Thursday, 30 April 2009

Medicare online guards your secrets

The Medicare website allows you to log in and update your details, such as postal address, phone numbers and bank account number. What it does not do is display your existing information. This is "to protect your security". They also have you enter five (!) secret questions and answers in addition to your card number, individual reference number, birth date and password. While I'll grant that it does technically increase security to never even give out private information over the web, it does somewhat reduce the usefulness of the website. For instance, I couldn't remember whether my postal address had been updated yet with Medicare, but I can't check whether it has been done. I can only submit the details and hope they get it right at their end. Similarly I don't know if they have my new bank account details.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And yet the banks themselves seem happy to transmit personal details online.
PPS - Perhaps they have more money to spend on ensuring security.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A note of thanks to Ubuntu 9.04

In the last week, a new version of Ubuntu Linux, 9.04, was released. I got a copy and tried it out at home on my old Celeron-based Toshiba laptop. I had hoped, since Ubuntu 9.04 comes in a special netbook edition, that it might work well for an old laptop. Leaving aside the fact that most netbooks these days are better specified than this thing, it actually worked quite well once it was installed. The proof of this claim is that I composed this post entirely on a laptop given up for dead over a year ago.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Thankyou Ubuntu for bringing my laptop back from the dead.
PPS - Not exactly like a zombie, but with a new personality for sure.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The ill-fitting drawers

Deb and I have a master bedroom just barely big enough for our queen size bed. It's caused a few problems, such as a lack of storage space for clothes. Though the built-in wardrobe is good, we can't hang all our clothes, and besides that there are socks and other things that don't make sense on hangers. For a while we used a tall chest of drawers as a dressing table substitute, but the time had come to make better use of the space. We set out in search of sets of drawers for either side of the wardrobe.

After getting a quote for one kind at $500-$900, we decided to go with a much cheaper pair of free-standing sets, 4 drawers each. Simple and effective. The plan was to place them on the floor inside the wardrobe at either end, keep our shirts and other things hanging above them. We would also have some floor space between them for shoes or bags.

After getting the units home, we discovered quickly that we would need a hammer or mallet to assemble them properly, so I had to go back to the shops and procure one, having never owned my own mallet before. The assembly went easily enough after that, as did moving the old chest of drawers out of the way, but once we tried to put the new drawers in we found that they were just a couple of centimetres too deep for the wardrobe. I got very unhappy with my lack of foresight at that point, and we realised that the only way to use them would be to turn them sideways, removing all possibility of using the floor space at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This creates a new storage space problem.
PPS - We can't seem to win.

Monday, 27 April 2009

When Hairy Met Silly

On Saturday Deb and I brought Meg home to stay with us. This was always going to be the case, assuming body corporate approval, but the presence of Ooda, the new kitten, was a bit of a complication. We tried introducing Meg to the house on her own, and after dismantling the box to get her out, she retreated to a corner and promptly quivered with fear. Ooda made noise about being locked up, and Meg didn't seem to be going anywhere, so we let him out to meet her.

Now, Ooda being a young male and Meg being a crotchety-though-quiet old lady of a cat, there were a few possible attitudes they could take to one another. Ooda's default reaction is, of course, "Ooh, new thing!" Meg, it was hoped, would adopt Ooda as her surrogate child or at least they would agree on territory quickly. Apparently Meg has no latent motherly instincts, and took the path, in cat equivalents, of yelling at Ooda to get off her lawn. Since then, she has only moved when nobody is watching, and has discouraged further interaction from Ooda in a similar manner, hissing and growling, but not actually striking.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not exactly the community feeling we hoped to build.
PPS - But I guess it's better than any actual injuries on either side.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Web 2.0 requires HTTP 2.0

With all the talk of "web 2.0", it occurred to me the other day (and very late into the game, unfortunately) that we won't truly have Web 2.0 until the HTTP protocol, currently at version 1.1, is updated to its own version 2.0. I imagine that would involve the addition of state awareness better than cookies. The problem is that it would still have to be backwards compatible or else there would be too much confusion while browsers and websites catch up to the standard.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Very geeky, I know.
PPS - And I don't have anything productive to add to the standard.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Differently Alive

I'm pretty sure this "interview" owes a lot to Terry Pratchett, but what can you do? Zombies, vampires and werewolves prefer to be called "differently alive" rather than "undead". It's political correctness, you see?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Political correctness has gone a bit out of fashion lately.
PPS - Maybe we're over it.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Power saving mobile phone charger idea

Apparently, 95% of energy wasted by mobile phones is because of chargers left on when the phone is at full power. Given that the phone can detect when it is at full charge, it shouldn't be too difficult for some enterprising electronic engineer to design a system that shuts off the charger when the phone reaches full power. It would have to be a physical switch-off, though, not just going into standby and still wasting power. That would mean an extra button on the charger that you need to remember to push in when you want to charge and that pops out when it's done. It will take some getting used to, but so did mobile phones, right?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This should be especially easy if the phone charges via a mini-USB connector.
PPS - Because cords like that are already designed to carry data signals.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Making friends is as awkward as dating

Making friends can be like dating. You meet, find out more about each other, and there's always the awkwardness about who makes the first move. We have found this in moving to a new church - we've met some people, but being the new ones in town we don't quite know how to act. Giving out our phone number would feel a bit like inviting ourselves into other people's lives rather finding out if we're actually friend-compatible.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know Jerry Seinfeld characterised dating as a job interview.
PPS - Maybe there's some deeper force at work in all three situations.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome exercises

I've found some new stretches to do that are specifically focused on tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The video says I should expect to see some improvement in two days, and to keep doing the exercises every hour. It's a lot, but when it's that or the other options that haven't worked (anti-inflammatory meds, strapping and my own stretches) I'll take the one that hasn't been proven ineffective yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't been doing them nearly as often as I should.
PPS - At one point I think I had more pain than before, rather than less.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Moving other people's houses

This weekend I have learned that it is more fun to help other people move house than it is to do so yourself. Debbie and I helped good friends Murrae and Tracey move to their secret lair new house, and though it's just as much work, the stress was completely absent. I'm sure Murrae and Tracey were stressing at least a bit, and I sympathise, but I didn't feel it myself. Besides that, I got my exercise going up and down two flights of steps over and over - my pedometer registered over 10200 steps by lunchtime.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As long as actual removalists do the heavy lifting, I think it's fun.
PPS - I'm not officially volunteering for any and all future house moves, though.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Cat training of the most basic sort

I don't understand what's so difficult for a cat about learning to pee in a box. A while ago we had Ooda the kitten in our bed, and woke up at 04:00 to find poo and pee on our duck down doona. Since then we have experimented with various arrangements for Ooda that did not involve him in our bedroom. At various times now, we have found places where he has urinated outside the confines of his litter box, including our single armchair and a bag of Debbie's Mary Kay makeup (worth ~$600).

One of Deb's theories is that he is doing this out of spite: he doesn't like being locked up, so he pees on things. The problem is that we can't unlock him or else he pees on us. I think he just hasn't learned where to pee yet, and I have never had to train a cat to pee in the right spot. Meg just went straight to her tray and never went anywhere else. I don't know what it was.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It seems to be only upstairs now.
PPS - Perhaps we should put a second litter tray up there.

Friday Zombie Blogging - I Am Not Infected

There's a YouTube-serialised zombie survival show called I Am Not Infected, set on a university campus and framed as a survival horror/comedy with a reality TV feel. Apparently. I haven't watched it myself, but it sounds like they have high production values, which is generally a plus.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll probably never get around to watching it.
PPS - I'm okay with that.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

What's so great about the Mac OS Dock?

What's so great about the Mac OS dock? I see countless projects and tools emulating it for Windows or Linux. Not being a Mac user myself, I don't have much first-hand experience with it, but what little I had left me unimpressed. I was unable to tell currently-running programs from shortcuts to start new programs, and that seems pretty important if you're trying to switch to another running process. Perhaps it's balanced with other OS X features that make sense of it all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Mal and Linda are both Macbook owners now.
PPS - Perhaps they can explain it for me.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Free laptops with mobile broadband plans

Mobile broadband plans with a free mini notebook is an emerging trend that I see becoming more popular. I also imagine that mobile networks will use these plans as a way to segment their market to make more money. Want a mobile phone? Get a phone plan. Want mobile data? You will have to buy a separate data plan with a "free" laptop.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have a very cynical streak when it comes to these companies.
PPS - Dell/Vodafone and Asus/Dodo are the available hardware/broadband pairs I'm aware of.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A suitable day for going back to work

I haven't been awake this early in a week and a half. I'm back at the office today, and it's appropriately dark and rainy outside. Not that it particularly suits my mood, but it does represent a widely-held attitude towards corporations in general. I'm also back on Google Reader, so the sidebar will be updating with news again, whatever I find interesting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - No guarantee is offered that you will also find it interesting.
PPS - That would be far too difficult.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Reading EULAs before purchasing software

Apparently most software doesn't give you the option of reading the End User License Agreement (EULA) before opening the box and starting to install it. If you don't agree at that point to the terms and conditions, you also can't return the software because the retailer has no way of knowing whether you've taken a copy. So what if someone went and got the EULAs for popular software off the web, printed them out and attached them to boxes while they were still in-store? I'd do it myself, but the follow-through on this one is really more suited to a YouTube video than a blog post, and I don't have the time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It probably wouldn't have much effect.
PPS - Most people don't read them anyway.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good Friday

Today being Good Friday, Deb and I attended a church service this morning. I've come to expect challenging messages from this preacher, and today was certainly no exception. He touched on the way Jesus did not conform to the image of Messiah in the culture of the day, in fact being humiliated and looking defeated on the cross, and that's pretty much all anyone could see at the time. He also mentioned the fact that Jesus was forgiving sins before he got to the cross, so that's not about him taking the punishment for your personal sins. It's about expending the very state of sin of all Creation. There were some tricky concepts in there that I will probably struggle to understand for a while, but on the whole it's a good thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - No zombie blog today.
PPS - Just for today, though. I'll resume next week.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

When it's too late to make a good choice

I've noticed in a few TV shows recently where a character has to make a choice, but all the options seem bad. At that point an idea comes to my mind. When you're in that situation, you've already made your bad decision. Now you're at a point where you're dealing with the consequences, and there's little you can do about it. It would be good if those choices were obvious at the time, but too often it's easy to rationalise and write off the initial bad option as "for the greater good" or just for the short term.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Lies often fall under that category.
PPS - They compound on each other until it's too late to get out.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The history of colour

Modern ideas of colour sense say that it developed basically as a way of telling the good berries from the bad in our hunter/gatherer past. However, I have learned from Qi that the ancient Greeks had a very under-developed cultural colour sense, so either we have a drastic drop and regaining of colour sense in the past, or the current theory is wrong.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have not been able to back up the Qi claim with my quick research.
PPS - One group of people, of course, does not present a break across the whole human race's history.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The smell of Subway

The smell of Subway restaurants is as much a trademark as their name or logo, but it's not designed. I'd have to call it an "emergent trademark", because it just came about from their particular combination of breads, sauces and other sandwich components. It is strongly associated with that brand, at least for me, and is quite recognisable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's hard to put a trademark notice on a smell, though.
PPS - I'm sure some perfume manufacturers have tried before.

Monday, 6 April 2009

On leave this week

I'm away from work this week, taking advantage of the Easter holidays to get a good break with little impact to my leave balance. I've already been doing a lot of reading, but not online, since it's still Lent and I'm off Google Reader until Sunday. It's good to be able to sleep in and just laze around the house for a change. I'll be back at work next Tuesday, so the blog posts will probably be a little earlier in the day at that point.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Today I'm going to head to the library.
PPS - Just because I can.

Friday, 3 April 2009


I love puzzle games. I especially like to write programs to solve puzzles. I have recently been obsessed with "pentominoes", and it's not the first time. I was introduced to the puzzle in high school and wrote a program to find solutions. It was slow, but I found some ways to optimise it. By the end, it was taking less than an hour to solve puzzles.

Years later I read a paper by Donald Knuth called "Dancing Links" that used pentominoes as an example and expanded my interest accordingly. Now I've rewritten my program in the old style but slightly improved, as well as implemented Knuth's method, which finds all solutions rather than just one. It counts up over 500 solutions in under 3 seconds. Knuth's method is also applicable to variations on the theme, including cubes, triangles and sticks.

And what is the point of all this? Don't know, really. It just seems like fun to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That probably makes me weird.
PPS - I'm okay with that.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie high heels

I'm not sure what occasions would call for these zombie high heels, but whenever they are appropriate I'm sure they'll draw some attention. Perhaps some high-class Hallowe'en party?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I had hoped to provide a second suggestion here.
PPS - Apparently "monster party" is about the extent of my imagination this morning.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Incredible Disappearing Pictures Folder!

This morning when I logged on to my computer I found that my Pictures folder was inexplicably empty. Just in case something weird had happened, I tried rebooting. Nada. 7GB of photos vanished into thin air. This is why we have backups, people.

Update: Almost immediately when I tried to copy my photos back from a backup, I discovered the problem. I had accidentally set the permissions of the folder too strictly so that even I was forbidden from looking inside. Easily fixed and all the photos have returned now. My bad.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The operating system is Ubuntu Linux.
PPS - I have five separate copies of my photo collection, not including what's online.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Age discrimination in cafe job applications

Is it illegal for a cafe to refuse to take a job application, or to refuse to consider it, because you are over 18? I would think that falls pretty clearly into the category of age discrimination. While they may want to hire people to fulfil "junior" positions, my understanding is that "junior" is only allowed to be lazy-speak for casual hours, supervised positions. Something like that, anyway. It certainly can't mean literally "under 18". So if it's illegal or even just plain wrong, why is it so common?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Years ago I was turned down from some desperate job applications for being too old.
PPS - Any lawyers in the audience?