Tuesday, 30 September 2014


What would happen if a game got pulled from Steam? What if it was a really big and popular one? Someone would have to offer refunds, wouldn't they? I mean, you can't take millions of dollars from gamers, imply to them that they will have perpetual access to the game, then destroy it. That's just going to make you a lot of enemies. However, the first titles pulled from Steam would be older ones where the costs of ongoing support outweigh the revenues earned by selling it. Computer hardware advances all the time. Eventually, old titles won't be playable on new machines.

The question is: what does ownership mean in a world of walled gardens? If Steam goes out of business, for instance, what does it mean to "own" the PC games I bought there? What about if Amazon decides this whole Kindle thing isn't worth it any more and pulls the plug? If someone else can take it away so easily, then I don't really "own" what I've "bought" there, do I?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We really need other words for those actions.
PPS - I don't think "rent" or "license" sounds right, either.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Deciding and doing

Knowing what to do and doing it are much more fun than trying to find out what to do next. Decisions are hard. Action is easy, unless you've convinced yourself that you need to get motivated to take action.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Separating your deciding time from your action time is a big part of GTD.
PPS - At least the way I remember it. I need to re-read that book.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Black holes and antimatter

Could you annihilate a black hole by throwing enough antimatter into it, or would that just make it stronger? I guess it would recapture all the energy of the annihilation, but would it convert that energy back to mass by sheer pressure? Would that convert antimatter into normal matter? Clearly I need to brush up on my astrophysics.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or ask someone.
PPS - That's probably easier.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Neutral vs good

Most people are not bad people in the same way that most rocks are not bad rocks. It's kind of the default setting of sitting there, doing nothing. Being a truly good person takes more effort than avoiding the things you shouldn't do. That's neutral, not good.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if you're always neutral, that's pretty bad.
PPS - It's hard to win that way.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Email inconvenience

When I happen to visit Yahoo Answers occasionally, looking for this or that answer to a technical problem, I notice that the site tells me how many new emails I have. "Oh," I think to myself, "That's convenient. I should check those messages while I'm here." I don't use my Yahoo mail account much, because it's basically my spam trap, but sometimes it attracts something useful. Anyway, I click on the icon and it asks me for my password to log in. "But," I say to myself, "how did you know how many emails I have if I'm not logged in?" At this point, I usually leave, because the convenience factor is gone.

As with all security, it's probable a trade-off with convenience. Yahoo knows who I am based on some old cookie or something, but needs my password before letting me see my mail. Understandable, but inconvenient.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wasn't a fan of the updates they made to Yahoo mail some time ago.
PPS - They took away all the keyboard shortcuts I'd been using.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I am being awesome at remembering names

When I started my acting classes at La Boite a few weeks ago, I told myself that, for once, I was going to be the one that was good with names. I was shocked to find that this worked, to a great extent. I didn't retain everything from the first week to the second, but I did remember about half the class, and picked up the other half again in week 2. By week 3, I know everyone's names.

We all tell ourselves and each other that we are terrible with names. I hear it often, from just about everyone. So being terrible with names is not some defect as such, unless it's a defect that every single one of us shares. What if we started speaking about it positively instead?

There was no trick or pattern to the way I retained names. As people went around the circle introducing themselves and answering some questions, I repeated the names in my head, mentally pointing to each person as I went. I went forwards and backwards around the circle while they spoke, paying more attention to my name memorisation than the personal stories. I tried skipping every second person so I wasn't just retaining a sequence, I associated names with facial characteristics or life stories if I could. I didn't have a great system, just repetition. The only thing I needed in week 2 for the names I forgot was a reintroduction. It's just another form of lines to learn, I say.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only every time I met someone, we all stopped for 15 minutes so everyone could talk about themselves a bit.
PPS - I may require another strategy for everyday life.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Synchronised physiological entertainment responses

I heard recently (in Mur Lafferty's podcast "I Should Be Writing") of some people doing physiological response studies on movie audiences, finding that they breathe and blink all at once at certain times. Mur then speculated that the same kinds of things might happen for readers of novels, but that it would happen at their own pace, so it might be hard to do such a study.

You know what might work, though? If you're reading a novel on a tablet, there's a camera pointed right at you that could, in theory, do some eye-tracking and other measurements. If you were looking to do a very broad study of novel reading physiological responses at a low cost, I would look at that. Consent would be hard to get, though, and the data would vary quite wildly, I imagine. Still, it's a place to start, right?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's assuming the data is worth trying to gather at all.
PPS - I can't imagine what it would be used for.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Big Data needs Big Analysis

Data processing is a big, messy prospect, for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, you don't necessarily know whether you can trust the data you're using, but even if you can, you still need to know what questions to ask and how to ask them, you need the right tools to process the data, and you need to know how to interpret the results. Very rarely is this a simple Q&A style interaction where you want to know what is the air speed of a laden swallow. For law enforcement, for instance, it's more like "has this person been anywhere suspicious, contacted anyone suspcious, or done anything suspicious recently?" Asking that question requires you to define "suspicious" a lot more carefully and specifically, and draw information from a lot of other sources, stitch them together and examine the results.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Learning to ask the right questions is half the point of education.
PPS - Figuring out how to find the answers is the other half.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mutual location reminders

While my phone (via Google Now) can remind me to do something when I am at a certain place, it would be quite handy if it could remind me to do something when I am with a specific person. That would require shared location data, but it would, occasionally, be pretty handy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I can probably solve that problem with a text and getting out of the house.
PPS - Unless it's a chance meeting before I thought I'd get around to whatever the reminder was about.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The ways my phone is broken

I don't find apps or the network connection especially reliable on my phone. I also don't know if this is just the normal state of affairs these days, or if I have a particularly crappy phone. I don't want to complain. It's an excellent rectangle, but when it doesn't do the thing it's designed for, doesn't that make it broken? Some things that I'm fairly sure are due directly to the phone itself are network dropouts. Sometimes, out of nowhere, completely silently, my phone will lose its connection to the phone network, switch into "emergency calls only" mode, and be unable to receive calls or texts. It's like someone cut my brakes - I won't notice until later when I manually check, at random. This can be a bit troublesome. It has caused a few fights in our house where I didn't realise I was out of contact at a critical time. It also often drops the connection to wifi for reasons yet to be explained.

Navigation often stops mid-route, too. It goes silent, the screen goes black. This is troubling, because I use navigation to get to unfamiliar places. I can't pull over to fuss with my phone two or three times per trip.

If I switch applications too often in a short time, the phone will poop its pants then, too. Sometimes it can't install an update to an existing application, and that's the only explanation it gives: "the update could not be installed to the default location". Not "...because there's not enough space" or "...because the download was corrupted", just "nope".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When the amazing things we own are broken, should we still be amazed by them and be grateful for them?
PPS - The update situation has gotten better since I uninstalled Facebook.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Little ideas

I have some little ideas that feel a bit too small to develop on their own. So here they are, basically unedited.
  • Someone should make a backpack shaped like big AA batteries. I just think it would be cute and funny to see a hyperactive kid running around with a big battery pack on his back.
  • I want to see a robot snooker tournament.
  • I would definitely watch a steampunk noir detective show with a female protagonist. Somebody get on that.
  • Someone should make a hat with handlebars for kids to hold while riding on an adult's shoulders.
  • I'd like to see an acting-related reality contest show.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - Feel free to point out anyone or anywhere these have happened.
PPS - Or go make them happen. Either way.

Monday, 15 September 2014

CAPTCHA solving motivation

At some point we are going to have a world where computers have become better at solving CAPTCHA images than humans are, on average. Because CAPTCHAs are used to keep spam bots and other malicious software out of places that have value to them, it is therefore a lucrative problem to solve. If you have the spam bot that can solve CAPTCHAs to get into discussion boards and website comment sections where others can't, then your spam bot has more value. Even tiny incremental advantages are big bucks to spammers, so they will keep fighting for every minute bit of progress they can make on this problem. Without entirely meaning to, we have incentivised the world's spammers to solve optical character recognition for us.

Perhaps what we need to do to solve the world's biggest AI problems is to start using them as gateways to spammers. Motivate the world's criminals to start solving things like image recognition, for example. "Which one of these is the elephant?" with four pictures to click on. Whatever difficult computer problems we have, we should use those as the standard CAPTCHA because, while they work, that's their advantage, but when they start to fail, we get better AI software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's kind of a win-win, but in the form of an arms race.
PPS - And if you stop racing, the internet dies.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Proving trustworthiness

Computer security is a problem of trust, like all security. What if your users could earn a higher level of trust? For instance, if you send out a fake internal phishing email, anyone who doesn't respond gets a little more leniency in their network environment.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I ask this because I really want to be one of those trusted users.
PPS - Because network security restrictions really cramp my style.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Most of our information is disorganised

Does Google go far enough in actually organising our information? They have the world's largest, fastest, most comprehensive index of websites, and for some very simple questions they have "top-box" answers. There's also Wikipedia, which is a pretty good summary of the most significant items of human knowledge. Still, there are vast swaths of human knowledge that are too esoteric or difficult to be addressed these ways, and that feels like a wide gulf we can't yet cross.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Wolfram Alpha tries to be a factual answer engine. That's something.
PPS - Neither of them has answers for questions like "what might be wrong with my router?" though.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The fallacy of clean future technology

There are pictures of clean futures in promotional documentation, where all the technology seems to be built in, perfectly integrated and always works, on its own or with other technology. I have a feeling it's not going to be that way, no matter how long we wait or how much we want it. Humans will be the ones using that technology and humans are messy. We'll spill food on our kitchen computers. The wall nook for the screen in the hallway will be cut a little bit wrong and it won't ever fit properly. The entertainment system needs to be rebooted a couple of times before it will connect to the internet. The company that made the smart bathroom mirror are rivals of the ones who made the smart scales, so they use different protocols and won't work together. The fridge syncs to a different online service than the car, so the shopping notifications have to be copied across manually. That type of thing will happen to us all the time, and, as the consumers of such future technology, there is very little we will be able to do about it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless we build our own systems from scratch.
PPS - Or buy everything from the same vendor and hope they have everything we need.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Making faces

Sometimes I wonder if humans also have an innate tendency to design objects with faces in them. We find faces in the objects in our everyday lives because we all have this Pareidolia condition, but what if we also have a subconscious reverse Pareidolia where we want to put faces on the things we make? It would explain some objects quite well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is a pleasing visual arrangement, in either case.
PPS - So it would be no surprise to me if we naturally arrange things that way as well as looking for that arrangement.

Monday, 8 September 2014


The landscape of history is made, on the whole, not by great people doing great things, but by the accumulation of everyday actions by everyday people. That is the background on which the large-scale action takes place, and the context without which it makes no sense. It still contains great people doing great deeds, but there are far more ordinary people in the world than there will ever be heroes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The leader of some great nation isn't anything without that nation behind him or her.
PPS - The exact same person in a lesser context, doing the same things, is less impressive.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The modern cyborg

The age of the cyborg is already here. The medical implants like pacemakers, artificial hearts and cochlear implants, as well as the constant advances in prosthetic limbs mean we are already making cyborgs. They may not be the "stronger, faster, better" Six-Million-Dollar-Man type, but you can hardly look at someone with a hearing aid literally plugged into a port in their head and tell me cyborgs are pure science fiction.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps we do need to worry about the ones that improve on humanity.
PPS - Or maybe they'll be unspeakably awesome. Who knows?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Movie/novel borderlines

If you were being kind of weird about it, you could try making a movie that was all text. Just frame after frame of words for the audience to read, like the Star Wars prefaces, but for the entire movie. At that point, would it still be considered a movie, or would it be more of a novel presented in video form?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, ebooks could easily contain video, so you could do the opposite.
PPS - A bit like this, from CollegeHumor: The Kindle 3.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Eulalyzer irony

The Eulalyzer software, designed to scan click-through agreements on other software for potential red-flag terms, requires the user to read the very same kind of click-through agreement before installing it. I find this ironic, though I seem to be alone in this observation. I can't find anyone else causing any kind of fuss about Eulalyzer requiring an EULA click-through to install to do the job of avoiding reading EULAs from then on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never used Eulalyzer on itself.
PPS - In part because it needs to be installed first, and by then, who cares?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I'll be there if you need me

I'm just now getting around to reading all the articles from comedians and depressed people about Robin Williams' death, and one on Cracked said this about Chris Farley's final hours:

Back behind the wall, the real person was a scared, lonely, awkward fat kid who couldn't even pay someone to hold his hand when he died. "Don't leave me."

I stopped there for a minute and really looked at that sentence. I want to say now, to my friends and family, if you are ever that alone, any hour of the day or night, whether I'm working or sleeping or in another city, you can call me. I'll come and sit with you, or if I physically cannot get there, I'll talk with you as long as you want. I will, in all seriousness, drive across the city or fly to another state when you need someone. Just please believe me that you never have to be alone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I don't know you, there is someone else willing to do this for you.
PPS - Ask around.

Monday, 1 September 2014

You tell me

When you go ask a teacher or an expert a question and they just throw the question right back at you with "I don't know, you tell me", I find that to be the least helpful response they could give. I understand that it is meant to inspire further research, but it seems a pretty blunt and aggressive way to get the point across. The message I take away is "Don't come to me with questions, ever, because there won't be answers. Go get excited about learning on your own. Not my job." I didn't come here with an idea or opinion that I want validated. I'm curious and I have no ideas. I already ran out. That's why I came to you. So give me your opinion or, at the absolute least, ask me a different question that should guide my further research. If I wanted "you tell me", I could get that from a sign on my wall, and cut you out of the process entirely. I won't come back a second time if you do that, even to tell you what I learned.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a blunt refusal to teach in response to a real request for knowledge.
PPS - To me, there isn't a surer way to shut down curiosity than by refusing to feed it this way.