll's mind.

Monday, 11 May 2015

The real problem with nepotism

The reason nepotism is a problem is not necessarily that the wrong people get the jobs. If a relative does a terrible job but his family refuses to fire him, the company will just collapse or, at best, not fulfil its potential, and then the job goes away entirely. No, the real problem with nepotism is the mixing of power structures. If I work for you, but then you hire your son as my subordinate, I can't actually tell him he's doing a bad job or fire him if necessary, because that counts as a slight against you, my boss. The person who is supposed to be my responsibility is actually someone I have to treat as my superior, even if you tell me not to.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That particular arrangement won't usually happen, though.
PPS - Because, if you're going to hire your son, you won't put him more than one level below you.