15 – 1

Focus is a particularly useful trait. Is it a trait? Maybe a property. It might be hard to classify, really. Let’s examine what it is.

Focus. A burst of concentration towards a goal. I can’t think of too many synonyms, considering how the word itself is used to describe other words and phrases. Zeroing in on something for a period of time. There we go. Sustaining interest and directing it at a point, for some given time. All of them seem to be appropriate definitions.

So, given the description, how do we describe focus? It’s not really a trait – it’s not genetic, or inherited. If anything, the trait would be the ability to focus. Focus itself, on the other hand? Completely different. We could think of it as an attribute in a video game. Increased XP/HP/Skills for a span of time.

So the issue with focus is is that it can be hard to harness. One may require a specific environment, or a favoured topic, or some form of incentive. As such, there’s no guarantee that fulfilling all of these conditions shall ensure that one will be able to focus. Even when focus is achieved, it can be lost. I don’t think that made sense. To me, let alone anybody else.

 

15

How do you start something.

You just do, I guess.

Even then, it’s hard to do something once started. Especially without any motivation to do it. Unless you get a decent flow going, maintenance of continuous action is no child’s play.

Actually, it is. Starting something and going somewhere with it for a moderate period of time is actually relatively easy.

The issue is with directing that flow into something productive. Anyone can stand on a street and spout on endlessly and aimlessly to no avail; the momentary entertainment provided to a passerby may even make it worth one’s time, but is that productive? Maybe it is, just monetize the system. However, for the greater number of cases, it isn’t. Or, it isn’t worth it. Or they won’t. Not too many people capable of turning such acts into an income stream are going to end up in such a situation in the first place. Those who do will probably migrate to a steadier economic base sooner or later.

That is to say, they do have direction. So what about those without any? You start, then start over, then do it again. Given the condition discussed, without changes, you’re most likely to fail every single time.

What then.

 

Communication in Popular Media

 

The Star Wars series is famous for a number of things. One of them is the scroll of text that opens every movie. It tells the viewer the story so far, events that have happened off-screen, and sets the tone for the movie. While apparently a very successful method, just stating events isn’t always the best way to tell a story, or give a moral lesson, and artists know that. Real life is filled with examples of effective communication, but it is in art and advertisement that we see the various ways to convey the same idea, and this essay is an effort to analyze the theory behind it. No part of this essay claims to be sufficiently well defended and is, at best, a theory.

wikipedian_protester

In common parlance, the word “communication” is used as a synonym for transferring information. The information itself is varied – it could mean factual data, ideas, or emotions. When effectively used, the core sentiment or thought conveyed forms a distinct impression in the mind of the recipient which equals the intent of (the) content communicated. Thus, in a conversation or otherwise, effective communication manifests itself in clear, unambiguous transfer of information – usually through direct instructions, statements, or questions, with only as much circumlocution as absolutely necessary. Since effective use of communication as a tool encompasses not only the transmission of data but also the intended psychological impact on the receiving party, the delivery of the information, the medium of deliverance, and the context surrounding this delivery are all equally important to the process.

The first obvious application of this beyond the real world (where it is used in conversations, verbal or otherwise), is as a literary device. Be it in literature, art, cinema, video games, or music, communication is absolutely essential for effective storytelling. Since a major function of various artforms is to convey a specific emotion or range thereof, and considering their varied formats, mass media as an entity turns out to be the perfect canvas to portray the scope and extent of effective communication as a whole. Literature itself is primarily a text-only medium, comics use both text and art, Cinema utilises a combination of visuals and sound, while music focuses solely on sound. ‘Art’ is a bit hard to classify. While there are conflicts between these formats and occasional crossovers (like music videos and video games), the core of each is essentially the same – which is why, combined, it all makes for a presentation on the variety and lengths effective communication can be taken to. The “golden rule” to judge how effective it is is to see that it conveys something of purpose, in a manner effective enough to make the consumer feel the need for that something – which could be a story, a general emotion, a protest – it doesn’t really matter, as long as the consumer sees the need for it to be expressed.

In prose and poetry, storytelling is limited to text. While illustrations and other graphical methods are often used, for the majority of the time, the body of text is condemned to stand on its own. Alone, it has to comply with the golden rule, and both prose and poetry have found their own ways to do so. For instance, one could argue that the fundamental trick used by the former is that of perspective. A story changes depending on the person from whose perspective it is told. A first person narrative is very personal, and heavily biased in favour of the narrator. A third person story gives a more passive and neutral outlook; and one that follows the protagonist’s chain of thought and actions in third person tells a tale slightly more active than the passive nature of pure external narration. It doesn’t stop there – an author can choose to describe whatever is necessary for a scene, delve into the minds of characters for the readers’ benefit, and give their own views through whichever means they wish to. The choice of narration style, the pacing of the story, the narrative beats – it is all upto the creator, and has a marked effect on how the final product is received. If it all coalesces into a single, clear picture, identical or similar to how the author envisioned it, then it may be considered as an example of effective communication. Poetry is similar, yet different. Because of its formal structure, entire interpretations may be made based simply on the structure chosen. We have sonnets, limericks, haikus, ballads, epics,and the like – each form used to tell a different tale. Modifications to structure can be used to disorient; to introduce a sense of unfamiliarity. Rhythm and rhyme schemes are combined with grammatical devices such as alliteration, comparisons, irony, and so on and so forth – all of it is used to subliminally invoke the intended emotion(s). In addition to this poetry can share the same narrative devices used in prose: starting from perspective right upto the pacing and narrative style, so the communicative scope of poetry is absolutely massive, notwithstanding the constraints of its form.

When changing the medium of expression to art, different principal techniques are used to convey the same result. Point of view, art style, and detailing are still essential, but other methods more suited to a visual canvas are applied more often. Art doesn’t always tell a story – but when it does, every creative tool in existence can be used to accompany it. Negative space, framing, depth of detail, symmetry – a large number of techniques are brought into the fray to make up for the loss of explicit words describing everything important in a scene. Note, however, that a piece may use text as an accompaniment, which is why I’ll be using a comic strip to showcase what I just said. Oh, and to those of you questioning the inclusion of comics in such a hallowed field as art, I present to you this:

art

While the comic proves my point pertaining to art, it’s not what I want to showcase as an example of effective communication in art right now. A better example that communicates everything necessary using the various other techniques available to the artist would be this one:

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This work of art exists for comedy; its primary purpose is to entertain. Yet, notice the way it is presented in order to attain its objective. From four panels the reader gets to know that the duo tried to go to sleep in a generally isolated locality, were unsuccessful, considered the possibility of the supernatural, and spent the rest of the night outside their tent, terrified. It opens at bedtime in a tent – it’s dark, and relatively isolated. There’s a pause – a panel with only the background and no speech bubbles – followed by the next panel where somebody asks if the other believes in ghosts. Both boxes together create the next part of the narrative, indicating the passage of time to boot. It serves to show that the question is raised after a while of inactivity, and not immediately afterwards as many might have drawn it. The penultimate panel sets up the punchline, and the next one delivers it in the form of a sudden change of lighting and the duo’s terrified, sleep-deprived expressions; and it is the absurdity of it all that induces laughter. Calvin and Hobbes have a comic on that too, but I digress.

As a field relying on both visuals and sound to convey a tale, cinema provides us with yet another avenue to observe the varied perceptions of communication as we know it. A golden rule in movies is “show, don’t tell”, and much is done to achieve that. Innovative directors who utilise the entire spectrum of sound and picture made available to them can tell much more in far less time when compared to others who aren’t of the same calibre. By a combination of camera movement, framing, aspect ratio choices, musical score, and general sound design, a scene can add up to more than just the sum of its parts when used correctly, which almost invariably furthers the plot just that bit further than usual. In fact, even text alone can be just as, if not more, effective – as evidenced by the iconic scrolls that open before every Star Wars movie till date (for reference, Rogue One is still two months out). Good screenwriting and direction cuts down on ham-fisted dialogue. Visual cues such as aspect ratio changes and set design can be applied to immerse the viewer and indicate a variety of locations and time periods without unnecessary title cards. Through camera movement one gets a sense of the style of narration, and even the pacing of the story. The score is often used as an indicator – for instance, the theme in Jaws before every attack. Sound design as a whole, along with every other component of film production amalgamate to give rise to an experience identical or very similar to its creator’s vision. Take for instance, The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s fantastical, whimsical, and tells a tale that wouldn’t have worked any other way. Director Wes Anderson ensures that all of this is conveyed, not through dialogue alone, but in every frame in the form of camera movement, movement in general, sound, music, dialogue, and so on and so forth; and even if some scenes do not make sense without context, they’re beautiful in their own right. Besides, even these often tell a tale more effectively than many feature-length movies. Take the picture below, for instance. It tells us three things. One: It is set in a fancy building some time in the past. Two: the scene is slightly unsettling due to the near perfect symmetry, as it is meant to be. Three: it depicts a Mexican standoff with at least six participants in a very expensive building.

screenshot-from-2016-10-01-21-05-10

“Most of the time, communication gets confused with conversation. In fact, the two are distinctly different… It is very important to realise that communication is a two-party affair which aims at passing on or receiving a specific piece of information.” Dr Kalam’s views on the topic hold true, not only for the conversations he was referring to, but also to the vast and varied field of entertainment and art; and their creators know this. Every new movie, every book, every video game is an implementation of this theory, whether conscious or otherwise. It is why, after so many years of retelling the same story, they hold their significance. It is why the entirety of Star Wars isn’t a long body of text scrolling across the screen.

Entry? What the hell is wrong with this font. [EDIT: Apparently it’s just fine once published]

So I was considering the consequences of Universe-Building.

You know, fictional Universes. The Potter-verse. Middle Earth. Westeros and whatever’s around that place. Comic book multi-multiverses, or whatever level Grant Morrison has taken them to. Actually, let’s ignore the last example set. Geoff Johns and co may do their best to retcon everything and create a cohesive universe, but these are comic books we’re talking about. Even the movies have started showing continuity issues – although they are better at the whole Universe building shtick.

Let’s consider Harry Potter. To compensate for my relative lack of experience here, I’ll link this (as it isn’t meant for reproduction). I can’t ascertain the validity of these points. They appear to be fine. There are, however, issues throughout – I’d advise you to read the first comment and subsequent replies to that main thread to clear any doubts.

Now, to discuss the matter. I quote  the author (of said answer) when I say

HP is a very good series. But no it’s not a well built world. It’s highly centered around Harry’s saga. Rowling hasn’t gone into depth with the Wizarding World at all and that’s what led to so many loop holes. She’s trying to cover a lot with Pottermore, but there is a lot of stuff unanswered.

I’ll have to agree. The person he was responding to had championed the series above all “modern crap”. Allow me to quote again. It’s sort of hilarious.

Being a HP fan, please don’t belittle it this way unnecessarily seeing as these new-age crap like Game of Thrones etc. are already trying to do so by passing themselves off as better well-made epics. (And please do accept my apologies if I came off as an ass in any point I made above)

(I’ll leave the parenthesis in. The fellow deserves to be understood). Yeah, it’ll be “new age crap” not “modern crap”. But if you’ll excuse that (I am profoundly apologetic and throwing around random words to sound photosynthetically philosophical and stuff), let us consider the travesty of comparing the Harry Potter World to that of A Song of Ice and Fire (which words to capitalize?) which, for that matter, existed before Dumbledore dropped the baby (from the tree top. When the .. No? Okay). George R R Martin wrote the series taking special care to build the world properly as he went – apparently having taken issue with Tolkein’s lack of economic and political structure in his epics – so much so that even a casual reader with no such heartfelt desire for economical measures has a fair idea of the power share and debt situation of Westeros, 200 pages into the first book. I didn’t really need to cover all this, the Quora link probably did it already.

The reader may have made a very mildly interesting, yet altogether useless observation – the manner of writing they are currently perusing involves a copious number of characters jumbled together to form a barely coherent narrative that in turn, conveys a message that could have been delivered by the words “I’m writing bullshit around my content”. I believe that would qualify as recursion. Also, I’ve barely even touched world-building. The entire purpose of this was to do something I’m not even sure of.

Let’s try stringing together random words.

The fourth Duke of Canterbury however the hell that is supposed to be spelled oh I got it right yay so yes the Fourth duke of Canterbury of horse can eat food from open caskets of chocolate ice cream sandwich. Talking of which, ICS is old. We’ve gone past Jellybean, KitKat, Lollipop, currently Marshmallow, and soon whatever Namey McNameface will officially be named. It also appears that I don’t know how Marshmallow is spelled.

I’m wasting time. Shit.

My last entry was on the day before ICSE English hah.

 

What is a coder’s worst nightmare?

Answer by Mick Stute:

This was mine:

Was hired by a psychologist to fix a program that seemed to have "strange output" written by one of his ex-grad students. It was a program that reads a data files, asks about 50 questions, does some calculations, and comes up with some score based on this PhD's research. It's on a research 3B2 at the university. He demonstrates the program and sure enough there seemed to be strange flashing words on the screen when it moves from question to question and they don't seem nice. I agree to do it, should be pretty straight forward, so he'll pay me by the hour to determine how big the fix is and then we'll agree to a fee.

Day 1
I sit down at the 3B2 and login to the ex-grad students account that has been given to me. This is where the code resides. I examine the C code. It is written to be hard to read. All the code is squished on one line. It's spread over 15 files with about 3 functions per file — all on one line. All variable names are just three, seemingly random, letters. I talk to the guy and agree to go with hourly on this (great decision). I untangle all the code and format it nicely so I can see it.

 It was done on purpose. It used the curses library to move to a point on the screen print a question and the answers and wait for a response. But it first went to the first line of the question, printed some white supremacy message, waited 1/2 a second, and then over wrote it with the question. This ought to be simple. There's only about  5 places it output anything and all of them had this subliminal flash of a message. Each one was hard coded. No problem. Delete the offending mvpwintw() and all is well. Or should be. I compile thinking I'm done. But when I ran it, there it is again — the subliminal messages. This time with different text still the same subject, just different messages.

I check my code and believe it or not it's back to the initial state I found it. 15 files, mangled, 3-letter variables — the whole thing right back where I started. I want shoot myself for not making a copy of my code. I unmangle again this time putting it in three files, named differently. I make a copy of the whole directory and I mark the files readable only. I compiled it. All looks good. I run the program. There's now a copy of the original 15 files in the directory along with mine and the subliminal messages are back.

Okay so some where on the disk is the source code necessary to keep doing this and he's set the program up to pull in that code when you compile it. I do a full disk search in the include areas (/usr/include) and since this is a research version we have source for just about everything but the kernel itself. That's a lot of header files and this takes some time on the 3B2 so that's day 1.

Day 2
The disk search showed up nothing. The strings were apparently either encrypted or they are buried in a library somewhere. Because I don't have check sums of all the original executable objects I decide to search all libraries for the text. This is even longer than before, so day two is over.

Day 3
No results. The strings are encrypted. That means I'm going to have to follow all the header files from each #include and each one they #include to find where this is. And that will, take some time. We do alert the campus computing department that we believe someone has gained root level access to Dr. Phelps research computer which is just a shared lab computer in the science building. They're understandably not convinced.

I start unwinding the #include files. I do that, no where do I find the code. So now I know it's compiled in a library. No problem at all. Why not just recompile all those libraries, we do have the source after all.

Days 4-6
The hardest part, convincing the campus nerds they have an issue. But we finally do and Mark, the Unix admin who was hired because he married the Dean's daughter, gets busy learning how to do this. In the end, he agrees to allow me to handle it because he just doesn't really know how to get all that stuff compiled. End of Day 6, all standard libraries are recompiled. Who hoo!

I whip out my modified, cleaned up source and start the compile. All looks good. I run it. O M G. It did it again. 15 messed up source files and the subliminal messages are back. This is suddenly like magic. I investigate very very carefully though I am stumped. This code doesn't exist in source code. I think I might be beaten. Dr. Phelps isn't happy with the hours involved and thinks maybe we ought to just rewrite the program from scratch. "Sure", I say staring at the terminal like a lost puppy too deep in my thoughts to put out of my thinking mode, "I think you're right. That will be quicker." "Good," he says, "we can start tomorrow."

Day 7
To hell with that. This guy isn't beating me. We are compiling it from his stinking code or not at all! "You don't have to pay me anymore, Dr. Phelps, I just want lab time." This is nerd war.

Days 8-14
I get smart, I'm thinking he somehow modified the curses library. I compile the curses code to assembly and though I don't know 3B2 assembly (yet!) I start learning.  I read manuals for 6 days, piecing together that assembly code. Waste of time, nothing seems unusual.

Day 15
I suddenly realize it's in the compiler. It was the compiler. And every time you compile the original code and run it puts in the subliminal message code into the source code. I'd heard of this before.

Ah ah! I've got him!!!! We have the source code for the compiler as well. I search through it looking for a reference. Lo and behold, I find it. Indeed. There is source code in the compiler/linker that does this:
1) it examines any call to fopen(), searches the file opened looking for Dr. Phelp's questions; if it finds them then
2) it rewrites the 15 files to the current directory when compiling that specific program.
3) It then compiles Dr. Phelps program using the 15 files and outputs to the -o name in the link phase.

The compiler was modified to put that code in Dr. Phelps program as written by the man that modified the compiler.

Several days later, an AT&T tech shows up with a disk and loads the proper compile and linker source and we recompile the compiler from the source. That solves it. All the bad source in the compiler is gone and we've got a new clean copy of the compiler.

Except it didn't. Because the compiler was poisoned with other source code that we didn't have. And that source code, that now existed only in the executable compiler, put those changes back into the compiler source before it compiled it. But this time it didn't modify the /usr/src copy, it copied it to a hidden directory, modified the compiler source, compiled itself from there, and deleted the hidden directory. It took an AT&T tech to find this. The ex-grad student had poisoned the compiler to poison itself when it was recompiled. We had to put a new binary version of the compiler on disk from another 3B2 running the same revision before the problem went away.

We also found that if /sbin/login is compiled it puts in a backdoor allowing anyone who uses a specific password to login in as the root user. This computer is accessible by modem and Tymnet. Finally this gets the computing center's attention.

Genius! But put to a horrible cause.

What is a coder's worst nightmare?

Who was the laziest person in the history of mankind?

Answer by Hamish Kelly:

From: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread995013/pg1

I was once on a US military ship, having breakfast in the wardroom when the Operations Officer (OPS) walks in. This guy was the definition of NOT a morning person; he's half asleep, bleary eyed … basically a zombie with a bagel. He sits down across from me to eat his bagel and is just barely conscious. My back is to the outboard of the ship, and the morning sun is blazing in one of the portholes putting a big bright-ass circle of light right on his barely conscious face. He's squinting and chewing and basically just remembering how to be alive for today. It's painful to watch.

But then zombie-OPS stops chewing, slowly picks up the phone and dials the bridge. In his well-known-I'm-totally-asleep voice he says, "Heyyyy. It's OPS. Could you … shift our BAFPAT … yeah, one-six-five. Thanks." And puts the phone down. And he just sits there. Squinting. Waiting.

And then, ever so slowly, I realize that that big blazing spot of sun has begun to slide off the zombie's face and onto the wall behind him. After a moment it clears his face and he blinks slowly a few times and the brilliant beauty of what I've just witnessed begins to overwhelm me. By ordering the bridge to adjust the ship's back and forth patrol by about 15 degrees, he's changed our course just enough to reposition the sun off of his face. He's literally just redirected thousands of tons of steel and hundreds of people so that he could get the sun out of his eyes while he eats his bagel. I am in awe.

He slowly picks up his bagel and for a moment I am terrified at the thought that his own genius may escape him, that he may never appreciate the epic brilliance of his laziness (since he's not going to wake up for another hour). But, between his next bites he pauses, looks at me, and gives me the faintest sly grin, before returning to gnaw slowly on his zombie bagel.

Who was the laziest person in the history of mankind?