Friday, 30 April 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - How to Speak Zombie

How to Speak Zombie is a very short book about proper phrases and pronunciation in a zombie-filled world. Think of it as a phrase book with a very limited vocabulary.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Hopefully it includes "Please don't eat my brains".
PPS - Or "I am heavily armed and you are a slow target".

Propper copper coffee lobber

On TV, whenever a cop is sitting in a car drinking hot coffee and has to take off in a hurry, they throw the coffee out the window. Is that official procedure? It makes sense to save seconds and avoid injury to the driver, but I just wonder if it's one of those fiction standards that's become entrenched rather than something real that's been adopted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll have to ask the next officer I meet.
PPS - Assuming I meet them socially.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Middlemen, authors and the web

The web is great at cutting out the middleman. That's what Amazon was going to do with ebooks. Apparently their plan was to fix ebook prices across the board, then start going behind publishers' backs and appealing to authors directly. There's still a middleman in that equation, though: Amazon itself.

When the retail chain goes from author to publisher to retailer to customer, the author has to do very little for themselves except write. If they're selling directly to a retailer, they'll have to take over some of those functions themselves, like editing, proofreading and some advertising. Cut out the retailer (which is possible with the web) and authors also have to start managing sales, delivery and everything else. Although 100% of the sale price would be going straight to the author, some people would prefer to let others handle the non-writing part of the business.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My guess is the more you want to do those things yourself, the more you're writing for the money.
PPS - But since I'm only ever at the customer end of the chain, I'm not well-informed.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The media revolution in reverse

The media revolution hasn't happened yet. We've exchanged one lock in for another, so we're still stuck with what big media says we can and cannot do. Apple says what CDs you can and cannot rip for your iPod, and everyone says unilaterally that you cannot rip your movies for private viewing there too. We're still stuck, especially if the law keeps changing to keep us in the old business model.

And now the iPad has newspaper publishers all excited because, finally, there is an internet device with total lock-in designed as a pure media consumption device. It's the internet as television, the way they've always wanted. To a mind like that, the iPad is set to "fix" the internet. To my mind, the internet ideals of freedom should fix the iPad.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know the iPad device itself will be pretty cool.
PPS - But in a lot of ways it's more like a Kindle than a netbook.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Throwing coffee out the window

On TV, whenever a cop is sitting in a car drinking hot coffee and has to take off in a hurry, they throw the coffee out the window. Is that official procedure? It makes sense to save seconds and avoid injury to the driver, but I just wonder if it's one of those fiction standards that's become entrenched rather than something real that's been adopted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unfortunately, I find it believable either way.
PPS - Anyone else have a theory?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Automatic Windows repair

Yesterday I had to repair my old Windows XP machine again, which was annoying but not too surprising. What didn't even strike me until now, 24 hours later, is that Windows was able to tell me that I needed to run the CHKDSK utility, which fixed everything, but could not do so itself. What would be the difference between me running CHKDSK and Windows invoking it automatically? When the computer is in that much trouble, it's far more effective to have the operating system take necessary steps to recover rather than relying on the user to do so.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could have used the blue screen as an excuse to buy a new computer.
PPS - But I built that machine. I can't just not fix it.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Mad skills and what the internet is for

There are people on the internet who are super-duper AMAZING at the totally pointless things they do, like doing backflips off high walls, bursting balloons with business cards or juggling. The internet exists for the simultaneous purposes of giving such people 15 minutes of worldwide fame and reminding you that maybe, just maybe, you haven't completely wasted your life like they have. At least, not so far.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But doesn't it make you wonder, if only you'd had more focus, what you could do?
PPS - I wonder about that.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Survival Flowchart

An undead survival flowchart. I want this printed in A3 to hang on my wall, even though every path ends with "YOU ARE DEAD".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's hard sometimes to know how exactly to read a flowchart in full.
PPS - But I guess if every end point is the same, it could be summarised a bit.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Who pays for Google traffic?

Internet providers sometimes complain that they don't get paid to send Google's traffic and that Google should foot the bill. They rarely get any sympathy on the subject, but my question is: aren't their subscribers supposed to pay for it? So in what sense are you "not being paid" for the things your customers are paying you to do?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't think of a good metaphor to describe the situation right now.
PPS - If I come up with one, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Total Experience Design

I'm watching Paul Dawson talk about Total Experience Design, and I'm starting to realise that this is just the kind of thing I've been thinking is missing from TransLink's system. It's not just about an enhanced website to finally tell you where bus stops are, because once you're away from the machine again, you're off the network or, at the very least, you have some location awareness to make use of. Your trip planning should not only include times and vague place descriptions but place alarms and help finding the actual bus/train stops. There's a lot more to it, and I'm sure there's more to get out of it, but my main revelation is that the website is part, but not all of the problem.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some website improvements would still go a long way, though.
PPS - I've ranted in this general direction before.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

BitTorrent for legitimate work purposes

I've been going through something painful at work over the past few working days. I'm transferring some very large database backups from a client network to our own network for testing. The experience leaves something to be desired. It goes like this:
  1. Back up databases (many hours)
  2. Zip databases for faster transfers (another several hours)
  3. Split zip files into 1GB pieces (because the server won't send the extraordinarily large files as-is)
  4. Copy the pieces to a web-accessible server (many hours)
  5. Download the pieces individually
  6. Reconstruct the full backup zip archives
  7. Unzip
  8. Restore databases
All the while, I need to babysit the connection, because the VPN times out if there's no activity for a certain amount of time.

I couln't help but think that the whole thing could be a great deal simpler with BitTorrent. After the databases are backed up (and probably zipped, because the compression helps a lot), if I could create a .torrent file and open it on both ends, then nobody needs to babysit the connection and I could leave it going over the weekend instead of wasting entire workdays waiting for downloads and manually copying files. In terms of the list above, steps 3 to 6 become things that happen while I'm sleeping. Doesn't that sound better?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know that's not quite the intention of BitTorrent, but it would work.
PPS - That's assuming both machines have direct internet access and BitTorrent is not blocked.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sarcasm mark

At first, I didn't pay much attention to the idea of the "sarcasm mark" that's been making news recently. It just sounded like a joke or scam, and since it's for sale, that kind of lends to that theory. All English fonts in the world would need to change, and all keyboards too.

Then I started to think that maybe they're onto something. Sarcasm in DVD subtitles often seems to be indicated with a bracketed exclamation mark "(!)", which is relatively clear in context. Using a sarcasm mark in the same way could become standard if people adopt it. The trouble is that in the meantime, we don't have any way to directly type such a mark in plain text. So the transition period is going to be difficult.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The sarcasm mark for sale does look a bit like a bracketed exclamation mark.
PPS - There's a picture in the linked article.

Friday, 16 April 2010

A personal VPN

There is some progress towards an internet operating system, by which I mean a highly standardised set of protocols for single-sign-on internet access to a virtual private network (VPN) of all our files and machines. There are several companies in position to start offering this, and they're all taking different approaches, if they're thinking about it at all. Microsoft's solution would grow straight out of Live Mesh, Canonical would use Ubuntu One, Google has a mishmash of data services that could suffice, and Apple of course has MobileMe with the bonus (for them) of tyrannical control of hardware too. And unless any of these services are built on open standards (unadorned by proprietary "enhancements") then any one of them winning would be bad for everyone. The ones most likely to build an open platform are probably Canonical and Google, though I wouldn't bet on either of them.

What I'm thinking of here is the reverse of the old workgroup structure. Traditionally, the "workgroup" or "homegroup" on Windows has corresponded to a LAN subnet, or a way of segregating locally-connected machines into groups that cannot talk to each other. What we need to start enabling is for people to join groups that span across LANs and the internet so that joining a workgroup from anywhere means being connected to those machines too. In other words, leave the subnet concept behind and start to think of VPNs instead. "My Computers" should be accessible to me from wherever I am, at work or at home, visiting family or on the road.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - These companies can offer the central sign-in authority for your VPN.
PPS - All except Google would probably be platform-specific.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Birthday Cake

This Zombie Girl birthday cake was made by an anonymous mother for her 8-year-old daughter's birthday party. Must have taken ages.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The brain and zombie parts are made from "rice cereal treat" and chocolate fondant.
PPS - Plus apparently some wooden dowels for structural support.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Photo synchronisation over the internet

I've been thinking about synchronisation software lately. I'm very happy with Dropbox, but I would also like to use it to keep my photos backed up and synchronised across all my machines. The things keeping me from doing that are the 2GB storage limit, bandwidth use and the fact that I can't sync external folders.

To get around the 2GB limit, I'd just have to pay 10USD per month for a 50GB plan. There may be a better way, so I'm not taking that plunge just yet. As for bandwidth, the Dropbox client can be set to limit its bandwidth usage rate, so I guess that's okay too. I just think that the act of transferring my 15GB of photos over the internet might raise some eyebrows in the IT department at work.

What I mean by the external folders problem is that I would have to keep my photos inside Dropbox instead of the My Pictures folders on my various machines, and I'd rather not do that, even if I had the space. Live Mesh might be a better option, and it neatly sidesteps the storage limit too, but it doesn't work on Linux, which is a dealbreaker for me.

I did write a program of my own to copy files in and out of Dropbox one at a time to distribute to all my machines, and I learned a few things in the process. First, sync software always has more problems than you think. Second, Dropbox is probably not the best way to go about that kind of transfer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I might look for a solution using rsync over a VPN.
PPS - That will probably also be harder than it sounds.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Transition to touch screens

Touch screens will change things in computing, but not before a confusing and weird transition period. I am of the opinion that touch screens will succeed only if they are flat on the table, but for now we have touch screens sitting upright like traditional monitors. A touch screen that lies down, or a two-monitor system with touch on the table and a stand-up monitor too, will feel more natural once touch is more at home in people's homes.

One thing that will be interesting is adaptive, personalised, touch screen keyboards. Depending on who is sitting at the machine, a touch screen can simulate a keyboard that is perfectly tailored not only to your individual typing style, but to your hands as well. It should be almost perfectly ergonomic that way. Keys can change size depending on how often you mis-strike them, and you can move them around to make them easier to find.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For hunt-and-peck typists, this would be a major blessing.
PPS - My guess is nobody's done it yet because there's not enough room on current touch devices.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Facebook chat fail

Facebook's own servers are supposed to handle XMPP chat traffic, and they have instructions for signing in with Pidgin, the client I'm using. Regardless, it's not working. I receive messages, but can't send anything back. The most frustrating part was that it didn't look like it failed - there was no delivery failure response, just silence. I'm pretty sure I did everything right, and it's not like this is some third-party workaround with plugins and external servers. This is signing into Facebook servers with instructions they provided. Maybe I just caught it on a bad day or something.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It sure would be nice if chat systems were reliable.
PPS - Most of them are, I guess.

Monday, 12 April 2010

A stuck garage door opener

Last week, Debbie and I had some trouble with our garage door opener. The entire thing ground to a very final halt while fully open and refused to budge again. We tried the emergency release in vain and couldn't get anyone out to repair it for four days. It's all fixed up now, though.

What concerned me most about the whole issue was this: how do you design a garage door opener with an emergency release mechanism that is so dependent on the motor that they both fail at once? It seems to me that if it's designed properly, the emergency release should be more likely to work when the motor fails.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It seems that Friday was when I posted my 2000th post to this blog!
PPS - I meant to make a big deal of it when that happened...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Implanted medic alert chips

I had a thought the other day that perhaps the best place to keep medical records is in implanted microchips. That way, instead of looking for an alert bracelet for allergies, testing for blood types or asking the family about organ donation, doctors can just read the microchip. Of course it's not as fail-safe as a bracelet (what if your electronic reader gizmo dies?), the family may have different opinions on organ donation and there's always the possibility of data corruption. Also, securing data that is always carried on you to broadcast on demand is pretty hard to secure. So it seems unlikely that anything like this will ever take off, but it's interesting to think about.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could store a fair bit of info there if you wanted.
PPS - Maybe it could work for some things.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Plants vs Zombies lawn ornaments

Some guy called Moose Gueydan created some Plants vs Zombies lawn ornaments that are pretty decent. If I had a lawn, I'd love to have some of these.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't know whether the pea-shooter pots were bought or painted that colour.
PPS - For all I know, Moose may be a potter who made these items himself.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Of course the prize is free

When some promotion turns up saying "Win a free Wii" or something similar, I wonder why the word "free" was included. Did someone in the marketing department say "Well, I like the 'Win a Wii' promotion idea, but do you think people will know they don't have to pay for it once they win? They might get confused."? Besides wanting to show up in search results for "free Wii", I can't think of any other motivation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I forget now where I saw this competition.
PPS - Obviously the brand didn't make an impression.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Little things

Little details matter, but there are so many little details that it is hard to tell which ones to focus on. You certainly can't process them all. So as cool as stories like Sherlock Holmes and TV shows like Psych and Lie To Me are, you can't just try to process little details to get at the underlying truth. You have to notice the right things.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess that's where training comes in.
PPS - Most of us are observant enough for our lives.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

DVD "licensing"

I don't want to sound like I'm harping on a theme, but I'd like to talk about DVDs again today. Publishers often like to claim that DVDs are licensed, not sold, or some such nonsense. When you're buying a DVD, they claim, you're really buying a license to play that movie in that designated region (and only on the devices the publisher approves). The problem I have with this situation is that it is the most abusive license you're ever going to enter into.

For instance, this license is dependent on your ability to maintain the physical disc you purchased. They've said before that if you want a backup to avoid losing the movie, you buy another disc. How it should really go, if DVDs represent a license, is that you should be able to trade in a broken disc for a working one of the same movie, free of charge. Or, if you choose to rescind your license to play the movie, you should be able to turn in the disc for a full refund of your "license fee" (ie purchase price). Neither of these actions are considered by movie publishers to be necessary or realistic. Given that observation, I think it's safe to conclude that the licensing propaganda is bogus.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If the license was not so abusive, would you still buy?
PPS - I might, if the refund clause was there.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Protected by RipGuard

Why would a DVD publisher advertise on the disc that it is "protected by RipGuard" or something similar? It's obviously not designed to appeal to the customer. Nobody is going to pick up that case and say "Awesome! I can do so much less with this disc than with my others! I'm gonna buy it right now."

So it is clearly meant as a warning: "if you buy this, you won't be able to rip it, so back off". In other words, the publisher prints "protected by RipGuard" on the case in order to sell fewer copies. Does that seem right? Of course it's part of a larger, more elaborate plot with the contradictory goal of selling more.

The other problem with simply implementing RipGuard is that it is likely sometime in the near future to become fully legal to rip DVDs for personal use. Once that's done, circumventing RipGuard will have to become part of every perfectly legal DVD ripping program around. And it's quite possible that will require some license fees or other inside knowledge.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's time media customers were treated with respect and not like criminals.
PPS - Because some of us want to watch movies on the train or bus to work.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Something is wrong with video on the web

I think there's something wrong with video on the web. Not the fact that we need plugins, or that the attempted standards to get around that are now embroiled in a format war. I think what is fundamentally wrong with video on the web is that you can't deep-link into it, nor can you quote a part of it. With web pages and text, we have well-established tools, methods and standards for either copying and displaying a subsection of some text or posting a link that goes right to the relevant section of a page. It's easy, it's standard and everyone knows how to do it, or can find out really quickly. When someone takes special steps to break that functionality, we ridicule them for it.

Video is the opposite situation at the moment. Quoting part of a web video - embedding just the 2 minutes out of 60 that appealed to you, for instance - is practically impossible. You'd have to download it, edit it, re-upload it and link to that, assuming you could get permission. Deep-linking is unheard of. Instead we quote timestamps. There is no standard way of displaying it. Not even YouTube can claim that. I think it's astonishing that video has come as far as this without solving these problems.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The web is made of links, above all else.
PPS - So I don't think it's unreasonable to expect this.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Prayer T-shirt

The Zombie Prayer t-shirt, available at Cafe Press, reads:

When I'm gone and six foot deep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
But should I come back from the dead,
Someone shoot me in the head.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd consider buying one, but then my wardrobe would really start to look zombie-themed.
PPS - And I like to think I'm about more than that.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

iPad to reduce demand for e-book readers

I'm not a futurist as such, but I like to speculate on the paths technology might take us, the unintended consequences of new tech and just plain old what-ifs. I'm thinking that once the world gets a taste of the Apple iPad, the recent crop of e-ink-based book devices like the Amazon Kindle will start to disappear. They may never go entirely away, but the demand for a device that can only read books is sure to diminish once we have devices with comparable battery life and big colour screens that can also play movies on the go.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Granted, it's going to be as much of a pain getting your movies on an iPad as on an iPod.
PPS - But there will probably be alternatives.