Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Voice chat on Facebook?

How long do you think it will be before Facebook adds voice chat? I see it as pretty much inevitable if they keep growing, but they'll be starting way behind competitors in that arena like Skype. Their advantages will be the friend networks their users have already built up, the familiar site (assuming they don't change it again) and the fact that nobody has to sign up for anything else in order to use it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Having speculated all this, there's probably a Skype Facebook app in the works anyway.
PPS - The closest I can find with a cursory search is a "Skype Me" button for your profile.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Reinterpreting reality

I can imagine someone combining speech recognition technology with television set-top boxes to produce automatic censoring of common curse words as a feature. I can also then imagine writers turning to more unusual profanity to get through the censors and even classes for actors to teach them how to inflect their voices to avoid the most common brands of auto-censor. It could be a kind of arms race.

Another use to which I can imagine real-time signal processing being applied is "x-ray specs" that recognise humans and project naked versions over the top. This one would motivate fashion designers and perhaps tattoo artists to create clothes and markings to fool the image recognition.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Tattoos to fool image recognition is not a new concept.
PPS - But the other times I'm aware of it were for face recognition.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Michael Jackson dead?

I wake up this morning ready to go about my day in a world where Michael Jackson is still alive and someday soon is sure to pick up the pieces of his career and life to make us all remember why he was the "King of Pop". Not explicitly, not even in the back of my mind, but it's something I expected some time in the future. Then I get second-hand news that he's gone forever and somehow it's a shock. His music helped shape my young life, and I guess now that's all there's ever going to be.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As I write, the Wikipedia article is still locked to anonymous edits.
PPS - I hope it was natural causes.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Improv Restaurant

There are some people who have a high enough "food IQ" to improvise in the kitchen. I am not one of those people, but I am aware they exist. I think it would be interesting to hire a few of them and have them work as restaurant chefs with no set menu. You come in for a meal and you get something random, perhaps from a broad dietary requirements category like "vegetarian". Whatever you get will be different every time, and it will always be interesting. It might not always be good, but that's the risk you take.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would be hard to review without coming back several times.
PPS - But I guess, if you're being thorough, that could be said of any restaurant.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mobile phone exclusive deals are bad for consumers

The United States FCC is investigating mobile phone exclusivity deals where one carrier is the only one to get a particular handset. AT&T, in response, claims that exclusive deals benefit their customers by providing "innovation, lower cost and more choice".

Innovation seems less likely to me when you have one company looking at one product on one type of plan, because they don't have any incentive to do anything different. As for lower costs, monopolies have historically been shown to increase prices, not lower them. And finally, how are you getting more choice when your only option to get an iPhone (for example) is to go with AT&T?

In short, AT&T's response is demonstrably false on all counts. Therefore they are either deluded or they want to maintain their own exclusive deal because they don't have to spend money innovating or providing better deals to consumers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think it's the latter, in this case.
PPS - Nobody could really believe their arguments if they are examined in any depth.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Yesterday I was made redundant at work, which is like getting fired but more friendly. The large payout and the fact that I haven't had a lot to do for a few months gave me mixed feelings about the whole process. If I find a job quickly enough, I'll even come out ahead. My favourite part of the exit interview was when they asked me "Please don't hack our servers on your way out." Well, okay, since you asked nicely.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Today I'm packing up my stuff and heading home.
PPS - I'll also be wiping this hard drive clean out of basic paranoia.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Searching for actors in role classes is difficult

I'd like to be able, for instance, to search for all movies featuring John Travolta as a villain. It's that "villain" part that causes problems with most current search mechanisms. The most accurate way, but far from the most effective, is just to search Google for "John Travolta villain", though that will also show up reviews of John Travolta movies that mention the word "villain" in association with someone else. Perhaps "John Travolta as villain" would produce more helpful results, but only if someone has already gone to the trouble of compiling this information for me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not really this specific case that interests me, but the shortcoming of search techniques.
PPS - The problem is applicable in other domains, too.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Electronic receipts

With current equipment, it would be possible (though slower and more fiddly) to create a system where retail receipts get sent to your phone via Bluetooth or MMS instead of being printed out and discarded. MMS would be easy when paying by card, since the shop can forward the e-receipt to your bank that knows your number, but then you get a bank record anyway, so there's no point. Getting an e-receipt by Bluetooth when paying cash means telling the shopkeeper your phone's ID, making sure it's received and so on. You'd need some kind of pad that can detect the Bluetooth ID of a device placed on it so all you need at the store is a space on the counter that says "Place phone here for electronic receipt".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's impractical and the transition period would be painful.
PPS - And I'm not sure it's better than paper, either.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Neurobiology

Zombie neurobiology from a Harvard neurobiologist. Mostly it seems zombies are very brain-damaged, but in rather specific ways, affecting their hunger, aggression and coordination.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This won't necessarily help you fight them.
PPS - Unless you have a can figure out how to modify their brains en masse and from a distance.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Windows 7 price

When I think about Windows 7 being leaner, faster and more efficient than Vista, that thinking tends to leak into my consideration of price, too. For some reason, I unconsciously expect to pay less for software that is smaller, faster and less demanding than for big, bloated globs of tar. I'm pretty sure that won't be the case, though. I'd like to compare prices at release for various versions of Windows to see what Microsoft has been asking us to pay each time we upgrade. I suspect it's a fair bit more (adjusted for inflation) for each successive version.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This information does not seem to be readily available.
PPS - Or not available enough for me. I gave up looking pretty quickly.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Handling sincere yet awful Idol/Dance auditions

If I were a judge on Australian Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, I'd have trouble with auditions from sincere yet awful performers. It's hard to be tactful when you've been shown something that's undoubtedly terrible but represents someone's best and most serious effort. This is their dream and goal, and maybe it's not happening for them today, but how do you say that without humiliating them?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps I'd start by asking if they've had any lessons.
PPS - If not, tactfully suggest that's the start point to fulfilling their dreams.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Sim Space Colony and Zombie Dungeon

A few nights ago I dreamed of two computer games, neither one being especially innovative, but slightly interesting all the same. One was a zombie dungeon crawler, standard stuff except for the "scale" feature that meant shrinking down or growing larger as problems required. It reminded me of both New Super Mario, with the tiny and huge mushrooms, and Spore's Cell stage.

The other game was a "generational colonisation" game where a spaceship arrives on a barren planet and your job is to create a self-sustaining settlement. It seems a lot like SimCity, but with bubble cities on the Moon or Mars. The colonists would need to find resources to maintain the atmosphere and bubble, grow crops for food and hopefully eventually terraform the planet so that the bubble is no longer needed. They need to survive long enough to raise children, expand the colony and teach their descendants to survive and continue the work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know they're not that original, but I'd give them a go.
PPS - The second one is most compelling to me.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The iPhone only runs apps Apple likes

Apparently the big selling point for the iPhone is that it can run small applications. So it is in Apple's best interests to make it easier for developers to add value to the iPhone as a platform. They shouldn't use it as a way to get all developers to buy Mac machines, and they certainly shouldn't put up barriers to publishing apps or running them. If the ads said "we've approved an app for that" as opposed to "there's an app for that", the process becomes less exciting and more obviously another way for Apple to keep control of what you own.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can "jailbreak" your iPhone to run whatever you want.
PPS - Apple is trying to put a stop to that, too.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook

I was overcome with glee when I found out about Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook - I've been waiting ages for Google to allow GMail contact synchronisation with Outlook. Then I found out that it only works with the "premier" or "education" versions of the Google Apps suite. Too bad.

In short, this Outlook plugin lets you synchronise your calendar, contacts and email from an Exchange server to the Google Apps servers, making the transition to Google from Microsoft smoother. The thing is, it would probably work the other way, too, making it relatively easy to switch to Microsoft Exchange if you've been using Google Apps. I don't think many companies are in that position, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Still, my guess is that the free Google services won't be left out for long.
PPS - At least I hope so.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Police disclosure

Responding to a report of a police officer hospitalised with a human bite to the arm, one Twitterer asks:
"If that was a zombie bite, would you tell us?"
The police reply:
"Yes, absolutely".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Good to know the police have our backs in case of zombie attack.
PPS - Assuming they are not the zombies, of course.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Worse IT service in the city than the country

I've just had an interesting story told to me by a co-worker who used to work in a more isolated situation. Their IT support was outsourced to a specialist company, and he was particularly impressed by the level of service they gave to their printers. Every morning someone would be around to load them with paper, he says, and again at lunchtime for the heavily-used ones. If one of them broke, there was a backup next to it, but the failure meant flying someone in to physically fix it.

Here in the middle of Brisbane's business district, we have less reliable printers and slower service. Why? My first impression is that when the location is remote, and particularly when failure means paying for a flight, the cost of failure is higher, so it pays them to provide better preventative maintenance. In the city, the cost of failure is lower, because six people are within walking distance of fixing that printer, so up-front preventative measures are not as valuable, but just as expensive.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's my impression, anyway.
PPS - The reality may be vastly different.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sandboxie for software evaluation

When testing out some software at work just recently, I decided to try out Sandboxie, a program that allows changes to your system to be "sandboxed" and kept separate from the rest of the system. The advantages I was after were one-step total annihilation of the installed software after I was finished evaluating it, to leave my computer pristine (or at least untarnished by these evaluation versions). It worked like a charm. I kind of wish I'd done this before with some other software at home.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Once installed, you just right-click on an installer and select "run sandboxed".
PPS - Then when you're done, delete the sandbox contents.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

How not to spot a terrorist

The culture of excessive fear of terrorism has led us (the layperson) to identify the following things as terrorism indicators: foreigners, cameras, bags, maps and cash. In other words, tourists. Does that seem right to you?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At the very least, it's not good for business.
PPS - I guess some people pronounce "tourist" and "terrorist" about the same.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Compulsory camera phone shutter noises

As far as I can tell, the camera on my new phone can't be set to be silent when it takes a photo. Some time ago I remember this being touted as some kind of security feature, so people can't take photos of you without your knowledge. The trouble is that it's still ridiculously easy to take photos without someone's consent, and if you're quick, they won't even see you with the phone, though they might have heard it.

If your candid photographer is in a crowd, or there's lots of noise around, or they've covered the speaker with heavy tape, then you can't find them or can't hear, so don't know. A system shouldn't be abandoned because it's not perfect, but we should recognise that turning off the anachronistic shutter sound doesn't do much to increase privacy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might do a little.
PPS - But I don't think anyone can do enough to win that battle.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Toll transponders fitted as standard

I think some time in the future car registration will include a transponder for automatic tolls rather than just number plates and a sticker. Standards are good, but drivers need to be able to turn off their toll boxes if they're not using toll roads, for basic privacy, and that option (plus the fact that it's hard to check for a transponder visually) means the standard benefits evaporate.

Anyway, my main point is that transponders on every car is a situation begging to be misused by both law enforcement and criminals. Once most (or all) cars are fitted with toll transponders, police cars can be fitted with devices to read all the signals around them and check back with a database of stolen cars. Before long, that mission creeps wider to include any speeding fines, parking tickets or out of date registration payments. Citizens who keep getting pulled over for database errors then demand the ability to turn off their transponders. Turning off the transponder is soon seen as a signal that you have something to hide, and therefore must be guilty.

On the other side of the fence, petty toll dodgers have incentive to produce and fit boxes whose identification changes randomly every minute, so that they never get a toll bill. Pranksters get incentives to change your ID to a known stolen car, or to change their own ID and speed through a red light so you get the ticket (this has already happened with home-printed number plates). Car thieves need to change the ID before the car can be sold, but it's more likely they'll just rip out the box and ditch it. It's not quite as dystopian as I was hoping to make my point, but it's not a clean idea either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As too often is the case, this is a grey zone.
PPS - Those kinds of things muddy everything up.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Thriller Casino

Among his other plans to pay off his debts and rebuild his fortune, Michael Jackson plans to open a Thriller-themed casino in Las Vegas. My question is this: how do you tell the poker-machine zombie patrons from the zombie staff?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Presumably the casino staff will have name tags.
PPS - And won't be staring dead-eyed at poker machines for years at a time.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

iTunes should rip DVDs for iPods

I need a program - something standard, easy and quick - that I can use to rip my DVDs to watch on an iPod. Technically, this is still illegal, but that's silly when CD ripping is fine, so let's not discuss that. What would really seal the deal is Apple getting behind the idea, allowing you to rip your DVDs for your iPod through iTunes, and never mind about region coding or encryption. Why would Apple do that? Because it provides an enormous value to iTunes/iPod customers, which translates into more hardware sales going their way. So far I can rip DVDs on Linux and transcode them to formats that should be iPod-friendly, but iTunes seems to reject every file I encode. It might be a resolution issue. I don't know.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do still have a few configurations to try.
PPS - I guess I could always try Rockbox.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

HTML 5 vs Microsoft

I see some enthusiasm about HTML 5 and its ability in particular to free web users from Flash for video. HTML 5 specifies a standard way to stream video to the browser, meaning you don't need to download a plugin to play video, and websites don't need to provide a Flash player for it either.

The problem, as I see it, is chicken and egg with YouTube and Internet Explorer. If IE supports HTML 5, but YouTube doesn't, nobody will notice, so Microsoft has very little incentive to implement that part.

Conversely, if YouTube switches to HTML 5 while IE remains on the older standard, suddenly the biggest video site on the net seems "broken" to most people. They will blame YouTube, not IE. A hybrid site might be the way forward, serving HTML 5 if your browser can handle it, but that costs more to support and still gives no incentive to Microsoft to change.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I suppose they need a hybrid site that serves a warning for older browsers.
PPS - Or perhaps they just need to take HD content to HTML 5. I don't know.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


I have moved to Dropbox as my file synchronisation solution, where I previously used a 1GB flash drive and Unison. Dropbox stores my files online and synchronises them automatically with a folder on each of my computers. This works pretty well for me, because everything is updated more quickly and easily than with the flash drive. I was worried about using an online service, because it means giving someone else access to my data, technically, but I got over it after finding out how much easier it is. I was also concerned at the amount of bandwidth it would use, particularly when I first set it up and uploaded a few hundred MB of files at once. That turned out not to be much of an issue either. So in all, I am pleased.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I try to update my home machines during "off-peak" times.
PPS - Now that all my files are there, most updates are small.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Binna Burra

On the weekend, Deb and I took a trip with friends to Binna Burra in Lamington National Park. We had intended to stay for two nights, but on Saturday we walked the equivalent of a cross-country half-marathon, and really felt like sleeping in a comfortable bed that night. Also, I broke my phone when I slipped in a stream, crushing it against a rock. I didn't notice this until later. Still, it was a good getaway, and we look forward to going back again, though slightly more prepared this time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Miv and Julia were particularly accommodating of our lack of preparation.
PPS - Thanks, guys.