Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Trans-reflective force fields

Often in science fiction you see a force field protecting something. The heroes shoot at it just to establish that it's really there, and the energy blasts or bullets seem to be absorbed or disintegrated. So I started wondering what would happen if the force field reflected anything you propelled at it right back where it came from. Throwing a rock would be a bit of a bad idea, but shooting such a force field would be like shooting directly at yourself. Makes for a much more effective defence, in my opinion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The good guys should be in control of such a force field first.
PPS - Otherwise good guys die just finding out that the force field is there.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Search polluted by unrelated text

I'm a bit tired of my search results including irrelevant pages because of tag clouds, ads or article lists. This problem only comes up when I'm searching for obscure combinations of technology, like "Ubuntu nokia 6288 sync bluetooth" or "JasperReports eclipse Berkeley DB XML". If it's uncommon to find them written about together, chances are most of my results will be articles about one with unrelated links to the others.

I realise it's a near-impossible feat to filter out things like that, and I also realise that Google have done a tremendous job so far. It's just that it would be nice not to have to deal with it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may be one of only a few geeks with this problem.
PPS - So I doubt it's going away soon.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Mathematical rating of Risk board variants

It seems to be common knowledge among Risk board game afficionados that certain versions have better boards than others. The original is about the best one, while the Lord of the Rings version is roundly criticised. The main point of contention seems to be "choke points" connecting a few large continents. I wonder if that can be expressed mathematically and used to evaluate potential Risk boards or even build new ones that will be recognised as "good". If so, it would be very easy to avoid publishing a terrible version.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The quality of the board probably depends on specific rules, too.
PPS - So a board with variant rules might fare better under those rules.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies vs Villagers chess set

Check out this hand-carved Zombies vs Villagers chess set. It's pretty neat.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I just wish there were more pictures.
PPS - And being one of a kind, I guess I can't get a set myself.

Scrabble by mail

People used to play chess by mail. For all I know, some probably still do. So I got to thinking whether other games could work that way. After all, you can play Scrabble with a friend over the internet, so what's the missing link without computers? The answer is randomness and hidden information.

When you're drawing tiles from the Scrabble bag, you don't know what's coming and your opponent doesn't know what you've got. Even if you tell them, there's no checks or balances to make sure you aren't cheating and drawing whatever specific tiles you'd like.

But the cause for Scrabble by mail is not lost yet. Scrabble on the internet works because there's a server in the middle that keeps track of the tiles available. So the equivalent by mail is to use a third party as a go-between. The game referee or moderator tells you which tiles to draw from your bag, having done so randomly themselves. You tell them what word you wish to play and where, and they pass that information on to your opponent.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This could work for any non-realtime game.
PPS - But some would be more fun than others.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Catch 22 in work, study and money

To get work, you need qualifications. To get qualifications, you need money. To get money, you need work. That's just the way the world works where people want the best people for the job and to be compensated for their work.

There are three ways to break into this vicious cycle: volunteer, student loans or unskilled work. Volunteering means you need some other means of support along the way. Unskilled work will never pay as much as skilled work. That leaves student loans (or government-funded education) as the best way to increase your skilled workforce as a nation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We have a mixture of both here.
PPS - And there are problems with both models, too.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lessons in stealth

Late last night I heard some noises outside, so I turned off the lights to take a look through the window. What I saw there appeared to be someone dressed in a clean white tracksuit sneaking around. Eventually he saw me and threw a rock at our window, but hit the security grill and did no damage. So my question is: what would draw you to a white tracksuit when sneaking around? Clearly this guy was either over-confident or under-intelligent.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Seriously, white could only be outshone by a high-visibility reflective safety vest.
PPS - I have since installed a better lock on the back door.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Emissions trading

It seems some government bodies have venerated market forces to the point of assuming they will solve all problems. That's why they suggest emissions trading schemes. The idea is to commit to a certain amount of pollution (hopefully lower than the current situation), break that amount up into many credits and sell those credits as discrete licenses to pollute that much. To lower emissions targets further, the government would have to buy back credits and nullify them.

Sounds good to an economist, but there are problems. The most obvious problem is that the richest companies are the ones who will buy the most credits, but they're also the ones who can afford to change. Smaller companies then need to adapt or die without the emissions trading option ever really reaching them.

In all, we have to remember the law of unintended consequences: whatever you are trying to achieve, you will always end up with more unintended side-effects than your intended results.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In general, I don't think it's such a great idea.
PPS - In particular, I think it will cause some unforseen problems.

Monday, 21 September 2009


Over the weekend, Deb and I bought a new board game called Pandemic, and we really like it. It's cooperative, which is different, and as a group, the players work to stamp out different diseases around the world. You win if you find cures for all four, and although we haven't managed to win yet, we've had a lot of fun trying. I definitely recommend this one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We've come close a couple of times.
PPS - It seems easiest with two players.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Where's the free, open-source board game engine?

Why is there not a common, open-source code object library for generalised board games? While there is Zillions of Games covering a subset of the domain, but (1) it's not free and (2) it doesn't do dice or counting particularly well, since it has no native concept of numbers. Also, it doesn't seem to have been updated in ages.

Many other people have taken up the challenge, but few have completed their work, if any have at all. None stand out as completed and polished. They are missing AI or have some other weakness. Perhaps the problem is just too general to be solved by one program.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This line of reasoning probably led to the starting of many board game engine projects.
PPS - It has very nearly led me to start my own.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Z.O.M.B.I.E.

Z.O.M.B.I.E. (Zillions Of Mutated Bodies Infecting Everyone) is a series of collectible zombie figurines inspired by M.U.S.C.L.E. and Monster In My Pocket. Unfortunately, there are only as many colours as unique models (six models, each available in six colours).

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not all that tempted to buy any.
PPS - A little, maybe, but not a lot.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Buildings as art

Watching a program on architecture, it seems to me that it's a form of art that I can appreciate. I like the style they were examining, though for the most part it was about domed interiors and roofs for natural lighting. Still, something appeals to me about the whole idea of designed living spaces.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps it's just the suggestion of room to spread out.
PPS - I'd like to have more space to live in.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bandwidth of a truck full of DVDs caveat

People sometimes observe that a truck or plane full of burned DVDs has much higher bandwidth than the average internet connection. That is, you could transfer a very large amount of information in a short amount of time by driving (or flying) a shipment of DVDs from one place to another. While that's true, I think it's important to include in the calculations the amount of time it takes to burn each DVD.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At 20 minutes per burn, it would take days to fill a truck.
PPS - That's just an estimate.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

What's so great about the Single Ladies music video?

Call me crazy or weird if you like, but I don't see what's so great about the Single Ladies music video by Beyoncé. There's dancing, and I get that, but I don't understand why it caused such a positive reaction from so many people. Perhaps dance isn't my thing, but it just looks like a lot of knees-bent hip thrusts to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If anyone can explain what's revolutionary about it, feel free.
PPS - I'm willing to learn.

Monday, 14 September 2009

GPS changing driving instincts

I have a theory that GPS navigators will change the way we drive. I don't mean that nobody will need directions ever again. I'm talking about making up for their deficiencies. The maps are not always up to date, and if our unit is anything to go by, the route taken is not always optimal or obvious. Those situations, where you find yourself second-guessing the directions, will become our new "navigation sense".

This won't apply to everyone. Some people will never get a GPS until it's included in their new car by default. Some will use it just to fill in the gaps in their own knowledge. Some, like me, need to use it five or six times on the same route to remember it properly. But all of us will be affected by the change when computer navigation becomes a standard feature of cars. I'm just not sure how it will look yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I navigate like an ant.
PPS - Low to the ground, no deviation, and I need the scent of past trips to find my way.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A couple of Harry Potter thoughts

I've just realised that in the Harry Potter world, cars are muggle artifacts, but they are used by the Ministry. Arthur Weasley doesn't understand how brakes work, but modified a muggle car to fly via magic. The ministry sent a car to pick up the Weasley clan once, but other wizards don't know the first thing about driving. So do wizards understand cars or not?

Also, Voldemort can apparently fly without the aid of any enchanted vehicle, a feat that no other wizard has ever accomplished. My thoughts, however, go as follows: brooms don't fly on their own - they have some kind of enchantment that makes them do so. Couldn't you apply that same kind of enchantment to, say, a pair of jeans? It might take some getting used to, but once you have some flying pants, I'm sure you'd learn to use them just as easily as a broom.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe flying pants would give too much of a wedgie.
PPS - And, yes, I know wizards wear robes.

Friday Zombie Blogging - ZMD

ZMD, also known as "Zombies of Mass Destruction", is a comic about zombies being used as weapons. This comic is, allegedly, set for a movie conversion. The weaponised zombies are supposed to dissolve in daylight, so they're air-dropped at night, wreak havoc, and friendly soldiers come in the next morning to the freshly-de-occupied territory. One zombie weapon, Zombie Zero, remembers his sunscreen, however, and standard zombie hell breaks loose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The premise sounds interesting.
PPS - The result sounds familiar.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Praise for Toshiba DVD players

Yesterday we experienced some kind of blackout or power surge. I'm not sure which, because none of our circuit breakers tripped, but it seemed to do permanent damage to our DVD player and my computer's UPS. The DVD player has needed replacing for some time, so I'm not too cut up about that. We headed out to JB HiFi almost immediately to replace it, and I asked one question: are these players multi-region?

The answer, in general, is "no" for all major brands. Toshiba, on the other hand, actually seems to like their customers, and we were informed that the Toshiba player comes with an instruction card in the box that tells you how to turn off region coding. That's the first thing I did when I got it home, and it works perfectly on Deb's region 1 DVDs. So today my hat is off to Toshiba for selling a DVD player that does things properly.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the UPS battery backup that has me stumped.
PPS - I'd be quite annoyed if I had to replace that too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fracturing society

Someone once said that the basic unit of society used to be the village, then it became the extended family, the nuclear family and finally the individual. Soon, came the prediction, it will be the fragments of the individual. I used to wonder how that could be. How could we fragment ourselves and still be a functioning part of a society. Now I know how: we compartmentalise our lives into work, study, home, friends, alone, sport and so on. No part of our lives intrudes on any other except to the barest degree.

It's sad, in a way. As fragmented individuals, we'll spend more of our time and effort on keeping ourselves fragmented so as not to mix our separate lives together. There will be less time for everyone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Having no boundaries or privacy is not a solution, though.
PPS - Whether new or old, this idea must be held in balance.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Babel Fish additional uses and limitations

I had a thought about the Babel Fish from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the other day. My understanding (which doesn't quite match the Wikipedia description) is that it feeds off brainwaves of others and translates them for you. It would, therefore, allow you to understand inarticulate people as well as foreign languages. Someone who is unable to get their thoughts out into words would still be understood. However, I don't think it would work for television the way it is mentioned in passing in one of the books. It would need real people, not just sounds.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's possible that Wikipedia has it right and I'm wrong, though.
PPS - Wouldn't be the first time.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Television's unique properties in an internet age

Even in an internet age, there must be something that television provides that the internet doesn't. The most immediate thing I can think of is that television is localised by default. As the internet swallows up popular entertainment and world news, it's possible that television will move to exclusively local content. You'd get ads and public access shows from your city (or even just your suburb) and very local news. There'd be no need to cover global events, because people will be getting that news from the internet.

In the end, it might even help revitalise a sense of community, although I wouldn't count on that. If television becomes such a niche market, television sets will become less common as a result.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Though we may still have large screens for sharing entertainment.
PPS - Or family-to-family video calls.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Politics and publicity stifles some progress

Popular election and the need for good publicity mean that our politicians strive to do not what is right and best, but what is popular and most visible. Sometimes what is good for us is not pleasant, but the politician who induces some form of pain for the electorate's good will be voted out because people don't like pain.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess such a person would only get the masochist vote.
PPS - Then again, I think their preferences tend only to physical pain.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Your Pet Zombie

Today I draw your attention to Your Pet Zombie, an iPhone for those who couldn't keep their Tamagotchi alive, I suppose. It only costs a dollar and pretty much just involves feeding (but not over-feeding) brains to your zombie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only I had an iPhone.
PPS - Or if only stuff like this was not iPhone-exclusive.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tension and significance of events

Some days, especially when you're tense, the tiniest thing can set you off when otherwise it would be no big deal. The importance of spilled milk depends on your frame of mind, and it's not always insignificant.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course it's insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
PPS - But your life is not the grand scheme any more than your house is the world.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I need to visualise my thoughts

Sometimes I get the feeling that there are a whole lot of thoughts bubbling in my head just waiting to be linked together, if only I could visualise them better. Like every snippet of conversation or weird observation is part of a puzzle to assemble. It feels like I should be carrying index cards so I can not only write things down but shuffle them around in a satisfying, tactile way. They should be solid card, not thin paper, because that just feels nicer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd be disappointed if I managed this and found nothing as a result.
PPS - That seems unlikely, though, based on the feeling of an idea dancing just out of reach.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Good skeptical questions and personal beliefs

Yesterday I watched a video on "how to ask good skeptical questions". When someone makes a claim, it's a good idea to be able to think about it from a number of angles before swallowing it whole. However, the last of the 10 example questions seemed slightly off to me: "Are personal beliefs driving the claim?"

The problem with that question, as I see it, is that personal beliefs are inseparable from fact interpretation. If you're doing science, you're observing and interpreting facts, and all fact interpretation starts with a set of expectations or a world view. If you think the universe came about a certain way, you will naturally interpret your observations that way. Your observations are empty without interpretation, and your interpretation will always come from your world view. So personal beliefs drive every scientific claim, whether past, present or future.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I enjoy debating this kind of thing.
PPS - But I prefer to do it face to face, not online.