Thursday, 31 May 2012

Search literacy

One thing that stuck out to me about Vernor Vinge's book "Rainbows End" was the high school curriculum inclusion of a subject on "Search and Analysis". It's the modern equivalent of research and summary skills, and I think it would be beneficial to teach in our schools today. It's not so much about learning to use search engines, but learning how to ask the right questions, or ask your question the right way. Because when you can do that, you understand your questions better, and that's only going to help your thinking.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Everyone can benefit from improved thinking skills like that.
PPS - It's broader than "search literacy", but that's probably what we'd call it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Personal multi-computer workspaces

If our servers are now running multiple processors with their own cache memories and RAID arrays of hard drives, how much more work would it really be to allow multiple servers to link together and run shards of one giant server operating system? Then if one server fails, you swap it out, necessary data and processes are replicated onto it and life continues. You don't need to know which physical machine is running what particular service or storing specific data because the server-room OS handles that. Google, I gather, runs their data centres this way. It would be a lot like running an old mainframe, I guess, but a bit more durable because the components are all redundant, backing each other up and taking over when another one fails. That distinction is important for what I'm going to suggest next.

Imagine doing the same thing as in that hypothetical server room, but with your own computers, and over the internet. Not centralised at some data processing plant owned by a software giant, but communicating and coordinating peer-to-peer online, backing up and replicating your data automatically and turning your work machines and home machines into one smooth environment. That's my dream. I have a lot to learn before I can begin making it real, or else I need to find a lot of people who know what they're doing. I also need to keep fighting against the urge, trained into me by my industry, to centralise everything to maintain control and make life easier. This is not meant to be easy for the ones who develop the platform. They're meant to handle the hardest bits so that users get one seamless environment across all their machines.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The ultimate vision is a slightly larger job than rewriting Windows.
PPS - So that's probably not going to happen.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Phone holster

I thought a little while ago about getting or making a shoulder holster for my phone, and a back scabbard for my umbrella, but I imagine both of those things would cause some unease for people around me. After all, if you see a shoulder holster, you're not going to think "phone" first, are you? So perhaps a better option is a low-slung hip holster instead. Maybe someday.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I might still get away with the umbrella on my back.
PPS - As long as it doesn't have a sword handle.

Monday, 28 May 2012

App stores

Rather than entirely cutting out the middle man, we have rolled two middle men into one new type: the publisher-distributor, also known as the app store. Indie producers, a selection of publisher-distributors and consumers. Those channels are important, but it is also important that we have more than one of them. Fortunately, we are headed in that direction:

Amazon Kindle
Google Play

All of them are slightly different, and focus on different content, but they are all publisher-distributors. For now, they are all tied fairly tightly to a single technology platform, making our digital ecosystem a collection of walled gardens. Back in the early days of the internet, that's the way domestic service providers worked, too, until they were overwhelmed by the sheer pace at which the open internet generated new content, new experiences and new functionality.

Will these publisher-distributors go the same way as the service providers of the fledgling internet age? Maybe not for a while, specifically because they are drawing on the innovation of all the indie producers who sell their wares over the app store channels. They are, in that sense, "open at one end", funnelling content from everywhere down into a closed, locked box, and keeping the untrusted users on the other side of those locks. For a while, at least, I think that's just enough openness to stay afloat while retaining enough lock-down to provide a consistent experience.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think it can last forever, though.
PPS - Something else will outdo them.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Designer gods

"Welcome to TOTEM, we're here to help with all your designer god needs! What can we do for you today?" The enthusiastic floor manager greeted all new customers this way.

"Well," began the customer nervously, "I'm sort of in the market for a new household idol."

The floor manager made a face, wrinkling his nose very briefly. "We don't like to use the i-word here. What we do is so much more than that. These are not your grandfather's idols!" He indicated their range of display stock, arrayed on a high shelf all around the emporium. Figures of wood predominated, but there were pewter, iron, silver and gold among them, too, in a wide variety of shapes, all with unique faces.

The customer paused. "Um, forgive me, but these do look a lot like any other ... totems." he said, carefully avoiding the i-word. "What makes them so special?"

The manager launched into his sales pitch. "Our custom process produces the very finest of personalised totems, as you can clearly see. We begin by binding an unformed spirit to your chosen material, then our skilled artisans carve away those parts that do not fit with your personal desires. The spirit itself is changed and shaped as the wood is carved. The end result is a fully personalised totem, perfectly reflecting the very best of you and your values, both spiritually and physically!"

"I ... see. And, uh, what if I don't want it to be like me?"

"Our customisation is based on what you value, not what you are. Your totem will represent what you wish you could be - your highest aspiration."

"No, I mean ... sort of ..." the customer fumbled for words. "Not really customised at all. Something ... genuinely spiritual and real."

"I'm not sure I understand you, sir. Do you mean you would like a ..." the manager struggled with the distaste of the thought "wild spirit?"

"Yes, yes! That sounds more like it! Only it can't be just any spirit. Does the spirit realm have some kind of king or ruler?"

The manager caught his breath and made a warding gesture with his hand. "We do not speak of ... the Low One."

"Oh, no, no, of course not! No, I mean, isn't even he under someone else? Someone good?"

The manager gave a sigh. "Honestly, sir, I have to say I don't know. And if there were such a spirit - a great, all powerful king - our shaman certainly could not bind him to a block of wood."

Oddly, this seemed to make the customer happy. "Yes, of course! You're right! I'm in completely the wrong place!" He gave the manager a handshake and a warm smile. "Thank you so much! You've been very helpful!" and he left, far more cheerful than anyone without a totem had a right to be, at least in the manager's estimation.

The manager took a look around his show room at all the pre-made idols, wondering if it could be true. Was there some spirit king higher and better than these? As his eyes lighted on one totem that had been carved for strength and power, he noticed that one of its tiny fingers had broken off. How could a totem of strength and power not protect itself? He plucked it off the shelf and, in an act of experimentation and defiance, raised it over his head and smashed it on the ground.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This time I just started from the title and worked out from there.
PPS - And I had to write it on my phone on the train.

Innovation is dying

What is killing innovation? Something, somewhere in our modern world is putting the brakes on big practical scientific breakthroughs, big engineering accomplishments and big projects. Is it economic rationalisation? Patents and lawsuits? Capitalist monopolies? Wherever you look, "innovation" means "just a little bit better than that thing we had before". That's not innovation, it's optimisation. We're ramping down space programs, software is becoming more locked-down and restrictive, and we as consumers are losing control of the world. Call it whatever you like, but it looks to me like there's less big, cool stuff going on in the world today than ever before.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless you watch TED videos.
PPS - They do restore my faith in progress now and then.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Google+ lunchtime hangouts

I want to start lunchtime hangouts on Google+, where all my friends gather, if they can, to spend the time kind of together, meeting to share our lunchtime virtually face to face. It's not the same as getting together properly, but it's a lot more conversation time than we usually get. I think it would be neat, and a good use of the feature.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now the only thing I need is a webcam at work.
PPS - And more friends on Google+ who stay at their desks during lunch.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Responsibility Inc.

How much of your life could you outsource? Could you have someone manage your insurance (medical and life), keep your superannuation and investments in check, schedule regular medical checkups and so on? You'd still have to follow their advice, but they'd save you time and energy on a lot of mundane research.

Also, because they don't need to be exclusive, and because their very corporate nature can bring benefits (eg bulk discounts on insurance or internet plans) it might not even be that expensive. It might, however, mean trusting another corporation with a lot of your personal information and access to your money, though, so they would need to be very trustworthy, have excellent security in place (for now, keeping their records on paper might be best) and you'd need to sign over at least some limited power of attourney.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might be too much for some people.
PPS - Maybe for them, you can just run a life coaching business.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Context matters

I would like the history of what I do on my computer recorded with at least when and where it happened. I want a literal GPS location and UTC timestamp attached to every file change I make, and I would like them persisted across all my machines. This is really just another way of adding context to my actions, and context is a very important thing when making sense of data. Where did it come from, what was happening at the time, that sort of thing. Beyond context in logging, I also define different contexts depending on what's on my calendar (I might be in a meeting or not working today) or who I am with (if I'm with friends, that's different to being in the same place with coworkers). I might even be in a different context depending on what web browser windows I have open at the time, or what documents are open in Word. Defining, recognising and responding to contexts is very tricky, but it is also one of the effects that would make computers appear much smarter.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And we always want computers to appear just a bit smarter than they are.
PPS - That's why we keep building better ones.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Facebook Timeline is less than readable

My main objection to the Facebook Timeline view is that it's just really hard to read. Because events can appear on either side of the centre line, the only "correct" way to read it is to scan the line looking for dots, look left or right when you get to one, go back to the line and scan down again. We already know how to scan text. We do that a lot. Adding the line as an extra step wouldn't be so bad if all the articles were on one side of it. Then the line just adds a time scale context. Instead, the decision to put breakout boxes on both sides turns the line itself into the only possible central focus, with nothing on it but dots that lead to items you might (or might not) find interesting. You can't know until you drop your focus on the line to read the story.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Until the Timeline view is more readable, I'll try to stick with the older layout.
PPS - But that's not up to me for individual pages.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Ice Madness

17 April
Jones died today. We found him frozen outside in his underwear. Strangest thing. Terrible thing to lose a colleague, but worse to lose a friend, too. I had been getting to enjoy our late night chess matches. They were one of the few distractions from work in this frozen wasteland. We were able to request a medical evacuation for his body before the radio died again, but they won't be here for three weeks at least. In the meantime, we had to wrap the poor fellow up in plastic and put him outside to keep him from rotting.

18 April
The team is nervous. The microbiologists said they found something unusual in Jones' blood, but they wouldn't say what. Typically cautious scientists. It still feels strange not having Jones around. All day I kept expecting him to pop up around a corner.

19 April
I keep hearing the others talking when I'm not in the room. They stop when I come in, too. It's been getting hotter inside the shelter, too, but the thermostat still reads correctly.

21 April
They're definitely up to something, those other guys. I bet they killed Jones themselves, and I'll be next. I've seen that suspicious way they look at me. They try to cover it up by looking at everyone that way, but I know what they're thinking. I can hear it, like whispers in my mind.

22 April
Didn't sleep last night. I can't let those murderous thugs get the drop on me. I sat up all night on my bunk with an ice pick under my pillow, watching the door. Wasn't even that difficult.

24 April
Can't use my bunk any more. Everyone knows where it is. I found a good hiding place behind the boilers where I spend most of my time. Markus was bludgeoned by someone yesterday in his sleep. He's outside beside Jones now. I am determined not to be next.

30 April
The remaining two of us keep to opposite ends of the shelter now. He blames me, but only to take the suspicion off himself. He's killed just as many as I have. Why would he think this is all my fault?

5 May
Haven't slept in days. The radio works again, but it's just muttering lies at me. That other guy took a walk outside in his underwear. I let him go. It's a better fate than what he'd face back home for what he's done.

10 May
Some ice-breaker ship came to "rescue" me today, but I held them back with my flares and the rifle we keep for protection. When they tried to sneak in the back, I shot two of them. They'd better not be back.

13 May
That "rescue" ship must have decided I wasn't worth the trouble. They figured I'd freeze myself to death here, or starve maybe. Either way, they're gone now. They don't know how warm it's gotten, though. In fact, I might take a stroll outside, but it's too hot to bring my jacket.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I needed the journal format to indicate a longer passage of time.
PPS - I hope you like it.

Steam could work this way on Linux

Would it be possible to run Valve's Steam by piggybacking on a Linux app store model? In most flavours of Linux, you have one package manger that can connect to many online software sources (by URL) and is responsible for updates for them as well. It's very tidy, all told, as well as being rather open, because anyone can publish a new software library to incorporate into the model. The only thing Steam is doing differently is credit card payments, DRM and advertising. The DRM just needs to be built into each app, so Steam itself shouldn't be responsible for that, and part of signing up to Steam itself could be a unique URL for your personal purchased software, secured by username and password over HTTPS. The advertising might be a bit more tricky, but if purchases on Steam are handled via the website rather than the client app, then you just do your advertising there. Easy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm still opposed to the DRM on basic principle.
PPS - And Steam is already available for Windows and Mac OS, so it's only Linux that's waiting.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Advertising as historical artifacts

Advertising is kind of an important cultural artifact. Sure, we discard a lot of it almost immediately, but it is designed to speak to us right now, being relevant in our everyday lives, in a way that fiction, official history and big governmental mandates do not. Tomorrow's historians will know about our everyday lives to a large extent because of the advertising we leave behind. The only other thing as relevant is our person-to-person communication.

In summary, the important historical artifacts you are now leaving behind are your spam folder and your email inbox.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And your social networking profile.
PPS - And I'm sure that's just the start of it.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

John Cleese on creativity

According to John Cleese, here's what you need to be creative:

1. Space and time. Find somewhere quiet and spend about 90 minutes there "gently resting your mind" against the problem at hand. Push through the busyness that your mind will create and let it relax into an aimless playfulness.

2. More time. Don't pressure yourself to come up with an answer to the problem right now or as quickly as possible. Defer the decision until the absolute last moment it can be made in order to give yourself maximum pondering time and therefore gain the most creative solution.

3. Decisiveness. Once you've made a decision, stick with it, and when you're in that open, playful mode, don't shut anything out as being wrong.

4. Humour. Allow humour to keep bringing you back to your open mode of idea exploration, because it's the quickest way you'll get back there. If necessary, use absurd juxtapositions of ideas as stepping stones to potential correct solutions to be discovered later.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The full video, which I found to be entertaining and informative, can be found here.
PPS - Obviously he explains his points in more detail and humour than I can go into here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Calendar timeline views

As good as daily, weekly, monthly or agenda views of calendars are in software, I think it would also be good to have a timeline view. It would be a lot like the agenda view, with every event listed, but the gaps between them would be to scale with the time of day. I suppose what I'm thinking of is a kind of continuous day view. My problem with day view, for the most part, is that it's too fat on a proper computer monitor and too tall on a mobile phone. My problem with agenda view is that it's all text, so there's no way to engage your visual memory or pattern recognition at all. A good timeline view would give the best of both, in theory.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But not like the Facebook timeline.
PPS - That one is too hard to read, with items on both sides.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Displaying ebooks on a shelf

People complain about being unable to display ebooks like paper books on a shelf, but if you really wanted to do that, you could always download the cover art as JPG files and show them on a digital photo frame. There, I fixed it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course you'd want an automatic system to gather cover art so it's not a chore.
PPS - And, depending on your reading habits, you might want an approval step to make sure you show only the classiest of your library entries to guests.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - The Shrinking Bomb

Miss Phoenix took her time interrogating the prisoner. "I may be a hero," she liked to say, "but that doesn't mean I have to be nice to the bad guys."

They housed Stretch in a cell with some oversized furniture, to make him more uncomfortable about his short stature.

"Where is the shrinking bomb hidden, Stretch?" Miss Phoenix asked from the raised platform outside the cell. Stretch looked up with some obvious physical discomfort. Miss Phoenix made a mental note to thank Rogers for his excellent work constructing the cell. She repeated her question, letting some impatience into her voice.

"I'm sure you mean 'bombs', plural, don't you, birdie? Why don't you come down from your perch and talk to me on the level?" replied Stretch, trying bravado in response.

"I'm comfortable here, thanks. And of course we know about all six bombs, you dolt. We found the first five already thanks to that map you left lying about in your lair."

Stretch faltered a bit. "Found five? A map lying about? All my documents were hidden and encrypted! What could you possibly have found?"

"Rogers is very thorough, and very good at his job," said Phoenix, leaving unspoken the implication that Stretch was comparatively bad. "So all we need from you is the location of the last bomb. I'd like to keep this city the size it is."

"You can't find it without me, can you?" Stretch gave a smirk and stood up as tall as he could, which was about five feet. "And before you do, it will space-crunch this city and its horrible residents down to half their size! Then I will be king of Tiny Town!"

"Don't be dense. Of course we can find it. The rest of the team is out right now, sweeping the city. We got a pretty good reading off our satellite sensors, so it shouldn't be more than an hour or two. This is just a chance for you to cooperate and maybe strike a deal when the time comes for sentencing. You're already caught. The judges are much more lenient on super villains who show some remorse."
Stretch opened and closed his mouth a few times, discarding several lines of argument in silence, before quietly saying: "It's in the reservoir, at the bottom."

"You did yourself a favour today, Stretch. We'll make sure the judge hears about it."

Stretch slumped onto the ridiculous giant armchair in defeat. His only reply was a dismissive wave of his hand.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Miss Phoenix previously appeared in Professor Sinister and the Radioactive Rats.
PPS - She's always a couple of steps ahead.

Google Play Music Android app concerns

The Music app on my Android phone has recently updated to be Google Play Music, obviously as part of Google's rebranding of the Android Market as "Google Play" for selling movies, music, books and apps (or just movies, books and apps in Australia). The new look is fine, and it's much the same app, but what I don't like is the lack of control. Poking around the updated application I saw an old podcast that I had since deleted, so I went to delete it again. The app told me that this file had been "sideloaded", which is not a thing, as well as uploaded to Google Play Music, and only the "sideloaded" content would be deleted, if that was okay. I said "yes", mostly because I did really and truly want to delete it, but it got me worried for two reasons.

One, if I copy a podcast to my phone, will Google Play Music then use my very limited mobile data bandwidth to upload it to the server automatically? Two, where are all the settings and options? All I see when I select "Settings" from the menu are two options, one of which announces the app version and the other which lists the open source licenses associated with it. What I expected, at minimum, was an option to tell Google not to upload my files to any servers at all, and to only play music that I have already stored locally on my phone. I don't want any apps that decide for themselves to use my very tiny mobile data quota to copy huge files to servers at unspecified times, or to stream those files from the server instead of my local storage. I could use up my entire month's quota of data in four individual podcast episodes by accident without even knowing it if that happened.

It's probably in part because the Google Play Music store is not available in Australia that some of the features are disabled on my phone. Also, my searches for help online are hindered by the existence of a desktop Google Music app. And because the desktop app is only available in the USA right now, but the Android app is worldwide and intimately tied to the desktop and cloud services, we Android users outside the USA get a crippled app that does things we can't control. Maybe. It's still not entirely clear. I can't check the cloud services because they're not available in Australia, and I can't find any discussion specifically about the Android app.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At least the website knows not to let me see the music side of things.
PPS - If only the Android app were as smart.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Poisoner in chief

I've recently seen the phrase "poisoner-in-chief" used in a movie review of The Hunger Games, and it sounded very familiar, but I can't find the phrase's origin anywhere. Lots of people seem to be using it, particularly when referring to political leaders they don't like, but nobody is explaining where it came from. It's very frustrating when all your searches turn up similarly unexplained uses of the very thing you're trying to explain. That's all, really. If anyone at all knows where this phrase comes from or what it means, specifically, I'd be very interested to hear about it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My search skills are often quite good.
PPS - But clearly not good enough in this case.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The next computer power hurdle

What is the next hurdle for our computer hardware? What's the high-end task that we wish our computers were powerful enough to perform right now, but they just can't do yet? Video editing is probably the most demanding consumer-level application right now, and we've already licked real-time 3D rendering, and within certain limits, we have real-time video processing, too. Fifteen years ago we were impressed when a computer could play MP3s smoothly. These days we expect that level of processing and a lot more from much more humble hardware. So, at the very top of the scale, what is left?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm betting on more applications for real-time video processing.
PPS - Like augmented reality.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A supernatural bucket list

I have a vague list of impossible things I would like to try. Here they are:

- Sense magnetic and electric fields.
I have no idea what it would be like, because they're totally novel sensations, not extensions to existing senses. Experiencing these for the first time would be like a blind person learning to see, or so I expect.
- See infra red and ultra violet.
- Hear ultra and infra sound.
These I just think would be cool, because they're just a bit more than we usually experience.
- Read someone's mind.
Nobody in particular. I would just like to be able to hear someone's thoughts as they go through life, to see what other people think like.
- See through walls.
Useful and cool, too, plus a lot of mechanical stuff goes on behind walls and panels that we're not usually allowed to see, and this would make it easier, faster and less destructive to find out about it.

Superhuman feats:
- Move too quickly to be seen
Mostly for the looks on people's faces, but also because I could get so much more done with my day.
- Leap onto or over tall buildings
Since I saw The Matrix I've wanted to be able to jump like that. The closest thing I have now are characters in City of Heroes.
- Run for days on end
I love running, but I get worn out and sore from it too.
- Free dive to the bottom of the ocean
So I can shake hands with a giant squid? I don't know. The bottom of the ocean is something we just don't know much about, and we can only see it with very rugged little robots.
- Lift a bus over my head
- Punch through a concrete wall
To feel powerful.

Magic and science:
- Teleport
I imagine it would look different from the inside than from outside.
- Fly
To zoom around buildings in a city would be a lot of fun.
- Throw a fireball
Like the feats of strength above, I just think this would be cool.
- Time travel
And who hasn't wanted to do this?
- Walk in four or more dimensions.
I read Flatland. It blew my mind, which is a pretty big achievement for a maths book.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I reserve the right to edit or amend this list as I see fit.
PPS - And in case these things actually become possible.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Split or Steal

There was some discussion a short time ago about this particular round of a game show called "Golden Balls". The particular round they're playing here is called "Split or Steal", known in philosophy or game theory circles as "The Prisoner's Dilemma". The host will explain everything. You should watch it first.

Now, all the discussion I've seen so far talks about how brilliant this strategy is, or the exact reasoning behind why it works. My question, however, is this: given that we've been talking about this problem for such a long time, why has nobody ever figured this out before? Given how well it works, this should be the answer in the back of the textbook about this problem.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The first trouble might be that the traditional Prisoner's Dilemma involves being unable to communicate.
PPS - And this strategy has communication as a vital component.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Cargo

"So what's your cargo, stretch?"

"You think I'm going to fall for that a second time, Myra?"

She spreads her hands on the table innocently, but the effect is somewhat ruined by her impish grin. I answer her unspoken question.

"You know what I mean. Three weeks ago I told you what I was carrying in my ship, and before I left port you had figured out who was my client, who his enemies were, which route I was taking and how much you could get paid to hijack it from me. I'm not telling you anything."

"Oh, come on Mason, it's no fun if you don't play too."

I folded my arms and sat back from the table, glaring at Myra until she left, pouting. Successful smugglers are not made on friendly rivalry. I am learning this the hard way.

Later, when I am loading my cargo - exotic spices for some off world merchant - I notice Myra hiding badly among the crates.

"Myra, come on! What exactly do you think you're doing?"

She answers as she comes out, "I need you to get me off this rock and somewhere into the outer systems."

About six questions and two alarm bells go off in my head. I leave the big one for last.

"Why can't you do it yourself? You're a smuggler like me. This is what we do."

"I'm using my ship as a decoy. Tonight I've paid some local kid to steal it for a distracting joy ride."

So it's that serious. Myra would never abandon her ship - her livelihood - unless her life depended on it.

"Why me? I know you know other smugglers back in that bar."

"Because you don't work like they do. Cutthroat and highest bidder only. You're honest. It's a weakness in the business, but right now I'm glad you have it."

I know it's half an insult, but it's half compliment too, so I'll take it. I've always been an optimist.

"Okay," I say, "I'll do it." Her eyes light up, then get minutely suspicious.

"Why haven't you asked what happened or how much I can pay?"

"Because knowing what happened is my price. I'll take you if and only if you tell me why, and you spare no details. I think you're telling the truth, your bill is paid in full. I think you're lying, I leave you here at the mercy of whatever thugs you've double-crossed."
The way her mouth starts forming, then abandoning words, I can tell she had a fake cover story ready. I wait for her to gather her thoughts properly.

"I lost a shipment."

"For someone important and dangerous, I assume."

"You know Renburg?"

"Is that one of the big asteroids they're mining?"

She nods, and adds "And the company that's mining it. They've branched out, though, and they take a bit of a ... hostile approach to acquiring new ground."


"Well, there was a bit of a dispute over a moon owned by a small monarchy. They couldn't defend themselves, so they paid me to smuggle out their son."
I chuckle. "So, what, you lost His Royal Highness' matched luggage?" Sad, pleading eyes. "Oh, no. You didn't."

"I lost the boy."

"Dang, Myra! ... So the royals are after you?"

"Renburg too. It's a mess."

I pinched my nose. I had one of those Myra headaches coming on. But what else could I do?

"Okay, you'd better keep your head down. We still have to get out of here, then you can tell me exactly where we're going."

She raced ahead to the passenger bunk, simultaneously relieved and gleeful. Somehow I'm pretty sure I still haven't heard the half of it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure what kind of history Mason and Myra have, but it's not all positive.
PPS - And, technically, there's nothing about this story that has to be sci-fi. I just like those settings.

Hilarious lies

How will the cultural archivists of tomorrow separate our hilarious lies from the real truth? Or deadpan historical fiction from attempts at accurate history? There's a whole subculture of people presenting lies or fantasy as if it were truth, and we only know it is a joke by knowing the real truth. Fast forward a few hundred years and the real truth of the moment is lost, leaving only equally-plausible cultural artifacts. So how do those people of the future separate the truth from the lies?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most people won't care.
PPS - It's the ones who do care that I'm concerned for.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Menial knowledge work

I think if I had to take a menial knowledge-work job, I would work with people to help get them organised. I'd teach them how to file things properly, get their calendar in order and I'd teach them about action lists and how to use them. I could do that. I'm not sure how much people would pay for it, but I could do it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, it would all be stolen from David Allen.
PPS - That's Getting Things Done, which I haven't actually been doing that well lately.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Faking religion is worse than the real thing

People see religion as a mixed bag. It does some good, but does a lot of bad, they reason, so they try to figure out how we can fake the good without getting the bad. Then we end up with some system of law or some flawed humanism that ends up doing more bad than the religions we tried to subvert. So perhaps we should instead give the real religions a sincere go - remember that faking it makes things worse - and see if we are better off.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously I have my preferred one.
PPS - And, just as obviously, most people would prefer to continue trying to fake it.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Shut Up technology

There's this technology to make people shut up because apparently it's hard to talk in the presence of your own speech being repeated with a split second delay. But here's a thought: we don't need a fancy-pants microphone and speaker gun to make it happen. We have microphones, speakers and computer processors in our pockets right now. All we need is an app to make this happen, assuming the speakers are loud enough. It should be pretty easy, in theory.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, theory and practice can be worlds apart.
PPS - And I have yet to write even a simple app.