Free new writing tool

Howdy folks,

I wanted a better way to organize my stories as I was writing them, so I sat down and made a set of features that I’d like to see in a website, and then I made it. It’s called Pathfork, and it’s free, and it’s here. You can write and organize your chapters, notes, settings, and characters, and tag characters and settings in and out of sections and works like you would tags or categories on a blog post.

It’s free to use, so if you’re interested, by all means take a look. Happy writing!

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The Reverse X-Files

In The X-Files,  and many other things as well, the writers have an irksome tendency to have the characters just define things to each other in front of the reader/viewer, who might not know what they’re talking about. It makes me think of The X-Files because in college we had a professor who was really into Darin Morgan, and we studied some of the episodes he’d written in class, as well as a couple he hadn’t.

Naturally this led to watching all the rest of The X-Files during downtime, since we had the DVD’s from the library anyway.

The show made a habit of this. The example I like to use is roughly this.

SCULLY: Do you think this could be an example of telekinesis, Mulder?

MULDER: Telekinesis? You mean the ability to manipulate objects with nothing but the power of one’s mind?

SCULLY: Yes, Mulder.

MULDER: No, Scully, I don’t think this is an example of telekinesis.

I forget if it was actually telekinesis or not in that episode. Anyway, that’s the general formula.

Recently enough somebody reminded me of this scene from Superman, which features a particularly egregious example.

LEX LUTHOR: The San Andreas fault, maybe you’ve heard of it?

SUPERMAN: Yes… it’s the joining together of two land masses. The fault line is unstable and shifting, which is why you get earthquakes in California from time to time.

LEX LUTHOR: Wonderful. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Not only do the authors know that they’re doing it, they’re trying to act cagey by making sure you know they know they’re doing it (“couldn’t have said it better myself!”). Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, necessarily. Tropes are tools, after all. But this particular execution just sucks.

(Going by the TVTropes nomenclature, when done well, this is more appropriately lampshade hanging, and when done especially poorly it’s an as you know, Bob…. My examples above are of the ‘reading the dictionary to the viewer’ variety, which makes me think of The X-Files.)

Anyway, I ran into a sort of reverse X-Files today at work. We’re setting up a new data pipeline using Google Cloud Pub/Sub, which uses a bleedingly obscure word in the documentation, and whoever wrote this is savvy enough to know that you probably don’t know the word, and actually goes out of his way to make sure you know he knows you don’t know the word by linking to the wikipedia article without comment.

For the most part Pub/Sub delivers each message once, and in the order in which it was published. However, once-only and in-order delivery are not guaranteed: it may happen that a message is delivered more than once, and out of order. Therefore, your subscriber should be idempotent when processing messages, and, if necessary, able to handle messages received out of order…

As if he couldn’t be bothered to do any explanation for the handful of idiots who don’t know what ‘idempotent’ means off the top of their heads. Bravo, sir or madame.

Technology iz in ur kidz brainz, ruining ur civilization‽ 👻 🆒 🆕 🆓 🔚 🔜 #sorrynotsorry 😏 😎

There was a thing going around recently. I didn’t see the ‘original’ but I did see the response. I’ll excerpt the juicy bit here, go read the whole thing.

Technology and the death of civilisation

It is a failing of human nature to detest anything that young people do just because older people are not used to it or have trouble learning it. So I am wary of the “young people suck” school of social criticism. -Steven Pinker

[…]

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Clearly, to lots of folk, the photograph epitomised everything that is wrong with young people these days and their ‘addiction’ to technology. These children were being distracted by their technology to such an extent that they weren’t paying any attention to the beauty surrounding them in the real world.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

Children listening to adult instruction at the Rijksmuseum

I wonder whether the photo would have caused so much indignation and disapproval if it had depicted students ‘ignoring’ the masterpiece while reading a paper leaflet or museum brochure instead. Though I suspect not. It would appear that, once again, reports heralding the death of civilisation at the execrable hands of technology might have been greatly exaggerated.

(The quote at the top is by Steven Pinker, who had a book out about how we’re pretty much living in the least violent era in human history a few(?) years ago that I understand is pretty good.)

Technology has always been a bugbear of… I’m not even sure who. Old people? I think Douglas Adams was right:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

These things like the top quote is talking about get old. It just isn’t true that things have really changed. The only thing that I’ve ever encountered that changes when a new information technology is introduced is you, and even then it’s in one very specific case. I don’t have a cite for this, but it’s in the beginning of The Information by James Gleick (which is a wonderful read). Basically, non-literate people have trouble with abstract reasoning. When asked a simple syllogism, it goes something like this.

“All bears from the north are white. Nanook is a bear from the north. What color is Nanook?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never met Nanook.”

Within a short time of learning how to read, they’re able to answer it correctly. (God, I really wish I had that cite.) But otherwise, all of the books about ‘Internet brain’ or whatever they call it are baseless and stupid. For a fun exercise, the next time you see a book or article or whatever about how technology is changing us–particularly information technology–try swapping out ‘the Internet’ or ‘Snapchat’ or whatever the complaint is about with something older. Like books, radio, the telegraph, newspapers, or the post office.

People said the same things about those! XKCD had a good summary of some recent ones: Continue reading