Friday, 29 March 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Adrift

"What is this place?" Karen stared out over the edge of the cliff. They seemed to be above the clouds, whose grey mass rolled and boiled, just out of reach below them. Further out, there was more of the same. There was no horizon - the horizontal expanse of clouds just joined with the sky, curling upwards into a hazy canopy. The leaves in the trees behind them hung still and silent.

"This is the emptiness. The edge of the world, where everything ends," said Karl.

"Why are we here at all?" asked Kasey, working at a rock in the ground with his toe. The other two ignored him. He got the stone loose, picked it up and attempted to skip it across the clouds. To everyone's surprise, it actually did jump once, twice, then dropped out of sight.

Karl knew why they were here. He decided to try and explain.

"You know our world has been dying. Fires don't burn as bright, the sun is a faded red orb in the sky, the air feels thinner. Yes?"

Karen nodded. Kasey tried to work another stone loose.

"We're adrift," said Karl. "A world without anchor."

"Worlds don't have anchors," Kasey objected.

"It's a metaphor," said Karen, then indicated at Karl to go on. He thanked her with a silent nod.

"Our world is one of many. The wizards used to use strong magic travel between worlds nearby - other healthy, strong worlds - but we aren't one of those any more. The River of Worlds-" Kasy began another interruption, but Karen cut him off with a look. "The River holds us together while we're strong, but when the worlds get weak, they drift away. That's what's happening to us now."

There was silence for a while, and they all contemplated the clouds at the edge of their world. Kasey skipped another stone.

"What's at the end of the river?" asked Karen.

"Logjam," said Karl. "The fading, dying worlds all crammed together tight."


"Edge to edge."

"So right here will be another world, and we can just walk there?"

Karl nodded. They all watched where the horizon should be, imagining it draw just a little bit closer. Kasey pitched another stone and they all watched it skip on the clouds once, twice, three times, four.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This basic idea is from A Heretic By Degrees by Marie Brennan.
PPS - I've linked to the PodCastle version, because that's where I heard the story first.

On Writing

A few things about my writing in general today. I've been practicing writing action in detail, because I tend to skip over it. I picked a movie scene with which I was very familiar (the opening of The Matrix) and wrote the detail and action as if it were my own story. I need to keep doing this.

Something else I've been practicing is writing without adverbs. Adverbs are one of those word classes that are frowned upon. You're allowed to use them, but it stands out a lot once you're made aware of them. I tend to overuse adverbs, and my writing suffers. Quite often, nothing is lost when an adverb is cut, but sometimes it takes more effort to replace it. So I'm working on that, too.

I've also been listening to a lot of I Should Be Writing, Mur Lafferty's podcast "for wannabe fiction writers". It's good advice, and I'm enjoying it, but it also makes me realise how much I've been holding back or being lazy. In some ways, my Friday Flash Fiction is me being kind of lazy in my writing. Rather than really polishing up a piece, getting feedback, seeing if I can get it published anywhere, I just slap it up on the blog on a Friday and hope someone notices. If I want to make a go of this and be a real author, I'm going to have to put in some hard work beyond what I've been doing. I'm also going to have to think about the impression I'm sending online. If I put up sloppy work, that will reflect a bad image of me and make it harder to go pro. From that point of view, I'm thinking about stopping Friday Flash Fiction. Maybe just for a little while, until I know what I want from it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think this week's story reflects that a little bit.
PPS - And it contains no adverbs!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Stopping sneezes

I've learned that I can control sneezes in a couple of ways, if you feel them coming. The first and best way is to start breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose. Whatever irritant is in the nose is expelled that way, rather than going deeper in. I feel the urge to sneeze decrease over time when I do this, and it takes just a couple of breaths.

A more difficult way is if the sneeze is already coming and can't be stopped, I can clamp down on it in my throat and silence it, but I can't stop the head forward, eyes closed reflex. It takes practice, and it doesn't always work. Either way (breath control or holding it in) I feel like I need to blow my nose afterwards.

You may or may not want to learn this, depending on your circumstances. If you have regular need for stealth (eg, you are a ninja) then it might come in handy. On the other hand, I've heard that it is an acceptable excuse for some kinds of traffic violations, because it is supposed to be involuntary and uncontrollable. Learning to control your sneeze reflex might take that excuse away from you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In The Matrix, how come Cypher had to sneeze? It's not like it was real dust he breathed.
PPS - That's called the Sneeze of Doom.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Newspeak polarised language

I have always thought of the concept of NewSpeak in George Orwell's 1984 as a bankrupt linguistic concept, because it sought to make undesirable political opinions into ungrammatical sentences. The example given in the book is that "BB is ungood" would just make no sense to a native NewSpeaker. I have only just realised that this could be achieved, but the language itself would be much more complex and difficult as a result.

To make undesirable opinions into ungrammatical sentences, you need more word classifications than simple nouns, verbs and adjectives. They need to be polarised into positive and negative pools, so that only positive nouns and positive adjectives can go together. The things you're supposed to love can only be described with positive words, and the things you're supposed to hate can only be described with negative words. Verbs would get more complicated, because you want to be able to express that positive nouns can take negative actions against negative nouns, but not positive ones. The subject and object polarisation both matter when using a verb, but you still only need two types of verbs.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I still think people would break free of these artificial rules, though.
PPS - It's what we do with language anyway.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Watch Later Elsewhere

YouTube's "Watch Later" feature would be a lot more useful to me if it could include videos that are not hosted on YouTube at all. But that's not going to happen, because (1) it's hard to do and (2) it would mean I'm not watching everything on YouTube. Right now, I'd settle for being able to add any embedded video to my Watch Later list without having to start playing it first.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would also, in all likelihood, violate the terms of service of other video sites, too.
PPS - That's assuming you could get it to work at all.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A six-pack of computers

All my sci-fi and futurism books that I had when I was young suggested that one day we might go to the shops and pick up "a six-pack of computers" along with the milk. That never made any sense to me - computers are big, bulky things, and they are all unique in some way - so I was a bit sceptical about the claim. How can you replace a computer when the loss of one in our house would have meant a lot of data going missing and a lot of pain and hassle reinstalling and reconfiguring the programs you use? I figured I could use at most one computer at a time in my life.

Many (many) years later, I noticed something about our computers. They're small, portable, all-in-one units now, like the iPad and the Google Nexus 7 and 10. Our files are often stored on remote servers and our software comes from online app stores, linked to an account we can use anywhere. You can replace your computer now with a login and a refresh from backup. The shopping list of a carton of milk and six computers is looking much more feasible these days. Is that what those futurists of my childhood had in mind? Maybe not exactly, but I'm sure it's pretty close.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, right now, a six-pack of computers would set you back at least $1500.
PPS - And that's for the little Nexus 7 tablets from Google.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Fix

"You gotta let me in, man," said Dave, scratching at his forearm. "Just for a little while."

The librarian scowled at the man with contempt. "Forget it, Dave. We took your library card back for a reason."

"Then just gimme something to read out here! Come on, Mike, a novella? a chapbook? A little pamphlet just to take the edge off? Come on."

"Look at yourself, Dave! When was the last time you took a shower?" Mike could hardly stand the sight of his old friend like this, scrawny and jonesing for a read. And I always thought book addiction was a metaphor or a joke he thought to himself. Looking again at his emaciated friend, he couldn't take it any more.

"Dave, if you promise to get help, I can let you in for an hour. You take it easy here. One book. One! You stay near the desk where I can keep an eye on you, and then this afternoon we'll both go and get you some real help, okay?"

Dave nodded with great enthusiasm, and his old friend led him inside at last, wondering exactly who helps someone addicted to reading.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - "When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes." said Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.
PPS - I don't think he said it in English, though. Just a hunch.

The Pomodoro Technique

I saw "The Pomodoro Technique" listed along with some personal organisation methods as one that people like me (programmers) find helpful, so I checked it out. I figured it might be simpler and more applicable to my workflow than the complexity of full-on Getting Things Done. When I checked it out, however, it turned out to be more of a focus and estimation technique than a personal organisation methodology.

The idea, in case you're interested, is to estimate how long you will take to complete a task in terms of 25-minute "pomodoro timer" intervals, and to allow no interruptions or distractions during that time. As you go on using that technique, you'll get better at estimating how long tasks take. That's it. No help on prioritising which tasks to do first, nor on keeping track of what comes next. I imagine it is very useful for learning estimation and focus, but not for personal organisation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could stand to get better at focus and estimation.
PPS - I imagine most people could.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Mobile operating systems need firewalls

We're getting to that point now where phone operating systems need to be written with firewalls built in. There will be apps we don't trust to read our contact details, but we want for other purposes. There will be some games that want to spy on us as their business model, and it is our right not to be spied on if we do not wish it. Instead of accepting or rejecting the whole collection of an app's permissions based solely on what the developer asked for, we need granular control to say yes, you may modify my USB storage contents, but no, you may not access the internet at all.

This will change a lot of things. For one, it will no longer be possible for app developers to just slap a banner ad control on their free app, request full internet access and rake in the fractions of cents for click-through commissions. We may have to pay for apps or the app stores will have to offer other incentives to developers just to encourage app development.

The banner ad controls are the main reason this seems like a problem at all to me. Every time I install a free app, it seems to request full internet access, just to show ads. I think the Android SDK should include an ad banner control built in, with its own specific permission, different to the "full internet access" permission. That way, if an app developer is after ad revenue, they can use the built-in ad control and their users can rest assured that requesting permissions for internet access is only done for ads in this case.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would also make Google the primary ad provider on the platform.
PPS - And I'm sure that's something they'd like very much, assuming it's not already true somehow.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A happy life

You know what? I have a really happy life. I'm doing what I love for a job, but I also get to write fiction and share it with the world (when people actually read it). I get to perform on stage now and then, whether singing or acting, I have a lot of good friends and there's lots (like way too much) of good TV, movies and books that I can enjoy at any time. I even have fun keeping organised and completing projects (though some of them have been uncompleted for too long). I'm married to a wonderful woman who loves me, I have a nice house (with a bit too much stuff in it) and a car that runs well. It's a really good life, and I'm pretty happy with it.

I have to remember to practice recognising the good things in my life when I feel down for no reason. That happens sometimes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's happening right now, actually.
PPS - Well, maybe not right now, depending on when you're reading this, but it was.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Firefox might be faster than Chrome

A while ago, I got fed up with Firefox being so slow, and I switched to Chrome. It had a lot of advantages at the time, including a much cleaner interface. It also let me sync open tabs between home, work and my phone, sort of, which was a big plus. Firefox slipped to the back of my mind.

This past November, however, while I was participating in my second NaNoWriMo, I was using my little Samsung netbook on the train to and from work every day. Occasionally I would get a WiFi-enabled carriage. Signing on requires a click-through EULA, and Firefox was still set as the default browser, so that's where the page opened. I was stunned at how quickly Firefox opened up on this tiny, underpowered machine. Was I too quick to dismiss Firefox from my life? Maybe I should give it another try.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It does have synchronisation now, too.
PPS - I might try it again for a week and see how it feels.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Google Reader being shut down

I've learned recently that Google Reader is shutting down. This is a problem for me, and for an unknown number of other people too, because I mostly experience the web through Reader. The only tabs I usually have open in my browser are Reader, GMail and Facebook, and that's only because Facebook doesn't have a news feed I can subscribe to, as far as I know. Google says there aren't enough users to make Reader worth keeping, though exactly how many is "not enough", they're not saying.

My main problem with server-side programming is illustrated nicely by this whole fiasco. We may love a website or service, and we may even come to rely on it. It may become part of the world's ecosystem for its specific features (Google Reader was used as a sync point for a lot of desktop news readers) but in the end, it costs someone money to run it, and that money has to come from somewhere. As soon as the owner of the service decides that the service isn't worth keeping around, they'll cut it off and that's the end of the story. You can plead with them, sign petitions, complain in public, but at the end of the day its their server and their decision. It's out of your control.

Computers and the internet are meant to empower people, but lately it seems they mostly empower the people who already have power.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm looking into NetVibes and The Old Reader as alternatives.
PPS - The Old Reader is waiting to import my feeds, but the number of people "in queue" ahead of me keeps going up.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Making Cuts

With wheir eyes locked over the board room table, Harkin the CEO and Damon the efficency expert faced off, swords drawn.

"This isn't what I called you for," accused the CEO, his voice flat and tense.

"It is," countered the expert. "You just didn't know it would end here."

The CEO circled left, light on his feet, maintaining his stance. "I didn't get here by being weak or slow."

Damon followed around the table, breathing deep and measured. "You didn't stay here by being necessary." For good measure, he made a short jab-feint towards his opponent, more a test than an attack.

Harkin jumped back a step at the feint, then stepped carefully forwards again, still circling. "The company's profits are up 13% this quarter thanks to me! The only reason you're here is to cut costs and make me look even better!"

"That is two reasons. Do you realise that your salary alone is a third of the company's expenses?"

"I earn that salary!"

"How? You haven't introduced a single initiative to the board of directors in a year." Damon gave the table a powerful kick, shifting it a centimetre or two. The CEO went onto his back foot, and Damon had his advantage. He leapt to the middle of the table, two feet at once, and Harkin made the predictable move of slicing low. The expert's feet were already gone, though, as he somersaulted over Harkin's head, landing behind him. He thrust his sword backwards before Harkin could recover from his wild slash and felt it slow as it pierced the other man's body. The CEO fell down, dead. It was a quick death, and would likely make the business section tomorrow.

The company would do fine, thought Damon to himself. The board of directors had been running the place for over a year, without any real help from this buffoon. Without his salary holding them down, they should do even better. He closed the dead man's eyes, lifted him onto the table and arranged his arms to hold his sword like a warrior's tomb. Dignity in death was important for the expert's consultancy.

He sheathed his own sword and collected his fee from the late CEO's assistant, advising her that she should probably seek new employment. She glared at him, hand on the hilt of her dagger, but she did not attack. Harkin didn't mind her anger. He was not in business to make friends, just to make quite literal cuts for efficiency.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wondered once how corporate politics would feel if it involved literal weapons.
PPS - Probably not a lot like this, but I thought it was fun.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Most people are not like you

Most people think most people are just like them. This causes plenty of problems, all unique to the traits you think everyone else possesses. Next time you find yourself wondering why on earth someone would do something that baffles you, try to think of the ways they might be different to you, because they probably are.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For instance, I tend to think most people think very logically and literally.
PPS - And I make that mistake a lot, even when I try not to.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What makes art

In her story called Some Zombie Contingency Plans, Kelly Link makes a point that sometimes people say "this isn't art" when they are looking at something that could obviously serve no other purpose than to be art. I think what people usually mean by "this isn't art" is "this isn't good art" and, quite often, that it was a waste to produce. A waste of the raw materials that went into it, a waste of the alleged artist's time to produce it, a waste of space now that it's done, and a waste of the audience's time to be subjected to it now. And if something is waste, we have different words for that. Junk. Garbage. Rubbish. Landfill. Waste.

It sounds quite harsh to put it that way. If you have attempted to produce art, and have failed, then you have produced garbage. But if it isn't good at being art, then that's just what it is.

So what does it mean to be "good at being art"? That probably depends on whether you ask a postmodernist or not. If you ask the average person, they will tell you that a piece of art is good if it causes the audience to appreciate beauty, to contemplate some notion, or to feel happiness, awe, sadness, or some other "noble" emotion. If you ask an artist, they will probably tell you that their art is good if it conveys what they intended - it makes the audience feel what the artist wants. If you ask a postmodernist, all you will get is the argument that art is art if it makes you feel anything, regardless of what the artist intended, or even if there was no artistic intent. Art is art if it makes you feel a feeling.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Even if that feeling is unpleasant.
PPS - As long as that is the artist's intention.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Harsh Truths

From 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person.

This is not a nice article. It is harsh and cold and really quite unfriendly. It won't hold your hand and tell you that you're a special unique snowflake that the world doesn't know how to appreciate. It is, however, capable of making you a better person in some very specific ways. It's not what everyone needs to hear. Some people - I'm thinking particularly of the chronically depressed who have actual brain chemistry problems - will not be able to act on its advice without medical help. If, however, you are one of those people who is simply waiting for the world to throw you a parade for being a really nice person, you might want to read it.

It is a deeply pragmatic article, talking about what the world values in you. Hint: it isn't (usually) your positivity or the list of vices you don't have. If your main contribution to the world is the bad things you don't do, then you are on par with a store mannequin. You do nothing, it does nothing. You're both letting the world become worse on its own, and anything you can provide by avoiding doing bad, so can the mannequin.

That quote from the Dalai Lama that says "If you can't do anything good, at least don't do anything evil" is terrible, from this point of view. If you literally can do nothing at all good where you are with what you have, then you also lack imagination. There's a 90-year-old woman at our church who is capable of doing almost nothing but decorating coat hangers to sell and raise money for the church. She does that.

The central lesson of the article is this: the world values what you do, not who you are.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless you're riding the momentum of celebrity.
PPS - That is, remaining famous because you're already famous.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Pro vs Anti

I've seen the pro-life side of the abortion debate starting to be referred to as "anti-choice", presumably by the "pro-choice" side. Without picking a side here, just realise that this will mean pro-lifers will get to call the other side "anti-life", which is the worst possible label of all four.

The reason the "pro" labels were adopted is that they summarise each side's positive arguments in a non-offensive way. When you go back to negatives such as "anti-choice", you try to silence the "undesirable" opinions in order to bolster your side against the menace of The Other Guys. It's not the way forward, and it won't settle things at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It doesn't seem too common just yet.
PPS - I hope it stays that way.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Older

The old man did not wish to be recognised. No matter his precautions, there was still a chance of that though. On his way to the train station he stopped to buy a magazine. Something about cars should be a sufficient disguise.

The train arrived one minute late, just as he remembered from the first time he was here so many years ago. He found the seat he needed, near the centre of the carriage, beside the young familiar face. The young man was reading, near the end of a long novel. He would not look up. The appearance of an old man was nothing remarkable, and the magazine would throw off any hint of recognition.

Between two stations, the old man folded his magazine and braced himself against the seat carefully. That was when the train lurched, jumped off the tracks and toppled over, sliding sideways along the tracks in a cacophony of distressed metal and screaming people.

When the train came to a rest, the old man was unconscious. The young man was injured, and felt like just sitting still, but saw the old man lying across the seats, helpless. Through the smoke and the hot metal, the young man managed to hoist the old man up and carry him the short distance away from the tracks, to relative safety. Just as they cleared the carriage, it started burning and filling up with choking smoke. Another few seconds inside and they would have both been dead.

The old man woke, coughing and spluttering, he grabbed the young man by the arm with surprising strength, and spoke: "When the time comes, remember why you did this." Then he passed out again. He never woke up.

The young man sat staring at the old man for a while, trying to place his face. Was he someone he'd seen on the train before? Maybe he was a distant uncle he'd met at some family gathering.

Then it all started coming together. That nose. The mole to the left of his chin. The scar on his right arm where he - they both - had fallen when nine years old. He shook his head, as if trying to dislodge the impossible idea, but there was no denying it. The old man had saved his life because they were the same person. And when the time came, somehow, he would have to return the favour to himself somehow.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I dug this almost fully formed from my writing ideas file.
PPS - I haven't spent as much time on it as I would have liked, though.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Clarity in communication

Clarity in communication is vital. All my personal and professional experiences hammered home this point for my whole life. You must make sure that you are speaking from common ground when you communicate. Set the rules of vocabulary so that you both agree what you mean when you use those words.

Now my current understanding is this: clarity is 100% your job, and changing someone's mind about their own vocabulary is just about impossible. If someone is calling a kangaroo a tomato for some reason, it won't do you any good to point out that the real name is "kangaroo". You just have to go with it, and mentally file away a mental vocabulary mapping of "tomato = kangaroo" and remember to use it whenever that person is around. You don't always build common ground through discussing the vocabulary, but you can build common ground by swallowing someone else's vocabulary whole, and using that instead of what makes sense to you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Otherwise, you become that pedantic "actually..." interjector.
PPS - As I so often am, but I'm trying not to be.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Mobile package delivery

What's the mobile phone equivalent for physical package delivery? What I mean is that we have a phone in our pocket that goes everywhere with us. When we get a phone call, it doesn't matter if we are at home, at work, in between or somewhere else entirely, our calls and messages find us and come straight to us. How could you do that with physical packages, turning the postal service into mobile delivery?

Well, perhaps the phone is the perfect place to start. If you're expecting a package, you could opt to transmit your current location, via mobile app, to the post office or courier service. Then, no matter where you go, they would be able to find you and get your package to you. This also eliminates the need for keeping postal addresses up to date with companies. When they want to send you something, it can just come straight to you, even if you move house permanently. You don't need to arrange for anyone to pick up your mail while you're on holiday, either, although getting bills at that time might ruin the relaxation.

It might be tricky and creepy in crowds, and in some places you might need them to wait outside for you - if you're at the movies, for instance, you don't need your mail carrier to buy a ticket and follow you inside.

It also raises some privacy concerns, since a system like that would (not just could, would) either be hacked or abused by post office employees. It would make the hard part of a process server's job much easier, but would probably make subpoena avoidance a simple matter of turning off your phone.

Lastly, for very bulky items, you're probably going to want them to go to your home anyway. You don't want to get something huge delivered to work and then have to carry it home on public transport, if that is your custom.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could probably make it work as a high-end option for couriers.
PPS - As long as it's reliable.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Reading my own writing

This week I'm in Perth on business. And next week, too, which is a bit sucky. Anyway, normally I don't do this - write a straight-up journal post about what I'm doing - because that's not what this blog has become, but I think maybe there should be more of that, particularly as I try to do more fiction writing and get better at that.

What I wanted to mention right now is that on the flight from Brisbane I read over my entire backlog of little writing snippets and ideas. It took about two thirds of the flight, but it was still slightly depressing how brief it was. In my mind, it is a mountain of unfinished work, waiting for inspiration. In the file, it's a few hundred paragraphs of random inspiration written down when it struck me. I did this because I read online that this was a good practice, and re-reading all your little snippets in one hit can cause you to see and make links between them that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise. And it did, so that's good. I even found an almost fully-formed story that I had forgotten. I'll be doing it again, maybe in a couple of months, to keep it all fresh in my head. The trick will be finding a few hours to do it all together, the way it should be.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That story from the archive will probably be this week's Friday Flash Fiction.
PPS - If I can polish it up in time.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The hoon solution

Possibly one of the best things we could do to combat "hoons" on the roads is to create cars that just make it feel like you're going much, much faster than you really are. That way, you can get your 200kph speed kicks at 50kph instead.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But then again, I gather that is kind of the opposite of the point.
PPS - In that it doesn't matter what you feel, as long as other people know you're cool, because fast cars.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - The Real Martin

Martin was not an upstanding member of any level of society. He drank too much, had frequent violent outbursts and smoked unusual substances like he was going for some kind of record. He had a famous musician for a father and a semi-famous mother who had very little to offer society.
In other words, Martin was perfect reality TV fodder.

The station hounded him non-stop about it, saying, among other things, that it would help get the papparazzi off his back. Never mind that the station sent most of the photographers in the first place to make their point.

When Martin finally agreed (somewhere in the middle of a drunken tirade about there being no good clubs in the city) the lawyers pushed a pen and contract into his hands and the deed was done. They set him up with jobs at big, respectable firms, and he would be fired very quickly afterwards, sometimes on the same day. He would throw reams of paper at people in the copy room, spike the water cooler with vodka, proposition the secretaries and took clients to lunch at disreputable establishments.

And the whole world loved it. It was the easiest reality show the network had ever produced - they didn't have to fake, set up or prompt anything. In that sense, Martin was the easiest reality star they had ever worked with.

If not for The Incident, life would have continued to be roses for both Martin and the network for a long time.

In the middle of season 3, Martin was working at an industrial bakery and had just been fired for getting his cigarette ash in the dough. He was sitting in the gutter outside, cig still in one hand, 9am beer in the other, when an ex-girlfriend wandered up. The crew fired up the second camera to get good footage of the inevitable fight, but they weren't prepared for what happened next.

As she recognised him, the girl sat down beside Martin and just started asking, softly, "what's wrong?" over and over until he spilled his guts.

"It's just ... I try so [bleep] hard, you know? I have a good time at work, try to make friends - I'm really trying, right? And then they fire me and it's like, what was I doing wrong? What do people want from me?"

"They want you, Martin. They want to get to know you, without the drugs and booze. You remember why we broke up?"

Martin sniffed and wiped his nose with hsi beer hand. "Love, I hardly remember your name. Oh, [bleep], I'm so sorry. Who are you?"

She smiled. "I'm Angela. I tend bar at The Twisted Weasel?" Martin nodded, eyes somewhat glazed. "It's okay. The point is, even with your fun-loving personality and your camera crew, people can't see you. I couldn't see you when we were together."

"What do you mean?"

"All I mean is that people don't need the party animal. They just need you."

Martin set his beer down and dropped his still-burning cigarette butt into it, though neither was even half finished yet. He gave Angela a hug, which was almost unheard-of for Martin, and she excused herself, wishing him well, then glaring daggers at the cameras as she left.

From then on, Martin just wasn't as much fun for the cameras. He cut way back on his drinking and smoking, and he held down jobs for weeks at a time. Despite the crew's prodding and tempting, he just wasn't interested in wild parties any more. The crew scrambled to find more interesting footage than Martin calmly making fifty copies of a report and turning them in on time. The whole show crumbled, but Martin seemed a lot better. It just turned out that happy Martin was bad TV, so the show had to be cancelled. And that, finally, was what made Martin truly happy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is much later than I usually post for Friday, so I'm sorry.
PPS - But it is still Friday.

Custom making handbags

The first consumer items custom made by default will probably be handbags. They'd have the highest value proposition for custom manufacturing. Hair accessories would be easier, but not as worthwhile, and clothes would be very worthwhile but not as easy. But I've been dragged along handbag shopping with women, and there is always some very specific set of properties they are looking for, all individual to the woman in question. One wants a big, deep bag with a short strap and a wide opening, while another wants dozens of tiny pockets stitched together and several openings. I am certain, with a few very basic mix-and-match components, you could make handbags to order quickly and easily, though perhaps not very cheaply. But if they're made of good materials, people will pay for quality.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's the theoretical business model, anyway.
PPS - And likely to stay theoretical.