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I think the cat’s been found


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Don’t send England football team to Russia, hold alternative tournament instead

I’ve written a petition for the parliament petition site:

Don’t send England football team to Russia, hold alternative tournament instead

In view of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, we shouldn’t sent the England team to the 2018 FIFA world cup. Instead we should persuade FIFA to hold the tournament in another country. If that isn’t possible, we and our allies should hold our own rival tournament.

The recent attack in Salisbury against Sergei Skripal using a novichok nerve agent was the latest in a long line of misdeeds by Putin, which include poisoning Alexander Litvinenko with polonium, annexing Crimea and shooting down a Malaysian airliner killing 298 people. Putin wants to use the football World Cup to make his bloodstained regime look good. If England — and as many other countries as possible — stay away, we will deny him this opportunity.

It needs 5 supporters to go to the next step — where staff review it before it can go live. You can sign it here.

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Twitter gets message order wrong

Imagine you were designing an online messaging system. On your system, people could write messages, and other people could reply to them. And people could reply to the replies, and so on.

So imagine you had a sequence of 5 messages, [1] to [5], where each is a reply to the last. In what order would you display them on the screen? I’d like you to think about that for a bit before you scroll down…


(spoiler space)


(more spoiler space)


(even more spoiler space)


So having thought about it, you might decide on the order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This would be sensible because it it chronological order.

Or you might decide on most-recent-first, i.e. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, to give prominence to the most recent message.

One order I suspect you would not choose is 5, 3, 1, 2, 4. Unless that is you were Jack Dorsey and were running Twitter:


Here the original message (1) is from Stephanie Hurlbert, to which Alex Afshar replied (2). Then Gravis McElroy replied with a message (3) and a whole thread (4). Finally, craignicol reposted it (5).

What an absurdity of user interface design.

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Brexit “won’t be like Mad Max”

Mad May:


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Unelected Elites


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Why Star Wars is Crap

Charlie Stross has the same aversion to Star Wars as I do:

When George Lucas was choreographing the dogfights in “Star Wars”, he took his visual references from film of first world war dogfights over the trenches in western Europe. With aircraft flying at 100-200 km/h in large formations, the cinema screen could frame multiple aircraft maneuvering in proximity, close enough to be visually distinguishable. The second world war wasn’t cinematic: with aircraft engaging at speeds of 400-800 km/h, the cinematographer would have had a choice between framing dots dancing in the distance, or zooming in on one or two aircraft. (While some movies depict second world war air engagements, they’re not visually captivating: either you see multiple aircraft cruising in close formation, or a sudden flash of disruptive motion—see for example the bomber formation in Memphis Belle, or the final attack on the U-boat pen in Das Boot.) Trying to accurately depict an engagement between modern jet fighters, with missiles launched from beyond visual range and a knife-fight with guns takes place in a fraction of a second at a range of multiple kilometres, is cinematically futile: the required visual context of a battle between massed forces evaporates in front of the camera.

Another example from Star Wars is the manually-aimed anti-aircraft guns on the Millenium Falcon:


This is obviously meant to look like something from a WW2 bomber. The Star Wars universe has artificial general intelligence (for example the robot C3PO). So of course computer aimed guns would be more effectively. That they’re not being used is about as silly as a Roman legion having sub machine guns but choosing not to use them and fighting its enemies with swords instead!

The whole Star Wars universe, from start to finish, is basically an insult to the intelligence.

Let me say it here: when you fuck with the underlying consistency of your universe, you are cheating your readers. You may think that this isn’t actually central to your work: you’re trying to tell a story about human relationships, why get worked up about the average spacing of asteroids when the real purpose of the asteroid belt is to give your protagonists a tense situation to survive and a shared experience to bond over?

Stories have to be about human relationships to be interesting. But if the plot, when set in space, requires absurdities, then the answer is simple: don’t set the plot (or at least that part of it) in space. This is not rocket science (well, OK, it is, but you get my point).

But the effects of internal inconsistency are insidious. If you play fast and loose with distance and time scale factors, then you undermine travel times. If your travel times are rubberized, you implicitly kneecapped the economics of trade in your futurescape. Which in turn affects your protagonist’s lifestyle, caste, trade, job, and social context. And, thereby, their human, emotional relationships. The people you’re writing the story of live in a (metaphorical) house the size of a galaxy. Undermine part of the foundations and the rest of the house of cards is liable to crumble, crushing your characters under a burden of inconsistencies.

Everything is connected to everything else.

(And if you wanted that goddamn Lucasian asteroid belt experience why not set your story aboard a sailing ship trying to avoid running aground in a storm? Where the scale factor fits.)

Indeed. Or is you want WW1-style aircraft, just set the story in a society with WW1-level technology (maybe on a different planet than earth).

Some of these things may feel like constants, but they’re really not. Humans are social organisms, our technologies are part of our cultures, and the way we live is largely determined by this stuff.

This last point cannot be emphasized enough.

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