Friday, 29 February 2008

Office map Risk

Our section secretary has a map of our three-level office on the wall, presumably so she can find people when necessary. I may be strange, but every time I see it I imagine laying it out on a big table, defining some territories and using it to play Risk. It's like office politics, but trivialised!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may need to find the files on our network to print for myself.
PPS - Or I may forget about this in a month or so.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Sewer zombie in East Sussex

Sewer workers in Eastbourne, East Sussex claim a zombie-like creature is stalking them. Apparently the place has already been checked for electromagnetic haunting energy, but came up negative.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think these guys would get particularly creeped out regularly.
PPS - After all, they're in those tunnels all day.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Casual but functional: formal slippers

Sometimes I'd really like some "office slippers" to wear during the day. Some kind of comfortable footwear that still looks professional enough for work. Of course once it's clear I'm wearing slippers at work, no amount of professional looks will fix that perception.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps what I really want is to work from home now and then.
PPS - Then I can even go barefoot.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A haiku about bus travel

If only I'd known
The bus wouldn't come today
I'd have stayed in bed
Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's true.
PPS - Composing this poem is how I spent my long bus ride in.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Invasions of privacy on the starship Enterprise

I have come to the conclusion that people in the 24th century must have very different expectations of privacy to us. At any time, it seems anyone can ask the computer to locate anyone else on board. If you're trying for a secret rendezvous, that's something you have to keep in mind. Also, there don't seem to be any privacy locks or controls on the holodeck, so you shouldn't run anything truly personal there. Nor should you even store a personal holodeck program, because it seems anyone can call it up later if they so desire.

Now, there may be some privacy controls in place that are not obvious to me - for instance, it might be that only your commanding officer can view things that belong to you - but that is never made obvious. Also, it seems there are personal identifications and you can manually assign arbitrary locking codes to personal files and functions, but the crew rarely seem to bother. There is probably a feeling that if you hide something, it must be illicit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's probably because it would complicate the plot too much.
PPS - I don't have enough info about the original series to compare to that.

Monday, 25 February 2008

DNA evidence

Criminals on CSI Miami seem very willing to confess based on the assertion of genetic evidence. Mind you, I am basing this on only one episode, but the exchange at the end went something like this:

"It got too slippery for Jimmy on your boat, didn't it?"
"He was never on my boat."
"We found his DNA there."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I found him in the water, then killed him because he wouldn't give my drugs back."

He must have been kicking himself later that it never occurred to him to say "I don't know what you're talking about".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This may also apply to other flavours of CSI.
PPS - I wouldn't know personally.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Real practitioners of fictional martial arts

A thought grew upon me recently that at least a few fans must have tried to practice fictional martial arts from their favourite books, movies, TV shows or games. I know there are a group of Jedi swordfighters in Los Angeles, and I think I can safely assume that a few fans of Star Trek's Klingons have gotten together to flesh out moQ'bara into something more solid.

The question that follows, then, is whether these martial arts are made less fictional by having real practitioners, or if it moves the practitioners themselves further from reality.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most people would argue for the latter.
PPS - Especially when it involves wearing Klingon make-up.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Teaching English

A game with the slightly strained title English of the Dead aims to teach English to native Japanese speakers. The Japanese words are presented by an advancing horde of the undead and the only way to kill them is to write the correct English translation. As the zombies die, they speak the English word to provide the correct pronunciation. It sounds rather interesting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Zombies. Is there anything they can't do?
PPS - I mean, besides work doorknobs or climb ladders.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Why the disciples didn't understand Jesus

As we chatted through Bible study last night, I started sympathising with Jesus' disciples. They didn't always understand what he was talking about, but it was the first time a lot of it had been said, let alone presented in metaphor. Also, half the time it seems Jesus would take any old situation and turn it into a teaching exercise, so when he said something mundane it might have been a bit of a shock to the system. If he was hungry, he might ask if you have any bread around, but did he mean literal bread or metaphorical bread? And if you ask, will he start teaching again in those confusing parables?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might have been safer to assume he was speaking in metaphors all the time.
PPS - But even that would get confusing now and then.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Gender role-reversing romantic comedies

The next time you see a romantic comedy, try to imagine what it would be like if the lead characters were male instead of female and vice versa. It usually doesn't turn out as funny, and quite often gets creepy or just sad. Why would I tell you to do this? Well, there's certain behaviour that is expected of men and certain things women can just get away with. When you try to see it the other way around, those things become more obvious and more ridiculous.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some movies should not be role reversed this way.
PPS - It would get too weird.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Guerilla Wireless Internet

I'm sure it's been tried somewhere around the world by now. Some local governments and councils have occasionally announced plans to build a public wireless internet service, and all of these plans have fallen through. If a few tech-savvy citizens got together, they could easily buy a business-targeted internet plan and distribute it wirelessly over a local area, splitting the bill among everyone who uses it.

That would probably be the biggest problem: billing. Besides that, the technical problems are practically nil.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But billing does count for a lot.
PPS - Especially if access is not restricted.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Curing colour blindness

Deb had a dream that you could use special contact lenses to correct colour blindness. It probably couldn't work quite the way she dreamed it, but I think her subconscious might be onto something. After all, coloured lenses is how they used to do colour television.

My first prototype idea would be to wear some big chunky electronic glasses that change colour a few times per second, from red to green to blue and back. The problem would be communicating to the brain which colour is currently filtered so that the images made sense. Maybe if the colours switched rapidly enough it wouldn't make a difference. A fully colour-blind person wouldn't start seeing in colour the same way we do, but they might start to distinguish better between the shades of grey they see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Full colour blindness is probably too rare to bother trying this.
PPS - Except perhaps out of curiosity.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Everything is broken #3: The home telephone

In keeping with the theme of everything electronic going wrong for me, the home phone is on the blink. The positive twist in this case is that it's Telstra's problem, not mine, but I'll still have to wait up to two weeks for it to be fixed. In the meantime they promise to deliver a magical telephone that only requires power, not a working hard line. I am slightly intrigued to discover how it works.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps it uses the mobile network.
PPS - It's possible Telstra will receive this device back disassembled.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Undead debt

One from the archives. About a year and a half ago, podcast "Pseudopod" ran a story called "What Dead People Are Supposed to Do", which follows a son taking care of his deceased father. His father is still walking around because he has debts to work off. I haven't listened myself, but the premise sounds interesting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe later.
PPS - In all my free time.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine's Day postponed

I have decided that Valentine's Day will be postponed until Saturday, when things are more convenient for me. Please make a note of it. That is all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In the meantime, please refrain from all romantic activities and public displays of affection.
PPS - Police have been given authority to confiscate picnic rugs and champagne, just in case.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Connecting my phone to Linux, but not really

My trusty Nokia 6288 (running Symbian S40) was being repaired during the Great Office Linux Switch, so I had yet to see it in action with Ubuntu until now. On Windows I had set up an elaborate but effective chain of tools for automatic data synchronisation like so:

Phone <--USB--> Nokia PC Suite <--> Microsoft Outlook <--(plugin)--> Google Calendar

It works like a charm except that the Outlook plugin (Remote Calendars) does its slow network access and sync in the same thread as the Outlook user interface. It locks the whole thing up for a minute or so, which is annoying but not a deal breaker. The two things I like best about this setup are (1) it costs me zero in phone company data charges since I'm going via a wired internet connection and (2) it doesn't require any third-party website memberships.

On Linux, the best replacement I can find for the Nokia PC Suite is MultiSync, but it's not working for me so far. I may need to read up on it some more. For now, the solution is to run Windows in VMWare Player and just use the old way virtually.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not what I wanted to do.
PPS - Maybe another option will open up further down the line.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

What does "better" mean?

Ways things can be better than others:

More convenient
More reliable
More efficient
More secure
Longer lasting
More attractive
More effective
Easier to use
More fun
More interesting
More portable
More entertaining
More crisp

And that's not all. Very rarely is something "better in every way" than its predecessor, despite our desires or the advertising. Even if it is better in many ways, it might be worse in some way that counts for more.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Windows Vista is one case in point.
PPS - Much shinier, but more frustrating.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Alcohol prohibition in Australia

Is Australia moving towards alcohol prohibition? We've seen the positive effects (or perhaps the reversal of negative effects) in rural Aboriginal communities, so how long before the booze ban hits urban centres as well? There are probably some places that could benefit right now, if their alcohol-fuelled car accident and violence rates are high.

I don't imagine it would go down well at first, especially with so many people addicted, so perhaps what we're looking for is a kind of enforced moderation. It won't keep the die-hard alcoholics from drinking, because they'll find a way around it, but it should push back the border a little, reducing accidents and hospital admissions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think it's coming soon.
PPS - There would be many more years to go before we get to that point.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Win some, lose some

Long-time readers may remember the "Free Money" tray I kept on my desk for a while. People started putting in their vending machine change and using it like a communal spare change tray. Then for a while my desk was nowhere near a vending machine. Since we moved back, I decided to return the tray to its rightful place, right beside the vending machine.

The entire thing, tray and all, was gone the next day. I'm not sure if it was claimed according to its stated purpose or if it was "cleaned up" with a bonus to the cleaner. Either way, the tray is no more.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe I'll make a new one someday.
PPS - But not today.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Global Warming

Apparently, Global warming may cause an increase in zombie attacks. It's true. I read it on the internet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's because cold weather slows them down.
PPS - But only in places that have fairly cold winters.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Microsoft Access for Workgroups

I've occasionally had a vague ambition of setting up a multi-user database environment that's as easy to use for database newbies as Microsoft Access. The problem is that supporting multiple simultaneous users immediately multiplies the complexity of software much more than you'd think. Besides the creation and management of user accounts (and someone to reset passwords when the users forget them), you've got to have security policies on the data and make sure that people editing the same data at the same time don't cause problems for each other. So any software like this would have to come with all that user management functionality built in, not just in the basic system but for every new database. At this point, I tend to focus on something else.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This leaves out the point that Access is still too hard for most newbies.
PPS - There's a learning gap between spreadsheets and databases that needs to be filled.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Standards and mobile phones

Nobody would think of using a non-standard wireless protocol in a phone these days. Why are non-standard wired accessories so common, then?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not for a lack of standards.
PPS - I get the feeling it's to sell particular accessories.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Highlights of the Linux conversion

I've got a couple of things to share about the conversion to Linux at work. I hope they're interesting to at least some people.
  1. My file synchronisation utility, Unison, needs to ignore file permissions on my flash drive to work properly.
  2. My virtual Windows copy has stopped working, so I'll need to take a new copy, this time of my current Windows setup.
  3. Printers are a bit more of a hassle to set up in Linux than in Windows. You can substitute just about any hardware for the word "printers" there, too.
  4. The big shared network drive at work won't connect properly. I just keep getting recursive directory listings. This should be fixed in the next Linux kernel version, I'm told.
On the plus side, my Firefox and Thunderbird profiles migrated over without any big troubles, and I've found acceptable substitutes for most of my favourite Windows-based tools already.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could get to like Linux quite a lot.
PPS - Provided I don't use much exotic hardware.

Monday, 4 February 2008

A story fragment

For your enjoyment today, a fragment of prose that never had a surrounding story:
"He'd bio-encrypted the data into messenger bacteria, and then hidden that inside the lymph nodes of his cat, there to wait until it was needed again. It was dangerous data, he knew, but he also took some pleasure in the kind of labyrinthine measures he'd taken to hide it. It made him feel like more than a two-bit cracker. Now he was a super-villain, complete with maniacal laugh.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - You must guess that he's not yet out of his teens.
PPS - And that he doesn't trust good encryption.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Taking the Linux Plunge

For a while now, I've been a kind of uninformed Linux advocate. I took the position that it was a good idea and more people should be running Linux rather than (or in addition to) Windows. I've had vague notions of setting up a dual-boot system at work or home. Now I've got my wish. I've installed Ubuntu Linux alongside Windows at work and the plan is to use it as my primary environment. I'm the guinea pig for the rest of the section.

It's not the first time I've run Linux, but it's the first time I've been this deep. Thus far, it's all been live discs that let me boot up, play around for a while and then disappear without a trace or short-lived virtual machines that might as well be an alternative web browser. Installing programs, figuring out hardware configuration issues and even resizing disk partitions has been a bit of an adventure.

I don't expect the migration to go all that smoothly. I've now made a virtual Windows copy that I can keep around, like a security blanket, whenever I find something I can't accomplish. I've managed to get my self-written note-taking program WorkDiary operating, even though it's written for Microsoft's .NET platform. Thanks go out to the good people who develop the compatible Mono libraries for that. However, that's not the only program I've got to get moving here in Linux Town. I've built up a whole slew of partially-useful applications, practices and techniques over the years that are specific to Windows. I imagine I've got some un-learning to do and some new tools to find.

If interesting things happen, I'll keep you posted, but that's quite enough for today.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My passwords database has been the most valuable migration so far.
PPS - And my Firefox profile will come next.

Friday Zombie Blogging: Zero Punctuation

Here's a Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles review on the Wii. It contains some NSFW dialogue and cartoon images, so not normally something I'd link to, but if you haven't seen a Zero Punctuation game review before, you probably should. It sounds like the "small print" at the end of a radio ad, but going on for five minutes or so, accompanied by simple illustrations that are not quite animation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I liked the descriptions of the game dialogue.
PPS - Also the depictions of the gameplay.