Friday, 31 July 2015

Dolphin language

I saw a TED talk about a team of researchers who are trying to decode the language of dolphins so that we can communicate with them. They have started to do this with wearable computers and games involving toys, and have included new sounds for the names of those toys and also for themselves. So far, the dolphins seem like they might be communicating to some degree. This all sounds very exciting from one angle. Dolphins might have a language! Maybe we can communicate with them! Share with us the wisdom of the sea, oh gentle beasts!

Rewind about thirty or forty years, though, and exactly the same thing was done with chimps. A lot of research time, a lot of money and a lot of hope went into those projects, teaching chimps and apes sign language, only to find out that they couldn't learn anything past a two-year-old's disjointed use of vocabulary and they had very little to say to us besides "want that".

As much fun as the researchers might have, and as much interesting science might come out of it, I think we'll find that dolphins, like chimps, might have some intelligence, but it is a far cry from the human levels of sophistication in language.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They probably can't even grasp the concepts behind "So long, and thanks for all the fish".
PPS - Or maybe they could, but it would be much more like thinking in pictures.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Multiple exclamation marks!!!

Terry Pratchett described multiple exclamation marks as the sign of an unstable mind, and that has always cast any exclamation marks in a negative light to me. So even when I'm excited, I tend to avoid them in my writing. This can make my writing sound cold, analytical and heartless. It's probably something I need to get over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or just stick my fingers in my ears and ignore it forever.
PPS - Which also seems like a sound strategy.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Someone should sell fraud insurance

I think we should allow people to buy fraud insurance, in case they get taken in by a scam. We can base their premiums on a test for gullibility.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Really, though, I'd need some harder evidence on scam victims first.
PPS - which would probably be incomplete, since people won't want to admit it.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Functional keyboards

The modern keyboard design trend, at least on the laptops I've seen and on my wireless keyboard, is to omit the Function keys and instead provide them as a secondary function on the number row with a special coloured "Fn" button. I don't like this much, because I'm a big keyboard user. I type. I code. I use keyboard shortcuts to make my life faster and easier, but when those shortcuts use Function keys, and the Function keys don't exist, that becomes a big problem for me. Instead of being able to close a window with Alt+F4, now I have to use Alt+Fn+4. Three-finger shortcuts are terrible and always slow me down. There are lots of Function key shortcuts I use every day - several times an hour - in Visual Studio: F5 to run a program, F10 to step through code in debug mode, F11 to step *into* code in debug mode, F12 to go to a variable, function or class definition, and of course the F4 functions to close tabs or windows. Oh, and F3 for searches. Add an extra key to them and you definitely slow down my development.

The very worst part is that this type of keyboard usually also omits the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys, too, in favour of the Fn versions. The Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 I'm currently trying out has Page Up and Down, but Home and End are Fn key combinations, which is more annoying than you think.

And, yes, this is all a big first-world problem, because I'm whining about how my amazing, powerful, portable computing and communications device is sometimes a little bit slow to use, but here's something else I like to say: we made these machines, so what good are they if they don't serve their human masters? Humans are undisputed masters of the built environment, but it's pretty pointless to go and build it wrong.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am otherwise very impressed with the Yoga.
PPS - I did have to adjust the console window font size.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tracking your non-disclosure agreements

It's not really a broadly-applicable problem, but some people might benefit from NDA tracking software. I see it on Wil Wheaton's blog every now and then: he gets to work on some really exciting thing, but has to sign a non-disclosure agreement to say he won't talk about it for a certain amount of time. He gets excited about it, though, and posts to his blog about how excited he is to be working on this top-secret thing that he can't tell anyone about, and then usually about how grateful he is to be able to work so regularly on such exciting (secret) things. Then months later, when the NDA expires, he can't remember what the post referred to, so he never gets to update it.

So the idea is this: when you sign an NDA, you enter the details into this tracking software, which stores its data locally, strongly encrypted (because gathering NDA data on a server on the internet would be like waving a big "HACK ME!" flag). It gives you a random unique ID - possibly even just a plain integer starting from 1 - so you can talk around it publicly and still know, yourself, what you meant, without revealing anything to anyone. It would look like "Hey, guys! I just wrapped up work on this really exciting project, but I can't talk about it here yet. I'll come back and update you when my NDA5 expires." Then every week or so you can come back to the app and check for expired agreements, search for any posts you've made about them, then update with the details you are now allowed to tell.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I needed this.
PPS - There's honestly not much to it, though. I guess even a spreadsheet would work.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Big secrets don't get to be kept

Most big secrets don't get to be kept. The big, world-spanning conspiracies don't get to continue. The bigger the scope, the harder it is to keep secret. Conspiracy theorists love to feel that they are on the inside, recognising the massive lies told to the entire world by an inexplicably powerful group of people. However, while it is possible for a large group of people to be deluded at once, and for that delusion to persist for a very long time just because nobody looked at the evidence properly, if your assessment of the possible delusion is that it persists because of powerful and deliberate lies, you're wrong, every time.

Basically, I'm saying that if the moon landings were faked, or if there were a second shooter on the grassy knoll, our best evidence wouldn't be photo analysis. It would be the leaks from several dozen people who got tired of keeping the secret decades later and came forward to tell the truth. The most hilarious thing, to me, about conspiracy theories is that all the conspiracy theorists are all sitting around buying each other's delusions and lies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Wake up, sheeple.
PPS - Where, in this case, "sheeple" = "conspiracy theorists".

Thursday, 23 July 2015


When I see this:
Nano Bible no bigger than the tip of a pen
I immediately wonder how people would misuse and market the idea. I picture a lot of products undergoing a process I'll call "baptism", for want of a better word. I imagine companies mass-producing these things by the billions and putting them in everything. Think of bible-infused makeup and deodorant, a phone case flecked with dozens of nano-bibles, table salt with occasional nano-bible grains. House paint, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, clothing, keyrings, sheets and blankets, floor tiles, all of this off the top of my head and they keep coming.

Basically anything that could accept the adjective "bible-infused" with a straight face. Except toilet paper, I assume.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is a terrifying future, for a few reasons.
PPS - And it may be on its way.