Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Where House

I work at the Where House. If you've ever lost anything for good, chances are it turned up here. That's not to say I could find it again for you, though. Lost things like to stay lost; the Where House just gives them boundaries in which to do it. There's a mountain of missing socks in here somewhere, but it tends to move around, and so much loose change that you'd be a billionaire if you could collect it all.

The Where House itself is kind of hard to find, too. It's listed in phone books, but they seem to suffer from strange printing errors on that entry, or else someone has ripped out the page. The phone keeps being accidentally disconnected and reconnected under different numbers, and people trying to drive here tend to make wrong turns, or just find something more interesting to look at. The only mail we ever get are lost letters that were supposed to go to someone else.

That's why it was so odd when we started getting deliveries. At first it was confidential government documents in archive boxes that I assumed had been accidentally rerouted with the mail, but they were coming on such a regular schedule. I supposed that someone had figured out how to specifically trick the postal service to find us by mistake.

After the documents came a crate of computers, evidently redirected during an office move, then two cars and an army truck. Three suspicious lumpy packages wrapped in black plastic were last, and I shoved them out of the way before I could wonder what was in them. The last thing we received in this weird time was a name: the Red Giant Initiative. Whatever it means, it's gone now, deep into the Where House, never to be found again. My best guess is that some General used us to bury his pet project when it went awry, but even I can't prove it. That's what it's like at the Where House. Whatever comes in never comes out again, whether lost socks, covert military operations or me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In part inspired by Warehouse 13.
PPS - And, I suppose, the Room of Requirement.

Balancing online game economies

MMORPG economies suffer when items, on the whole, are not consumable. The auction house, when the money goes from one player to another, doesn't help, because nothing is used up. When enemies spawn infinitely (across the whole game) and drop valuable items that are sold from one player to another, the money is not used up, so there's a natural inflation at work. In City of Heroes, salvage (AKA loot) gets used up creating power enhancements, but each player only needs a certain number of those. The rest are waste, inflating the economy, which I gather is pretty unstable anyway.

There needs to be as much consumed as there is produced per player in order to keep things balanced. Apparently Ultima Online suffered this problem too, and tried to solve it by introducing expensive non-consumable black dye tubs, which people bought and charged their friends to use. And since it wasn't used up, it really did nothing to fix the inflation, even though the vats were expensive.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I suppose it's hard to criticise, though. We can hardly balance real economies.
PPS - As evidenced by every country's national debt.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Online classified ads in Australia

In Australia, print classifieds are still big business - bigger than online ones. How is that the case when, for instance, Craigslist in the USA has all but killed that sector of the newspaper game? According to my highly-scientific workplace poll (three guys and me) it's about price and visibility. If you want to sell a second-hand couch, you have a couple of options for putting it online, which already means you don't know where people will be looking, and when you get it there, everyone is after such hardline bargains that it looks like every seller is dreamin'.

If your price is more than $50 for anything in your house, you probably won't sell it. If it's smaller than a kitchen appliance, it had better be $10 or less. So why would you bother? The time and effort to sell something that way online is worth far less than the decluttering satisfaction you gain by just chucking it in the bin. Selling in print just doesn't have that same instant-gratification, search-and-die feel of online selling, so you're more likely to get a sale to someone who isn't a rabid uber-bargain-hunter.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We may be wrong.
PPS - Especially since we did no research at all.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Work now, pay later

If you're working unpaid overtime in the hopes of one day making partner at your company, you've already fallen for a scam. It might not be an intentional scam, but it works out that way. First, you have to figure that the smaller the company and the younger it is, the more likely it is that it won't even exist any more by the time you are supposed to make partner. Second, if you do happen to work at a place that is likely to exist later, just take a second and count the number of your coworkers who are doing the same thing as you. Now ask yourself whether all of you are going to get a turn at being partner. How many partners are there now, vs how many employees? And how many employees came and went at the company for each of the current partners? Your odds are not good. Third, given that your odds are not good, you might do better, cash-wise, working those extra hours at a second, part-time job.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At least that way you get paid.
PPS - For the few who do make partner, though, their time will be worth it in the end.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Programming for non-programmers

I love being able to write my own programs. There's really nothing like the feeling of being able to make the computer do what you want, in the way you want. It's something I wish was available to more people all the time. Programming languages are getting more powerful year by year, that's true, but they're not making programming more accessible. To do that, we need to go right back to the drawing board and think the way people think about programming. We need a language and environment designed from the ground up from the non-programmer's point of view while retaining the consistency and clarity of traditional languages. The most developed effort like that I can find is probably Scratch.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's still fairly traditional in its constructs, though.
PPS - So maybe it's not much of a leap.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Personalisation vs upselling

It is in a website's best interest to show you suggestions for other products you might like to buy, just in case you didn't know about them. It's like highly personalised advertising. But if you only ever see recommendations, suggestions and ads that are specifically targeted to your current situation, you will not long for anything more. The phone company might be able to sell you apps for your current mobile phone, but they won't be able to sell you a better one unless they suggest it. So it's in their best interest for the personalisation to be slightly flawed. Even if you've just bought a new phone, chances are you will see ads for their latest models anyway.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Advertising is a tricky game like that.
PPS - Not that I've ever had to advertise anything.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Efficiency Engine

I dreamed of a machine like a big stationary tricycle that could "summarise" anything from books to physical objects. Place a large book inside, pedal for a while, and out the other end comes the slim paperback version. It wasn't restricted to those kinds of things, either. It could take any object - say, a printer - and give back just the "important" bits in a still-functional, more space-efficient version. It took me years to build the thing, using a little ingenuity, several prototypes and a lot of magic. It's like a reality sieve for functionality and information. I called it The Efficiency Engine and travelled the country with it, like a carnival act.

People loved it. Drop in War and Peace and you get the Cliff's Notes version. Drop in The Lord of the Rings DVD box set and you get a single two-hour action-packed fantasy war movie. Put in a big, clunky wheel and it gives you the streamlined, efficient version. Breakfast cereal becomes a power bar. Coffee turns into flavoured caffeine lozenges. I was saving all kinds of people all kinds of time and energy for a few dollars a turn. I even let the kids do the pedalling, when they wanted to.

One day, though, a man stepped up in turn and said "I'm next."

"Right you are, sir, right this way, and what do you have for us today?"


"What? What do you mean?"

"I mean me. I want to go through the machine myself. Make me more efficient."

"Uh ... I don't think that's such a good idea."

"I brought my lawyer with me, and some liability waivers to sign. This is all on me. But I know it will work."

"Who are you?"

"Dominic Kramer, CEO of Kramer Inc."

I'd heard of him - everyone had. I figured I had nothing to lose. With all eyes on me and the waivers signed, I hesitantly placed him into the hopper and started pedalling.

It usually takes a few seconds. After two minutes of hard pedalling, I started to worry. Then I heard the little "ding!" behind me at last and turned around to see the results of Mr Kramer's unusual trip. All that was left in the output box was a cheque book and a rubber stamp of Dominic Kramer's signature. We should probably have just done his calendar instead.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I really did dream about this machine.
PPS - So far, however, my prototypes are non-functional.

Data cleansing

Usually the first thing people want to do when they want better access to their data is to build a database. That's all good, and I understand the desire, but the implied result is that the data will be more reliable once it's entered. This is never the case. As a result of any automatic process, the data will only decay unless a significant effort has gone into examining and repairing it first, which is called data cleansing. That's usually what people want when they propose to Make A Database, but the long hard data cleansing work is separate and quite different from that. It can be done without making a database first, but it's easier once the database structures are in place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It can be quite a lot of work.
PPS - Especially if there's a lot of data.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Intelligence is general knowledge plus critical thinking. We can all have that. General knowledge comes from reading and hearing a lot of new ideas. Fortunately for you, suffusing the very atmosphere around you right now is the greatest library ever assembled. Read it. Critical thinking is just practice at asking yourself why. Why do you believe what you do and why do you reject the things you reject? If your answer is ever "because I read it here", "because that guy told me so" or "because that's what everyone believes", you need to go deeper. Really think about what makes up your core assumptions. Picture the world from someone else's point of view, with different assumptions for a while.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In short, practice thinking.
PPS - Somebody has to.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

These things I believe

Here, in summary, are a few of the things I believe about technology and other miscellaneous subjects:

1. Technology should be about people, not the other way around. We built these machines for ourselves. The least they could do is serve their human masters.
2. DRM is bad. It's an anti-customer technology you use when you hate the people who give you money.
3. Open competition is better than monopoly, but outright anarchy is worse than competition. Competition breeds innovation, but a total free-for-all makes for analysis paralysis.
4. If you segment your market for yourself, you will limit your profits, because then each segment needs to be individually justified.
5. The internet is good at making little things global (like a home business), but bad at making local things big (because where do you look for them?).
6. Offline is as important as online, sync is as important as live. This is because the network, especially the mobile network, is not guaranteed accessible all the time, even when it's pretty good and certainly not when you're in remote areas.
7. Privacy is what we gain with good security, not what we have to give up.
8. Everyone is wrong some of the time, and sometimes, everyone is wrong at once. Truth is not decided by majority rule.
9. We have not reached equity of male and female rights and expectations yet.
10. We need to have some pie-in-the-sky ideals to know where we want to head, and to evaluate our actions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At the very least, we need to know why we believe what we do.
PPS - I've just realised I haven't written much justification for any of these.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Energy efficient long distance travel

I'm interested to see how airlines will work to maintain their profit margins under pressure of rising fuel prices. On the roads, our answer is to produce more fuel-efficient cars that spend less energy to get from A to B. For an airline, there's a bit more of an investment in the vehicles they have, and they're expected to have a fairly long life, so on that basis alone they will be slower to change, but keep in mind that fuel efficiency in aircraft has been steadily improving for decades now. Optimising for efficiency always has limits, and we might be reaching those now. Pretty soon they'll just have to redesign from the ground up, like blended wing body planes.

Or they might have to change to something else entirely. However, for something to usurp planes as the default mode of transport for humans over long distances, it would need to be better not just on fuel consumption but comparable in raw speed. We won't accept something that takes a week where a plane takes just an hour, so if we're talking about trains, boats or blimps they'll have to be super-fast.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably won't be blimps, then.
PPS - At least not for the rushed business traveller.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Offline viewing

There are some things on the web that take a long time to read or watch, like long articles and videos, but they're almost never designed to make it easy to consume them. It's not that I can't or won't read these long articles, really, it's just that my free time doesn't always come in chunks large enough to allow me to do so in one sitting. Bookmarking such a thing online to pick up later is practically impossible, and with video you can just forget it. I could print them, technically, but that's wasteful and seems silly when I read books on my phone all the time. My point is this: if you're going to put a long article or long video on the web, allow for easy offline viewing on a mobile phone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not long ago, I wouldn't even have had that option.
PPS - Which makes things much more complicated.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Ghost Salesman

I am a travelling salesman. It's an unusual occupation these days, but to do what I do, you really need to go door to door. Selling ghosts is a tricky business to begin with. Trying to do so over a counter in a shop is asking for trouble. No, I've found it works much better to give my clients a look at what a house ghost can do for them, but also to make sure the ghost wants to stay. A willing ghost can be the difference between a satisfied customer and a poltergeist lawsuit.

Stepping up to the doorway on the old verandah, I felt good about this house. No other sales all day, but little old ladies are good customers. They like the company, and they could use the help, all great points to bring up during a pitch. The doorbell chimed deep inside and a minute later the door was opened on a mothball smell and an octogenarian with reading glasses. I launched into my introductory spiel with an accustomed fluidity.

"Good evening, ma'am, my name is Bob and I'm from Ghost Guests Limited. How many chores around your home could use some help?"

"Well, I'm not sure. Did you say 'ghosts'?"

"That's right, ma'am, I have in my case a selection of our finest household helping spirits ready and willing to assist you with your household upkeep. They sweep, dust, mop, tidy up, cook, garden and carry. Anything around the house you could do, they can do tirelessly, and usually just because they like the company. We choose only the most contented spirits and bottle them ourselves in a monestary on a cool, calm mountain for maximum tranquility. All of them come with a 'lifetime' guarantee!"

That last line is a 'joke' mandated by the company, and it never, ever gets a laugh. I am not shocked to find the same is true here.

"Would you like a demonstration?" I ask, quickly skipping over the awkward silence.
"You know, that does sound kind of interesting."

As I step through the door, I feel a kind of rattle in my case. One of the bottles is shaking, which can be a good sign, but I've never felt one shake like this.
"Would you like some tea?" the little old lady asks.

"That actually sounds like the perfect opportunity for a demonstration."
Before I can even reach in and open up one of the spirit bottles, the rattling one pops its top. The silent, foggy figure of a young man flies out, circles the room a couple of times, looks from me to the customer, and darts for the kitchen.
"I say, are they all as lively as that?"

"Not usually," I respond, a little awkward now that we're off script.
The ghost, to my surprise, returns quickly with a tray of tea, but one cup already poured with just a touch of milk. The ghost drops one sugar lump in, gives it a quick stir, and hands it to the customer.

"I thought that was you," she says to him, and actually introduces me to my product. "This is my Arthur. We were married for forty years."

"Oh, I see," I respond, totally at a loss now. "So ... he'll be staying, then?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"Well, then, our standard payment plans..."

I catch a death stare (no pun intended) from Arthur, and realise that our "standard" plans are not going to cut it here.
"Well, um, how about..." The glare continues. I sigh in resignation. Upsetting a woman's husband is one thing. Upsetting a ghost is entirely another.

"How about just a cup of tea and we call it even?"

Arthur smiles and pours the tea and I am left to wonder how a sure-fire sale turned into trading a cup of tea for some of my best merchandise. I guess you can't win them all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may be pushing the definition of "flash fiction" here.
PPS - Though it was written quickly.

The value of a games subscription account

For streaming games services like OnLive, it should be possible to pack up and leave for a better offer on a competing service. Although that might be technically true, there is a certain level of lock-in that naturally occurs. As a result of playing games, you automatically accumulate things like save markers, achievements and friends, all of which add up to give the account itself inherent value or bragging rights. If you find a competitor with better rates, it is still a case of abandoning that old profile and building up a new one from scratch, possibly for the same games. It would take a highly rational person to leave the old scores behind, even for games that won't be played again, to get a better subscription elsewhere.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Few people are that rational.
PPS - And probably fewer gamers.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Your job and your mission

Are you doing your job or fulfilling your mission? My job is to support software, but my mission is to get robust, easy-to-use software into the hands of people that need it, when and how they need it. If I sometimes need to spend my time at the office rewriting something shoddy instead of just patching it up and hoping for the best, then I should do that. Long-term, that's a winning strategy, even though it might look like a loss in the short term. The strategy of "just patch it and get on with the next patch" looks like winning in the short term, but will eventually lose because we're not going anywhere. We're running in place, struggling to keep just barely ahead of total collapse. By the time we're "finished" with that strategy, we will have been far outpaced by the competition and won't have accomplished anything worthwhile. And that's assuming we can keep our clients that long.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd like to be doing more of my mission.
PPS - That might mean doing a different job.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I took a look at the Google+ website, just to see what it's like. Compared to Facebook, there's not much different. You have "circles" instead of friend groups, though I suspect they work a lot better, and the "spark" feed of things you'll probably like. The thing that really caught my eye was "hangout" video chats, which is an idea I quite like. The closest equivalent on Facebook is text chat, and that's a bit more attention-intrusive to my mind. You need to check who's online, see if they want to chat, and type for every sentence, which is nothing like real life.

Hangouts looks friendlier, like just turning on your webcam while you watch TV so that friends can virtually drop in and say "hi" or just sit there with a live video feed of you to keep them company. I think I've mentioned always-on video chat as the next step up from always-on internet, and this is getting to that point. Or it could be very useful for business conference calls, too, especially with the way it displays the current speaker big at the top. I approve.

The other side of this whole argument, of course, is that Facebook is well entrenched now, and it will take a giant heave to get it out of the way. Google+ might be capable of that, or it might just be a little blip. The most I am willing to hope for now is a fire lit under Facebook's collective rear ends when people ask "Why aren't you doing XYZ like Google+?" And that's a good thing. Competition is good, and Facebook has had far too little competition for far too long.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The progression from one social network to another is part of their life cycle.
PPS - Maybe Zuckerberg missed his big chance to sell, like MySpace did.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Owning your computer

The real test of whether your computer belongs to you is whether it can be programmed by you (or someone like me). You only own the computer if it will do what you tell it (within the limits of its capabilities, of course). If it does what you ask and refuses to do what anyone else asks, then you are the owner. If it occasionally obeys the commands of someone else, such as forcing updates you don't want, sending spam as part of a botnet or removing content you've purchased, such as Kindle books, then you are not 100% the owner because you are not 100% in control of the machine.

If we move (as we seem to be doing) to a model where every computer is only a network connection and a web browser, then you don't own your machine at all, because it won't run software, only websites, and that's not your software at all. Yes, you could tell it to go to a different website, or set up your own server to do what you want, but that's a whole different machine. The desktop is still only obeying the whims of the website, and you have become a consumer rather than an owner. You're a rental resident, not the landlord. And that is a problem, whether you believe it today or not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This trend has been going on a long time.
PPS - It will probably continue as long as there are more computer users than programmers.

Monday, 11 July 2011


If something is unsustainable it will fail, fall apart, grind to a halt or be overtaken. It is only a matter of time. That's what "unsustainable" means. The problem is defining what constitutes an unsustainable situation, long-term. Something that uses resources at a faster rate than they are produced is clearly unsustainable, but when we're not clear how quickly the resources are produced, it gets tricky. The same goes for, say, a business model that works for now, but not if anyone else starts doing the same thing. Initially, it looks sustainable, but long-term, it isn't.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Big, complex systems raise this problem all the time.
PPS - And, world-scale, almost all systems are too big to know their sustainability.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Aerorevolution

I shuffle on board the plane with my fellow passengers in our paper flight suits, stripped of luggage, clothing and, for a few unfortunates, hair as well. The crew shov us roughly towards our cramped seats, lock us in, then disappear into the crew cabin, taking up the front half of the plane, including the cockpit. The message from the Party is clear: you do not belong with us. You do not contribute to the political stability of the homeland. You are the second-class peasant-cattle that we must manage, for your own good.

As the plane takes off, our cabin begins to freeze, and droplets of moisture form on the ceiling. Throughout our six-hour flight, Party commercials are the only available "entertainment", blazed loud and bright from the big screen in front. It is clearly the most expensive fixture in our section. I try to block my ears and shut my eyes. The crew reappears in their neatly-pressed Party uniforms to serve us each half a cup of gruel. As they open the door to their cabin, a collective sigh issues from ours. We smell fresh roasted meat, we smell wine, we feel the warmth of the heated cabin. The door clicks shut but does not lock, and in a second, a plan is formed in my head.

Keeping my voice low, I explain what I intend to a few fellow passengers. Some are too scared of the cameras. No matter. I will have enough allies. I issue the call to arms and we storm the crew cabin. Some of my revolutionaries are too ... "enthusiastic" in subduing the fattened crew, and there are black eyes and split lips in evidence. Before long, however, we are clearly victorious.

"The plane is ours, friends, and soon, the country! No more will we toil in fields for the good of our well-fed oppressors! We will start at the airport and create a new nation of equal opportunity for all! Today is the beginning of the second revolution!"

A great cheer goes up from my assembled allies, and I beam with pride, despite the crew glaring daggers at me. Today, I have made a difference. I have raised up the peasants and brought the mighty low. They eat heartily from the crew's larder and I take a seat to relax. Then I see the anti-aircraft missiles from the window, and my spirits sink again. The Party must have been alerted by the pilots, or a silent alarm, and they are so determined to stamp out rebellion that they will shoot the plane down, crew and all. Nobody will know of our stand against Party oppression. I consider telling my fellow passengers, but they seem so happy. They might as well stay that way for the rest of their lives, so I sip my wine and await the inevitable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is actually a rewrite of a story from high school that was pretty much stolen from Seinfeld.
PPS - I wanted this to have more of a Nineteen Eighty Four feel to it.

Success, work and luck

Success is made of work and luck, but to successful people it looks like just work, because luck is, by definition, accidental. Yes, if you try more things you'll increase your chances that one of them will succeed, but increasing the odds is still luck. Your work doesn't make more luck, it just exposes more of your work to luck. It's like buying more tickets in a raffle. You'll have a better chance of winning, but it also costs more and still has a luck element to it.

Instead of trying to emulate success stories where luck played a role, we need to look at failure stories and learn from other people's mistakes. The point is this: recognise the odds, and work with them. The ones who take the long shot might win big, but most who follow them will fail. Most of us are better off only taking risks on our passions and cultivating some patience when it comes to our lives.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In other words, aim to get rich slowly.
PPS - But take advantage of real opportunities, too.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Gut control singlets

I think someone should make a body-shaping gut-control singlet for men. It's socially acceptable for a man to wear a singlet, and I'm sure they could work in some heavy-duty elastic to compress a small gut into a nicer, flatter shape. I wonder if any men would wear it, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I might, on some days.
PPS - And hopefully it would shame me into some situps.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Networks vs devices

Network communication everywhere enables the same results as functional device convergence. That is, if my devices can communicate together seamlessly and easily, then I can play a VHS tape on my PC just the same as if I had a VHS drive in the case. The network is the platform in the sense that the right network services make specific devices irrelevant. The problem is that not everything is networked and even when they are, there are still compatibility problems. The network isn't pure or complete, even for the simplest things like audio and video. And if anyone comes up with something truly innovative, you can bet there will be a ton of incompatible copycats coming along afterwards.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We don't seem to do a lot of standardisation online.
PPS - It's more like recognition of de-facto standards after the fact.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Faint hope defeats despair

As humans, we seem incapable of holding on to both hope and despair at once. That is why, when we are despairing and are offered faint hope, it turns so quickly to certainty. If you're dying of cancer, but the doctor offers you an experimental treatment that may be effective in 1% of cases, you'll believe yourself to be in that 1%.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is also why the same people keep buying lottery tickets.
PPS - Maybe we're not supposed to be pessimists.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Securing the internet

Strong cryptography should be at the heart of the internet for security rather than patched on top. The problem is that it was designed for a trusted fraternity of researchers and enthusiasts where everyone knew everyone else or, at the very least, were a few hops away on the who-knows-who chain. Now that just about everyone is online, the lack of security has become critical. We've patched up the ends and the nodes as best we can, but because it's come in at the end, not the beginning, we are suffering now. Redesigning a worldwide network for ground-up security would be just about impossible. We need to increment towards new secure practices as best we can, and quickly.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At some point, though, we reach the limits of incremental patchwork.
PPS - Then we need to redesign some part of it, at least.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - War in forgotten places

There are quiet places, forgotten places, even in the middle of the busiest cities. They're like eddies in a river current. You just have to know how to look for them - a narrow alley here, a sheltered doorway there. Places beside the malls and parking lots where nobody seems to go. It is there that you will find the things normal people are blind to, for better or worse. In the shadows of our world, in the places we don't care to look, a bitter war rages between tiny viking robots and teddy bear vampires. It has been fought for centuries, anywhere the humans do not remember or bother to explore. Nobody remembers why there must be war, only that one or the other side must claim the shadows for their own. The world of forgotten places is too small for two strange races as theirs.

Teddy Fang and Fuzzy Wuzzy Blooddrinker survey the dark, disused alley, looking for the tell-tale sparks of their near-vanquished foe. He escaped briefly, but the teddy bear vampire sense of smell is not easy to outrun. A baked bean can topples over and the horns of the damaged viking robot, designated "V1-KG-8024", appear quickly scuttling for more cover. His face would register fear, were such a thing possible for either a robot or a viking.

The teddies bear their tiny, sharp fangs, clutch their spears made from sharpened chopsticks and begin the chase anew, all but silent on their padded feet. The viking escapes through a wall between some dislodged bricks and wedges his energy shield in the gap behind him. It is just enough to stand in the teddy bears' way. Though they prod in rage with their spears, the shield holds, and its battery will last quite long enough for the half-broken robot to escape and be repaired. The battle is done for today, but tomorrow there will be another alley, another fight or another hunt. The war is never over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I like the idea of a world hidden by our own inattention.
PPS - It's a bit like an SEP field, really.

Ebook readers and lock-out

I can't choose between getting a Kindle and getting a Kobo, which are pretty much my two options for ebook reader devices. I don't mean that the choice is too difficult, I mean that I will not make that decision.

I need two things from my ebook reader: the Amazon store and the ability to read epub books. I can't get both in one device because Amazon refuses to support epub and nobody else is allowed to connect to Amazon. I won't buy two devices, because that's stupid. It would be like buying two phones because one can only text, while the other can only make voice calls. I shouldn't have to decide that, and it's not my fault that nobody can (or will) make the device I want. So I refuse to give my money to either manufacturer. In fairness, Kobo is only made bad by Amazon's stubborn, closed attitude. For now, the only realistic option for me is to use Kindle and epub software on my Android phone and wait for the right tablet device to appear.

I want to get excited about ebooks. Really, I do. But Amazon is making it very, very difficult.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So far, on my phone, I kind of prefer the epub software.
PPS - I have so far only read free ebooks, though.