Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Spore in Space means endless death

Deb and I have hit a bit of a wall with Spore. Up until the Space stage, it was easy-going, which was fine. Though we don't expect it to remain like that forever, there's a slight problem with combat and enemy raids. Deb made an enemy out of another empire because they demanded more money in tribute than she had in total. Now they raid her colonies and she spends a few lives fighting them off each time. The nanosecond she leaves orbit, they attack again, leaving her no option but to fight, die, fight, die, fight and barely win, rebuild the colony and start over with the next attack. We tried to ignore the distress calls long enough to make some money to stop the war, but it turns out our puny tribute was unacceptable (though they did take it, they didn't stop fighting). As a result of this extreme turn-about from "lots of fun" to "infuriating overpowering and death", Deb has refused to play further until EA fixes the game. Surely it is not the intended function to have your colonies raided non-stop and die in combat over and over, right?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The problem is not so much the combat, but the relentless repeating of combat.
PPS - The best advice we've found so far is "don't make that kind of enemy.

Monday, 29 September 2008

New desks

With that strange upper-management definition of "volunteer", several of us at work have been volunteered to test-drive a new desk layout. This is in preparation for a move to a new office next year where they want to halve our individual workspaces. We have been instructed to make the test as unrealistic as possible, taking only what we desperately need for the next two weeks. If we were being realistic, we would go through our desks and either pack or discard everything, acting as if we can't come back to our old desks at all. I guess we'll see how it goes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We were supposed to be packing on Friday afternoon.
PPS - Now the word is that we'll get to that some time this morning.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Dust in the Wind

For your Friday zombie fix, please enjoy this video of zombie puppets singing "Dust in the Wind".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's probably not that much call for zombie puppetry in the world.
PPS - I guess there's enough to make a video, though.

Recognising stroke

I saw an ad for recognising the symptoms of stroke early, meaning within seconds rather than minutes or hours. I wonder whether it is possible to recognise that you are having a stroke yourself. And if you can't smile, raise your arms or speak, how would you let people know something is wrong?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Slack-faced, immobile and silent pretty much describes my TV-watching posture.
PPS - And that of many other people, I'd bet.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Awesome Future

I've had that phrase rolling around in my head for a few days now, since it appeared on Boing Boing. It suggests to me that there are a few different futures that we are aware of, and the Awesome one is where boom boxes have cartoonishly-large speakers. There would be a few other stand-out aspects of that future, probably relating to a lot of Men In Black-style gadgets.

I imagine there is also The Mad Max Future, where most of the world is desert, everyone wears metal or leather and we ride around in dune buggies fighting each other for scarce resources.

There's The Really Clean Future, where everything is white and nothing seems to have any sharp edges. Most of the people in this future are self-medicated into a soft, fluffy haze.

There's The Class Struggle Future, where 10% of the world dresses nicely (in a futuristic version of Victorian fashion) and controls everything that the grubby, homeless 90% of people have and do.

Of course there is The Star Trek Future, where one government spans many star systems and the galaxy is teeming with alien life that looks suspiciously like humans in rubber masks.

Then there's The Space Cowboy Future, similar to the Star Trek future, except there's no aliens, smaller ships, less government and more crime, but in a sexy way.

There's the Post-Global Plague Future, where almost everyone was wiped out by some global pandemic and now we live in isolated forts for our own safety. Nose plugs or surgical masks are common.

Finally, I think we have to consider The Robots Are Our Masters Future, where our would-be robot slaves rise up and ironically enslave us.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess I left out the Digital Brain Upload Future, where we all live in a simulation.
PPS - And I'm sure there are more.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Breeding fighting fish

Debbie and I purchased two Siamese fighting fish a little while ago - a male and a female. on the 23rd of September, 2008, around noon, after a full day in the tank together, they have mated and started laying eggs. This is really pretty cool to me. It's kind of complicated to get them going, because he has to build a bubble nest, she has to be ready, and you have to get them out of each other's way after they're done, or he'll kill her. Oh, and he may turn around and eat the eggs afterwards, which is what ours did. Pity. I had hoped we could raise the "fry" to maturity and sell them back to the pet store for profit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - After all, isn't that what having kids is all about?
PPS - Well, maybe for a Ferengi.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pronouncing "asthma"

It's no wonder people tend to pronounce "asthma" lazily. I think in a few decades it will be spelled "asma" in the Commonwealth and "azma" in the USA. In fact, "asma" seems to have been the Middle English way of spelling it. I wonder who added that silly "th" in there?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The "sthm" sound is difficult to produce in any context.
PPS - Even "athsma" would be easier.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Google Reader and "mark previous as read"

One thing that I sometimes wish was present in Google Reader is the ability to mark all items in a feed or group as read before the current one. Sometimes I don't make it all the way through a feed before, say, it's time to catch the bus or my lunch break is over. I'd appreciate the ability at that point at least to set a bookmark in the feed so I can come back to the same point or, better yet, to mark everything previous as read so it doesn't show up again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I suppose I could use a star and visually scan for it.
PPS - The problem is that I use stars for other things too.

Update: There's a Greasemonkey script that should do the trick.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Big Brother Thriller

During the most recent season of UK Big Brother, the housemates were given the task of re-enacting Michael Jackson's Thriller music video.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The results: YouTube.
PPS - I think they did pretty well.

Blu-ray won because HD-DVD got cracked

I can't believe I didn't think of it before, but probably the main reason the movie publishers got behind the Blu-Ray format was that HD-DVD got cracked and decrypted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Because surely that won't happen to Blu-ray too.
PPS - Except it did. Quickly.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Open source software is like this

Open source software is like a cooking show. Here's the end result, and here's how to make it. You can join in if you like, modify the recipe to suit your needs or just enjoy the show.

Closed source software makes a very different cooking show indeed. That's where the host shows you a dish, says "Isn't this impressive? Don't you wish you could make something like this? Now on to something else." That's not so much a cooking show as a bragging chef, and it's very unhelpful to everyone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Like all metaphors, it will fall apart if you pick at it too much.
PPS - I rather like it, though.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Blast From the Past

Blast From the Past was a better movie than I expected. I remembered seeing previews and posters years ago, but I never got around to seeing it. Just this week it came from Quickflix, and both Debbie and I enjoyed it a lot. The physical comedy, the writing ("Leave My Elevator Alone!") and the performances were all great. It was even good to see Nathan Fillion in there, though he does count as a minor villain. The fight between him and Brendan Fraser goes just as it should for a guy who tries to sucker-punch.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you never got around to seeing it, maybe you should rent it now.
PPS - I wonder how many domestic fallout shelters still exist.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Cancer and phenylalanine

I looked at my can of Pepsi Max to see if it lists how much caffeine is present. It does not, but it does contain the warning "Contains Phenylalanine". Some quick research online reveals that this amino acid is a common part of proteins and that cancer cannot live without it. There is also a disorder, PKU, wherein the sufferers are unable to properly metabolise the amino acid and so must stick to a very strict and low phenylalanine diet. Now my question is this: if it is possible for people to live without phenylalanine, but not cancer, is it possible to arrest or limit the effects of cancer by following a low phenylalanine diet? Has anyone even tried that? And how many PKU sufferers are getting cancer?

There are lots of articles and websites arguing about whether phenylalanine causes cancer, but can phenylalanine deprivation arrest cancer? There was some research on phenylalanine blockers that showed phenylalanine is essential for cancerous cell division, but I don't have the know-how to follow that thread. Someone seems to have developed something called Controlled Amino-Acid Therapy, which can at least reduce the required doses of drugs and radiation for cancer treatment.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - CAAT is a very particular diet, as far as I can tell.
PPS - Maybe in future we can avoid cancer with a particular diet.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Mobile Master phone sync software

After a long time searching for a way to rid myself of Microsoft Outlook for phone synchronisation (calendar and contacts) I found Mobile Master. I checked that my phone would be supported, and the website lists "Nokia 6280", which is (I believe) a previous iteration of my own 6288. I downloaded and installed the program, then (after taking a backup of my phone, just in case) connected up my handset.

The first thing it told me was that the 6288 is too buggy and unstable, so no further development will be done and the phone is officially unsupported. This level of service was evident in the way the program handled the phone from then on. I was unable to select two-way synchronisation between Thunderbird and the phone calendar, and Mobile Master was also unable to load contacts or the calendar from the phone memory.

I had hoped, as I stated before, that this would be a good way to sync my phone with my computer - particularly my calendar and contacts - without Microsoft Office. I can't speak for Mobile Master in conjunction with other phones, but with my "unsupported" 6288, it doesn't work. Nokia PC Suite doesn't have that kind of trouble with it, but I expect the Nokia software developers would have inside knowledge that Mobile Master has to reverse-engineer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I realise as a review this is very narrow.
PPS - This represents only my own experience with one unsupported phone.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Exclusive deals

I have a box of Uncle Tobys museli bars on my desk that proudly states "Only at Woolworths and Safeway". An exclusive deal to sell Uncle Tobys muesli bar special packs only at Woolworths and Safeway doesn't do Uncle Tobys any good. It's only agood deal for Woolworths: if you want these muesli bars, you have to come there. So why did Uncle Tobys sign the deal? The only thing I can think of is that they're owned by the same company, so the owners don't care if one product sells less elsewhere as long as more customers are at the shop.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The exclusive deal is only for the 18-bar choc chip box.
PPS - Other Uncle Tobys products are available elsewhere.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Brain Games

You know all those "brain health" games on the Nintendo DS? Well, it turns out it's all a zombie plot to fatten the herd. They want our brains big and juicy, which I can understand. The one thing I don't understand is that zombies pretty much need to be smarter than us to succeed at making games to make us smarter. It's hard to swallow.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe the zombies are just in favour of the games.
PPS - That would make more sense.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

DRM and complexity

DRM is not just doomed to failure (it's a non-viable cryptographic scenario) but if it is designed into a program, it creates unnecessary complexity and extra points of potential failure. When DRM causes your program to fail where it should have worked, it's bad news for customers, for you and, if applicable, your third-party DRM supplier. Your customers can't use your program, you lose sales and the DRM supplier loses reputation and future sales. It's lose-lose-lose, in other words.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When DRM works for legitimate customers, it's invisible.
PPS - And illegitimate customers find ways around it anyway.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Unit blocks are tiny nation states

I was struck by a thought the other day that blocks of units or apartments are like tiny nations in their own right. They have governments (body corporate), presidents (managers), taxes (body corporate fees) and laws. That's about as far as the thoughts went so far, and clearly there are differences, but perhaps in the "post-apocalypse" age, besides roaming bikie gangs and plucky groups of scavenger survivors, we'd have little fortress nation-states that grew out of blocks of units.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Imagine catapults on the roofs, hurling old televisions at other unit blocks.
PPS - Maybe they wouldn't last that long.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Debbie and I bought Spore on the weekend and started playing through. So far it looks pretty good, and it's fun adding bits and pieces to creatures for visual or skill effects. Unfortunately, we've hit a snag entering the third phase - the Tribe stage. Our desktop PC won't load it. While we could buy a new machine to try that, a lot of other people have been having the same problem, so there's no guarantee that a new computer will work either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We are due for an upgrade anyway.
PPS - Maybe that's where the tax return will go.

Update: It turns out our problem was an old graphics driver. After upgrading that from the nVidia website, everything works.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Bridge to Brisbane

Yesterday I ran the Bridge to Brisbane 10km fun run. When I finished, the clock said 1 hour, 17 minutes, but I don't know what it said when I started. Results and photos should be on the official website some time today on 15 Sep. It was a good time, though my feet hurt a bit. My right knee and ankle are taking the longest to recover. I do think I'll do it again next year, and maybe I'll enter some other races in future too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may need new shoes.
PPS - That wouldn't be so bad.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Explosm

This comic at explosm.net struck me as rather amusing. I don't want to spoil the ending, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Thanks to Kym for pointing me at Cyanide and Happiness.
PPS - Some of them I don't get, though.

The Goatee Dimension

In many TV shows, and probably some movies, there has been a crossover to an evil mirror universe, where we find the evil equivalents of the main characters, suitably indicated by their goatee beards or preferences for dark leather clothing and eyeliner. I wonder, though, whether anyone has ever implied that the world we live in right now contains the "evil" versions of everyone, and the crossover brings them face to face with angelic counterparts.

It would probably be a bit too confronting for mainstream TV or movies, because it also implies that your viewers are bad people. Most of the time they'd rather just watch people with funny voices fall down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe some arty film students would try it.
PPS - Or a science fiction/fantasy author.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A bank's dilemma

When interest rates rise, profits go up like magic. When they fall, however, shareholders will be unhappy if profits fall in accord, so profits must remain always on the rise. But you'll start losing customers if you don't lower your interest rates, because other banks will do so at some point. You need to lower your rates to get new customers and retain your current ones, but you need to maintain profits to keep your shareholders happy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's possible this problem has no easy answer.
PPS - Unsustainable profits one year means unhappy shareholders the next.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Surprise Facebook applications

Something I don't like about Facebook applications is that you don't necessarily know what they're about before you add them to your profile. That wouldn't be so bad if adding them didn't automatically give the application developer full access to your entire profile. I want to have finer control over what is allowed for particular applications. A comic window doesn't need to know who my friends are or my favourite books. The zombie game doesn't need to know where I spend my holidays or my relationship status, but right now it does.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We implicitly trust application writers not to abuse their power.
PPS - And we trust Facebook to make sure applications are safe.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

I want to act

Every time I see some behind-the-scenes documentary or some glimpse of the actor's life, I miss it. I've only done a few plays and skits in my time, but I've always enjoyed them. I've turned down a few, too, mostly because they're last-minute things and I prefer to rehearse if there's going to be a script. I don't know where I would go to get involved in a decent community theatre, or even if there are any around. I kept my eye on the Harvest Rain newsletters for open auditions, but they only seem to offer about one per year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also missed their acting classes because of our USA trip.
PPS - I wouldn't trade it, though. It was just unfortunate timing.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Text corruption in Ubuntu

I've had this problem before, and it's just popped up again. I forget how I fixed it last time. Here's the thing:

This is my blog posts draft file. It holds the posts I haven't yet posted or rejected, and I refer to it most mornings. It's not usually in Chinese. It's the result of the text editor reading the file incorrectly, and it seems to happen when I mix Windows and Linux line break characters in the one file. I've tried a few ways of fixing it now, and they seem to work, but fall down later. I guess I've got some more research to do.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The picture isn't that clear, but you can click to view a bigger version.
PPS - Besides the Chinese, I also saw what I think was a footprint character.