Monday, 24 November 2014

Excessive security is hard to detect

It is very difficult to tell if you have over-secured something. The results of adequate security and too much security look about the same: no security incidents, in whatever form you have defined them. Whether you've spent just enough on security or way too much, your efforts will be an obvious success, and it's very easy to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

However, think of it in engineering terms, if that helps. I want to build a bridge across a chasm. I need it to carry foot traffic, and I have $100,000 to build it. An adequate solution is a simple steel span footbridge costing $10,000. It results in easy crossings for everyone, costs less than budget and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance. An over-engineered solution is a four-lane highway bridge with a smart lane control system, traffic cameras, solar lighting and emergency communications systems. If such a bridge costs the whole $100,000, but also results in easy crossings and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance, then it might be tricky to see, without knowing that the simple footbridge was a possibility, that the solution is over-engineered.

It's the same with security. When you spend way too much on security, it does the job just as well as spending a bit less would have done, but you can't tell how much less you could have spent. Think about that if you are ever in a position to boast about how effective your security precautions were.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It becomes more obvious if you start spending less and nothing bad happens.
PPS - Unless you just faced fewer threats that day.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: What does morning smell like?

What does morning smell like?

Linen a little less clean than the day before. The fading wisps of last night's cool breeze replaced by new dew on the grass. The bitter stale of morning breath.
Hot steam, cool tile. Vanilla soap and foaming shampoo. Egyptian cotton and lavender fabric softener.
Wholegrain toast, strawberry jam. Bitter plunger coffee. No, the home espresso machine. No, wait, barista cappucino, cream, caramel and chocolate! Warm, fresh-baked muffins.
Dusty concrete. Aged upholstery. The gagging sweat of unwashed strangers. Earbud plastic.
Thin carpet with a fine layer of dust. Pine-scented suface cleaner. Burnt ozone of electricity and flourescent lights.
Morning smells like the cycle of daily life.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was the first and only writing prompt I picked up from there.
PPS - Maybe I should look for others when NaNoWriMo is over.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Software shortcuts can make you a worse programmer

I read recently of some people lamenting the lack of skill shown by modern software developers and the difference between using tools to take over from already-mastered, mechanical processes in your work vs bypassing the learning of that branch of practice entirely. The argument was that it's perfectly fine to use tools to get around the parts of your job that you've already mastered, so that you can focus on more interesting, higher-level challenges, but a lot of modern software development provides tools that let you jump over that mastery from the start, which means you have no idea how it actually works. To make up an example, you might use a framework to read and write data from a database once you know how that works, because that's stock-standard boilerplate code you don't need to rewrite every time. However, if you use that code from the beginning, you'll never know how to connect to a database without it.

The problem is that you can't keep tools from people who don't know how to use them. You can't force a carpenter to use a hand saw until he understands it enough to graduate to a power saw. This goes doubly true in software. The tools don't care who uses them or what their skill level would be without the tool. The only thing you can do is challenge yourself. Start from scratch in everything and build up your own set of tools and frameworks over a career instead of picking up the biggest, baddest set of power tools from the start and demolishing a house by accident. That has to be self-enforced, though. If you couldn't have built it on your own, don't use it yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can't make people earn shortcuts, is my point.
PPS - Once they're open, they're open to everyone. That's kind of the point of software.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Parking ticket diversions

Can a fake parking ticket save you from a real one? That is, if a parking inspector sees a ticket - any ticket - on your car, would they just ignore you? I doubt anyone would tell you. To find out, you'd have to park illegally and put a fake ticket on your own windscreen, then watch a parking inspector walk by your car.

The difficulty with this type of decoy would be that the inspector needs to be fresh on his shift when he encounters your car (so he can assume the ticket was placed by someone else legitimately) or needs to forget that he didn't do it himself. It's probably not a foolproof plan, then, but might work just well enough for some habitual bad parkers to be worth it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best guess is that you can still get more tickets if you've already got one.
PPS - So, in that sense, it's absolutely no help at all.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

So I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year, as I have the past 3 years. Last year I finished, as I did the year before that, so I thought I had this thing down pat. Maybe not. I'm falling behind. As in previous years, my process has been to write like mad on the train to and from work and, as with previous years, there have been a few snags here and there. Some days are faster than others. When I have no pauses between words and it just flows easily, I write up to 1500 words each way on the train, which can make for a very productive day. That can happen maybe once per month. Most days I get a bit over half my quota done each way. I've got some time next week that I can use on my own to catch up, but catching up is not the way I want to go. Right now I'm at 24,007 words, and I should be up to 28,333 today. That's getting to be a big hill to climb.

The story itself isn't coming together the way I'd like. My characters lack agency. They're not making the story go, the story is making them go, and I have to keep making the story make them go, which gets boring for me. I have no idea how to get them where they need to go, so perhaps I need to switch gears, develop some character and figure out how they can work the quest instead of being worked over by it. Maybe that will work.

I'm using Scrivener this year, which I bought on discount from a previous year's voucher. It's pretty good, but I could be using it better. I have notes for myself for next year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't really know if I'll make it this year.
PPS - Maybe I'll learn something from the journey, though.

Monday, 17 November 2014

How Netflix could affect Australian streaming entertainment for the better

It seems Netflix is gearing up for an Australian launch, perhaps at the beginning of 2015. This sounds like really good news for Australia, and it is, but it might not be quite what we were hoping for.

The Netflix name in the USA is associated with cheap streaming content for a very low, flat monthly fee. The closest thing we have so far in Australia is Quickflix, who favour a slightly different "Pay-N-Play-N-Pay" model where you pay a relatively cheap monthly fee for streaming access, then (typically) pay several dollars extra for each TV show episode or movie you want to watch. The other major player in this space is Foxtel, who now charge $25 per month for their basic package and offer similar content to your defunct local DVD rental place, but on their schedule, plus Game of Thrones.

Quickflix, so far, has a pretty disappointing range of titles. Movies are typically only available to "rent" for streaming as long as they are new-release DVDs and it's a pretty safe bet that the obscure old TV show you desperately want to watch isn't on there. Foxtel behaves about the same, when you think about it.

There are two ways Netflix could bring some much-needed disruption into this space. One, a vast library of content currently unavailable in any way, shape or form to Australians. Existing dinosaurian regional distribution deals mean this probably won't happen, because they were signed by crusty old rich white dudes to whom "internet" is that weird noise their grandkids keep making. The second possible disruption is price. If I were to guess, I'd say Netflix is likely to cost a flat fee of $15 per month in Australia because suck it, Australia, what are you gonna do, cry about it? If they aren't charging extra fees for the exact same content as Quickflix, that will pretty much force Quickflix to drop their streaming rental fees, too, or else lose all their customers. However, if Netflix are forced by distribution agreements to charge extra fees for new movie streaming, and they don't get extra content, there's very little reason to prefer them over Quickflix. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not the first we've heard news of Netflix Australia.
PPS - There are perpetual rumours.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Monthly challenges for 2015

I would love to spend each month in 2015 on a different month-long challenge. The thing is, I only know of a few, they're all clustered towards the end of the year and they don't provide much of a challenge for me, as such. See, I could do something called "Dry July" or "Ocsober" except that I already don't drink, so that's pretty much life as usual for me. There's "Movember", too, which is just strategic non-shaving, so that's also not a huge challenge. I've done NaNoWriMo for the past four years and plan to keep doing that, so that's just one item on the list. What are some more I could do?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think January will be running every day.
PPS - I have a list I will be picking from, as the month-by-month mood takes me.