Friday, 28 August 2015

Revoking access

Access revocation is impossible if you give up everything right away. There's no such thing as decryption that stops working after a certain time. If someone has the keys, the ciphertext and the decryption method, you've given up all control. The only place that access revocation can mean anything is for ongoing services that can't be copied and require a live server to provide. Compare movies to games. If you have a DVD that's encrypted, and it gets decrypted every time you watch it, it can be copied and you can watch it from then on in any format you like, at any time you like, on any device you like, because you've got the decrypted form and it can be copied perfectly. It makes no difference at that point if the DVD publisher puts out an update to their players that says "don't decrypt this movie any more", because the copy is already made.

Conversely, if you need server access to play a certain game, then one day that server won't let you in any more, you can't do anything about it. The previous games you've played don't do you any good. They're over. Backups, news, and social media are like that, because you need access or new content to use them. Your old backups aren't good enough if your provider refuses access. Gradually stagnating news isn't any good except as a historical reference.

Access to books, music and movies, however, is like the first case. Once that genie is out of the bottle, that's it. You can't stuff it back in. If you've got a closed system like the Kindle you can reach out and revoke copies of books, but if the DRM has been broken (which is very different to breaking encryption) and a copy already taken, it doesn't matter.

Key revocation would require the universe to have the property that I can tell you a secret that is only knowable for a specified time, or whose use is, in some way, dependent on a secret I didn't tell you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That can't actually happen, as far as I can see.
PPS - Granted, these things don't always make sense to me.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

I would time-travel back to university

The one time in my life that I might go back and try again would be university. As with most of my life, I never made enough effort to socialise, but with uni there were so many rich opportunities for it that I missed. I could have lived on campus and learned a lot of life lessons that way. I could have spent more time with fellow students if I didn't have to spend an hour each way on the bus, too, and that would put me in (or near) the city by default on weekends, along with every other on-campus student.

Also, knowing what I do now, I would start applying for graduate job positions in the middle of my final year, rather than spend two years unemployed after graduation. Those are my university regrets: I studied too hard and didn't get out enough. I got really good grades, though! ... which left me unemployed for two years after graduating.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might also have been because I graduated when the .com bubble burst.
PPS - Also, I couldn't have afforded on-campus or even near-campus student housing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Grand gestures

Kids, take note. I'm gonna smack some middle-aged wisdom down on your heads. Are you ready? Too bad.

If you love someone, but they don't know you exist, a big, grand, public gesture declaring your love is about the worst thing you could possibly do. You may have been getting mixed messages about this. In some TV shows and movies, it works out really well, especially in those proposal videos you've seen on YouTube. In other shows and movies, it doesn't work out so well, and everyone is embarrassed. That's the realistic one. The proposal videos are a special case, because you'll note those people have been dating for long enough that it makes sense for them. If you're trying to get someone's attention out of nowhere, grand gestures are not the way.

The flip side of this is that it's all going to fade away anyhow. When you get embarrassed like that, rest assured it will pass. In a few years, as long as you don't let that embarrassment define you, you'll laugh about it with your university friends, your spouse, your kids. Your life is most definitely not over.

The take-home message is this: if you're thinking of making a grand public declaration of love to someone who doesn't know you exist, here's what to do: go home, lock yourself in your room, think about something else - anything else - and don't come out until you stop feeling that urge.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not much use as advice to young me.
PPS - Young me barely had the courage to daydream about this, let alone attempt a grand gesture.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Anti-Mid-Century Modern

In contrast to "Mid-Century Modern" architecture, which seems almost designed to kill children in accidents (indoor reflecting pools, open spaces and levels, no handrails anywhere), what would architecture look like if it were designed to coddle and protect children even from themselves? My best guess is single-level homes, waist-high railings, gates and doors everywhere, every surface rounded and padded, (but not carpeted, because kids spill things) and nothing installed below shoulder-height. That would start looking pretty odd, is my guess, like someone built to one style up halfway, then another style from there up, for the adult headspace. Some of it, especially in the kitchen, would make the house a lot more dangerous and inconvenient for adults, too. Anything that could potentially damage a child would have to be done at height, and that introduces a secondary risk of dropping something on the child or of being preoccupied up high and failing to see the child down low. Is that a trade-off we must make at some point? Safe for kids is always going to be a bit inconvenient for adults, but when it gets downright dangerous for adults, we should draw the line.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is, quite often, what I think about.
PPS - Though, thankfully, not everything I think about.

Monday, 24 August 2015


Occasionally, I refer to myself as "broken", but I don't mean it in the severe way most people seem to perceive it. My mental image is not like a shattered vase, impossible to repair or, even if it were, full of holes and obvious glue lines. It's more like a bruise - a bit damaged, though not too severe, and quite capable of healing.

I think we're all a little bit damaged like that. Nobody's perfect, and nobody gets through life without scars. That's just how it goes. It's nothing to be ashamed of, nor, quite often, anything to even worry about. It's part of the process we all go through to learn how to live. It is my particular scars that make me unique.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, to deal with other people's issues, I need to be at least aware of my own issues.
PPS - Preferably, I'd deal with them completely in that case.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Choice exhaustion

Perhaps part of my exhaustion with modern life is seeing big corporations getting bigger and more powerful, screwing over their customers and employees, all the while making their product and service offerings more confusing and harder to choose between.

That's a big thing, the problem of choice. I don't find myself subject to analysis paralysis most of the time, though - if I'm given a few clear choices, I'll decide rather quickly and easily. It's when the different features don't directly compare that the problems start. If I'm trying to choose between laptops, one of which offers a touch screen and reversible hinge while the other is much cheaper, has a larger screen and a more powerful battery, what am I choosing between? Even if I know which features are most important to me, they won't all be on a single model, which means everything I do, all day long, is a compromise and a disappointment.

That's draining, long-term. It's oppressive. Even with a pretty good life, it can easily feel like everything is disappointing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not always, just most of the time.
PPS - Which is enough.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

On, by Adam Roberts

I recently finished reading a book called "On", by Adam Roberts. The concept itself intrigued me: what if the world was a tremendous vertical wall, and its inhabitants clung to life on the ledges and crags? It's a high concept, and a fascinating one, and Roberts does a good job of developing a lot of this world, as well as (eventually) backing it up with an explanation of how such a world came to be.

The book follows the adventures of a boy called Tighe, who falls off the world from his home village and travels far, learning the mysteries of the world wall. In this, the book does not disappoint. We get to see rather a lot of the world wall and learn a good deal about its inhabitants, very few of whom, it seems, are pleasant, well-adjusted people.

The problem, for me, was that the ending was too abrupt and was far from the inevitable conclusion it felt like it should have been. Tighe's travels seem somewhat aimless, too. By the end, I wondered what it had all been for, except to speculate on a world turned sideways. So, my final assessment is somewhat mixed. I enjoyed the concept, and the story was told well enough, but the ending made me feel that the whole enterprise was futile.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I looked up some other books by Roberts, but I won't be reading them.
PPS - High concepts aside, I need to enjoy the story, too.