Friday, 31 October 2008

The importance of email encryption

Public key encryption and digital signatures for email are going to become far more important as time goes on. Signed email for big companies (that is, producing a cryptographic verification of the contents that could only come from the alleged sender) will serve to enhance trust. When email programs prioritise signed messages from trusted public keys and discard or downplay untrusted or unsigned messages, that trust is even easier to foster. It does start to create the problem of maintaining private repositories of trusted public keys and what to do about distributing false public keys, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not a perfect system.
PPS - And it may end up being too complicated for general use.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Watermelon carving

If you're in the habit of carving pumpkins for Hallowe'en, why not try carving a brain from a watermelon instead?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most of my fellow Australians will not be into pumpkin carving.
PPS - Nor into Hallowe'en, really.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Clearance Divers

Deb and I caught a show on the ABC the other night about the Navy "CDAT" - Clearance Diver Assessment Test and it made me curious whether I could complete it. I probably wouldn't pass into the training, but I'd like to see if I could take the 10-day intensive physical punishment. It appeals to the masculine toughness element. At the same time, I saw some things that were very dangerous going on: sleep-deprived, physically-drained men carrying canoes down a steep rocky track is a pretty good way to get someone killed or permanently disabled. I'd be very surprised if they have a good safety record just for the training. At the same time, I recognise that the jobs these guys are called to do are not safe, so you shouldn't expect the training to be safe either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A few years ago I would have done better than if you asked me to go today.
PPS - The RAN Clearance Diving Teams are a bit like US Navy SEALs.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Advertising in communication

I've purchased DVDs from Quickflix before, and I think they have made a mistake in the composition of their confirmation emails. Not so much a mistake of content, but a design mistake. My ordered DVD was listed and confirmed, but they decided to take this opportunity to advertise another movie as well. The advertisement was very prominent - it overpowered the actual content of the email by a large margin. This overpowering was so striking that I actually believed I had made a mistake in my order and called to cancel. The lesson in this case is that perhaps transactional emails for sales are not the best opportunity for advertising.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was a while ago. I haven't ordered anything recently.
PPS - So things may have changed a bit in the meantime.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Project velocity

There is a software project management tool called a velocity chart. It shows project progress by tracking the number of features completed, remaining and in total over time. If the project is progressing well, the velocity chart can even give a rough estimate of the time it will be complete. Yesterday I produced such a chart for our project:

These lines indicate an approximate finish date of never, which is not a good state to be in. If that blue line never starts going down again, we will be stuck doing this one project forever, or at least until someone cancels it. Personally I'd rather get it finished than cancelled.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Today we will try to cut our features list down.
PPS - Then hopefully there will be an end in sight.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Somebody Else's Sub

I went out to buy lunch on Friday, that being the one day of the week it is usual to have no leftovers. I decided on a sub from the local Subway and walked the "sandwich artist" through the creation of my desired delectable. As I paid ($9.05 for a Spicy Italian with everything) the man behind me in line asked for confirmation that he was actually paying for his meatball sub. I didn't think anything of it at the time, assuming that he just hadn't seen them wrap it or something. I walked the five minutes back to the office and sat down at my desk.

Immediately when I opened the wrapper, I saw that I had ended up with my fellow customer's meatball sub instead of my own. I don't have the prices in front of me, but I think a meatball sub is a bit less than the Spicy Italian. However, since I have no particular objection to meatballs and didn't feel like spending the time and effort to go back, I decided to just eat it and forget about it. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it? How, when you watch them make it, cut it and wrap it, do you end up with someone else's sub at the register?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder how many times that has happened worldwide.
PPS - It's hard to even guess.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Loaded Snacks

There have been some recent attempts to market new versions of existing products with an "added kick" - some difference from the original or some added ingredient to make the end result somehow better. It's not much more than a different twist on "Extreme" advertising, but I was sucked in anyway and gave a few of these products a try for your gratification.

Snickers The Lot: a bar in the Snickers range, but with the peanuts around the outside, and the middle filling replaced with some kind of peanutty cream. Verdict: good. It reminds me of the short-lived Kit Kat peanut butter-flavoured Big Finger, but crunchy.

Ice Break Loaded: iced coffee with guarana. For some reason (and it might be just me) guarana dries out my mouth a lot, and it didn't seem to do anything otherwise for me. Verdict: not really worth it. I couldn't taste the guarana, but I assume it was there because my mouth felt like cotton afterwards.

Mars Rocks: a similar affair to the Snickers offering, with crunchy malt balls in a thick chocolate layer around caramel and some soft centre. Verdict: not bad. Less sticky than a "classic" Mars bar, which may appeal to some.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This trend is not all positive.
PPS - Or maybe it's only good when applied to chocolate.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Wall decal

If you'd like to wake up and be scared out of bed every morning before your brain kicks into gear, perhaps a near-life size zombie wall decoration is the right choice for you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's for sale on eBay.
PPS - Link via BoingBoing.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Desktop multi-touch as a peripheral

I wonder how soon it will be before someone starts making big multi-touch pads for desktops rather than just little ones on laptops (as seen on the MacBook Air). I suppose for them to be truly intuitive they'd have to be touch screens, not just blank input devices. The power of multi-touch is to directly manipulate what you see. If you have to guess what's going to happen from where you drop your hands, it's going to be a bit unintuitive and sometimes hit and miss.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When you're adding a multi-touch screen, that might as well be the main display.
PPS - It should be flat on the desk, though, not up where we keep our screens now.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Confusing anti-alcohol advertising

I was momentarily confused by an ad on TV just recently. The voice-over said something like "30% of teenagers have been assaulted in alcohol-related incidents. Don't kid yourself. Buy your kids alcohol [long pause] and they could pay the price". It's that long pause and the associated visual that threw me off - a father handing his daughter a large case of drinks. The message, in that moment, seemed to be "Buy your kids alcohol to drink at home. It's safer that way". A very odd message to deliver, I thought.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course that's the exact opposite of the message they're portraying.
PPS - I assume. I might still be confused.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Spaceship design

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to get the industrial controls systems team at work to design a spaceship bridge, and I wonder if any Star Trek franchise has consulted anyone like that. Having that many people on the bridge reading things to the captain seems like a waste sometimes. My initial feeling is that there could be fewer personnel on the bridge if the systems were made a bit more usable. So the people I'd want on the team include software usability people and controls engineers. Military advisors would also be of benefit - people who have worked on battleships and submarines would be my first choice. And of course all of this is pointless if it isn't a space that actors, directors, set dressers, lights, cameras and sound techs can't use, so they'd need to be in on the discussion too. And by the time that diverse committee is formed, it's likely they will spend all their time arguing and won't get anything done.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think "committee" is Latin for "argument".
PPS - Okay, not really. ;)

Monday, 20 October 2008

Lazy days

I'm taking a day off work today, partly to make up for a lost weekend with Deb (who has been away) and partly because the work has become a temporary crushing dull weight. I needed some time to recharge, and a long weekend is just the way to do it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I spent a good portion of my weekend catching up on housework.
PPS - And I'm glad to have Deb home again.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Vegan zombie shirt

If your wardrobe isn't zombie enough for you, but you're vegetarian or vegan, this shirt is just what you've been looking for: a picture of a vegan zombie seeking "grains".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You're welcome.
PPS - Link came via BoingBoing.

Alone and disconnected

Debbie is away on an Emmaus walk this weekend, and unfortunately at the same time our internet connection is playing up. The upshot of this is that I'm home by myself with very little to occupy my time. There's never anything good on television, so I guess for now it's housework.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We do have some dishes and laundry to get through.
PPS - And it's only the evenings that need filling.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Stress and code quality

Some managers get the idea that stressed programmers write code faster and that most of the time programmers are sitting around doing nothing. We aren't. Also, stressed programmers write bad code, and bad code costs more. If you want good code, you need to give it some time to form, and you need good people in a good environment to achieve it. If you don't have good programmers, you need a good environment and more time to make them good. It doesn't always work, but what never works is a stressed environment and tight deadlines. That way leads to bad code and the same under-experienced programmers you had before.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When I say things like this, you must remember that I am not a manager.
PPS - So I'm not speaking from that side of the experience.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Bluetooth, Linux and the Nokia 6288

For a while I have been using a VMWare virtual Windows XP machine inside Linux because that's the only way I've found to synchronise my phone data with anything. It works, but it's really a horrible way to go about things - I might as well be using Windows full-time. I figured that Bluetooth was probably a more standard and widely explored protocol than Nokia's proprietary USB connections, so I finally went and got a little USB Bluetooth adaptor to try it out. The good news is that I can transfer files between Linux and my phone with ease now. The bad news is that's the extent of my phone's capability. It doesn't provide the right services to do synchronisation with any other device over Bluetooth. Only Nokia PC Suite (which won't run on Linux) understands the proprietary serial connection required to fully utilise my phone. It's too bad, really.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are some Linux programs for connecting to phones.
PPS - They all crashed or failed on me.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Compartmentalising our lives

Our society expects us to compartmentalise our lives. This is my work life, this is my personal life. This is my religion, this is my politics. What's the basis for this? I don't see any benefit except to distance ourselves from each other. So who decided that needed to happen?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When you're close to someone, the compartments break down.
PPS - It might be caused the other way around, though.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Art and business

When art becomes about business, your fans become customers, your works become products and you turn from an artist to an employee. Business sucks the soul out of art, like a vampire. I believe the internet means less money for art worldwide, which is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we will eventually have fewer teenagers entering the music business in search of big money. It is a curse because, for the time being, we have music and movie companies fighting against falling profits with lawsuits and software that works against its users through DRM.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When there's less money to be made, movies need to get cheaper.
PPS - Probably the first thing to cut is multi-million dollar salaries for actors.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Fragmented Web

There are some tasks that are not well supported by the internet as a whole. When I want to go to the movies, I don't care much where I go, but I have to know where I'm going before I can check the right website for show times. If I'm looking for a job, I really don't care what particular website it's listed on, just that it matches my skills, location and expected salary. I guess this is some of what the "semantic web" initiative is meant to handle. It's probably not going to work so well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I just got frustrated this week with the fragmentation of the web in general.
PPS - Sometimes I want aggregated websites by task, not islands loosely linked together.

Friday Zombie Blogging - LEGO Town

At BrickCon 2008, a LEGO convention, there was a collaboratively-built zombie apocalypse town with prizes for best vehicle, building and so on. That would have been very cool to see in person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The photos are good to get an impression, but it's not the same as seeing the setup live.
PPS - I wonder where all the zombie heads came from.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


This morning I present a demo of our software to a potential client. It's just another team inside a joint venture company, but they're still new clients, in essence. Preparing for it has been like school assignments, only with a shorter deadline and far more vague goals. I was able to talk myself into it by considering it an acting gig, but it's still not much fun.

Worse than being asked was the fact that it came at a bad time. Paul left a while ago, and he would have handled this on his own, and Ross is in training all week, so I'm the only available person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll get through it.
PPS - And if they don't want to use the software, no harm done.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Time debt

Procrastination is like living in time debt. Leaving the mess to do something else is spending time from the future that you don't have yet, but will need to pay back. Before too long you've got much more to do and not as much time to do it, just like overloading your credit card and having no cash to pay it off.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's not to say I don't procrastinate myself.
PPS - Most of us do, from time to time.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Good spiders and bad ones

I don't mind sharing my house with a few web-building spiders. They keep the local insect population under control and generally mind their own business. It's the roaming ones I can't stand, like huntsmen. You never know where they're going to show up or where they're going next. Their lease soon expires, and so do they.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Poisonous ones are not welcome at all.
PPS - I'm picky that way.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Voluntary goosebumps

The most unusual power I possess is to take conscious control of my goosebumps reflex. If you want to see me get goosebumps, I've got you covered, day or night. If you try to give me goosebumps with a light tickle, I can veto that at will. I'll grant that it's not that impressive, but it might be good enough to get me on the next season of Heroes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't know where this ability came from.
PPS - It seems to be controlled from the muscles on my back and neck.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Internet file storage on desktops

Any plan to provide extra hard drive storage for everyone based on spare capacity over the internet relies on the idea that, on average, people will need less space than they can provide for others. The maths simply doesn't work if everyone has 10GB free on their home hard drive and requires 20GB from the pool. But if everyone has 10GB and 99% of people require only 1GB of it back, but 1% of people require 100GB, that might just work. For 100 people, that's 1000GB available and 99GB + 100GB = 199GB required.

If the load is to be evenly spread, we need each person to provide at least the average required extra space. In the case I just outlined, we can have each person provide about 2GB, and most will get what they want from the cloud.

Now, the reason this has not been done before is that if you need only 1GB of space, but need to provide 2GB, then you have enough space to store your files locally anyway. It's only the heavyweights that need more space than they can provide, and they need to rely on the generosity of strangers to get it. There are other reasons too: to get your data easily, other people's machines need to be online all the time. Also, it costs them data charges as well as hard drive space.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe if we saw it as rented space rather than giving it for free, that might work.
PPS - But then you might as well rent drive space from your internet service provider.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Subconscious story

I freaked myself out on Wednesday afternoon pretending I was in a zombie story. I was kind of narrating to myself internally, noting that I was following three "zombies" (strangers) making sure I stayed downwind. They all turned right and entered a building, but as I passed the entrance, someone came out, then, hailing a cab or brushing back his hair, he raised his hand at the corner of my peripheral vision. My subconscious, engaged with the story, obligingly interpreted the action as ZOMBIE ATTACK!!! and my heartbeat skipped. Stupid fantasy-prone subconscious.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Fortunately I was able to behead him with my trusty lightsabre.
PPS - I might have dreamed that last part later that night.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Know why you believe

Before you ridicule a belief, you must know why it is ridiculous. Before you present your own beliefs, you must know why you believe them. Otherwise you are simply stating opinions, not engaging in logical debate.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, on the Internet, everyone is free to express opinions without backing them up.
PPS - And they do so, frequently.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Competing with open source software

Not long ago, there was a book published by Stanford on how to compete with open source software without being open source yourself. Apparently one "tip" was to "embrace and extend" open standards (which is a Microsoft phrase). The upshot of that practice is that your product can be used in place of any open source alternative, but once people start using your "extended" features, others need to start using your product too. And since there is no alternative for those features, you eventually take over the market, edging out the competition by degrees.

The main problem I have with this approach is that it theoretically works even if the replacement product is worse than the open source ones. All it needs is one person somewhere to start using the new features, then someone else has to switch to the other product for compatibility, or at least keep a copy at hand. Before long, it's too annoying to use the open source product as well as the closed one, and your customers are annoyed into using your product exclusively. That's not clever sales or even good programming. It's an infection.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So there you have it. Closed source software is a disease.
PPS - It's worst when it's designed to work that way.