Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Paper note-taking will be here for a while

Paper note-taking and idea sketching is going to be around for a long time unless someone creates a system that can do just as well on computers. It will probably be on a tablet machine like the iPad, though it would likely work best where some kind of stylus is involved, for more natural drawing. Otherwise, trying to sketch things with a finger would feel more like trying to draw on a mirror with a sausage.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I frequently find myself with an idea I can't write out on computer.
PPS - The closest to paper is Paint, and that's just sad.

Monday, 30 August 2010

GMail and expired contact details

GMail has no notion of a retired email address. For instance, say a friend is changing jobs, so her work email is no longer valid. If I remove that address from her contact record, then anything she has ever sent me from work won't show up if I search for recent conversations with her. If I leave it there, it's polluting my contacts list with defunct addresses that I will never use again. The best solution I can think of is to rename it from "Work" to something like "DoNotUse". It's ugly, but it maintains the address association for historical records while reminding me that this is no longer a valid address (although it will only remind me when I look at my contacts, not when I type a name for an address).

What would be better, if GMail is going to hold all my email for all time, is to be able to mark email addresses (and perhaps other contact details?) as expired, while maintaining their association with contacts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This might not come up if I didn't have six years of email in archive.
PPS - I'm pretty sure I've dissociated other addresses from their owners, losing email along the way.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Visual Studio Lightswitch

Having just written about a need for rapid database prototyping, along comes a beta version of something from Microsoft called Visual Studio Lightswitch. Now, it's not so much focused on model-based data prototyping, but it is configured for very fast data-driven application design and implementation. It's a great idea, though I'm not totally sure it belongs as a separate application. Perhaps the niche they're trying to fill is one step above Access but below fully-custom code.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is more like rapid user interface development for databases.
PPS - I assume the name is meant to imply the simplicity of switching on a light.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Sand is creepy

From the site Epic Win FTW, today's offering is a sand sculpture of zombies with tombstones. To me, it looks kind of like a zombie family portrait.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Say cheese!
PPS - Or maybe "say brains"?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Parking phone calls vs transferring

From what I've seen, "call parking" is more common and far easier to understand than call transfers on office phone systems. As long as the volume of transferred calls is small enough never to overflow the one or two "parked call" buttons, it's much easier to just park a call, call the forwarding extension, then explain that so-and-so is waiting on Park 1. This also has the advantage of allowing the forwarding party to pick up again if there is no answer, and for the call to wait a few seconds until the new recipient is ready. To see how much more intuitive it is, try drawing a diagram of call forwarding without using an extra location for the call that waits in limbo to be transferred.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In case you're not familiar, "parked" calls are just on hold.
PPS - And anyone can pick up.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Quickflix's good record with scratched discs

Recently I seemed to be getting more damaged discs from Quickflix, but rather than complain right away, I thought I'd look at the data. I loaded the website, copied my entire rental history and pasted it into a spreadsheet so I could see how many discs were damaged. Over the course of our membership, we have rented 334 discs. Of them, it seems only 7 have been damaged beyond watching, and every one was replaced. I know there were one or two that didn't get watched past the damaged portion, and at least once we sent back the damaged replacement and just rented the same title from Video Ezy. Still, 7 out of 334 is a pretty darn good record, and I'm glad I checked the data before making any emotional response. Keep up the good work, Quickflix!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The most recent damage was Michael Moore's "Sicko".
PPS - I've sent it back twice now.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Model-based Database Prototyping

If there's one software project idea that keeps coming back to taunt me, it's this: rapid database prototyping. I got hooked on database modelling with a relatively obscure approach called Object Role Modelling. The industry standard is either creating database tables directly or Entity Relationship modelling, which is pretty much the same thing. My Big Idea is to use ORM to draw domain object relationships, then have the program transform it into mock-up database tables as well as prototype user interface code.

None of that is too groudbreaking, and you could do it fairly easily with existing tools. The next step is to modify the domain model and have the tools update the prototype code while retaining as much test data as possible. That's not so easy, but it's also not impossible. I could probably manage it with data dumps, new scripts and manually-written data migration, though I imagine that would get tedious. Given what exists already, perhaps all I need is an assistant tool for data migration between different database schemas.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If that makes any sense.
PPS - Data migration isn't so easy.

Monday, 23 August 2010

DVD rental by vending machine

Twice now I've seen DVD rental vending machines, so it seems high time I write about them. What's the business model? Clearly it's something between Quickflix (subscription-based, no late fees) and bricks-and-mortar (one-time costs plus late fees) where you get your movie and just pay for how long you keep it. I haven't seen anyone use them, so I don't know what kind of sleeves or cases the discs come in, though I'm betting on clear sleeves with some kind of barcodes.

The two different brands of machine also appear to have different strategies for getting your money: the first offers your first rental free, the second takes your credit card right away. In the long run, both would end up about the same income for owners. The last questions are things like quality. Are these discs more likely to be scratched and abused? What's your recourse if the disc is damaged when you get it? Do they come after you if you keep returning discs in scratched condition?

Personally I'm still waiting for the rather obvious business model of "burn on demand" for less-popular titles. Would it really be such a big hassle for a publisher to offer barebones DVDs burned on demand for those who want them? They might cost more, but the individual enthusiasts might be quite willing to pay more for their favourite niche-popularity movies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Another thing: how many of each movie do they have available?
PPS - If they were burnt on demand, that wouldn't matter.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cartooning memories to make them stick

I wonder if memories from your life would stick better if you cartoon them. It wouldn't take much, and I'm a pretty visual person, so I guess it would help. I wonder mostly because I remember The Simpsons more than my own life sometimes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It may just be that I watched a lot of Simpsons in my life.
PPS - Over and over and over...

Friday Zombie Blogging - Pirates of the Caribbean 4

Johnny Depp claims Pirates of the Caribbean 4 will contain zombies of some kind. Not sure yet if this just means the same "zombies" from the first film or some new, actual zombie pirates. Wait and see, I guess.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The zombies from the first movie were more like "conveniently immortal".
PPS - That's what it seemed like to me.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Replacing street addresses

I wonder if street addresses are on the way out. GPS makes it easier to use satellite coordinates, and we'd avoid the problems currently cropping up where suburb boundaries shift and different systems have different maps. I know of a few places where most GPS maps think a street is in one suburb and the post office thinks it's in another.

Of course, both of those problems can be fixed by smarter search (that doesn't depend on an exact suburb match) and always-online maps, so we're more likely to see advancements in maps and search rather than wholesale replacement of the old system.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd love to have Google Maps built into my car stereo.
PPS - But that's another story.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Is "meh" an opinion or nothing? If it were no reaction at all, it wouldn't be audible, so it is a reaction of indifference. "I have noticed this and while it affected me enough to respond, it didn't make any other impact on me." So why respond that way actively when no response at all expresses your indifference even better? The only reason must be to make sure someone else knows that what they've said is a pointless waste of your time. That seems kind of harsh to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Someone is sure to say "meh is just meh, you know?"
PPS - To them I say "meh".

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Things not to do on a treadmill

I had a moment of extreme stupidity at the gym last night that I thought might amuse people. It's the kind of thing that could easily end up on YouTube, only I didn't fall down. Picture four treadmills side by side. I'm on the second and Deb is on the fourth. We're both moving, and Deb tries to hand me her rings for safe keeping, mine being the only pockets around. I try to reach across with my open hand, and one of the rings slips, tumbling back past me and off the treadmill.

My first reaction, as it would be if I were running outside, was to turn around to get it. On a treadmill, it turns out, that's not such a good idea. After a second or two of what I imagine now as "hilarious arm waving and backwards running in place" I manage to drop off the back of the treadmill, retrieve the ring and smile sheepishly at the horrified attendant. The only apology I can offer for my actions is "Wow, that was really stupid."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I got back on another treadmill after shutting that thing off.
PPS - I imagine I've given the staff something to talk about too.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A scientific war dwarf

I was playing City of Villains with Deb and Anthony on Sunday night, and we were discussing an irregularity in one of my characters. Basically, he looks like a barbarian dwarf, with a war hammer and a shield, but he got his powers through a "Science" origin. We discussed as follows:

Anthony: "So why is your mace/shield barbarian guy is Science origin?"
Me: "I don't know. I haven't figured out his story."
A: "He bashes people on the head, for Science?"
M: "Perhaps he was accidentally brought to the present through some time-travel experiment."
A: "But that doesn't explain the origin of his powers, just his presence."
M: "His powers came through the experiment. With Science."
A: "Science is awesome."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Science is awesome.
PPS - Especially if it can bring super-powered barbarian dwarfs into the present.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Dropbox incident

A few days ago, I manually reset one of my computers during a Dropbox update. What I didn't realise at the time was that it would cause files that were halfway downloaded to be subsequently uploaded in a corrupted state. Fortunately, three things allowed me to fix it: Dropbox has a previous versions restoration feature, the corrupted files were uploaded at zero size and I was able to write a program to search out empty files to manually restore. Crisis averted!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never been so thankful for backup before.
PPS - One of the affected files was my blog drafts backlog.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Plants vs Zombies update

Popcap's Plants vs Zombies, after some quiet complaints from the estate of Michael Jackson, have removed the Jackson "Thriller" parody zombie from the game and replaced it with a fairly generic disco zombie. I'm in two minds about the move. On the one hand, I understand that they want to be respectful and honour the wishes of those who represent Jackson now. On the other hand, he did kind of start it. Back in the 80s.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - PvZ is also now available on XBox Live Arcade.
PPS - I couldn't find the disco zombie update article again.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sophistication and efficiency

Sophistication is inefficient. To settle the bill at a restaurant, if it's a classy place, I ask for the bill, the waiter brings it, I look it over and give them my credit card, they take it away and swipe it, then they come back with the receipt that I must sign, then they take it away again and we're done. All this for the privilege of not walking a few metres from the table. Doesn't seem like the best way to do things.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless your definition of "best" is "never mention money".
PPS - Or "never walk to complete a transaction".

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The New Teaching

I've read and heard that old-school preaching and lecturing is out, in favour of participatory interactive dialogue. It does make sense that this is how people think, and it further makes sense to attempt to work with that if that's your audience. However, if your audience won't sit still for 30 minutes to get the hang of a deep idea, then only the shallow ideas can be conveyed. If your audience passes out from boredom after 30 seconds, our next generation won't know how to operate our nuclear power plants, build rockets or, for that matter, drive a car or bake a cake.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If it can't be learned in 30-second chunks, it can't be conveyed this way.
PPS - Most advanced skills and ideas fit that description.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

In-store recipe database

At IGA on Sunday night I saw a touch-screen computer that intrigued me as I went past, so I brought Deb back for a look. It had categorised recipes you could browse, including images, and a facility to construct a shopping list for selected recipes, then print it out. The funny thing is that's almost exactly what Deb described to me as her ideal recipe database for home. I guess it makes a lot of sense that way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So I suppose now I have to duplicate that for home.
PPS - I doubt IGA would provide it for download.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Movie Prototyping

The extra features on the Meet the Robinsons DVD explained that, from the start of movie development, they storyboarded the entire thing, start to finish, and test-screened that "movie". That got me thinking about the comparisons between that approach and software prototyping. The sooner you get something in front of users, the better your feedback and the easier it is to change.

Movie prototyping wouldn't go quite like that, because they're different, but the approach has its hooks in me. The most positively-received parts of the movie get more work done, the least-popular parts get cut, then redo and rescreen. You'd get cheap feedback quickly and you'd know whether you're on a winner or not *before* you spend millions making the finished product. A dud might only cost you several thousand dollars, then gets discarded unfinished. If the movie industry is truly struggling to make money (they're not) then movie prototyping is exactly what they need to do.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You'd probably have to prototype the script along with the movie.
PPS - It would be a very different way to work.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Ideas vs execution

It's the execution of an idea, not the idea itself, that makes fiction compelling. If it were the originality of the idea, then a bad author handling a good idea would be far more entertaining than a good author with an ordinary idea. Similarly, no movies would ever be remade because the idea has already been done before (and there would be far fewer sequels too). The world would have only one love song, one painted portrait, one photograph of a sunrise and (blessedly) one romance novel if the only thing that mattered about art was unique ideas. But that's obviously not the case, because we are willing to go and see the "plucky ordinary hero defies the odds and brings down the arrogant, evil villains" movie over and over.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm pretty sure there would only be one episode of many TV shows, too.
PPS - Like Bewitched.

Friday Zombie Blogging - A confusing car crash

A group of people dressed as zombies got into a car crash. Their gore makeup greatly confused onlookers and led them to believe the crash was far more serious than it actually was.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They could easily have had some fun with that.
PPS - Assuming they weren't actually injured, that is.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Practice makes imperfect

Why is practice looked down on? A singer who has had lessons is less respected than someone who is self-taught. A dancer who was never coached gets our raised-eyebrow nod of approval, but the one who worked hard at it for years gets the dismissive comments like "Yes, she's good, but she's had lessons." We seem to prefer raw talent even over that same talent honed by rehearsal.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I admit it's more impressive to be good at something without being taught.
PPS - But sometimes that gets carried a little further than it should.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

How to address a stranger

How do you address a stranger? If it's a man, you call him "Sir". If it's a woman, you're out of luck. Say "Miss" and you offend the married ones, "Mrs" and you offend the unmarried ones. "Ms" is just weird and "Ma'am" offends just about everyone. The only other one I can think of is "M'Lady" which is too old-fashioned to be taken seriously.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe we need something new.
PPS - Same as we need a gender-neutral impersonal pronoun.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Politicians and elections

We're coming up on an election in Australia, and I'm already more informed than usual about this one because I know the date more than a week in advance. But I want to know more from our potential representatives this time. I want to know why they want this particular servant position. I want to know what specific humility makes them perfect for the job. I suspect the only thing they have to tell me is that they are the alternative to that horrid person over there from the opposing party.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that elections make me feel simultaneously uninformed, antisocial and somewhat ashamed of humanity's lowest common denominator. But I really would like to know what they stand for (as opposed to what and who they stand against) and whether they are prepared to do what's right over what's popular.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've considered emailing the candidates.
PPS - But I rarely make it two sentences before it turns to berating.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Calendar privacy and synchronisation

I use my calendar extensively and for a very long time I have been synchronising it between my phone and Google Calendar via Outlook. It has a long history of events on it, some of them private. Now at work they would like me to share my calendar, mostly so they can check availability for meetings and things. This brings to light some deficiencies in the Outlook calendar sharing process.

First, my only options for sharing a calendar involve total secrecy or total access. There is no middle ground where people can see that I am busy but not with what. Second, I can't check my settings by seeing my own calendar through someone else's permissions before I apply them. That would prevent me exposing anything I'd rather keep private and would allow me to do so without inviting a co-worker to check out my calendar just to see if it worked.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My Google calendar is marked as private by default.
PPS - But that setting does not carry across to Outlook during synchronisation.