Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE are Coming to the Windows Store

Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE are Coming to the Windows Store

Microsoft have announced that Ubuntu, and potentially Linux distros Fedora, and OpenSUSE, are coming to the Windows store.

Yep, you read that right. Linux in the Windows store.

We are not talking about a full blown Linux desktop here. There’s no Linux kernel, no X11, no Gnome. However, what we are talking about is a full blown development environment running inside and alongside Windows without the need for virtualisation.

I’ve been maintaining a Ubuntu Virtual on my Windows laptop for development for years, updating and upgrading as I go. It’s a close to, but no completely, seamless solution and at certain times in undoubtedly slows me down – the point that I’ve started doing my development entirely in the cloud using Chrome Apps like CodeAnywhere for a lot of work.

This is no small feat of engineering however and I’m experiencing the uncommon phenomenon of wanting to say “Bravo, Microsoft”.

By acknowledging that a lot of us spend our time in Windows developing for Linux, Microsoft are going to win themselves some fans. Nobody, but nobody, is as important to the viability of an operating system as developers. If developers leave, apps leave, and operating systems die.

As Steve Balmer once famously said… “Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!”

Don’t Like This Post / Why you should stop using emojis for your emotions on Facebook

A recent leak from Facebook’s Australian offices revealed how the social network has allegedly been deliberately targeting vulnerable teenagers, some as young as 14, with advertising specifically designed to exploit their emotional state. Facebook have denied the allegations.

Some people have been shocked by this leak, but I’m not. It’s far from the “dark turn in the evolution of social media advertising” that some pundits have suggested. It’s been obvious that Facebook have been targeting content and advertising based on emotional state for some time, and there’s only going to be more of it. Here’s why…

Understanding how a social network is “monetised”

Monetising something used by called “making a profit from”. But saying that they are “making a profit” from their users is not something social networks are very comfortable with. They don’t like their users to realize, much less think about, the fact that they (the users) are the product.

So, when we want to make a profit “monetise”, monetisation looks like this:

Number of Users x Engagement Percentage x £/Engagement = MONEY

Social networks thrive on having lots of users. Lots of users means lots of content and therefore lots of reasons for other users to come back. It’s a self-perpetuating system. Our friends post to Facebook, so we go to Facebook to see their posts and, whilst we are there, we post something too and the cycle continues.

But all of these “engagements” are non-profitable for the social networks. Facebook does not make one red cent out of you sharing pictures of your cousin’s wedding so that Aunt Mavis can look at them on her iPad from Australia. Facebook make money when you click on advertising.

The Challenge of Advertising on a Social Network

Advertising on social networks is not the same as advertising with a search engine, such as Google.

When you set up a “cost per click” advert with Google, you link it to a search phrase. We select the phrases that we advertise against with the intent of capture the user when they have the intention to buy the product or service that we are selling. For example, if you are selling kitchens then you might want your advert to appear when the users runs a search for “new kitchen”.  Pretty logical, right?

When you set up a cost per click advert on Facebook, you don’t link it to a search phrase. Instead, you link it to a set of demographics that you think represents your ideal customer. You can filter by age, race, gender, location, interests and other factors. The better your targeting of your advert the more likely you are to get clicks that will convert (e.g. the person will buy your product or service after clicking through on your advert). Conversion percentage is a fundamental metric when assessing how effective a piece of online advertising is. You might get clicks on your advert but no conversions and, if that is the case, then you will have wasted your money.

So, it’s in Facebook’s interest to give advertisers as many tools, and as much data, as possible to target their advert.

Facebook are also limited in the number of adverts that they can show to a user. Adverts are injected into your news feed and if Facebook overload you with adverts, then it’s possible that you will get bored or annoyed with the platform and stop using it. They can’t have that, so they have to control the number of adverts you see, and how often you see them. Again, it’s completely in their interest to ensure that they are showing you the adverts that you are most likely to engage with so that they are not wasting the opportunity they have to get you clicking on an advert and generating cash for them.

Slipping on your Social Media Mood Ring

Google have invested vast amount of money in improving their search engines ability to measure “intent” – e.g. what it is you are most likely to do with the information you request from them. For example, if you search using the name of the restaurant Google will look at a range of factors such as the time of day, the type of device you are searching from, and your location to predict your “intent”.

You can try this out for yourself – perform the same search from two different devices and two different Google profiles and see if you get the same result. The answer might surprise you.

The reason for this example is it shows that the more information a system has about you, the better it can be at predicting your preferences and measuring your intent. What more potent information could there be than understanding what emotional state you are in at any moment?

The problem for Facebook is that reading emotional state from text is hard. Human’s aren’t good at it – some people spend their entire professional lives studying literature, learning to read subtext and nuance. Think about all the times you’ve misunderstood the mean of a text message or an email – where do we start in building an algorithm to understand a user’s emotions?

Of course, such algorithms do exist and AI is getting better at this all the time as well. You can actually try a demo of this here, using IBM’s Watson AI.

But, AI is computationally expensive and not everyone buying advertising is a computer scientist, psychologist, or both. Social networks need simple emotions, simply expressed, to shift advertising. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to do this? Wouldn’t it be brilliant if users just told us what they were feeling from a simple list of possible emotions?

Enter the “feeling/doing” drop down and emojis…

How Facebook Codified Your Life

Facebook changed the way that we post status updates some time ago to include a drop down selection of what we are doing and feeling.

Take a look at this list, really look at it. Why is there a special option for McDonald’s in the eating menu? Why are there specific films and TV shows in the “watching” menu? Are mine the same as yours, or different? And what the hell is Facebook doing with all this data?

Getting data into neatly organized categories like this is called codification. Software engineers use codification all the time to turn nasty, dirty, difficult to interpret information into something structured that can be manipulated mathematically. Instead of using AI to find people how like McDonald’s food by running status messages through an AI, isn’t is so much easier to just get a list of people who specifically told you they were eating it and how it made them feel?

Given the availability of this data, I think it is exceptionally naive to believe that Facebook isn’t processing this data to do the one thing that it needs to consistently do better than any other platform – sell and target and advertising.

Facebook vs. The Moral Imperative

If you expect Facebook to take a moral high ground on this issue, I wouldn’t set your status to “Holding Breath”.

Facebook have a pretty atrocious record when it comes to dealing with hate speech, revenge porn, and cyber bullying. I personally find it quite hard to believe that the moral imperative will suddenly overtake them on the matter of what they do with customer data. Turning customer data into profitable advertising opportunities is the entirety of their business model and there are new networks popping up all the time claiming that they can offer better engagement for a lower price.

The choice lies with you – do you want to hand this information over to Facebook or not?

If you don’t, here are a few tips on how you can continue to use Facebook without becoming a codified member of The Matrix.

1. Stop using codified states

If you’re happy, tell people you’re happy. You really don’t need a drop down or an emoji to do that. People used the word “happy” for centuries before the emoji was invented and it pretty much did the job.

If you’re feeling adventurous, branch out from “happy”. Get a thesaurus, go nuts.

2. Write a response, don’t just hit “Like” or share

When Facebook introduced alternatives to “Like” they got us to pass on more codified information about how we felt about the content that we were looking at. They were already showing us more of the type of things we “Like”, now they have the choice to show us more or less of the content that we “Love”, “Hate”, or that makes us “Sad”.

If you don’t mind your feed getting pretty screwy for a while, respond differently for a while. Try sending a message or leaving a comment on content that you like. Post to someone’s wall or send a direct message. You will notice a difference in the content of your feed very quickly.

3. Poison the Well

If you are feeling very adventurous, and have the kind of friends that will understand if you start to react strangely to their posts, try poisoning the well for a week.

  1. If you like something, say it makes you angry.
  2. If something makes you angry, say you love it
  3. Etc.

Flip or shift every emotional reaction and see how quickly Facebook adjusts not only the content that you are seeing, but also the advertising.

The results might shock you.

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it goes – leave a comment on the blog and I’ll get back to you!

Offworld Cast Photos Part 1

Aimee Hibbard from Sticky Ink Studios has delivered some fantastic cast photos for Offworld. If you’re following us on Facebook then you will already have seen them but, for those who aren’t… here they are.

I absolutely love the utilitarian style of the Tantalus II crew uniforms and how versatile they are in terms of how the actors choose to wear them. I’m looking forward to seeing them in action!

#comicbookhour Question 5: What are the best examples of realistic comics you can think of?

When thinking about “realistic” comic books, the first and most defining factor has to be whether the comic book includes “superheroes” or not. I’m not necessarily talking about superpowers either – there’s not much realistic about Batman in many of his incarnations, for example.

Comic books are not restricted to telling stories about superheroes. There are crime books, western books, “slice of life” emotional dramas, etc. etc. To my shame, this isn’t a part of the comic book world I know a huge amount about.

Realism, quite frankly, isn’t the job of the kind of comic book I enjoy the most.

But, when thinking about the best example of a realistic comic book the comic that springs to mind is something quite different, but something I think fits the brief. I’m talking about The Punisher Armory.

The Punisher Armory stretches the definition of a comic book. Yes, it’s a combination of pictures and words, but this isn’t a sequential narrative. It’s a series of pictures, quite brilliant pictures in my view, accompanied by technical descriptions of the Punisher’s various weapons (mostly guns, but not exclusively) and his personal opinions on them. I remember reading and re-reading these over and over again, there was something utterly fascinating about the way in which the technical details were mixed in with the Punisher’s own psychology and story. It’s a great example of how you can create engaging prose out of anything, if you work at it.

Why The Punisher Armory is genius in one page and one picture..

This gun isn’t a very good gun.

This gun shoots no known caliber, barely has sights and doesn’t even shoot what it does shoot very well.

It’s no ‘wonder nine’, accepts no scope of any kind; has no accessories for that matter, unless you count the ratty, vinyl-like holster that came with it.

It certainly isn’t gun-metal tough ; I probably could shatter it with my bare hands. It most likely would rust, if I let it. But it’s my most important gun.

When it saw its heaviest duty, it was the best gun there was. It could slide from that low-slung holster like a natural thought. It fired fifty, well-placed rounds squarely into the bad guys, whether they were gangsters or Indians or just young buddies up the block.

This was my little boy’s gun. Now I hold onto it and now and then, use it.

According to Comic Vine, The Punisher Armory was written by Don Daley. That may not be a name you’re immediately familiar with, but I’d suggest you check out his work. The man knows his characterisation… and his guns.

I was really disappointed to discover that there isn’t a trade paperback of The Punisher Armory. There’s not even a Kindle or Comixology version. Looks like it’s off to eBay for me, as I have no idea where my old copies are and I really, really want to read it again.

In the meantime, I’ve compiled a small gallery of pages from The Punisher Armory that I’ve scrapped up from the internet. (Thanks Google Image Search!)

$10 million lawsuit settled by an Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma is a much-debated piece of punctuation. The famous (or for some infamous) AP Style Guide says that the “serial comma” is not required and many, many publications and websites follow this advice.

If you’re not sure what an Oxford (or “serial”) comma is, it’s the comma before the last item in a list that comes before the “and”.

Let’s grab some beer, wine, and vodka vs. Let’s grab some beer, wine and vodka.

I’ve gone to war over the Oxford comma, as it’s something I insist on for clarity and always, always use. I’ve never understood the almost religious fervour with which people who don’t like the Oxford comma go out of their way to remove it, especially when those same people seem to scatter apostrophes through a text like salt on chips.

With the Oxford comma, there is a guaranteed clarity that the last two items are not a single unit (unless they are like “Let’s invite Pete and Helen, Gary and Amanda, Roger and Daphne” – where Roger and Daphne are quite the item).

When illustrating the importance of the Oxford comma, I like to use this example:

Or, if mostly naked dead world leaders aren’t your bag, there’s this gaff from Sky News

So, “Who gives a $#%& about an Oxford comma?”

It’s easy to categorise the Oxford comma under “stuff that only writers and nerds care about”, but it’s just become the differentiating factor in a $10 million labour dispute.

In delivering a verdict in favour of a group of Maine dairy drivers, the circuit judge’s opinion says it all:

“For want of a comma, we have this case.”

In this class action lawsuit, drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued the company over its failure to grant them overtime pay. According to Maine law, workers are entitled to 1.5 times their normal pay for any hours worked over 40 per week. However, there are exemptions to this rule. Specifically, companies don’t need to pay overtime for the following activities:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

  1. Agricultural produce;
  2. Meat and fish product; and
  3. Perishable foods

Note the end of the opening line, where there is no comma before the “or.”

Oakhurst Dairy argued its drivers did not qualify for overtime because they engage in distribution, and the spirit of the law intended to list “packing for shipment” and “distribution” as two separate exempt activities.

However, the drivers argued the letter of the law said no such thing. Without that telltale Oxford comma, the law could be read to exclude only packing — whether it was packing for shipment or packing for distribution. Distribution by itself, in this case, would not be exempt.

Without that comma, as the judge maintained, this distinction was not clearcut:

Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.

As a result, the court found in favor of the drivers, costing the dairy an estimated $10 million.

Pedants, and dairy workers, rejoice!

As a die hard supporter of the Oxford comma, I was ecstatic with this verdict (and just because the judge and stood up for the workers). Details matter and, finally, my beloved Oxford commas matter too.

I’ve spent a lot of my working life having my Oxfords circled in red pen by proof-readers and editors, now I have 10 million reasons to tell them to back off.

Offworld Filming is complete (sort of) – here’s what happened.

Terry Cooper has written up a “warts and all” update of how the film shoot went, hot on the heels of the final scenes being “in the can”.


I watched the whole shoot from afar as I was not able to get to the set. It was a strange experience – watching people act out your script without you there to interact with, sometimes only seeing them in character as the people you made up in your head suddenly start to walk around, talk, and shoot at things. Ultimately, I believe my absence was for the best – I’ve never been on a film set and with so many experienced people working on the film, there were enough creative voices there without mine being added to the mix.

Still, there are some obvious regrets that I wasn’t there to support the team – they really have poured their hearts and souls into this project and many of them come away ill or injured as a consequence of the punishing schedule that we needed them to work to. We’re hugely grateful to all our Kickstarter backers but these guys, our actors and crew, are the real heroes of this project. They are bringing this thing into being through sheer force of will.

Next week the editing starts, a process I will be more involved in, and that will be my first chance to see the footage that was captured. I’m beyond excited. I remember seeing the footage for The Black Room for the first time and saying something along the lines of “Oh my God, it looks like a real TV show!”.

Well, hopefully, next week I’ll be saying “Oh my God, it looks like a real movie.”

Because it is.

We made a film.

That’s just a bit crazy, and I have a feeling the ride is only just beginning.

Accent UK cancel Victoriana anthology


Accent UK, one of the bastions of the UK indie comics scene, have canceled their long awaited “Victoriana” anthology.

As a veteran of the anthology-space myself, and a contributor to previous Accent UK anthologies including Victoriana, I know just how hard the marketplace can be for anthology books. It has always struck me as strange when the veritable jewel in the crown of UK comics, 2000AD, is a monthly anthology (of sorts) that more comic book stores aren’t willing to stock anthologies. However, having sat on the “business” side of the table I can see why they don’t.

Why are anthologies dying?

As Dave West sums up – what the customers are looking for are ongoing stories, not short one shots.

Pitching an anthology to a prospective reader is hard.

It’s hard because a “good” anthology will mix different styles of writing and different styles of art and not everything will appeal to everyone.

It’s hard because you’re not offering the reader something that they can latch on to and invest in. It’s the comic book equivalent of tapas – it’s fun and nice to do with friends, but you are probably going to have to go for a Greggs on the way home.

It’s also hard because you can’t always answer fundamental questions like “What is it about?” or “Who is the hero?” It’s a strange contrast to prose short story anthologies which remain very much alive and kicking. Page count is the enemy here – if you’re given 8 pages in an anthology comic then you simply can’t overshoot. You have to fit everything into eight pages, and that’s sometimes a real challenge. By contrast, the length of a prose short story can vary significantly and a few extra (even thousand) words don’t put much of a dent in the page count or the budget.

And, before you scream “but… DIGITAL!”

Anthologies are just as hard to sell, if not harder, in the digital world. Fact.

Over and above the difficulties that transpose from the physical world (above) there are the added difficulties an anthology presents when working digitally. One of the main issues is the way in which the recommendation algorithms for online stores like to latch onto authors/creators. They are very good are recommending that you buy more books from Writer A or featuring Character B if you’ve shown that you like those things. They are not so good at handling anthologies with lots of different creators, characters, and where they can’t see a straight line between your first purchase and the next and it’s even harder if those creators don’t have their own content out there digitally on the same platform.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is hard – and I can see why the guys at Accent want to focus on building a model that works rather than fight against the tide.

But, yes, I’m a bit sad…

Personally however, I am sad to see Victoriana go and even sadder to see that Accent are unlikely to put out another anthology book in the immediate future. Whilst readers don’t like them, I think creators really do. Anthologies are great for bringing creators together who don’t normally work together and I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands on one of Accent’s themed books and seeing what other people made alongside my own work. Especially when you’re starting out, it somehow legitimizes your own work to see it alongside work from people you admire and respect.

I hope someone comes forward to fill the gap left by Accent UK in putting out a regular anthology of the best UK creators.

Knowing how hard it is to wrangle even a small number of indie creators though? It probably won’t be me.

Location Scouting: Dyffryn Gardens

Since the Offworld shoot, I’ve been hungry for my next screen-writing fix. At the moment I’m working on two ideas with cast and crew from Offworld – a Batman “fan film” and an Edwardian ghost story.

Dyffryn Gardens is a staple filming location for BBC Wales, having been used in Doctor Who, Torchwood, and recently in Decline and Fall. It’s a fantastic place to visit and very inspiring. I wish I had take more pictures now but “The Devil of Dyffryn” has already given me some inspiration for a very Edwardian ghost story.

I wasn’t able to find much ghost-lore about Dyffryn except for some reports that the ghost of Sir Thomas Button, an admiral to Queen Elizabeth I, haunts the grounds.

I suspect it might be rather beyond our budget to film at Dyffryn in the immediate future, but it is certainly an option we will be exploring!

OffWorld Begins

The main OffWorld shoot begins today.

Or, more accurately, “Five days of do or die filming begin today”.

The crew are already on location and have already started shooting scenes as I write this. They need to do an incredible amount – the schedule we have means trying to do in one day what most films would plan to do in a week and one one week what most would do in a month.

We need the weather on our side.

We need the general public to stay out of shot, even though we’re shooting in the middle of a public park during a school holiday.

We need our actors to be pitch perfect and nail as many scenes first time as they can.

We need everyone behind the camera to be perfect too – just one forgotten lead, dead battery, or wonky piece of kit will cost us time we simply do not have.

It seems odd to write ” we” when I’m not on site, thigh deep in equipment, running around after actors and crew, but my work was done long ago.

Nevertheless, this is the point where it gets put to the test. This is the time the script has to play out, in the real world, and the story is committed to film forever.

It’s exciting. It’s nerve wracking. It’s surreal.

Mostly, it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever written and I can’t wait to see it for myself.

How to find Bubble – The Plain Text Markup for Comic Book Scripts App

There are currently three versions of Bubble available.


What is the future for Bubble?

Bubble remains freely available for anyone who wants to use it for as long as possible.

The next challenge for Bubble is to merge the plain-text and WYSIWYG branches together so that you can switch between WYSIWYG and plain-text and import and export between the two formats.

The WYSIWYG version currently relies on numerical hotkeys to switch formats, this feature will remain available but will be enhanced with a tab-based progression so that hitting tab will cycle you through the available formats for the piece of text you are working with.

Last, but not least, Bubble will be enhanced to allow you to log in and store your scripts in the cloud. Initially, these will be stored within Bubble itself but support for cloud storage systems such as Dropbox and Google Drive is something I would like to add.

And, finally, a dedicated home on the web

Bubble has been a bit of a “digital hobo”, laying its head on various domains since I first created it as a free alternative to applications such as Final Draft, Scrivener, Celtx, and Comixwriter – all of which either don’t handle comics well or have turned out (in Comixwriter’s case) to be vapourware.

Bubble may, or may not, be re-branded when it finds its new home on the web… watch this space.

What I’m working on in 2017

It’s my birthday today. For a lot of writers (or at least a lot of the writers I know), birthdays are a time when you take a look at what you’ve achieved so far in your writing career and what you’ve got coming up. It can be a bit of a maudlin affair in some instances.

Thankfully, for me, 2017 is shaping up to be the biggest year of my writing life.

OffWorld on the Silver Screen

As many of you know, I’ve been working on OffWorld – a crowd-funded science fiction feature being filmed here in Wales. My main job has been co-writing the script but I’ve also found myself getting involved in lots of other areas. Filmmaking is the most collaborative creative process I have ever been involved with – everyone’s work overlaps with everyone else’s and it really is a team effort.

I have a lot of sympathy now with all those names that we ignore in the credits whilst we wait for the post-credits scene. I defy anyone to name as many script-writers as they can actors or directors.

OffWorld has already started shooting and the main shoot is due to start next week.

I already have one short film, The Black Room, under my belt and have secured my immortality in IMDB. This year will be the year I can start to refer to myself as a “feature film writer”. Before the end of this year, the film will have had its premiere and will be available for people to buy online. That, in and of itself, is a crazy new direction in my writing life.

Batman: The Exorcism of Bruce Wayne

They say opportunity breeds opportunity and that’s certainly the case when you’re working on a film. With OffWorld not even shot yet, I’ve started work on a script for a Batman “fan film”, working with some of the actors from OffWorld. I’m hoping to rope Terry Cooper in to produce and/or direct this one as well.

This is 30 minutes of direct-to-YouTube fun, but I’m already having a great time writing it.

OffWorld on the Printed Page (Twice)

If you were a Kickstarter supporter of OffWorld you will already know that we have a publisher lined up for the novelisation of the movie and that an eBook of short stories set in the same universe as OffWorld was announced as a stretch goal during the crowd funding. Both of these are been written by me.

So, before I take on any other projects, I’ve already got two books to write this year.

I won’t start work on OffWorld: The Novel until the film is “in the can” and has been edited. “OffWorld: Preflight”, the book of short stories featuring the crew of the Tantalus II, is about 30% complete already. Some characters are definitely easier to write than others and I’m hoping the movie, when it’s shot, will spark some inspiration for the more difficult characters.

A book I’m not sure if I can talk about yet or not.

I’ve been working on a book since late last year that has been “under wraps” a lot more than my other projects. What I can say is that it is part of a series and is linked to a very exciting and well-known property.

There is a launch event, I will be there, and when I reveal what event it is then I think it will be pretty easy to put two and two together to work out what I’m working on.

I’m almost 70% of the way through this one. It’s a definite departure in terms of the audience that I normally write for but I’m loving every minute of it.

Also, it has clowns.

That SEO book I’ve talked about

My first book about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is also ongoing and should be out this year. SEO is ridiculously fast-paced and getting the book to print, even digitally, without it being out of date or irrelevant is a challenge.

What Else?

That might seem like a lot but I’m hoping (or it is praying?) that I will have most of this work completed by late Summer and can start work on a few new projects. It seems to be me that momentum is everything with writing – the more you are writing, the more opportunities to write present themselves.

Writers write.