Friday, 29 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 4

At this point, I'm on schedule to win NaNoWriMo today, and that feels pretty good. I'm probably not finished telling the story yet, but that's okay. The only goal of NaNoWriMo is to finish 50,000 words in 30 days, and I've done that this year.

I think I need NaNoWriMo. I've realised that. It gets me back on track, writing long-form fiction again, and sort of lets me check in with my skill levels. Am I getting better at writing? The answer this year is "yes, slightly and incrementally".

Something else I've learned this year is that writing from an outline doesn't (or didn't) work especially well for me. This might be because of how I did it. I don't know.

Lastly, I think I need to try new things. I don't want to keep rewriting this same book in slightly different forms. I want to be able to say "I've written three novels" next year, and "I've written four" the year after that, rather than "I've written two novels, but they're not really good and I keep rewriting them, but they're not getting better".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It feels pretty good to have gotten this far.
PPS - Last year's win didn't feel as real as this.

UPDATE: I'm done! I finished my 50,000 words on the train this morning.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Google+ makes YouTube comments worse

Google's algorithm for determining what is a "valuable" comment to promote on YouTube with its new Google+ integration includes how many replies it generated. This means trolls, who post exclusively for the "glory" of inciting as much rage in the general public as possible get promoted comments for it - exactly what they wanted. This makes the fetid cesspool of YouTube comments an even less desirable place to be, giving it over entirely to the trolls and ensuring that the rest of us never, ever read or bother writing any comments on videos ever again.

If Google wanted to shut down the YouTube comments section without actually taking it away, they couldn't have done a much more effective job than this.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I haven't bothered reading YouTube comments in a very long time.
PPS - It was terrible before this. Google+ just made the worst more accessible.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Vanishing area and infinite chocolate

There is a paradox or puzzle in mathematics sometimes known as the vanishing area paradox. There are several variations, but they all share the same principle, so I'll just talk about the one in the example video below:

You take a rectangle (in this case, made of chocolate), 4x6 units, and cut it diagonally between 2 and 3 units from the bottom. Make a couple more cuts, swap two of the pieces and suddenly you have a piece left over. You've created extra chocolate out of nowhere!

But you haven't, actually. It's a rounding error and sloppy measurement. The main rectangle is now actually only 5.75 units high, and I can prove it. Think about the right-hand edge. When you make that second cut, 1 unit in from the left, the cut goes partway through that first piece on its right-hand edge. The piece that moves from the top is only 0.75 units tall at that point, but the cut on the original right-hand edge takes the full piece away. You're replacing a full piece with a 3/4 piece, making the whole block of chocolate shorter. Because it's a fairly small difference, you don't notice.

If you're still not convinced, do it for yourself, but do it four times and count the resulting rectangle. You'll probably notice it getting shorter long before you get through all four times. After the second time, one of the rows will be suspiciously half-sized. After the third time, it will be a ridiculously stubby little quarter-size row.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a neat trick, though.
PPS - The shorter row gets less noticeable the wider the block.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Business and hipster don't mix

I once heard a hipster say to a bartender that the place has been ruined by popularity already. I'm fairly certain the owner would disagree, because popularity for him means more money, and that's why he's in business. He's not there to provide a space for bohemian beardies to congregate in obscurity and congratulate each other on finding yet another place that nobody knows about yet while drinking cheap beer "ironically". Obscurity is the enemy of a good business.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - To be fair, I was standing behind the hipster dressed as the Joker at the time.
PPS - That probably has a way of affecting people's judgement.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The limitations of drunk text prevention

A drunk text protection app has to assume that anything and everything you try to text, or any call you try to make while drunk is a bad idea. That might not be the case. For instance, you could be ordering a taxi to take you home, or calling for help after getting lost or stranded. The app won't be able to tell the difference and will block everything. This means either that you will have problems from false positives or you will need some kind of "No, I'm totally fine, I swear" override mechanism which destroys the effectiveness of the app.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never had need of a drunk text protection app.
PPS - Is there a stone-cold-sober bad-judgement protection equivalent?

Friday, 22 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 3

I thought I was ready to rewrite this book. I was wrong.

I mean, that much became obvious from my outline pretty early on, but I'm talking about something deeper now. I'm not 100% sure I was ready to write anything this long and have a good result come out of the other end. Even a usable first draft.

My characters are flat. They have some characteristics, but the whole spaceship colony acts like a big hive mind. They're all tentacle appendages of the communal will. That was not the goal, though it might make an interesting setting if I can figure out a story to tell about it. The point is that, although I know where the story is going and I think I'm going to get there, I'm not happy with the results.

That's normal, I suppose. I mean, you're not supposed to be happy with a first rough draft. It's like the raw clay you smack down in the centre of the pottery wheel. It's not anything much yet. Maybe I'll be happier when I finish.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As of right now, I'm about 1600 words behind schedule.
PPS - I've been behind this whole time.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Internet reliability

Does anyone actually live somewhere that the internet uptime and reliability is five nines? Have you ever worked in a place that blocked Facebook or IM or external email? Do you have the mobile bandwidth to watch a movie per day, or leave your music streaming constantly off WiFi? This is what I mean when I say that the internet is not reliable. It's always there, but if the electricity went out as often as, say, I can't get a website to load, we would consider it third-world standard. If I had to turn my home water supply off and on as often as my router, I'd be looking to move house. It's absurd to talk about the internet as a safe, stable, reliable platform, but that's the way we are using it. Yet every single week something goes wrong somewhere and renders it inoperable in some way.

Yes, it's more complicated than water or power or radio or TV, and yes, it involves a lot more different entities doing their jobs. It's frustrating when the network goes down, but my answer is not "fix my internet or else", it's to stop and rethink how the internet works. If your app depends on 100% internet uptime, it's going to fail for everyone at some time, and for some people most of the time. That looks bad for you. Make sure you don't assume 100% internet uptime when you write software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess it's a good thing the internet is mostly optional.
PPS - And for essential tasks, they're often not urgent.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Software documentation rot

When your tools don't work, you stop using them. This is a problem with software documentation in particular - a kind of Catch-22 situation. If the documentation is out of date or inaccurate, nobody refers to it. If nobody is referring to it, then nobody bothers to update it. So software documentation naturally tends towards chaos and particular software expertise tends to migrate to people's brains instead of documents.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you still need to do the same job, you must get better tools.
PPS - Quite often, better tools just don't exist.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The internet is not special

The world has changed, yet stayed the same. We still do all the same things we did 10, 20, 30 years ago, just faster and with different tools. We order pizza delivered online, but we could order pizza before the internet. We broadcast our thoughts to the world, but we could do that before Twitter. It's just that it took longer, was more expensive and nobody cared (most people still don't care, but high follower counts trick us into thinking they do). We have a global communications network, but so did the British Empire - it just ran on paper, horses and ships, with higher latency and lower volume.

What changes - fundamental changes, not just changes of magnitude and speed - has the internet really wrought? Those in power are still in power, those in poverty are still in poverty. Expertise is more accessible, but that's a change of magnitude and speed, not fundamentally different to pre-internet education.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think, in a lot of ways, a lot of our modern technology is a change of degrees, not a fundamental shift.
PPS - Some of it is genuinely new, but the people side tends to stay about the same.

Monday, 18 November 2013


As much as I want to see Riddick, the third movie starring Vin Diesel as an escaped convict and murderer as anti-hero, I think someone lost track of what Pitch Black, the first movie, was about. Riddick was a big part of that story, but it was a story about redemption, forgiveness, trust and cooperation in the face of life-threatening danger. By contrast, the sequels are about Riddick being an amazing badass in the face of explosions. That's not a story at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm aware I missed it in cinemas.
PPS - Right now, I'm not too cut up about that.

Friday, 15 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 2

Last week I vowed to keep writing, even if I was putting down a steaming pile of words that would never amount to anything.

This week, I wondered a little bit why I am even doing this if I don't think it's good. The answer, in part, is to get better, and that led me to my second related thought for the week: I can write better than this. I don't have to just hammer out terrible words, get my daily count in and go home. I can, at the very barest minimum, practice my craft within the terribleness of my plot. So I started doing that. I took more time, I wrote scenes that might not suck. I brought a little more life to what I'm doing.

It felt better. Not great, just better.

In general, I'm still finding it hard to follow my outline, I think because the plain text format turns out to be awful for outlines, at least for me. I'm still behind on my word count, but slowly catching up, managing to write about 2000 words every weekday. If I can keep up over this weekend, I should be ahead next week. I want to win on novel words this year, rather than novel+notes like last year.

I've also been getting physical pain in my right shoulder, and it's been worse on some days than others. At work, I've moved my mouse to my left hand, and that seems to be helping a little.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably what I need is to get away from computers for a while.
PPS - Or get a work desk that doesn't contort my body into awful positions.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The need for space

There might be something missing from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: space. Either that or else it's very subtly implied by "security of property". I say this because I've heard that the most common dream among residents of Manhattan is that their apartments have whole other rooms they never knew existed. This says to me that they feel crowded in their normal daily lives, and their subconscious wishes for more space. The reason this would be overlooked most of the time is that there are only a few places on Earth where the crowding is that severe, so most people have enough space not to feel overcrowded most of the time.

It makes me wonder what is the actual space that people need, psychologically, to feel right about it. Not in the short term - unless you're agorophobic or claustrophobic, you can stand almost any size space for a short time. Not even the space required to produce the food and energy needs of a person. I mean in the long term, what is the minimum living space that a person can realistically put up with? Is that affected by living with other people? Does it matter how much time you spend in your house as opposed to outside or at work? Maybe we're all living on a sliding scale of claustrophobia, and the more time you spend in smaller spaces, the less comfortable you feel.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Those psychological sliding scales seem to show up everywhere.
PPS - Or at least everywhere in our heads.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Practical projects

I was thinking, just as in Julie and Julia, of taking on a big, ongoing project for my blog. I considered using Jamie Oliver's 15-Minute Meals, which is not especially different to Julie and Julia, but now I've got this Reader's Digest book on tools and home handyman skills. I've always wanted to learn that stuff, so maybe that's the way to go. I need something to encourage me to work through the book, and I feel like doing something more practical with the blog, too. Most of my posts stop at the idea stage, and that's not helping anyone, really.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.
PPS - Just ask an executioner.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Google Keep dictation

Google Keep has the option to dictate a note, which is very handy when you can't type or when you just want to get an idea down quickly. I use it often. The thing is, it can't take dictation without a network connection. In that situation, why not just record the audio? If you need it turned to text, save up the audio and process it later. Would that be so bad?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - No. It would not.
PPS - Other than that, I find the dictation works fairly well.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Food standards and junk food

I think any food standards watchdog organisation has a problem, because the food industry will naturally tend towards addictive junk. Some of that might be acceptable for sale on its own, but when it makes up the majority of food for sale nation-wide, that's not going to work. Say, for instance, that a certain amount of sugar is acceptable in foods for sale. It's kind of okay if it's high in one or two things, but when the high level is the new "normal", you're going to start messing up the insulin sensitivity of your entire population.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It will always, to some degree, be an individual's responsibility to eat healthy.
PPS - A food standards organisation can only really ban foods that will kill you immediately.

Friday, 8 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 1

I'm sick of rewriting my book. There, I said it. It's exhausting and it's stupid and it's not coming out any better than the barftastic first version that I wrote two years ago. This is disappointing and a little unexpected. I thought I had matured a lot since then, but I have not sat down like this to write a book in some time. It shows.

I'm behind schedule and I'm not catching up. My outline is hard to follow. It's full of major plot problems that aren't going away, because they're too big. Also, it's physically uncomfortable. I've been writing on the train to and from work, and hunching over in that cramped seat, trying to get the words out is pretty awkward. It wasn't that way when I started doing this. I have an appointment with a physiotherapist (or some equivalent) on Monday to try and help.

I'm going to keep going, though. Might as well. The disappointment has already set in, though. The first draft was far from perfect. This second draft is at least as far from perfect as that, but in different ways. So I guess that's what I'm taking away from NaNoWriMo this year: a second draft that proves there is more than one way for me to suck.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's good that I'm allowed to suck, though.
PPS - How else could I get better?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Pop scare videos

Why are pop scare prank videos so annoying? I'm talking about those videos you get either shared on Facebook or some I've got in email that seem innocent or curious, inviting you to look closely, and then pop up a scary face and a scream sound. Why would that be so much more upsetting or irritating than Rickrolling?

Well, it starts with the way the videos are presented initially. They deliberately lie to you to draw you in. They can't do so any other way. If they were titled "Get ready for a scary surprise!" rather than "This is really weird, watch closely" then they wouldn't have the same effect. You already feel like a sucker when they get you.

Secondly, the prank instigator is not there to have a good laugh with you at the look on your face when it happens, as would be the case with a live prank. You'd have someone to share the "joke" with, or at least someone to hit. With the video, that's all there is. You get sucked in, a genuine pop scare, then it's over. Nobody says "Oh, man, that was great! You should have seen your face!" The video just stops playing and waits for another sucker. The disconnection of the internet strikes again, and the only motivation you can attribute to a person like that is sheer malice.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know Rickrolling has to lie to get you in.
PPS - That one ends with a song, though, not a scream.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Limited term offers

The time-limited offer sales pitch is meant to pressure you into a bad decision. Remember that the next time you find yourself presented with an offer that is "only available for the next 30 minutes!"

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The shorter the time, the sooner they expect buyer's remorse to kick in.
PPR - Or common sense. Either one.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The problems 3D printing doesn't solve

If 3D printing successfully usurped every kind of manufacturing at every level what would the world look like? What tasks would take on greater importance? Well, even if you can just make anything in your own home in short order, you still need to know you're making the right thing, so you need the skill of requirements analysis. What job is this piece supposed to perform, and is it fit for purpose before I go and manufacture it? You also need the skills to install or assemble and maintain what you manufacture. How do you use what you've made? That's not included in manufacturing. Finally, if you can't find the exact ready-made design to fit your needs, you need the skills to produce it from the ground up, including the materials knowledge to decide from what it should be made. Is this a job for ceramics, or plastics, metals or something else?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In short, even ubiquitous, all-encompassing 3D printing won't solve all our problems.
PPS - As with most technologies, it just shifts the problems higher, which can still be a good thing.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Buying custom clothes online

The internet should be able to connect clothes makers with customers directly. You could find a small-time designer you like, send them your measurements, and you get custom-fitted clothes without having to search the racks at stores, plus you would always feel that you were wearing something unique and special.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe that's what some corners of Etsy are for.
PPS - Or maybe someone else is doing exactly this.

Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Day 1

As of this morning, I am embarking on my third National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I'm going to be attempting a rewrite of the book I finished two years ago, because, when I read it again, it was quite choppy and weird. Unpolished.

I treated the first effort as a first draft, turned it into an outline and edited that. I've changed some characters and some scenes, and I'm quite pleased with the outline as it currently stands. I still don't think it's quite perfect, but now I'm out of time. I'll be writing on the train to and from work, as I have before, because that worked out pretty well for me, but I'll also be getting some work done on the weekends this time around. On a good day, I get down about 800-1000 words each way, so the weekdays are covered. I'm not totally sure how I'll handle the weekends yet, but we'll see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do feel like I should be attempting something totally new.
PPS - However, I also want to get this done to a point that I'm really proud of it.