Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Traditions

For a while my New Year's Eve traditions have been modest, but satisfying. I like to meet the new year on my feet, to symbolise something-or-other about not taking life lying down. This one is pretty easy. The next one is much more difficult after a long party when everyone else goes home at 1am: I stay up to watch the sunrise, because that's when we feel like days really begin in our Western culture. Admittedly, I haven't done this for a couple of years, and I don't know if I'll make it this year, but I think it's important to keep it as an ideal.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The 1am-to-6am stretch is a pretty hard slog.
PPS - Because there's little to do and, as I said, everyone's gone home.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Paper prototype your software ideas

If you have a brilliant idea for a new program or website that "just needs some programming" to get it off the ground, then you should definitely do what we call "paper prototyping". You sketch out your concept on paper - rough and ready, not neatly ruled or coloured-in - and you take it around to potential customers and users. With you playing the part of the computer, and them being the user, you simulate what happens when they click, flick and interact with your program. From this, you should gain several things: an insight into how difficult software design really is; a more solid idea of how your program or website will actually work; an impression of whether your concept is exciting to other people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is how you start from a raw idea and move it to a design.
PPS - Trust me: any programmer will be impressed with a tested paper prototype.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Hiding things in Windows

Probably part of the security problems of Windows is that there are many different ways to hide things from the standard tools that manage the computer. There are hidden services, hidden programs, hidden files, hidden flags and attributes and any number of stealthy paths open to be exploited by malware. Microsoft set them up with the best of intentions, I'm sure, but in the end, they are far more useful to viruses than to the owner of the machine.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In fact, I'm pretty sure they were set up to hide things from you.
PPS - Well, maybe not you, specifically.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Self-personalised letters

It would be possible, via a simple database, document template and mail merge to create personalised celebrity Christmas cards to the general public. The idea would be to submit your name (or a friend's) and maybe a personalised message to a website, then after a certain cut-off time or number of entries, the celebrity has cards printed with those messages, signs them and mails them. Perfect for living in a delusional world where you have personal contact with celebrities!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or for passing veiled personal threats to your enemies.
PPS - It would definitely be a problem keeping that database free from spam.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Facebook address book

The oldest entry in my blog drafts file is titled "No More Address Book". I wrote it in 2006, and it describes doing away with the need for address books and synchronisation by keeping one central service where we keep references to people. They change their addresses on their own, and we just use that central reference to find out how to contact our friends. I did note, however, that such a system would be ripe for the plucking by spambots and other advertisers. Fast forward 4 years and we all do this through Facebook, including the advertisers. Facebook is much more than that, of course, but it does exactly this too. Funny, isn't it?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure why I never posted that.
PPS - I might have wanted to write more about it, or polish it some more.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Tripod - Fabian

This Christmas Eve, remember the least-famous reindeer, as brought to you by Tripod:

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They have a few other Christmas songs.
PPS - This is one of my favourites.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The wrong kind of chess computer

Somewhere along the line we missed the point of building chess computers. We were meant to use the game's structure as a way to investigate human pattern recognition, reasoning and decision making. Instead, we powered ahead with brute force algorithms, beating human players and learning almost nothing in the process.

A real, intuitive chess program needs to group pieces together into conceptual formations, evaluate the board considering only about seven possible moves, and think a few moves ahead. Perhaps just placing those limits on chess programs - seven potential moves, maybe seven moves ahead - will start leading us in the right direction.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Applied to current methods, those limits just make bad chess programs.
PPS - But maybe someday we'll start figuring it out.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

LEGO and 3D printers

I wonder if the LEGO company will collapse or adapt when we all have cheap, reliable 3D printers on our desks. After all, at that point it will become trivial to print new LEGO-compatible blocks from freely-downloadable templates. Charging lots for models and pieces will be much less sustainable as a business model in that world, and lots of people are willing to create their own designs and distribute them for free, too. The advantages I can see genuine LEGO retaining in that world are:
  • Durability. Home-printed blocks are likely to be a little rougher and a little weaker than the moulded ones from LEGO.
  • Colour. The home-printed blocks will probably be all the same shade of milky-white.
  • Creativity. As long as LEGO has designers working on interesting new models, they'll probably still be able to sell sets.
  • Electronics. 3D printers will only be producing plastic, which means electronic sets like Mindstorms will still have the vital electronic controller pieces and wired bits that crafty bricksters need for their more advanced projects.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - They've already lost a court case about producing LEGO-compatible bricks.
PPS - I think the only illegal thing would be distributing trademarked designs.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Media synchronisation via Libox

For a little while now I've been using a program of my own design to keep my pictures, music and videos synchronised across all my machines, because I couldn't find a sync program that worked exactly how I wanted. As it turns out, I was looking for something like Libox, a private, serverless media synchronisation program that's completely free. Here I want to examine why it's (almost) perfect for my needs:

- Arbitrary profiles, so I can tell it what to sync and where.

- Works between home and the office, so I can have an off-site backup in case one of my computers catches fire.

- Set and forget. Once it's up and running, it will keep going and I don't need to think about it again.

And now for why it's not so perfect:

- No bandwidth limiting. If I add a lot of new media, everything will upload as fast as it can, without disrupting my service. I can't tell it to only upload or download at a certain limited speed, and I can't tell it to only work during off-peak times, so it will chew up my peak quota as well, when it wants to.

- Does not propagate moves, renames and deletes. I have a fair amount of duplicated media, and I want to clean it up to save space. Libox focuses more on streaming media from synchronised libraries, and they're quite adamant that their application does not make changes to media on the hard drive. That's good if it's mostly for sharing, but keeps the "sync" side a bit limited.

And some things I'm uncertain about:

- Does it sync over LAN, so that machines in the same room don't send data over the web and chew up more bandwidth? Don't know, and the website is a bit light on technical details. It seems they're so excited about media sharing, or so eager to appeal to non-techies, that they avoid all tech-speak entirely.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My search goes on.
PPS - But for some of you, Libox may be what you need.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Secret passages

It seems to me it would be pretty easy, especially in some buildings, to hide secret passages and even whole rooms, behind walls that nobody questions. If you work in an office, think about the parts of your floor where you don't go, and the passages and turns that make it difficult to be sure whether your lift shafts are actually flush against this or that wall. How much of the total floor area is accessible to you, and how much of it could easily house another whole room like a board meeting room?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would be an ideal place for the Shadow Board of Directors to meet.
PPS - Though what could they really do from such a secret location?

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Mysterious Disappearance of Thirteen

There's an episode of House M.D. where Dr Remy "Thirteen" Hadley just up and disappears, much to everyone's confusion. Obviously now we know what happened. She got stuck in TRON.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I bet that happens a lot.
PPS - Or if not, it should be a standard way to write characters out of shows.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Nothing at all

For now, I think I'm done with Friday Zombie Blogging, so this is just a farewell to this feature of the blog. I've posted about upcoming zombie movies, lots of games, zombie walks, a few pieces of art and one or two observations and thoughts. There's not that much any more that's new, innovative or interesting (to me) in the zombie sphere any more, so I'm calling it quits, or at least a hiatus. I'm prepared to reverse my decision at a later date, but until further notice, there won't be any new zombie news here.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I considered posting a montage of zombie deaths from The Walking Dead TV show.
PPS - But at the moment, the gore is not sitting well with me.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Programming puzzles

These are some of the programming puzzles that have occupied my mind this year, outside work:
  • Distributed file systems with unreliable networks or no network at all.
  • Multi-master file synchronisation
  • Windows Presentation Foundation
  • Pentominoes and exact coverage puzzles
  • YAML and other human-friendly, machine-processable file formats
I have wide-ranging interests, but they tend to cluster around algorithmic investigation (WPF being the exception here). I guess I've always been an algorithmist at heart. I love to figure out how to get a computer to solve a problem, though I don't do as well as some professors do.

This also explains why I write my own software to exactly match my needs and why I get so discouraged when I need to find workarounds for bugs or limitations in the frameworks or hardware I use. It's not interesting or fun to try and trick the computer into doing what you want. Only occasionally are the limitations part of the puzzle.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The tough days are when my work is much less interesting than these puzzles.
PPS - The only classical "puzzle" here is pentominoes.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Dream therapy through programmable dreams

Given a hypothetical programmable dream machine, it could be used for therapy. Say you were afraid of heights. You (or your therapist) programs a series of dreams in which you overcome your fears through increasingly high-up experiences like stilts, springboard diving, a flying fox and hang gliding. Or say you never got over the loss of your childhood pet, and it's causing you stress now. Program a dream or two that unite you with your pet, but you say goodbye. The possibilities are endless, though some of them are undoubtedly disturbing, too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd much rather some people express their urges in dreams than in reality.
PPS - As long as that's where it stays.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Legitimate American TV downloads in Australia

What are the legitimate ways to view American television digitally in Australia? I'm not talking about any form of broadcast or DVDs here, just pure, on-demand TV show downloads. There's iTunes, if you're lucky enough to have your show provided here. For instance, Bones is available, but Dexter is not. There's ... um ... no, actually, that's it. iTunes if you're lucky. But since each episode on iTunes costs 2.99AUD, you're better off subscribing to Foxtel and just learning to like what they show, since you'll pay far more per show on iTunes than on cable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've written about download costs vs Foxtel before.
PPS - At least the iTunes cost seems to have dropped by $1 since then.

Monday, 13 December 2010

MP3 vs AVI

Long ago we settled on a standard format for music files. It's not the only one, and it has many options and variants, but it is universally supported. When are we going to settle on such a format for video? AVI is the most popular and many major devices refuse to support it. Furthermore, if you want to buy music in MP3 format, (almost) everything is available and it hardly matters where in the world you are. If you want to buy movies and TV digitally, you pretty much have to live inside the United States.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I realis AVI still comprises a variety of codecs.
PPS - Still, can't we settle on one?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Racial mute

When reading about "racial" problems, events, prejudices and whatever else, I like to mentally snip out the race words to see what has really happened. For example:

"Many white business owners chose to close their businesses and move away rather than hire black employees"


"Many business owners chose to close their businesses and move away rather than hire employees"

Which is just weird.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I mean, imagine presenting it as part of a business plan sometime.
PPS - Similarly odd effects can be had by reversing the roles.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Accountant

This week in zombie news I present Zombie Accountant, a fairly simple side-scrolling platformer, has you collecting tax returns and avoiding eating your co-workers. It actually looks like good, mindless fun.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I gather it's on XBox and Windows Phone 7.
PPS - And the full version only costs $1.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Standard meals to measure food

Like the "standard drinks" model for alcohol where we know how much our liver can metabolise in an hour, we should adopt a "standard meals" system to tackle obesity. Everyone's metabolism is different, yadda yadda, so is everyone's liver, but we still have that model, don't we? It should be easier than calorie-counting for fast food, and if we define 3 standard meals as how much one person should eat in one day, then printing "6.2 standard meals" beside some menu item would really make you stop to think. Based on a sub-standard Google Search, one standard meal should probably equal 500-600 calories.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It may need a more complex definition than a calorie count.
PPS - But it's a place to start.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Doubling the price of houses

Thirty years ago the price of a house was about three years wages. Now it's six. It seems more likely to be exponential than linear growth which means it will be twelve years wages by 2040 and twenty-four years' wages by 2070. By 2100, you'd need most of your income for most of your working life to afford a house, and that's if you don't eat, clothe yourself or have a family. If you expect a working spouse to help, you should also expect that advantage to disappear by 2130, when most of their wage will be required too. In 2160, your children will inherit your house debt. In 2190, their children will inherit yours and their parents' too. Long before then, something will change.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It has to, because it's unsustainable that way.
PPS - One change might be a property price crash.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Drive-through convenience store

How many times have you been driving home and realised you needed a loaf of bread, some milk or whatever other staples you frequently run out of? Wouldn't it be great to have a drive-through convenience store where you could get those things without having to get out of your car? I would definitely have used such a store at least once, if it existed.

Now the down sides. The selection would be a little limited by necessity. The prices would likely be higher even than ordinary convenience stores. And if you're ordering a lot, you might need to stop to arrange it properly in your car before heading back on the road anyway. Still, it would be interesting to see someone give it a go.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A quick Google search confirms I'm not the first one with this idea.
PPS - Still, it's not so common that I'd call it "convenient".

Monday, 6 December 2010

An alternative to holding on the phone

Instead of putting people on hold in this technological age, can't we put them in a call-back queue? Then they can hang up and go about their business until someone is ready to assist them. This would be particularly helpful when congestion at the call centre is very high, but would actually be bad when it's very low, since it would be more trouble in that situation. I also imagine people would be very distrusting of such a call-back system, and would rather wait than risk never hearing back again. Still, if you trusted it, all you'd have to do is call the queue line, state your name and reason for calling, then hang up. Caller ID can handle the number, or you can specify another by using your keypad. If you're on a mobile, you could even text in a call-back request.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This doesn't even seem like it would have to be very high-tech.
PPS - Would you trust a high-tech version more than a low-tech one?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Excel vs Access

Is Excel the reason Access is so bad? For most people, Excel is their "database" tool of choice, and for good reason. It has flexible tabular data CRUD operations, search, sort, group and pivot query functions, plus it makes charts. It can load data from external sources, calculate results, colour-code them and export them in other useful formats. It can even be programmed in VBA or, with the most recent versions, CLR managed code. Given all these features, what advantages does Access confer? It doesn't even add multi-user capabilities cleanly, and getting up and running with an Access database is much harder than opening Excel. Given such a consumer focus on Excel, is it any wonder Microsoft would spend a lot more time and effort on it than on Access?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can imagine more Access features being added to Excel over time.
PPS - But my imagination doesn't drive Microsoft.

Friday Zombie Blogging - No more P&P&Z movie

Rumour has it that the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie adaptation might be dead. The director bailed out, then Natalie Portman, producer and star, ditched in favour of playing Lois Lane in a new Superman movie. Looks like we might not get zombie action plus Jane Austen on our screens for a while.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, you can't keep a good zombie down.
PPS - Which part of the cast or crew would count as the head?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

High standards vs growth

Debbie and I recently started karate together (well, I started again) and I wondered about maintaining standards versus growth. On the one hand, you want to maintain high standards that encourage people to join and build up the club's reputation. On the other hand, you need instructors if you want to grow, and not all of them are likely to meet the standards, so eventually you need to start being more lenient and allowing average instructors through, rather than just the outstanding ones. Past a certain size, you'll either lose your standards or stop growing. Probably both at once. High standards are (usually) incompatible with fast growth.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't think of any general high-quality growth examples off the top of my head.
PPS - I'm sure there are a few exceptions that prove the rule.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

GMail and conversation view

My boss and co-workers were complaining that GMail does not allow you to turn off "conversation view", where items with the same subject are grouped together. I found it within a few minutes, and a quick test confirmed that it works just as described. It's a pretty recent addition, though, so it's no wonder they didn't know it existed. What I don't understand is why you wouldn't want it. Personally, I would hate to be searching through my email looking for the different connected pieces of one conversation. I suppose if you get tons of unrelated mail all with the same subject heading it might get annoying, but apart from that, I'd rather have it on than off.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't get a lot of same-subject email.
PPS - And GMail doesn't seem to group it together anyway if there's a long gap.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The world of tomorrow

My friends recently made a whole new person called Georgia. Thinking this morning of the world she will grow up in, I noted the following things:

1. There have always been iPhones and iPads.
2. There has never been an unbroken male line of Australian Prime Ministers.
3. Michael Jackson has always been dead. Same with Heath Ledger.
4. WiFi has always been available on planes, and the TSA has always tried to stop you getting on board.
5. There has never been a building called the World Trade Centre.
6. George W Bush has always been a former President of the United States.

There's obviously a lot more that will be true about the world by the time she grows up, and it's possible items 4 and 5 won't stay on the list, but it's interesting to think about.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think I'd recognise this world through those eyes.
PPS - At least not yet. They can't quite focus.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Standard photo naming and organisation

What standard naming convention would you want for your photos? There are any number of metadata bits that might be relevant for photos, and some of them I would like to store in the file name. There's the date it was taken, where, why (as in, what event, if any), who took it and who is pictured. The "who" questions can probably be answered in a secondary database like Picasa, but the rest should provide some means of automatic organisation. I think I'd want them in monthly folders, but I'd want to vary the actual file names for landscapes (location), portraits (subject) and happy snaps (event).

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Group shots might give me trouble.
PPS - Does anyone have a standard photo naming and organisation scheme?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Reasons Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is two movies

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't see how there could be other reasons.
PPS - Well, probably not.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Anne Hathaway

In a promo video for Saturday Night Live this week, Anne Hathaway has a zombie moment. It being Thanksgiving, she says she is thankful for brains. Aren't we all?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And for Anne Hathaway.
PPS - Not sure if there's more about brains in the actual show.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Automatic doors at home

I saw an ad the other day for a product so simple yet so ingenious that it had already been invented: automatic sliding doors. The unique thing in this case was the fact that it was packaged as an add-on motor and sensor for existing domestic doors. Genius! Makes me wonder why nobody else ever thought of doing that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps they did, but never had the cash to get it off the ground.
PPS - Or the determination, or the right connections...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The tiny little cute store

Every time I am shopping with girls and we see some version of a common item that's smaller than usual, there's a definite excited reaction. Tiny saucepans, little boxes, micro-sized cake tins, it's all the same. This gives me an idea: the Tiny Little Cute Things Store, full of really little things for girls to love and men to loathe. It would sell basically everything you'd need in a house if you happened to be child-sized. No female would leave empty handed, and I'll make a killing!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would be a great place to shop for cubby houses.
PPS - Or play kitchens.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Alternative dishwasher designs

Our dishwasher never seems to clean properly the items that sit in the corners of the racks. This looks like an obvious design consequence of using one circular spinning spray arm to clean a square rack. So how would you solve that problem? I can think of three things off the top of my head that might work better: circular racks, four smaller spinning arms and a fixed square array of spray nozzles. They all have their problems, I'm sure, and since I'm not a white goods engineer, I doubt I've even thought through all the consequences. I just wonder whether it's pure economics that means the single spinning arm design is the only one we see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've always been a fan of the industrial dishwasher with free-moving trays.
PPS - But that's a bit impractical for home use.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Airline ticket scam

I've just heard about a complicated website scam that basically launders stolen credit cards through airlines. The scam goes as follows: criminals use stolen credit cards to purchase airline tickets, which they sell at discounted prices for cash through a website (using "mule" bank accounts to transfer the money). Victims who purchase the tickets can even call and confirm their flights, but once the credit card is reported as stolen and the charge reversed, the ticket is canceled, the money is gone via its intermediate route and they have no real recourse. It's fairly clever in that the victims get real products, the criminals get cash and the money trail (thanks to the mules) is hard for victims to follow up.

Now, how would you investigate this? First I'd want to get as many of the mule account details as possible, and track any common transfers they've made to third parties. Chances are, however, that the end points are dead ends, another mule (who withdraws cash to transfer in person) or far outside local police jurisdiction.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure what they'll end up doing.
PPS - I hope it catches these guys, though.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - PvNvZvP

Coming soon to iPhone and its cousins, Pirates vs Ninjas vs Zombies vs Pandas, in case your iPhone doesn't have enough zombie-themed games yet. This one seems to be about hurling its namesakes at other players' defenses as living projectiles, presumably in an attempt to knock down walls and take over territory.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not entirely clear from the screenshots.
PPS - And the trailer is still "coming soon".

William, Kate and Diana

For the past day or two, all the news has been about Prince William getting engaged to Kate Middleton, only somehow it hasn't. What I've heard about so far is Diana's ring, Diana's dress from Diana's dressmaker, how sad it is that Diana is not here to see Diana's boy get married to a girl everyone wishes was Diana II. Some parts of the world, and especially the royal family, have got to start being about people that are not Diana. Let these two be themselves, and let them make their own way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not saying forget about her.
PPS - Just don't make her overshadow people a full 13 years after her death.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mobile broadband and phone tethering

I predict that dedicated mobile broadband plans with their own USB modems will disappear in favour of ordinary mobile phone plans and occasional tethering, at least for domestic applications. There are only a couple of situations in which dedicated mobile data at 3G speeds comes in handy, and they overlap completely with mobile phone usefulness. It's going to become an increasingly hard sell, which is why most providers are attempting to prevent you from tethering your phone unless you pay extra. With today's phone plans and included data, they suddenly have a stockpile of absurd, outdated wireless modems they either need to sell or write off. And since they have near-total control of their wireless networks, they're choosing to impose restrictions to upsell you on the tethering option, or get you to buy dedicated mobile "broadband" while that still sounds halfway sane.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In my first month of an internet-enabled phone plan, I've used less than 100MB.
PPS - That might be just me.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Super speed for the win

My standard answer to the question of what super-power I would take is super speed. I guess it says a lot about my outlook on life - there's never enough time in the day to get everything done. If I had super-speed, I could read entire books in a flash, travel anywhere without wasting a lot of time in between and generally do more instead of feeling like time is rushing by. There's also the really cool effect of being able to get in and out of anywhere before people notice ... except for the sonic boom and other chaos.

I guess the down side would be that I'd find it hard to do my ordinary desk job because I'd be cramming six months of work into an hour before anyone could tell me what to do next. I suppose, however, that I could earn my day-to-day living in emergency response and pizza delivery while writing novels in the blink of an eye.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could also do stocktake for retail stores so quickly they wouldn't need to close down.
PPS - Though they'd need to double-check the results.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


I've been a long-time critic of the TransLink website for its limited, stylised maps, poor descriptions of bus stop locations and generally confusing trip planner results. They've just launched a new website that is much prettier ... and exactly as useful as the old one, which is not enough. I'm not saying they haven't put some effort in here, because it's clearly been someone's year-long project to attach bells and whistles and generally polish things up. What I'm saying is that if you're going to redesign your website, take the time to run a usability study and find out where the problems are.

For most of your users, the problems will not be "the menus aren't animated enough" nor "I need the individual parts of my journey planner results to light up when I mouse over them". For me, the first thing I would say in that focus group would be: "when I get my journey planner results, I need to go elsewhere to load a map to figure out where my bus stop is, and even then I'm not sure I've got it right".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've heard they plan to make their data available to Google Maps before the end of the year.
PPS - If they can do that, surely they can integrate real maps in their own website.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Miles Dyson's lack of curiosity

If you were Miles Dyson working at Cyberdyne Systems in the universe of Terminator 2, what would you think about the chip you were studying? Personally, I believe I would assume it came from a millitary operation that went wrong - something advanced and secret from the US armed forces blew up in some Afghanistan desert somewhere and someone managed to find the chip to copy.

The robot arm, however, would be much harder to explain, which is a little unexpected given how much less advanced it is. However, it's far more specialised. A chip could be used for anything from missile guidance to robot vision or radio signal encryption. A robot limb in the exact shape of a human arm doesn't involve so much imagination. Either it came from a whole human-shaped robot or it was a prosthetic for an amputee. If it belongs with the highly-advanced chip, however, you have to be talking humanoid robot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That "don't ask where it came from" policy just wouldn't work.
PPS - Not with a bunch of engineers.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Christmas Carols

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols" features zombified versions of Christmas carols. I'm hoping it's not just a case of all the lyrics being turned to "brains".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Although a group of zombie carolers singing about brains would be a sight to see.
PPS - Right before they eat you, of course.

The natural state of a TODO list

What is the natural state of a TODO list? Is it naturally empty, always growing or always in motion? Your one true TODO list will never be really empty, and it shouldn't just sit stagnant, ever-growing and eventually ignored. It needs to be in constant flow, like a stream of water, with new items coming in and done items going out. Your list will shrink and grow sometimes, but on the whole it will probably remain about the same size. The particular items on the list, however, should definitely change, and technically (according to the Getting Things Done method) nothing should stay there longer than two weeks. That's a real trick, and I certainly don't have it down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's what weekly reviews are for.
PPS - I haven't made time to do them lately.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Proposing a heckler's license

Deb and I went to see Tripod the other night, and it was pretty good. Now, of course, most live comedy events will have a heckler or two, and this was no exception. The band was pretty good about it, and even encouraged it by interacting with the guy, because, well, that's part of the spontenaity of a live event. The trouble was, for the most part, this particular heckler was just bad at it.

So I think it's time there was a license involved. You take your six months at Heckling School and get your official Heckler's License for this state, and then you're free to heckle at any live comedy gig. It might be a bit more disruptive during the show to have ushers going around checking licenses, and the performers want to know they're being heckled by a worthy opponent, so they may need to be given special hats or something to identify them quickly. I'm sure we can work out the kinks later.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or we could just put in a heckler's pit at the front of the stage.
PPS - Then open a big trap door just as the performers come out.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Where memes go to die

There are certain ideas that are really mean or unpleasant to pass on. I know several of them, because I am on the internet a lot, but I'm not even going to mention any of them by name or implication, because that's the point of this post. The only reason to tell other people about these things is to share your pain, but these are not the kinds of situations where pain shared is halved. If anything, it multiplies. For myself, I prefer to be a place where such evil memes go to die. I won't pass them on, and I won't talk about them. Those times where I find myself in power to do so, I will prevent others from passing them on, too. They will never truly die, I suppose, but by being voluntary meme quarantine zones, we can help slow their spread.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only I could reverse the spread and actually destroy one.
PPS - Or stop new ones being created.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

GMail priority inbox continuum

Email has gotten to such ridiculous levels for some people that plain old spam filtering isn't enough. I like Google's idea of Priority Inbox, where it helps you decide what is important and what's not, but I'm not so sure about the way it divides the inbox into tiers. I'm sure they tried it, but I wonder how it would look if they just sorted the inbox by perceived importance, highest at the top, lowest at the bottom. There's not always a clear distinction between Important and Unimportant, but some things are more important than others. With just a continual gradation from Most Important to Least Important, no matter how much Important email you get, the most important stuff is always at or near the top.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't get nearly enough email to test this.
PPS - And I'm not going to try getting enough.

Monday, 8 November 2010

One-way trips to Mars

So NASA is talking about one-way trips to Mars, because the difficulty with getting to Mars is getting back. But who do we send? Then consider the jail debate: we have some prisoners on death row that we're just going to execute. It seems like two problems with one solution, where we turn Mars into a prison planet. The bonus is a new reality TV show, too. The unintended side-effect? Only one guy arrives alive at Mars, wearing a necklace made of ears.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In reality, a one-way trip to Mars will probably be even more expensive.
PPS - Because after a few years, you have to send a rescue mission.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Desktop environment missing features

Things that are missing from today's computer desktops:

1. Multi-touch monitors. Not that you would use them all the time, but why the hell do we only put touch screens on mobiles?

2. Tabbed desktops. Just about every program has tabs for different contexts or documents these days. It's time the desktop environment caught up.

3. Zoomable desktops. MS Office has started to go the right way with a zoom slider in the bottom right corner. Desktop environments need to play catch-up again.

4. Universal file tagging, with accompanying search and browse functions. My files don't fit in single folders and if they did, I'd forget where I put them. I should be able to use ad-hoc tags to identify my files, and don't forget the ability to list all untagged files either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We seem to have had basically the same visual environment since the original Macintosh.
PPS - Or only slight improvements.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Hand-painted shoes

Some enterprising artisan has created some hand-painted zombie-foot shoes. Well done.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, and the post-walk announcement for the 2010 Brisbane Zombie Walk is up.
PPS - In short, 10000 participants, $13000 for the Brain Foundation, and behave yourself next year.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Job satisfaction

I read recently that the myth of the "dream job" tends to make you put less emphasis on your current job and forget the hard work necessary to start your own business. Once you look past the fluff like "have the courage to follow your dreams", you find that most people who did so were already skilled in a valuable and rare field, which is what they went and used to start their dream job business. The other half of the argument said that people who perceive their own jobs as a career or even a calling are more likely to be satisfied where they are, and they found some very ordinary jobs with very satisfied people to back it up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So the moral is that job satisfaction has a lot more to do with you than your job.
PPS - Unless your job involves regular abuse or questions about fries.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

For the price of a cup of coffee

I jokingly posted to Facebook the other day that charities who sell useless pins and pens "for the price of a cup of coffee" should just raise funds by selling coffee. Coffee is pretty cheap to make, and now rather than asking people to give up their coffee to help a charity, you're giving them coffee and the opportunity to help a charity. It seems like a slightly better way of doing things, mostly because what you're selling is now consumable instead of destined for landfill, nobody has to change their behaviour much (just buy your coffee from here instead of there) and you might get noticed as the charity that actually thinks about fundraising a bit differently.

The one disadvantage is the loss of free advertising. When you sell someone a pin, if they wear it, you advertise your charity to other people and your donors get to display their support publicly. The Facebook comments sorted that out quickly enough: just get the cardboard cups printed up with the name and logo of your charity. If enough charities buy into the idea, you might even be able to offer this as a regular service at a permanent location, though that might drive the overheads up a bit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I would buy a coffee from a place like that.
PPS - Then there are others who prefer the pens and pins. To each their own.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Electronics convergence

All portable electronics are destined to be converged into the mobile phone. That is not to say that there won't still be iPods, GPS navigators, cameras, ebook readers and so on, but our phones will be able to do the same thing well enough that they will swallow up the low end of the market almost automatically. Only if you want really high quality or fine-grained control will you need to buy a dedicated device. For everything else, there's an app for that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And for some things, an app is the only time such functions have been feasible.
PPS - That's the extreme low end of the market where it's not worth making dedicated hardware.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Australian public holiday oddities

There are a few oddities in the Christmas 2010 and Easter 2011 public holidays in Australia coming up. First, since both Christmas and Boxing day are on a weekend, their public holidays have been moved to the Monday and Tuesday BUT the Monday one is officially for Boxing day, which means we get our public holiday for Boxing Day before Christmas Day. As for Easter, it turns out ANZAC Day is on Easter Monday, so an extra public holiday has been scheduled for Tuesday, making the Easter long weekend in 2011 a whopping 5 days long. As if that weren't enough, the real Christmas and New Years' Days are also public holidays, though they fall on weekends, which bumps up the official count of public holidays for the year, but doesn't really provide any benefit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I almost forgot to post today.
PPS - But by my clock, I still have about 83 minutes left of today.

Friday, 29 October 2010

NaNoWriMo and motivation

Only about 20% of people who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually complete their 50 000 words. What does that tell you about writing and people? To me, it says that a publicly-declared intention does not ensure follow-through on a goal, and that setting the goal is not the problem. It takes more than "just get started, then keep going" to write a novel, and those 80% of people who fail will attest to that. I think NaNoWriMo needs to look to those 80% of failed participants and ask them what went wrong. Did they run out of steam? Was their idea not sustainable for the length of a novel? Were they derailed by some personal disaster, or could they just not commit to the time it took every day?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not enough attention is paid to failure stories these days.
PPS - Which is a pity. We could learn so much.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Left 4 Dead mods

This week, two mods for Left 4 Dead:
One which mimics Super Mario 64 settings, in case you felt Mario didn't have enough zombies to fight.
The other replaces zombies with Teletubbies, in case you want to do violence to children's TV.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't actually played Left 4 Dead, modded or not.
PPS - I don't know whether I would enjoy it.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Supervillains and unusual weapons

Why do supervillains spend so much time and effort developing hand-held freeze rays, death rays and other weapons when we already have ordinary guns? Either they have some kind of fixation with non-lethal weapons or they want to prove their intelligence by going out of their way to create unusual ways of doing harm and incapacitating people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I'd probably go with a freeze ray.
PPS - Not an ice ray, but more of a time-stopping gun.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bees 1, Humans 0

I've just read that bees out-perform our best traveling salesman algorithms, and it's not entirely clear why. I think the abstraction of the problem doesn't directly translate into physical space all the time, and that could skew the results. A computer needs to travel the graph in a specified manner, only following connections that are given between nodes. How do you model, for a bee, that flower A can be reached from flower B, but never directly from flower C? No matter how you lay them out, you can never exclude a particular route between two points without completely constraining the results.

As observed, however, this indicates one of two things: tiny clusters of neurons are more powerful computers than anything we have ever built, or we have drastically misunderstood this problem. Given how often nature outsmarts us, I'm going with option 2, but either way is a pretty big failure on the part of us humans. Either we can't build a computer as powerful as a few bee neurons or decades of programming has never yielded the shortcut.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apparently I have trouble explaining why this is a difficult problem.
PPS - If it wasn't difficult, quite frankly, it wouldn't be a problem at all.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

What IKEA needs

Outside IKEA, there needs to be an area designated for family members to camp for the night with purchases that didn't fit in the car this time around. Now the question is: who do you leave behind to guard your stuff?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would depend on who you have with you and what they're guarding.
PPS - You might find they've banded together and built a fort with other stranded people when you return.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Phone obsolescence

It's scary how quickly mobile phones become outdated and obsolete. Our phone companies make us sign on for two years to get a handset, the warranty is typically 12 months and the phone is woefully out of date after 6 months. Are we going to reach a point where things level out? Mobiles will always lag behind desktop computers in all attributes so there will probably always be advancements to be made, especially if we keep on changing wireless technology.

The thing is, at some point there's not much difference between dirt cheap speed and memory amounts. When there's not much practical difference between processor speed, memory and storage, we've reached the point of "good enough", where basic hardware meets everyone's needs adequately, and no one handset has much of an advantage beyond any other. Then there is no obsolete, only worn out.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I would like to live in those days.
PPS - But then there would be something else to complain about.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fighting tsunami with tsunami

Can a tsunami be stopped by a head-on collision with another tsunami? With ordinary waves, the answer is "no", because a wave is not moving water, but moving energy, and two ordinary waves will not collide but briefly mix, then proceed on their way, much unchanged. To stop a wave, you need to absorb, divert or nullify the energy, which pretty much means walls, not waves. But if a tsunami is actually moving water, then perhaps a lot of the energy can be absorbed by a counter-tsunami, assuming you can create such a thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - From Wikipedia, it looks like a counter-tsunami would only be useful on land.
PPS - And that makes no sense.

Friday Zombie Blogging - BZW2010

I know I mentioned it before, but now all the details of Brisbane Zombie Walk 2010 are worked out. From noon on the 24th - this Sunday! - from Wickham Park to Centenary Park, I and a lot of other zombie-attired people will be shuffling and moaning to raise money for the Brain Foundation. Apparently there will be food and entertainment beforehand, as well as an after-party. Should be pretty cool!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I'd been more organised, I might have gone with a Plants vs Zombies costume.
PPS - As it is, I'll pretty much be "cubicle zombie", with a name tag and old computer mouse.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Respect for astronauts

Just as I was going to sleep the other day, I got a weird kind of sympathetic claustrophobia on behalf of astronauts. For that moment, I could almost imagine being sealed inside a tin can millions of kilometres from the nearest atmosphere, and it freaked me out. From that point of view, it's like having to be buried alive to see the stars.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might be why they look forward to spacewalks so much.
PPS - It would be like getting out for some fresh air, in a weird way.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sharing Skype

It seems awkward sometimes that Skype can't have two accounts signed in on the one machine simultaneously. If I have a separate account to Deb, but we share one computer most of the time, then we need to choose which one of those two accounts will be signed in, but we might not have matching contact lists, so, for instance, Deb might miss a chance to talk to an old college friend because they think she is not online. It's a pain to switch accounts, and it's not always possible either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only answer I've seen is to use two Windows accounts and external handsets.
PPS - Or not share a computer.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Finding the perfect shoe

I have solved the problem of women's shoes forever, as long as you think the problem is never finding shoes that fit and match your clothes. With a 3D printer in your home, assuming you can find goop that wears well, you could print shoes that fit your feet perfectly and always match your clothes. You'd never be without the perfect pair of shoes, but you would have to put in work to design and print them yourself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And you'd probably end up with a house full of prototype shoes.
PPS - Which I know sounds like winning to some people.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Diminished Reality

Diminished Reality is a real-time video processing system that can erase objects from live video. The demo only looks at stationary objects, which I suppose is the limitation so far, but I suspect it will not be too long before it can remove people from video. The upshot of this is a new nifty feature for script writers to incorporate into their next heist movie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The thieves just need to load the software into the security system.
PPS - And selectively erase themselves, of course.

Friday, 15 October 2010

One-time password keyrings

At some point we have to acknowledge that those little RSA random-number one-time-password keyrings are not the answer to our security problems. For one, if every password was backed up with a unique one-time-password token, I would be carrying more of those things than keys on my keyring, and would probably need a big old-style janitor's keyring to keep them all. You know, the kind that's so big you could slide it on your arm all the way up to your shoulder? I'd also have a lot of trouble telling them apart.

Okay, so what do we do instead? Probably the best compromise is SMS as a second factor, since we all have mobile phones. If your objection to that solution is that it's too easy to steal, remember the tokens. They're even easier to lose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure someone could come up with better two-factor authentication.
PPS - As long as it's genuinely two-factor

Friday Zombie Blogging - Undead Banana

A drawing of a zombie banana. Just look at it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The text says "old bananas never die".
PPS - I guess they just fade away.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Indispensable tools

I don't think any individual tool qualifies as "indispensable". What matters most is that some solution exists to the common problems of life, such as communication, transport, food and shelter. The telephone could be replaced by Skype, your car by communal dirigibles, the supermarket and your fridge by local farmer's markets and your private house by a staked-out area in one enormous aircraft hangar for your community. The world doesn't need to look and behave like it does today for society to keep working.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The internet could be replaced by carrier pigeons.
PPS - A lot of pigeons.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Negativity and the security mindset

Does security thinking foster a negative attitude? When you're thinking about things in security terms, you think about what would make it fail and what the results of failure are. If you carry that way of thinking into everyday life, it's probable that you would see a lot of things very negatively. It wouldn't necessarily affect you that way, but it would be a strong tide to push against.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps it would work out like negative visualisation.
PPS - That is, picturing negatives makes you appreciate your current positives.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Password generation

Using the same password everywhere is easy but insecure. If one account is compromised, they all are. Using different passwords everywhere is more secure, but much harder, because you have to remember a whole lot more different things. Perhaps a good compromise is a hybrid scheme where you construct site-specific passwords based on their context. You'd have a normal, short password as your base, then mentally construct the rest from the website name.

So, say (as a bad example) that you're using "abc123" as your base password and want to sign up to Dropbox. You decide you will append the last 4 letters of the site in reverse order to your base password, so your Dropbox password becomes "abc123xobp". Then later you create a Google account, so your password there is "abc123elgo". Unique passwords, memorable (to you, hopefully) so there's nothing to write down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally I use KeePass to generate random passwords.
PPS - But that means I'm helpless without it.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Unreliable networks and tools to use them

Despite the way our internet connections are getting faster and more reliable, sometimes we have to deal with file transfers and remote control over network connections that are somewhat below the minimum reliability threshold. In those cases, it helps to have systems in place that can tolerate a lot more network interruption than is expected these days.

For instance, say you need to run some maintenance programs on a server that's halfway around the world, and the network between that point and your desk is dropping out once every minute. A normal remote desktop session isn't going to cut it, because it expects a constant connection and a certain bandwidth. You'd do better with commands relayed asynchronously, perhaps via an intermediary.

And very large file transfers in such circumstances should not have to be done in one go, because it probably won't happen. You need something that can resume when it drops out and retry parts that don't work properly. Today's standard methods simply don't expect or handle unreliable networks.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Akira would probably fit the bill for the first part.
PPS - And I've already written about Bittorrent for the second.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Google Chrome vs Firefox

I heard that Google's web browser, Chrome, was gaining popularity among my people, so I decided to give it a go. For a week at work I've been using Chrome for my personal web browsing, which might not have been the best test, since I don't do that much personal browsing at work. The pros and cons, as I see them, weighed up as follows.

Since I use for my bookmarks, I didn't have options to import anything, so I had to find things manually. The Home button doesn't show up by default, and I don't notice any particular speed improvements over Firefox. I also slightly miss my Facebook toolbar and the way Firefox protects saved passwords with a local master password.

That said, Chrome makes better use of screen real-estate than Firefox and I quite like the history thumbnails that show up on new tabs. I also like the way extensions can load without requiring a browser restart.

So on the whole, not a big change, but a few points where Firefox could pick up some slack.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure which one I'll stick with long-term.
PPS - Probably Firefox, for now.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Movie zombies comparison

Know Your Movie Zombie Outbreak Survivability. This is just a graph of movie zombie types on axes of intelligence and speed.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously the stupider and slower they are, the better.
PPS - Though it doesn't hurt to be well armed and to outnumber them.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Discounting iTunes gift cards

JB HiFi and various other retailers occasionally sell iTunes gift vouchers at a discounted price, so you're able to get, say, $40 iTunes credit for only $30 outlay. This means two things. One, it is cheaper to go through a middleman retailer for your iTunes credit than to hand your money directly to Apple. Two, Apple are selling these cards to retailers for less than their face value, presumably as a form of advertising for iTunes, and cutting off part of their profits as a result.

Whatever proportion of the sale goes to Apple when you buy directly from iTunes is probably half or less what they get from selling cards to retailers. And as it is easy to verify from many online sources, Apple's profit margin on iTunes is massive compared to what the publisher and artist get, so there's plenty of room to bargain. But why undercut themselves by so much? Well, it's either a way to get non-credit-card-holders onto iTunes or simple advertising, as I said earlier. If you get in the habit of buying from iTunes, sooner or later you'll stop bothering with the cards and just buy direct.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Even when they're generous, they're insidious.
PPS - Did you expect anything else?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What would happen to the Clem Jones Tunnel?

Even before the tunnel opened, there have been news stories about the imminent death of the Clem Jones Tunnel and the company that owns it. They're still kicking on, and they may yet find a way to turn a real profit, but my question is this: what happens if the company does die a horrible death? Our council has already said that they have no interest in buying and operating the tunnel, but somebody has to end up owning it. To what other uses could a tunnel like that be put, if not for toll-based transport? I suppose tecnically you could build a long, narrow, underground office in there, though then it might not meet fire safety standards.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The city council is still the most likely eventual owner.
PPS - And the only one that really makes sense.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Any shopping bags are a problem

You know, with everyone in such a state about shopping bags, almost nothing seems like a good option. Ordinary plastic shopping bags take forever to break down, get eaten by wildlife etc. Biodegradable plastics are expensive or don't work. Reusable green bags wear out and are made of pretty much the same stuff as the original plastic ones. Maybe the best option is to use unbleached paper bags made from recycled paper pulp. They go straight back to our home recycling bins to be remade into new bags. No fuss, no mess. The only problem with them would be strength, and I'm sure we can get around that one if we try.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or we could all get those old-style trolley bags.
PPS - But I'd feel silly with one of those.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Naming diseases

Is it more helpful to name diseases after their symptoms (eg whooping cough), the organs they affect (eg appendicitis), their discoverers (eg Wilson's disease) or something else entirely? Perhaps their cause? They'd each have their slight advantages, whether quicker diagnosis or teaching medical history. Sometimes I get the impression that some diseases could use better naming schemes, and they're usually the ones named after their discoverers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, since my medical opinion is based entirely on House, add a grain of salt.
PPS - It's never lupus.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Exercising to avoid sickness

I have heard people observe that when they feel themselves getting sick, exercise sometimes helps them stay well. Could there be anything to that? My only theory is that a raised body temperature from exercise does much the same thing as a fever would, and burns out the infection.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Getting yourself up and moving is another matter.
PPS - I never feel like being active while sick.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Studies

If you attend the University of Baltimore, you could sign up for English 333: zombie studies. Students will watch zombie movies and read zombie comics. Presumably, at some point, they are assessed on this in the traditional way, but I like to imagine a different scenario. At the end of the semester, the professor says to the whole class, "Let's see what you've learned!" and releases a horde of zombies into the room.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you survive, you win.
PPS - If you die ... uh ... refund?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Audio bird dictionary

There's a kind of "book" that is only possible with modern technology: a reverse audio dictionary. By that I mean a way of looking up definitions by sounds that can't be written down. You could have an audio dictionary where you look up, say, "magpie" and hear its various sounds, but only with a microphone, a database and a little software processing could you play a sound and identify it. This has been done a few times now, with music, birds and probably some others, and it's one of those ways we skipped books for passing on expertise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Without this, your only option is finding an expert.
PPS - Or not bothering at all.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Mobile plan data inclusions as standard

I am happy to discover that data inclusions are more common on mobile phone plans these days. When the iPhone first came out and included data was a synonym for iPhone, I was kind of bitter about it. There was nothing special about the iPhone's ability for mobile internet, but arm-twisting mobile providers into including a download allocation made it seem revolutionary. And it was, in a way, but to tie it exclusively to the iPhone hardware was nonsense. Now, finally, it seems like we're at the point where we admit other phones can use the mobile web too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As usual, I'm a little behind on this one.
PPS - I always get into stuff just as it's finishing being cool.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Search vs browsing

A search feature, if done well, is a good way to get to exactly what you want, quickly and easily. But the whole of human experience is not built on getting only what you're looking for. Lots of what we come to love gets accidentally discovered while browsing at random. It's a more time-intensive activity where things are not necessarily handed to you on a silver platter, but it can lead to some very rewarding experiences. This is why so many web catalogues need categories, featured products and suggestions. Search is only half the picture.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only Google equivalent is the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
PPS - Or maybe Google Reader Play.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Running red lights, pedestrian crossings and blind people

I wonder if drivers would be more careful at pedestrian crossings if they saw a blind person standing there. When I cross the road outside the train station in the morning, I frequently see people run the red light, even after my pedestrian crossing light has gone green. I just wonder whether they would take more care if it looked like I would be responding instantly and automatically to the alert that sounds when the lights change.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps some day I'll try carrying a white cane to see what happens.
PPS - I'll have to establish some kind of baseline statistic first, though.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Before and After movie ratings

After being pleasantly surprised by the movie Easy A, I tried to come up with a before-and-after movie scoring system that would take surprise enjoyment and bitter disappointment into account.

Before seeing a movie, rate it out of five (no half scores) on how much you expect to enjoy it. Afterwards, rate it again on how much you did enjoy it. The final score is your after score squared divided by the before score. This means movies get a bonus if you go in with low expectations but are pleasantly surprised, and that you'll get a very low rating for being disappointed.

The disadvantage of the system, of course, is that it still gives a pretty big bonus to the low-expectations movies. The best score you can get for something you expected to be great is "5", but you get almost the same for a 1-before-2-after movie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So this might not be quite right yet.
PPS - But I think movies that exceed expectations should get extra credit.

Friday Zombie Blogging - A movie meta-poster

New website has a zombie poster depicting a zombie hand made up of distinct zombie movie, book or video game titles:

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Cool, isn't it?
PPS - It'll be interesting to see what other things they offer.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Communal amenities

What home services could be centralised? I think in a block of units (or a group of townhouses) it would be easy enough to fit one large air conditioning system for the whole building, and probably more efficient too. Same goes for hot water, in theory, though you might need internal hot water meters to divide that part of the electric bill fairly. I know some places have communal laundry rooms and when you get right down to cheap student housing you start getting shared bathrooms and lounges.

My point is that if we start overcrowding and also try to conserve energy and other resources, our current ideals of free-standing houses with private gardens and separate amenities is going to start looking pretty wasteful of both space and energy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most eco-house concepts still seem to be free-standing.
PPS - Green living in a society really wouldn't look like that.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Act different to think different

Rules inform behaviour; behaviour becomes habit; habit gets rationalised; rationalisations become attitude; attitudes become character. Usually we look to modify behaviour from the top down, changing our attitudes first, and hoping that the effect will flow down. The thing is that an attitude is a hard thing to change, especially when your actions aren't already backing it up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My own attitudes change more easily in response to my actions.
PPS - You really should try it both ways and see what works.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Just another DRM failure

The HDCP master key has been leaked, which means anything that used to be "protected" by this pseudo-secret is now very vulnerable to attack, including Blu-Ray discs and HDMI cable connections. The point is this: the movie studios crammed HDCP down the collective throats of the electronics industry as yet another form of built-in failure, and now their critical secrets are out in the open and the whole scheme will come crashing down.

Did anyone predict this? Yes, in fact. Just about everyone, including security professionals, DRM nay-sayers and, I dare say, many people inside the MPAA itself. Next, will it matter if they were proven right and the DRM-happy higher-ups were dead wrong? You can pretty much bet on "no".

What will happen next? First, a mad scramble to try and suppress the secret key, which won't work. Next, investigations into key revocation, which won't work. Finally, someone will suggest generating a new key, essentially invalidating the old one and making all previously-sold equipment into incompatible paperweights. This might actually be the preferred approach, which will mean we'll start getting "Blu-Ray 2.0", and have to buy new TVs, new set-top boxes and new cables all over again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - According to Hollywood, this will be known as "the price of piracy".
PPS - The rest of us will call it "highway robbery".

Monday, 20 September 2010

MMORPG Usability

It would be interesting to see someone do a software usability study on MMORPGs for new users. Coming from City of Heroes to World of Warcraft is quite a shock, given how casual-friendly CoH is. Anthony stated that WoW was actually a step up in usability for him, however, since his previous MMO was Final Fantasy XI which was very complicated.

I imagine, since most games are rather different, it would be hard to compare them to each other, but the elements they share in common could be tested, in theory. I imagine the most useful single number to boil down would be gameplay hours until decent proficiency, but since you can't directly define "proficiency" across games, it would be almost impossible to get such a number.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I think City of Heroes has a much nicer UI than WoW.
PPS - It's more helpful but still isn't intrusive.

Friday, 17 September 2010

iPod Prices per Gigabyte Then and Now

If they had kept making old versions of the iPod, how much would they cost now? The original iPod held 5GB and cost $399, making its cost $79.8/GB. The latest (mid-range) iPod Touch holds 32GB and costs $334 or $10.43/GB. So an original iPod at that cost per GB would now only set you back just $52. Conversely, an iPod Touch at the old per-gigabyte price would cost $2553.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I got the current iPod Touch price from JB HiFi.
PPS - And I may be comparing AUD to USD, but you get the idea.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies caught on traffic camera

As an art project, Joe Sabia dressed up some people as zombies, arranged them around a red light traffic camera, then deliberately ran the red light to get the pictures delivered to him. It's kind of surreal.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Imagine that the camera is still faithfully doing its job after the zombie apocalypse takes over.
PPS - In that case, probably nobody would have to pay the fine.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Nokia Ovi Suite contact sync with Thunderbird

Tucked away in the update notes of Nokia Ovi Suite v2.2.1.23 is this: "Nokia Ovi Suite now supports syncing contacts with Mozilla Thunderbird 3.1". That's really significant for me, because the ability to sync my contacts with GMail is something I've been waiting for, and I know I can go via Thunderbird. I don't know yet whether it can sync calendars with Thunderbird, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Technically, I think that would be synchronising with the Lightning plugin.
PPS - And surely if they've done contact sync, they're aiming for calendars too.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Optical illusions on the road

Optical illusions have no place on the road. You might think it wouldn't enter anyone's mind, but apparently that's not the case. Some time ago there were trials conducted with painted speed bump illusions, and now a company called Preventable is running trials with a decal made to look like a child playing with a ball. These are bad ideas for two reasons. One, when drivers encounter them first, they draw undue attention from other driving tasks, potentially causing more accidents in the process. Second, once drivers get used to the illusions, they are trained to ignore them, which means they are less likely to pay attention to real road hazards, causing more accidents in the process.

In short, the upshot of optical illusions on the road is more accidents and more complacent drivers, which is the exact opposite of the intended effects. Ironically, it might be safer to put real people on the road in order to get drivers to slow down. At least they won't learn to ignore them.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps what we need is a dynamic speed-responsive hazard.
PPS - That is, one which reacts more strongly the faster you're going.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

GMail Priority Inbox

GMail's new Priority Inbox feature is kind of neat. Despite the cheesy animated explanation, the idea is nice and solid, and the implementation pretty good too. Basically, it extends the built-in spam filter a level further to determine which of your incoming emails are the most important and which can wait for later (but aren't spam).

I was doing a similar thing with my work email a few years ago via Thunderbird's built-in spam filtering, and it was extremely effective. I look forward to the same results in my GMail account, but first I might have to disable a few of my filters - until now I was using them to hold back unimportant emails. Now if only Outlook could catch up and include features that are in all the other email clients.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I say "all the others", but I'm only thinking of GMail and Thunderbird.
PPS - Though I'm sure there are more that beat Outlook at certain tasks.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Homeopathic Cola

meopathic reasoning, wouldn't drinking water from an old cola bottle become more effective at keeping you awake as time goes on? The residue becomes more and more diluted as time goes on, so that should make it a more potent homeopathic remedy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Homeopathic remedies have never produced greater effects than placebos.
PPS - But maybe sometimes that's enough to keep you awake.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Unpaid overtime should be illegal

It should be illegal not to pay workers for the overtime they work. Many bosses love to hold up workaholics as shining examples of the desired corporate culture. Basically if you're working a 70-hour week for a 40-hour wage, your boss will love you. And why shouldn't they? They're getting an extra 30 hours out of you, and all you ask in return is to be allowed to do it again next week.

I've written about this some time before, and how it amounts to slavery of a sort, but now I feel we need to go one better. We need to make sure it is illegal for companies to give you anything less than your full hourly rate for time you spend over and above your normal hours. Hopefully the least that will occur is that companies will start realising the diminishing returns they get from overworking people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course it's hard to verify unsupervised work in some cases.
PPS - So there would be cheats, but there are cheats now, so how is that different?

Friday Zombie Blogging - Why a zombie outbreak would fail

Assuming a zombie outbreak managed to start at all, has a list of reasons it would fail quickly, including natural predators and the inability to heal themselves.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It makes sense.
PPS - But that doesn't make the prospect any less scary if real.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Consulting and short term gains

There's always a problem in consulting companies of short foresight. They'd rather you make money right now doing billable work rather than spending money now that will save three times as much in the future. And if you think you're waiting for a good time to do process improvement, you'll never get there. There's never an ideal time. Either saving future money is a priority or it's not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sometimes it's hard to figure out concrete return on investment numbers.
PPS - And sometimes even that doesn't help.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Water tanks and storm water drainage

Would water tanks on every home reduce the need for storm water drainage? Thinking about it briefly, it should mean that whatever water is running off the roofs of houses is being trapped in water tanks and not running down the street. Then again, you'd still need to account for the kind of storm that fills every tank to overflowing, which means you need full capacity.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And on the whole it's probably not worth taking into account.
PPS - It may become more relevant as time goes on.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Warm-weather skiing

I have a theory that we could bolt down some spongy netting to a mountain or ramp with an appropriate coating or sheath that would approximate the sensation of under-the-skis (or board) snow without requiring cold weather. Apparently they do this already, but you can't turn on it. To me, that's a pretty serious design flaw. To ski-jumpers, it's hardly noticeable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure it comes in handy for them in their off-season training.
PPS - But even ski-jumpers have to turn at some point, don't they?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Forwards-compatible standards

Forward-compatible standards are the next step after getting everyone to implement interoperable industry standards. Actually, there might be a step between those that I'd call "open standards". Implementing any kind of standard is much better than relying on proprietary formats, and implementing open standards is better than that, because it fosters innovation and competition, leading to better products. Forward-compatible standards means that my set-top DVD player would be able to play Blu-Ray discs (though probably at lower resolution) if only the standards committee had designed for a bit of growth in the standard. I wouldn't have to keep upgrading my home entertainment systems if the standards were designed with a bit of forethought.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Forwards compatibility is a lot harder than it seems.
PPS - More so in hardware than in software, I think.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies Win Court Case

About four years ago now, a group of people dressed up as zombies to protest mindless consumerism at a mall. They were arrested and jailed on the grounds that they possessed items resembling weapons of mass destruction (an iPod with speakers). Anyway, they've won their court battle against the city of Minneapolis.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There were only seven people in the group.
PPS - So I guess their protest didn't look very much like one.

Motion-capture actors

I think motion-capture actors should be called "puppeteers" because, in a very real way, they're moving a virtual puppet around. To apply terms like "virtual actor" to the combination of human and digital effect is a bit overblown, in my mind.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It does kind of broaden the definition of "puppet" though.
PPS - The world changes, though. Its words should change too.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Your computer doesn't care if you're angry

It surprises me just how quickly people lose patience with computers. The moment the extremely complex machine sitting on their desk goes even *slightly* wrong, it gets hit with a string of adjectives like "stupid", "useless", "frustrating", "annoying" and quite often growling too. I've learned to be more patient, quite simply because the computer doesn't care. It's not an entity that will respond to your anger, it's a box. Getting mad at it makes as much sense as railing at the traffic lights for being red. This is what they do. They were doing it before you got here and they will continue to do it obliviously after you leave. This is a problem or puzzle to solve, not a malicious imp that you can scare away. Cut your PC some slack, will you?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's like an artist blaming his canvas for being blank.
PPS - And it's about as helpful.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Train platform side announcements

Every day on the train I hear them announce what side of the train the platform will be on. Every time it's something like "platform will be on the right-hand side in the direction of travel". Now, there are a couple of terms already for the left- and right-hand sides in the direction of travel: port and starboard. People might not be quite familiar enough with them to get it right away, but I think they would catch on soon enough. What do you think?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I were making the announcements, I might do it just for fun.
PPS - And then I'd probably "ARR!" like a pirate.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Paper note-taking will be here for a while

Paper note-taking and idea sketching is going to be around for a long time unless someone creates a system that can do just as well on computers. It will probably be on a tablet machine like the iPad, though it would likely work best where some kind of stylus is involved, for more natural drawing. Otherwise, trying to sketch things with a finger would feel more like trying to draw on a mirror with a sausage.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I frequently find myself with an idea I can't write out on computer.
PPS - The closest to paper is Paint, and that's just sad.

Monday, 30 August 2010

GMail and expired contact details

GMail has no notion of a retired email address. For instance, say a friend is changing jobs, so her work email is no longer valid. If I remove that address from her contact record, then anything she has ever sent me from work won't show up if I search for recent conversations with her. If I leave it there, it's polluting my contacts list with defunct addresses that I will never use again. The best solution I can think of is to rename it from "Work" to something like "DoNotUse". It's ugly, but it maintains the address association for historical records while reminding me that this is no longer a valid address (although it will only remind me when I look at my contacts, not when I type a name for an address).

What would be better, if GMail is going to hold all my email for all time, is to be able to mark email addresses (and perhaps other contact details?) as expired, while maintaining their association with contacts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This might not come up if I didn't have six years of email in archive.
PPS - I'm pretty sure I've dissociated other addresses from their owners, losing email along the way.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Visual Studio Lightswitch

Having just written about a need for rapid database prototyping, along comes a beta version of something from Microsoft called Visual Studio Lightswitch. Now, it's not so much focused on model-based data prototyping, but it is configured for very fast data-driven application design and implementation. It's a great idea, though I'm not totally sure it belongs as a separate application. Perhaps the niche they're trying to fill is one step above Access but below fully-custom code.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is more like rapid user interface development for databases.
PPS - I assume the name is meant to imply the simplicity of switching on a light.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Sand is creepy

From the site Epic Win FTW, today's offering is a sand sculpture of zombies with tombstones. To me, it looks kind of like a zombie family portrait.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Say cheese!
PPS - Or maybe "say brains"?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Parking phone calls vs transferring

From what I've seen, "call parking" is more common and far easier to understand than call transfers on office phone systems. As long as the volume of transferred calls is small enough never to overflow the one or two "parked call" buttons, it's much easier to just park a call, call the forwarding extension, then explain that so-and-so is waiting on Park 1. This also has the advantage of allowing the forwarding party to pick up again if there is no answer, and for the call to wait a few seconds until the new recipient is ready. To see how much more intuitive it is, try drawing a diagram of call forwarding without using an extra location for the call that waits in limbo to be transferred.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In case you're not familiar, "parked" calls are just on hold.
PPS - And anyone can pick up.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Quickflix's good record with scratched discs

Recently I seemed to be getting more damaged discs from Quickflix, but rather than complain right away, I thought I'd look at the data. I loaded the website, copied my entire rental history and pasted it into a spreadsheet so I could see how many discs were damaged. Over the course of our membership, we have rented 334 discs. Of them, it seems only 7 have been damaged beyond watching, and every one was replaced. I know there were one or two that didn't get watched past the damaged portion, and at least once we sent back the damaged replacement and just rented the same title from Video Ezy. Still, 7 out of 334 is a pretty darn good record, and I'm glad I checked the data before making any emotional response. Keep up the good work, Quickflix!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The most recent damage was Michael Moore's "Sicko".
PPS - I've sent it back twice now.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Model-based Database Prototyping

If there's one software project idea that keeps coming back to taunt me, it's this: rapid database prototyping. I got hooked on database modelling with a relatively obscure approach called Object Role Modelling. The industry standard is either creating database tables directly or Entity Relationship modelling, which is pretty much the same thing. My Big Idea is to use ORM to draw domain object relationships, then have the program transform it into mock-up database tables as well as prototype user interface code.

None of that is too groudbreaking, and you could do it fairly easily with existing tools. The next step is to modify the domain model and have the tools update the prototype code while retaining as much test data as possible. That's not so easy, but it's also not impossible. I could probably manage it with data dumps, new scripts and manually-written data migration, though I imagine that would get tedious. Given what exists already, perhaps all I need is an assistant tool for data migration between different database schemas.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If that makes any sense.
PPS - Data migration isn't so easy.

Monday, 23 August 2010

DVD rental by vending machine

Twice now I've seen DVD rental vending machines, so it seems high time I write about them. What's the business model? Clearly it's something between Quickflix (subscription-based, no late fees) and bricks-and-mortar (one-time costs plus late fees) where you get your movie and just pay for how long you keep it. I haven't seen anyone use them, so I don't know what kind of sleeves or cases the discs come in, though I'm betting on clear sleeves with some kind of barcodes.

The two different brands of machine also appear to have different strategies for getting your money: the first offers your first rental free, the second takes your credit card right away. In the long run, both would end up about the same income for owners. The last questions are things like quality. Are these discs more likely to be scratched and abused? What's your recourse if the disc is damaged when you get it? Do they come after you if you keep returning discs in scratched condition?

Personally I'm still waiting for the rather obvious business model of "burn on demand" for less-popular titles. Would it really be such a big hassle for a publisher to offer barebones DVDs burned on demand for those who want them? They might cost more, but the individual enthusiasts might be quite willing to pay more for their favourite niche-popularity movies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Another thing: how many of each movie do they have available?
PPS - If they were burnt on demand, that wouldn't matter.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cartooning memories to make them stick

I wonder if memories from your life would stick better if you cartoon them. It wouldn't take much, and I'm a pretty visual person, so I guess it would help. I wonder mostly because I remember The Simpsons more than my own life sometimes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It may just be that I watched a lot of Simpsons in my life.
PPS - Over and over and over...

Friday Zombie Blogging - Pirates of the Caribbean 4

Johnny Depp claims Pirates of the Caribbean 4 will contain zombies of some kind. Not sure yet if this just means the same "zombies" from the first film or some new, actual zombie pirates. Wait and see, I guess.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The zombies from the first movie were more like "conveniently immortal".
PPS - That's what it seemed like to me.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Replacing street addresses

I wonder if street addresses are on the way out. GPS makes it easier to use satellite coordinates, and we'd avoid the problems currently cropping up where suburb boundaries shift and different systems have different maps. I know of a few places where most GPS maps think a street is in one suburb and the post office thinks it's in another.

Of course, both of those problems can be fixed by smarter search (that doesn't depend on an exact suburb match) and always-online maps, so we're more likely to see advancements in maps and search rather than wholesale replacement of the old system.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd love to have Google Maps built into my car stereo.
PPS - But that's another story.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Is "meh" an opinion or nothing? If it were no reaction at all, it wouldn't be audible, so it is a reaction of indifference. "I have noticed this and while it affected me enough to respond, it didn't make any other impact on me." So why respond that way actively when no response at all expresses your indifference even better? The only reason must be to make sure someone else knows that what they've said is a pointless waste of your time. That seems kind of harsh to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Someone is sure to say "meh is just meh, you know?"
PPS - To them I say "meh".

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Things not to do on a treadmill

I had a moment of extreme stupidity at the gym last night that I thought might amuse people. It's the kind of thing that could easily end up on YouTube, only I didn't fall down. Picture four treadmills side by side. I'm on the second and Deb is on the fourth. We're both moving, and Deb tries to hand me her rings for safe keeping, mine being the only pockets around. I try to reach across with my open hand, and one of the rings slips, tumbling back past me and off the treadmill.

My first reaction, as it would be if I were running outside, was to turn around to get it. On a treadmill, it turns out, that's not such a good idea. After a second or two of what I imagine now as "hilarious arm waving and backwards running in place" I manage to drop off the back of the treadmill, retrieve the ring and smile sheepishly at the horrified attendant. The only apology I can offer for my actions is "Wow, that was really stupid."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I got back on another treadmill after shutting that thing off.
PPS - I imagine I've given the staff something to talk about too.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A scientific war dwarf

I was playing City of Villains with Deb and Anthony on Sunday night, and we were discussing an irregularity in one of my characters. Basically, he looks like a barbarian dwarf, with a war hammer and a shield, but he got his powers through a "Science" origin. We discussed as follows:

Anthony: "So why is your mace/shield barbarian guy is Science origin?"
Me: "I don't know. I haven't figured out his story."
A: "He bashes people on the head, for Science?"
M: "Perhaps he was accidentally brought to the present through some time-travel experiment."
A: "But that doesn't explain the origin of his powers, just his presence."
M: "His powers came through the experiment. With Science."
A: "Science is awesome."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Science is awesome.
PPS - Especially if it can bring super-powered barbarian dwarfs into the present.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Dropbox incident

A few days ago, I manually reset one of my computers during a Dropbox update. What I didn't realise at the time was that it would cause files that were halfway downloaded to be subsequently uploaded in a corrupted state. Fortunately, three things allowed me to fix it: Dropbox has a previous versions restoration feature, the corrupted files were uploaded at zero size and I was able to write a program to search out empty files to manually restore. Crisis averted!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never been so thankful for backup before.
PPS - One of the affected files was my blog drafts backlog.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Plants vs Zombies update

Popcap's Plants vs Zombies, after some quiet complaints from the estate of Michael Jackson, have removed the Jackson "Thriller" parody zombie from the game and replaced it with a fairly generic disco zombie. I'm in two minds about the move. On the one hand, I understand that they want to be respectful and honour the wishes of those who represent Jackson now. On the other hand, he did kind of start it. Back in the 80s.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - PvZ is also now available on XBox Live Arcade.
PPS - I couldn't find the disco zombie update article again.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sophistication and efficiency

Sophistication is inefficient. To settle the bill at a restaurant, if it's a classy place, I ask for the bill, the waiter brings it, I look it over and give them my credit card, they take it away and swipe it, then they come back with the receipt that I must sign, then they take it away again and we're done. All this for the privilege of not walking a few metres from the table. Doesn't seem like the best way to do things.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless your definition of "best" is "never mention money".
PPS - Or "never walk to complete a transaction".

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The New Teaching

I've read and heard that old-school preaching and lecturing is out, in favour of participatory interactive dialogue. It does make sense that this is how people think, and it further makes sense to attempt to work with that if that's your audience. However, if your audience won't sit still for 30 minutes to get the hang of a deep idea, then only the shallow ideas can be conveyed. If your audience passes out from boredom after 30 seconds, our next generation won't know how to operate our nuclear power plants, build rockets or, for that matter, drive a car or bake a cake.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If it can't be learned in 30-second chunks, it can't be conveyed this way.
PPS - Most advanced skills and ideas fit that description.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

In-store recipe database

At IGA on Sunday night I saw a touch-screen computer that intrigued me as I went past, so I brought Deb back for a look. It had categorised recipes you could browse, including images, and a facility to construct a shopping list for selected recipes, then print it out. The funny thing is that's almost exactly what Deb described to me as her ideal recipe database for home. I guess it makes a lot of sense that way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So I suppose now I have to duplicate that for home.
PPS - I doubt IGA would provide it for download.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Movie Prototyping

The extra features on the Meet the Robinsons DVD explained that, from the start of movie development, they storyboarded the entire thing, start to finish, and test-screened that "movie". That got me thinking about the comparisons between that approach and software prototyping. The sooner you get something in front of users, the better your feedback and the easier it is to change.

Movie prototyping wouldn't go quite like that, because they're different, but the approach has its hooks in me. The most positively-received parts of the movie get more work done, the least-popular parts get cut, then redo and rescreen. You'd get cheap feedback quickly and you'd know whether you're on a winner or not *before* you spend millions making the finished product. A dud might only cost you several thousand dollars, then gets discarded unfinished. If the movie industry is truly struggling to make money (they're not) then movie prototyping is exactly what they need to do.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You'd probably have to prototype the script along with the movie.
PPS - It would be a very different way to work.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Ideas vs execution

It's the execution of an idea, not the idea itself, that makes fiction compelling. If it were the originality of the idea, then a bad author handling a good idea would be far more entertaining than a good author with an ordinary idea. Similarly, no movies would ever be remade because the idea has already been done before (and there would be far fewer sequels too). The world would have only one love song, one painted portrait, one photograph of a sunrise and (blessedly) one romance novel if the only thing that mattered about art was unique ideas. But that's obviously not the case, because we are willing to go and see the "plucky ordinary hero defies the odds and brings down the arrogant, evil villains" movie over and over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm pretty sure there would only be one episode of many TV shows, too.
PPS - Like Bewitched.

Friday Zombie Blogging - A confusing car crash

A group of people dressed as zombies got into a car crash. Their gore makeup greatly confused onlookers and led them to believe the crash was far more serious than it actually was.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They could easily have had some fun with that.
PPS - Assuming they weren't actually injured, that is.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Practice makes imperfect

Why is practice looked down on? A singer who has had lessons is less respected than someone who is self-taught. A dancer who was never coached gets our raised-eyebrow nod of approval, but the one who worked hard at it for years gets the dismissive comments like "Yes, she's good, but she's had lessons." We seem to prefer raw talent even over that same talent honed by rehearsal.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I admit it's more impressive to be good at something without being taught.
PPS - But sometimes that gets carried a little further than it should.