Uitindu-ma la protestele de ieri am fost surprins ca nimeni nu face legatura dintre altercatiile cu fortele de ordine si Revolutia din 1989, singura perioada in care tin minte ca ar mai fi fost asa ceva in Romania. Ieri se vorbea de Colectiv, de cit de nesimtiti sint la PSD, ca jos Dragnea. A fost Colectiv atit de departe incit nu mai tinem minte cum era? Lumea era in strada scandind impotriva clasei politice in general. Acolo nu s-au bagat ultrasii sau jandarmii, iar lumii ii era lehamite de orice forma de politica. Acum, insa, lupta e polarizata, jos unul, sus altul, si am cazut iar in ciclul ala puturos din care nu am mai iesit din '90 citeva decenii: un permanent vot impotriva, punindu-ne bolnav sperantele in cealalta directie, ca si cum citeva rocade intre partide ar fi rezolvat ceva. La Revolutie am dat jos un sistem, iar acum, cred eu, orice mai prejos de atit este un rateu gigantic.

De aceea nu o sa ma vedeti prin piete scandind impotriva unuia sau altuia. Sint toti la fel. Singura solutie este castrarea politica: sa nu mai aiba nimeni posibilitatea de a da legi nediscutate, sa poata introduce oricine o lege sau un veto la o lege cu un anumit numar de semnaturi, sa eliminam posibilitatea, prin Constitutie, ca un presedinte sa tina parlamentul blocat sau ca un parlament sa se joace cu legislatia pe cintecul vreunui partid sau ca DNAul sa tina parti si tot asa. Sa tragem la raspundere oamenii pentru vorbele, promisiunile si faptele lor. Nu cu legi si inchisori, ci public, colectiv. Cumva am uitat ca alegerile politice sint doar o abstractie a vointei populare care se poate schimba in orice moment.

Ce faci cu cineva care ti-a inselat increderea? Nu i-o mai acorzi. Daca ii dai cheile de la casa si te fura, ii iei cheile! Poate il si bati mar, dar in mod clar nu il mai lasi in casa ta. Solutia nu e nici sa dai imediat cheile altuia, ci sa le tii tu si gata.

Repet: Protestele de dupa incendiul de la Colectiv erau o explozie de indignare impotriva intregii clase politice, Revolutia de la 1989 si ce a urmat imediat, singura perioada in care imi aduc aminte sa fi fost jandarmi cu tunuri cu apa si gaze folosite impotriva manifestantilor in Romania, a fost o explozie de indignare impotriva intregului sistem politic. Ma pis pe manifestantii din Piata Victoriei daca tot ce vor este sa il dea jos pe Dragnea cind pleaca de la servici, daca asta e toata ambitia lor.


I am hearing more and more this expression that leaves me baffled: "Check your privilege!". It is directed at us, White men, by women, colored folk and gays. It is intended to make us aware of our superior position in order for us to feel guilty over it. Really? That's what you got?

First of all, shit doesn't just happen: it takes time and effort! Do you think that God bestowed our supremacy onto us or something? No! If you believe that you have bought into all the stories we've fed you. We worked hard to get where we are! What have you done? Black people have been the majority of people on Earth for millions of years, but when does humanity grow exponentially together with the living standards? That's right! When the White Man takes control. Women have been ruling the Stone Age for millennia. Where did that get us? Nowhere, that's where! Stone fashion didn't do well, did it? And now you have the gall to ask us to check our privilege? Now the shoe is on the other foot and you are sour about it. Deal with it! Facts, bitches! Not alternative ones, either. The White Man management has brought this enterprise to new heights. Everything you have now is the direct consequence of our leadership. You are beneath us because we put you there!

Every time you people complain you call yourselves "minorities". No, you're not! Women are more numerous than men and White people are fewer than blacks and browns and yellows and whatever else there is on this planet. You know who's a minority? White Men! And still the privilege is yours, since we clearly allow you to exist and complain. The only group of people that have consistently been persecuted and have been a lot fewer than other folk are the homos. They are the only ones who have the right to whine. That's why everybody says whining is gay. It's true!

Yet when we complain, we are derided! You really think it is easy to keep under boot a majority of people on Earth. You think hitting women or slaves is fun? It fucking stings! You have to take all empathy and push it way way down, swallow your tears and do the right thing for everybody, because in the end we have led human kind into its Golden Age, all through our sacrifice. And if you don't like it, that's too bad, but it's mostly your fault, anyway. You make us behave like that, even when we hate it, because you keep getting above your station.

When the most powerful man on Earth is a White Man who rightfully knows the truth about the world and our place at its helm, you act all outraged. We even allowed you to vote the person you wanted and still you chose him. Oh, he lies, you say. He's a sexist racist White Man who twists the truth to further his needs. Have you even met politicians before? They are mostly White and mostly male because, statistically proven, we rule the world best. If you do something, at least do it right!

So you check *your* privilege! You get to complain, to fight for your rights, to live, all the while basking into the glory of the White Man and reaping the fruits of his labor and sacrifice. We carry you into tomorrow like a cross on Golgotha, never complaining, being spit at all the way up, but up we climb and high we reach. If you want to get to where we are, work for it like we do. Enslave some people, cull others, smack some around in the name of God. It's not fun, but it needs doing, for the betterment of humanity as a whole. In the end, you are where you are because you know it's the right place for you, otherwise you would have done something about it. You slack away while we run things for you, it's just the way of the world. Start complaining after a few million years, when you get your turn.

Last year I wrote a blog post detailing my experience with social media after four months. This is the followup, after I've had a whole year to take advantage of these tools.

Social Media - what is it?


To me social media means the big two: Facebook and Twitter. I still have no idea what Instagram is and I don't really consider LinkedIn as social media. And Google+ is not worth mentioning. I know there are a lot of other social sites, but I ignored completely photo and video platforms - since I rarely express myself visually, and I've tried some technical platforms like StackOverflow, HackerRank or GitHub, but again didn't consider that "social media". Probably I should, since I love software development and having people to share this with would truly be a social experience for me, but I started this experiment with focus on general social interaction. Also... Slack... what the hell is that?

What I used social for


In the previous post I said that I am using Blogger to express myself, as I have done for more than a decade, and use some tool to automatically share this on Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, very little people were engaged by this method of communication. It works better than RSS feeds, that's for sure, but most of the time people on social media (including myself) want to shut off their brain and read something light, not my crazy ramblings or technical posts. I've created a Facebook page for my blog, so people can use that as an entry point, if they want, but all the posts there are shares from Blogger.

I was saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Twitter and the quality of content there and less enthusiastic about Facebook. However, Twitter changed some things lately, mostly allowing videos, images and smileys (what you, young folks, call emoticons - or is it emoji?) to take less space. The effect is that there are a lot more visual opinions (let's call them that) on Twitter and thus becoming harder and harder to read. Also the amount of postings there is overwhelming. I tried to look for some tools to limit the number of tweets or organizing them somehow, but unfortunately I found none that did what I envisioned. The result is that occasionally - every week or so - I scroll through Twitter until I get tired and put links in my to read list, but most of the time I only cover a day or two of content.

I found that whenever I see something that I believe is worth sharing I put it on Facebook, rather than Twitter, mostly because I have few friends on Twitter and there is that 140 character limitation. However, most of the time I just post the link anyway and maybe say a few words. I wonder if that short circuits me thinking about the subject and then writing my opinion on it, as I am doing with this blog, but most likely I would rather not share than write so much every time, so I don't know if the occasional Facebook posts are taking away Blogger posts. I will actively try to not make it the case. I noticed, though, that people that like my Tweets are often not in my friends list, so I guess it's more general an audience. That being said, all my Facebook posts are fully public, anyway.

Speaking of Facebook, when I compile my weekly reading list I also scroll down through the Facebook wall, but even with my extension to filter posts based on own content and less images, videos and likes, I still get bored rather quickly. Sometimes the jokes are funny or the pictures interesting, but I am not really a Facebook reader. Lately I have been unfollowing people in order to keep a modicum of content curation on my wall. I was really disappointed by the events system, as well. A lot of people just mark all events they could possible go to with 'Interested' and then they never go. Also the events that appear on Facebook feel like complete bullshit most of the time anyway. The ones that I would have liked to attend either don't even appear or they are so niche that I never hear about them until it is too late.

One thing that I thought I would use Facebook for was the messenger app. And I do use it, but very rarely. In the Yahoo Messenger days I would chat a lot with people. Somehow all that became frivolous, not only for me, but other people as well. Now I see young people just getting a lot of notifications and ignoring them. So what's the point, anyway?

And speaking of... God, notifications are annoying. Everything wants to notify you of the very important thing that happened on it. It does so by blinking, beeping, animating or any other histrionic method of getting your attention. They do it incessantly until I stop caring. Notify away, I will ignore you.

What I will be using social for


I don't foresee any change in the future other than maybe using less social media altogether. I am half convinced that I should try to develop meaningful human relationships, at least as another experiment. Clearly social media does NOT connect people on a personal level at all. I've heard about these young kids that share everything they do on social media. Maybe they do, but I am not following them. To me that's another network altogether. The occasional curiosity to see what is "trending" or "popular" disgusts me every single time. The things my friends share are not truly representative of them. And if I make the first step and post some weird feeling or situation I am in, I mostly get no reaction. People avoid negative emotions unless they are manic: hate, anger, disgust take first stage while depressive thoughts, sadness or desperation are avoided. Same for positive emotions, by the way, when people are extra happy about having a child or something like that. Just mildly enjoying something and feeling good about oneself is generally ignored.

Conclusion


I am not going to commit social media suicide or anything, but I concluded that I want to know what people think, rather than what people feel, and social media is used more for the latter. Therefore my commitment to online electronic expression is not going to increase towards Facebook and Twitter. As always, I do hope I will blog more meaningful posts. Wish me luck!

This is how 2016 ends, not with a bang but a whimper. After a relatively calm Christmas followed an eventless New Year celebration. Part of me was lamenting the oldness of it all: two people alone on New Year's Eve, drinking gin tonic and campari cola and sitting at their respective electronic devices. The other part of me was happy that no one bothers me, that I don't have to pretend to enjoy loud noises and strong lights and fake emotions. Was it a nice end of year or just another win for my comfort zone?

It was a strangely quiet year for me, as well. Most of it I was in a sabbatical during which I did nothing of note and the last part was about getting hired and getting acquainted with my new place of work, which was fine. No real drama, no dead relatives I cared about, no fuss. I wrote my code, I watched my TV series, I read my tech news. It was more than quiet, it was boring.

Meanwhile, though, everybody else was going crazy: beloved celebrities died, elections went to hell just about everywhere, terror scares, immigration issues, civil wars, cyber wars, cold wars, global warming and so on and so on. Weird contrast, isn't it? Part of me laments I am growing apart from the world and people, the other part enjoys the hell out of it. Is that what growing old is? Just getting off the train and raising a middle finger?

So what about my New Year resolutions? I have none. I have some hopes, but resolutions? Nah! I am too comfortable ignoring everything that matters. If I go down that road, defining priorities, finding solutions to get what I want, getting rid of what I don't want, setting up goals, then I have to change my entire life. I have to start over. I have to make an effort, hurt people, push the drama button. Who needs that? I do have the heart of a child. I keep it in the freezer, never to be thawed.

Look at that title! If that doesn't trend on social media, I don't know what will.

Nothing spreads memes faster than an American election. The term post-truth was named the word of 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries, which is funny, considering the elections went on at the end if the year and that Oxford is in England, but it only emphasizes the impact that it had. However, like the cake, it is a lie. The truth of the matter is that Americans, like all masses of people, can't handle the truth, so they invent a more comfortable reality in which to dwell.

When Trump became president, people needed somebody to blame, someone other than themselves, of course. After all, only good things happen because of you and God, because you're awesome! And God, too, I'm sure. *The people* would never ever vote a narcissistic entertainer as their supreme leader, clearly. So they blamed social media. Now, I am not a fan of social media, but considering I've been blogging for more than a decade, I am not against it either. I've only recently and reluctantly joined Facebook, mainly for the messenger app, but when I saw the entire Internet rally against poor Zuckerberg (well, he is anything but poor, but you get the gist) I smirked, all superior and shit, because the idea was ludicrous. Not the idea that Facebook had a major impact on people's behavior, that one is totally true, but that this is a recent event, brought on by technology run amok and without checks.

Mass media is one of the pillars of American democracy, it has always swayed people one way or the other. The balance doesn't come because media is true to facts but because, like any other form of power, it is wielded by both sides equally. Facebook and the whole of Internet is just a distillation of that and when you distill shit you get... 3-methylindole - perhaps a bad metaphor. What I mean is that media has always been crap, it has always had an agenda and it was always under the control of people with power. Guttenberg himself was after all a goldsmith with political connections trying to satisfy investors. The Internet just gives you more granularity, more people to contribute in drowning facts into a sea of personal opinion.

We are not in the age of post truth, we are getting closer and closer to the actual truth which, as always, is not pretty, is not nice, is not politically correct. Instead it is painful, humbling and devastating. The truth, dear *the people*, is that this form of democracy is the worse political system that you can stomach while still functioning economically, mass media is not a pillar of anything, just another form of deadly power, and that when this political system that you wallow in turns its wheels you get people like Trump and Hillary Clinton representing you. And it's fine, because no one that is actually like you will ever reach a position of true power in any system. Normal people do not crave power, but comfort and security. Not even happiness.

So get over it, because after post-truth comes truth: you will forget about all the outrage in the customary six months and then everything will go #BackToNormal.

Nu, nu este vorba despre vacanta mea cu nevasta-mea in Bucovina, desi e funny si aia, ci despre apa Bucovina si disparitia bidoanelor de 5 litri din magazine.

In primul rind, hai sa dam sarci pe net. Dezamagire totala. Daca nu e ceva in engleza sau poate alta limba de larga circulatie internationala, Google esueaza lamentabil. Toate rezultatele sint ori magazinele mari care vind apa online ori despre altceva cu totul. Pasul doi: sosial midia. Putin mai mult succes, dar nu mult. Oamenii se lamenteaza de calitatea apei plate citind diverse articole panicarde cu cuvinte gen "colcaie" si "mizerie" in titlu. Cu toate astea Bucovina e pe primul loc la curatenie, chiar si in acele articole. Mai gasesti articole despre cum Apa Bucovina a fost cumparata de niste polonezi.

Desigur, putem merge direct la pagina Facebook a firmei, unde mai multe persoane s-au plins de lipsa bidoanelor. Din pacate, la orice intrebare se raspunde STAS cu:

Mai nou au bagat mai multe detalii:

Pe bune? Intii cineva din alta tara sau planeta a cerut multa apa Bucovina si nu a mai ramas ca sa ajunga si in Bucuresti, apoi problema s-a rezolvat, erau ei mai setosi si acum s-au potolit, asa ca putem sa luam iar apa de la jumatea lunii Decembrie. Dar sintem in 17 si tot nimic. E timpul sa scoatem armele babane: zvonurile!

La un magazin de linga mine cineva cu "surse" mi-a spus ca inchid linia de bidoane de 5L. Alt "informat" imi spune ca de fapt doar inlocuiesc aparatajul. Cineva care "se pricepe" spune ca asa "se face", intii scoti produsul de pe piata ca sa se vada cit de dorit este, apoi se introduce un inlocuitor, deobicei mai ieftin de produs, mai scump la cumparat si mai slab ca si calitate.

Acum ce sa cred? Daca era doar o chestie de imbunatatire hardware, de ce nu ar fi spus asta public? Daca inlocuiesc produsul cu altceva sau, mai rau, il scot de tot, de ce promit ca se va gasi din nou in magazine in aceeasi formula?

O ipoteza este ca aveau un surplus de sticle de 2L pe care nu le cumparau oamenii destul de repede. Alta ar fi ca s-ar fi intimplat ceva cu apa, o infestare cu ceva, o poluare cu ceva toxic sau dezgustator, si acum poti sa iei doar apa la sticle de 2L care a mai ramas, in timp ce ei incearca sa rezolve problema in tacere. Asa o fi, @apabucovina? Lasati zvonul asta sa se raspindeasca pina nu mai cumpara nimeni apa?

In mod clar, mai multi factori se intrunesc aici ca sa ne faca viata mizerabila (pardon da pan). Intii e lipsa de transparenta a producatorului. Era asa de greu sa fie sincer si direct? Apoi lipsa de profesionalism a jurnalistilor romani, atit de preocupati de ce fund sta pe ce scaun si ce gura vomeaza ce in politica, incit uita de lucruri de genul asta. In final, Americocentrismul internetului, care ne aduce doar informatii despre ce filme mai apar pe marile ecrane.

Pai atunci cum sa ne se umple tara de nationalijdi care beau apa de la chiuveta si nu ii intereseaza decit de ale lor?

The machines are here. They look like us, they walk like us, they speak like us, but they are not like us. Open your eyes and carefully look around, search for the suspect, for the out of place. Their actions give them away.

They walk to their destination if it is more efficient than driving. They always take the same route to get there, too, once they found out which one is the best. They are courteous for no reason, never get angry - unless it serves their nefarious purpose, they don't swear or do meaningless things. You will never see a machine throwing garbage on the ground. They are obsessively clean and never smell of anything. Watch out for people helping others with no apparent goal. Are they real people? In the office they will say hello to you even early mornings, then get to work almost immediately. Whenever you interrupt them from their tasks they will gladly stop whatever they are doing and listen to your problems. Be wary of people that never complain, a clear indicator of their origin.

Don't get fooled by their deception. You will see machines at restaurants, eating and drinking, even going to the toilet. They are only maintaining appearances. See how they will not shout at the waiter even if served poorly, watch them take blame for not looking at the price on the menu before ordering or for spilling a drink. By the way, that's also an act. Their superior agility would never allow them to do anything by accident. They are clever, but don't let them outsmart you. Some will appear to enjoy art, like paintings or sculptures or classical music, but most will have adapted and fake enjoying normal things like movies. They will be the ones that you will not notice in the cinema hall. They will not use their mobile devices, they will not talk over the movie, they will rarely eat anything from the entrance shop, but when they do they do it quietly. It's always the quiet ones.

Couples, even accompanied by children or pets, may be machines. Their children will be uncharacteristically mild mannered and well behaved. Their dogs will not bark or try to bite in anger, and their poop will be collected and thrown in the garbage rather than left behind. They all can be machines. The way they blend in our society is so complete and subtle that you will see people living together with machines and not know it. But you can still recognize them by the way they considerately care for the other person, even after long years of companionship. They don't seem to grasp the concept of getting fed up with another living being.

Their greatest trick, though, is behaving as they have our well being at heart. They do not. Slowly, subtly, underhandedly, they change the world and take away our humanity, turn us into soulless beings like them. Wake up! Do not be fooled! Rise up and destroy them all before it is too late!

I am often left dumbfounded by the motivations other people are assigning to my actions. Most of the time it is caused by their self-centeredness, their assumption that whatever I do is somehow related more to them than to me. And it made me think: am I a good/bad person, or is it all a matter of perception from others?

I rarely feel like I do something out of the ordinary for other people; instead I do it because that's who I am. I help a colleague because I like to help or I refuse to do so because I feel that what I am doing is more important. Same with friends or romantic relationships. Sometimes I need to make an effort to do something, but it's still my choice, my assessment of the situation and my decision to go a certain way. It's not a value judgment on the person, it's not an asshole move or some out of my way effort to improve their life. What I do IS me.

It's also a weird direction of reasoning, since I am aware of the physical impossibility for "free will" and I subscribe to the school of thought that it is all an illusion. I mean, logic dictates that either the world works top-bottom, with some central power of will trickling down reality or it is merely a manifestation of low level forces and laws of physics that lead inexorably towards the reality we perceive. In other words, if you believe in free will, you have to believe in some sort of god, and I don't. Yet living my life as if I have no free will makes no sense either. I need to play the game if I am to play the game. It's kind of circular.

Getting back to my original question: Isn't good or bad just a label I (and other people) assign to a pattern of behavior that belongs to me? And not before I do things, but always afterwards. Just like the illusion of free will there is the illusion of moral quality that guides my path. While one cannot quantify free will, they can measure the effect my behavior has on their life and goals and determine a value. But then is my "goodness" something like an average? Because then it would be more important the number of people I am affecting, rather than the absolute value of the effect per person. Who cares I help a colleague or pay attention to my wife? In the big sea of people, I am just a small fish that affects a few other small fish. We could all die tomorrow in the belly of a whale, all that goodness pointless.

So here I am, asking essentially a "who am I" question - painfully aware it has no final answer - in a world I think is determined by tiny laws of physics that create the illusion of self and with a quantity of consequence that is irrelevant even if it weren't so. I am torturing myself for no good reason, ain't I?

Yet the essence of the question still intrigues me. Is it necessary that I feel a good drive for my actions to be a good person, or is it a posterior calculation of their effect that determines that? If I work really well and fast for a month and then I do less the next, is it that I did good work in the first month or that I am a lazy bastard in the second? If I pay attention to someone or make a nice gesture, is it something to be lauded, or something to be criticized when I don't do it all the time? Is this a statistical problem or an issue of causality?

And I have to ask this question because if I feel no particular drive to do something and just "am myself", I don't think people should assign all kind of stupid motivations to my actions. And if I need to make this sustained effort to go outside my routine just to gain moral value... well, it just feels like a lot of bother. And I have to ask it because the same reasoning can be applied to other people. Is my father making terrible efforts to take care of just about everybody in his life, making him some sort of saint, or is it just what he does and can't help himself, in which case he's just a regular dude?

Personally I feel that I am just an amalgamation of experiences that led to the way I behave. I am neither good nor evil and my actions define me more than my intentions. While there is some sort of consistency that can be statistically assessed, it is highly dependent on the environment and any inference would go down the drain the moment that environment changes. But then, how can I be a good person? And does it even matter?

Copyright is something that sounds, err... right. It's about keeping the profits of the sale of work to its author. If I write a book, I expect to get the money from it, not somebody who would print it and sell it in my name. With the digital revolution, copy costs collapsed to zero: anyone can copy anything and spread it globally for free. So what does that mean for me, the author? Well, it sucks. The logical thing for me is to try to fight for my rights, turn to the law which is supposed to protect me, find technical ways of making copying my work harder, preferably impossible, going for the people who are chipping away at my hard earned profits.

However, that only makes sense from the author's point of view, specific to their work, outside of any context. Now, imagine a system that allows me to anonymously share anything to anyone, while they also can get it with no chance of being identified or even detected. Me, the author, can see that my work is being circulated, but I can't stop it or determine who is spreading it. My only recourse is to try to dismantle this devilish system that destroys my living, with the full support of law and various companies that want to get their share of the profits. And here comes the context: in order for me (and the entire media industry) to be able to protect my way of life I need to actively fight against any method that allows anonymous and/or secret sharing of information. In fact, I would be fighting for a global system of surveillance and censorship.

As you have seen, I tried to present the situation from the standpoint of the author. I feel for the poor guy (less for the snakes that get most of the money by controlling distribution and marketing), however it is clear that I can't be on his side. The hypothetical system that I have been describing kind of exists right now in various forms and media companies are making efforts to thwart attempts to make it more user friendly and more widespread. What we see today is the logical continuation of the situation. Forget intelligence companies looking for terrorist threats. Forget tyrannical states trying to find dissidents. Forget the political correctness police trying to expose and shame people for their beliefs. The real money is in stopping people distributing knowledge for free and it has direct (and dire) implications on our ability to speak freely.

Note: I used the expression "speak freely" rather than free speech, because free speech is not actually free at all. Read about it and you will see that is a completely different thing than the ability and permission to express yourself without repercussions.

Of course, I am not the first one to have thought of that. In the world it often has become more effective to use copyright in order to censor things you don't agree with. Just google it and see. Every time you hear something about economic accords, freedom of information, net neutrality, they are all talking about the same thing, only from different angles. The war is active, in full swing, with all of us possible casualties, yet few people are even aware of it. Oh, I am not saying that you can do anything about it... or can you?... but at least you should know about it.

My mind has been wandering around the concept of gamification for a few weeks now. In short, it's the idea of turning a task into a game to increase motivation towards completing it. And while there is no doubt that it works - just check all the stupid games that people play obsessively in order to gain some useless points - it was a day in the park that made it clear how wrong the term is in connecting point systems to games.



I was walking with some friends and I saw two kids playing. One was shooting a ball with his feet and the other was riding a bicycle. The purpose of their ad-hoc game was for the guy with the ball to hit the kid on the bike. They were going at it again and again, squealing in joy, and it hit me: they invented a game. And while all games have a goal, not all of them require points. Moreover, the important thing is not the points themselves, but who controls the point system. That was my epiphany: they invented their own game, with its own goal and point system, but they were controlling the way points were awarded and ultimately how much they mattered. The purpose of the game was actually to challenge the players, to gently explore their limitations and try to push boundaries a little bit further out. It wasn't about losing or winning, it was about learning and becoming.

In fact, another word for point system is currency. We all know how money relates to motivation and happiness, so how come we got conned into believing that turning something into a game means showing flashy animations filled with positive emotion that award you arbitrary sums of arbitrary types of points? I've tried some of these things myself. It feels great at times to go up the (arbitrary) ranks or levels or whatever, while golden chests and diamonds and untold riches are given to me. But soon enough the feeling of emptiness overcomes the fictional rewards. I am not challenging myself, instead I am doing something repetitive and boring. That and the fact that most of these games are traps to make you spend actual cash or more valuable currency to buy theirs. You see, the game of the developers is getting more money. And they call it working, not playing.

I was reading this book today and in it a character says that money is the greatest con: it is only good for making more money. Anything that can be bought can be stolen. And it made a lot of sense to me. When you play gamified platforms like the ones I am describing, the goal of the game quickly changes in your mind. You start to ignore pointless (pardon the pun) details, like storyline, character development, dialogues, the rush of becoming better at something, the skills one acquires, even the fun of playing. Instead you start chasing stars, credits, points, jewels, levels, etc. You can then transfer those points, maybe convert them into something or getting more by converting money into them. How about going around and tricking other players to give you their points? And suddenly, you are playing a different game, the one called work. Nobody can steal the skills you acquire from you, but they can always steal your title or your badge or your trophy or the money you made.

What I am saying is that games have a goal that defines them. Turning that goal into a metric irrevocably perverts the game. Even sports like football, that start off as a way of proving your team is better than the other team and incidentally improving your physical fitness, turn into ugly deformed versions of themselves where the bottom line is getting money from distribution rights, where goals can be bought or stolen by influencing a referee, for example.

I remember this funny story about a porn game that had a very educational goal: make girls reach orgasm. In order to translate this into a computer program, the developers had several measurements of pleasure - indicated in the right side of the screen as colored bars - which all had to go over a threshold in order to make the woman cum. What do you think happened? Players ignored the moaning image of a naked female and instead focused solely on the bars. Focus on the metric and you ignore the actual goal.

To summarize: a game requires of one to define their limits, acknowledge them, then try to break them. While measuring is an important part of defining limits, the point is in breaking them, not in acquiring tokens that somehow prove it to other people. If you want to "gamify" work, then the answer is to do your tasks better and harder and to do it for yourself, because you like who you become. When you do it in order to make more money, that's work, and to win that game you only need to trick your employers or your customers that you are doing what is required. And it's only play when you enjoy who you are when doing it.

As an aside, I know people that are treating making money like a game. For them making more and more money is a good thing, it challenges them, it makes them feel good about themselves. They can be OK people that sometimes just screw you over if they feel the goal of their game is achieved better by it. These people never gamified work, they were playing a game from the very start. They love doing it.

Stay true to the goal! That is the game.

Democracy, like any other system of government or political system, is designed to keep the powerful in the driver's seat. It's not about the good of the people, unless they hold power. It was invented and implemented at times when having a large group of people supporting you meant something, gave you the ability to do things. Any other system: theocracy, tyranny, feudalism, communism, fascism... they all do the same thing and fail when the group they support fails to maintain power. Democracy is not about the little people, it's about how fast a system can adapt to changes in the structures of power. It is just the "agile" version of the same old thing. By declaring its ruling group "the people", democracy can survive any political change. The system outlives groups and groups of "people".

Consider the present, where we are split more than ever into voters and the indifferent. Does democracy help the young disillusioned people who more and more refuse to vote for anything? No. That's not a bug in the democratic system, but nor is it a fault or a consequence of not voting; instead it is a realization of a truth, that young people are a minority that is segregated from the old by technology, new ways of communication and networking and ultimately, completely different goals. In this image, the young are the indifferent, but there is a reason for that: they are not the powerful - democracy doesn't work for them either way.

Imagine you are part of a group of three people, each with equal voting rights. Every time you try to influence a decision, the other two vote differently. Will you continue to play the voting game or will you recognize it for what it is: a waste of time? Now imagine you are the king of the three people. How long will you maintain your position when the other two outpower you? Democracy helps the stability of the three-body system, but it does nothing for you. Suddenly, one of the three people starts to like you (or dislike the other) and he starts voting with you. Now you are part of the powerful and your decision matters. Conflict is again averted and stability preserved because as soon as the balance of power changed, the ruling party changed accordingly. It would be stupid for the weak single man to try to fight two, so he grumbles and complains, but does nothing.

In this day and age, there are so many different types of power: military, mediatic, technical, administrative, economic, etc. Democracy doesn't help the many anymore, because they lost their power. Having a lot of idiots in your group doesn't do much. Smart people, they start to realize it and also to understand that the game is rigged. Some try desperately to shift the perspective of the dumb amorphous masses, but if you could do that, you would be in power already because you already have it. Mathematical algorithms are being created to diagnose the health of a network, to determine the influential nodes, to determine the best outcome when the simple "wisdom of the crowds" fails miserably. They could work online, locally, maybe, but in real life? Never.

The Internet itself started as the true hope of mankind to evolve and change. A place where people meet on equal footing, have access to information, can connect and discuss and decide together. What happened? Same thing. A few companies and a few people hold the power to sway the vast hordes of connected people. When that doesn't work, legal pressure is applied from "without", from the real world. People clump together by interest and information source; essentially they become one voice, but one blinded, dumb and ignorant, yet convinced of its own truth. It is a sad moment when we realize that the monopoly of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and the like is better than the complete anarchy of a disorganized web. Do you even remember life before Google? When you would use different search engines to find something? When 99.99% of everything was spam or malware?

But all of this just underlines a very ironic fact: democracy is, in itself, redundant, even circular. It legitimizes itself, it graciously grants power to the ones that already have it. It's a game that covers a truth as old as the world itself. Its only purpose is to minimize unrest by permanently governing the weak. The only true enemy of democracy is not communism or terrorism, it's asymmetric warfare: the rapid accumulation of power in small groups. When a single hacker can challenge the status quo, when a "lone wolf terrorist" can cause much more damage than we can cause them, when software allows you complete anonymity to gather, think and plan something the powerful cannot supervise, that's when democracy fails. That's when the powerful become unsure of their power.

And we know what happens when power is fearful: abuse of power. Beware power, because it makes you an enemy of the state. Not because of shadow cabals or government conspiracies, but because of direct logical consequence. And when I say "state" I mean the whole state (of affairs). It means your neighbors, your friends, your city and only at the end, some sort of authority which, ironically, acts as the perfect agent of a democratic government. It is actually not at all different from the original meaning of the term, coined by ancient Greece, where every citizen could vote, but not all people were citizens. How many sci-fi movies show superpowered individuals being chased by government agencies? Why is that? Because governments are evil? No, it's because unchecked power is illegal. You are allowed power, you never generate it yourself unless you rule.

I predict a moment, not far from now, where democracy as we know it completely fails. Not because it is a bad system, but because we become too fast. Power would shift faster than the system could adapt. We already see glimpses of this in the fashionable "Facebook revolutions", where political outcomes thought to be known change over night because of one rapidly spreading trend. The system will desperately try to adapt and it will succeed, but in doing so will become something akin to the stock market. It will be automatic, it will split society into algorithmically equal sides, holding power for inconsequential amounts of time, having no meaning. Radical movements will gain ground, not because they inspire something, but because they are a little brighter than the bland hemispheres of the political system. I believe at this time the entire political system will crash, like markets crash when they get to this point. Corruption will be the only thing keeping politics together so when the system crashes, it all spews forth like black tainted blood. The new revolutionaries will be vindicated by this and gain a flimsy amount of power that will ultimately fail. Then, as with the Internet, maybe the corporate system will gain ground. Or maybe political capital will move just like economic one, being sold and bought transparently. Who knows?

What I am certain of, though, is that politics - as it is now - is doomed to fail. Not because we become smarter, but because we become too unpredictable.

In the last few days I've read several articles that all seem to say the same thing: computer algorithms we use today are biased towards wealthy white men, because they are made by companies in wealthy countries and predominantly by white male developers. Therefore they are inherently racist, misogynistic and wasteful. Nice journalistic metaphors were used such as: "Sea of dudes", "discriminatory code", "green algorithms", etc. I call bullshit!

Computer algorithms need to be, most of all, money makers. If Facebook or Google tweak an algorithm one way or another, the result is immediately apparent in the bottom line because of their huge user count. It may be possible that somehow, by cosmic coincidence, wealthy white males would also be the ones making most purchases, moving the most money, and thus the algorithm may appear biased. But it's not. The algorithm performs as it was supposed to. If a face recognition algorithm classifies black people as gorillas, Asian people as blinking, etc, it's not because the algorithm is racist, but because the data it was provided pointed to that result. If looking for a movie title you get torrent links rather than the official web page of the movie it's because that is what people want more. It's not a glitch, it's the way a machine understands reality. An algorithm is no more racist than the Nazi ovens or the Hiroshima bomb.

What I am trying to say is that code, especially now when it is becoming more and more embedded with machine learning (which is a much better term than the terrible misleading "artificial intelligence"), represents an intersection point between specifications, people biases and data biases, to which you add horrible bugs. Algorithms, just like the way pieces of your brain work, are but elements in a puzzle.

"Well, of course, and to make the entire puzzle more socially responsible, we need to make all pieces socially responsible!" That's stupid. It's like working on the paint of the car to make it go faster. Sure, you can use some over engineered paint to reduce drag, but the engine and the wheels are still going to be more important. Male developers don't decide to tweak an algorithm to make it disregard women any more than a human resources female employee doesn't decide to hire developers based on how much they value women. Owners, managers, money ultimately are what lead to decisions.

Stop trying to appear politically correct when you don't know what you are talking about. If a complex computer algorithm that uses math as its underlying mechanism shows a bias, it's not because statistics are racist, but because the data it was fed was biased. The algorithm in question doesn't reveal the small mindedness of the white developer or of the male mathematician, but a characteristic of the world it sees. Even with people feeding them the wrong data, algorithms are more objective than humans - that is a fact - because often you start developing them before you know what you are looking for; a person always works the other way around. Why not use code to show us where we are wrong, or biased, or angry at how the world is, or plain stupid? We have such a wonderful tool to make judgements from formal principles that we can actually tweak and, instead of scrutinizing the principles, you go nitpicking against the developers and the algorithms. I find it especially humorous to see random data introduced into a generic algorithm producing results that are considered biased because you don't like what you see.

Bottom line: want to change the world and make it better? Here is an algorithm for you: take the world and make it better.

And BTW, I find that constantly accusing developers of being white and male is a form of sexist racism. What do you want me to do? Turn black? If you would truly be unbiased you wouldn't care what is the social structure of your IT department. It's only now when computers matter so much that you are bothered of how much the geeks are getting paid.

It became obvious to me that one of the most popular and common ways of "winning" consists in changing the definition of what that means. See capitalism for example, boasting that a group will benefit if each of its members attempts to improve their lives. The "winners" will pull everything up and will expand while the "losers" will just fade gently into the background. Allegedly, the greatest demonstration of this is the victory of capitalism over socialism and communism. But it's all a fallacy, as their reasoning can be translated as follows: "We measure success in capital, others don't. In the end, we have more capital, so we win". It's not who is better, but how you ultimately define "better". I find it disturbing that an economic model that attempts to optimize happiness has not emerged at any point in history.

This not only happens at a macro level between countries or economic systems, it happens between people as well. "Successful people" proudly announce their recipe for success to people who wouldn't really consider that a good thing. See people that cheat and corrupt and kill to "get ahead". One might covet their resources or power status, but how many of the "losers" would actually condone their behavior, take the same risks or appreciate the situation you get when employing such tactics? Same applies to heroes. We want to save the world, but we are more afraid of trying and failing. Heroes go past it, maybe not because of courage, but because that is their set goal.

Yet competition is the engine of evolution. Doesn't that prove competition is the solution? I say not. Look at the successful animals in nature: they are perfect for their niche. Crocodiles spend huge amounts of time motionless just beneath the surface of the water only to jump and snatch their prey when coming to the watering hole; cheetahs are faster than anything with legs, catching their prey in a matter of minutes; sharks roam the water, peerless in their domain. And yet all of these creatures are far from perfect. They age, they get sick, they don't build anything lasting more than their own lives, their only legacy are offspring just as flawed as them. And guess what? All of these creatures are getting less and less because of humans: weak, pathetic, inoffensive hairless monkeys who can achieve more than any others just by banding together and sharing their resources and their results. If competition would be the ultimate solution, then there will be a creature strong, tough, intelligent and immortal. Yet there isn't one.

I submit that competition is great only if two elements are fulfilled: a) you have the ability to evolve, to improve. b) there is someone better or at least equal to compete against. If b is not available, complacency will turn competitivity towards the weak. Instead of getting better, you will stop others getting to where you are. It's a simple application of available force. If point a is missing, you will be the one that a stronger competitor will stifle. And yet, what I am describing is not competition, but having a purpose. Behind the appearance of competition, when you try to catch up with someone better, you actually set a goal for yourself, one that is clearly defined. It is irrelevant if the target is a person or if they even consider themselves in competition with you. One might just as well choose an arbitrary goal and improve themselves by reaching it.

Why am I writing about this? For several reasons.
One is to simply make evident that if you envy someone for their success it is either because you can't get possibly there or because you won't - you have determined that to take that path would take away something that you value more. For example comfort. People envy the position of others less so, but they basically are not prepared to make the effort required to get there. Yet laziness doesn't disappear. Why? Because one reaches a goal after many attempts and failures, not in a straight line. Only once someone got there, it is much easier to follow their path sans the potholes, the setbacks and the mistakes.
Another is to show that the purpose defines the path, not the other way around. Setting a goal defines both success and failure and that is why many people with responsibility prefer to not set one. However, without the goal, people just stagnate, go around in circles. Look at space exploration: each successive US administration comes with another idea, abandoning what their predecessors did, going nowhere. When did they do anything that mattered? When they had a clear goal of doing better than the Russians. If someone were to go and colonize Titan and start living there, they wouldn't find it so expensive and pointless to go to the Moon, asteroids and Mars. Without someone to do that, though, they don't do anything.

Laziness is in our nature. Evolution is lazy. Competition is ultimately lazy. You can get comfortable in your lead, while occasionally shooting other racers in the foot when they get close enough. The opposite of laziness is not work, but direction. Once you set a goal, you know how far you go and how fast you get there. A group benefits more when all its members work towards a common goal. Funny enough, in such group scenarios competition between members is often cancerous. I find it also amusing that there is always someone better or at least equal to compete against: yourself.

When Bzolrlg was hungry, he was also angry. In fact, just as their names are incomprehensible and often change in time, troll emotions were out of whack as well, so if trolls had any interest in cataloging feelings they would have one called hanger, combining their two most natural states: hunger and anger. Blzorg did not have an interest in emotions, though, he just wanted to eat and the microwave oven was cooking the food too slowly. With typical troll logic, he decided to hurry up the process by bashing it with one giant harry hand. He called them both Harry and it doesn't really matter which one was it, anyway. The important part is that the device was smashed like the cheap orcish knockoff it was.
It so happens that the distorted shape of the oven serendipitously concentrated microwaves from one end to the other, creating enough force to generate thrust and pushing the entire wreck up in the air. Blzarg decided to hang on to his food, which meant hanging on the microwave, which meant going up as well. The force generated by the tiny magnetron should not have been enough to lift the entire oven and the giant creature holding it - not without propellant anyway - but the strength of the troll's blow didn't only deform the interior shape of the microwave, it also tore down a wire, thus generating enough computational error to allow not only for the force, but also for its conservation for after the power cable was torn from the wall socket.
Thus, Blozrg went through his hut's roof, up into the atmosphere, further up, reached space and continued up until up made no sense and further still, until up became down again and he crashed into the Moon. Bzorlg survived - trolls are sturdy like that - but his food didn't. His hanger overwhelmed him, causing wide spread devastating damage to the population of N'na'vi living there. In fact, he just continued to go into a straight line, punching and smashing until he reached the same spot where he had landed and then he continued on anyway. Meanwhile, the inhabitants, overly confused by the entire incident, decided to place food on the line the troll rampaged on, so that he doesn't feel the need to change direction. This, incidentally, explains why the Moon has a ring of dust when you look up at it.

The general council of the N'na'vi held an emergency meeting after the confusion turned into acceptance. They needed to understand what had happened, which was, by all their knowledge, impossible. First of all, the Earth could not sustain life. It was mostly blue and the N'na'vi, divided as they usually are, were united in hating the toxic color. It was one of the reasons why they lived on the other side of the Moon, so they didn't suffer all kinds of ailments having to look at the horror in their sky. Obviously, living on the surface would be impossible. But even if they could have conceived of creatures that would withstand the color blue, surely they would have been destroyed by the layer of corrosive atmosphere containing oxygen or drowned by the huge quantities of water in it or squashed by its enormous pressure. In the old days there was something called religion which posited that all bad N'na'vi would go there to suffer eternal blue torment, but reason had since triumphed and such preposterous beliefs were beneath even a child. It was as ridiculous as believing life was possible on Neptune!
The conclusion was obvious: the troll, if it even existed, was not alive but a natural phenomenon, akin to the cloud of disintegrating comets that was always changing the planet Earth. Once every few decades curiosity got the better of the N'na'vi and they sacrificed some of their scientists, forcing them to look at the planet with a telescope. The changes were always great, so great in fact, that the logical explanation seemed terribly improbable. However, using N'hair's black hole theorem, it was proven that it was the only one: cosmic impacts were continuously reshaping the Earth, probably helped by the corrosive atmosphere, causing not only the weird structured shapes they observed - some seeming to move for a long time before stopping due to the energy of the impact, but also the massive changes in atmospheric particulates and global temperature.
Even so, something had to be done regarding this land orbiting troll phenomenon, which meant scientists would need more data. They already had Small Data, Big Data, but in this case they needed more, as clearly what they had was not enough for the massive computational machines of the N'na'vi, so they decided on organizing an expedition to the planet Earth.
Clearly, it would have been too expensive - and blue - to send real N'na'vi on the planet, so they started constructing a fake N'na'vi, one that could withstand the air and the water and even be able to destroy pesky comet fragments threatening it. It wouldn't have worked on the troll, naturally, since as far as they knew, he might have been indestructible and they couldn't risk damaging the Moon. They christened the fake N'na'vi as N'N'na'vi, because even if it was, it wasn't. They worked as hard as they could, yet the N'N'na'vi still hated the color blue, so they had to dismantle its eyes. And therein was the problem: how could their machine tell them what was going on down there without images? In a rush, they decided to install two spectrometers instead of its eyes: a near Infrared one and an X-ray spectrometer. Thus, N'N'na'vi could determine the composition of items on Earth.

Leaving the Moon was relatively easy, all you had to do was jump high enough. Landing on Earth was a problem, but N'N'na'vi was sturdy. The inhabitants of the Moon had studied the troll and had built a skin analog for their explorer. The radiation belts around the planet were a much bigger issue, since they knew not if they would affect N'N'na'vi. Fortunately, science being so very advanced on the Moon, they had also studied the belts for a long time and they had discovered a way through: all they had to do was unbuckle the belt as they went through, making sure to buckle it back when safe. It was a very risky proposition, though, as any failure could leave the belts unbuckled, free to fall away from Earth and let the blue escape, hitting the Moon. It was such a large risk that the mission almost didn't go through. Yet a courageous N'na'vi scientist, only living survivor of previous Earth surveys, wearing a patch over the eye he had used to look onto the planet, spoke up. Only a dozen had ever gazed upon Earth and most had succumbed to the terrible color.
"How can we be sure that another troll won't arrive on our world? Maybe an even bigger, meaner one? One that could bring an end to the N'na'vi. You know why The Man on the Moon is gone? Because he couldn't make a bit of a difference, even if he had known of the terrible faith awaiting him. He didn't have a space N'N'na'vi, that is why! We need to find and catalog all the trolls, at least the big dangerous ones, before we end up like him!"
The speech was inspiring and so the project moved on to the launch phase. N'N'na'vi jumped and headed towards Earth. It would have taken around two days to get there, plenty of time to observe the planet as it approached, yet misfortune made it so that an Elven rocket stumbled on the same trajectory of the exploring machine. Mistaking it for a cometary fragment, the N'N'na'vi destroyed it, thus causing widespread panic on Earth.

Elondriel stood up in the council room and calmly, coolly, yet with an occasional weird nervous laughter that expressed the strongest elven emotion there was - slight annoyance, started speaking. He spoke to the people gathered hastily to address the issue of the invading space fleet that had destroyed a rocket, but started with a joke. He glided to the middle of the room, in that slightly lilting way elves use to declare the inner energy they choose to restrain out of politeness and civilized social responsibility, he looked at Bazos the dwarf and said the words "at first I thought the dwarves might have something to do with this". He laughed the small laugh and continued: "But they couldn't possibly have gone beyond geosynchronous orbit". The dwarves threw poisoned looks at the speaker while pretending to smile, as befitting their natural competition against elves in all things technical.
"However, it seems that the threat is, indeed, extraterrestrial. Therefore I believe it is obvious that the rocket was not destroyed as an attack against my company, but against the entire planet. So while I will certainly need to be compensated for the loss, the countermeasures should be taken by all of us, as a united front, for if we don't act now against this threat that apparently originated on the Moon we are all in danger. Elves, dwarfs, humans... even dark elves, " he said glancing toward to group of secretive dark haired people conferring in a corner, slanted eyes betraying their deep suspicion of the speaker, " we all must band together and fight back!".
"A preposterous idea," jumped the human representative. "There is no water on the Moon. How could anything but the most primitive life survive there... in that vast desolate gray desert?".
"I only said it appears to have originated on the Moon," continued the elf, "but surely it must have come from further away. Probably Mars. I believe we need to go there immediately! But first, let's decide how to manage the threat coming from this space machine"
The troll representative interjected in hanger: "Members of the council, the solution should be obvious to you all: we should nuke it!", causing everybody to speak at the same time, being either strongly for or strongly against it. It so happened that the crisis was unfolding at the same time when a very rare yet powerful mineral had been discovered, promising fission bombs that would dwarf in power - pun not intended - even fusion bombs. An unopinium nuclear explosion would certainly have been enough to destroy the alien invader, but the polarizing radiation emitted by the material made any consensus on the issue almost impossible.
An ent raised a branch, focusing attention on her large wooden body. She was an olive ent and the representative of CGI, the union of lesser races. Immediately she tried to suggest a diplomatic approach: "Perhaps instead of jumping to hasty reactions alternatives should be considered. Surely a committee of the Union races could appoint a group of highly specialized experts to a research center that would analyse the ... errr... entity and propose communication solutions to be then discussed in the Middle Earth Commission". This stopped everybody in their tracks, causing all to think hard upon the ent's words. It took them several minutes to understand what was actually said and some more to try to figure out what the words meant.
"You mean talk to it?", a vampire interrupted the silence. All present knew of the provincial directness of races living near the dark forests of Transylvania, but they all felt a bit offended at the curtness of the sentence. In civilized high council meetings, phrases needed not only weight and gravitas, but length as well. Otherwise, who would take them seriously? Yet vampires were known for their ability to find solutions where others did not. Hidden in dark places, away from the light of the sun, they devised ingenious things that profited many. And all they requested in return was blood, which was always enough and cheap to boot. "Yes, I did mention the word communication, didn't I?", replied the ent, olive branches all crossed over her trunk.
"You are so right, of course, madam representative," the human spoke again, "but we must consider the budget. Nuking the intruder is certainly cheaper than talking to it, not to mention faster. Communication with the alien is the responsibility of SETI - perhaps not even them, since their purview is searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, not actually communicating with them. Their budget is limited and we need to discuss in congress if we want to increase it. Defense, on the other hand, has enough budget and discretion - since from the Constitution everything is under their purview". "The Human Constitution," he added hastily when eyes suddenly turned dark towards him, making sure his words conveyed the big capital letters he meant. "Wait, what are you typing there?" he asked the vampire, alarmed.
"You said she was right, so I sent a ping to the alien craft using the protocols of the emergency radio broadcast system. Something like 'Hi!'", the vampire replied. Vampires were not considered a separate race, since originally they had started as humans, but not really human either. However, that meant that the human representative was responsible for what the hacker did. Red faced he asked in anger "How did you know the secret code required to activate the broadcast system?!"
"Oh, that wasn't an issue. Defense generals kept forgetting the password so they reset everything to eight zeroes. Even nuclear launch codes!". The troll made half a move to enter the conversation, but thought differently once everybody threw him severe looks. He shrugged, dejectedly.
Chaos ensued in the discussion, people trying to shift blame from one to the other. Meanwhile, N'N'na'vi heard the message loud and clear. It just didn't get it.

The N'na'vi machine had already carefully passed through the radiation belts, carefully buckling them back, and now headed towards the planet. Unfamiliar with atmosphere reentry, the Moon civilization had neglected to take into account the overheating of their machine, but the natural shape of the N'na'vi - also imparted on the explorer - accidentally eliminated the threat. The reentry heat just gave the amalgamation of thin tentacles a slight glow while slowing N'N'na'vi to a delicate float. All the residents of Earth could see it shine brightly while descending towards the surface, causing wide spread panic and despair, only exceptions being children too young to understand, geezers too old to care and Pastafarians, who actually got to rejoice.
In its descent, N'N'na'vi intercepted a clear radio message which it immediately ran through the complex translation machinery it was equipped with by the brilliant Moon scientists. "High!", the message said. "Yes, I am high!", it answered, unable to determine the source of the message, but assuming it came from its creators. Pastafarians rejoiced yet again, to everyone's chagrin. Communication stopped for a while, then another message arrived. First translation started with "We, the people of Earth...", which it immediately dismissed as incorrect, since there could be no people on Earth. The only people it knew of where the N'na'vi, whose name literally meant "Not those people", for reasons forgotten by history. Still, people. It got even more confusing when a dwarven rocket launched in order to get more information about the alien machine. N'N'na'vi did a spectral analysis of the rocket, as it didn't behave as a cometary fragment at all: it rose from the ground up in a way that orbital mechanics could not explain. The analysis determined that the surface of the object was stained with the color blue (translating mechanisms even suggested the shape of a word that could have meant blue). Terrified, N'N'na'vi destroyed the rocket.
Moving its tentacles, the machine learned to guide its descent, marginally avoiding hitting the water - which would have been disastrous - and instead crashing at night in the desert. N'N'na'vi had here the opportunity to calm down as everything looked - so to speak - as expected: sand everywhere, which its instruments analysed to be a safe yellowish white, the air relatively dry for the hellish planet, the surface even showing signs of cosmic impacts. Back home, scientists from the control room felt just as calm, maybe a little bored, as they had hoped some of their well established theories would be challenged, so that they would get to prove them all over again.
Chaos ensued as the first helicopter arrived, luckily a nice radar scattering black, as the fake N'na'vi had determined there was life on Earth, which pushed everybody in a frenzy to determine the likely method in which the programming had failed so severely. After a brief hope that the "safe mode" of the machine would somehow determine the flaw and fix it, communication was interrupted and the mission scrubbed. N'N'na'vi was clearly beyond salvation and a new mission needed planning.

It was lucky that the landing had been during night, as the international council has decided, in the hope that the machine would prove as violent and destructive as it had been that far, to send the Transylvanian vampire to continue efforts to pacify the alien. It would have been ridiculous to die of sun exposure before getting to see such an interesting thing. Humans called the vampire Nosferatu, unable to pronounce the name correctly. In reality, his name meant "annoying one" in the vampire native language and he had always, proudly, lived up to his name. Less brutal than most of his brethren, Nosferatu had always been motivated by interesting experiences, as far as it didn't require a lot of effort on his part. This, as far as he was concerned, was topping them all. An actual alien device: it was science fiction come true! He considered what the first words should be. "Hi!" didn't work so well, so he was cycling through alternatives: "Hello!", "Welcome!", maybe "Greetings and salutations!" which sounded oh-so very cool.
Nosferatu did not really fear destruction at the hand (tentacle?) of the alien, since he didn't fear death. Technically he had no life, of course, but it went deeper than that: he considered everything a game. When the game ended, it just ended. He never considered it as a threat or something to be afraid of. The only real fear was that of losing. Defined as such, the purpose of the game was to successfully establish communication with the alien and maybe convince it to not destroy the Earth. Although, he had to admit, seeing the world end was also interesting.
When the helicopter arrived, the large mass of moving tentacles moved frantically, menacingly even, like a bowl of furiously boiling pasta. Nosferatu instantly disliked the alien's appearance. As they approached and eventually landed close to the device, the frothing stopped, the alien froze, the tentacles stooped, then just collapsed. The vampire approached, touched the long slender appendages, he even kicked some in frustration. The alien visitor had died, just like from an insidious disease: it had been agitated, then had collapsed and finally had stopped reacting. The odds for that, Nosferatu thought, were so low that it made it all ridiculous, pathetic even. The world getting destroyed would have been better.
The newly created Department of Earth Defense got most of the machine, for it was determined that indeed it was a machine, even if it looked like a living creature. The energy source, the weapons, the method of locomotion, they would all be researched by carefully international teams, the knowledge shared freely and equally between the eight most powerful races. The only part they couldn't care less about was the brain of the machine. It was obviously flawed, causing the machine to fail, but also impossible to trust. The best possible solution for any alien intelligence was to dispose of it as soon as possible. Nosferatu was tasked with doing this, mostly because it was against his express advice and everybody hated his kind anyway. He obediently filled all the paperwork, talked to all the people, personally delivered a weird looking device to the Hazardous Devices department and witnessed its destruction. His direct supervisor accompanied him at every step verifying that it all went according to orders and enjoying every moment of the vampire's anguish.
Luckily, Nosferatu's boss didn't know an alien device from a geek garage project and so N'N'na'vi's brain was saved a fiery death. Back in his garage, the vampire would attempt to finish the game.

Back on the Moon, the N'na'vi had come up with a theory that explained everything that had happened. Clearly their glorious civilization was blindsided by someone as devious, if not more - scary thought, as them. Others have had the same idea as them, creating a fake that was able to explore the blue planet. Their obvious purpose had been to stage a covert attack on the Moon from the very location the N'na'vi would never assume an attack was even possible. Devious indeed, but not as clever as to fool them! They had learned a lot from creating the artificial N'na'vi, even if they had lost it in an obvious ruse. No matter, they could build others, and better.
The second model was larger, even more powerful, and designed as a hybrid of a N'na'vi and the (now they knew) alien machine that was still ravaging the narrow corridor around the Moon. It had limbs, like the alien, but it had tentacles like a Moon resident, some located around the "head" of the device while others closely knit together to form a programmable flexible sheet of material that would allow the machine to glide through atmospheres. This sheet was located on the back of the model, as to not hinder movement and obscure sensors. The first mission of this model, called the N3 as a clear reminder that it was not N'N'na'vi, was to grab Blozarg and throw him back to Earth, much to his hanger.
Various scientific workgroups were created in order to ascertain the origin location of the attackers. It was obvious, when you thought about it: there was no blue there. The sneak attack, probably just something to test their defenses, must have originated from Mars, or perhaps from a more habitable place, like one of the Martian moons. As soon as all the other theories were ridiculed into oblivion, a Martian offensive remained the only logical scientific theory explaining everything that had happened. A counter attack strategy was devised and plans were put in motion. The Mars moons were too insignificantly small to invade and there was the remote possibility that an extremophile form of life might even exist on the surface of the red planet. The simplest solution, as N'hair would have said himself, was to destroy the planet completely and for that they would need to upgrade the energy weapons on N3.

When DED was created, all the respective budgets of the other existing defensive departments were merged into one. When even the black budgets were added up, the resources allowed immediate research and development of space transportation and weaponry. The first ship, borrowing construction secrets from the Martian device valiantly captured by the Earth military forces, was christened Falas from the place where it was built. An elven name for sure, but simple enough that it wasn't obvious enough to cause anger with the other races. Military strategists developed plans to protect Earth from further attack, but then went further with devising a way to get to Mars itself. Equipped with five huge bombs, containing all the unopinium ever mined, Falas was redesigned as an attack vessel, capable of destroying the entire planet if need be or a huge space fleet if self destructing. Unexpectedly, having all the unopinium moved into orbit made Earth races much more amenable to compromise with each other. As such, and fueled by a most grievous action on the part of the enemy, they quickly reached an agreement on how to proceed.
Days after the launch of Falas, a troll came crashing on the planet, burning through the upper atmosphere, as an insult to the joined Earth defensive force. The trolls immediately decided the only possible reply was complete destruction of their enemy. Even Blorzgl, ravenously devouring a boar's roast while recovering from his ordeal, agreed with a hangry but dignified "Mmm-hmm" to the proposal to obliterate Mars since he never actually paid attention to where he was during his furious devastation. A quick analysis of the existing legal framework decided that obliterating Mars would not contaminate it, so international law not only allowed but actually supported the action, since also further contamination would become impossible after the mission.
Some protests came from cultural organizations claiming Mars as an important historical item. In the winter, a council of supporters met in Elrond and almost succeeded in derailing the plan, but for the subsequent assassination of the organizer, otherwise an honest and honorable man. "People like him always end up dead", the powers that be decided. Some concerns were raised that breaking up a planet would lead to asteroid bombardment of Earth, but thanks to the technology gleamed from the alien attacker, asteroids could be destroyed. Some astronomers complained about the knowledge that would be lost when tearing apart a planet we mostly know nothing about, but were mollified when given seats on the Falas, so they could observe the pieces when Mars broke up. "It's more efficient than drilling the surface", one of the scientists was heard saying. Elondriel committed suicide.

Meanwhile, Nosferatu had been working clandestinely and furiously on reactivating the alien machine processors. He had large quantities of blood stored in a special closet where he had chained but not killed a really fat man. As long as he fed him, the vampire always had a fresh supply of blood and, as the man was fat, he would survive quite a long time with water alone. At first, he determined several security vulnerabilities through which he could infiltrate the programming, but he had trouble going past the five time redundant antihacking mechanisms. Being an advanced civilization, the N'na'vi had long since cemented the practice of protecting their intellectual property first, no matter how little intellect had actually been used to create it. Even so, the vampire persevered and ultimately prevailed.
Turning the machine on was also a problem, since the power source had been taken by the defense department for reverse engineering. He ended up stealing as much power from his neighbors as possible, for fear of raising red flags with the power company.
The next problem he had to overcome, after he managed to interface Earth hardware with Moon hardware, was quite unexpected. He had linked all the inputs and outputs of the brain to a text console. However, in the interest of communication, he had also connected a video camera as an input. The problem? Nosferatu had a blue skin. It took some time to realize that the reason the alien machine was behaving so violently was his skin color. He had at first suspected wrong interface connections. When he had eliminated that, he believed the alien to be racist. By the time he figured out and installed a simple color filter on the camera, the N'na'vi electronic brain was partially insane. However, being an artificial brain, he was less sensitive as a real Moon inhabitant and more easy to fix by a hacker with the skills of Nosferatu.
In the end, communication was finally possible, while Nina (the vampire had decided N'N'na'vi was taking too long to type or pronounce) was by then a half and half Earth-Moon artificial intelligence.

Both civilizations independently decided to cloak their attack to the best of their abilities. After all, they only had one chance for it. Surely, generals on both sides thought, if we tardy too much or if we attack and fail, the next move of the enemy would be to totally destroy Earth. It would only make sense, coming from such a mindlessly aggressive opponent. Thus striking first was not only prudent, it was necessary, regardless of how it felt. History, in the end, would be the judge of their present decisions, they all said. With so much stealth and helped by orbital mechanics, the two fleets headed towards Mars at full speed, each oblivious of the existence of the other. Afraid of intelligence infiltration, they were also under strict radio silence. By the time Nosferatu busted several security firewalls to be able to stop the international council from ignoring his calls and messages, and by the time the communication Moon relay was convinced the disabled N'N'na'vi unit was not disabled, it was already too late. There was no stopping the destruction of Mars, even if either sides would have acknowledged the possibility that the other existed.
What actually happened was that Earth and Moon both decided they were under electronic and propagandist attack and actively protected themselves from any messages from the vampire. Nosferatu was considered compromised by DED and immediately an order for his arrest was issued. The N'na'vi knew him as Dracula, because the last audio communication they received repeated the word several times before they were able to block it. Luckily for the vampire, he had made sure the origin of his messages remained hidden.
Convinced that at any moment evil Martians might destroy them, Earth and Moon worked continuously on their defenses for the following six months, as well as space observatories focused on Mars. When the time came, the entire Earth system was watching the red planet, as the fleets prepared for attack. The light of the destructive forces pinned Mars as the brightest star on the firmament, yet no confirmation message came from either Falas or N3. Horrifyingly, Mars remained unscathed.

The Mars Hegemony ruled the Solar System for two centuries before an unfortunate solar event brought change to the situation. Seeing their most powerful attack being stopped with no effort whatsoever, Earth capitulated. After several weeks of deliberation a message from all the races in Middle Earth and the Dark Land, speaking as one, declared unconditional surrender to the forces of Mars. A similar message had been sent from the Moon almost immediately after the loss of contact with N3. When Mars responded, people breathed (or not breathed, depending on where they were) easier. The message was simple "From now one, you will service the Mars Hegemony. We will establish a base next to your planetary body to keep you in check. Any misstep and you will be destroyed. As a reward for your absolute obedience, we give you the Solar System. All these worlds are yours, except Mars. Attempt no landings there!".
It was hubris or maybe boredom that made Nosferatu risk the sun one day. He died two centuries after he had successfully formed the unknowing Earth-Moon alliance and no one will ever know why or how. He died in the sun and people never gave a second thought to it, other than dismiss the very old but still active warrant on his arrest. With the help of the alien brain he had hacked N3, managing to see what had happened. The people on Falas were terrified to see a huge ship in form of a troll with a heroic cape on its back. The most unsettling thing was the impossible blond curly hair it had on its ugly head. Without hesitation they fired unopinium bombs at it. As for the N3, it had been thoroughly programmed and tested to avoid past mistakes. In view of a giant space vessel of clear Earth origin, the machine could only surmise that its programming had become corrupted by the enemy. Life on Earth was hardcoded as impossible, so the only logical explanation was that Martians were tampering with its software. It immediately fired powerful beam weapons and then self destructed. On the completely disabled Falas, the artificial intelligence installed specifically for this purpose decided it was a no-win scenario and initiated self destruct. Both fleets were annihilated instantly.
The weird combination of Moon and Earth technology in Nosferatu's basement allowed him to receive both capitulation messages and also fake the origin of the reply. For two hundred years he manipulated the two civilizations towards exploring and later colonizing the Solar System, all while each thought they were working with and under the most powerful Martians. Nosferatu aka Dracula died, but it wasn't the end, only the beginning. With him gone, Nina continued to control the Mars Hegemony, in its own mechanical way, growing and becoming more and more at every step. The only reason why the most powerful intelligence in the existence of the Solar System didn't assimilate every living creature as a part of itself - the logical conclusion of its AI programming to optimize peace, exploration and the accumulation of knowledge - was its firm belief, fused somewhere in its basic circuitry where even a vampire hacker could not reach, that life on Earth and the Moon is ultimately... impossible.

When I was young I occasionally wrote short stories that were moderately well received by my friends, but I have never attempted to do anything "real"; I would just get some weird idea in my head and it would materialize after an afternoon of furious writing. There was nothing to it in terms of technique or studying the classics or anything, just telling a story. In fact, trying to rewrite it afterwards would ruin it, betraying the underlying lack of craft. After a while, I just stopped, but I held tight to the belief that some day I might actually do this well, like write a novel. Not for money and fame, but because I would like to "be that guy".

Recently I have revisited that belief and decided to take it further: actually plan the novel, write it, see what I am truly capable of. So far, it has not been going well, but I've learned a lot. Hopefully I will retain the level of interest required to carry it through. However, in this post I want to explain some of the things that I have become to understand about writing stories and one in particular: the shortcuts.

Many a time the story needs to go somewhere, but in real life terms getting there would be boring or be prohibitive in terms of time. In that case a shortcut is taken, either by some gimmick, by montage or, as is more often the case, through camera work. How many times didn't you watch an actor looking intensely for a threat, their face or person taking over the whole screen, only to be caught off guard by someone or something that suddenly comes out from outside the camera angle? And if you think just a little bit about it, it would have been impossible to be blindsided by someone coming from there because, even if we don't see them, the person the camera is pointed at would! In a typically evolutionary way, someone tried it, it worked, it caught on and now finding it irritating is seen as nitpicking. "Well they needed to make it happen, it doesn't have to make sense".

That thing, right there, when common sense is sacrificed for expediency, is killing - a tiny bit - the story. And while it works on camera, it is much more complicated in writing, because what you don't realize while going through the motions of empathizing with a character and joining them in their adventure is that the writer needs to know and understand everything that happens, not only what is "in the scene". If the murderer suddenly appears next to the victim and kills her, the writer might decide to not explain how he got there, but they need to know! If not, the story gets hurt.

To build my experience, I've decided to practice on writing something that seemed easy at the time: a Star-Trek novel. I love Star Trek, I've watched almost everything there is, including fan made videos, and most of the time I've felt like I would have made the story a little better. In fact, I was acting like a tester, considering that every single error the developer makes is an affront to common sense and anyone would have done better. I've decided to put my writing where my mouth was, at least give all those screenwriters a chance to get vindicated (and, boy, did they!). My thinking was that Star Trek has a constraining mythos that would force me to use already existing concepts - thus restricting me from thinking of so many things that I would never start and also allowing me to not need to reinvent or explain them - as well as a positive vibe, that would force me from writing depressing "everybody dies" stories. Well, guess what, in my story almost everybody dies anyway; take that, Star Trek!

My point is that trying to write that way revealed the many flaws in the Star Trek storytelling. Every time there is a "problem" someone comes up with a device or algorithm or alien power - usually termed somewhat like "problem remover", that just takes the pesky technical aspects away from the narrative and helps the viewer focus on the important part: the characters and the plot. I mean, while people still debate the limitation of phase cannons - that at least attempt to appear grounded in science - no one says anything about stuff like "inertial dampeners" which pretty much means "that thing that removes that kink that no one actually knows how to get rid of". This is just the beginning. Let's stick with Star Trek Enterprise for now, the one that put Star Trek back on the map and had the most compelling characters and storylines. Think of your favorite characters there: Picard, Data, Worf, maybe Deanna Troi. How did they get there? What was their childhood like? What are they doing when they are not on duty? The show has tried to touch on that, but just with the "whatever is needed for the story" approach. A more direct and obvious way to demonstrate this: there are no toilets in Star Trek. No one needs one, either - have you seen how the brig looks?

As characters go, everybody on that ship comes from the Starfleet Academy, but what do they learn there? What are the paths that they need to take in order to graduate? How do they reconcile vast differences in culture, language and learning speed for all the races in the Federation? I mean, they are all human with some stuff on their face and some extra makeup, but the background story, as something different from merely what you "see", needs all that information. The Star Trek universe survives in these loose network of stuff that taken separately and given some deeper context might make sense, but taken together they just contradict each other. And again comes the nitpicker label to stop you from ruining the experience for everybody else.

This brings me to the shortcut side effects. As a reader and especially as a viewer, you enjoy them because it takes you faster through the story. They remove what is not relevant to you. Well, emotionally relevant, but that's another can of worms altogether. As a writer, though, as a storyteller, these things are slow acting poison. After decades of watching Hollywood films, trying to write something feels like stepping barefooted on glass shards. You feel dumb, not only because it is impossible to write what characters do without a deeper understanding of who they are, not because you realize that even the smallest attempt at writing results in way to many questions to answer on paper - although you need to know the answers, but also because you start seeing how shallow was your interest in all those characters you actually loved watching on the screen. It's like that moment when you realize your lover has a secret life and it hurts because you know it's you who didn't notice or take interest in it, it's all you.

That's not bad. It makes it obvious that you casually ignore some layers of reality. It can lead to getting to appreciate them in the future. The difficulty I feel comes from not ever having trained for it. In fact, I have been taught to avoid it, by passively watching just the surface of everything, never attempting to infer what the depths hide. And when I try, at my age, to change the way I see the world, my way of ... being me, it's fucking difficult. Even simple stuff like mentally trying to describe a place or a person when you first see them, in terms of senses and emotions and comparisons with common concepts and - hardest of all - putting it in actual words... all of this is hard! It feels like an operating theater in which I perform while others watch me and judge. I feel anger and frustration because it conflicts with the original story, where I was good at writing.

There was a very stupid movie where Kate Beckinsale would be Adam Sandler's girlfriend (I mean, impossible to suspend disbelief, right?) and he would be annoyed with all the touchy-feely aspects of their relationship and instead use this "problem remover" remote that would fast forward past it. And then he comes to regret going through important bits of his life like a senseless robot and what it does to him. The movie might have been bad, but the underlying idea becomes very real when you attempt to write stories. Your characters are your lovers, your children, your spawn. Ignoring them is a crime to the story.

Think of the classical iceberg metaphor: just the tip is visible. It also applies to stories. The writer needs to have all that cool stuff hidden under the surface of the book, just in order to show to the reader the content. Characters need backstories that you will only hint at, but that you must know. Stuff that is excruciatingly boring to discuss in real life, like what the light in a room makes you think of - if you take the time to do it, which is never, you must put on paper because you know how it feels, but how do you translate that to another person, with another mind, culture, references, upbringing?

There is no real end to this post, I could write a lot on the subject - I am writing about how hard writing is, I know: ironic - but I will be stopping here. Probably readers have done that a while back, anyway. To the obstinate who got to this part, I salute you. Who knows, perhaps not taking the short path while reading this post has somehow enriched your story. I am not a writer, these insights have come to me just from attempting to do it. Perhaps that is the best reason to try new things, because besides feeling like a complete moron, you gain new valuable insight every time you do.