Friday, 31 July 2009

Conveying secrets to console game players

I was wondering the other day how to relate secret information to different players in a game when they're all playing on the same TV. You can't put it on screen, because other players will be able to see it. You can't get around that by encoding it in a secret code known only to the player, either, because they don't have time to look it up.

Then I thought that you could put a separate headphone port in each controller, giving a private sound channel for each player. It satisfies all the requirements of secrecy, but it does require at least additions to the console hardware. And if we're talking about the Nintendo Wii here, the game would have to forego requiring any vigorous control motions or else headphones could be dislodged.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess you could make the headphones wireless too.
PPS - Which means more batteries. Everything has a down side.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Department of Zombie Disposal

Apparently someone has seen fit to decorate their car as a fake "official" vehicle for the imaginary "Department of Zombie Disposal".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I expect you'd be disappointed if you called on them.
PPS - It would take more than one car to handle most zombie outbreaks.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Keeping technology from being scary

We should not have scary technology in our world. I recently had a mock interview that was supposed to be video-recorded for review. My interviewer was a chronic technophobe who managed to hit the right button but not for long enough on the camera, thus producing no recording at all. She confided that technology scares her, from her phone all the way up to the Cthulu-monster we call Internet. And in a way I sympathise, because technology should enable our lives, not uproot them and make them scary.

And yet a lot of technology is confusing and potentially scary. Powerful machines should only be difficult to operate in dangerous ways, but that is not always the case. I think the problem is that the minds that design our devices are not necessarily oriented towards user-friendliness. At best, with one tech-oriented person designing something, you get something another techy can use.

This is why, in software, we have user interface specialists, whose job is not just to understand what the customer expects, but what they actually need and how to make it clear.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may one day be one of those guys.
PPS - It's one of the things I enjoy doing in my work.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Wiki critical mass

There's a point in social media best termed "critical mass". Before that certain, yet unknowable, number of users, "nobody" is using the service because they think nobody else is. After the critical mass point, "everyone" uses the service, because "everyone else" is doing so. This is as important for Facebook as it is for Wikipedia.

Some of my forebears at my former employer had tried setting up a wiki for the sharing of knowledge. It was not entirely smooth. Some people misunderstood the purpose and requested that certain people be given only read access, or that they have a separate wiki for their project. Mostly people didn't bother trying to read anything there because too few people were writing anything. To get it off the ground, we needed a lot more people devoting attention to this effort as part of their work day. The point is that it's tough to get started, but once it's done, it is well worth the effort.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Encouraging early contributors means finding them before they have contributed.
PPS - I have no idea how to do that.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

How to spend time when there's nothing to do?

Is it possible to do something that is simultaneously fun, free and easy? I am finding myself less able to occupy my time since I lost my job, I don't have money to splash around and there is often little energy to work with. TV is never any good, Deb and I get sick of DVDs and if we play games we're not together. We long ago exhausted the entertainment possibilities of our existing board games and the internet can only occupy so much time before I start feeling lazy and antisocial. So what's a guy supposed to suggest for the evening's activities?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A good amount of our time is spent trying to figure out what to do.
PPS - And rejecting most ideas because they are too boring, expensive or difficult.

Monday, 27 July 2009


Deb and I were fortunate last night to see P!NK perform live at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. We brought along our camera, but the battery died before we were able to take a single shot, so unfortunately there are no photos to accompany this post. It was a brilliant show, though, with a stage set up like a Funhouse, including slides and crazy mirrors, and several high-flying stunts, too. P!NK herself sang "Sober" while performing several trapeze-swinging manoeuvres up as high as the lighting rigs.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - After the show we were able to check out her stretch pink Humvee outside.
PPS - Rock stars have all the fun.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - Resident Evil t-shirt

I saw this article about a Resident Evil t-shirt with a zombie face printed on the inside in just the right spot. When you pull it up and over your head, your own face is replaced by the zombie one. It's really quite clever.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm guessing this is aimed mostly at males.
PPS - Then again, all girls would need to use it is a second shirt underneath.

Three wishes to change your view of the world?

If you had three wishes, but could only use them to change your perception of the world, what would you wish for? Personally, I've always wondered what it would be like to see ultraviolet and infrared, so I'd wish to see a bit beyond the human-visible EM spectrum. I also think it would be cool to sense magnetic fields. As for a third wish, I'm stumped.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That is, unless super reflexes counts as a perception difference.
PPS - I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Spam comments in Japanese

I've started to get a lot of spam comments on this blog in Japanese. They seem to come in bundles of 10 at a time, and are always on the same posts. I guess those are showing up in some keyword search, or else they were picked at random and stored for repeat visits. Either way, it's a pain to get rid of each time, so I'm thinking of disabling comments on just those specific posts.

Just in case you're curious, the Google translation of the text reads:
Internet cafes and the women do not have a place to stay while away from home and women are living with hunger meet all you can drink beverages. This site is a site for women in need with people who want to support women's
Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have no idea what that means.
PPS - And every time I mention spam comments, that post draws more.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Programming the Microsoft Way

Last night I went to the Queensland Microsoft Developer Network User Group meeting. It's a mouthful, but basically it's a bunch of programmer nerds like me hearing Microsoft hype it's upcoming products. The thing that struck me this time (aside from some cool Silverlight demos and user interface testing tools) is that Microsoft seems to have two significant beliefs about programmers:
  1. Nobody wants to write code.
  2. People are writing their software haphazardly, and we need to make that more pleasant.
Both of these points seem odd to me, since I like writing code and I strive to write it in better ways. If everyone did things the Microsoft way, we'd all forget how to write code at all. That would probably leave Microsoft as the only employer of actual programmers in the world, which I'm sure would not bother them at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I arrived just barely in time to grab the last of the pizza on offer.
PPS - And I had to leave halfway through questions at the end of the session.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

DIY PocketMods

I'm interested in the ability to compose foldable, pocket-friendly printouts for reference on the go, also known as "PocketMods". I use one for my next actions list (all too infrequently referred to) which is generated by ThinkingRock, but it has struck me how useful it would be to have things like public transport maps or directions, my calendar and other things printed in pocket-friendly sizes.

There are some tools to do this, but nothing quite flexible enough or multi-platform. The PocketMod website provides a tool for creating these prints from PDFs, and some online tools too, but they're limited. I want to arrange things like this myself, in a graphical way, and that's just not available. The trouble is that 8 pages to a sheet, the most convenient size, makes each little page A7 in size, which is not standard.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best option may be four columns, landscape, with a wide top border.
PPS - That's still awkward for the second side, though.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Spiritual eating disorders

I'm pretty sure it's not a new concept to me, but last night I was slightly inspired by the idea of spiritual food vs spiritual exercise. Too much food and not enough exercise makes you obese. I started wondering how far the metaphor stretched in terms of eating disorders. Spiritual anorexia is likely what you see in people who attend church only at Christmas and Easter - hardly feeding at all, and growing dangerously thin as a result. Spiritual bulemia is more like going to church every week, but forgetting everything on Monday. That's as far as I got.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps there are spiritual food allergies: certain teachings that make you sick.
PPS - That might be good or bad, depending on the truth of the teaching.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - So You Think You Can Dance

The auditions for American So You Think You Can Dance including an eerie zombie routine. These guys move in unusual ways, like they're gliding and their joints are coated with Teflon.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The video was uploaded some time ago.
PPS - It does still seem to be there, though.

Disappointed by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Deb and I went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Wednesday evening, and I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I believe this is the first of these movies where I've read the book first, but I have a feeling I might have been let down otherwise. The whole thing is slow, dark and quiet, including the climactic ending. The mystery of the Half-Blood Prince is only mentioned in passing, and the battle at the end adds very little to the whole picture. We agree that it would have been redeemed by sticking closer to the ending of the book, where there is a larger-scale battle.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - From an actor's point of view, the performances were adequate.
PPS - Though I think young Tom Riddle fell a little flat.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Degrees outdated before you graduate

At some point I imagine various fields of knowledge will advance so quickly that university degrees will be outdated before the students graduate, for instance, medical knowledge. That means we either require either faster (and therefore less in-depth) degrees, constant study (like a more extreme version of the current case) or some new method of creating doctors.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - New methods for doctor creation may be up to other doctors.
PPS - Or artificial intelligence researchers.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

I has a shiny

Yesterday Deb and I went computer shopping and picked up a new Acer computer including a 23-inch widescreen monitor and Logitech Z4 speakers. After five years or so using a home-built machine, a few things were immediately apparent:
  1. My old rig sounded like a jet engine compared to this new one.
  2. It's astonishing how quickly a bigger monitor starts to feel normal.
  3. External speakers are just what I needed all along.
  4. The faster processor makes everything generally more pleasant.
  5. Too many USB ports is never enough.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - After I plugged in mouse, keyboard, external hard drive and printer, I'd run out of USB on the back.
PPS - The wireless network adaptor needed to go in the front.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Amazon Prime has already lost my business

Amazon has been consistently advertising their Amazon Prime priority shipping deal to me for years now, so I've learned to ignore it. This is primarily because it is valid only within the continental United States, and I'm halfway across the world from there. It's okay for both of us for now - Amazon continues to tell me to sign up, then sorry but I can't, and I continue to ignore the ads. The problem will come if Amazon Prime is ever extended beyond the USA corner of the world to include me. Do you think I will notice the change and start placing orders? Not a chance. By advertising too aggressively too early, Amazon has probably lost my future business.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This assumes they ever intend to acknowledge the presence of Australia at all.
PPS - To the best of my knowledge, they still don't stock region 4 DVDs.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Houses with service corridors

It would take extra space, but I think it would be handy to build houses with things like cable ladders and service corridors. Imagine being able to install cable TV or a new phone line without cutting any holes in walls or fastening any new wire clips to beams under the house. Imagine being able to hide all your stereo wiring out of sight and go into a narrow corridor to change it around.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the extra space requirement that means few people can really do this.
PPS - The rest of us just need better ways to manage our cabling.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is the big three-oh, but I don't feel like an adult yet. Perhaps I never will. I still play games regularly, watch science-fiction DVDs and spend a lot of time on the internet, though I guess that qualifies me more as a geek than an adolescent.

As for today, Deb and I will be having lunch at the local Coffee Club and meeting with some friends tonight for a barbeque, which does sound more grown-up. I had hoped to have a new job before my birthday, but I guess you can't have everything.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Many of my friends are pitching in to buy me a new computer.
PPS - That alone should be worth the hassle of turning 30.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Plants vs Zombies Purchased

Today being my birthday, Deb purchased the full version of Plants vs Zombies. It's definitely a step above the 1-hour demo, with many more plant and zombie types to pit against one another. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to play it quite as much as Deb has. ;)

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you did like the demo, it might be worth buying the full version.
PPS - On the other hand, it is fundamentally more of the same.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Science vs religion in popular entertainment

I'm kind of tired of seeing TV episodes and movies that broadly follow the "enlightened scientist vs the evil, closed-minded, oppressive religious establishment" genre. It just doesn't sit well with me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Science vs religion is a false dichotomy anyway.
PPS - Many of the founding fathers of science were devout Christians.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Written sarcasm

I like the use of brackets around an exclamation mark to indicate written sarcasm, such as "Oh, yes, it all makes sense now(!)". I saw it first in Stargate SG-1 subtitles. It does require establishing it as a convention before people recognise it intuitively, but it's well known that written English could use a sarcasm-mark. Whether it's this or something else doesn't bother me. I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some people prefer as the marker.
PPS - It takes longer that way, but it is clearer for the uninitiated.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Ink more expensive than printers?

My uncle pointed out the other day that, in some cases at least, it is cheaper to buy another printer than to replace all the ink cartridges. While my cursory research does not show that to be entirely true, it seems to be the case that two ink refills usually out-price the printer. Does that seem right to you?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It may not be long before printers are free with ink purchases.
PPS - We'll want them to be more disposable at that point, though.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Networking is a dirty word

I've been to a workshop on "networking", which is variously defined as "making and keeping friends" or "schmoozing to increase social status". The workshop took the first definition, and in my opinion did a good job of keeping the whole thing sounding relatively sleaze-less. The trouble is that I still imagine networking pamphlets titled "How To Use Your Friends For Fun And Profit!".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may never get over that.
PPS - I do appreciate my support network at this time, though.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Blu-ray ahead in the encryption battle

For now, it seems that the Blu-Ray publishers are winning the battle against disc rippers who just want to enjoy their movies in ways Hollywood has not yet caught up with. The end result seems to be that more people own old HD-DVD gear than Blu-Ray, and that shows no signs of improving. That's the cost of winning the DRM war for publishers: consumers abandon your platform.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The Sony PSP "won" a similar battle against indie game developers.
PPS - It didn't work out all that well for them in the end.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Augmented Reality Game

Augmented Reality game "ARhrrrr! is played with a device like a touch-screen mobile phone and a printed board. Watch the video to see what it's like. Basically the device simulates tiny table-top zombies on the board map and pretends to be a helicopter from which you fire at them. You can also place Skittles on the board to use as bombs. Amazing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - M&Ms would probably work too.
PPS - From a certain point of view, I guess this qualifies as a board game.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Random permutation encryption

Years ago I dabbled in writing some cipher programs. Very basic stuff, really, but one came back up in my mind just this morning. The method of encryption was to pseudo-randomly rearrange the letters in a message according to a particular random seed. Without knowing that seed, I supposed, it would be impossible to restore the original message.

The problems were two-fold. First, the random seed I chose to use was the length of the original text, which would be easy to discover and also meant that all messages of the same length would be rearranged in similar ways. The second problem is that all the letters of the original message are right there in plain view, so a common anagram solver could reassemble the message with a little human help.

The solution to the seed problem is to use a shared secret seed between the sender and receiver of the message - one that is not dependent on the length of the text. The second problem can be solved by adding gibberish to the end of the message, which would then be mixed into the rest when it is encrypted. An anagram solver can still find the original message, but it will also (hopefully) find dozens of nonsense messages that are difficult to tell from the real thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are still problems, of course.
PPS - And if you need something properly encrypted, this is definitely not the way.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Where's the non-evil phone company?

Most mobile phone companies today, I think everyone would agree, are trying to turn as big a profit as possible in a small amount of time. They take back unused pre-paid credit, not because they have to, but because they can. They charge through the nose for mobile data access that is not substantially different from voice calls. What if one company decided not to be evil?

It would take a lot of capital to set up, even for a small trial, so it's not going to happen today or tomorrow, but at some point down the line I want to see it. I want to see a mobile phone company that gives you included data charges just like included call charges, and I want the rate per megabyte to be reasonable, not preposterous. I want to see a company that refuses to steal back pre-paid credit just because it's been sitting there unused.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It takes longer to build yourself up on principles of good rather than evil.
PPS - But when you get there, you'll be much harder to move.