Friday, 30 January 2009

The Periodic Table of Awesoments

A single story involving everything on the Periodic Table of Awesoments would be off-the-charts amazing. Pirates, ninjas, zombies, jedi, tanks, bombs, kung fu, battle axes and bacon, plus Batman, Chuck Norris and William Shatner, to name just a few.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The name "Awesoments" seems a bit awkward, though.
PPS - I can live with that.

Friday Zombie Blogging - The Zombie Bandit

Al Hurwitz, a convicted bank robber, has the dubious honour of being known as "The Zombie Bandit" because of his vacant expression in surveillance photos. To the best of my knowledge, he has not succumbed to the temptation of styling himself as a Batman villain with makeup and costume fitting his name.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Staying in character might make getaways more difficult.
PPS - Unless you had a massive horde of genuine zombie henchmen to attack the police for you.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Sudoku programming

In my spare time, and for personal interest, I have written a program that solves Sudoku problems. It usually solves them in a matter of seconds. When I found the puzzle listed on Wikipedia as the "worst case scenario", I decided to give it a go on my program. It took 40 minutes. Upgrades were in order, and now the program uses another method to simplify the grid first. It still takes two minutes to solve the worst case scenario, but 2 is much better than 40.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It hurt my brain a little bit, which is sad.
PPS - I used to eat these kinds of programming challenges for breakfast.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Online transaction protection is hard

It's difficult to protect both the buyer and seller in an online transaction. Policies will probably favour one over the other, as evidenced by occasional eBay changes and who gets outraged each time. As an illustration, imagine that I am managing my bank accounts online, and there are regular transfers going out of my account. If I have control of all of them, then I can stop payment for any goods and services already received, and the seller gets screwed. If I have to allow others to pull money blindly out of my account, I have to trust them all to take only what they are entitled to. Even the hybrid case results in a few oddball situations, such as donations being pulled regularly and out of my control.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Both parties need to trust a third, neutral agent.
PPS - But that still doesn't protect them from all fraud.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Star Wars: Retold

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) is hilarious. I linked to it in my "news" section a while ago, but since then I've been showing it to just about everyone, so I thought I might as well make a feature of it here.

I'd love to see someone do a whole series of these for cult movies. I guess it would be hard to give someone just enough information to get the story right enough to recognise but wrong enough to be funny.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For extra fun, here's a Star Wars-related LEGO animation.
PPS - It is not related to the LEGO Star Wars video games.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Grey Australia Day

Today may be the greyest, most overcast and dreariest weather I've ever seen on Australia Day. I wouldn't let it get me down, but we have plans to drive over an hour to a park near the bay. If it's raining, that would make the trip feel much less cheerful.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At least I have the day off work.
PPS - And breakfast, whether here or there, will be delicious.

Update: Apparently we drove out past the dreary weather for the breakfast barbeque, which made all the difference. Some day I must live by the beach. It's my natural habitat.

Friday, 23 January 2009

How long is that video clip?

Why do so few video streaming sites tell you how long a clip is before you click to play it? Until you commit, you can't know whether this YouTube clip is 30 seconds or 10 minutes long (at least when it's embedded). That might factor into the decision to start streaming the file, might it not?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I often close a page if a video is far longer than I thought it would be.
PPS - My decision might also be affected by how interesting it appears to be, though.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Wal*Mart

Watch the growth of Wal*Mart stores in the USA in eerie zombie-green on a black background. Then substitute "Wal*Mart" with "zombie outbreak towns" and fight the urge to move to the Western half of the country.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am safe in Australia.
PPS - For now.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Converting movies into short stories

My brother-in-law Sam revealed a trick he uses to save time and money on potentially bad movies - Wikipedia. Rather than going to see a movie that looks intriguing but that he expects to be bad, he reads the detailed Wikipedia summary instead. It's like taking in a bland short-story version instead of sitting through two hours of movie and feeling somewhat ripped off as a result. Personally I'm starting to use this technique to cull my own "to see" list, removing one- and two-star movies, most of which I added just because they sounded a bit interesting, but I didn't expect to be great.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Avalon had a disappointing film-student feel to it.
PPS - At least in summary.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Vacuuming a tiny fish tank

Deb has a tiny aquarium specifically for brine shrimp, which she feeds to her fighting fish now and then as a treat. The nature of the things, however, is that they aren't always all alive when you get them from the shop, and their little dead bodies litter the bottom of the small tank. The other day I saw how Deb cleans out the dead bodies from the bottom: she inserts a drinking straw with her finger over the end, then quickly releases and replaces her finger, sucking up water and debris from the bottom of the tank, which she then transfers to a small cup for inspection and discarding. I think it's ingenious, and for some reason I can't imagine having come up with such a solution on my own.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some days the world reminds you that you might be clever, but you don't have it all covered.
PPS - If I start having a lot of those moments, I should worry.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Uncle Tobys Body Wise muesli bars

Today I have brought to work some Uncle Tobys Bodywise bars to snack more healthily during the day. The box proudly boasts that each bar has "less than 100 calories". The first thing I discovered about them is that the calorie count has been reduced in part by making these the smallest muesli bars on the face of the Earth. 6 bars per box and 126 grams total makes just 21 grams per bar. For comparison, other Uncle Tobys bars weigh in at about 31 grams each. It doesn't sound like much, but it makes a difference in visible size. I feel like I should be eating two or three of them at a time, which I guess would defeat the purpose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They taste good, though.
PPS - The nutrition table doesn't seem to be available for the Bodywise product yet.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Google fasting at Lent

I have decided to give up caffeine for lent, as I usually do, but I have also decided to give up Google Reader. That's going to be big for me, and I did not make the decision easily. I will let you know how it goes. I'm not totally sure what I'm going to be doing online, and I'll at least need to line up some Friday Zombie Blogging posts in advance. I usually use Google Reader at breakfast, again just before work, at lunchtime and sometimes at home in the evening. Cutting it out will mean a large chunk of my internet activity is gone for several weeks. I think that will be good for me, though I'm sure I will find another way to fill the time that is equally unproductive.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't checked the date of the start of Lent yet.
PPS - Hopefully it doesn't sneak up on me.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Good software is invisible

Quickflix updated their front page with a few extra features, and it is so well-designed that I didn't even notice until the third time I'd logged in. That's how software is supposed to work - you hardly even see it because you're focused on your task rather than thinking about how to use the tools you have.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not always possible.
PPS - But familiar software starts to blend into the background.

Friday Zombie Blogging - About Thriller

25 little-known (perhaps) facts about Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album, including that it is the biggest selling album of all time, ever.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The makeup artist and choreographer appear in the Thriller video.
PPS - MTV used to play the full 14-minute Thriller video. Twice an hour.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Recognising unnatural dialogue

It's weird, but a lot of the time I don't notice whether or not scripted dialogue is natural. Every now and then where there's a dramatic pause I trip up, but sometimes it's long after a line is spoken that I realise people don't speak that way. This probably means I watch too many movies. That's what my drama teacher told me back in high school.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This does not bode well for writing dialogue myself.
PPS - On the other hand, if they can get away with it...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

You can't debate with a television

The television and movies (I'm thinking of documentaries) make people angrier than face-to-face conversation. Personally I think it's because you can't debate with your television, or at least not two ways. If you disagree with someone on TV, all you can really do is turn it off and walk away. When you disagree with someone who is actually in the room, you can speak up and engage in a conversation. The television makes it feel like that person is just speaking right over the top of you and ignoring you completely, which would make anyone mad when they have an alternative viewpoint to raise. It's possible that the same is true to an extent on the internet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't talk back to my television.
PPS - Not out loud, anyway.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Guitar Hero should be the new karaoke

Guitar Hero should be the new karaoke bar fixture. Rather than hear atonal drunk people belt out Celine Dion "hits", we can hear uncoordinated drunk people butcher The Ramones. Perhaps the entire assisted amateur performance genre should be confined to the home.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - With soundproofing.
PPS - My entire Guitar Hero experience is one brief demo in a store.

Monday, 12 January 2009

I think I bought a house

Last Saturday Deb and I went out to Strathpine to inspect a house that looked interesting. Everything seemed pretty right about the property and the location, so we decided to make an offer. After only a few minutes, the agent had the contract drawn up and had been on the phone with the seller to settle a price. Before I knew it, I had signed away more money than I have ever controlled in my entire life.

It seems something like that should take more time, proportional to the amount of money involved. Let's say one second per dollar involved. At that rate, thinking about a $30K car would take an entire workday, and a $300K house about a week and a half. That feels like a much more acceptable pace to me, rather than signing contracts within two hours. I guess I'm just more laid back than everyone who owns, buys, sells or negotiates properties.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm terrified.
PPS - The agent's calm (from his experience) just makes things worse.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Making really big background images

For landscapes, seam carving methods (or content-aware image scaling) should work pretty well for resizing them, and obtaining background images in the right resolution for computer backgrounds is a common problem. What if your computer could scale an appropriate image for you, so that instead of plain scaling it did content-appropriate scaling? I might do that manually from now on rather than trying to find wallpaper in just the right size, since I have two monitors at work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My first attempts with the "Liquid Rescale" plugin for GIMP have been disappointing.
PPS - That might just be my general ineptitude with GIMP and the plugin.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Attack on iPhone

Zombie Attack is a "tower defence" game for the iPhone. It involves setting up various automated defences so your tiny shack doesn't get overrun by the undead.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - From the videos, I'd think closing the gate would be a good idea, too.
PPS - Or moving to a less zombie-prone neighbourhood.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Idea: Tangram dip bowls

On New Year's Eve, while looking at a set of dip bowls shaped as the wings and body of a butterfly, I had an idea. If you want to be very geeky but also quite versatile, you could make dip bowls in the shape of a tangram puzzle. It assembles into a boring square for storage, but on the table you can follow any number of patterns, readily available online, to make interesting and appropriate displays, such as boats, cats, people, or just abstract shapes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Blogger, unfortunately, won't let me upload an example image today.
PPS - The Wikipedia article has them, though.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Facebook events and Google Calendar

I tried to subscribe to my Facebook events via Google Calendar, but nothing appeared. I don't know why. Also, if I try to open or import the events individually, they have a time zone adjustment applied, which means a 4pm event gets moved to 2am the following day. It's a bit confusing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think it's a timezone issue.
PPS - But that doesn't explain the exact time differences I see.

Update: It seems I just needed to be more patient with Google Calendar. All the events are present and accounted for in their correct time zones, making this post pretty much obsolete.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The second banking security factor

I've ordered a Suncorp banking security fob, which is apparently necessary for third-party transfers. This is a new change. Commonwealth decided that SMS was a better security second factor, and now that I'm having to go through the Suncorp hoops, I think I agree. It's not really secure, since it's not encrypted or impossible to intercept, and if you have my phone and my password, I'm screwed. But since the same is true of the random number generator keyring, not much is different in that regard, except that I already have a phone, so it's one less thing to carry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - SMS might cost the bank more than the keyrings.
PPS - But probably not.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Facebook Pokemon battles

I would find it amusing to turn Facebook profiles into Pokemon-like characteristics and send my friends into battle against one another. I could probably write a program to do this as a Facebook application, but I lack the necessary Pokemon knowledge to please fans of that franchise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At first, it would not be graphical, so it would be far less exciting than it sounds.
PPS - It might still be amusing, though.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - Practice what you preach

Unfortunately there's no link or photo for this one, but a bumper sticker was sighted that read:
Save the planet - kill yourself.

Now, given that this car was still driving around, a certain awkward question must be asked. If this guy practices what he preaches, is he dead already? If so, then he must be a zombie. I rest my case, your honour.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The other possibility is that he's waiting to make sure the job gets done.
PPS - Or else he believes only others are a danger to the planet, not himself.

The joys of air conditioning

Deb and I finally caved in to the summer heat and bought a small portable air conditioner that we have installed in the spare bedroom. That is our home now, especially during the day. While the rest of the house can get up to 34 degrees Celsius, we can be comfortable at 25 in that small room, which I gather is the point. We have moved the DVD player in there so we can entertain ourselves, but other amenities require leaving the room.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We went portable because it's not our house.
PPS - Also it's cheaper and we can take it with us if we move.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Navigation and traffic data

When our car navigation systems all use Google Maps and (anonymously) report back their GPS locations, it suddenly gets far easier for Google to provide up to date traffic data, then use that to provide traffic avoidance as part of directions. Of course you don't want to tell everyone to take alternative routes, but you can tell them, aggregately, to spread out a bit by taking other roads.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, traffic surveys can tell you most busy roads based on time of day.
PPS - I'd expect a sophisticated navigator to be able to use that data automatically.