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Possibly my favourite journal article of all time:

On the effectiveness of aluminium-foil helmets: an empirical study.

The abstract:

"Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason."
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, there's this writing contest that I entered, and I've made the shortlist of finalists. Now it comes down to voting, so I'm canvassing for your democracy-tokens. You vote by leaving a non-anonymous comment on the main post (I think they're screened?) and you can sign in using an OpenID, which you all have because your LJ ID is an OpenID.

So! My piece is called 'Perspective', and if you want to vote blindly for me that's the one to go for. I do recommend reading the entries, though, since the overall quality's pretty good and the stories are short, which makes for decent lunchtime reading.

(Apologies to people I also know on Bookface, since you've already received this particular spam.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Just spreadin' the news: Schlock Magazine have e-published a piece of mine, and some other rather good stuff too. =P
 
 
 
 
 
 
A new original formulation for solving always actual approximation problem of finding the prototype of all pole low-pass filter functions is proposed in this article.

I think you'll find that the 'always actual approximation problem' here is with the English language.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Well, it's been a while. I seem to be documenting my life more and more through Facebook these days; it's probably only a matter of time before I succumb to the inevitable and sign up for Twitter, and then I might as well just take the bedraggled remains of my self respect outside and bury them in a shallow grave.

I don't know why Twitter annoys me so much, even to the point where I won't even play Echo Bazaar - which looks fantastic and is exactly the sort of thing I like - because it requires a Twitter account. I think perhaps it's because in my vernacular 'twittering' has always been the worst form of communication: sound without substance, and not even a pleasing sound at that. Now I find it all but impossible to believe anything of value can be said in association with that word.

No, I think I'll skip Twitter like I skipped Myspace - that is, with a heaping helping of disdain - and hop on the next social media bandwagon to roll along.

Speaking of being late to various parties, I recently acquired my first PSP. It's turqouise - or at least, it's described as turqouise. What it actually is, is strangely green with embedded glitter. I think it might be made from recycled My Little Ponies. Anyway, I got it second-hand off eBay for a very reasonable price, and when it arrived I discovered that there was only a paltry 44 MB free on the memory stick (out of 512). Further investigation revealed that this is because someone's entire life is on there - music (she likes Blink 182 a lot), photos of her at various parties, videos of her and her friends falling off skateboards, photos of her boyfriend with no shirt on, etc. It's an interesting glimpse into the life of an 'alternative' teenage girl, although I do kind of want to send her a bunch of music with the note "ditch Linkin Park and listen to this" - but I suspect that would go over like the proverbial lead balloon. She'll just have to discover Marilyn Manson on her own.

I emailed her asking if she wanted me to zip up this collection of personal memorabilia and send it her way. No response as yet.

In a not entirely unrelated note, I am failing hard at Nano this year. Just shy of 20,000 words written, just shy of 10 days to go. Not impossible, but unlikely. Unlike last year, when I failed because everything I had written was irredeemably bad, this year I'm failing because I think I need to seriously reassess my style and approach for writing novel-length fiction. The style that gets me through shorter pieces - somewhere between Neil Gaiman and Jenna Moran, or so I'd like to think - does not translate well to extended works.

I'm also failing because I over-planned this story, and now writing it feels less like discovery and more like a chore. When I look back at the two times I won (and the one time I would have won if my PC hadn't died a horrible death on November 11) I was writing with only the vaguest of outlines. For Mr. Q, I knew there were four enemies and that they would give a four-part structure to the story, and I knew in broad strokes who everyone was. That was it. For Middle Ground I started with half a dozen characters with mutually exclusive agendas and threw them against each other with no pre-conceived ending in sight. Clearly, this is the approach that works for me and I should do it more often instead of thinking "OMG this idea is awesome! I must write it!"

(I'm also failing because of Minecraft. And my own hopeless lack of discipline. I'm like a magpie, if magpies lined their nests with video games.)

Don't know what I'm going to do about this year's effort. Maybe spend the rest of the month working on other things - I've already turned out three short pieces that I'm rather pleased with, 3000 words of game design that will never be used, and this large LJ entry - so it's not like I'm being completely idle. Maybe I'll see if I can do something with Middle Ground, which I've taken a dislike to because it's appallingly sexist but might be redeemable with some work. Maybe I'll bring back my favourite characters from another half-finished thing and see if I can do something with them. Maybe I'll spend the next two weeks playing Patapon in a semi-coherent daze. The future is uncertain.

There was going to be another section here about the office Christmas party and the stress of having to make your own table groups, but I think I can reduce it to 'Oh God, it's like being back at school'. The whole thing seems to be designed to induce flashbacks to my years as a social pariah, and from talking to other people it seems that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I can't think why this method of organisation was chosen - well, I suppose I can. It was chosen because the organisers are archetypal social butterflies and extroverts, the sort of people for whom high school was an enjoyable experience and this sort of thing poses no problems.

Oh well, fuck it. The Christmas party was fun last year, but not fun enough to justify getting worked up over. The team lunch - which will be enjoyable - is well in hand, and it's not like I'm short of things to do of an evening.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Got plane tickets.
Got passport.
Got a place to stay.
Got pre-visa checked and okayed.

USA, here I come!

...later this week.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Many years ago, back around the time that people were just starting to get their heads around the idea that PCs weren't just for work (and I had already ruined my first home PC; I'm so cutting-edge) I read a complaining letter about PC error messages - it was basically along the lines of 'Why are they so obscure? It doesn't help me understand what's wrong when all I see is "Suitcase Error in 0386a7x4".' I think this is a good point, and it's stayed with me over the years; in my very few programming projects I've always tried to make sure that any error messages are informative.

In the general world of computing, things have not improved. All we have now are 'silent' errors where, when everything goes terribly wrong, you get a calm and placating message in a pop-up box with soothing rounded corners, or perhaps your computer reboots without any warning. It still doesn't help you understand what's wrong.

A few years back, some people made a thing called Inform 7. Inform 7 is a program for creating old-school text-adventures (or new-school interactive fiction, as you like) in plain English - The Kitchen is a room. A cat is in the kitchen. Before the cat is picked up, say "The cat claws your face off." - that sort of thing. This is a sample error message from Inform 7:

Problem. You wrote 'A starting pistol is in the cup' , but in another sentence 'A Panama hat is on the cup' : the trophy cup cannot both contain things and support things, which is what you're implying here. If you need both, the easiest way is to make it either a supporter with a container attached or vice versa. For instance: 'A desk is here. On the desk is a newspaper. An openable container called the drawer is part of the desk. In the drawer is a stapler.'

SO MUCH BETTER.

And yes, I am geeking out about error messages.
 
 
 
 
 
 
On the one hand, the more I research this job I'm interviewing for in a couple of weeks, the more I feel that the interview will be a total waste of everyone's time. It requires a totally different skill set and outlook than I have, and the department sounds quite 'laddish' (read: bloody awful) to boot.

On the other hand, WORLD OF COMMAS.

"The behaviour of the three functions, when using the ring topology, shows that, keeping the migration interval constant and varying the migration rate, if the increase in the migration rate resulted in an increase in speedup and efficiency, fitness of the individuals, received by one or more populations during the migration phase, accelerated the evolutionary process, decreasing the convergence time."
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, there was just a big meeting. It was disguised as something else, but the big news was that it's no longer production editors' job to proofread things any more. We make a few cursory checks, rubber-stamp it and move on.

Now, I'm generally not fussed about not being responsible for things - I'm not responsible for a lot of things, so one more thing I'm not responsible for is no big deal - but I am mildly concerned about the consequences.

First of all, not proofing any more will save a lot of time at work. A LOT of time. Enough time that we probably won't need 70 production editors any more. The big boss has denied that there will be any job cuts, but I don't really believe him. I suspect that the next few PEs that leave just won't get replaced.

More insidiously, I now like my job a lot less. For all that I complain (bitterly, and with venom) about the standard of English I have to work with, that part of the job was what engaged me intellectually. I could point to it and say "that is where I added some value". I could have pride in my work because I made an actual, concrete difference.

Now... I push buttons and send emails. I'm not entirely certain what the point of my employment is, other than to keep this seat warm and occasionally solve a problem that a trained monkey might have difficulty with. The irony that the thing I complained about most was the thing that gave this job meaning is not lost on me.

Finally, I might have to start posting actual content here instead of twisted excerpts from my least favourite papers. ZOMG.

I've been half-assedly looking for jobs for a while now (got an interview in a couple of weeks, which I'm confident I'm going to ruin in fine style) but I think it's time to step up the search. Bah.
 
 
 
 
 
 
One of the things about editing fantasy works, is that you find yourself in a constant struggle with the authors' tendency to capitalise Everything.

Also? Even in American English, 'prophecy' the noun is spelled with a C. 'Prophesy' is a closely related concept, but not the one you are looking for.

(But next to the stuff I do at work? This is goddamn Shakespeare.)