Friday, 30 November 2007

What makes a machine a robot?

We have a variety of machines to do our bidding that are really just electronic or mechanised versions of the same task done manually. I'm classifying washing machines and dishwashers in there. Then there are the robots like Roomba (vacuuming) and Robomow (mowing). So what makes one a robot and one "just a machine"? I think it's a certain level of autonomous action. If my washing machine stalked around the house swallowing unwashed clothes and performing its cleaning duties on its own schedule, I'd be inclined to call it a robot. Same with a dishwasher that cleared the table for you. I want both of those.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I see that iRobot now have a gutter-cleaning model.
PPS - That's pretty cool.

Friday Zombie Blogging - xkcd

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? Because they're vultures and you're a zombie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I laughed.
PPS - I laugh at a lot of xkcd comics.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Note-taking and natural memory

With a habit of note-taking that's ingrained deep into your mind, you might not even notice when you start losing your memory. That is until you start forgetting names and faces. A suitably organised person could even keep track of all their anecdotes and who has heard them before, thus never becoming that old person who repeats their stories endlessly.

And even if you do start to lose your memory for names and faces, you could probably get a wearable computer and some face recognition software to solve that for you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I look forward to being a cyborg as an old man.
PPS - With fearsome radioactive talons, poisoned fangs and a flawless memory.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Bounded creativity

Just about everyone views rhyming as creative. Rhyming is, by definition, bounded and constrained. If you remove the constraint, you're not rhyming anymore and it's not nearly as creative because you're just talking. Everyone talks and it's no big deal. So given that knowledge, why do people think it's better to be creative without constraints?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - From our boundaries comes our greatest creativity.
PPS - Because without boundaries, nothing is impressive.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Costs go up, quality goes down

As life in general gets more expensive, I think cheaper options will keep opening up by dropping the quality of goods and services offered. The average person will live in a smaller house with lower-quality goods and eating lower-quality food. This will be all the average person can afford as the costs of living increase.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Recently a study showed that poor families can't afford to eat healthy.
PPS - So, in a way, it's already begun.

Monday, 26 November 2007

An allergy medication ad idea

I have an idea for a TV ad.

Voiceover: It's Spring!
A fluffy cat walks into frame, and shakes itself briefly. With an audible "whump!" sound, the room is filled with hair, and the cat is bald. Cat sits.
Product drops into foreground, background loses focus.
Voiceover: [product name]. For allergies.

There could be a whole series of these.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could make a million dollars.
PPS - That is, if this isn't just a dim memory from my past.

Friday, 23 November 2007

More usable sound mixing desks

I've wondered now and then about sound desks and whether there could be a higher-level control imposed on them. Because there are at least three or four points where a particular microphone could be muted on the way to some speakers, it can take a few seconds to figure out why there's no sound being produced. In a live performance, that can sound pretty bad. So what if there was a higher level of control that allowed you to specify that a particular microphone should now be making sound (or not) and have the specific details taken care of automatically? While sound desks as I know them (which is not very well) are quite versatile enough to handle any setup you throw at them, they always /look/ the same. I'm imagining a big touch screen with a diagram of the auditorium on it, with various appropriate controls to set levels and indicators to show what's happening right now.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That kind of sound desk would be pretty expensive, though.
PPS - If they exist, that's why I haven't seen one yet.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Monroeville Mall

A little while ago, there was a zombie gathering at Monroeville Mall, filming site of George Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead. That's surely the most appropriate place that such a gathering has ever taken place, and it was a two-day festival to boot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Too bad there's only one picture in the article.
PPS - And that's in black and white.

Update: More news here. Also, apparently this was the largest zombie gathering to date in the world: 1124 people.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Work to rule in Big Brother

I was reading recently (I forget why and where) about a kind of protest against overzealous authority figures who weigh down your work day with too many rules and regulations. What you do is follow those rules and instructions very precisely and to the letter, and do nothing more. For instance, if you are asked to clean the toilet, you go and do that, then stay there waiting for further instructions, because you weren't asked to come back when you're done.

Seeing how strict are the rules of the Big Brother house, I wondered how it would start looking if housemates behaved this way. They can't be punished for breaking the rules, but they're not doing anything interesting either, so the show kind of falls apart. The producers can change the rules and give as many instructions as they like, but if the housemates are just doing exactly what they're told and nothing more, it wouldn't be an interesting show for very long.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am well aware that it is not that interesting a show to begin with.
PPS - I used to watch, but don't bother any more.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The destiny of my paper journals

I've wondered what will happen to my paper journals once I'm gone. It's probable they'll be thrown out and forgotten very quickly, and that makes me kind of sad. Journals are documentation of everyday life in the time they're written, and some people find that kind of detail fascinating. However, if I am nobody of note, the reasons for preserving my life in particular are thin on the ground. Most of us don't even know the names of our great-grandparents, so why would my great-grandchildren hold on to musty old paper containing boring descriptions of a daily life they didn't know and don't care about?

Still, I keep them. Just in case.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's quite possible a few of my ancestors kept journals.
PPS - I don't have them.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Host a Murder speed dating

On Saturday night over dinner some ideas came together that suggested an interesting event possibility: Host a Murder speed dating. It would be like any other of those Host a Murder parties, but the setting is a speed dating night, so everyone only gets a couple of minutes to talk to the other guests each round. I think it would work rather well. You could even have instructions that cause an obvious and important disturbance to the usual rhythm, like one pair standing up to yell at each other.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The specifics are still only half-baked.
PPS - Maybe one day I'll write something like this.

Monday, 19 November 2007

I had a skin cancer cut out

It doesn't seem to count as a very big thing, but I had a little skin cancer cut out of my forehead a week ago. Today I get the stitches removed. The reason it doesn't seem like a big deal is that the actual cutting was most like to a trip to the dentist. And I've had conversations since then (due to the ever-present band-aid on my head) about skin cancers in general where they were referred to as "a nuisance". So it really doesn't seem like news to me, but there it is.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I long for the day when all cancers are mere "nuisances".
PPS - Or dim footnotes in history.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Transporters for pregnancy transfer

With a Star Trek-style transporter, it might be possible to beam a baby from the womb of a woman who doesn't want it to a woman who does. That should satisfy both sides of the abortion debate and save some money on in vitro research. It might also make embryonic stem cells harder to get, which would put a bit of a damper on that debate too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course the solution is impractical as yet.
PPS - Since we don't have any transporters.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies in Plain English

An amusing little video, pseudo-animated, on how to survive a zombie attack. I like the style.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And the advice is decent, too.
PPS - Or would be, if zombies were real.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Abusing the supermarket express lane

Sometimes I wonder how much you could get away with at the supermarket express lanes. For instance, twelve very large packs of toilet paper that take an entire trolley to carry would technically be allowed through the 12 items lane, but I have the feeling they might not appreciate it much.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And would they allow thirteen really tiny items?
PPS - They probably wouldn't count them right away.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Museum theft as sport

According to comedian Dane Cook, every man wants to be involved in some kind of heist, like a museum theft. The other night at the indoor rock climbing centre I was struck with the thought that you could probably set up a place to provide just that experience, but as a game. Include lasers, alarms, paintball-armed guards and all sorts of equipment for a team to use in pretending to steal some faux-valuable artefact. I think it could easily be a lot of fun, but getting such a business off the ground might be a challenge.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Men explaining their weekend sport to other men would be major advertising.
PPS - Men explaining to their wives and girlfriends would be more awkward.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Why American television exports slowly

A lot of Australians download American television because otherwise we have to wait six months or more. I used to think this was all a kind of conspiracy on the American side, but I have since formulated a theory that puts the blame on the Australian side. See, if you want to get television stations to buy Australian content even though the American brand is more popular, you have to lower demand for the American content. One way to do that would be to put a delay on imports so that the super-keen fans turn to the Internet instead. Then, by the time the shows arrive on Australian shores, the target audience has already moved on, and the only fresh thing to offer them is Australian shows.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The problem with the theory is that this was going on before BitTorrent.
PPS - Parts of it might still make a valid explanation, though.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Comparing the sizes of Australian and USA states

2:38 PM 9/11/2007
I thought it might be interesting to compare the area of various of the United States and the Australian states and territories. According to these two Wikipedia articles:
  • Western Australia is bigger than any state in the US. It is, in fact, slightly larger than Alaska and Texas combined.
  • Queensland is approximately the size of Texas.
  • The Northern Territory is slightly smaller than Texas plus California plus Montana.
  • South Australia is about the size of Texas plus Arizona plus Kentucky.
  • New South Wales weighs in at Texas plus Louisiana.
  • Victoria is slightly larger than Minnesota.
  • Tasmania is just smaller than West Virginia plus Delaware.
  • The Australian Capital Territory is not quite as big as Rhode Island.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - Australian states are larger because the same land area is divided many fewer times.
PPS - Texas would easily fit into any of the five largest states and territories of Australia.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Give and take in love

I was thinking the other night about what changed in my life just before Deb appeared on the scene. I had been going through some changes in my attitude towards love and relationships. The primary one was this: I used to have a list of demands that I made for my future partner: this tall, this colour hair, this type of body, this kind of personality. And that's maybe fair enough up to a point. But this was beyond having standards and expectations. As I said, these were demands, pure and simple. Come here and give me what I want or you don't make the cut. Gimme!

Then I started wondering about my attitude. If love was all about getting what I want, it would be a very one-sided relationship. I needed to figure out what it was I could give. Shortly after I started thinking like this, Deb appeared, and you know the story from there. So that was my revelation: when my search for love stopped being about taking and started being about giving, I was in the right place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Incidentally, Deb did match most of my former expectations.
PPS - But that's not the point.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Photoshop contest

Via Boing Boing a while ago, a Photoshop contest to turn regular photos into zombies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The Boing Boing post featured a zombie Mona Lisa.
PPS - It's not on the contest page.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Engineering Hubris: a haiku

Adapted from xkcd, a haiku about engineering hubris:

I can't help thinking
With all Coyote's supplies
I'd catch Road Runner.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Hubris = arrogance.
PPS - I had to look that one up.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Flip-flop vs thong

If you demand that thongs (the casual footwear) be called "flip-flops" because of the sound they make, then shouldn't equally demand that cars be called "vroom-vrooms" and tennis raquets "thok-thoks"?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It just makes sense.
PPS - To me, anyway.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A hostile business takeover advantage

It would be interesting to bring a vampire (a person in costume, of course) to a business takeover negotiation meeting, just standing in the corner with fangs and a cape, looking menacing. It will either intimidate the other guys or make you an object of ridicule. Either way, it would shake things up a bit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Whether the change goes in your favour or not remains to be seen.
PPS - And I think you'd have to play it pretty straight.

Monday, 5 November 2007

I have an under-developed time sense

For someone who worries about time, I don't have a very developed time sense. I'm usually early for events because I have no concept of how long it will take to travel anywhere. In fact, my time worries are probably fuelled by a subconscious recognition of my poor sense of time. I know I'm likely to guess wrong how long something will take, and that makes me worry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Clearly I have issues.
PPS - More than I care to admit, sometimes.

Friday, 2 November 2007

What do you wish your computer could do?

I've been asking people what they wish their computers could do better or do at all. I've been wondering because that's what we do as programmers, only we have the tools and have learned the skills to do it ourselves. But the barrier to those skills is large and too much trouble for the average Joe, so I've been thinking of ways to make it easier to program for the layman. In order to do that usefully, however, I want to know what tasks people are trying to perform with their machines. The answers so far have been more incremental than revolutionary, and most are on the way or possible today with minimal effort. Either people's thoughts have been boxed in by their limited machines already or I haven't asked the right people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may have to get my inspiration elsewhere.
PPS - That's fine, as long as I know where.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Hallowe'en Productivity

Productivity blog Lifehacker put up a Hallowe'en joke page featuring mostly zombies. I especially liked the article about using Google Maps to track zombies in your local area.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unfortunately it doesn't work.
PPS - Not even as a joke.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Google SketchUp for house plan evaluation

The Dixon Homes website could be improved in many ways, but one that I think would be very interesting would be to provide 3D model downloads of their house designs in Google SketchUp format. It would allow people to get a good look inside the houses as they really appear rather than just the plans in the brochures. It seems very likely that some designers or architects would have thought of something like this before (possibly a Flash application hosted in the web browser) but sometimes a download to manipulate on your own machine is better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I did a very shallow search for builders offering this exact service.
PPS - I didn't find any, but as I said, the search was shallow.