Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Server-side rendered games

I gathered from Penny Arcade that there has been some talk lately of "server-side rendering" in games. That would mean your own hardware is not responsible for drawing what you see on the screen. The benefit is that the server hardware is likely to be more powerful, so it should look better (as long as the images can be downloaded fast enough).

I can also imagine something sneaky going on. Game publishers may be looking for ways to gain more control of the market, and putting a stop to piracy. You used to buy a game, install it on your machine and run it whenever and however you like. But if part of that game needs to be run from the publishers' servers remotely, they will be able to make sure that you can't play a pirated copy.

The downside for gamers is that you need the publishers to continue providing a service:
  • to keep running that server-side component for as long as you want to play
  • to provide that component whenever you want it
It will increase the complexity and support costs of games, not decrease the total cost because of reduced piracy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And when a publisher has dozens of server farms chewing up power, and the bills are going up...
PPS - I'm just saying you can't rely on them to keep the servers going forever.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Like poker for chocolate

On Saturday night, Deb and I hosted a night of Texas Hold'em poker, playing for chocolate rather than money. In almost every way, it was the best night of poker I've ever had. It was a lot of fun for everyone who could make it, and I even got a good run of cards. In the end, I was shocked to find myself the winner, and proud owner of five 250g blocks of various Cadbury chocolate. Michelle took second place, netting 2 blocks for herself. The good-natured trash talk, the jokes and even the antics of the new kitten ("Ooda") added up to a great night.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I would definitely like to do it again sometime.
PPS - I credit mostly pure luck with my win.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Sub-functional My3 website

Every month when my mobile phone bill arrives, it tells me I can log on to the "My3" website to change my direct debit details. However, that website appears to do far less than is advertised. Besides showing how much I've spent and how many minutes of free time I've used, it doesn't provide anything that even looks like it would lead to a payment details change form. Even if it did exist, I've followed all the links anyway, so I know it's not there. I want to call up their support line to ask them to walk me through it, mostly so that I can either get them to stop falsely advertising the features of the website or to get them to realise that it looks different for me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best guess is that it was meant to do these things, but was never finished.
PPS - Or perhaps it only applies to other plans, higher up the food chain.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Driving

This article argues that modern safety devices are letting us enter a state of "zombie driving", where we pay too little attention to the road, drifting along on mental auto-pilot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They argue it would be safer to have fewer safety features.
PPS - Or that we need to go all the way and remove human reactions entirely.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Literate programming

I thought it was funny reading about "literate programming" or "web" code, which is not as in "World Wide Web", but a method and tool set for mixing programming instructions and documentation. The way they talks about it is something like "if you're not using this, your competitors soon will be, and they will leave you in the dust". The idea is to keep your documentation and code together so that updating one reminds you to do the other. The trouble is that the idea results in clunky and hard to read documents.

In the meantime C# and Java have arisen with support for much more readable documentation in their code, though not to the same degree that Knuth proposed. And you know what? It's enough. The C# and Java inline documentation serves us well enough to document our code most of the time and still leaves us with readable code that compiles without running it through another tool first. Small compromise, big win.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am not aware of anyone outside academia using these tools.
PPS - Then again, I don't know everyone.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Lego Universe

I'm intrigued by the idea of LEGO Universe, a Lego MMORPG. I don't know many details, but the concepts I can imagine them creating are interesting. Perhaps there will be levels, or perhaps not, but I imagine there will be ways of earning more bricks to build with. As you gain more bricks - special pieces and generics, maybe? - you will be able to build more elaborate pieces to complete more advanced missions to earn yet more bricks. That sounds about right to me, but keep in mind, as I said, that I have no concrete details, just the market-speak on the website. Of course, being aimed at young children as well as adults will bring its usual shrill cries of "protect the children!" from the ever-concerned parents. It's a tricky question.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I imagine many giant death tanks on huge treads with monstrous cannons terrorising the LEGO countryside.
PPS - I'm just saying that if it can be built, it will be.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Excessively Secret Life of Bees

I entered a Quickflix competition for a double pass to see The Secret Life of Bees, and I won one of the tickets on offer. However, it seems that I would have to drive out to another town in Queensland or to an independent cinema in New South Wales or Victoria in order to use that ticket. If it was playing at all here in Brisbane, the movie's run has finished after less than two weeks.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, well. At least I can prove I won.
PPS - I'm not looking for sympathy or reparations. I just thought it was funny.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Metaphors and lies

It's probably difficult to explain to some literal-minded children the difference between metaphors and lies. Then again, I remember not being particularly able to grasp the concept of metaphor at all when it was first explained to me, so I may have an inaccurate impression of the problem. Still, I can't help but think that some kids, when told that "metaphor is describing something by saying it is something else" might draw a parallel to their definition of lies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might have to be an unusual child.
PPS - But then I understand they're not all "usual" to begin with.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - Cake topper

A pair of zombie figurines for the top of a wedding cake. Quite cute, in its own way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Almost forgot the zombie post this morning.
PPS - Not enough sleep.

Getting worked up about Facebook changes

Why do people get so upset about changes to the Facebook look and feel? I'll grant that a lot of people spend a lot of time there, and that learning how to use a redesigned website takes time. But since you spend a lot of time there anyway, the amount of time you spend learning the redesigned page layout will be insignificant. So why the passion about keeping Facebook looking the same forever?

My guess is that people feel as if they own their Facebook pages, and when the Facebook team changes things, it starts to feel like someone has come into your bedroom and rearranged the furniture when you weren't looking.

Personally, I don't feel that way about Facebook. It's a website that I use, now and then, and I understand when the company wants to improve the look, especially when it's designed to be easier, faster, clearer and more attractive to new users.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Jeffrey Rowland mentioned the latest change in his Overcompensating comic.
PPS - Read the text of the blog post too.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Google Voice

With Google Voice, it looks like Google is stepping towards integrating phones into its already-integrated chat and email packages. Voice mail can be transcribed, so it looks like email, but still includes the audio recording. I can imagine a future where you can take a voice call as an IM session, typing your responses, having them read out, and receiving transcribed responses with audio attachments. It would take a bit longer, and might be more annoying to the person using voice, so it might not catch on, but it's tantalisingly possible now. It would be more transparent with SMS.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is GrandCentral rebranded and given the Google treatment.
PPS - It looks useful.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Predictable advances in collaborative computer displays

I used to catch the bus with an old-school engineer - one who grew up drafting on paper with set squares, compasses and so on. Once he mentioned that his company was having trouble keeping the printers running properly, and that this was essential for his work, because you can't properly gather around a computer screen to discuss a drawing. He seemed to think that's the way it is, and so that's the way it will always be. For someone who has lived through the change from paper drafting to AutoCAD, you'd think he would be a little more imaginative. While it's true that today's computers don't offer a good cooperative viewpoint, perhaps tomorrow's will. We already have things like the Microsoft Surface, which would be an almost ideal replacement for discussing large paper printouts. I'm guessing it will only get better from there.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Especially if "better" means "cheaper" and "more common".
PPS - And that's what computers have been doing for decades now.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Scouting out a running route

I went running from our new home last weekend, looking for a good route I can run regularly. I started off down the road, past the park, around the back of the school, looking for a way back to the park. I didn't realise that the park and the school are separated by a creek with no bridges but the one I had already crossed. When I'd gone through a lot of back streets, through another park, through some bushland reserve and started down an industrial road, I'd taken 45 minutes and was no closer to my goal. It was also becoming clear that I had crossed a suburb boundary.

I turned around and headed back, looking briefly for a way through the school (during Saturday cricket games) back to the house. None was to be found, of course, because of the creek mentioned earlier. I finally arrived home some 90 minutes after I started, somewhat dehydrated and quite tired. I think I'll head in the other direction next time, and take my bike rather than try to scout on foot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I didn't inspect the map well enough before I headed out.
PPS - Live and learn, I guess.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Home communications contracts and networks

Someday I'm sure we will have our home phone, internet and mobiles all bundled together, particularly if a household has more than one mobile on the same bill. Some time after that, however, the landline will disappear entirely in favour of so-called "naked DSL" as standard. At some point the terminology will have to change, which will be fine, since we will have moved on from DSL to FTTP or some other next-generation wired standard.

Our mobiles will serve as our music players, personal organisers and portable game devices besides handling voice and internet too. WiFi or its equivalent is already the standard way to get a whole house online, but more devices will use it in future. I find Foxtel IQ particularly anachronistic in that it requires its own dedicated telephone line to "phone home", rather than using its two-way network cable connection. Wireless is the way to do that properly, so our set-top boxes will connect to our home wireless network. Your TV and radio will access the web rather than broadcast airwaves, and your digital picture frames will pick up images from your shared home collection.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or your picture frames could display your Facebook friends' new images.
PPS - Or a random Flickr stream.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Contrasting hardware and software attitudes

I seem to be a hardware luddite but a software ... pioneer? Is that the word? I own the lowest possible phone that does what I want, and I didn't pay a cent for it, because it came free with my phone plan. I will only upgrade it when the contract runs out and they'll give me a better phone for free. My desktop computer hasn't been upgraded in years and my laptop is pretty much gathering dust.

But in software, I'm reading books on my phone, synchronising my Outlook calendar with Google Calendar, keeping a personal wiki of many of my thoughts, running virtual machines on a Linux host and writing new software if I can't find some that does the job for me already.

Of course software is more easily changed than hardware, so it's easier to experiment with it. As long as you can back up your data, there's very little risk associated with trying out something new.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps I'm just a cheapskate.
PPS - Most of my software is free.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Where is the mobile web going?

Where does the mobile web take us into the future? There are always some effects that are impossible to predict, but there has to be a definite vector to project into the future. How about the amount of data projected to be downloaded over mobile airwaves over time, or the infrastructure spending that would be required to support it? At some point we will have to wonder what new wireless technology will bridge the gap to keep up with exploding growth.

On the consumer side, our address books get replaced with social networks, local memory with web storage, particularly for photos, and more location-aware services like advertising and service finders. Imagine being at a party that's in your online calendar, taking a photo and having it instantly appear on Facebook on that party's page. Your phone knows where you are and what time it is, plus where you were invited that night. It can match them up pretty easily, and the photos have an obvious place to be filed, then.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Everyone I talk to about this looks uneasy at the suggestion of instant photo publishing.
PPS - So I suggest uploaded photos are not shared automatically, but kept private until authorised.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Too much fuzzy thinking for my head

I'm starting to feel that the ideas I have, or the references I am trying to carry around in my head, are getting too big, but I don't have a good way to store them elsewhere. It's especially true when you think of how I can form associations in my mind even when I'm not thinking about certain topics. Keeping my ideas on paper won't help me do that, nor will a personal wiki, though that's closer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe I just need better ways to take notes, or better software.
PPS - Or both at once.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

No Google Reader means no news links on the blog

A side-effect that I did not anticipate from giving up Google Reader for Lent is that the links on my blog sidebar will not be updated. They are from my Google Reader shared items, so if I'm not reading, I'm not sharing anything, and that means no new links.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Consider this my apology for the stale links on the right.
PPS - I may temporarily replace that list with a different gadget.

Monday, 9 March 2009

We're using more paper, but is it less per task?

Nobody would say that we are using less paper now that computers are everywhere: we tend to use more of it, for whatever reasons. The question I would like to ask is how much paper are we using now for the amount of work we get done, vs the pre-computer era? If we are getting more done with less paper per task, then in a way we have reduced the amount of paper being used. The confounding factor is that it's more paper overall, but less per task - a relative decrease in paper coupled with an absolute increase in work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There would be a distinct drop in the amount of paper being mailed around.
PPS - I imagine the question as a whole would be hard to answer.

Friday, 6 March 2009

DVD library management with Libra

I am interested in using a program called Libra for managing my home DVD and book library. It has this neat feature where it can read barcodes via webcam and look up details online to save you entering it all manually. Unfortunately, I don't have a webcam. I do, however, have a regular digital camera and access to the internet, the standard repository for all human knowledge (among other things). My search for how to use a digital camera as a webcam turned up a page that pretty much said "read your manual to see if and how you can". Not especially helpful. However, I still have high hopes for Libra as a home library manager.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure my Dad would make good use of it too.
PPS - His DVD collection is extensive.

UPDATE: Since Libra uses Amazon to pull data down, and Amazon refuses to believe in Australia, Libra is not so smooth to use in this part of the world for DVDs. It should still work well for books, though.

Friday Zombie Blogging - The Simpsons

The Simpsons' 2009 Treehouse of Horror show includes the family turned into zombies by mad cow burgers. Thanks to Erin for the link. Also note that this is not the first time zombies have appeared on The Simpsons, nor the first the zombie reference there, either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - One of the first Treehouse of Horror episodes involved Bart and Lisa raising zombies.
PPS - They were trying to resurrect their cat.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Antibiotic resistant bacteria

It seems a lot of people are terrified of antibiotic resistant bacteria and their potential for infecting humans, wiping them out. Whatever will we do when our most powerful drugs cannot kill the most highly-specialised bacteria? Allow them to be out-competed by the older, less-specialised versions, that's what. The resistant bacteria are specialised to survive in high-antibiotic environments like hospitals, but out in the wild they're unheard of. Nobody is going into hospital with Golden Staph infections, are they? It's not because the hospitals have been really good at keeping them contained. It's just that they are so bad at surviving outside that they die out quickly beyond the hospital doors.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not a doctor or a microbiologist, though.
PPS - I just think they're not in the wild, and they would be by now if they were so superior.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Karate in repose

Last night I returned to "senior" karate classes - those intended for instructors. I did anticipate a hard workout, so the buckets of sweat were not a surprise, and thankfully we got a kind of break later. We practised tournament technique, which is slightly different sparring and more performance-oriented kata. We also did some kicks from the ground, lying down, which was more of a rest. In all, I think it was a good way to ease back in.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I forgot that they don't accept pre-paid fees there, only cash.
PPS - And I might not be allowed to continue training there as just a student.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Infinite resources won't solve our problems

An infinite chamber of resources that need transport out to be used will not solve a resource crisis. If the chamber is full of, say, trees, then we need to send trucks and lumberjacks further and further to get the trees as time goes on. Eventually, it's not worth the trip, or it would take longer than a lifetime to return the goods.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only solution I can see is to move our settlement along with our harvesting.
PPS - This weirdness inspired by Greg Bear's book Eon.

Monday, 2 March 2009

What's missing?

There are two things I miss about my new house. In the house where I grew up, we had a spacious bedroom, a spacious lounge room, a spacious kitchen and a spacious dining area. In the new house, we have room enough in the master bedroom for the bed and little else, a tiny second bedroom, a smaller kitchen, a smaller everything. We don't even have shelves to put up most of our knick-knacks. I miss the space.

The other thing I miss is the cat. We went to visit on Thursday night, and dug the cat out of her hiding space in the corner. She felt so tiny and she's losing her hair now. Deb keeps saying the body corporate would be pretty heartless to deny a man his feline companion of ten years, but I don't see that they owe us anything or need to be particularly nice to us. I don't expect anything from them but flat refusal if we ask to bring the cat in.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Still, at least we can have the fish.
PPS - But they're more like decoration than pets.