Social Science

I dreamt that I drove in pitch darkness with an empty fuel tank in the middle of nowhere only to get to my best friend so he could tell me about his idea for a startup. Now that I woke up, I still think it’s an incredible idea. Since both of us lack the resources to actually pull it through, I’m going to share it with the rest of the world and if anyone interested in picking it up, talk to me.

He named the idea “Among friends” and it’s essentially like classified ads but slightly more interesting, because it’ll have things like “I have 2 giveaway tickets for a show in Glasgow tomorrow night” or “any interesting hiking ideas for the weekend?” or “I’m looking for interesting vegan dessert recipes”. My friends can provide suggestions or link to other people posts (such as “I’m looking for tickets for tomorrow’s show!”). Imagine classified ads that are prioritised by your friendship relatedness.
The things you offer or look for can have an expiration date, making them more critical and important ; They can be location-based to make them more relevant, but the important part is that your actions get scored: If all I do is giving loads of shitty tips, I’m just spamming the system; but if I help people solve their problems, I become a valuable friend. If I re-post a friend’s problem or vouch for a solution I help resolving a problem.
The technical challenging part of building such a system would be understanding the text, in order to avoid context-based forms (“oh, a recipe? so fill in the ingredients and the instructions and tag whether it’s gluten-free or vegan or kosher…”). Forms discourage people. The system should work in plain language.
The future of social networks is in a turmoil as Facebook are checking the boundaries of what they can do and how can they profit, following their connection to the US election fiasco. Their business model has evolved tremendously over the years but in general, it always went towards the hyped “status” (or “public notifications”) as used by twitter. For that job, I think twitter is great (it was even better when it forced messages to be condensed) and I would leave that aside. I dare to think that the next stage in social networks evolution won’t be about what you got to say, rather then what you got to offer to solve my questions.
Usually the distinction between fantasy and science fiction stems from the first including wizards and dragons while the latter is all about technologies and spaceships. I would claim that fantasy stories more often than not are about a journey in which the hero matures while science fiction is trying to deal with some hypothetical question. “Star wars” in my distinction is actually a fantasy story, despite having spaceships and droids, while “Captain America: civil war” had the potential to become an excellent sci-fi movie had it contemplated on the privacy-vs-security a bit further and not break down to sheer brainless action.
That said, I think Netflix’s “The Circle” is a very good (and horrifying) science fiction movie. Although that unlike “Brave new world“, where it’s actually quite difficult to put the finger on what is exactly wrong in this engineered-to-perfection society, “The circle” isn’t that sophisticated and just like its protagonist, it’s partially excited about the upcoming technological advancements but it’s also terrified of them at the same time. Ignoring the acting and plot and whether they were un/inspiring or un/predictable, I enjoyed contemplating the deep questions that the story raised. I think it’s an interesting story to talk about, much like the movie “Idiocracy” which I found to be incredibly… well… idiotic – it’s not the portrayal of the story rather than the question that lies underneath it that are interesting. In the “Circle” case the questions would be “are we ok with key individuals owning all our information? are we ready to give up on our freedom and privacy for the sake of security and brain-numbing entertainment?”
The movie discusses people’s behaviour when they know they’re being monitored. The protagonist claims, without anyone refuting her or suggesting an alternative, that people become better and don’t do “bad” things when they know they’re being watched. I disagree as it boils down to the question of “who decides what is good or bad” – is having sex is good? is protesting against the government good? Being monitored doesn’t make a person “good”. It makes her “obedient”. Being monitored will prevent the average citizen from breaking the law, from fear of being penalized. Changing people’s behaviour by fear means surveillance is a form of terror. And what if the law is bad? if you’re pro-abortion and the law forbids it? if you meat-eater and the law forbids it? when you have different religious views from the state? or you’re simply a dancer living in Bomont? In its fundamental form, Law is an assertion of power by the people who have it over the rest. Surveillance just gives them more power. You might say that you live in a democracy so by definition you’re the one making the law, but seriously – when was the last time you passed a bill?
Laws aren’t “good”. They might even be “bad” as they’re limitation of power. Laws are a necessity made to limit exploitation of power and we should look carefully against who are they being used because more often than not, people with true power are exempt.
I haven’t read the “Circle” book, which I guess elaborate or portrays the scene differently but at some point the protagonist commits a crime (as she mistakenly believes she’s being unsupervised) but when caught, she confesses and accept to have a “transparent life”, broadcasting her every daily activity (with limited time to go to the toilet). In the movie it might be portrayed that she converted and is now happy with this verdict but personally, I saw it as a punishment. Imagine your life being constantly monitored by anonymous crowed who can comment on your behaviour and looks. After the commons turned AI into nazi, do we truly believe that such form of constant feedback is “mostly” positive?
I was curious who is actually following the protagonist as she received comments from all around the world. Emma Watson is an attractive-looking lady, I’m pretty sure she’ll get many more followers than, say Patton Oswalt (who also plays in the movie), but it’s an interesting to note that her character in the movie didn’t follow anyone herself (so no “following-everyone” culture). Probably because it didn’t contribute to the plot but also because it’s boring to watch someone watching the life of others. The protagonist accept a role of a “content-provider” with millions of watchers – all of which are boring bored people who have nothing to do but wait for the second she gets online in order to greet her “good morning”. That’s another horrible dystopian faith lurking – will our lives absolves into nothingness and watching “big-brother“, being too lazy, tired and broke to actually do something ourselves. A long time ago I read a Canadian blog in which the author counted his favourite activities – reading, writing, walking and meditating. All are free; all require time. But who has time when you’re too busy working to get paid and watching television with the money you’ve earned? But modern day workplace doesn’t allow you to work just as much as you need – a full-time job is required and the “circle” demands even more. it demands your soul (so it seems).
Surveillance issue aside, a workplace that requires 24-7 commitment and expects its employees to attended the non-mandatory events voluntarily should be called “prison”. Perhaps it was a satire but it pretty much resembles my experience when visiting a real-life EvilCorp. This really makes me appreciate my current work-place: Despite my general preference of telecommuting, my current office is in the middle of lushes fields, 20 minutes drive from the home; I work 8 hours a day, including lunch break and approx. a 1hr run twice a week or so. As for the rest of the time – it’s mine to choose what I do and with whom I do it. My work isn’t measured by a punch-clock nor by level and commitment and loyalty to the company, rather than by the output produced. At the end of the day – this is all that should matter. It seems to me that the circle is not a good place for introverts as they to value their privacy too much. Set aside that constant surveillance at the work place is downright illegal, one might claim that “good” employees have nothing to fear, but in reality it curbs creativity for the fear of making a mistake, it creates distrust (as clearly the employers don’t trust their employees), motivates employees to “keep their head down” regarding things that bother them (thus making them bitter) and it prevents the use of aggressiveness as a form of response – usually it’s a good thing, but sometimes less so.
Constant surveillance at the workplace wasn’t the only privacy violation portrayed in the story. For some reason the story didn’t talk about their legality, rather than merely raised an eyebrow. I felt that it somewhat trivialised these crimes; In one scenario the protagonist is informed she drank a medical sensor after it’s already inside of her, without her consent. That’s a doctor’s malpractice. Another scenario was of the protagonist checking her parent’s home-installed cameras until she bumps into them in the middle of some sexual act – pretty much like entering somebody’s home without their approval or knowledge. Nowadays such a privacy violation is purely illegal.
As part of their discussion, the protagonist suggest, to the dismay of her friend who had a change of heart, that everyone should be forced to vote and voting should be done using the privately owned Circle service. Set aside that not-voting is a legitimate way to express the dismay from the political system and its candidates, forcing everyone to share their political opinion to a non-accountable third-party will in no way lead to proper functioning democracy. Forcing people to vote in an oppressive regime is how you get 99% votes in favour of the current dictator. This is how tyrannies work. The protagonist also suggests running government functions, such as paying taxes and voting through privately-held infrastructure, without addressing its legalities, and instead talk about forcing citizen to be registered to the system. It’s worth referencing the Israeli’s attempt to create a unified biometric database of all its citizens and the threats that arise from such an atrocity (imagine this database hacked, where will the citizens get a new fingerprint?). There are two politicians presented in the Circle story – one who questions the company’s motives and quickly find herself under an FBI investigation (as an example of power-exploiting) and the second one that embraces its full-transparency paradigm, at least officially. A legislator explained to me once why he rejects open-doors conferences – “because then the conference will become a circus show and all the deals will take place in shady alleys”. I disagree with him of course – yes, shady political deals will always happen – but it doesn’t mean we should encourage them by providing them a nice and comfy, well-lit room.
I do still think there is a solution that can work in such a technological world, and it lies with the understanding the information has ownership. I should be entitled to know where my information is being used, by whom and for what. There’s not much of a difference between a person stalking me and learning about my routine in order to gain advantage on me and a computer doing the same thing surgically. There should be a law telling me what does the machine knows about me; tell me who has access this information and will allow me to better moderate my behaviour than simply fearing that my data is accessible to everyone at any given time. This is my information and my consent should be required if anyone wants to pry to into it. Imagine that Facebook had a premium version in which your personal data is not accessible to anyone – not even Facebook themselves (I can filter out my own newsfeed, thank you) and it would cost – say 10$ per month. users will then have the option to pay for FB service or enjoy their service for free, in exchange of selling personal information for the same price. Keep in mind that today Facebook’s service is free in exchange for not only giving away personal preferences but foremost being exposed to ads.
There’s nothing technically wrong with digital voting, if you ignore the fact they are much more prone to fraud. The problem with the idea they suggested in the movie is the over-centralisation of all the information (knowledge is power, remember?) to private hands. So why not decentralise it?
can’t we have similar voting tools but running separately? Let every county and every state run its own system, which is open-source and crowd-sourced (not to have a single owner with his own back-door), but still online-accessible?
Apparently the movie was a flop in the box office, presumably because people were not impressed by the dystopian very-near-future it represents, citing that it’s already here, although my conspiracy-theory is that EvilCorp encouraged the media to suppress it by belittling its performance and dismissing the idea behind it (“we probably already live in a scarier world […] than the one The Circle presents as a cautionary tale“). As I said I didn’t bother with the film’s quality on its own so I’m left to be disturbed by the fact people find it an acceptable reality. placing surveillance equipment wherever some pervert or a shadow-government wants should not be ok, not matter how wonderful it is when it saves lives. Even when a stalker saves his victim from some harm – it does not means that stalking should be an acceptable act.
It is not clear in the movie whether the protagonist accepts the company zero-privacy paradigm as it seems through-out the story that she is appalled by it – does she embrace it as a positive thing? deter from it, or reluctantly accept it? This ambiguity fits well with the movie fairy-tale ending, which is different from the book’s grim and hopeless ending. And maybe that’s the movie biggest shortcoming as it tried to both attack the zero-privacy culture on one hand but to embrace it with the other, claiming that zero-privacy can be done “properly”. I claim that it’s not, and once people’s nude photos are exposed from their private personal cloud there is no going back.
Perhaps zero-privacy should be an acceptable as it is inevitable but we as civilisation should first embrace zero-intolerance towards anything that might be hidden, less we accept living in fear that we will be branded out because of our exposed secret (sexual preference? psychological misbehaviour? political opinion? religious belief?). The movie ends in a somewhat disappointing place where the protagonist accepts reality with no privacy but with the help of deus-ex-machine makes the world a little bit more equal (I dare not spoil), while the book has a grimmer ending in which she accepts the indoctrination without the miraculous “zero-privacy is bad but we can make it work”. She just shrugs her shoulders and moves on. Pretty much like the movie’s reviewers…

This weekend I had the pleasure to attend the CancerDataDive Hackathon hosted by ProductForge at CodeBase. The general idea is gather around a bunch of young enthusiasts for an intensive work and try to come up with cool innovative ideas and proof-of-concepts. This is a great idea for an institute to get developers pay to contribute their skill and capabilities for its endeavor. I also learned that sometimes companies use Hackathon as a recruiting tool. To be honest, I think it’s actually a good idea as you get to see people work and interact with others in something that does feel like fun (as opposed to “feels like work”). I have some reservations as this intensive, incredibly-loud and overly dynamic environment doesn’t really represent real-life (and defiantly not my cup of tea), but still – coping with such intensity should qualify as a good trait.

My 2cents would go for the team-formation-part as I was rushing for another event and I tried to make it as efficient as possible. Fortunately, I immediately targeted the single person who mentioned he had an idea for a project and teamed up with him (later to be joined by 3 other gentlemen). The rest of the people were struggling to both find reasonable teammates but also come up with a startup idea at the same time. I think it might have been much more productive if we could first brainstorm ideas and then create teams based on commitments to ideas rather than “well, these folks don’t strike as psychos, now we need to think what we can”.

For whatever reason, my team decided to base our application on Meteor.js. As I admit that my preferred style of vanilla.js is not feasible for fast-pace project I agreed, hoping to learn more about this framework.

We didn’t try to publish to mobile app, which Meteor presumably allow so I cannot comment on that but I can tell that I found myself cringe as Meteor expect/allows you to write the db-access function in the front-end. In that sense, it doesn’t differentiate between client-side and server-side at all. This flaw isn’t crucial only when you have (near-to) unlimited bandwidth, otherwise your app will falter once you’re actually trying synthesize large volumes of data and send to the front-end only a sub-set. You, as the developer, won’t have the ability to handle it.

We actually came to this problem as reading data from the database happens presumably synchronously but in reality it returns an undefined value only for the function weirdly run in a loop until the data is retrieved. That’s probably one of the worst ways to hand asynchronous command. Instead, I would have advised to pause the code until a response is retrieved (mind not to hog the cpu, though – only the thread) or fork to a separate thread once the data is retrieved.

Another task I found unreasonably daunting is updating a the screen once it already displayed. Yes, I could simply write to DOM myself (which I eventually did) but as Meteor is based on Mustache.js, I didn’t find how to tell the template to re-run itself.

Lastly, accessing component’s variable kept changing depending on the current function – one time it’s this.variable, sometimes it’s and other times it’s Template.instance().variable. Weirdly enough Template.instance() doesn’t indicate which template is being referred so calling a template’s function from a parent function might introduce the wrong template’s scope. Ultimately, for the quick-and-dirty job required, Meteor pulled through, without wasting too much of our time, but for longer hauls I’d rather go Vanilla or any smart framework.

That said, I did enjoy rapid development. It’s incredibly reckless (no time for testing) but I understand why customers would like it as it provides results very quickly. We discussed the financial cost of medical errors, which amounts to roughly 25% of the ministry of health’s budget – and let’s assume this number is right for software bug fixing as well – how much time/resources should we spend on writing tests beforehand? The cap would probably be 25% so I understand why customers would like to save that portion of the money but in reality it’s going to be spent one way or the other.

However, what I learned from this project is that development is incredibly unimportant for hackathons, which is quite sad for the amount of developers that attended – The entire event revolves around thinking about cool ideas and pitching them in  1 minute talk and then a 6 minute presentation. You don’t have to – in fact, you’re expected not to – show your working application as experienced taught them that 72-hrs-worth code is too likely to break down. So my advise is to simply not code at all, rather than make a beautiful mockup and a presentation filled with pictures of cute puglets. Yes, your presentation should talk about your ideas feasibility – both in the sense of development and in the sense of legal issue. That’s why it might be helpful to have an engineer-mentor and lawyer-mentor to give advise but generally – Hackathons are for people who collaborate on ideas and not necessarily on code.

A friend of mine once convinced a foreigner that Hebrew has merely 14 words and the entire language is derived out of these words. I recently wondered how gullible must that foreigner be, or is it actually plausible. Reaching the full spectrum of a reasonable language while being constrained to 14 syllables is a bit far-fetched. But what if it was 14 characters and not words? Can we reduce the English language to a small type-set of 14 characters?
For a stater, let’s say we’re keeping only consonants and we’ll use nikkud (a form of punctuation) instead. like in this example in Hebrew, in which the red dots indicate how each consonant should be pronounced – 

After that, we can omit duplicate consonants while still retaining all the available sounds – “x” can be pronounced with “ks” or “z”, “f” can be pronounced with “ph” and so on.
Talking about this with a friend as I fell in love with the intriguing challenge, as he sent me a video of Karina Galperin explaining why Spanish language should be simplified in order to promote equality. This approach, in fact, sees languages a political tool whereas people might be classified according to their spelling capabilities . Coincidently I came across this video of a thrilling spelling contest and it actually made me cringe at the prospect of a language priding itself in being impossible to spell. Language is a tool aiming to help us communicate with one another – preferably as clear and disambiguous as possible.
I googled for the most efficient language and learned that English is actually considered very efficient, which for me meant the bar is quite low when aiming for “the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language“. This has lead me to Ithkuil which is an engineered language, built to be extremely profound but sadly very complex to actually be use (which reminds me the old joke about IBM: “it may be slow but it’s hard to use”). Engineered languages are unlike our normal everyday languages as they haven’t evolved through the course of centuries to include all sorts of weird exceptions (side-note, Do creationist believe in the evolution of languages?). Instead they were preconceived and presumably their creators could have tackled all the problems beforehand. A language, like a software code designed for Space-shuttles, better be right on the first time as “fixes” take generations.
When engineering a language, one must ask whether it should be a relatable language that sounds pretty much like another language (like all latin-based languages are similar) or should it be secretive that no one else could decipher?
During WW2, the Americans used Navajo-native speakers for radio-communication. Navajo, being completely unrelated to any other European or asian language (and having complex grammar regardless) was impossible for the Japanese to decipher without having a native speaker to simply understand it. The story of the WindTalkers is quite incredible on its own.
We should also ask how deep are we ready to go? simply make a unique typography? Perhaps change the way the sentence structure or even fundamentally change the grammar rules into something completely different. I tried tackling those questions on my presumptuous attempt to simplify the English language with a complete disrespect to traditions or reasons that were lost in days past.
For typography, I decided to use the standard latin characters, because many people know how “m” sounds like as opposed to “צ”. Also, creating a new typography means losing all the years of work of thousands of people who created beautiful latin-based fonts.
There are no capital letters in my language. I don’t think they’re necessary. My only exception is that I would use the uppercase “L” instead of the small-case ambiguous “l”. 
Character-set can either be maximal, with vowels and each character having a single sounds (but not having duplicities) like most of the Cyrillic-script languages; or minimal, using consonants and a method to make stronger and softer (much like having “h” after “s” creates a new stronger sound “sh”). I decided to go with the minimal approach as I figured it will take less time to learn the different characters:
  • My set of 15 characters is “a b g d p h L m n r s t y z”
  • Additionally, b̝ becomes softer, to “v” (like in “victory”).
  • g̝ which normally sounds like in “game”, becomes “j” (like in “James”)
  • k̝ which normally sounds like “kangaroo”, becomes “ch” (like “cheetah”
  • p̝ becomes “f” (like “fantasy”)
  • h̝ becomes “kh” (like “akhmed”) or the Spanish sounds of “j” (like “Javier”)
  • s̝ becomes “sh”
  • t̝ becomes “th”
  • y̝ becomes “w”
  • z̝ becomes “zs” (like “Zsa Zsa Gabor”) or “zh” (like “Doctor Zhivago”)
 As I mention, I decided to omit the vowels (leaving only the consonant “a” for the actual sound that you can hear in “apple”). It’s not a simple decision to make, but I think we can learn to read without the vowels (“ppl, u cn hndl ths!”) and it’ll make the words shorter and therefore more digestible. Instead I’ll have nikkud. For this challenge I used characters that appear in standard fonts (although not accessible in common keyboard layout).
  • b͒= ba, sounds like “dad”. It looks like your eyebrows when you try to put on mascara.
    b̆ = bi, sounds like “dip”. It loos like a smile.
  • b̊ = bo, sounds like “mom”. it looks likes an “o” shape.
  • ḃ = bu, sounds like “room” (side-note: I challenge you to find a 3 letter english word that has “u” in the middle that actually sounds like “u” (as in “room”) and like a short “a” (like “pug” or “mum”). It looks like a dot as it forces to close your mouth to purse your lips
  • b̄ = be, sounds like “bed”, doesn’t really look like anything; it’s just a “meh”-looking nikkud.
  • Lastly, there is an optional tilda below a letter to to hint it’s a long sound in order to help say a word properly, for example the difference between “Daniel” and “Daniel“:  “d̰͒n̆āl” vs. “d͒n̆ā̰l”. It can also be useful for a word like ṡ̰p – “soup” so it wouldn’t sound like “soop”.
Numbers are also very important. Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s observation on Math and Chinese, I would like my numbers to be short words as well. So rather than re-inventing the wheel, number are borrowed from the Chinese system: 0 (L̆ng) 1 (y̆) 2 (ār) 3 (s͒n) 4 (s̆) 5 (ḃ̝) 6 (L̆ẏ) 7 (k̆) 8 (b͒) 9 (ğ̝ẏ) 10 (s̝̆)
The real magic with the Chinese counting system is that there’s no eleven, twelve or any other strange name for numbers. 34 is simply “three-ten-four” (s͒n s̝̆ s̆) so it’s much easier for children to learn how to count all the way up to 99 and it’s makes their life much easier what trying to do simple arithmetics.
I tried to think of the most important words for communication – Yes (ȳs), No (n̊), I or Me (m̆), you (ẏ) and he/she/it (s̝̄). Plurals will be marked with the suffix ās (“es”) so the plural of y·(“you”) will become “ẏās” (pronounced “you-es”).
My language will not have “a/an” determiners. I think it’s useless as their existence makes the default sentence “I eat apple” meaningless. I believe I can do well without them. “The” determiner will be “t̝˜-” as it must come in conjunction using a hyphen with a noun, for example “t̝̄-d̄yt̆” (“The deity”).
English has 12 different tenses. I would like to have a better way to deal with this. Each verb should end with a suffix indicating its tense and time.
  • We’ll take the noun k̆s (kiss) with its verb k̆s̄ (“Kissing”, note that the name of the verb doesn’t include time-indicator), and we’ll examine all the variations of it.
  • Like in English, my verbs don’t indicate gender but I also omit the “s” that appear on for he/she/it (e.g. “he runs“). 
  • Verbs gets one of three suffixes to indicate the time – d (past), n (present) and L (future). The nikkud indicates whether it’s simple, continuous (equivalent to “ing” suffix in English) or perfect and whether it’s active or passive.
In English, when asking a question the verb “be” moves to the beginning of the sentence: “She is running” becomes “Is she running?”. As I don’t want the verb “Be”, I’ll use the Spanish technique to indicate the sentence is a question, having an upside-down question at its beginning – “¿s̝̄ r͒n̄n?”, or “¿ḣ s̝̄?” (“who [is] she?”).
On a technical note, in order to write this post, I used a great free “keyboard-layout-editor” app called Ukelele, in order to make my nikkud characters more accessible. removing 10 characters I didn’t need I had a lot more space to prioritize others things (like brackets for example). Being aware it requires adjustment-time, I enjoyed the idea of putting keys according to their usage-frequency (check out Dvorak’s simplified keyboard that unfortunately never caught on with the general public).
Getting the feel for this application, I played a bit further with the hidden potential of a “better keyboard”. One of the thing I did, as I had plenty of available space on my keyboard, was sorting all the number in a one-hand-accessible layout. I think this should be extremely useful for keyboards that don’t have keypad or lazy people like me who don’t want to move their hand all the way to the keypad –
A language becomes politically-biased as soon as you have honorary title, like the German “Sie” or the Italian “Lei” or being gender influenced more than it should – just see how much more complicated German has become when every noun has a gender, which to be honest is quite arbitrary (changing its “the” to either “der”, “die” or “das”). So no. My language is equal and neutral balanced. There’s no honorary title and there’s no other change in the language when talking about subject of different gender. “f̆” means ♀ (female) and “m̄” means ♂ (male). And on another side-note, I’m annoyed that most english words for females are derived from their male counterpart – “woman“, “female“. The etymology of  “wife” is actually “shame” and the word “girl”, to be honest, is quite derogatory. “m͒m͒” (pronounced “mama”) would mean “parent” whether it’s the mother, the father, the second father or the second mother (as modern family are much more complicated then a mere “mom” and “dad”.
I also decided that my language will not have a word for “god” or “holy”. these will be transversed to “deity” and “divine” respectively. I will also exclude the words “Husband” and “wife” (to be transversed to “spouse”), neither “man” nor “woman” (to be transversed to “person”). Nothing will prevent other people from introducing these words in the future, but at least as far as I was concerned, I think that for a time it would force people into a healthier perspective on religion and gender-equality
So this was my mental-challenge of simplified English. According to WikiHow’s on creating a language I should create a small dictionary to establish my language. I agree, as I think that “playing” with the language will help uncover exceptions or elements left unclear. But as linguistics ain’t my field of expertise and as fascinating (for me at least) as it may be, I should move on and perhaps get back to it if (for whatever reason) this article will gain traction. Personally, I’d love to explore further on the behavior of comparisons, adjective and adverbs in my simplified English. Perhaps in another lifetime.

A while back, I saw a video regarding blood-diamonds, which main conclusion is that blood-diamonds cannot be traced and diamonds cannot be certified to be conflict-free. It occurred to me to create an educational game and expose the developing-world biosphere in which blood diamond and other forms of atrocities can thrive.

With my usual limited warranty warning, I should confess it’s been ages since I played a computer game or an real-time-strategy (RTS) game and I’ve actually never played a Massively multiplayer online game (AKA MMPOG). But that never stopped me from yammering.

I would like to suggest a game that caught my interest. It sounded like something that should be out there so I checked the list of top RTS games of all times and they all classified as either historical, fantasy (i.e. orcs and elves) or futuristic or alternate-universe (honorary mention to World in Conflict). So nothing really fell close to my “modern-day” category. I call it “Warlords: think you can do better?”.

Our game takes places in a developing country and like any RTS, the goals are to gather resources, build an army and vanquish the enemy. The aim of the game however is to provide a realistic portrayal of a warlord’s conflicts and challenging the ability to keep morals and principles in a harsh environment.

In the single player’s first campaign, the player leads a raid-party. Starting off with a group of five foot-soldiers, the first mission is to steal a pick-up truck. The following missions are to expand the army by recruiting soldiers by either sheer volunteerism or with a little encouragement of kidnapping or threatening to burn entire villages if they don’t surrender their juveniles.

Unlike most RTS in which the player has different unique units, in this game, the player gathers an army of people, weaponize by whatever means possible and train them accordingly. This means that anyone can throw a grande if s/he has one, but only an experienced soldier can actually aim, and not kill himself accidentally. Also in this game, a soldier who loose limbs can still fight but they’ll never get back to their full potential. It’ll be up to their warlord to decide whether to leave them to die in the battlefield or carry them to health. Very quickly the player will realize that conscious is an expensive obligation.

The first campaign ends with the successful occupation of a mine, with a small help of a foreign agent, who hopes to bargain a better deal with the rising warlord, rather than the previous mine owner. So The second campaign is all about expanding the mining enterprise which requires, once more, recruiting people, one way or the other, to come and work for the warlord. The player will quickly learn that brute force is one way to do business, and another is padding the pockets of certain interests – such as law-officials or religious-leaders. On the other hand, he might be handed out some interesting offers (and later demands) from foreign business-men that happen to cross her/his path.

I’m not denying the possibly of a benevolent warlord who would try to protect her/his people from the cruelty of the other stakeholders, but s/he’ll quickly find her/himself outgunned and outnumbered as albeit it is possible to walk the paths of righteousness, it is really darn hard.

In the final campaign the warlord’s goal is the conquer the entire country, springing from his successful mining business to the top of food chain, mostly by eliminating anything that stands in her/his path.

The units of the game are mostly foot-soldiers with different weapons – from clubs, machetes, bow and arrows to guns, machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers and flame-throwers. There is also a small assortments of transportations units: motorcycles, pick-up trucks and small planes. In the final campaign, as the warlord fights against the country’s army – tanks, choppers and airplanes also come into play. However, unlike any other RTS game in which the player build a vehicle factory, this game is a bit more realistic in which the user can only order online or simply steal existing units. People, ammunition and vehicles are all limited.

Communication towers plays an essential role in the game as without them the user won’t be able to see enemy units on the map beyond her/his own unit range of view. Radio communications will allow her/him to send off hi AI units to remote missions, trusting them to manage on their own, as s/he won’t be able to get a clear status once they engage in battle.

Another important dimension of the game is the AI-unit’s loyalty, as at any moment unit might desert or turn treacherous if it believes the act will benefit it. But there’s no bar to indicate a unit’s loyalty level, the warlord must trust her/his own instincts for that. There are, however, satisfaction-polls to indicate the general feeling of an area or a squadron. It is the warlord’s responsibility to keep his units in check.

In the multiplayer game the player can band together with other players to create stronger coalitions, but can also tax them for protection money and all sorts of agreements that are not exactly well-balanced but more like real-life relationships between different stakeholders. Army bases exists in the multiplayer game and whoever gets to occupy them benefits from their arsenal (until it runs out of course).

Drawing back to the original point, I hope that the game will enrich the players’ knowledge about the developing countries’ state and how the developed world influences them by supporting such warlords and alike. My 2cents tip for anyone who wants to avoid having blood (diamonds) on their hands is simply stop supporting the diamond industry in general as stop believing that a little shiny rock on a ring means anything. but that’s just me.

My significant other took me to watch the documentary “Embrace“, which essentially talks about women’s indoctrination to despise their own body and encourage them to accept their own imperfectness. Albeit being well-made, I would claim that the movie didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know beforehand but more importantly – it offers a half-baked solution that is bound to fail. I’ll get to that later.

I should state beforehand that my perspective is of a privileged white male so I do think my opinion should be taken with limited warranty, but choosing to shut me out of the discussion will put the reader just where historical privileged people were – refusing to listen to other opinions.
I’m guessing the movie evoked sympathy from girls and helped them think that they are not alone. I don’t know, do really they feel that way? Did we actually manage to brainwash people into this devastating state of thinking that they are so fat or so ugly that no one could ever sympathize with them or feel just like them? that they are utterly alone?
The movie then interviewed a whole bunch of women who learned to embrace their bodies- whether it’s an aging model, a bearded girl, a model with facial paralysis or a girl disfigured by wildfire and so on. they all learned to love their body (with the exception of a woman still fighting anorexia) and they claim to be happy, although I saw the fragility in their confidence as their bodies were still an issue they struggled with, almost on a daily basis.
I did notice that the movie didn’t cover fat people. I mean really fat, obese people. For some reason it seems that girls cannot differentiate the between being “big” and being “fat”. As far as I’m concern (this is my personal definition) fat is person that when standing straight will still have “tires“. The unhealthy kind of fat. Unlike fat people, big people can be extremely fit and healthy. By avoiding this issue, the movie sorta left out the obese teenage girl at a quandary. her size will kill her, should she embrace her body anyhow?
My S.O. noted that it seem that the key to embrace your body, if taking the movie literally, is to have a photoshoot in either your underwear or naked. The girls who did that in the movie seemed quite happy with themselves. To be honest, I doubt the photoshoot is they key, rather then the outcome, but this means, at least for me, that these girls were still looking at the mirror everyday and wondering whether they’re ugly (or trying to convince themselves otherwise).
Women’s magazine be like “page 12: love yourself as you are; page 24: chocolate cake recipe; page 41: diet tips”. Seriously? are you failing to see the hypocrisy here?
Personally I think women are overly obsessed with their body. I don’t take the responsibility off the patriarchy but if women wants to independently snap out of their miserable state, this movie isn’t the right answer for them. Stop talking about your body, nobody cares. Eat real food (and not industrialized sugar-induced food) and do sport. Not because you want to look good, rather than because you want to be fit and healthy. Looking good is more about attitude and smile than keeping your little tummy tucked in. Stop telling young girls that they’re pretty. It doesn’t matter if they are or not. It’s simply not important. tell them that they are smart, kind, brave, whatever. Stop criticizing and judging other girls by the way they look.
I learned that if there’s someone willing to pay for something, there’ll always be someone willing to make money out of it. And woman’s beauty is a huge industry feeding off women’s obsessions with their look (and the worst part of it is that they actually convince men as well to judge women by their appearance). So I know what I’m preaching is incredibly hard but I think the women’s goal is very clear. If you want magazine to stop writing about body-image issues – simply stop buying them. If you don’t approve photoshopped pictures – boycott those products. The women’s purchase power is huge. More than 50% of all people are women (would you believe that!) so stop treating yourself like a bunch of […], poking at your own wounds and lead the world to where you want it to be – a place where people – men and women are equally judged by their personality and professional merits and not by their body. I don’t care if you’re pretty or not. and you shouldn’t care either.
Last week I attended a weekly workshop that was scheduled to be from 21:30 to 22:30 but for whatever reason it shifted to 22:00 until 23:00. As I pride myself to be in time, I found myself waiting 30 minutes and had to excuse myself as soon as it ended as I had to wake up early. Later I messaged  the organiser privately and complained that the unannounced change was “annoying”.
The organiser replied: “I understand that you’re busy, but we’re busy too […] I cannot promise this won’t happen again”.
It was the “we’re busy too” that made me think that my feedback went amiss, because personally I don’t care that they’re busy. I care about the mutual agreement between us to respect each other’s time which I felt has been breached.
So I wrote down my insights on the proper response to a feedback:
Understand what is the problem. Apparently it was important enough for someone to complain about it. Realise the other person think s/he has a reason to complain, whether this reason is real or not. For example, if someone complains about the quality of your product which tend to break, and you know this is the best product in the market, answer that you, too, are annoyed on the rare occasions you find the product faulty and that’s why you’re making the best of efforts to minimises such incidents. Empathy with the other person is the first step in any relationship.
Don’t try to defend yourself. For example – “I may run late but I provide the best workshops in town”. You messed up. Nothing entitles you to  mess up. True, some accidents are unavoidable but don’t understate them and say they are meaningless because this is not how the other person perceives them.
Don’t give excuses. I don’t care that you’re busy. I don’t care that you’re up to your neck with whatever. There’s no reason for me to pay for your incompetence in scheduling your life, or inability to prepare yourself properly or anything of that sort. Our interaction is based on a certain expectation and if you fail to deliver – I’m not suppose to be the one who pays for it. Again, accidents happen. Acknowledge them and move on.
Don’t criticise in retaliation. There’s a problem (regardless whether it’s real or not) we are trying to address. By shifting the focus elsewhere won’t make it disappear and won’t make the other person happy. Especially if you’re now blaming him/her. Seriously, it’s just immature.
Think of solutions. were you late due to traffic? be sure to include potential traffic in your schedule.Venue wasn’t ready? make sure to arrive ahead of time to see that it is. Acknowledge there’s a problem and see how you can prevent it from happening again. Actually, there are two levels of solutions – The immediate solution for the problem at hand (this specific workshop) and the solution for future potential occurrences of the problem. The other person found this problem important enough to share his/her concern with you, you can show him respect by sharing your solutions with him to see if they satisfy her/him.
That said, there are few insights on giving a reasonable feedback as well:
Don’t feedback what you don’t know. Don’t infer that one time being late equals to constantly late. Focus your feedback and your own personal experience and your own impression.
Don’t expect compensation. It’s just disrespectful. Your feedback is in order to have better service. Asking for a compensation will shift the focus from the problem elsewhere.
Prefer face-to-face. I know it’s much harder, but people might read your messages in a different tone that you’d expect and might think you’re joking when you’re not and vice-versa.
Accept that not all people receive feedback well. It’s sad, but that’s the truth. Many people prefer to become defensive and avoid acknowledging their own faults. Not much redemption for this folks, so you can accept them as they are (as they won’t change from your feedback) or you can avoid them.
Good luck