Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Petrol price prediction and assistance

If petrol stations were made to publish their current prices along with their GPS coordinates, it would be easy to show on a map the locations of cheap petrol nearby. It would also be possible to calculate how far you would have to drive to get cheap petrol and whether it was worthwhile. Using that information, you could recommend a place to go for the best deal on your petrol. Couple that with your car's fuel gauge and you'd be able to automatically pop up a recommendation to buy fuel when it's cheap and nearby. If your car's computer can analyse both your driving habits and the petrol price cycle, it could help you optimise your purchases for the cheapest, most efficient and timely outcomes, and the only thing you'd need to see would be a slight deviation in your GPS guidance with a note to buy fuel now.

And that is why petrol stations do not publish their prices online unless forced to do so. They know that a large portion of their business comes from necessity: you need fuel now, and they're the only one nearby. Sometimes their prices will be high and you get screwed. They're okay with that. But if you're able to predict and take advantage consistently when prices are low, that's not okay by them. Anything, such as easier access to current prices, that helps you make better decisions as a consumer puts the brakes on their gravy train. They'll cry poor. They'll tell you it's not fair. They'll even try to tell you it's not possible. All lies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, maybe it's not fair.
PPS - But only if they stick with their current price practices.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Casual toll auto pay phone app idea

Instead of having toll transponders in your car, you could turn on a phone app that tracks where you are, knows your credit card and vehicle details, and auto-submits them to toll collector websites when you go past toll points. The various toll operators would match your self-reported location with their video logs and charge you appropriately for the day. You could even arrange it so that multiple people per trip spread the toll out between them, by all using the app at once. That way you could automatically share the cost for, say, a car pool. Of course you'd need to get the toll operators on board with this, but at least then you wouldn't need a different transponder for every operator.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is my 2500th post!
PPS - There should be a cake or something.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Robot car rules

When auto-driving cars become the most common vehicles on the road, the rules will change. Speed limits may go up, since robot reaction times are much better than humans'. 11-year-old kids could borrow the car on their own. You could ride in your car to work, then send it home for the day, or call it to pick you up from wherever you are. You probably wouldn't need to find a parking spot ever again - just let the car drop you off and find a place to rest.

On the flip side, would you get in trouble for riding in a robot car drunk or asleep? How much responsibility would we expect "drivers" to accept in the case of a crash? Would we need robot cars to pass a driving exam? Would you, as the owner, even need to come along for that, or just let the examiner take care of things? Perhaps it would just mean a different class of license, only for robot cars, where they are expected to do most of the work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's probably what we'll get first.
PPS - But it will probably still be age-restricted.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Temple of the Clown

Ronaldo was one of the faithful. He attended mass, took communion at the Temple of the Clown every Sunday, along with thousands of others. He stood in line reverently, face upturned to consider the Holy Menu. At his turn, he placed his order in the ancient way, and his communion meal was delivered with the traditional catechism, "Have A Nice Day Enjoy Your Meal".

He took a moment with his tray to kneel before the fibreglass statues of the saints and make the holy sign of the double-arches before taking his place at the pews and tables. His meal was meticulously prepared by the acolytes in the Kitchen. The beef would be perfectly cooked, the lettuce and tomato cut with precision and care. The wrapper was folded in intricate origami patterns, and every long finger of fried potato was exactly the same length, exactly the same shade.

But today, something different happened. Today, he received a vision. Just as he took the first bite into his burger, the figure of Saint Ronald himself, after whom Ronaldo was named, appeared in the air before him.

"Ronaldo, my people have lost their way. Their worship is empty, their actions meaningless. I have chosen you to lead them back to true faith. You will be my prophet."

Ronaldo sat, stunned for a moment, at the vision of Saint Ronald. He had read of things like this in the scriptures, but they all happened so long ago. Could it really be happening, now, and to him?

"Look around you, Ronaldo. What do you see? Do these people worship, deep in their hearts, or are they merely going through the motions?"

So Ronaldo looked, his own communion meal forgotten. There were people sitting in the pews at their tables, irreverently wolfing down the carefully-prepared burgers. Children throwing fries at each other. Teenagers removing pickle slices from between the sesame-seed buns and flinging them to stick on the walls of the Temple, laughing with each other in this sacred place of worship. How had he not noticed this before?

Ronaldo knew what he had to do. He stood from his place and began methodically moving along the aisles, overturning the tables to the stunned looks of fellow "worshippers". He flung their meals to the ground and gave stern looks to all who watched him. He made his way to the front counter and stood on top, every eye in the Temple on him. He would turn the people back to true worship. He would reform the Church of the Clown and bring the faithful back. It was his holy mission, and he would make Saint Ronald proud of his people again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think you know which clown I mean.
PPS - I have been to that "temple" too many times myself.

Libraries and ebooks

How do ebook libraries work? When you think about them in the same way as a traditional library, with physical books, things get complicated quickly. If you send an ebook to a patron's device, how do you make sure they eventually delete it? How do you ensure the devices people use obey the library rules and don't allow copying? Instead, you need to think about access, not possession.

The library itself is a collection, akin to an Amazon user account. And when you're talking about accessing their collection, you either need to think of devices or linked accounts. The digital library can function perfectly well if they have a collection of Kindles they can physically lend out, as long as those Kindles can't buy anything on library credit. Alternatively, since the Kindle is supposed to be controlled via DRM, you can just allow any patron to link their account to a public library and gain access to any books contained there, on any device that supports the Kindle software. If they are unlinked from the library, they lose access to those books.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If your DRM is as good as you say it is, this should be easy.
PPS - I'm pretty sure they wouldn't allow this, "for security reasons".

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The craftsmanship learning model

I quite like the idea of applying the craftsman training model to modern professional development. For instance, becoming an apprentice to a master programmer, engineer, accountant, lawyer or doctor. Even though you may have many bosses and many jobs, for the first seven years after university, you are an apprentice, and you have a master from whom you learn most closely. After those seven years, you spend three years with other masters, learning the personal nuances they apply to their profession. Finally, after those ten years, you may submit some of your work for approval to the guild and be granted master status.

Admittedly, it does sound like university in a way, especially the status of "master" vs "masters degree". I'd be pretty sure that's where it came from. But I think modern university doesn't offer the same kind of practical, personal tuition you would find in an apprenticeship system.

It would be tricky to work with a master across several jobs, particularly since that relationship should involve very close work, to learn from the master and for him/her to observe your work. That's harder to do if you're not working directly together every day.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We don't do much mentoring in our society, do we?
PPS - I think we should.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No-payout poker machines

I think we should legally require poker machines to never pay out, ever, and I think we should advertise that fact very boldly on the front. Seal up the return tray and put in a big sign that says "This machine never, ever pays out. You will not win. This is not a bluff or a challenge. We are not kidding." Then when you step up to one, you are under no delusion that you are about to win big, or that this week's welfare payment is sure to turn into big bucks, because there is obviously no winning.

You're already not going to win, long term, but this change turns this form of gambling from a tax on innumeracy to a dead certain black hole. Hopefully it would snap some people out of their addiction, but the effect will probably be more like a two-pronged response. The addicts will go elsewhere, like the lottery, and some will demand the return of the meagre payouts that kept their delusion afloat.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For those who are playing "just for the fun", there's no change.
PPS - Except that it gets slightly more expensive.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Android app permissions

On Android, you're supposed to read and accept the permissions each app requests before you install it. There are several problems with this user requirement. The first and most obvious is permission fatigue. After installing several apps, you start ignoring that button. You don't read the requested permissions and you don't care. This is a human trait that does not go away, and will always be a problem.

The next problem is understanding those permissions. Even if you read them all, do you know what they mean? Are they specific enough to give you a real understanding of what they will do with your phone? Usually not. Also, even if you do read and understand them, they can be misleading. Ad-supported free apps will usually include a request for "Full internet access", in order to get new ads, and sometimes "Fine (GPS) location" too, to provide location-appropriate ads. That might be fine if it's just used for ads, but that combination of permissions can also mean "reports your exact location to anyone who's listening", and you definitely wouldn't agree to that.

Lastly, you can't accept or deny individual permissions on a per-app basis. If this app requests full internet access and you don't want that, too bad. Take it with the rest or leave it completely alone, there's no middle ground.

What's the solution? Well, we could have a set of acceptable default permissions that we are happy to grant and some that we will deny by default so that we don't get nearly as many notifications about it. We also need a separate ad service on the phone so that we can see if a particular app wants internet access to display ads or phone home with private data. That "full internet access" permission needs to be more granular for ad-supported apps. Lastly, we do need the ability to grant or deny individual permissions for individual apps, so that we can still install them without having to take it all as one whole package. That will not be a feature of any official version of Android, because app makers need ads to keep their apps free.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At best, you'd get an ad service you can't turn off.
PPS - And that still means you don't completely own your phone.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Keeping your details private online

There are two ways you could keep your privacy online when asked for personal details. The easiest way - the way most people choose - is to lie. Give out fake details when they don't matter, especially to sites you don't trust. The harder way is to channel all your communications through an intermediary or broker. If you insist on privacy, then you need to trust someone else who will act as an anonymiser and firewall between you and the people you don't trust. You need this because once you give out your real details once, they are never secure again. Think of credit cards. If your number gets into the hands of the wrong people, you just need to cancel it, get a new one and give out the new number to the people you do still trust.

What you need, then are personal identity broker systems with unique disposable details. When you need to give out an email address to someone you need to trust temporarily, create a new one that automatically forwards to your real address. If they can't be trusted with that address, cancel it. Your main email address, and other fake addresses, remain unaffected, but anyone who got that forwarding address can't contact you any more. You can, in theory, do the same with phone numbers, and banking details too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Snail mail might work, but the service would be more complicated.
PPS - It would probably involve rented post office boxes.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Power thief

I was shuffling through an air duct on the 114th floor when the building stopped breathing. It reminds me, when this happens, just how close these things are to dead. Take the power away, move the people out and a building gets to be as spooky in its hallways as it already is in its guts. And without power, the whole thing gets bigger too. When there are no express lifts to take you up and down, the stairs echo enormous. Sometimes, in this situation, I like to abseil down the lift shafts, but today I have a job to do. Today I am stealing this building's beating heart.

The power cores are in high demand. Tiny nuclear batteries that can power a building this size for a century can just as easily power a small town. Since the plague, we've lost too many people and therefore forgotten how to make them. But in the cities, there are hundreds, and out in the country there are towns willing to pay. So I steal from the rich and give (or sell) to the poor. Hey, a guy's gotta eat, right?

Approaching the spine of the building, that service shaft going up through the middle, I started hearing noises through the ducts that didn't sound like the usual pests. No, this was another thief, come to take my prize before me. With the power out and these noises going outwards, not inwards, I was pretty sure he had the power core already. That makes this a chase, not a heist.

He's either heading for the roof or the front door. I'm betting on the roof, because they tend to be less guarded. He'd know that. I start climbing the ladder in my service shaft, listening carefully for the sounds of the other thief. If he doesn't know I'm here, he might not move as quickly as me.

As I pop out of the vent on the roof, I see another figure, clad in black, fussing with a clearly-heavy backpack. And it's a "she". I can tell, though her face is covered. She notices me, looks to the edge of the roof, and quickly shoulders her pack. As she leaps over the railing, she does this complicated, graceful pirouhette in the air, reaches down and clips something onto it. I hurry out of my vent and look down over the side in time to see a figure finish running down the side of the building, assisted by a descender. When she reaches the bottom, she unclips it from her belt, looks back up towards me and lets it go.

It zips up the outside wall, bumping and spinning, winding itself back up on its springs. When it reaches the top, I step back as it flings energetically over the railing. So my rival is gone, but I have her descender. And I know the only man around who still makes things like this. I'll find her again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll be honest: I haven't been writing much else since I started NaNoWriMo.
PPS - But I think this came out pretty well.

Printing the perfect tiles

When we tiled our lounge, kitchen and dining rooms recently, there was a lot of cutting to do around the fiddly corners, and a lot of waste, too. That got me thinking: with the right precise measurements, you could "print" exactly the right tiles for a space, custom-made to fit perfectly. Or maybe you could use a robot that trundles around the room extruding and baking ceramics in specified shapes in-place. Either way, it should be possible to fit tiles perfectly to a floor with zero waste. The only question is whether it would be more economical that way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess it depends how much more expensive custom-shaped tiles are.
PPS - And whether you accidentally break any.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Social network federation

Social network federation, or compatibility, is a good goal for users, but the main barrier to its implementation is that the big players - Facebook, for example - have an active interest in not supporting open standards. Keeping people locked into Facebook because all their friends are there has been the main competitive strategy of social networking sites from the beginning. The business plan is basically set up a website, attract a self-sustaining critical mass, then lock it down so the competition has no hope.

Federation means that it doesn't matter what network someone is on. It makes step 2 (critical mass) moot and openly mocks step 3 (lockdown). That's just not going to fly with the big players unless, for instance, the open network of competition grows far beyond them. That's the point that the critical mass shifts from Facebook to the open network, then everyone starts maintaining two profiles, and eventually abandons Facebook because not everyone is on it any more. So if you, as a small social network, want to topple Facebook, your best bet is to throw in your lot with the rest of the federated network and be part of the new majority.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then Microsoft, in their Microsofty way, will "embrace and extend" the standard.
PPS - Their proprietary extensions are compatible in one direction only.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Internet is natural

In a sense, the internet has always existed. It just used to take the form of libraries or word of mouth without formally-defined protocols. Human communication has always been carefree and decentralised, based on loose agreements of protocols and shared understandings. When it was only spoken, messages were passed between people by that means, and those things that people cared to repeat or listen to were propagated most widely. When we started writing books, the best books were copied, distributed and read. Now that we have the Internet, that same pattern is proceeding. It's just like the writing of books and repeating of stories and news, only now the medium has changed. The Internet is a natural outgrowth of human communication, one more step in that journey.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course it's faster now.
PPS - And further-reaching.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cookie privacy

I watched a talk by Cory Doctorow about browser privacy and the need for cookie management similar to popup management. He made a compelling point. A lot of our cross-site privacy and tracking issues these days are caused by cookies, and there are so many of them that we can't deal with them ourselves. We need our software to help us, the same way Mozilla (later Firefox) started refusing to display popup windows on websites. That choice, even though it was only enacted by a small, geeky subset of internet users, eventually changed the face of the whole internet, in browsers and websites alike. We can do that again if we just figure out how to manage our browser cookies better. It's going to be harder, I expect, but it's going to be even more worthwhile. The trouble is that cookies are so invisible that most people don't realise it's even happening, let alone that it's a problem.

Making cookies more visible might be the first step, or part of the first action. Next might be applying a reasonable upper limit to cookie expiry dates, regardless of what they request. Right now, a website can request that your browser store a cookie indefinitely, and your browser will oblige. That doesn't seem right.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I use the Vanilla Cookie Manager plugin for Chrome.
PPS - It deletes cookies after 30 minutes unless I whitelist them.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The internet and tasks

The web needs better collaboration tools. As illustrated in xkcd, "send a file" (if it's too big for email) is still a task that gets us scratching our heads, fumbling for some known hacks, then just copying it to a flash drive and taking it in person. Video chat is getting better, though, like text chat, it's still locked up in walled gardens of individual services. To get expert help on something, you either take your chances reading Wikipedia or find any number of domain-specific help forums, or perhaps Twitter. The massive proliferation of services and websites is part of the web's appeal - anyone from anywhere can set up and start reaching people online, any time - but it also means certain tasks are made more difficult for users.

Basically, the web is not designed for users and tasks. It's designed for websites, and most of the design decisions are built around the idea of getting specific website information to you as reliably as possible (though not necessarily as quickly as possible - that's another rant). Your task, as a user, is not "Facebook", but "interact with friends", where "interact" is made up of chatting, reading, updating, sharing and playing. It doesn't matter if Facebook is involved. Facebook itself is not the point. It is just the tool you use to accomplish your goals. You can go anywhere and do anything if there's a website for it, but how do you find out what you can do, or how do you go from a vague description of a task to finding a specific website to fill that need?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can probably find websites for specific tasks with Google.
PPS - But you can't easily find out what is possible online.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Memory of the Soldier

When we take the time to remember our fallen soldiers, we do it properly. At the same time, across the globe, over every airwave and every broadcast medium comes one message: the Memory of the Soldier. At that time we all fall into a deep trance and dream the dream of that one soldier whose memory has been chosen for that year.

This year, as we dream, we see young hands holding a rifle, feel young feet and legs racing across a battlefield under enemy fire. Then there's a thok in the shoulder, and some momentum is lost as we stumble. Another bullet tears quickly through the left side and we hold the wound in the rising pain. Only one or two steps later comes the shot through the thigh, and we all dream the collapse, face down on the sodden earth.

It takes a few minutes of lying there until the soldier loses consciousness, then we are all left in the dark. As we snap out of the Remembrance, we all know how lucky we were not to be there, not to be that boy. We know how much we appreciate that hard and dangerous job he did.

Mostly, we appreciate the fact that we haven't had any war in a very long time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Today is Remembrance Day, obviously.
PPS - Lest we forget.

Flexible factories

Once 3D printers become standard home appliances, what will be the needs filled by old-style factories? Well, for one thing, we'll need someone to produce all our 3D printers, so there's that. There will also be other things home printers can't do, like milled metal parts or electronics. And with home 3D printers commonplace, consumer demands could shift quickly. The world of tomorrow needs factories that can take any complicated design, including electronic components, metals, plastics, rubber, foam, glass, ceramics and countless other material needs, and produce the finished product on demand, whether you need a thousand of them or only one. Those factories need to be flexible enough to produce cars today, rubber duckies tomorrow and telephones the next day without skipping a beat. It will probably have a different name than "3D printing" by that point.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably something like "automated industrial manufacturing".
PPS - Or something cooler-sounding.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

DRM is always broken

I have received a couple of spam comments on old posts of mine from a company with a vested interest in promoting DRM software. Their comment is that DRM needs "built in safeguards" to prevent "reverse engineering or bypassing". Leaving aside the fact that bypassing DRM is the same as defeating it entirely, if it were good encryption and you could reverse engineer the method, it would not mean anything for attacks, since good encryption depends on the security of the key, not the obscurity of the method. You should be able to publish your encryption software as open source, and this will actually increase its security, because more people will be able to find and alert you to bugs.

Now, when it is applied to DRM, encryption is a pointless endeavour, because the message recipient and the potential attacker are the same person. All DRM systems, if people care at all about what they are protecting, will be cracked and defeated eventually. That's not because they've all been written badly, but because they all depend on a misuse of encryption. You can't hand someone an encrypted message and the key to decrypt it and still control how they use them together. There is no good way to hand someone a decryption key that they can only use when you say so. When you write DRM, you must write bad encryption, because that's how it works.

In practice, systems do hold up for a while, but in theory (which precedes practice) all DRM systems are fundamentally flawed, because that is the essential nature of DRM. So when you come up with a new protection scheme, you will see it succeed for a while, then become totally worthless. That's what happened with CSS on DVDs, HD-DVD, and HDCP as well. It will happen with Blu-Ray, if that even matters any more, it will happen to the Kindle, and it will happen to LockLizard. The systems will get revised, and they will get hacked again. The only way they die is for people to stop caring about what is protected, at which point they also stop buying it, and the revenue goes away. That's really bad business.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - DRM is anti-customer technology anyway.
PPS - So why would you want it?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Entertainment superabundance

There is a superabundance of entertainment these days - music, movies, games and TV. What do we start to do when we move from scarcity value to superabundance? Well, one thing we do is stop trying to pay attention to everything. There's plenty of everything, so we only need to look at the best stuff, and we decide what's best by crowdsourcing our decisions. When there are tons of movies on, we don't even go looking for one to see. We wait for a recommendation to come to us. We don't scour the TV ads looking for new shows to fill our time, we get recommendations from friends and try out new shows a few episodes at a time. If they don't meet the mark, we don't need to bother with them.

The other things we do is value each individual item less and also don't bother trying to archive them all for ourselves. We only watch (or read or play or listen to) the best of what's recommended, and we only keep the best of what we experience. That's what physical media - printed books, DVDs, physical CDs - are for these days. They are the archive of the very best of what we experienced through some other means, not the means by which we get our entertainment in the first place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess people have always been ignoring bad entertainment.
PPS - But these days, we can also afford to ignore the merely good, in favour of the outstanding.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Beauty in technology

There is beauty in technology, but not in all of it, and not by default. You can bring it out if you have the right tools and the right skills, like a sculptor with a block of marble. Some days - the best days - that's what my job is like.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And some days, it's like pulling teeth.
PPS - From a crocodile. On fire.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Notifications in software

I think a modern operating system needs to include a standard notifications service that any program can link into. I think that's one of the subtle things Android (and other phone operating systems, in their own way) have done right. There is a separate area at the top of the screen (while in the main launcher) that is only ever used for notifications. They do not pop up over anything else, they never need to steal space from anywhere, and you always know where to look for them. Compare that with Windows where there's an expanding area at the bottom-right corner of the screen, and it can pop up balloons over what you're working on. That's the unobtrusive version. A lot of the time applications have their own focus-stealing popup windows that just don't

Maybe this is more a discussion to have about modern GUI frameworks rather than operating systems. They're often tied closely together, though. Also, a GUI framework can't reserve space on the screen except in its own window, right? So a notifications area needs to be a feature of the OS window manager.

I guess phones have a bit of an advantage with a different kind of app structure than Windows. Apps are expected to be one-at-a-time and full screen, which forces the notifications area to be what it is. Windows, being built on legacy expectations, having more power and freedom for applications than a mobile phone, allows actions that can be very disruptive to the user's workflow.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are lots of ways to do notifications right.
PPS - Windows doesn't do any of them.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Fire at the Magic School

The fire spread quickly through the bushlands, consuming dry trees and old tinder with ferocious force and intensity. The firefighter mystics did their best to arrest the spreading flames, using their most potent charms and spells. Some of the senior wizards managed to set up a floating bucket line, but they kept having to adjust the enchantments to direct it to more urgent areas of the blaze.

Eventually the wizards succeeded in bringing the fire under control, and the villagers were able to go and inspect the damage. Only the edge of the village had been touched - the one by the school. In fact, it looked as if the fire had started from nothing in the woods, in many places at once, and spread only as far inwards as the school's kitchen.

Investigating the kitchen itself was clearly going to be a difficult task. Pots and pans had melted from their holding hooks on the ceiling, the stone bench tops had cracked and shattered, and everything else was charred to ruin.

The embarrassed school cook shuffled awkwardly to the back of the gawking crowd, trying not to be noticed as she went. It had only been a small spell, meant to get the cooking done faster so she could get back to her reading. She wasn't much of a sorceress herself, but for goodness' sakes, the children did this kind of thing all the time!

She had figured out what went wrong about the time the school had been evacuated. The spell started a fire that moved backwards in time, approaching the kitchen and getting hotter as it went, eventually stopping there, or looking like it had. Should she confess? Well, the wizards would find out the truth eventually, and it might as well be via confession rather than investigation. After the cleanup had started in earnest, and the investigation began, she came forward to tell her tale and, if necessary, accept her punishment.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I suppose there's a bit of Harry Potter in this.
PPS - With a bit of the Australian outback, too.


This year I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. I don't expect what I write to be publishable without some drastic editing and probably a lot of rewrites, but that's not the point. The main point is to get me writing every day and using my ideas instead of sitting on them and imagining maybe possibly one day writing them. So far, from that point of view, it's a success. Assuming I manage 50000 words in one month, then have to edit down to a third of that for quality, I will actually have something more akin to a novellette at the end, rather than a full novel. Still, writing 50000 words in one month would be a decent achievement, and if I also manage to pull out a 16000-word novellette to be proud of, that's just a bonus.

I'm not yet confident that I'll finish properly. My story could easily run out of steam long before the month is up, in which case I may have to switch tracks to a totally different story halfway through. I'd rather not do that, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - According to the Nebula awards, it's still a novel even if it's only 40000 words.
PPS - No, you can't see it yet.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Your desktop is powerful

We seem to be dividing the internet into two kinds of endpoints: clients and servers. Servers are "where the code runs" and clients are mere consumers. Though the network is a tool, the current practices of network software development are putting that tool only in the hands of those who control the servers. The computer on your desk should be considered just as important and just as powerful as the servers that run your favourite websites. It is not a mere consumer endpoint. It is capable of so much more, and furthermore, that is the point of having such a machine in the first place. If the only program your computer ever runs is a web browser, then it's not a real computer and you are nothing more than eyeballs to online advertisers. That's called television, and the web does not need to be more like that. Why would we want to turn back to that model of centralised control?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's interesting that Google's Chromebook project is pushing towards browser-only uses.
PPS - I suppose it makes sense for Google. Their revenues come from online ads.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Anonymity is a phase we go through, and I think we do it as part of building our own individual identity. When you grow up with parts of your identity defined for you - by your parents, by your school, by your peers - you need to separate from that to find out what is uniquely and personally yours. Anonymity is a good way to do that, because online nobody knows you, and so has no expectations to place on you yet. Anonymous, you can become truly yourself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you never felt the need to be anonymous, then I guess you're lucky.
PPS - You probably had a very strong sense of identity already.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Emotional game attachment

It's natural to become emotionally attached to certain games, especially those where you make friends and you do work that pays off, like World of Warcraft. But the best response when a game wrongs you (say, by gradually changing into a game that just frustrates you) is to stop playing rather than rant and rave at the publisher. Play while it's fun, stop when it's not. There are lots of other games out there. The emotional attachment makes that harder, but not impossible.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Game publishers don't owe you entertainment.
PPS - They only owe you the product you paid for.