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.