Friday, 26 February 2010

Voice control for computers

Perhaps one big reason that voice commands for computers have not taken off is the corporate market. It's too weird to think of an office full of users chatting to their computers in an environment that already has too much openness to background noise. In a typical office, you have the air conditioning sometimes emitting odd noises, clicks from keyboards and mice, conversations in the kitchen, and people on the phone. To add to that everyone speaking aloud at once would surely drive me insane. So it's not that we can't use voice to drive our machines - in fact, such abilities have long been well within our reach - it's that we don't want to.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or at least we don't want it at work.
PPS - It might be okay at home.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Disney zombie costumes

At some convention or other, these Disney zombie cosplayers were spotted and photographed. The video gives a good look at all of them.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not being a Disney fanatic, I have to admit I only recognised half of them.
PPS - Jack Sparrow is probably the stand-out best one.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Voice or video chat should be default

Trying to conduct a text chat over MSN the other day, I was struck by how antiquated it seemed. It seems to me that voice chat should be the norm these days, what with broadband being nearly ubiquitous, and with the option for video if your machine is capable. In fact, I've been thinking of setting up voice chat for Deb and I while playing City of Heroes, just because it saves us yelling up and down the stairs. With Skype running on both machines, we just need to open a call, start the game and talk into our mikes. From the viewpoint that we're still in the same house, it seems weird, but the internet doesn't care. It would be cleaner and more convenient than in-game text chat, too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Text chat should be there to support voice or video.
PPS - Some things are easier to convey in writing.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Publishing games in communist China

A while ago, the Chinese government announced that they wanted even more control over computer games sold in the country, including specialists to oversee content (which I assume would be a Chinese government spy on every game development team) and forcing developers to "enhance socialist values" in their games. So what would happen if the entire games industry said "why bother" and pulled out of China? My first guess is that the second-hand games and black market would pick up the slack, forcing the government to spend a whole lot more money, time and effort trying to police the situation. I think the best attack against a communist government that wants to police and control everything is to push it further in that direction and let it collapse under the weight of its own bureaucracy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder if that will ever happen, and what the results would be.
PPS - There are always unintended side-effects to any change.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Bluetooth remote control for home entertainment

I can imagine devices like televisions and DVD/Blu-Ray players coming with Bluetooth interfaces in the future and iPhone remote control applications rather than physical remotes.
This means no searching for the right remote, no losing it (because you can just load the program on another handset), as many duplicate controllers as you have phones in the house and finally that we can have $5 universal remote programs on the app store rather than $100 devices.

The trouble with that scenario is that not everyone would have a compatible mobile device to load the program, so you'd still need the old-fashioned infra-red remote too. Also, a Bluetooth interface would definitely take more power than the infra-red version.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There would probably still be stand-alone universal remotes for sale.
PPS - They would just have to be compatible with the Bluetooth programs instead.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Low-tech spy tricks

It's funny, but what seems to impress me most about some spy movies is when the hero has to do without the high-tech gadgets and gear. The only example that comes to mind is in Mission Impossible when Ethan Hunt breaks a light bulb and scatters the glass so he can hear someone approaching down the hall. I guess the reason it appeals to me is that these are things I could conceivably do. That other stuff, whether it's computer-controlled guns, acrobatics or uncanny masks is entertaining but unbelievable too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's as if you find out how good a spy they really are when you take away their gadgets.
PPS - Maybe that's why Casino Royale impressed me, too.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Fashion shows as performance art

I say we go ahead and declare all fashion shows a kind of performance art that is unrelated to what people - even the ones in the audience - would ever wear anywhere but a runway. It's not fashion, it's clothes as art. Or if you insist on calling it fashion, then there are two types of fashion: what you can wear in public, and what will only ever be worn that one time on that catwalk.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It doesn't apply to every single fashion show, though.
PPS - I guess that's the main complicating factor.

Friday Zombie Blogging - LEGO short film

This week I present a LEGO zombie short film (short as in 30 seconds). There's not much plot, but when did you start expecting plots from zombie movies?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It was probably just done as a proof of concept.
PPS - I wonder how long it takes to make stop-motion animation with LEGO.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Imperfection in programming languages

No programming language is perfect, so whatever you end up using, you'll eventually be disappointed (unless your goals are exceptionally modest). Knowing many languages and analysing the problems you intend to solve allows you as a programmer to choose the best language for the job, like a craftsman choosing the most appropriate tool from his toolbox.

The thing is, many programmers develop a kind of emotional attachment to their primary language, mostly because it's the only one they use day to day. I think this, like other software loyalty, is in some cases a form of Stockholm Syndrome, or sympathy for your captor. You know it's not perfect, and you know it's not the only language, but you'll defend it because you need it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The solution is to learn more languages.
PPS - And the best way to learn is by using them.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

To work as a computer monk

To work in a cloistered order of computer monks sounds nice. It's like someone else taking care of all the mundane bureaucracy of life and leaving me to do the job I love. I'll admit, though, that part of the appeal at the moment is job security.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I got the idea from Cory Doctorow's story The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away.
PPS - Does not like short titles, that boy.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Twitter vs Facebook apps

Someone should write a program to send Farmville updates to Twitter, mostly so people can't make the argument that Twitter doesn't bother them with updates like Facebook applications.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd do it, but I don't much care about Twitter.
PPS - I don't see what need it would fill in my life.

Monday, 15 February 2010

3D images without glasses

The other day I saw a demonstration of a technique to make 3D images without glasses. The advantage extends even further, though: not only do you not need glasses, but you don't need a special monitor/TV either. So right away I wondered whether this technique of wiggling the images back and forth could be applied to movies too.

My guess is that it wouldn't work too well at the 120ms speed demonstrated in the linked page, but maybe there's another option. Your eyes make these little movements called saccades, which are an integral part of vision. Perhaps, I think to myself, wiggling moving pictures as fast as saccades could fool our brains into seeing depth in a flat image, whether it's still or a movie. If that were the case, we wouldn't need to wear glasses for 3D movies, nor would we need to replace all our LCD and plasma TVs for 3D-capable models. We wouldn't even need special 3D Blu-Ray specifications, unless the frame rate needs to be much higher for saccade-3D.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Keep in mind that I am, in every way possible, not a neuroscientist.
PPS - So this may be complete nonsense. Also, saccades are very fast.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Compensating mobile app authors by continued use

According to Jakob Nielsen (and probably popular wisdom too) iPhone apps are downloaded a lot more than they are used. However, the charge for a non-free app is incurred when it is downloaded. Taking this to its logical conclusion, app writers are more likely to design to entice you to download rather than to get you to keep using their app. Can this be fixed? Possibly.

Since Apple controls the whole platform, they could gather usage statistics from each user and app, sync them when the iPhone is connected to the computer and gather those statistics in aggregate at Apple HQ. Given this world-spanning database of app usage, app writers could be compensated by the amount of continuous use their app gets.

Users wouldn't want to pay for the time spent in an app, of course, so the pricing model would have to change. Instead of charging for downloads, the iPhone plans would include an app service charge that provides perpetual free access to anything in the app store. That service charge is then broken up and distributed to the app writers based on their usage stats. Now app writers have incentive to write for continued use (which should equal good design and desirable functionality) rather than downloads.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The service charge needs to be negligible or very subconscious.
PPS - And it would be hard to switch to this model after the pay-per-download model.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Ctrl-Alt-Del

Ctrl-Alt-Del depicts a robot pirate fighting a zombie ninja riding what may or may not be a velociraptor. The title is "This is how the world ends".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The dinosaur may be a T-rex, but it has too many digits on its front claws.
PPS - Whatever the dinosaur, it's a cool picture.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Mid-life crises

After hearing a psychologist on the radio talking about mid-life crises and even quarter-life crises, I developed a theory about the whole phenomenon. Of course, given that I'm not a psychologist myself, this should all be taken with a very large grain of salt.

My theory goes something like this: some people define their identities by things in their lives, most commonly their childhood environment, their job or their children. When these things go away (finishing school, children leaving home, retirement) we suddenly don't know who we are any more. So we thrash about looking for something else to define us, like a new, impractical car.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I realise this would make mid-life crises more like identity crises.
PPS - That's assuming I know what I'm talking about when I say that.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Alternative audio formats with chapter marks

Sometimes chapter marks in audio files would be helpful, but I don't know of any format that provides such a thing. The best we can do is multiple MP3s kept in order by name.
I'm thinking mostly of audio books or long podcasts here.

Not too long ago I heard of someone, probably in the music industry, working on a new audio format designed to be a replacement for whole albums, including cover art and liner notes along with multiple tracks inside. I don't see it taking off after the world has so long embraced MP3, but that's close to what I mean.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The multi-track format is CMX.
PPS - iTunes has a similar "iTunes LP" format.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

SMS weather warning service

I recently discovered and signed up to The Early Warning Network, which is an Australian weather alert system that operates over SMS. Since the storm I had often thought to myself that weather warnings need to come to my mobile phone, not over the radio or TV. I usually don't have either of those devices on, but my phone is always with me. If I'd had an SMS warning about that storm, I might have gone back and closed the windows. Next time, I will have that warning.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a free service based on the Bureau of Meteorology weather warnings.
PPS - And given all that, I don't see why you wouldn't sign up.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Military overconfidence on TV

I hate seeing that smug military confidence on TV. It's a sure sign that something is going to go horribly wrong.
You know how it happens. The new General (or Colonel or whoever) bustles in with his troops, starts setting up equipment and barking orders, stating confidently that everything is under control. The more confident he is, the worse it will all go.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And usually it goes wrong for him personally, too.
PPS - Like getting shot or eaten.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Pay TV vs iTunes costs

Here's a thought about pay TV. They won't allow you (in general) to subscribe just to the channels you want, instead making you pay for channels in "packages". It makes their billing system simpler, but that's about the only advantage I can imagine. What if the channels themselves (assuming they exist as separate entities) could charge directly for access online? Then I could subscribe to, say, Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel without bothering with Foxtel as a whole. The cost for subscription, based on Foxtel packages, would be fair at about $3 per month per channel.

Then you could go one step further and subscribe just to individual shows. Assuming each episode is 1 hour long (and generously assuming no repeats) the same comparable pricing model would charge me about 1.6c per show per month or 0.4c per episode. The trouble is that at this point it starts looking like a stone cold bargain next to iTunes (~$4 per episode). Viewed another way, iTunes is about one thousand times as expensive as pay TV per episode.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The cost per show that you actually want to watch, however, would be higher for Foxtel.
PPS - But possibly still below $4 per episode.

Friday Zombie Blogging - A.D.

Here's a recently-released teaser trailer for "A.D.", an animated zombie film. The title might stand for "Animated Dead", but probably not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not clear if there will be dialogue.
PPS - My guess is that there will, at some point.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

I hate writing job application cover letters

What gets to me about job applications is the cover letters. I don't mind submitting hundreds of resumes or failing interviews, but every time I'm faced with writing an application cover letter I balk and delay. If I could, I'd just leave the whole process up to recruitment agents, but those guys are so busy and have so many other clients that I would just slip to the bottom of their attention pile unless I bug them often.

I think the bulk of my problem lies with my perception of how potential employers use cover letters. If it's absent, they disregard your resume unseen. If it's bad, they'll discard your resume during short-listing. If it's a really good cover letter, they'll discard that and read your resume.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I probably have that wrong at some point.
PPS - And I still don't like writing them.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Long-term vs short-term planning

Long-term planning is easier than short-term action, though I'm not sure why. It might be because long-term decisions don't necessarily translate into immediate actions. So it's easier to say "I'll travel to the USA next year" than "We're having pasta for dinner tonight".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I imagine not everyone suffers this same affliction.
PPS - But remember it next time you get into an "I don't know. What do you want to do?" conversation.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Movie ticket vending machines

When considering the different ways we buy movie tickets these days, a thought occurred: why don't they just have a computer at the cinema to buy tickets from? It should reduce their costs and increase profits or (if you're optimistic) reduce ticket prices.
They already have the online services to do so. I'm sure it would be a snap.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I conclude from the service charges that Event Cinemas charge online that they don't want you buying your tickets that way.
PPS - Which is silly, because it must be the easiest money they ever made.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Security and accountability

Who are the security people working for if everyone is a potential threat? If they managed to eliminate all of us "potential threats", there would be only security personnel on the streets, and that gives you an idea of who they are. With total power, they become a society unto themselves who work to preserve their own existence. Considering society as an organism, a security force with no accountability and absolute power is a cancer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most anti-terrorism laws set up law enforcement with near-absolute power and limited accountability.
PPS - This does not account for distrust within the security organisation.