Why I write in Google Docs

Writers all have their different habits and preferences for bringing words into existence. There are an endless number of writing programs, both free and paid, some just for processing words, or other more complex ones for organizing and story-boarding. Some writers even use pen and paper and keep physical piles of paper laying around! Personally, I choose to write everything in Google Docs, and here are my reasons why:

Accessibility: I can work on my project from any device with connection to the internet. Even if I don’t currently have a connection, I can open the file offline and work on it, and as soon as I connect it will be updated in the cloud. This removes so many excuses not to write. Even if all my electronic equipment went up in flames, I could still go to the library and open my document, and keep working. Which brings me to….

Peace of Mind: Laptop stolen? My story is safe. Critical error and hard drive erased? My story is safe. Unless Google goes belly up and shuts down all their servers, my story is always safe. Even the old horror story of a power outage or computer crash when I haven’t pressed ‘save’ in a while is no longer a worry, because it always is auto-saved to the cloud.

Sharing and Collaboration: Stories need to be reviewed, and it’s very easy to send a link to a Google Docs file, and allow comments, or even allow editing by anyone with the link, or give permission to specific people. Sure, I can always put a word doc in an email and send it to a bunch of people, but this leads to so many different versions to go over. With Docs, I can have all the comments from all the readers all on the same file, with no effort required by anyone. Just click the link, read, and comment.

Version History: Did you know Google Docs had this? I didn’t until recently. This adds even more to the peace of mind section, as well as simplicity. I can make major changes to a story without worrying about saving another version, because Google does that for me. All I have to do is go to file > version history > see version history, and I can look at earlier versions  by date. Drink a bit too much and make some sweeping changes that don’t look so good in the morning? Just load up an earlier version. Thanks Google!

Download as: Yes, it’s true that Google Docs doesn’t have quite the formatting capabilities as Word, but after you’re done writing and want to do some formatting of the final version, just download it as a word doc! You can also download as .odt, .rtf, .pdf, .txt, .htm. and even .epub, to upload it right to your e-reader!

Free!: And all this convenience is completely free. Just get a google account, and you’ll have access to all these features as well as 5gb of free storage space, which, when we’re dealing with text documents might as well be unlimited. Give it a try! You’ll thank me later 🙂

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My phone has become self aware

During the past Holiday weekend, I took a fair amount of video and pictures with my new Pixel 2, which has a super great camera. What it also has, apparently, is an AI that edits together pictures and videos and creates video clips for me, complete with music and effects. All of it without me asking…

There is something very strange about seeing a notification on my phone, and seeing a video made for me that appears to have had a lot of attention and care put into the choices of what clips would be used. (I got a minute long video of images and video made out of perhaps 10 minutes of video and a hundred pictures to chose from) how does it decide what to use? It doesn’t appear random… but machine learning is scary. The videos are all family stuff that I don’t want to post here, so I did another one for an experiment. I took some video while driving ( I know, bad me, but it was so pretty) a bout 2 minutes worth of videos. Then I had the ‘assistant’ make me a video out of it. Here’s what it came up with (I picked the title, it did everything else, and the original is way better quality than what WordPress let me upload here)

 

First off, it is so awesome that it stabilized everything. I obviously don’t have an immovable arm, I was driving and it was bouncing around etc. If you look at the dashboard at the bottom of the video you can tell, but my ‘assistant’ edited it all (and it made this video in about 15 seconds) so that it seems smooth and steady. And how did it pick those clips? Why did it? It is very intriguing to me…

Whatever it is doing, I love it, and am going to be taking a lot more video to see what it comes up with.

Advantageous

It’s not often you get to see a sci fi movie like this one. It’s really more of a drama within the setting of a future world and a new, world-changing technology. The sci fi elements are there, for sure, but the focus is more on the characters. And that’s something that it seems sci fi hardly ever does anymore.

Jacqueline Kim plays a single mother trying to take care of her daughter, while being pushed out of her job due to her aging looks. It’s about the extreme measures a parent will go to for their child, even if the child never knows it. It manages to be heartfelt, dramatic, interesting, and somewhat disturbing all at once.

Kim is really great in this movie, and though I’ve never seen her in anything else, I’m interested to see more of her. Her portrayal of Gwen’s desperation is powerful, and made me feel for her. That sense of helplessness when she’s cut from her job for a younger person to be the face of a company that markets youth–it’s something that can’t be argued, or fought against. Knowing that her skills don’t matter, just her looks, is frustrating and she shows it well.

The sci fi aspects of this movie, like I said, are not the focus. And you don’t specifically learn what her company does (though you can probably guess) until much into the story. This movie does it right with the buildup, the dramatic tension, the emotions.

And the end is not an explosion, in fact there is not one act of violence in this entire movie. There is no twist, there is no badguy to catch, there is no mystery to solve. And I found it very enjoyable to, for once, have a sci fi movie completely about the story and the characters, with nothing else to distract you from them.

Though, I will admit it was slightly jarring seeing Ken Jeong in a serious role, but he did well, and the mental interruption only lasted a minute.

If you want a thoughtful, feeling, interesting movie about people, instead of about guns and aliens and superpowers, then check this one out.

Ex Machina

After watching the trailer for this sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence, I had formed some opinions about it that weren’t exactly positive. It looked entertaining, but I had figured it would be another anti-technology movie where ‘new thing X that we never should have invented destroys the world!’ Which is what any move about technology seems to be these days.

Once I started watching, though, all my doubts were forgotten. The movie instantly grabbed me and never let go. There is an aura of tension and unease in this movie that builds up consistently, and is brought on by some really stellar acting. Oscar Isaac does a great job as the eccentric billionaire programmer, giving off just the right level of menace and friendliness that you never know what to expect from him next.

And Alicia Vikander, who I’d never seen before, really stunned me as the AI, Ava. She was able portray the inhuman, alien-ness of a computer mind while still being likable and relatable. I can imagine so easily how this could have gone the predictable Hollywood way, and she’d be talking in a flat, deadpan voice, never using contractions, and tilting her head to the side constantly while saying things were illogical or ‘did not compute’. Instead we get a very emotional performance, but Ava’s motivations and way of thinking are portrayed in a very inhuman way by Alicia.

The end, pleasantly, did not go how I expected it either.  I highly recommend this to any science fiction fan.

I’ve said it before, but this movie got me thinking about it again. There seems to be this pervasive worry about us creating something that is ‘better’ than us, that will overtake humanity. If you are talking about a violent destruction of humanity, then sure, we should try to prevent that from happening, but there also seems to be this fear of being replaced, of becoming obsolete.

As someone who does not ever want to have children, even I can understand and feel the draw of creating another being, and helping them into the world and shaping them into a good, successful person. I feel that any artificial life we manage to create will be the child of humanity, and we should not fear it surpassing us. Would you fear your child surpassing you, and try to hold them back? I know some parents probably do, even if subconsciously. But if we create artificial inteligences that are able to live and explore and enjoy the universe better than we are, isn’t that the greatest accomplishment we, as a species, could ever achieve? To create something even better than us?

Anyway, check this movie out, definitely worth the time.

Creating new senses for humans

I just watched this TED talk with David Eagleman, and I am impressed, astonished and excited for the future of our species.

After seeing all the different ways our brain is able to process sensory input in this video, I am convinced that Eagleman’s ‘Mr. Potato-head’ analogy is not far off at all.

If blind people can learn to see via electromagnetic impulses on their tongue, then why shouldn’t I be able to learn to sense electromagnetic waves, or ultraviolet light, or radio waves in some similar fashion? Our brain is so adaptable at interpreting sensory input, that I can see a future where people can pick and choose what senses they want equipped at any time. If it’s dark out, turn on your heat vision, which you feel via vibrations on your fingertips, or in your forehead, or any other number of options.

Eagleman also goes into possibilities that I found extremely interesting from a sci fi perspective. He talks about having, for example, instrumentation on a space shuttle be connected to sensory input, so instead of reading charts and graphs and counting numbers or ratios, you just feel when something is wrong, on a gut or instinctual level. The same way you are aware of your own body and when something is wrong with it.

This really interested me because this is how I, and a lot of people, think naturally. I don’t always know why I make a certain decision at the time I make it, I just know that it feels right. Only afterwards, when I try to analyse my feelings, do i realize all the underlying information that lead to the decision. But the feeling comes instantly. The calculations are done on some subjective level and I’m left with what I can only call a ‘gut instinct’ at the time it happens.

Now imagine if you were getting sensory information about the altitude of the plane you are flying, as well as the speed of the winds outside, the condition of the engines, the state of the crew, the fuel levels, your speed–Imagine you could ‘feel’ all of this. And then imagine something goes wrong. Your instincts are going to take over much more efficiently if you can feel your altitude dropping instead of seeing it on a gauge. If you can feel all these inputs at once, and your brain is allowed to process it all on a subconscious level, you may even get that ‘gut instinct’ about the decision to make. And this time you’d know your brain has all the information it needs to make the right decision.

Our brain does a lot more behind the scenes than we are even aware of, and the more tools we give it to work with, the more it can accomplish. This kind of technology has me excited for the future, and I think I’ll be paying very close attention to Eagleman’s work from now on.