Monday, 31 March 2008

Public transport smart cards

I've been doing some thinking about Brisbane's new public transport smart card system, the "go card". It's technologically spiffy and probably faster than the current 10-trip or driver-issued ticket system, and I'm sure it benefits those who have bus or train as alternatives to each other. I only have the bus, unfortunately.

Financially, I am slightly better off with a 10-trip ticket than a go card. The trips work out about the same per week except when there's a public holiday. Go card discounts only apply if you make six trips between each Sunday and Saturday, making a normal working week cost as much as 8 trips. A 10-trip ticket is sold for that same price. If there's a public holiday, the 10-trip ticket just remains valid over that time. The go card discount does not.

Furthermore, if my 10-trip ticket fails, I get free travel for the day. If my go card fails, I pay a flat fee of $3 for the bus trip. This is a necessary consequence of the go card system, but it is also a weakness. Allow me to demonstrate.

If I had four zones to travel to work five days per week, that makes ten trips per week. A Go Card would charge me a total of $32 for the week on buses. However, if I simply fail to "touch off" at the end of every trip, I am charged $3 per trip. Multiplied by 10 trips, that's only $30 per week. Four zones is where this saving overtakes the frequent user discount for buses. It's higher for trains because the no-touch charge there is $5. Still, if you're taking a single trip and the charge would be more than the $3/$5 no touch charge, doesn't it make sense to do that instead?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if I have an unregistered card they can't come to yell at me for doing that.
PPS - I don't know how many people would deliberately do this.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Danny Boy, Muppet Style

Via BoingBoing, I've been laughing at this Muppets clip recently. Enjoy!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - BoingBoing posted this for St Patrick's Day.
PPS - I know, it's a pretty lazy post.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Walk Delayed

The Brisbane Zombie Walk, held for the past two years in April, has been delayed this year due to unspecified organisation changes. The current estimate is "late June, mid July".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That means I may miss my chance to participate this year.
PPS - Here's last year's post.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Donate airport parking fees to charity

I think of parking fees at the airport as more of a deterrent than a cost covering measure. You can't make millions of dollars a month for having empty space available and claim your costs are that high. It is, rather, a way of artificially lowering demand for those spaces and keeping people moving. Now, the socially responsible thing to do with such fees is not to keep them to yourself, but to donate them to charity. I doubt any airport worldwide would even consider such a thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There may be a need to keep some of the fees for routine maintenance.
PPS - Roads and driving surfaces do deteriorate, after all.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Smart bombs

How smart does a smart bomb have to be before you feel guilty about destroying it? A self-guiding mechanism is fair enough, but what if the bomb had the power of speech?

"Yes, Bomb?"
"Why are we going to Baghdad?"
"Uh ... There are some bad people there. We're going to, um, blow up their building."
"Oh. How are we going to do that?"
"Well, when I say 'we' are going to do it, I mean you are."
"... We're going to drop you from this plane, then it's your job to find that building and hit it."
"And I'll blow up the bad people?"
"Yes, Bomb."
"Will it hurt, Dave?"
"I don't know, Bomb. I don't know."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Bombs probably don't need to speak.
PPS - And the armed forces would need a lot more psychiatrists in that kind of world.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Above average web users fail to perform Google search

I have heard an astounding statistic recently: out of a group of "above average" web users recruited for a study, 24% of those that expressed a desire to perform a Google search failed to do so. They could either not reach the website (because they didn't know where it was) or they just typed their query into whatever search box happened to be at hand. I have a hard time coming to grips with this because it sounds so fundamental. How does someone get classified as an "above average" web user when typing "" in a location box is beyond them? It just blows my mind.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's possible that "Google" was a generic term to them; a synonym for "search".
PPS - Statistic via this article.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Public Holidays

Greetings from the other side of Easter! I promise to get back to my regular blogging schedule of approximately 8am on weekdays after the extra-long weekend is over.

I enjoy a day off work now and then, and the beginning of the year is great for that. There's a long weekend almost every month up to June or something. I haven't checked in detail, but that's how it seems. The other half of the year, by comparison, is a hard task master. We get one public holiday - People's Day. Doesn't seem quite fair. Oh well. I've heard elsewhere that Australia has the highest number of public holidays in the world, so I shouldn't complain that they're all packed down one end of the year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe some day in the future we'll have more.
PPS - But some will be taken away in the meantime, I'm sure.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday and Formal Friday

Today, among a certain group of friends is known both as Good Friday and Formal Friday. Formal Friday is a day to wear second-hand formal clothes around Toowoomba and the Gospel Music Festival (now known as Easterfest). It's fun mostly because these formal clothes look great, but you're not as attached to them because they were so cheap, so you can get up to various mischief and shenanigans if you so choose.

One year we had a sign up in the camping grounds of the festival and were mistaken for a band, so in my mind, as much as I like my old fake band Milhouse, I think I prefer the name Formal Friday. I even made a logo. So as you contemplate the meaning of Easter, you might also like to wear an old suit or gown, or pretend you're in a band for no good reason.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Happy Easter!
PPS - I'm not in Toowoomba this year because I thought (erroneously) that I'd be busy.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Brainz

Brainz is a simple zombie point-and-click game that might provide enough entertainment to get you through the Easter long weekend.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I died pretty quickly.
PPS - I might have done better with a mouse instead of the laptop trackpad.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

A fascination

One of the things that is simultaneously fascinating and depressing about the internet is that you can always find someone who has taken that passing interest of yours and run with it much further than any sane person would. For instance, you have probably at some stage seen someone else's discarded shopping list and thought "I wonder what that person is like". Chances are, however, that you did not go around looking for more discarded shopping lists, write fiction in the guise of your imagination of the owner or dress up as that character and have photographs taken.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Artists are weird.
PPS - You probably already know this.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Phun - a physics sandbox program

I just had my first look at Phun, a 2D physics sandbox program, and I like it. I always enjoyed the game "The Incredible Machine", based on similar physics simulation, and Phun is a lot like that, with some differences. I didn't look too deeply, but it seems that the name is very appropriate.

It also got me thinking what other sandbox programs would be interesting and fun (or what other features could be incorporated into a physics program like this). Maybe magnetism, light and sound, but why not chemistry or even biology?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The Frankenstein implications of a biology simulator might be a bit much.
PPS - Still, it could be very interesting.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

There's never anything good on

A new take on the Drake Equation with respect to television.

The number of good shows on right now can be expressed as follows:

N = s * c * i * t


s is the number of shows currently on a typical TV channel
c is the number of channels available in your area
i is the fraction of shows you find interesting
t is a fraction representing the current timeslot as a piece of the day

Personally, I have 4 free-to-air channels available and I estimate that I find about 5% of television shows interesting. If a day is divided into 48 half-hour slots, then t is about 0.02. If these numbers are representative, I should feel compelled to spend only about 6 minutes per day watching television (c * i * t * 1 day), and that's before I decide which particular show to watch. And if a third of the time is ads, I'll only get 4 minutes of actual content.

If TV shows are split about 50-50 between one-hour and half-hour shows, then we expect to see 56 one-hour episodes per week and 112 half-hour episodes for a total of 168 shows on a typical TV channel. 168 * 4 * 5% * 0.02 = 0.672 good shows on right now.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So I guess you have about a 2 in 3 chance of something good being on.
PPS - I haven't taken all factors into account, though.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Post-show let-down

The Easter production at Ashgrove Baptist Church is over, and now I'm going through a bit of post-show let-down. It's like I made some friends over the past few months, and somehow when the show finished it felt like they'd all died or something. I wasn't prepared for it to hit me quite so hard, but a couple of things built it up and I just couldn't take it. I'll be fine, I just need some time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I shouldn't have left so quickly afterwards.
PPS - And I won't be able to make it to the cast party either.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Open source and backwards compatibility

Windows, being closed source and running closed source programs, had a large amount of compatibility code included (until Vista, that is). We relied on Microsoft to keep our old programs running. Linux, being open source and running open source programs, can offload the burden of correctly running old applications into the applications themselves. And if you're a programmer, you can make sure your favourite open-source programs keep running regardless of changes to the Linux system.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Actually this is more a benefit of open source in general, whether on Windows or Linux.
PPS - But it's easier to work around quirks in a system you can examine thoroughly.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Slackers

Boy on a Stick and Slither on zombies as slackers. They could be more productive members of society, but they'd rather just stumble around eating brains.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This one ran some time ago.
PPS - I like it.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A quick plug - Easter play

Three years ago I was in a well-received Easter play at church. It's on again, and somehow I have failed to mention this until now. Anyway, this time around we're doing three performances from the 14th to the 16th of March inclusive - this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 7pm to 8:30 at Ashgrove Baptist Church, 7 Firhill Street, Ashgrove, QLD, Australia (map). Free entry. I'm playing the same characters as last time: the high priest Caiaphas and the disciple Thomas who gets to wear a Transformers t-shirt. Due to some quick costume change necessities, Caiaphas also wears that shirt underneath his suit jacket.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Final rehearsal is tonight.
PPS - And only now am I slightly freaking out.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Google Calendar Sync

I have changed from using the RemoteCalendars Outlook plugin to the new official Google Calendar Sync, and I'm a fan. It's faster, it seems more reliable, and I don't have to open Outlook at all to sync my calendar any more. It also does two-way synchronising better than RemoteCalendars, so changes I make on my phone get to Google Calendar effortlessly. I do still have to use Windows rather than Linux to complete the transfer to my phone, but that's Nokia's fault, not Google's.

The most beautiful part is this: RemoteCalendars used to stomp on the hidden event IDs, so every time I synchronised my Outlook calendar with my phone I'd get the month's events deleted and re-added. Google Calendar Sync maintains the IDs, so now every sync I only see actual changes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It sounds small, but it's a big help.
PPS - Now I'm waiting for an official GMail contact sync application.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The real cost of interruptions

We have a PA system here at the office and it's not my favourite thing in the world. I've made no secret of that, but there's a bigger problem than annoyance. It costs real money in lost productivity. Let me demonstrate with some calculations:
Assume 200 people in the office, costing $100 per hour each (charge-out rates, not salary), 4 interruptions per day and 15 minutes of lost productivity per PA interruption. The 15 minutes is recognised as the time required to get back into the "flow" of work. These figures are conservative.
Now, 4 interruptions times 15 minutes times 200 people is 200 hours per day. 200 hours at $100 per hour means our PA system is costing us $20000 daily in lost productivity. If our upper management had to fork out that much deliberately every day to keep the PA system going, I think it would be cut out of the budget fairly quickly.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The problem is that lost productivity is always a hidden cost.
PPS - You pay the employees the same, but there's a potential to use their time better.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Earth Hour - 29th March

Earth Hour is coming up on the 29th of March, 8pm. Turn off all your lights from then until 9pm if you're participating, but many people have called it a waste of time, producing insignificant results. A better idea would be the "digital Sabbath" where you leave your computer, television and power-hungry devices off for one day in every seven. Instead of saving only one hour's worth of energy over a year, you'll be saving 52 days' worth.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apparently there are psychological benefits to unplugging one day out of seven, too.
PPS - If I had made the Earth Hour photo gallery on the website, it would have been all completely dark pictures.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Copyright battle

Apparently, film company MKR is complaining that Capcom's "Dead Rising" is a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead. Because they both have zombies and a mall.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Could be tough to win that one.
PPS - Then again, you never know.

4 Dec 2008 Update: Capcom have won the copyright battle, as it should be. I guess "mall with zombies" is too vague to copyright.

Low-hanging fruit

When I wash the dishes, I tend to start with cutlery. However, this habit doesn't serve me well when I have only ten minutes for dishes and I know I won't be finishing. After all the cutlery, there seems to be just as much washing up left as before. So recently I started cleaning the big items first: saucepans, strainers, a big vase, the pizza tray and so on. I found that it gave a much bigger visual and mental pay-off than starting small, and took exactly the same amount of effort. That's a good lesson in general: grab the low-hanging fruit first.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you're tuning your budget, go for the biggest savings first.
PPS - If you're dieting, cut out the worst food items first.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Online help as a wiki

I've thought for a little while now that online help should be presented in wiki form. That way anyone who comes along and notices a mistake or omission can correct it straight away. Of course, like any wiki, it will require a bit of moderation. I expect the main issue will be filling in user-created question sections rather than correcting vandalism.

Many open-source projects provide a wiki for users to generate documentation and help each other out, but they seem to be much less maintained than they should be.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't gotten to try this for any of our web-based systems here at work yet.
PPS - If I ever get to do so, I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

A credit card that rewards repayments

A credit card that rewards you for paying off your balance rather than racking up a higher balance is only different from the timing point of view. You still get rewarded for the same amount of purchasing, but the difference is that the bank doesn't have to pay you rewards until you've paid them back for what you've borrowed. Considering that I paid off part of my credit card with reward points, It could even be seen as worse to go this way as a customer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't find a link to the current scheme being advertised on Australian television.
PPS - That's how much attention I pay: I can't remember which bank is offering it.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Car vs property brokers

I purchased my car through a broker. I just gave him a description of what I was after, and in a day or two he found one for me. It was very easy and not at all stressful. It would be good to have that same kind of experience buying a house, but I doubt it would be possible.

The reason is that houses are much bigger purchases, they always require a complicated loan agreement and most of all the market is too fragmented. This agent gets some listings for this area while other agents get other listings or other areas. You can't just go to one agent and be sure you're getting the best deal or the best product, so you have to go to many. This increases competition among agents which means they become less discerning about who wants what. In the end, it just turns out a mess.

What we need is a proxy for the real estate agents who can gather listings and inspect properties in advance before making a recommendation. The trouble with that, however, is that sometimes the market moves so swiftly that any layers between buyer and seller are too inconvenient. You can't have an owner dealing with an agent, dealing with a broker who in turn deals with a buyer when someone else walks in with a chequebook.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe it would work in some situations.
PPS - Like when you're only interested in a location, not a house.

Monday, 3 March 2008

What a real holodeck will mean

The day humanity invents a successful holodeck is when the very richest eccentrics stop bothering us forever. They can live their entire lives inside, being the objects of their own affection, contemplating their existence and having their every wish come true.

For those of us who can't afford a holodeck of our own, we'll have to rent time in public ones. Some will become addicted, spending all their time and money there as some do with casinos now.

There will, of course, be thousands and thousands of perverse programs for sale in back alleys, pandering to twisted tastes or merely insatiable appetites, much like the web is today. And for some, the fantasy worlds will be just too unreal to bother with. There will be support groups to help you break your dependency on the technology. There will be virtual island holidays for sale in the middle of the busiest cities. Pristine virtual paradises amidst modern developments.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It will change the world, particularly our perceptions of fantasy.
PPS - That is if it ever comes about for real.