“The only winning move is not to play.”

[I’m guessing you’ve already seen WarGames–the 1983 film with Matthew Broderick and a computer called Joshua. If you haven’t, this post will spoil the ending for you. If you don’t want that, you shouldn’t read this. Sorry.]

In an ideal world, this post wouldn’t be necessary. But hey, this is reality, so let’s get to it.

So there’s a battle going on in the comment sections of nearly every web site that has a comment section.

It’s a battle between three armies:

  1. Regular Commenters
  2. Social Justice Warriors
  3. Trolls

It can be difficult to tell them apart, at times, and there is often overflow from one army to another. Regular Commenters might actually be Social Justice Warriors; they just don’t realise it until something triggers them. You could read a post and assume it’s a troll, when in reality it’s a Social Justice Warrior with stronger-than-expected levels of aggression. (We’re going to ignore the unmentioned fourth category, the genuinely naive commenters. Genuinely naive people can often be reasoned with, be taught, and actually, it’s quite rewarding when you can have a positive impact on them.)

I’m going to assume that you’re category one. (If I’m wrong in my assumptions, you’re probably not going to enjoy the rest of this post. Just saying.)

You don’t have an agenda behind your comment, when you leave it. You just want to have a healthy debate about an article/video. But then you leave your innocent little comment, and a someone from category two or three replies to it with either aggressive vitriol or provocation, and you find yourself–normally a considerate, rational human being–overflowing with rage.

Some people thrive on conflict. They want to argue. They have their (possibly unpopular) opinion, and damn it, you’re going to read about it. You can’t stop them from putting their opinions online, whether on their own Tumblrs or blogs or whatevers, or in comment sections of any and every article they can find. You don’t have to follow them online, but you do have to read their comments, if they’re on an article you’re interested in reading.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

“The only winning move is not to play.”

At the end of WarGames, Broderick’s character–along with the guy who designed the computer’s AI–tries to stop Joshua from launching nuclear missiles (he thinks it’s a retaliation, there’s a whole story behind it, don’t worry about that now). Through a game of noughts & crosses (or tic-tac-toe), Joshua learns about an un-winnable game (and “Mutually Assured Destruction”), and relinquishes control of the missiles.

[after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

I realise that comparing online commenting to nuclear war is probably a bit of a stretch, but the lesson is the same.

Difference between WarGames’ lesson and the lesson here is, the game is winnable, but it’s never won by you.

XKCD: Duty CallsYou try to convince a Social Justice Warrior that their opinion is wrong/flawed. They will ignore you.You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You reply to someone, arguing your case. They (and anyone else who latches onto the fact that you’re affected by the things that are being said) either laugh at you or ignore you. You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You call a troll out on being a troll. They ask you if you’re mad (bro). You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

Someone jumps to your defense. Whoever’s attention was on you is now on both of you (and they probably bring some anonymous friends to the party). Now there’s two of you entangled in the web. You both lose.

The only way you can win an argument online is not to get involved in one.

And the best way not to get involved in an argument? Don’t be aware of it.

So I was driving to work this morning, when it hit me: someone should really build a browser extension that stops a site visitor from viewing any comment sections.

Of course, within around thirty seconds of Googling, I’d already trialed 3 different extensions that did that very thing.

Late to the party, as usual.

The Software

The extension I settled on is a neat little thing called, quite aptly, “Shut Up“.

I haven’t tested it thoroughly yet, but so far I can confirm the following:

  1. It works with BBC News.
  2. It works with the Daily Mail.
  3. It works with YouTube(!)
  4. It works with any site that has a Disqus installation.
  5. It works with some (not all) site-embedded Facebook comments, but it doesn’t work with comments on Facebook’s own site.
  6. It also works with Reddit, which is a site based entirely on comments, so that’s kind of counter-intuitive…but anyway.

If you want to read comments on a particular site, you can click the icon in the browser, and all the comments come flooding back.

You also have the option (the only option) for the extension to remember which sites you’ve allowed comments on.

first!
Shut Up’s Option (Singular)

“Shut Up” is a browser extension available for Chrome, Firefox (using the “Stylish” plugin), and Safari, and can be added manually added to any browser.

Details and download links for the extensions and files can be found here.

The extension isn’t without flaws, and it doesn’t catch 100% of comment areas on web sites. If you want to take it a step further, you can add the Stylebot extension and add extra CSS to hide more comment areas as you find them.

The Conclusion

“Shut Up” obviously doesn’t stop people from posting hurtful, sexist, racist, or just generally hate-filled comments on web sites that haven’t deleted their comment sections entirely.

What it does is stop you–the visitor–from ever seeing those comments, so you can’t be affected by them.

Yes, it means the trolls are winning, for now, but bear with me here.

They can say whatever they want on any platform that allows them access, but you don’t have to inadvertently read their comments. You don’t see the comments, therefore you’re not automatically annoyed by them.

If everyone took this route, all the decent human beings will eventually be ignoring comment systems entirely and interacting on a more personal level, meanwhile the trolls will be left to argue with themselves.

Bonus

Here’s Fingathing’s Criminal Robots (great song; great band), which contains audio clips from WarGames. Please to enjoy.

Get Some SelfControl

So, for me, it goes like this.

  1. I decide to do some writing.
  2. I set myself some time to work on a project.
  3. I sit down.
  4. I open my word processing software of choice.
  5. ?
  6. Four hours laster, I’m reblogging gifsets on Tumblr or watching YouTube videos.

And the writing doesn’t get done, because the Internet is a temptress, and I am weak.

I used to use a piece of software called Freedom to stop the distractions, but it broke and instead of trying to troubleshoot it, I just uninstalled it and went back to my distraction-filled days.

Now I think I’ve found something better, and this one’s free!

What is SelfControl?

SelfControl is, in a nutshell, an app that blocks Internet access for a set amount of time.

SelfControl Timer

A question I can immediately hear is, “Why don’t you just turn off your WiFi?”

Basically, if I just turned off my WiFi, five minutes later, I’d just turn it right back on, because that’s the sort of person I am.

SelfControl stops that from happening, because once you’ve started it, you can’t stop it. Quitting the program won’t stop it. Uninstalling the program won’t stop it. Restarting the machine won’t stop it.

So I’m encouraged to just keep going, because I have nothing else to do.

A Small Caveat

SelfControl is only as useful as you want it to be. In the world of smart phones and tablets and microwaves that probably have WiFi connection, you are never more than two feet away from the Internet.

You still have to be motivated to get your work done.

But for me, most of my casual straying is done via my computer (the Chrome button is RIGHT THERE!). I usually open up a browser without even realising I’m doing it. SelfControl is good for me, because when it’s on, and I’m greeted with the “You’re not connected to the Internet” message, it reminds me that I actually have work to do.

That’s probably why it’s called SelfControl. You still have to stop yourself from straying.

If you’re planning to stay off the Internet, stay off the Internet.

Tips

1. Since you can’t turn SelfControl off once it’s started, keep the timer low, I’d say no more than an hour–not because you can start browsing again more easily, but because after the hour is up, you can catch up with anything you’ve missed before turning it on for another session.

2. Use the “Whitelist” option instead of the “Blacklist” option. If you just use a blacklist and strike off the obvious sites, chances are there’ll be something you’ve forgotten about blocking, and then you’ll be back to square one. The whitelist lets you specify which sites you can still go on while SelfControl is active, which I’d recommend you keep to the basics, like Wikipedia or Google for research.
SelfControl Whitelist

3. If you’re practically surgically attached to your mobile phone, make it a point to put it into Aeroplane Mode for the duration of your writing session. You can turn it back on when the SelfControl timer ends. If you don’t own a phone that has Aeroplane Mode,put it on silent and turn it over.

Download

You can get SelfControl here:

For more specific questions on the app, check out the FAQ.

Happy writing!

Thoughts on ‘Freedom’

I’m not talking about the concept of freedom, just by the by. I’m talking about time management software called ‘Freedom’. Glad we’ve cleared that up. Don’t want to be starting a revolution over here.

Freedom is a very small but very handy piece of software available for both Windows and OSX. The software has a single purpose, and that is to turn off your Internet for a specified period of time, thus freeing you up to do more important things. It’s FREEDOM, get it?!

To give you an indication of why I personally needed this software, here’s how my time management goes at present:

09:00 – So let’s turn on the computer. I’m going to do SO FREAKING MUCH writing today.

09:02 – I’ll just check Twitter really quick, see if anyone @replied to any of my witty banter from last night. No replies. But a retweet. And a favourite! Must thank them. Ohh, look, a new post from my favourite writer friend! I’ll just go read that. Ohh, look! Google Reader has new posts from more writer types. I’ll just check those out. Won’t take a minute. Oh hey, a new video from my favourite TGWTG contributor is up! Ohh, what’s that post about the state of publishing in the advent of eReaders? I’d better read that. Could be important. Oh, what a charming picture of a dog wearing a party hat on Facebook. Must share that! Wait, is that a new trailer for that film I really want to see?! I must watch this right now. It can’t wait. Hey, look, new videos from my favourite YouTubers. Go on then, I’ll just watch a couple. Oh look, something that I’ve already seen a million times is now available on NetFlix! I’m really in the mood for a specific brand of comedic adventures right now. Mustn’t forget to check my e-mails: might have some beta reader responses. No responses, but look! New listed items on eBay! Oh hey, Tumblr! Look at that animated gif! That’s the most clever and witty animated gif I’ve ever seen in my entire online life. I must reblog it.

15:00 – Shit.

You could turn around and say:

Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you just unplug your Ethernet cable for an hour instead?

To which I’d say:

Hey, here’s a retort. You try crawling around under a desk that’s got a weeks’ worth of post under it, plus a pair of fingerless gloves you bought yourself on impulse before realising how ridiculous they are.

I could always unplug it from the top, cut it off at the source, you may be thinking. Well…

That's it, behind the AMALGAMATION OF SHIT.

Besides, if you’re living in a household where the Internet is shared, unplugging anything could plunge the whole house into darkness, and that, well that would just be chaos, and nobody wants that.

Enough of your life story. Nobody cares. What does Freedom actually DO?

 

In a nutshell, you tell Freedom how long you would like to work distraction-free, put in your minutes (up to 8 hours), click OK, and you’re done.

Your PC/Mac loses all its networking facilities for the amount of time you specified.

There is no way to undo this decision, short of restarting your machine.

The intention is that you will take the opportunity of “freedom” from the big, bad, alluring Internet to work.

Why not just do it manually?

Granted, it is a relatively simple task to manually turn off your Internet (particularly on the Mac – you click, Turn AirPort Off, and BOOM, gone), turning it back on when you’re done with your creative genius. The problem with this is that you are still the one in control of your Internet access. There’s no point turning off your Internet with the very best of intentions, only to turn around 3 minutes later and turn it back on “just to check for one e-mail”, thus starting the cycle all over again.

Freedom takes away the chance to relapse.

You tell it what you want to. It stops you from deviating from it.

Any downsides?

This isn’t so much a downside, more of a warning: The software is only useful if you are aware of its purpose.

An example of what I mean by that:

I have a PC, a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad. I have purchased a Freedom licence for both PC and Mac, meaning that – should I feel it necessary – I could run it on both computers simultaneously, thus taking out any chance of turning to the Internet on those. However, it wouldn’t take that much effort to lean over and pick up my phone, and then I’ll be off on the Information Superhighway faster than you can blink.

You need to remind yourself that there’s a reason you can’t get onto the Internet right now. The software is only as strong as your self control.

Also, I have a personal issue with this program, considering I can’t even think about the word “Freedom” without getting this is my head:

...or something to that effect.

Yeah. But that aside, Freedom is a great, simple little app that does exactly what it says on the tin.

There really isn’t much else to say other than it works.

I mean, it’s nothing spectacular, but then it doesn’t have to be. It has a purpose to serve, and it serves it perfectly.

[rating=4]

You can buy Freedom from the developer’s web site, including free trial versions for both PC and Mac versions, enable 5 free uses before deciding whether to hand over your heard earned dolla.

(I’ve written this post as a means of procrastination so as not to have to work on my current WIP. The irony is not lost on me. Freedom is going on as soon as I’ve posted. Promise!)

Scrivener [for Windows] is Here!

After what feels like a lifetime of wating, the immensely popular writing software Scrivener has finally been released on Windows systems.

There isn’t much else I can say except if you like Scrivener for Mac, and you have a PC, you will want this software.

And if you only have a PC, or for whatever inexplicable reason, you’ve never used Scrivener on your Mac before, you will still want to get this software. With a 30 day non-consecutive trial, what do you have to lose?

Scrivener for Windows | Scrivener for Mac

OmmWriter Revisited, the Pretty Writing Space (now on PC & iPad!)

I originally talked about Ommwriter a while ago, but since there’s new versions for both the PC and iPad out now, I figured it might be worth taking another look, especially for those who missed it the first time.

Before I start, I just wanted to say that this software is free*.

Now I have your attention for a little longer, let’s continue…

Continue reading OmmWriter Revisited, the Pretty Writing Space (now on PC & iPad!)

Procrastination Station: Machinarium

While “shopping” for new WordPress themes to ease my mild obsession with this site’s design, I came across a site demonstrating a lovely theme called Vikiworks v5. While ultimately I have chosen not to use this theme (it doesn’t currently support widgets, something I can’t really do without), I also started to read some of the creator’s blog and read a post about a game she had come across called Machinarium. Drawn in by its visually stunning screenshots, I went onto the site, and I was hooked.

The game is a basic point-and-click style adventure game, whereby you – a little robot left of the scrap heap – have to journey through the world, using objects and interacting with the scenery in order to get free. While in theory it’s very simple, that’s not to say that the game itself isn’t a challenge. Some of the puzzles just in the demo that I’ve played really had me scratching my head.

I haven’t purchased the full game yet (I have less than £10 to my name at the minute -_- ), but I wholeheartedly recommend you play at least the demo, featuring the full first level of the game, which can be played on the site: Machinarium.

It’s by no means easy, but you can’t die, and there’s no time limit, so if you feel like a bit of puzzling madness, give this game a try!

Playing with Software: OmmWriter

I’m still trying to find that perfect writer’s software. Scrivener is doing pretty well for the majority of things writing, if not everything, but being a terrible procrastinator as well as a complete pushover when it comes to anything shiny, I still want to try new things.

The last thing I tried and tested was Write or Die, which I used for NaNo, where it was important to get as many words as you could possibly spew out in the shortest amount of time. And it worked for that, and worked well. I never realised how much time I actually just staring at my screen until I used this, where every 30 or seconds, WoD started to beep at me because I wasn’t typing anything.

OmmWriter, Mac-based writing software, is pretty much the exact opposite of Write or Die. The idea of OmmWriter according to its web site is to restore the bond between writer and his/her tools, to make you enjoy the very process of writing, instead of just writing to reach your goal.

While it is in essence just notepad with a background and some music/sounds, you really do get a sense of stillness, of oneness between you, the writer, and your work while you are using it.

If you get the feeling you are losing touch with your writing, I’d suggest giving OmmWriter a go.

OmmWriter Site

Get Back in Your Cage! Don’t Make Me Get BlockWriter!

I am referring to my internal editor, who has already made herself very outspoken about the drivel I’ve churned out my attempt for NaNoWriMo so far. This early in the month, I shouldn’t be having these kind of feelings. But alas, she’s here already, tutting and pointing, mumbling the likes of: ‘You could move that sentence over there, delete that bit there, who cares about that bit?’.

I’ve done well so far, well-set in the mentality that I have to just write forward. I shouldn’t be re-reading really anything that I’ve written already; all I’ll want to do is reword, replace or remove it. And I know that. It’s only a draft. Even if it’s shabbier than a tramps underpants, once I’ve it written down, at least I have something to work on. And besides, 9/10 times I come back to what I’ve done a few days/weeks later and think ‘actually, it’s not that bad’.
So anyway, I’ve been looking for something that will help keep me in this forward mindset, and there’s a few things that have…well, without sounding too much like a cheesy advert…have enhanced my entire writing experience.
First off, there’s good ol’ Scrivener for the Mac, which I can’t praise enough, and have done regularly. It’s an amazing piece of software, which does pretty much everything I need to keep whatever I’m working on. It’s like doing it the old fashioned way; you put your scraps, your hand-written (scanned in, obviously; it’s not that clever), photos, videos, clippings and every other random bit of whatever that I’ve come across, and it stores it in a single file, which–suitably enough–is called a the Binder. It uses index cards to sort out each of your scenes, making it stupidly easy to rearrange bits that are fitted elsewhere.

The index cards are not locked to anything–you can move them around within the binder as suits your story.

There’s so much more to it, as well (without going into too much of I “I Heart Scrivener” campaign or anything). It’s all just so…jazzy. It was enough to make me buy TWO Macs just for this software.
So, yes, Scrivener is amazing. I worship KB (the creator) and the ground he walks on. But there is still something missing. For all its bells and whistles, I still get that nagging little voice in the back of my head telling me to go back and change something. It helps that everything is cut into scenes, as I can only see what I’ve literally just written, but I do still fall prey of the paragraph-by-paragraph edit.
That’s where these tiiiiiiiiiny little free applications comes into play. BlockWriter was actually a piece of concept software dreamt up in the mind of Khoi Vinh, whereby your machine literally becomes like a typewriter. So you have a document, like in any text editors, but here’s the thing. You can only type forward. Attempting to go back in the document just messes up the rest of your work.

What I’m doing for now is writing in BlockWriter, and when I’m done, copy/pasting it into Scrivener. That way, I’m getting the best of both worlds. There are a few drawbacks to the software, such as how it won’t save in simple TXT format and instead chooses to save them in RTF and only allows it with some silly shadow effect on it, but whatever. Minor niggles that don’t compare the ability to shove internal editor back in her cage and start poking her with a stick.
It works for me, at least.
Now, I have had BlockWriter for quite a while. I had it back before I started having all my problems on the MacBook, which is a good 12 months ago now. Thing is, I can’t exactly remember where I got it from. I suspect KB or someone else on LiteratureandLatte might have given mocking the software up a go. Either way, the long and short of it is that I can’t find a link to it. But, since it’s ridiculously tiny, I’ve put it up on my own site: Download BlockWriter (ZIP Format) So if anyone wants it…there you go. (This one will ONLY WORK ON A MAC. Read on if you’re using Windows.)
Also, there is now a version for Windows. Funnily enough, the guy who’s made BlockWriter for Windows was also tempted into buying a Mac for the fact that it had this software, only later to discover that it was indeed only concept software. So what did he do? Made it himself, of course!
Since I hadn’t seen this version up to this point, so I thought I’d give it a try. Basically, what you have in this version is WriteRoom for the Mac, but without the backspace button. See what I’ve tried to write up here:


As frustrating as it can be, it still propels you forward in the writing front, which has got to be worth something. More than that, the software is actually available for free, which you can find here: Download (.exe file) More Info
So anyway, that’s what I’m trying to beat my inner editor down with. Has it worked so far? Well I’m pushing over the 2k mark for Vampire’s Son on day 1, so here’s hoping! It’s early days yet, and only time will tell.