Friday, 29 May 2015

Is there any freedom of speech online?

Is there a public space on the internet, or just a series of private spaces we all perceive as public because they're available to everyone? People arguing against "censorship" online are often actually arguing for their "right" to say whatever they want in "public" spaces, but when every space on the internet, from Facebook to Twitter to your own blog is actually owned by someone (your blog is probably owned by Google, Wordpress or your web host) then there's no space where someone else doesn't have the right to take down what you say because they, personally, disagree with it. From that point of view, there might actually not be anywhere on the internet where the notion of "freedom of speech" even applies. There is nowhere you can say something online that someone else can't just say "no" to, and take it down again, no rights violated.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am not a lawyer, though, so don't take this as any kind of legal opinion.
PPS - I'm also not American, so the American Constitution, with its Amendments, does not apply to me either.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

I missed a spot

Yesterday may have been the first weekday in years that I've not posted here. I'm not going to go back and check how long it's been, though. I think, sometimes, in the past, I've even back-dated a post just so that it still looks like I've been diligent. This time, though, I think I'll just leave it.

I've been sick, on and off for the past two weeks or so, and this has been a major disruption to my normal routines, including blogging. The details of my sickness are disgusting, so I won't share. The secondary effects are lots of sleeping and staying home from work. I really hope, this time, I can recover properly and put it behind me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also haven't been writing or reading much.
PPS - At home, I gravitate more towards YouTube and other internet activities or television.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Could anything replace Linux?

At this point, could some other open-source operating system topple Linux off its perch as the dominant open-source OS? There are others around, but they'd have to match Linux's stability, functionality and support levels before they'd be seen as a significant contender. That would mean attracting the same number of dedicated developers, and that's unlikely, in my opinion. All the developers who would be working on some other open-source operating system are already either working on Linux or on their own pet project. Those pet projects, lacking the developer effort and organisation of Linux, will move more slowly and will therefore feel like they're being left behind by all flavours of Linux, not to mention Windows and OS X as well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It takes a lot of effort to make a modern OS.
PPS - And in software, effort means time and people, which in turn usually means money.

Monday, 25 May 2015

On this day in the future

On this day in the future:

2084: The Olympic organising committee votes to allow traditional pole dancing as part of the female gymnastics program. Lobbying for male pole dancing inclusion begins immediately.
2123: The majestic Cadbury Creme Pigeon, source of all Cadbury Creme Eggs, is declared extinct. The last specimen goes on display at the Cadbury Natural History Museum in New Atlantis.
2191: A motorcycle with a horse's brain, called Grey Matter, wins the Melbourne Cup in 58 seconds. Muddy conditions the following year prevent Grey Matter from retaining the cup.
2208: After lengthy discussions between the Australian and New Zealand governments, The Commonwealth of Australia finally accepts statehood in New Zealand.
2253: Arnold Schwarzeneggar's brain dies at the age of 306. A stand-in brain is hired to complete filming of his 267th movie.
2288: Brazil successfully enters an ape in the Olympics for wrestling. Broadcasts are stopped mere seconds into the ape's first bout for undisclosed reasons.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wrote these all at different times, for different reasons.
PPS - There's more about the sports and brains than I remembered until I put them together.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Removal of software features

Software sometimes faces the removal of features as it goes on in life. This is especially true of large, complex software with lots of users. Maintaining features through upgrades costs time and effort in development and support. Sometimes the justification is made that this or that feature or option is being removed and replaced with a permanent setting based on how many people don't use it, or the way most people keep the setting. This stands to upset as few people as possible.

The problem is that it does upset some people, and if you have thousands or tens of thousands of users, you're going to be upsetting a large number of people, however small the percentage is. That can get lost in the analysis. If "only" 35% of your users sort oldest-first, but the majority keep their lists sorted in the default newest-first order, you may be tempted to set the sorting option to newest-first permanently. However, if you have 100,000 users, you're about to cause problems for 35,000 of them. Some will adapt. Some will leave for software that still does what they want. Are you willing to risk those 35,000 users for the sake of not maintaining a sort option?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For me, a lot of my software has an audience of one.
PPS - And when it doesn't, removal of features is not up to me.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

One-way content sharing

I'd like to know when and how the "roach motel" business model for online service providers will fall down again. Well, I say "again" because I think it's similar to the Compuserve and AOL "walled garden" business models of the early web. Those companies aimed to provide everything their users could ever want or need in curated collections, but the Weird Wild Web outdid them and they collapsed. These days, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are all vying to be the only service provider you need, but in a different way. Now they provide search, calendars, personal posts, email, maps (or some significant subset) and all their APIs are aimed at getting content in, but not letting it out. Google demonstrated their commitment to this model recently by shutting off external RSS feeds of each user's YouTube subscriptions, forcing tech-savvy users like me to go directly to YouTube instead of keeping up to date on my subscriptions via my feed reader. Content checks in, but it doesn't check out.

Can this business model succeed where the walled gardens failed? I don't know, but I kind of hope not. The one-way sieve operating here is strong, and it's difficult to disrupt. You can start yourself as a tiny content provider, but as long as the big players can suck in your content, they get all the same benefits without needing to change. If you don't allow them to pull you in somehow, then you wither and die because they are the gatekeepers of online attention now.

The only bump in the road I can see is if they start disrupting each other. If Facebook users want to start sharing content from there to Google+ for some reason, and they can't, and this problem grows larger, then Facebook has to cave to user demand, but this would just lead to them being swallowed up by Google, in my opinion. They need to defend this border or they die.

So I guess I don't have an answer. The only remaining idea is that these giants of the internet get too big to keep growing and break apart on their own, like some kind of Google Civil War. Perhaps a generation from now, when their founders are gone and the core ideals rotted from the inside, there will be a breakaway group that forms a new company, large enough to compete but small enough to react to the web we will have 20 years from now.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Whatever that will look like.
PPS - If I knew that, I'd be rich already.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Nobody can do no wrong. Your heroes are fallible human beings who make mistakes, overlook things, and sometimes hold problematic opinions. They tell lies, they dislike some things you love, they love some things you hate. They say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. They get into accidents, sweep things under the rug, would rather not discuss certain topics. They run out of energy, get sick, get injured. Sometimes their bodies don't work properly, sometimes their minds don't work quite right. They forget, they remember incorrectly and they will occasionally deceive themselves.

It's easy to forget, when you only interact with them one-way, from their public persona and appearances to your perception and mental image of them, but if you weren't familiar with their work, you could sit next to them on the bus and never know how much they mean to the world.

They are people, and people are fragile, complex, emotional, intellectual beings with faults and failures as big as their strengths and successes. Try to remember that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You probably won't remember it all the time.
PPS - I certainly don't.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Does my ideal job even exist?

When I think of the kind of job I would like to do in my 40s or even closer to retirement, I still think of software, fiction and acting. As always, however, I tend to picture a job that doesn't involve any of the things I dislike doing, or that fill me with a sense of dread and disgust. Those would be any sales and marketing activities, and, if I'm being honest, management and leadership, too. I don't want to be a leader. I've never wanted that. And if my mental self-image ever overlaps with smarmy, greasy, sharks-in-suits salespeople (which is obviously a caricature or stereotype) then I'll be very disappointed with my life.

I know everyone has to do things they don't want to, but every now and then, you come across a person who, with a huge smile, says she is exactly where she wants to be and, if they stopped paying her tomorrow, she'd still be doing this job. That's the kind of job I want. Is there a place for me like that? If not, I'll happily take the financial freedom to just retire.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As would plenty of other people, I'm sure.
PPS - But I asked first, so there.

Monday, 18 May 2015

No, I did not have "man flu"

I've been sick for several days and counting now, but I'm back at work, coughing, sneezing and snotting my way through the day, trying not to infect every surface I encounter. I've been asked by some coworkers if I had "the dreaded man flu". Now, because I am a man and had flu-like symptoms, some people will not believe me regardless of the evidence I present. As a man with flu-like symptoms, of course, my judgement cannot be trusted on this issue. However, I would like to present Exhibit A: fevers, experienced over the first two days, Exhibit B: constant nasal and sinus congestion and Exhibit C: a cough producing yellow-green phlegm from my lungs. I'm sick. No question about that in my mind, and I wouldn't call it "man flu".

To me, "man flu" means exaggerating your symptoms, demanding to be waited on while lying comfortably in bed. Picture Homer Simpson, lying on the couch, ringing a little service bell and yelling for Marge to come and serve him some specific food or drink. He's clearly not as sick as that, and neither am I. I'm still running the domestic micro-errands requested by the lady of the house ("Can you get me some water, please?"). If I were to accept the diagnosis of "man flu", that would have to be the first thing to go.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could possibly have gone back to work one day earlier.
PPS - Since I wasn't getting paid time off, however, that's my call to make.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Crowdsource what can't be computerised

To a large extent, almost anything you think can't be automated by computers can be crowdsourced. Do you think an HR job can't be taken over by a robot? Try asking 10,000 people for hire/fire decisions on your potential and existing workforce and compare that to your HR department's decisions. I bet they'd be close. The only question is whether crowdsourcing is cheaper, faster or more reliable than hiring one good person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The problem gets very meta when talking about hiring HR people.
PPS - I'd love to see how well a crowd can act as CEO.

Thursday, 14 May 2015


Escapism should be used as a way to get an external perspective on your problems, rather than trying to leave them behind. All within reason, of course. Nobody will begrudge you a little escape now and then, the same way you're meant to take regular holidays from work. The point is more for creators. Take the time to make your creations relevant to the problems you see in the world, they'll have more depth, even if most people don't realise why. To me, that's a pretty good win.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And a very tricky thing to do.
PPS - But worth it, I think.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Too big for Twitter

I'm sad to hear that Joss Whedon quit Twitter. It seems, lately, that social media is a bad place for people to get attention. Or maybe I'm trying to say that a lot of attention online will also bring you a lot of negative attention, regardless of what you do, and exposing yourself to that level of toxicity is less likely to get you any super powers and more likely to get you into therapy.

This is what we do to famous people these days. Back before Twitter, famous people were a rare bird, only seen in sleazy paparazzi rags, publicity events and their own work, or, if you were very lucky, in a random encounter on the street. Then Twitter opened up and said "We have the celebrities! In a cage! Come and poke them!" And we did. Oh, how we did. They didn't like it much, but what could they do? Not be on Twitter? Please.

Except it seems like that's the best option now. Rather than trying to filter a little signal out of the torrent of noise, gaining a tiny bit of happiness for hours of wading through humanity's excrement, your better odds for happiness are to avoid the general public altogether, which is how it used to be anyway.

There was a reason celebrities became recluses. It's because humans, en-masse, are terrible people, who will abuse, berate and harass you for making the things that they love.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Thankfully, being too big for Twitter would have some pretty great consolation prizes.
PPS - Like huge piles of money.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Can we convince trolls that it's not funny?

How do you change someone's mind that trolling is funny? We all go through this stage, it seems, when we aim to get a rise out of people online (or in person) because we find it funny, because at some time during puberty we turn into gaping a-holes spewing poop at the world - just coating it in our stinking, festering monkey-poop - and lauging at people who get upset that we have covered them in our poop. Then some time later we realise that, when we did that, we were being gaping a-holes who didn't deserve the free room, board and internet we got from our parents and we settle down.

Is there a way we can train kids early on not to be that particular kind of a-hole to each other? Is there something we can say to them to indicate that the descriptor "clever insult" doesn't apply to the phrase "you should shut up and kill yourself"? I hope so. The internet gives our words vast reach and permanence, so when you're an a-hole in person, it can be damaging, but when you're an a-hole online, it can be so devastating that people do kill themselves.

So, pre-pubescent trolls, listen up: when you aim to make someone upset online, I'm going to need you to explain to yourself, first, why it's hilarious. You need to go far deeper than "It just is, because now they're angry, so shut up". You're angry, too. That's most of the reason you're smearing your own feces on the internet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you can explain why it's funny, it still has to be something you'd be happy for your parents to read.
PPS - I'm well aware that this post, on its own, won't change any troll's mind.

Monday, 11 May 2015

The real problem with nepotism

The reason nepotism is a problem is not necessarily that the wrong people get the jobs. If a relative does a terrible job but his family refuses to fire him, the company will just collapse or, at best, not fulfil its potential, and then the job goes away entirely. No, the real problem with nepotism is the mixing of power structures. If I work for you, but then you hire your son as my subordinate, I can't actually tell him he's doing a bad job or fire him if necessary, because that counts as a slight against you, my boss. The person who is supposed to be my responsibility is actually someone I have to treat as my superior, even if you tell me not to.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That particular arrangement won't usually happen, though.
PPS - Because, if you're going to hire your son, you won't put him more than one level below you.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Magic and comedy

To me, I think there are two subtly different ways of combining magic and comedy. On the one side, there are magical comedians like The Amazing Jonathan, who seem to have started in comedy and use magic for their act. If you go expecting amazing illusions, you'll be disappointed, because The Amazing Jonathan is there to make you laugh, first and foremost.

On the other side are comic magicians like Sylvester the Jester, who is clearly a magician first, but flavours his magic with over-the-top cartoonish comedy and sound effects. Sylvester the Jester performs for the magic, and comedy is just his gimmick.

For me, a fan of both magic and comedy, I think I prefer the magical comedian approach, in part because the comedy in a comic magician show feels too tacked-on. If you're aiming to make people laugh, that takes a certain type of performance, and the magic gets in the way of that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's probably a way to lift both of the aspects up to a truly great magic comedy performance, but I've never seen it.
PPS - I've never actually seen a live magic stage show.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Nesting doll houses

Someone should make a matryoska doll house for those Russian nesting dolls. Just nest smaller and smaller doll houses inside each other, one for each size doll. Bonus points for observing that, once you unpack it all, it's bigger on the inside.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My dad went to Russia and brought back souvenir matryoska dolls for everyone but me and my brother.
PPS - Twice.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A white featureless room

When I'm writing, I tend to leave out a lot of environmental descriptions. This might be because I want the action to move along quickly. Excitement! Explosions! People flying through the air! No time to tell you what colour the walls are, we're DOIN' STUFF over here!

This might be because I trained myself on flash fiction. Whatever the cause, I need to consciously practice writing those descriptions that I otherwise leave out of my work. I'm not yet sure how to do this, but I'm trying something at the moment where I take something I've written before and just write another version that is all environment and description. No dialogue allowed, so I can't get expositiony, and no character names, either. I'm not sure if the "no names" policy will work well, but trying to tell the same story with nothing but environment and explicit facial expressions or gestures - no interpretation - is much trickier than I'd expected.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm also not sure how to integrate it with the rest.
PPS - I guess that's a whole different struggle.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Societal security practices

Individual security, in some instances, is a personal choice. You might leave your phone completely open with no PIN or lock pattern. Someone else might install a PIN lock per app. I lock the whole phone with a lock pattern. We all choose what works best for us, and most people choose convenience (no lock) over security (lock).

That aggregate choice, however, affects or even creates the broad security landscape in which we operate. If most people lock their phones, then most thieves can never get into a stolen phone, making phone theft basically pointless. However, since most people do not lock their phones, phone theft is still viable and a locked phone can instead be more vulnerable when stolen, because a locked phone will just get discarded while an unlocked phone gives you time to hunt it down.

This is exactly what happens when the general public get to choose how convenient they want their technology. What can we do about it? Well, one option would be to all leave our phones unlocked and just track them down when they're stolen. Another option is to demand, at the manufacturer level, that all phones have locks installed from now on. Take away the choice. Either way works, but I have a feeling that the second way would make a better world, even if it's a less-convenient one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, that won't happen, because it's hard to change.
PPS - And, as we've learned, law enforcement opposes anything that makes it harder to spy on us.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The full cost of cheap software

You should always count the ongoing cost of software you buy for your business. You might pay less for a particular package, but if it takes a lot more time and effort to set up and maintain to do the job you want it to do, the long-term cost is more than other software that's easier to use. Even if that other software costs more up front, the lower maintenance costs will quickly overtake the "cheaper" option.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, consider how rare and expensive are the skills needed for the software.
PPS - There are a lot of factors to consider.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Control vs Security

You can't secure what you can't control, but control alone is not security. People mistake control for security when they say the iTunes App Store is safe because it's curated, or that only registered taxis are safe. The iTunes App Store and registered taxis are controlled, but that does not automatically imply that the control exercised over them is perfectly secure or even that their criteria for control is in your best interests.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Spoiler alert: Apple is not out for your best interests.
PPS - Neither is any other for-profit corporation, just to be thorough.