Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Automated gifting

I had an idea for an automatic Valentines gift service. Register once with your credit card details and your significant other's birthday and anniversary and we'll send gifts of flowers, chocolates, teddy bears, perfumes and other assorted romantic stuff on the designated days. The gifts will be randomised so that, for instance, you're not just automatically sending a dozen roses three times a year. That makes it thoughtful, or at least makes it appear thoughtful. Email notifications will be sent out a week in advance for a chance to add items, personalise the gift or cancel if you've since moved on.

It wouldn't have to be limited to romantic gifts, either. What if you're a distant aunt or uncle with seven different nephews and nieces, all (naturally) with different birthdays? It seems like a useful thing to keep track of those dates and send gifts automatically.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder how successful an out-sourced gift service would be.
PPS - My guess is that I'd get a few customers at least.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Digital storage is too cheap

The biggest problem with ever-expanding storage capacities is information hoarding and unrefined data. It's far easier to store years of email on a subject than attempt to summarise it, especially since the storage problems are always shrinking. If I want to know what kind of trends happened over a project, though, I have to sift and distil lots more data before I get any answers. I see that as one of the biggest growth areas in information processing: summarising and distilling data. That way a program can tell you, for instance, that this two-year project was generally run with a policy of prototype design, hasty implementation and change requests.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - With more data being passed around every year, this will become more necessary.
PPS - Search is good only for finding particular parts of a data set.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Reasonable belief

Challenging your beliefs with foreign ideas is important. If you are blind in your convictions, you won't stand up when people ask you to explain them. Asking the hard questions is mind-exercise for your values and beliefs. If you let your body get soft and spongy, you don't expect to use it like a champion athlete, do you? If you never think your beliefs through, it's like going your whole life without exercise. You'll probably die too young of a preventable disease.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's sad when ideas die.
PPS - But it's sadder when the bad ones live.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Sunday Mok - Shaped

Sunday - Deb and I drove up Mount Nebo for lunch, looking for a small cafe I remembered. Just when it seemed I'd hallucinated the whole thing, there it was. We took a nap in the afternoon, and after church in the evening went to the Coffee Club for supper.
Monday - I fell asleep on the bus to work. It probably did me some good. I had to walk for the bus in the evening, because a full one just breezed right past me. Bible study was at Deb's, and by the time we were done it was time for me to go home to bed.
Tuesday - I spent most of my working week on our performance appraisal database. Karate in the evening focused mostly on stances, then I spoke to Deb on the phone and played a bit of City of Heroes.
Wednesday - Deb and I ate dinner at Noodle Box, then finished the whole of season 2 disc 2 of Scrubs. We chatted until relatively late, too.
Thursday - Deb came over for the day and did some chores, which was really nice. We had dinner at Dad & Beth's, then left quickly to catch Murrae and Tracey at Deb's before they went home. It turns out they never came.
Friday - For youth group in the evening, we put together a chalk mural like we did last year, this time depicting Jesus' baptism. With fewer people to work on it, though, it was a bit smaller.
Saturday - I had a big breakfast at Ashgrove Baptist Church and heard Phil Jauncey speak too. He was really good. Deb and I went walking together, then shopping for my wedding shoes. In the evening, we went bowling with Murrae and Tracey, then also dinner. The four of us saw Ghostrider too, but I don't recommend it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Our home internet connection has been throttled.
PPS - This is the second time I've typed all this out.

Friday, 23 February 2007


How well does curiosity work as an advertising technique? I'm talking about teaser campaigns that are meant to generate empty buzz until an actual product announcement. I think it's been a bit overdone. People are generally time-poor these days, and have little patience for anything that doesn't make its point quickly. Combined with the fact that such secrecy and teasers are seen as suspicious, we have a very poor atmosphere right now for a curiosity-based advertising campaign.

If you're being secretive about your product or service, our modern sensibilities translate that into either "substandard" or "incomplete". That is, either you won't tell us anything because you're not ready yet (come back when you are) or you won't tell us because you want to sucker us with your shoddy merchandise (no thanks). So if your new advertising campaign centres around public talk of "what exactly is that all about?" you should take a breath and re-think it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As always, your mileage may vary.
PPS - That's pretty much true in everything.

Friday Zombie Blogging

A company called Life Gem is offering to make diamonds from the dead. Basically they take the DNA from a deceased person and fashion an artificial diamond from it somehow. Sounds like a creepy, crazy idea that just might come back to bite us all. I mean, what happens when these diamonds get exposed to radiation? I'd bet they focus the energy down through the gem into your body, mutating your DNA until you crave fresh, tasty brains.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Doesn't sound like a good idea now, does it?
PPS - Ideas rarely sound good after zombies are involved.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Unfinished stories

I write fiction sometimes, but my stamina typically runs to an introduction or a paragraph. I rarely have an overarching plan for a story. However, I think it would be a waste to let these half-written bits just sit here on my hard drive to rot. I may post one from time to time. This is one of the longer ones.

You should know that I don't know what year it is. Not really, anyway. What I know is that it is now six hundred years since the Earth was overthrown. The aliens came down and just took over - our weapons didn't work, and our soldiers couldn't fight anyway. Basically we were drugged into submission. But I only know this because I can read. A few pre-invasion books survived and were kept secret. The official books - their books - tell a different story.

I was chosen to be a wrangler at an early age, which was great news for my family. We were living in the city compound like everyone else - walled in "for our own good". When I was made a wrangler, we were stepped up ... to a less densely-populated part of the city. Relatively speaking, it was luxury: three rooms, electricity sixteen hours a day and running water.

That would all be beside the point, but it's where the story really started. It's where I started to learn the true history of the invasion and the terrible things that happened afterwards.

The official story goes like this: the aliens (they have no other name) found our backwater planet in a state of accelerating decay. Wars and greedy resource management had set us into a downward spiral. Much of the animal life was already destroyed, and the biosphere of the planet was collapsing too rapidly for us to handle. Then the aliens found us and rescued us from ourselves.

They kept the environment stable with their advanced technology and new life forms were brought in to maintain the balance naturally. The aliens kept us from interfering. After many centuries, the planet was stable again. It was still our home, but different now, and that difference was to serve as a reminder to us all of the hard-learned lessons of our near self-destruction.

That's a lie. But like most lies, it carries a kernel of truth. There was widespread environmental chaos, but only because the aliens created it. And they did create the biosphere we have today, but that was all part of the big plan. We are their pets now. Their prisoners. They stalk along the walls of the city, humming those alien tunes to themselves, projecting an air of peaceful benevolence.

That's a lie too. I have seen the cruelty they are capable of, and it is terrifying. The animal fights are just a symptom of that inner cruelty. One in which I play my part like the rest.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It came to me in a dream.
PPS - Most of it, anyway.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Using the phone like email

When I'm trying to get things done, I can't be interrupted by the telephone, because then it takes me a while to focus again and knuckle down. Usually by that time the phone rings again. So sometimes I'll turn off the ringer and sit the phone just behind my LCD monitor. It's still in plain view on my desk, but now it makes no sound and the flashing light is hidden. We have voice mail, so people leave messages. At two appointed times in the day, I will check my phone messages. Email gets the same treatment. The really cool part is that I can record a message on the phone and send it off without getting caught in a discussion.

Now I realise this could be seen as mean or anti-social, and it's certainly a lot less personal than answering the phone. The main problem is that I can't do anything effective unless I have the mental space to focus properly. Thus, I create it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't do this all the time.
PPS - That would be too much.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


To a certain extent, we rely on some parts of life staying at a manageable level on their own. We don't expect to come home to a mail box buried under a mountain of letters. We don't expect to have the telephone ring literally non-stop all day. We have, however, come to accept that an email inbox will be totally overflowing with spam. If there's just way too much of that, even with the best spam filtering software the address becomes useless because of the perfectly normal hit-and-miss ratio. You'll get a few false negatives (unfiltered spam in your inbox) and a few false positives (real mail in your spam filter). A false positive in an address swamped by spam will not be found because we don't have time or patience to sift through a thousand spams looking for one potential real mail. I don't even look any more. If Yahoo have shunted a real message to my spam folder, I'll never see it.
I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised that the problem of spam exists at all. It's a people problem on both sides. The spammer is greedy and the victim is under-educated. The technology enables a decent economic return because email is so cheap and people do respond.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Yeah, people are buying things from spam.
PPS - Lots and lots of people.

Monday, 19 February 2007

The Roman numeral 'M'

If my calculations are correct, today is my one thousandth post. Huzzah! I thought about doing a retrospective to the first post ever, or a "best of Mokalus" thing, but I didn't get organised in time. So I'll just leave you with an semi-original idea: laser carpentry. Rather than do rapid prototyping with plastics, we can do it with wood cut to shape by computer-controlled lasers. Even if it doesn't work out that well, it's got that geeky sci-fi ring to it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - "My coffee table was created by computers and lasers."
PPS - "Any magical elves have a hand in it?"

Sunday, 18 February 2007

The Sunday Mok - Imported chocolate

Sunday - Deb and I stayed home and watched my DVD of Erwin McManus' talk "The Barbarian Way". We did grocery shopping and laundry, then watched some of The Hogfather TV series. Church in the evening was followed by supper.
Monday - I was basically tinkering at work, waiting for some real change requests or bug reports to come in. They always do. Bible study in the evening was at my place, which was convenient. Deb and I watched one Scrubs episode.
Tuesday - The bus ride home was completely full. I think the city council reads that as "optimum". I went to karate in the evening, but I'm starting to feel like I need more of a challenge. I played City of Heroes and talked to Deb on the phone for about 30 minutes each.
Wednesday - Deb and I had a meeting in the evening with Gwen, the minister, mostly about communication techniques. Back home we watched more Scrubs before taking Deb home.
Thursday - I got our hazard reporting database back up and running after a total of about six hours of effort, which is not too bad. After dinner at Dad & Beth's, Deb and I watched Scrubs and Stargate SG-1. We also shared some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Friday - I had to spend a bit of time fixing security bugs in our performance appraisal database. Fortunately they had been overly restrictive instead of overly permissive. For youth group in the evening, we had to change plans and go bowling, which was fun.
Saturday - I went for a walk in the morning, feeling less than energetic. Deb and I wandered around the Indooroopilly shopping centre looking for a matching wedding band for her engagement ring. I dropped Deb off for step-sister Wendy's baby shower, then after dinner we watched Win a Date with Tad Hamilton and one Stargate episode.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have to start getting to bed earlier.
PPS - Don't we all, eh?

Friday, 16 February 2007

Friday Zombie Blogging

Dance like a zombie with the world-record attempt Thrill the World in October this year. The goal, as I understand it, is to get as many people dancing Michael Jackson's classic Thriller zombie shuffle simultaneously all around the world. Should be interesting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The first link also has video.
PPS - And links to some other Thriller-themed stories.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

In the News

I've added a little sidebar to the blog that I've called "In the News". It telepathically discerns what I find interesting, then looks up news stories to match. Tiny gnomes then copy the headlines and links from those stories into my blog for me. The hardest part is keeping the gnomes fed and happy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps I should train them to keep more than five stories at a time.
PPS - I'll do it later.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


Valentines Day is too commercial. Just about every holiday gets the treatment, of course. Anything for a buck. The thing is that Australians are expected to spend one billion dollars on flowers and chocolate today. They're both nice things, but we've been brainwashed into making this a day for purchasing rather than love.

Today, if it's not too late for you, I want everyone to stick it to the man. You don't need bought flowers. Pick some wildflowers instead or make an origami bouquet. Create rather than consume. Say "I love you" to someone without saying "I need you" to stores and companies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you're not attached, just ignore the day.
PPS - And glare daggers at anyone who mentions it to you.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


I would like a Messenger plugin that detects when a message window has been inactive for an hour (or another time period) and just closes it automatically. The main reason I want this is that my instant messaging conversations don't always include a "goodbye" portion. So usually I end up with windows that stay open forever, just in case the conversation is not yet over. Sometimes I close it myself and it turns out we weren't done. That's not the main point though.

The Windows System Tray has (in Windows XP) an auto-hide feature that keeps inactive icons out of sight. The idea can be extended to any open windows. If you haven't used it for an hour and it hasn't changed in that hour, move it to a "limbo" tray. It would keep the task bar relatively clutter-free, if that's your thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Clutter-free is my thing.
PPS - But only in information, not physical objects.

Monday, 12 February 2007

I [heart] my pedometer

I know this ratchets up my geek rating a notch or two, but I quite like my pedometer. From a certain point of view, it's just a device that clips to my belt and tells me how much more I should be exercising. Anything that clips to a belt is instant geek points. If you wear any more than one, you start looking like Batman, but not in a good way. Anyway, I don't know exactly what it is, but I enjoy collecting these daily statistics on how far I've walked or run. I've considered buying pedometers as presents, but I doubt too many other people are interested.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Usually a day at the office averages 4000 steps.
PPS - A half-hour jog is 5000 by itself.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

The Sunday Mok - Mysterious keyboard error

Sunday - I mowed the dirt and weeds in the morning before church. It felt good to be on top of things. I spent the afternoon watching Star Trek Enterprise, then went to Deb's to help with wedding invitations. I sang in the evening service, but felt like I did an awful job.
Monday - I spent most of the day at work on a thorough clean-out of my PC and trying to get an old program compiling in Visual Basic 6. I went to pick up Deb for bible study, but she'd sprained her ankle and couldn't get around, so I went alone. I came back later to say goodnight.
Tuesday - I handled performance appraisal bug reports all day at work, then went for a run instead of karate in the evening. I watched Scrubs with Deb at her place, finishing season 1.
Wednesday - We had lunch at a local pub for David's last day, then in the evening I helped with the presbytery meeting by running the PC. I walked Linda home and spent a very brief time with Deb, little more than "goodbye".
Thursday - I brought Deb to my place in the morning and worked on performance appraisal bugs and features all day. I cooked dinner, did the dishes and laundry and watched some Stargate SG-1 with Deb.
Friday - Between work and youth group I had about 30 minutes, so there was no dinner. We just played Wii Sports most of the evening, plus a brief supper break. Deb and I fit in one Stargate episode before I took her home.
Saturday - I spent the morning at Child Safe Church training, then went shoe shopping for the wedding. I didn't get mine. In the evening, Deb and I saw Night at the Museum which was better than I expected. I fell asleep halfway through the Stargate episode we put on afterwards.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My keyboard seems to have failed today.
PPS - The one I'm using now is a backup. It's louder.

Friday, 9 February 2007


On my Google calendar, I often fill in the Location field to remind me where to go. It helpfully links to Google Maps to show me where that place might be. The problem then is that I must formulate my Locations as precise Google Maps searches to make the links work. I want to be able to write, for example, "Adam's house" and have it work properly. In fact, the best way for that to work would be to link to my GMail account book and search for "Adam", then see if I've got his home address recorded. If so, that's probably the place I mean.
Failing that, maybe I can have some personal locations bookmarked in Google Maps, the same way I can in Google Earth.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I just don't want to write "Queensland, Australia" after every Location.
PPS - And people are easier to remember than street names.

Friday Zombie Blogging

The first ever Choose-Your-Own-Adventure podcast, Jethro Thule: Zombie Killer, launched some time ago (they're up to episode 9 as I write). It's illustrated and, from the short amount I've seen so far, seems to be an interesting story.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The previous episodes might be buried in the main site podcast.
PPS - Jethro Thule is also available via iTunes.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

DVD region exchange

Moving overseas and want to take your region-locked DVDs with you? Well, perhaps someone else is moving too, but in the opposite direction. You could swap the same titles for the correct regions to minimise the expense of replacing your entire collection. We could hook people up online, like a dating service but matching people by movie titles and destinations.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could *also* buy a region-free DVD player if the market wasn't evil.
PPS - I don't believe region locking DVDs is helping the industry.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Early to rise

I'm experimenting with getting up at 05:45, fifteen minutes earlier than usual. The theory is that I can get a few more things done in the morning before anyone notices I'm up. Since my current workload almost amounts to a single working parent with a three-bedroom house plus an active social life, I have some problems with time. Hopefully this experiment will let me stay just a little bit above water at the expense of a bit more sleep.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I shouldn't be this busy.
PPS - Nevertheless, that's how it is.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Little lies

People who lie for personal advantage are seen as evil. People who tell "only little white lies" are seen as normal. People who do not lie are seen as strange.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - People who point out big lies are known as journalists.
PPS - People who point out little lies are known as tattlers.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Fashionable malice

I read just the other day about this chameleon clothing with wireless data transfer abilities. Here's why I think it would be a bad idea:
1. Enterprising cracker discovers how to break the user permission locks.
2. Cracker loads high-res images of a naked female torso on his PDA and sets it to push the design to all shirts.
3. Cracker goes for a walk and enjoys the chaos as everyone's shirts suddenly seem to disappear.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course this assumes lots of people are wearing the garments.
PPS - Or just one would be enough, actually.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

The Sunday Mok - Invitations

Sunday - After the morning church service, Deb and I went to Invitation House in Fortitude Valley and bought some paper and envelopes for wedding invitations. In the afternoon I fell asleep watching Van Helsing with Deb and Mia, then had a youth group planning meeting. I ran the computer for the evening church service.
Monday - I took my car in to be serviced in the morning, then spent the day at work getting the regional organisation chart details into the performance appraisal database. In the evening Deb and I had a meeting with Gwen and watched some Stargate SG-1 (season 9).
Tuesday - After the day at work, I hoped the bus would be late to give me an excuse to skip karate. It wasn't. I did laundry in the evening while watching Star Trek Enterprise.
Wednesday - Deb and I had dinner with Dad and Beth in the evening and watched some video from Deb's trip to the Philippines. Back at my place we watched some Scrubs episodes and looked through some wedding invitation designs.
Thursday - I tried to help install a database in the morning, but just couldn't get it to work, even with administrator privileges on the machine. In the evening we had the weekly family dinner at Dad & Beth's, then spent the rest of the evening working on the layout and wording of invitations.
Friday - I started reading The Joy of Work on the bus. It's funny. I spent the evening watching videos I'd flagged for later in my Google Reader news feeds and got through a lot of them. About a quarter were no longer available, though.
Saturday - Breakfast with Mal, Linda, Dad and Beth to discuss caterers for the reception, then more registry shopping in the morning. In the afternoon we started putting together some actual invitations and watched some more Scrubs.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My life seems very busy.
PPS - Friday night being the anomaly.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Friday Zombie Blogging
Nicole Kidman in a stunt accident on the set of a zombie movie. It's not that shocking.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Our net connection is flaky today.
PPS - Hence the slightly irregular post format.

The Mechanic's Dilemma

A car is dropped off before your shift for a standard service. At the end of the day, two men show up to pick up the car, and each claims that the other is an impostor. Each has identification proving that they are the owner of the car, each has a spare key that opens the car, and each one offers to pay for the service. Also, the classic Solomon gambit fails: when you offer to cut the car in half and give them half each, both men object and offer to give the car away.
How do you determine the true owner?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't have a particular answer in mind.
PPS - I'm just curious about everyone's problem solving approaches.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A few thoughts on magnets

- Magnetic paperweights: just like fridge magnets, but horizontal!
- How much iron would there have to be in a person's blood before they could be physically moved by strong enough magnetic fields? Probably a fatal dose.
- It would be possible to construct a magnetic memo blackboard wall from layers of magnetic paint and blackboard paint. Then you can draw in chalk and stick notes to it with magnets too. A very creative space. This is just a combination of ideas I saw on Boing Boing and/or Lifehacker, but it makes terrific sense to me. Alternatively, get a magnetic whiteboard.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The magnetic poster wall.
PPS - Blackboard wall calendar.