Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Windows 8 is for touch screens

I think my first piece of advice about Windows 8 to everyone would be this: if you're going to buy a Windows 8 machine, get a touch screen. Microsoft has really bet the farm on touch screens this time, and without that mode of interaction, you'll be frustrated or, at best, missing out. The mouse and keyboard might still be necessary for ordinary desktop mode, but when the Start menu thinks all computers are tablets, you'd better get on board.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've had trouble deciding how to replace my netbook when it dies.
PPS - It's not an issue yet, but if it were, I might pick a Microsoft Surface RT.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

File sync should be an operating system feature

Every program should not need its own internet-enabled sync feature. It should be provided via the operating system. And even having said that, the OS should not be the only possible provider of file and data sync services. It should be something you can do with any third-party service if you want.

In my system tray at the moment, there are six different apps whose job it is to sync some data or files from one place to another. Do we really need so many different apps to accomplish pretty much the same goals?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At the new office, some of them don't work.
PPS - So I guess you could make the case for redundancy.

Monday, 29 July 2013


Is R.I.P.D. a kind of extreme Ghostbusters reboot? It's almost the same premise, except instead of being a small group of underdogs trying to catch ghosts in the open, it's a massive supernatural organisation catching ghosts in secret. So, a bit, maybe, I guess? When I see it, I'll let you know, if I remember.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also see shades of "Dead Like Me".
PPS - Which, in turn, was a loose adaptation of Piers Anthony's "On A Pale Horse".

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Writing Update - Confidence

I've been putting (almost) all my writing time lately into entries for the PodCastle flash fiction contest. This week I submitted my first entry of two (allowed and intended) and as soon as I hit "send" on that email, I lost confidence in the work. The twist is at the beginning, then it's awkward, awkward, bland and ends with stupid. I don't like it any more, but I suspect that's just ordinary lack of confidence as a writer in general. People have liked my work in these contests before, though not enough to win, so objectively I know the chances are that it will be well-received when it goes up for voting.

Still, there's that little voice in my head that says "This time, you've blown it. They liked everything else, but this? This one is rubbish." It will continue to undermine my confidence until proven otherwise, then it will go sulk in the corner until it gets another chance.

The important point is that, despite that self-doubt voice, I have written and submitted a story for judging by a small group of strangers. However well it goes, I've at least done that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, and I have the other one on the way.
PPS - Assuming I can compress it down another 150 words.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Loosening up

One of my personal growth goals is to loosen the hell up already. Everything in my brain is a Big Deal and SERIUS BIZNESS, and I really don't like making even little mistakes.

So that's step 1. I admit I have a problem. As for the rest of the process, I'm a bit stumped. How exactly does one go about lightening up and not taking everything so seriously? If I knew that, I'd be on my way already.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Really, I'm open to suggestions here.
PPS - Suggestions and cake. Always open to cake.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

PowerPoint differences

You know, despite being a standard file format, PowerPoint presentations are surprisingly incompatible across different computers, even when those computers are running the same version of Office. I get that it's difficult to create a file format that can be reliably reproduced on any screen resolution, with any file system arrangement and with any level of computer power, but it still surprises me that the same PowerPoint file, on two very similar computers, will work just fine on one and struggle on the other. Judging by how many versions of Office Microsoft has gone through without getting it right, this must be a crazy-difficult problem.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Though I haven't done much testing with Office 2013.
PPS - Maybe it's gotten a bit better.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Three Thousand And Three!

Somehow I missed my 3000th post here, letting it slip by without a mention, so I'm marking this one, my 3003rd blog post! Is that too many? Not enough? How should I know? I just work here. It's been over nine years writing here, and I'm still going strong. I haven't run out of things to say yet, obviously, though sometimes I feel like I'm repeating myself.

Anyway, here's a quick thought about laziness and technology.

Any technology that makes it easier to be lazier will be misused, no matter its original intention. If we develop an "exercise pill" that gives you the same benefits as 30 minutes of vigorous exercise in order to maintain the health of people who can't do so, that exact same drug would be used by far more able-bodied people instead of going to the gym. It would be taken with dinner by sedentary loners, popped to maintain health during long study binges by students, laced into fast food and junk food to counter the effects of the fat and sugar, even ground up into baby food for fretful parents who think their kids should be crawling or walking by now. It's not just going to stay confined to astronauts, the elderly, the immobile and the unwell.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I heard about such a pill "in development" on some current affairs show.
PPS - At which point I thought "yeah, right", and thousands of people immediately stepped off their treadmills.

Monday, 22 July 2013


I like this quote from Randall Munroe on xkcd:

"In retrospect, it's weird that as a kid I thought completely random outbursts made me seem interesting, given that from an information theory point of view, lexical white noise is just about the opposite of interesting by definition."

He makes a good point, if not for the fact that kids actually do find that kind of random outburst both interesting and hilarious. Within the kid subculture, on some level, the most random person wins.

As adults, we lose a lot of that, but not all. How many people avoid being organised or planning anything in advance, just because they value spontaneity over predictability? We all know that predictable and dependable are synonyms for boring, and nobody wants to be boring, so the person with the least organised life (the college dropout who stumbled into a million-dollar idea, or the hipster girl who changes hairstyles and jobs every few weeks) wins at being interesting. Everyone else who keeps society running, like the dependable electronics engineer, the honest cops and judges, gets shoved to the back as irrelevant when they are actually the fabric on which the "interesting" patterns are drawn.

That doesn't make random outbursts more interesting, though. They're just a less mature, more desperate version of the way a lot of adults live their whole lives.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm pretty much one of the boring ones.
PPS - Most of the time.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday writing update - PodCastle stories coming together

This week, I put together one and a half stories as potential entries for the PodCastle flash fiction contest. I'm really happy with the first one, and the second one is coming together nicely, but it's not done yet. That one might be the easiest to finish within the word count, but I think the first is the stronger story. That one, however, is over 800 words already, and I need to cut it right down to 500 words, which is tough. My concern is that the word reduction is what hurt my entry in the other competitions. I have a section in the middle that I can cut down quite a lot, so maybe it will be okay. Otherwise, you'll see the 800-word version here some time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or I'll send it through the Critters workshop and try to get it published somewhere.
PPS - We'll see.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cloud services shutting down

So far, this year has been one of discontinuation of some of my favourite web tools, including Windows Live Mesh, Google Reader, and now Astrid. There may be more to come. I've been wary of cloud services for some time, but the usual response when I mention this to people is that "they wouldn't shut it down" or, for the slighly less optimistic, "there will always be some alternative". It's not completely true. There's no reason that someone must keep running a particular service, and there's not necessarily a reason for someone to replace a given service with a similar offering if it is ever shut down, nor any particular reason to believe that an alternative will be just as good.

When thinking or talking about this kind of issue, it is more useful to say "when such-and-such cloud service is shut down" rather than "if" because, eventually, every cloud service we know and love is going to go away. The only real question is whether that will happen while we still want to keep using it. At least part of the time, the answer will be "yes". Facebook, YouTube and GMail will, one day, all be gone completely. This will be devastating to all their users and will result in many petitions and pleas that fall on deaf ears. Planning for such an event means either ensuring that our own software doesn't depend exclusively on that service (being interchangeable with something else, for instance) or finding an alternative right now that cannot be taken away.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you really want to own all your computing, you can only use desktop software.
PPS - On the whole, it's not a feasible plan these days.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I am currently in the process of testing a program called BTSync or BitTorrent Sync. I know the name "BitTorrent" doesn't have a good legal reputation, but this program uses the distributed architecture of BitTorrent to keep personal files in sync, peer to peer, between private machines. Since Windows Live Mesh shut down, I've been looking for a program exactly like this, and I even realised that BitTorrent would be a good solution except for the difficulties of changing files.

Because of the specific way BTSync works, always overwriting files with their latest versions and requiring machines to be online simultaneously to sync, it's not totally ideal, but it should work for "library" folders like music, pictures and videos. Folders that get added to but aren't often modified.

So far, for me, it seems to be working well. I ran a test on my music folder first, because I still have (almost) all my music on CD, so in case of disaster, I could recover it again. It took a few minutes to index the folder, then indicated, as far as I could tell, that everything was up to date in both places, as I would expect.

Some problems they're working on, as I gather, are the high memory usage and conflict handling, where changes are made in two places at once and you don't want to lose one copy of a file. Still, this has some huge advantages over any other file sync program. One, it can never be shut down by its creators. If they decide not to support it any more, it will continue to work for everyone who is using it. Two, it's free, and will always be so, again because it uses protocols that are out of the control of its creators.

The one huge difficulty it needs to overcome, however, is that the BitTorrent protocol will be blocked by most workplaces. One way around that would be for every workplace to have legitimate uses for BitTorrent programs like BTSync, requiring it to be unblocked by default.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's probably not going to happen, though.
PPS - Still, you never know.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Making communication interesting

Spending the extra time and effort to make communication interesting and memorable usually seems like a waste, especially in business when you have lots of info to convey and it's always different. If the business punishes you for spending 8 hours getting a 1 hour presentation ready, then of course you're going to get it done in 2 hours and forget about making it interesting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We all know how to tell someone something.
PPS - We don't all know how to teach it.

Monday, 15 July 2013

My Do Not See movie list

I'm starting to find it useful to keep a "do not see" list for movies or, more accurately, directors, writers and producers. It's not big (in fact, it only has two entries on it) but it is based on recurrent disappointments that I can now avoid in the future. I'm not going to show the list, though, for two reasons. One, although it's helpful to me, it's a bit of negativity that I don't want to put out there. The people whose movies I choose not to see don't need that from me. Two, it reflect only my personal tastes. The fact that these people have made movies at all puts them far higher on the popularity ladder than me, and I'm just a consumer, not a producer. There are clearly people who like those movies, and the fact that I do not like them doesn't affect that judgement at all.

The list isn't foolproof, either. There's at least one movie that violates the list that I really enjoyed, and maybe others will appear in the future. I just think that it's useful to note which movies you did not enjoy seeing, and to note the reasons why or just the principal agents (writer, director, producer, actors). If some of those names keep coming up, it might be worth noting them so you don't waste time or money again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm going to go against my list at least once this year, I think.
PPS - The trailer for that movie looks like a different style than what I usually see from that production company.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Friday writing update - forcing creativity

This week I've been trying to get an entry together for a PodCastle flash fiction contest, so I've been spending my morning commutes poring over my writing snippets file, trying to find some plots. I've made some false starts and gotten pretty frustrated.

The thing is, I forgot how my creative brain works. I've been trying to push and attack it into creating something, but I'm an introvert. I need quiet and time. I do need a seed of an idea, but mostly I need to let it simmer. So now, that's what I'm going to do. Wish me luck.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I still have until the end of August.
PPS - I'll get at least one entry done, I'm sure.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Sorting oldest first

Sorting lists oldest-first is just one of the ways I am strange and different to the world. When it is available at all, it is not the default. Almost everyone else in the world seems to prefer to see the most recent items on top and others after. This affects Quickflix, Facebook, YouTube, Pocket, Feedly, almost anything that has a list of anything, actually.

Quickflix, for instance, made the decision to have new titles added to the top of customers' queues, rather than the bottom, because most of their customers preferred it that way. I assume this is because most of their customers were confused by the way a newly-added title would not appear to be in their queue at all (it was at the end, where they didn't look), or because people are all impatient. It also means that you can't add, say, Robocop 1, 2 and 3 in that order to your queue, or else you will receive number 3 first and be too disappointed to watch the others.

I wonder at the core mentality behind this preference. Is "first" the only place in line that matters? Yeah, probably, come to think of it. Do people have no patience to view things in the order they were discovered, rather than getting everything RIGHTNOWRIGHTNOWRIGHTNOW? Primacy and recency are now the same thing. There is only "what is happening right now" and "irrelevant haze". I guess I find it a little sad if every moment of your life points to the present, whether it's in the future or the past. There is bright, loud, demanding NOW, a hazy who-cares yesterday, an uncertain, figure-it-out-later tomorrow and NOTHING. This is what it looks like to "live in the now". It is impatient, unfocused, oversimplified, demanding. A frantic pace of staying still. The world clamours, and we vibrate in time with it, because we are passive observers of our own lives, and then we die.

Okay, that got depressing. In a nutshell, queues are a tool of patience and stacks are a tool of information overload.

Imagine if it worked this way in real life. You're standing at the cafe waiting to be served, then someone else arrives, so they go to the head of the queue, get their coffee and leave. You are still, say, fourth in line. Now two new people arrive. One gets her coffee and goes, then the other makes his order, but in the meantime, two more people arrive. Now you're seventh in line. You're better off leaving and coming in fresh to get to the head of the line and be served first, screwing over the other guys in front of you. A stack is a terrible way to get through everything, though it makes no difference to the barista.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When dealing with your own playlists and news feeds, in this metaphor, you're the barista.
PPS - Also, your customers can't get mad, because they're inanimate.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

P!nk's cancelled concert message

Halfway through reading this message from P!nk about why she had to cancel a concert in Birmingham, I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her everything is going to be okay, don't listen to those people, you work hard and you deserve to be treated better than that. She got sick. Humans do that and, unfortunately, sometimes that messes with the plans they make. Also, we fans are needy, fickle, inconsiderate, entitled things most of the time, and it's not good for your sanity to plunge into their madness, but these days you can't really avoid it. You're at their fingertips, in their pockets, 24/7.

By the time I got to the end of the message, I thought, okay, tone it down a bit there. Maybe take off the cranky pants and go have a lie down, and let one of your PR people edit your missives when you're sick and in a bad mood in the future. It's okay to have a bad day, just try not to put your bad day online in permanent ink.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know I'd be upset if I'd bought tickets to a concert that had to be cancelled.
PPS - It's easier for me to be rational and forgiving about this one, because I wasn't going.

Meeting famous people on equal terms

In a way, I don't want to meet famous people on unequal footing. I don't want to be just the internet fanboy who loves their work and wants a piece of their time because this is an exciting, incredible opportunity for me while for them it's Tuesday. That's not to say I wouldn't jump at the chance to meet Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, Emily or Zooey Deschanel, David Boreanaz or any of the people from the TV shows I watch, but I would always feel awkward about it. I would feel much more comfortable meeting any of them when they are also interested to meet me. I haven't done anything to make that likely yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I might never do so, either.
PPS - Or I might. You never know.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Appearances matter, even though they shouldn't

People judge books by their covers (that is, you by your appearance, among other things) all the time. This does make them wrong, but it's also out of your control. You can either take a stand against it, or you can sculpt your appearance to give people a favourable impression. What you can't do is take a stand against it and make a favourable impression at the same time, unless you are dealing with some very mature and reasonable people. Most people you meet will not be those people, nor will they be people who know you and can therefore see past your exterior.

So you cut your hair and dress nice if you want a job. You're the same person underneath, but people will see you in a better light, and this will make a big difference. It's frustrating and it's wrong, but it's also true. A lot of life is like that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Hey, how come people still judge based on appearance when we've been teaching everyone the opposite for so long?
PPS - It's because it's easier, isn't it?

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday writing update

A couple of thoughts this week.

I need to expand into short stories. Right now, I write flash fiction, which stops before it really gets going, and novels, which take a lot of investment from the reader and aren't that good yet anyway. Short stories are much more sellable, and because it's a stretch for me, I need to try and do it.

I don't think I have the energy for both Facebook and Twitter, which is a shame. Facebook is where I keep in touch with my friends and family, but Twitter is where I need to be making professional contacts if I'm going to get published as a writer, or so I've heard.

I might have taken too long off daily writing to edit my novel. When I heard that a PodCastle flash fiction contest was open again, I wanted to get in on that, and I started writing a couple of things, but they're not coming out the way I'd hoped. I do have until the end of August, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't (yet) found an inspiring seed in my snippets file.
PPS - I'd like to be at the point where that doesn't even matter.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Paying authors to finish unfinished TV series

I wrote some time ago about an idea of commissioning ebooks to finish off cancelled cliffhanger TV series, but since listening to I Should Be Writing, I realise that the idea of paying an author only in royalties is not the way it should be done. So the closest you'd get to this is for the studio to sell the ebook rights to a publisher who then farms out the work to an interested/talented author, including an advance. You would first have to convince everyone to invest more money in a failed TV project, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - TV shows only get cancelled when people don't want to put more money in.
PPS - And even then they don't want to sell the rights.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Make art now

If you want to do creative work, start now. Not tomorrow, not next week, definitely not when you retire, but now. If you want to be a writer, start writing. If you want to paint, pick up a brush. Nothing is standing in your way on this, unless you can't afford the tools and materials for your creative work.

Your first excuse is likely to be that you don't have the time. We lead busy lives these days, but surely you could take fifteen minutes away from Facebook to sketch a bowl of fruit or something.

The next excuse is going to be that your work is not very good. Well, while you're learning, you have my personal permission to suck, because I know that means a lot to you. Just keep going. You're going to get better at it just by doing it over and over, but you'll get better quicker if you look at what you're doing, decide what isn't working, and try some new ways to make it better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't actually feel qualified to be offering much advice on this, yet.
PPS - However, the world will be a better place with more art, and some of it should come from you.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

One standard

As software developers, often what we need from our tools and platforms is "one standard, many providers". We need to be able to transfer our skills from one platform to another, which means standards, but to have innovative options available, we need multiple providers. Targeting dozens of different web browsers is not ideal, but having one standard that they all support is great. We want to write for one abstract platform that is standard across all the different implementations of it.

What we usually get instead is "many providers, no standards" or "one provider, take it or leave it". HTML5 was getting close to being "one standard, many providers", but then each web browser decided they would only support different, incompatible parts of the "standard". There were web browser back-ends like webkit that seemed to simplify everything, but now Google is creating their own version of that project, which will lead to incompatibility again. We converge, we diverge, we never get to ideal, and sometimes we move away from it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's frustrating, is all.
PPS - And, I guess, most days it doesn't affect us so much.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Feminism in games

I watched a good YouTube video on the "damsel in distress" trope in video games, where a girl or woman (love interest or not) is the quest object, disempowered and unable to escape on her own, requiring a man to rescue her. In this type of scenario, for all the difference it makes, she might as well be the protagonist's favourite hat. It's a good investigation of the subject, and I recommend watching it. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that somehow produced hate mail and death threats to the producer of the video. I guess it's a good thing her research topic wasn't "video games producing violent misogynistic attitudes in young males".

Because of that (I assume), comments were disabled on this video, which made me just a bit sad for a minute, because I thought it sucked that someone so knowledgeable, passionate and successful has to silence all comments lest she be harassed. Then I remembered that these would be YouTube comments, subtracting value just by existing, and I felt better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - YouTube seriously needs some spam filtering on comments.
PPS - Or, failing that, ban anything that just consists of "FIRST!".