Friday, 30 July 2010

Centralised retail rewards

I wondered a while ago about fully-centralised retail reward programs. At the moment, at least in Australia, we have Fly Buys, Woolworths Select and any number of other loyalty and reward programs fragmented across the retail space. Each has its own card, its own count of reward points and its own catalogue. Wouldn't it be more convenient, I thought, to have just one program that every retailer joins? Then we could carry just one card, accumulate points much faster (since all purchases count towards that one program) and not have to worry about which retailer will give us points in which program. It would certainly be a big win for customers.

Then, of course, the other shoe dropped and I realised retailers wouldn't want that specifically because it removes any incentives of choice. There's no advantage in going to one place over another, so they'd have to compete on things like price and service. Ew.

So I thought a little further. What customers want is rewards points, as many and as fast as possible. What retailers want is money. What rewards programs want is data: shopping habits of the domesticated human. This can work for everyone, but it would require a change. If the one big rewards program paid retailers directly to collect the data, then everyone gets something they want, and the one rewards program can operate everywhere. The one question remaining is whether the rewards program can make more money selling shopping data than they have to pay to retailers to gather it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And, I suppose, whether money is worth more to retailers than the data.
PPS - Though there's nothing stopping them gathering their own data.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Fitness

Zombie Fit classes aim to get you fit enough to survive the zombie apocalypse. All gimmick, but probably fun.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At first I thought "Zombie Fit" would be about rigor-mortis calisthenics.
PPS - Which don't really go together.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Surveillance and morality

Reading an interesting article on the effect on morality of surveillance, I start to get the point. Doing what's right because you fear being caught is still a moral loss: you would do it, but you are held back by intense self-interest. Conversely, wanting to do what's right is a moral win. With surveillance everywhere, our moral compass atrophies until all our actions are guided by fear of being caught - as the article says, we go on "moral auto-pilot". The end result, as I see it, would be people who don't even know what's right and wrong, so when faced with the choice in the absence of any surveillance will just choose at random or for greatest convenience. They're not doing wrong or doing right, they're just doing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The mental image conjures up babies rather than psychopaths.
PPS - And that's the article's point: surveillance stunts our moral growth.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gadget bag organisation with elastic-covered board

I find this idea, an elastic-covered board for in-bag gadget organisation, quite intriguing, though I don't have a lot of items in my bag that would benefit from this kind of organisation tool. And the price isn't bad, either. Still, it seems like exactly the kind of thing an enterprising Maker could put together with a little elastic, velcro, felt, foam and wood. Plus, the end result would be reconfigurable, which is a bonus. My guess, however, is that materials costs would outweigh the commercial version and then labour on top would make the DIY version a financial net loss. Still, an intriguing project.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The product is called "Grid It".
PPS - The commercial versions are only about $15.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sick and singing don't mix

This week I got too sick to sing at church on Sunday, and it got me thinking. When I travel, I often get sick, and traveling and singing is pretty much what touring musicians do. So either they've got better infection control than me, or they know how to take better care of their voices. Probably a combination of the two. It's got to be a big deal for a singer to get sick on tour, because they don't exactly have an understudy they can send on for the night while they recover.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Deb suggests that they might just lip-sync for a while.
PPS - But those kinds of singers are probably doing that without being sick.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Windows screenshot procedure needs updating

Windows should be configurable to save screenshots automatically as image files rather than always copying directly to the clipboard. My reasoning is this: if you've ever taken a screenshot, what's the very first thing you did with it? Wait, let my psychic powers tell me: you opened up Paint and pasted the screenshot in so you could view it. If it was good enough, you saved it. Now tell me how different that is, functionally, from Windows saving the screenshot directly to a file (say, in a "My Pictures\Screenshots" folder) and you reviewing, editing or discarding them later. For very simple screenshots, taken many at a time, this would be just perfect.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure there are programs to do this.
PPS - But the point is to ask why it has to be a third-party program at all.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Harsh crime penalties

In Thailand, so my hearsay network informs me, if you park illegally, you get a $5000 fine ... and your car gets melted. There's very little illegal parking there. Similar harsh penalties apply in other Asia/Pacific nations noted for low crime rates. While you can't argue with results like that, there would be a few other issues to consider. One, are they always right when they melt a car? Two, is this power ever abused? Three, are basic human rights violated by these kinds of laws?

If you get your lips cut off for telling a dirty joke or your hand minced for thinking about stolen bread, what does that do to the general population and their state of mind? Somehow I doubt it's always clear-cut black and white about who is a criminal mastermind who deserves being hung upside down over a tank full of sharks with lasers attached to their heads and who is not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might also mean your police forces catch all the petty criminals but miss the organised crime bosses.
PPS - Maybe some governments are okay with that.

Friday Zombie Blogging - The Musical!

Zombie! The Musical! Enough said! More exclamation marks!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was a while ago now. It might not be playing any more.
PPS - There's still a YouTube behind the scenes clip, though.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Now with extra Science!

I've recently seen TV ads for acne cream that include the phrase "its advanced science helps blah blah" which makes me picture the packaging including a big bright starburst proclaiming "Contains Science!" I'd love to have stickers like that to put on, say, items at the supermarket or random things around town like telephone poles.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And especially my computer.
PPS - Unfortunately a search for "science cream" doesn't turn up anything interesting.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Every movie loses money

Apparently there have been a couple of court cases recently where it's been revealed how Hollywood companies cook their books and set up shell corporations so that the bottom line of every single movie is a net loss while the parent corporation remains filthy rich.

Basically it goes like this: every movie is made under a separate organisation, owned by the parent company. That individual movie company is charged enormous fees by the parent company so that the balance sheet comes out negative. At that point, the parent company disbands the small company, pockets the profits and tells a sob story to anyone who's entitled to a share.

Jurors aren't buying it because who would? Under even the most incompetent cross-examination it would have to come out that the parent company gets the money that was "lost" and both companies are one and the same.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Exploiting loopholes like that always looks crooked.
PPS - That's because it's evil.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How would Die Hard 4 actually play out?

I've just recently watched Die Hard 4.0 (also known in America as "Live Free or Die Hard") and I wonder what would happen if anyone actually managed to pull off such a "Fire Sale" internet take-over event. In all probability, in my mind, there would be anarchy for a while ... and then not. As these sad little kings sit on their sad little stolen electronic hill, a good proportion of the population would adapt, abandon electronic infrastructure and go back to semi-rural lifestyles. Let the tiny dictators have their irrelevant kingdom. The rest of us will be over here growing crops, trading handcrafts and ignoring you. Yes, life will be harder that way than it is today, but it would be harder still to cling to a digital lifestyle if it were run by an evil dictator. And if there's one thing humanity is good at, it's the path of least resistence.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, for many people, the path of least resistence will be to kill and eat their neighbours.
PPS - So let's not try any of this today. Or tomorrow.

Monday, 19 July 2010

GMail and too-subtle links

I use GMail all the time, and I'm quite happy with it, aside from a couple of things. First, when I need to send email, it always takes me a few seconds to find the Compose link. It somehow gets buried with the labels and folders links on the left. The same goes for the Contacts link - always a few seconds of searching before I land on it. And I'm not stupid, nor am I an infrequent GMail user, as I said before. So how does a website I use every day manage to confuse me enough that I keep losing functions on the interface?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - All I seem to remember is that they're on the left.
PPS - Having blogged about it, I'll probably have cured myself.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Ramps vs stairs

Just a quick thought: ramps are fun, stairs are not. Ask any six-year-old. In fact, just about any method of getting from down here to up there is more fun than stairs. Explain that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My guess is that ramps offer more easy-going freedom.
PPS - On stairs, you step exactly this high. On ramps, you can run.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Chainsaw bayonet

This week's weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse: a chainsaw "bayonet". Impractical, unwieldy, inconvenient and certainly not stealthy, yet somehow irresistible.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The video doesn't offer a very close-up view.
PPS - The chainsaw in this case seems to be electric.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

MasterChef is the friendliest reality TV

Debbie recently observed that MasterChef seems to be more friendly among the contestants than other reality TV shows, and from what I've seen, I agree. My only theory is that it's because they don't vote each other off and there's no strategy besides being the best chef. Granted, not everyone will excel at every challenge, and sometimes they'll have bad days, but there's never any advantage in backstabbing or playing politics, so nobody bothers. It's refreshing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or maybe cooking attracts a better class of person.
PPS - Could be both.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Human billboards

Recently I've seen people walking around with "billboard backpacks", occasionally handing out flyers or business cards for local businesses. The billboards are about as wide as their shoulders and extend about that same distance over their heads. I want to ask those people if they feel demeaned being turned into a walking billboard. It can't be much fun to draw attention to yourself that way purely for the sake of a business. I suspect most of them are backpackers taking temporary gigs for the sake of a few extra dollars.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I also want to ask them if they fall over in strong winds.
PPS - That would be just one safety hazard of carrying a sail on your back.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Simulating high-speed cameras

Could multiple cameras running at high speed be used together to produce an even higher frame rate? They'd have to be properly synchronised, and preferably placed close together, but I think it should be possible. If we assume that, what's the limit? How fast a camera can we simulate by adding more synchronised high-speed cameras into the mix? Do you need a synchronisation program as fast as your intended combined frame rate, or can you make do with random differences between cameras? If it's possible, you wouldn't need to design a single camera to run at 1000fps, but could make do with two or three cheaper ones running at much lower (and more attainable) frame rates.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think I have a need for very high frame rate cameras.
PPS - Few people would, I suppose.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Pumpkin Scone Conspiracy

Over the weekend was my birthday, and one of the foods I really enjoy are pumpkin scones. Now, although pumpkin scone recipes are not hard to come by, good recipes seem to be few and far between, if you can find them at all. Debbie and Beth made pumpkin scones for me that were superb fresh out of the oven, but they had to tweak the recipe to make it work properly. The conclusion we all reached, between bites of hot buttered scones, is that all the little-old-lady recipes have been sabotaged in some way, misreporting an amount of one ingredient, overstating the cooking time or some other fudge-factor, and all this in order to make sure "nobody makes scones quite as good as Mrs Whoever". Just think about that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It may not be a coordinated conspiracy, but that doesn't make it unreal.
PPS - One day we may weep for the lost knowledge of scone-baking.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Debit Visa/Mastercard and undesirable fees

Some retailers have (reportedly) stopped accepting Visa Debit cards (and presumably Debit Mastercard too) because the fees make it an undesirable prospect for a retailer to accept such things. I wasn't aware that the fees were so different between credit and debit cards, but it makes sense for retailers to refuse them in that case. They don't have to pay high fees to financial institutions just to make their customers happy, but it's kind of in their best interests. What's in Visa and Mastercard's best interests, however, is to make the style of card a non-issue to retailers, mostly because their advertising and whole concept for these cards is to use your own money where credit is usually the only option. If big retailers stop accepting them, then slogans like "Accepted everywhere Visa is" have to be dropped, and suddenly the appeal to consumers is lost too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a good idea that just needs a little work.
PPS - Woolworths, contrary to some reports, still accepts these cards.

Friday Zombie Blogging - BZW2010

Brisbane Zombie Walk 2010 is ON! Sometime in October, everyone who's willing and able will be taking to the streets of Brisbane cleverly disguised as the walking dead. I should go again this year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Last year they set a world record.
PPS - I think that record has since been broken.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Technology: You're Doing It Wrong

Technology is meant to be a tool to enrich our lives and enable us to do more with less. Instead, too often we enjoy technology for its own sake, and embrace anything new not because it will help us but because it is new. Then we unconsciously use it to isolate ourselves instead of connecting. What do you actually want to do with Twitter and why? Same with Facebook. Rather than switch it all off, though, question yourself before you use it each time: is it enabling me or isolating me?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm pretty sure I started this blog just because it was cool at the time.
PPS - And I joined Facebook because a critical mass of my friends did.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Apple vs freedom and how it works for you

The obvious advantage of Apple controlling everything you can and can't do with your phone, plus being the only manufacturer of hardware and software is that the idea of "system requirements" for apps can be reduced to a handset or OS version number in the worst possible scenario. In the Android space, different phones have different capabilities so it can be harder to determine if a particular app is going to run on your phone or not. At that point you get into the realm of real system requirements and possibly compatibility checkers, and by then most users will throw up their hands in confusion and go buy an iPhone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Again I go on about the iPhone.
PPS - You know I'll end up with one eventually.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Music technology for portability

With electronics ever-improving, the portability of what could be called a musical instrument will only increase. I saw someone on the train playing the drums with his thumbs on his iPod Touch. We can play Guitar Hero on our Nintendo DS consoles and if you use the right software, any laptop is a sythesiser. I also glimpsed an ad for a "Paper Jamz" electronic toy guitar that I guess is comparable in weight and thickness to cardboard.

So sometime in the not-too-distant future, I expect it will be possible to carry a guitar, piano or almost anything just about anywhere, folded up small enough to fit into a pocket, and wirelessly connected to a media player for sound output. It won't be exactly like traditional instruments, but that is never the point with new technology.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only I knew how to play anything.
PPS - None of my self-teaching experiments ever got far.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Skin care science

Either skin science has been progressing rapidly and consistently for decades or they're lying to us. Every couple of months there is a "new revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against aging", but what actually changes? Are the creams, lotions and moisturisers you use today that much better than what you had a year ago? Five years? How about what your mother used? I call shennanigans on the whole industry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If every breakthrough was truly so, today's skin care would be orders of magnitude more impressive than in the past.
PPS - That's not to say there aren't good products, but not every one of them can be "revolutionary".

Friday, 2 July 2010

Six Degrees of Joss Whedon

Nathan Fillion played Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly and also Caleb the priest on Buffy.
David Boreanaz played the vampire Angel on Buffy and then on the spin-off Angel.
Gina Torres played Jasmine on Angel as well as Zoƫ Washburne on Firefly.
Alan Tudyk played Hoban Washburne on Firefly and appears in Dollhouse as Stephen Kepler.
Eliza Dushku plays Echo on Dollhouse and also rogue slayer Faith on Buffy.
Charisma Carpenter played Cordelia Chase on Buffy as well as on Angel.
Amy Acker played Winnifred Burkle on Angel, then Dr Claire Saunders on Dollhouse.

It just goes on like this.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure there's anyone who's been in every one of Joss Whedon's shows.
PPS - I tried to stick with characters who actually encountered each other.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Dice

Demonstrated at PAX East this year was Zombie Dice, a quick, simple and sounds-like-fun game involving rolling dice for figurative brains. First to 13 points wins, but you only get your points if you roll less than three shotgun blasts before you declare your turn over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could play a similar game with home-made equipment, I'm sure.
PPS - But it would be better if the dice came up "brains" rather than "three".

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Club Train

I think it would be kind of cool to set up a Club Train that starts at Central, runs a loop and heads off again. You could serve drinks and have music and lights, plus big soft couches along the sides of the carriage to sit in. The biggest problems, I suppose, would be getting people drunk and allowing them not only to try and dance in a moving vehicle but navigate on and off a train during the night. Still, I kind of like the idea. It's the sort of thing I imagine when I'm on a crowded train heading home in the evening.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Imagine seeing that thing go doof-doofing past your station.
PPS - There are problems with the idea, but it's a fun thought.