Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Facebook is a worry and a chore

Sometimes I find Facebook a chore, and sometimes it just seems like a bad place to be. For instance, there are things I might want to share on Facebook that aren't appropriate for people outside my family, and while I know I can set up the privacy settings and things like that, it's just more of a hassle than doing nothing. Sometimes I think my friends who have fewer people in their lists on Facebook have the right idea: limit yourself to those people who you want to share EVERYTHING with. Then there's never a question of whether or not you should post that photo or make that update. But then there are people who I want to remain connected to, but don't want to share absolutely everything with. In the end, it's just easier to keep things off Facebook than put them up, because keeping them private afterwards is too hard.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I like being on Facebook.
PPS - There are just some times when I wish it was different.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Managing anticipation

It can be difficult to manage a level of anticipation and excitement until an event. If you focus too much on one event, your time perception slows to a crawl and you get exhausted. If you try to ignore it to maximise your enjoyment as a new experience, you risk not being excited enough when the time comes, dulling your enjoyment.

For instance, I'm anticipating Portal 2 next year, and I'm keen to find out what it feel like to play, I also know that if I build it up too much it's going to be disappointing. Nevertheless, the gameplay and environmental videos I've seen so far make it look very interesting and probably a lot more complicated and difficult than the first one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I saw someone once who was let down by a new font.
PPS - Granted, he was a typeface nerd, but still. Disappointed by over-anticipation.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hotmail attachments

Hotmail (or "Windows Live Hotmail" to give its full marketese name) has rolled out some changes recently to the way it handles attachments. Instead of moving copies of copies of files around the web and clogging up its own servers, Hotmail now stores attachments in Skydrive ("Windows Live Skydrive") and sends just links in emails. What this means for Average Joe is pretty much nothing - it's going to work about the same as before.

What it means for Microsoft, however, is that it doesn't need to store twenty copies of every image that gets sent to twenty Hotmail users who receive the same email. That means less work and faster responses plus less disk usage on the servers. It might also mean forcing more users to sign up for Skydrive who receive emails from Hotmail users at accounts with other providers. In other words and in summary, it's a decent engineering solution with a very Microsofty catch.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may be pleasantly surprised if signing up to Skydrive is not needed.
PPS - And, really, it could go either way.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Guitar Hero as music notation

I wonder if kids growing up with games like Guitar Hero will expect a new and different form of written music when they come to learn real instruments. Maybe the "roadway" real-time view might come to replace traditional sheet music entirely for some instruments. Instead of sitting down with a paper book, you'd sit with an iPad or a computer screen to display the notes and timing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, displaying real, full musical scores like that might be a bit much.
PPS - Someone has probably already tried.

Friday Zombie Blogging - How not to survive

This week I present's guide to zombie survival tactics that will get you killed, though I think getting in that situation is not exactly a ticket to long life and happiness. Then, as a bonus, a guide to how iconic movie heroes would handle a zombie invasion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There seem to be a few odd "survives" predictions in that last list.
PPS - But since we're talking movie heroes and zombies, realism might have already left the building.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

eReader price war

As predicted, iPad sales seem to have sparked a price war between Amazon and Barnes & Noble for their ebook reader devices, which is good for consumers. I still like the look and concept of both platforms (tablet and e-reader, that is), and I would still prefer to use an ebook reader or touchscreen tablet for my Creative Commons PDF books than a netbook, if only because of the ability to do portrait orientation, but the prices are still a bit steep when there are format and DRM concerns to iron out. In the end, I'd probably go with the tablet because of its versatility. And I gravitate more to a reverse razor-and-blades arrangement where the device costs, but the content is free or cheap. The device price war, therefore, is focused on the wrong element, even though I welcome cheaper gadgets.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The ongoing cost of content always outstrips the device.
PPS - Like your bookshelf is far out-valued by the books on it.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A little poetry

Yesterday I found this little free-verse gem in my all-purpose writing file:
If this were a romantic comedy
I'd get out my umbrella
Just like when we met
But this time it's not raining
It would just be an excuse
To hold you close to me.
I should note that I have never met a girl this way, but the image is very meet-cute.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This may be one of the sappiest things I've ever written.
PPS - But I kind of like it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Australian vs UK broadband plans

A new coworker who has just moved back to Oz from the UK told me he had trouble adjusting to the internet plans here, and when he told me the deal he had, I was floored. The equivalent of $10 Australian per month for 24Mbps and no download limits. For comparison, I pay 4 times that for less than half the speed and (if it was downloading non-stop all month) about 1/125th the effective download cap.

So what's making Australian internet plans suck out loud by comparison with the rest of the world? I'll grant they're getting better, and if the National Broadband Network ever gets past the politics stage we might do better. Still, I want to find whatever is holding us back and hurt it a little.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We're begging for unlimited downloads here.
PPS - Meanwhile, in the USA, the unlimited plans might be on the way out.

Monday, 21 June 2010

It's cool to hate vuvuzelas

Vuvuzelas, those long, atonal trumpets played by thousands of soccer fans, are not getting a good reputation at the moment. So much so that there is a guide going around on how to silence them from FIFA World Cup broadcasts. It's a clever idea, and one I'm sure a few people will implement for themselves. A better idea, however, would be to implement it at the broadcast end, so the sound never gets to your TV in the first place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you're of the polar opposite opinion on vuvuzelas, you may like to fantasize about Vuvuzela Hero.
PPS - I'd actually expect Vuvuzela Hero to look more like SingStar than Guitar Hero.

Friday, 18 June 2010

All work, no pay

Bosses love to praise workers who spend extra hours for the company and ask for no extra pay. They call them "team player" or "model employee", but there are other terms for someone who works long hours for no pay: "workaholic" if it's by choice and "slave" if not. These model employees are either sick or mentally enslaved by the company, neither of which sounds praiseworthy to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then there are those that are literally enslaved.
PPS - Which is, of course, much worse.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Gingerbread Zombies

A while ago on BoingBoing, they featured these Left 4 Dead 2 gingerbread zombies of various shapes and sizes. They're fairly detailed, or at least I think so.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am not much of a sculpted food afficionado.
PPS - So I don't know whether this is more or less detailed than typical gingerbread.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Handling (fictional) forensic tests that destroy evidence

It amazes me when there is a forensic test that destroys evidence that the good guys always allow a small discreditable group of people to handle it alone. It's come up a few times in Bones when they recover a very small biological sample - just enough to run a DNA comparison once. When it comes to trial, all they have left is their report, and the lawyers on the other side insinuate that the evidence must have been fabricated because it no longer exists and only a few people saw it.

So why not, when such scant evidence is discovered, bring in a large group of third-party observers to the tests and preserve the whole process on video too? At least that way when the snarky prosecutor starts saying things like "if it even existed at all" the defense team can say "actually, over 30 other scientists observed the whole procedure, and we have three independent video records from start to finish, too".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would make me feel like someone is learning how to handle those situations.
PPS - The usual response is to be offended that someone would question your objectivity.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Where are the iPhone-compatibles?

I was wondering the other day: where are the iPhone-compatibles? When the PC industry took off, it was because some hardware guys bought some off-the-shelf components and started building desktop computers compatible with IBM configurations for a fraction of the cost. I guess what's standing in the way of the same kind of action for iPhones is proprietary everything in a tiny, well-engineered package. That doesn't mean you can't get a knock-off lookalike from a Chinese sweatshop, but I'll bet it won't run anything from the App Store or last even a third as long as the real deal.

And if someone legitimately tried to make a compatible non-iPhone, Apple would stomp them to the ground with a titanium sledgehammer of lawsuits before they even got to packaging the thing. Like it or not, Apple has taken over the smartphone space just like they took over portable music. There's not much hope of prying their iTunes claws out of music until DRM-free sales are the norm and it's easier to sync with any random player, but if another touch-screen smartphone ran App Store content, cost less and was otherwise indistinguishable, Apple's market share would start to shrink.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, it might make that whole App Store ecosystem less attractive.
PPS - Because then you'd never be quite sure which apps would run on your phone.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Vast monitor space and losing focus

It's funny as monitor space increases, the mouse and keyboard cursor are more easily lost. My eyes aren't focusing where my cursors are, so sometimes I'll take actions that don't track with what the computer thinks I'm looking at. You minimise this app and look somewhere else, but meanwhile Windows has decided that some other app on the opposite side of your vast monitor array is where you're looking. Hit delete to try and remove an old email and accidentally wipe out a character in a document you were writing. It's a moment of discord, not badly out of place, but enough to make it feel like you and the computer aren't cooperating. Suddenly it's not an invisible window into the world of information. It's the dumb box in the corner that can't tell the difference between deleting spam and editing a report. And it matters primarily because a computer should be invisible and should never surprise you in a bad way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I only have this problem at work.
PPS - At home my monitor arrangements are more singular than plural.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Facebook Likes Ambiguity

I hesitate these days to link my Facebook profile with some things, not because of any privacy issues but because it makes a weird phrase I can't contextualise. For example, I am a fan of the science fiction writing of Cory Doctorow, and in the past I could have expressed this on Facebook by "becoming a fan", which sounds okay. Since Facebook changed their system, however, my only option is to have my profile say "[Mokalus] likes Cory Doctorow". If you don't know who he is, that sounds weird. Moreover, do I like the man, his digital activist views, his science fiction or his posts on Boing Boing? You don't know, I can't say and Facebook doesn't care.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If that example is too obscure, consider a fan of Michael Jackson's music.
PPS - I guess the best option is to find specific books or albums to Like.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Meat

In Japan, for 399 yen, you can buy a package of "zombie meat" which is, apparently, peppered beef jerky dyed blue. Will it have lasting appeal, only be valued by zombie fans, or will everyone turn their noses up at what looks like chips of slate rock and probably tastes about as good?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think I've ever tasted any kind of meat jerky.
PPS - And I don't think I'll start with a novelty variety.

Rechargeable Li-ion batteries need standard sizes

I think it's about time rechargeable lithium-ion batteries got some size and voltage standards for use in portable electronics. Most of the mid-to-high-end stuff we buy in that space runs on these rechargeable batteries, all custom-designed by the manufacturers. You'll have a hard time convincing Nokia or Nintendo to go with a standard 5 Volt, Size 4 battery for phones and the next portable game console, mostly because of their replacement battery market and the fact that it makes their designs harder to modify, but it seems silly to throw out electronics once a year just because the battery can't hold a charge any more.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if battery technology improves, the standard sizes can still be used.
PPS - That's been happening with AA and AAA batteries for a long time now.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Phone paging system

Here at work we have a phone-based paging system, where reception can page you at your desk, and you can talk back without having to pick up the phone. In that way, it's better than disturbing the whole office, and it saves people running around trying to find someone. On the flip side, it's worse and more intrusive than the telephone. At least when the phone rings, you have the option whether to pick up or not. With the paging system, you're just automatically on the phone, because I say so, and you don't get to make the decision.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Can you imagine living in a world where all phones worked like that?
PPS - I don't want to try.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Denialism paranoia

In the middle of this article about "denialism" lies this tasty tidbit:
It is tempting to wonder if activists sympathetic to climate and evolution denial might be grasping opportunities to discredit science in general by spreading vaccine and HIV denialism.
So, having described how these "denialist" movements set themselves up as underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in conspiracy, the author gets a touch of paranoia and conspiracy theory himself. Look out, everyone: denialist movements are all part of a big conspiracy to weaken the public's trust in all-powerful Science! Aiee!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The statement may be made ironically.
PPS - I still prefer my interpretation.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

How to write a generic serial killer character

I'm going to assume for a moment that you are an aspiring mystery or crime fiction writer and that you are okay taking tips from someone who is not. That's going to make all this a lot easier and much less weird. There are five things every serial killer character needs: motive, victim selection, mode of death, trophies and body disposal.

Motive is kind of important. Beyond how things go down, this is why your fictional killer is the way he/she is. A tip: if your motive is "because he wasn't loved", you'll need to paint in a few more colours.

Victim selection is part of what keeps the police busy. They want to know why and how these specific people were chosen. Again, it needs depth. Opportunity helps, but there needs to be something twisty to it. Something that leaves the detectives staring at a whiteboard and getting nowhere until other pieces fall into play.

The mode of death that your killer chooses should be related to the motive. It's the outward expression of what he/she is trying to do, but is somehow incomplete.

Trophies are obviously what is kept to remember the victims. To some, they might be memories of the kill, but to others they may be a way of holding on to what the victim meant. More like a keepsake than a trophy, in that case.

Finally, how the killer cleans up after him/herself. Some would hide what they've done, ashamed and unable to face it. These are more likely to have keepsakes. Others like to taunt police, flaunting their alleged intelligence. They're more likely to make a display. When all else fails, think of motive. It all comes back to that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sometimes I've considered trying to write a book.
PPS - Nothing ever gets finished, though.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Secret societies in an internet age

Keeping large-scale secrets in an internet age is much harder than it used to be. I'm thinking in terms of government conspiracies and secret societies here. Because everyone can get information (or at least popular opinion) easily and quickly these days, it gets less and less likely that anyone is hiding anything really big. So if you're looking to keep your secret society a secret, it's probably best to assume that word is going to get out and figure out how to deal with it. My own instinct would be to hide among misinformation. If there are a hundred different versions of "the inside scoop" about a secret society, all of them conflicting and very few even believable, most people would tend to write it off as a paranoid fantasy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't believe anyone is actually doing this.
PPS - Or if they are, they're doing it really well.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Orchids

Matsumura Yoran has developed a technique for revivifying expired orchids. The undeadened flowers are being called "zombie orchids", and they have to be purchased from the company first. I don't know how you'd check whether you were returned your own orchids or just lookalikes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also suspect these "zombies" have little to no taste for brains.
PPS - Still, there's probably not a better term to use.

Voice synthesisers must be frustrating

If you had to use a voice synthesiser like physicist Stephen Hawking, I imagine you'd leave a few things unsaid in the course of a day, just because it takes longer to type them than would seem worthwhile. You'd probably want a dedicated button for each of a few very common phrases like "hello", "thankyou", "excuse me" and "sorry I ran over your foot with my wheelchair" but beyond that, I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to use such a device for all daily communication.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - On the plus side, if you're giving a speech, you could type it all out in advance then take a nap.
PPS - Assuming there are no typos, questions or technical problems.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Gut bacteria supplements and transplants

Might it be possible to supplement our gut flora with appropriate bacteria to make up for certain disorders related to diet? For instance, given inadequate vitamin C in the diet, what if we had vitamin-C-producing bacteria transplanted into our large intestine? It would be kind of like a scurvy vaccine.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might produce more problems than it's worth, though.
PPS - And I'm certainly not the one to be taking far-out medical advice from.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Privacy falsehoods

I read an article called "I've Got Nothing To Hide and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy" by Daniel J. Solove. It's interesting stuff, especially how he dissects the misconceptions behind the assertion that "if you've got nothing to hide [from government surveillance] then you've got nothing to fear".

He has to present a taxonomy of privacy failures as a way of talking about the actual problems we face, because, as he says, privacy is such a slippery concept to define that we run the risk of being too narrow or too broad in our definitions, and either miss something or lose coherence in the process. His taxonomy is based on the idea that privacy is not one concept, but a related family of concepts, the whole of which is not reducible to a single essential common kernel.

That got me thinking that, rather than one kernel, there must be several, not all of which are necessarily present in every case. That would be the bottom-up equivalent of the taxonomy, defining the essential bits that are present in many privacy concerns, and combining them in different ways to construct privacy scenarios.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't figured out what those aspects are.
PPS - Probably they contain Control and Anonymity.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Gaming can make a better world

I watched Jane McGonagal (via video) give a talk at TED about how gaming can make a better world. After establishing that we spend an extraordinary amount of time playing games, she posits some attributes this encourages, which pretty much add up to "social optimism" to me. She then went on to describe some AR games she designed to try and harness some of these attributes to change the world, which sounds cool, but none of the games she described struck me as fun, nor did they necessarily create the same optimism as other games, but more harness it as a fuel source.

That is, playing World of Warcraft, a game she references often in the talk, we build up optimism and a feeling of empowerment. Playing World Without Oil, her own game, we use that optimism and empowerment to do incredibly not-fun things like buy different groceries and not drive places. These AR games, to me, are either interesting fiction or crippling delusion, and nothing in Jane's talk made me believe that those things can change the world for good.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - None of this is to say that games can't make a better world.
PPS - I just don't think this is necessarily the way.