Friday, 30 October 2009

The Book Depository

This week I heard about The Book Depository, an online UK bookshop that ships for free worldwide. Their prices even turn out better than bricks-and-mortar bookshops, let alone Amazon. I doubt I'll buy another book anywhere else for some time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't even get a clear shipping cost out of Amazon.
PPS - Not that I tried very hard, mind you.

Friday Zombie Blogging - AccidentSketch

When AccidentSketch was mentioned on Lifehacker, I immediately thought of its potential as a tool for humour. Lo and behold, the first comment on the post: zombies on bicycles attacking a truck.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - AccidentSketch is meant to help you diagram traffic accidents for insurance reports.
PPS - I imagine it does a decent job of it.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

iPhone Nano?

I heard someone remarking that adding basic phone capabilities to the iPod Nano would open up a big market. Then again, that's pretty much the iPhone, only less capable. But perhaps there is a niche for an iPhone Nano, with less power, fewer functions and costing less.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Don't be too surprised either way.
PPS - I won't be.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Weeding out the IM spambots

It's easy to tell when I've got IM spam from a robot. I always have a quote after my name in MSN, and the robots, trying to be personal and therefore more accepted, tend to say things like "Hey, mokalus - 'Like Summer camp for drama nerds.', check out http://[redacted]". No human would bother contacting me out of the blue to give me a link and copy what is clearly a quote rather than part of my name. The robots fail this basic comprehension and reveal their true nature.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Technically, I suppose this is a form of CAPTCHA.
PPS - It was not intended to be.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Applied computer usage statistics

I like my computer to keep usage statistics for my personal use, such as which programs I spend most time in or which features I use most from the menus. That's why the adaptive menus in Office 2003 appealed to me. It hid irrelevant detail and only showed me which features I actually used. Yes, it can be a little jarring when the menus adapt again, but the result is a cleaner and more efficient interface. It's the same reason I like to use the Desktop Cleanup Wizard, sadly missing from Vista. They could have just had it disabled by default.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am, apparently, one of the few people who liked either of those features.
PPS - I did not, however, have any soft spots for that paperclip.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lifts with no "close doors" button

Lately I've noticed a design feature that makes a lot of sense: lifts with an "open doors" button, but no "close doors" button, making it impossible to mix them up in a hurry. Why the "close doors" button was included in the first place I suppose we'll never know.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps it's a feature left over from when lifts had to be operated manually.
PPS - These days it only serves to cause problems.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The cost of making paper

How expensive is paper these days? I expect, since we use so much of it, that obtaining paper pulp for recycling would be cheaper than wood pulp. As a result, I would expect paper to be not only relatively cheap, but pretty environmentally-friendly too. If we're just printing, shredding and recycling a large amount of paper over and over, then only a small amount of wood pulp is necessary to produce the volumes required. It's like it has its own cycle of life.

Cutting out paper use is good for reducing the volume of new paper required, but when a lot of paper is just being recycled, then printing everything double-sided rather than single-sided should be enough to tip us over the edge into declining paper use. then again, there will always be less paper recycled than filed away, since that's why we print most things.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And until we have so-cheap-they're-disposable tablet computers, we will continue to print.
PPS - And even then I doubt printers will go away entirely.

Friday Zombie Blogging - How Not To Start a Zombie Apocalypse

A handy list of things not to do if you want to avoid a zombie apocalypse. Or, if you're the mad scientist type, consider it your to-do list for today.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure they wouldn't all result in zombie apocalypses.
PPS - At least not every time.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Windows 7 Release Day

So who's excited about Windows 7 being released today? Personally, it doesn't make that much impact on me immediately. I don't plan to buy a boxed copy, but I may end up running Win7 on a new PC. I may be eligible to upgrade my Vista installation for free, but I haven't checked yet. I did get a beta copy with a PC Authority magazine which I installed in a virtual machine, and it seemed slick, but that didn't really give me a solid impression of it. I'll be interested to see the general public opinion once the shiny newness wears off.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder how much longer some new PCs will come equipped with Vista.
PPS - Probably not long.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Picasa face recognition

I've installed Picasa 3 to help organise my photos, primarily because it includes face recognition. It's really neat to just have the software scan for faces, pick them out and group them, then suggest matches as it learns who's who. It makes Facebook's image tagging look decidedly antiquated and clumsy.

The only problem, if it can be called such, is that the face recognition is very effective. I've found myself having to ignore dozens of strangers in some of Dad's travel photos.

In a weird way, it's kind of addictive. I just want to watch it go, wait for it to scan more people and tell it who they are. This is how it goes when a new technology toy grips you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - By a supreme act of will, I was able to walk away from it and go to bed last night.
PPS - But I feel the urge to jump back in now.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Batman: Arkham Assylum buggy version leaked

I think it's very clever for the creators of Batman: Arkham Assylum to have intentionally leaked a buggy version of their game to P2P networks a week before its release. That way the networks get flooded with this version right away and finding the real thing becomes almost impossible. The idea was slightly flawed, however, since the bug doesn't completely stop you from playing the game all the way through, but kudos for using the pirate networks against themselves. It's social engineering at its best.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd expect to see a lot more of this in future.
PPS - It's one of very few success stories against game piracy.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Being Intel Atom means excluding some features

Intel's Atom processors have seen great success in netbooks so far, and so they have started being used in low-cost, low-power desktop machines as well. What seems weird is that Intel has specified that an Atom product, in order to be labelled as Atom, must NOT have dual-channel memory or any DVI or HDMI outputs. Perhaps they're concerned that the limited ability of the processor to handle high-def tasks would create some ill-will towards it, and decided to defend the brand by disallowing it. If they had allowed it, an Atom all-in-one motherboard could easily be the basis of a decent media box.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's assuming it can keep up with the procesing demands.
PPS - I wouldn't count on that just yet.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Table computing for group work

Group work would go much quicker if multi-touch table computers were more commonplace. Instead of having to email documents around for review, we could all sit around one table and point out bits that need correcting, then do it right there. Instead of having to print large drawings for discussion, we can just look at it all together around one table. I can imagine teams of about four people using one table as a common work area by default, and I'd love to see how that works out in practice.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We would need to rethink how computers relate to our work.
PPS - This all assumes the table is powerful enough to keep up with four people.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Star Wars Zombie Art

Star Wars zombie art. These illustrations were contributed by "several well-known artists in the Star Wars community".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, the Star Wars Galaxies online game is set to release an update called Death Troopers.
PPS - I believe it is also related to the release of Joe Schreiber's novel of the same title.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Broken ATMs - Thought for the day

A malfunctioning ATM should tell you where the next nearest one is. It could even be hard-coded into the error message.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, if that one's also broken, you're out of luck.
PPS - Because it probably tells you to go back to the first one.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Sizzler as an all-you-can-eat dessert place

I wonder how worthwhile it would be to go to Sizzler just for the all-you-can-eat dessert bar. I know you pay about $20-$30 for it, but if you have three helpings you've probably got your money's worth. Then again, that much dessert all at once would be pretty tough to stomach.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And many small helpings is not really in the spirit of things.
PPS - All said and done, it's probably best not to try this one.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Flashing lights for school speed zones

I am currently at work on a project to put flashing lights on school zones for times when the speed limit is reduced. It has been noted that the practice of flashing lights is meant to increase visibility of the signs during the times they apply. The trouble is that the drivers start to rely on the flashing to tell them when the signs apply, and thus start to appeal on speeding tickets if the sign does not flash. It was assumed that drivers were conscientiously trying to obey the law and that the lights would make this easier. Instead the opposite has turned out to be the case. It's the law of unintended consequences. You try to draw attention to make school zones safer, but if the signs fail and drivers depend on them, they will be far less safe. It seems a no-tech solution is better from that point of view.

I think drivers should slow down in school zones by default, then check whether the regular speed limit applies. We think of the default in that zone as the higher speed, but it seems safer to me to assume that the lower speed applies until shown otherwise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If your counter-argument is "but that's really annoying", then you lose.
PPS - "Annoyed" is better than "I injured some children today".

Monday, 12 October 2009

The mosquito sound arms race

A while ago, there was an ultrasonic sound going around called "mosquito" that was supposed to be inaudible to older people. The idea (at first) was to use it as an anti-loitering system by playing it loudly in places you didn't want those darn kids, like on your lawn. Then the whole thing got turned around and used as a ringtone that kids could hear but their teachers could not detect.

Now I got to thinking: it should be possible to rig up mosquito-detectors to let teachers know that their students are using the "secret" ringtone just by detecting the sound and flashing a light or something. You could probably triangulate the location if you used a couple of them together. Then again, it seems likely that the best way to detect a secretly-ringing phone would be when the student pulls it out and starts trying to discreetly text on it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or talk on it.
PPS - Either would give you away very quickly.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Vague ads for "work from home" schemes

I'm getting a bit tired of extremely vague ads for work-at-home schemes. They talk all about the benefits of working from home in a non-standard way, then direct you to a website like or, which further fails to tell you what you'll be doing. I got a small green flyer after getting off the train today and found that it was one of these vague things. I threw it out right away.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For all I know, those websites I made up are real.
PPS - Yep. Ironically, requires a password.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Shooting range targets

A company called Law Enforcement Targets produces a selection of shooting range zombie targets. My guess is you'd have a hard time putting one of them up at a shooting range here in Australia, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've been to a shooting range once.
PPS - I kept the round target for quite a while.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Broadcasting car horns and sirens on the radio

I think it should be illegal to broadcast siren sounds and car horns over the radio. I frequently find myself distracted when I am driving and an ad or a song includes one of those sounds.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And the radio is most commonly heard in the car.
PPS - Digital radio, with higher-quality sound, will only make it worse.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A cat discipline problem

We've gotten into a nightly routine with the cat where we go to bed at a reasonable hour, then he wakes us up at 3:30am. We shut him in the laundry and continue with our sleep. It's not working for me. We want to break him of this behaviour, but trusting him every night just leads to exactly the same result. He may be getting used to it, too, and although he expects to be shut away, he bothers us regardless.

We've considered locking him up from the beginning of the night, which is what we used to do when he was very little, but we feel bad about it now. The only other thing I've been able to think of is something called Sticky Paws, which basically makes it unpleasant for him to scratch on our door to wake us up. My concern with that scenario is that he might choose to start calling out instead of scratching.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The scratching we can handle.
PPS - Few, if any, options present themselves for cats that cry.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Brain downloads for job handover

It occurred to me yesterday, as I tried to get up to speed with my new job, that if we had plugs in our heads and the ability to download information quickly and easily directly into our brains, then even very specialised people could be replaced in jobs at a moment's notice. As long as you have the job-specific knowledge ready to download, you can step into any position and pick up where the last guy left off. It would still be important to find someone who worked well with the rest of the team (if applicable), but finding someone with the right skills becomes meaningless.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would certainly help productivity of new employees.
PPS - And interviews would become much more about personality than skills.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mortmain as applied to copyright

I've learned a new word today: "mortmain". It refers specifically to the continued ownership of land by the church (therefore never reverting back to the crown and incurring no inheritance tax) and in general of the way the past can dictate the present in an oppressive way. The word literally means "dead hand", like a deceased owner still gripping a contract.

It struck me that such a concept applies very well to current copyright. After the term of copyright is over, artists are assumed to have been adequately compensated for their efforts in contributing to our culture, or it is similarly assumed that they will never quite make their money back. The work then reverts into the public domain. Currently, we have corporations owning perpetual copyrights (because they never die) and continuous pushes for extending copyright terms. This is all keeping works from going into public domain even long after the original creator is dead and long since compensated for his or her contribution to society through the arts. Mortmain. The dead hand of artists still grips their works from beyond the grave.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If copyright were intended to be perpetual, that's how it would have been formulated in the beginning.
PPS - The optimal copyright term has been calculated at 14 years.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Friday Zombie Blogging - Plants vs Zombies Online

Have you been wondering what Plants vs Zombies is like to play, but haven't wanted to download the demo? Wonder no more. You can now play the adventure mode in your browser for free.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It seems they used the same code from the installed version.
PPS - So it looks pretty small, but it's authentic.

Rain chimes

I had an idea a while ago to make a "rain chime", similar in concept to wind chimes. It would make noise when struck by rain in a semi-musical way. Then I thought that can't be a new idea, so I went to search for rain chimes online. What I found appear to be devices that sound like wind chimes and don't require wind or rain. I wonder why they call them rain chimes, then.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not a new idea even the way I imagined it.
PPS - See this post at Halfbakery, for instance.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

iSnack 2.0?

Kraft's new Vegemite and cream cheese mix has a name now: "iSnack 2.0". This name seems to be universally loathed, which makes me wonder something. How does the winner of the competition (27-year-old web designer Dean Robbins) feel? Well, he's either horribly embarrassed by the flood of negativity or just happy to have his prize money, if there was any money involved.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Kraft has decided to do away with the "iSnack" moniker.
PPS - I think people would have just been calling it "Cheesemite" anyway.