Friday, 28 November 2014

High school

When you're in high school, everything feels momentous and important. Then, the second you walk out of those gates for good, all of it - every single event, team, fight, hookup, embarrassment - completely ceases to matter for the rest of your life. This is beginning to be very common knowledge among adults, but it's hard to grasp when you're there for yourself because, as mentioned, it feels like you are in the middle of the most important time of your life. And you are, but not in the way you think at the time.

It feels like this relationship will go on forever and will matter to you with the burning intensity of a thousand suns for the rest of eternity. Then three months later you're at university and nothing could be further from your mind than your childish hookups. You get a "C" instead of a "B" in your class, which drags down your entire GPA and it is SO IMPORTANT, until it just isn't. Or she says he says she says you did and EVERYONE KNOWS and OH MY GOD IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD but then it isn't. Because the most important thing that happens in high school is that you develop a personality. You wait until the hormonal fire in your brain settles down to a gentle three-alarm blaze and if you actually overcame obstacles, you'll be a decent human being. If, on the other hand, high school felt so easy that it was like barrelling down an oiled waterslide giving high-fives on both sides and crashing into a pool of non-stop bikini chocolate-wrestling, real life is going to kick you in the guts straight away when you graduate.

You can climb the social ladder in high school all you like. When you get out, though, the world tips that ladder upside down, shakes you all off and says that, if you don't like it, you'd better fight back. The only people who succeed and never outgrow high school are politicians, and I'm not sure "politics" really counts as "success".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My own high school journey is kind of a blur in my memory.
PPS - Mostly I think it was frustrating.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Capitalism is zero-sum

Is there such a thing as a capitalist economy where everyone wins? I think not. Capitalism is zero-sum. There's no such thing as making money, only taking money, so for you to "win" at capitalism, someone else loses. Those extra dollars in your pocket come from the people who lost to you. Everything you have comes from someone else's failure and your billion-dollar empire is built not on your MBA and good instincts but on the blood and bones of the enemies you didn't even know you had.

Consider it on a smaller scale. You have twenty people locked in a room for a day. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. No matter what they find in the room, what they buy or sell between themselves, no matter what they do, it's a closed system. The same amount of money is coming out of that room at the end of the day as when it began, even if it's all in the pocket of one guy. He might think the system works, and it did, but only for him.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can print more money, but it represents the same total value as before.
PPS - And all of this is why we need governments that stand up for the poor.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Too hard

I try not to say something is "too hard". I always mentally correct that to just "hard", because "too hard", to me, means "I quit". Some things really are "too hard", though. The whole class of computing problems called "NP-Hard" are kind of one-directional, and, with sufficient size, they are too hard to solve before the universe will collapse into heat death. There are physical tasks that can't be accomplished because sufficient force would destroy the components, which makes them too hard as well. In general, though, I try not to apply the label "too hard" to something just because it is a huge challenge or because it is beyond my current abilities. Those things are hard, but they are still possible. That's what I mean.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Stop me if I ever say "too hard" when I mean "very hard".
PPS - Also, I consider this a case of language pedantry rather than positive thinking.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Measuring favours

How would you measure a favour as a unit of currency? Time would have to come into it, but then there's also skill and difficulty. It would be different getting a master tradesperson to tile your bathroom than getting your two mates to do it for their first ever attempt. And one hour of a really tricky problem is far different to one hour of mindless repetitive labour. You probably can't quantify it adequately in the end. It has to be negotiated each time between the parties involved in a trade.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might be one way to try and build a cashless economy, though.
PPS - Well, until we start printing generic favour coupons to pass around and keep track.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Excessive security is hard to detect

It is very difficult to tell if you have over-secured something. The results of adequate security and too much security look about the same: no security incidents, in whatever form you have defined them. Whether you've spent just enough on security or way too much, your efforts will be an obvious success, and it's very easy to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

However, think of it in engineering terms, if that helps. I want to build a bridge across a chasm. I need it to carry foot traffic, and I have $100,000 to build it. An adequate solution is a simple steel span footbridge costing $10,000. It results in easy crossings for everyone, costs less than budget and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance. An over-engineered solution is a four-lane highway bridge with a smart lane control system, traffic cameras, solar lighting and emergency communications systems. If such a bridge costs the whole $100,000, but also results in easy crossings and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance, then it might be tricky to see, without knowing that the simple footbridge was a possibility, that the solution is over-engineered.

It's the same with security. When you spend way too much on security, it does the job just as well as spending a bit less would have done, but you can't tell how much less you could have spent. Think about that if you are ever in a position to boast about how effective your security precautions were.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It becomes more obvious if you start spending less and nothing bad happens.
PPS - Unless you just faced fewer threats that day.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: What does morning smell like?

What does morning smell like?

Linen a little less clean than the day before. The fading wisps of last night's cool breeze replaced by new dew on the grass. The bitter stale of morning breath.
Hot steam, cool tile. Vanilla soap and foaming shampoo. Egyptian cotton and lavender fabric softener.
Wholegrain toast, strawberry jam. Bitter plunger coffee. No, the home espresso machine. No, wait, barista cappucino, cream, caramel and chocolate! Warm, fresh-baked muffins.
Dusty concrete. Aged upholstery. The gagging sweat of unwashed strangers. Earbud plastic.
Thin carpet with a fine layer of dust. Pine-scented suface cleaner. Burnt ozone of electricity and flourescent lights.
Morning smells like the cycle of daily life.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was the first and only writing prompt I picked up from there.
PPS - Maybe I should look for others when NaNoWriMo is over.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Software shortcuts can make you a worse programmer

I read recently of some people lamenting the lack of skill shown by modern software developers and the difference between using tools to take over from already-mastered, mechanical processes in your work vs bypassing the learning of that branch of practice entirely. The argument was that it's perfectly fine to use tools to get around the parts of your job that you've already mastered, so that you can focus on more interesting, higher-level challenges, but a lot of modern software development provides tools that let you jump over that mastery from the start, which means you have no idea how it actually works. To make up an example, you might use a framework to read and write data from a database once you know how that works, because that's stock-standard boilerplate code you don't need to rewrite every time. However, if you use that code from the beginning, you'll never know how to connect to a database without it.

The problem is that you can't keep tools from people who don't know how to use them. You can't force a carpenter to use a hand saw until he understands it enough to graduate to a power saw. This goes doubly true in software. The tools don't care who uses them or what their skill level would be without the tool. The only thing you can do is challenge yourself. Start from scratch in everything and build up your own set of tools and frameworks over a career instead of picking up the biggest, baddest set of power tools from the start and demolishing a house by accident. That has to be self-enforced, though. If you couldn't have built it on your own, don't use it yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can't make people earn shortcuts, is my point.
PPS - Once they're open, they're open to everyone. That's kind of the point of software.