Thursday, 30 September 2010

Audio bird dictionary

There's a kind of "book" that is only possible with modern technology: a reverse audio dictionary. By that I mean a way of looking up definitions by sounds that can't be written down. You could have an audio dictionary where you look up, say, "magpie" and hear its various sounds, but only with a microphone, a database and a little software processing could you play a sound and identify it. This has been done a few times now, with music, birds and probably some others, and it's one of those ways we skipped books for passing on expertise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Without this, your only option is finding an expert.
PPS - Or not bothering at all.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Mobile plan data inclusions as standard

I am happy to discover that data inclusions are more common on mobile phone plans these days. When the iPhone first came out and included data was a synonym for iPhone, I was kind of bitter about it. There was nothing special about the iPhone's ability for mobile internet, but arm-twisting mobile providers into including a download allocation made it seem revolutionary. And it was, in a way, but to tie it exclusively to the iPhone hardware was nonsense. Now, finally, it seems like we're at the point where we admit other phones can use the mobile web too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As usual, I'm a little behind on this one.
PPS - I always get into stuff just as it's finishing being cool.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Search vs browsing

A search feature, if done well, is a good way to get to exactly what you want, quickly and easily. But the whole of human experience is not built on getting only what you're looking for. Lots of what we come to love gets accidentally discovered while browsing at random. It's a more time-intensive activity where things are not necessarily handed to you on a silver platter, but it can lead to some very rewarding experiences. This is why so many web catalogues need categories, featured products and suggestions. Search is only half the picture.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only Google equivalent is the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
PPS - Or maybe Google Reader Play.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Running red lights, pedestrian crossings and blind people

I wonder if drivers would be more careful at pedestrian crossings if they saw a blind person standing there. When I cross the road outside the train station in the morning, I frequently see people run the red light, even after my pedestrian crossing light has gone green. I just wonder whether they would take more care if it looked like I would be responding instantly and automatically to the alert that sounds when the lights change.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps some day I'll try carrying a white cane to see what happens.
PPS - I'll have to establish some kind of baseline statistic first, though.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Before and After movie ratings

After being pleasantly surprised by the movie Easy A, I tried to come up with a before-and-after movie scoring system that would take surprise enjoyment and bitter disappointment into account.

Before seeing a movie, rate it out of five (no half scores) on how much you expect to enjoy it. Afterwards, rate it again on how much you did enjoy it. The final score is your after score squared divided by the before score. This means movies get a bonus if you go in with low expectations but are pleasantly surprised, and that you'll get a very low rating for being disappointed.

The disadvantage of the system, of course, is that it still gives a pretty big bonus to the low-expectations movies. The best score you can get for something you expected to be great is "5", but you get almost the same for a 1-before-2-after movie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So this might not be quite right yet.
PPS - But I think movies that exceed expectations should get extra credit.

Friday Zombie Blogging - A movie meta-poster

New website has a zombie poster depicting a zombie hand made up of distinct zombie movie, book or video game titles:

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Cool, isn't it?
PPS - It'll be interesting to see what other things they offer.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Communal amenities

What home services could be centralised? I think in a block of units (or a group of townhouses) it would be easy enough to fit one large air conditioning system for the whole building, and probably more efficient too. Same goes for hot water, in theory, though you might need internal hot water meters to divide that part of the electric bill fairly. I know some places have communal laundry rooms and when you get right down to cheap student housing you start getting shared bathrooms and lounges.

My point is that if we start overcrowding and also try to conserve energy and other resources, our current ideals of free-standing houses with private gardens and separate amenities is going to start looking pretty wasteful of both space and energy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most eco-house concepts still seem to be free-standing.
PPS - Green living in a society really wouldn't look like that.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Act different to think different

Rules inform behaviour; behaviour becomes habit; habit gets rationalised; rationalisations become attitude; attitudes become character. Usually we look to modify behaviour from the top down, changing our attitudes first, and hoping that the effect will flow down. The thing is that an attitude is a hard thing to change, especially when your actions aren't already backing it up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My own attitudes change more easily in response to my actions.
PPS - You really should try it both ways and see what works.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Just another DRM failure

The HDCP master key has been leaked, which means anything that used to be "protected" by this pseudo-secret is now very vulnerable to attack, including Blu-Ray discs and HDMI cable connections. The point is this: the movie studios crammed HDCP down the collective throats of the electronics industry as yet another form of built-in failure, and now their critical secrets are out in the open and the whole scheme will come crashing down.

Did anyone predict this? Yes, in fact. Just about everyone, including security professionals, DRM nay-sayers and, I dare say, many people inside the MPAA itself. Next, will it matter if they were proven right and the DRM-happy higher-ups were dead wrong? You can pretty much bet on "no".

What will happen next? First, a mad scramble to try and suppress the secret key, which won't work. Next, investigations into key revocation, which won't work. Finally, someone will suggest generating a new key, essentially invalidating the old one and making all previously-sold equipment into incompatible paperweights. This might actually be the preferred approach, which will mean we'll start getting "Blu-Ray 2.0", and have to buy new TVs, new set-top boxes and new cables all over again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - According to Hollywood, this will be known as "the price of piracy".
PPS - The rest of us will call it "highway robbery".

Monday, 20 September 2010

MMORPG Usability

It would be interesting to see someone do a software usability study on MMORPGs for new users. Coming from City of Heroes to World of Warcraft is quite a shock, given how casual-friendly CoH is. Anthony stated that WoW was actually a step up in usability for him, however, since his previous MMO was Final Fantasy XI which was very complicated.

I imagine, since most games are rather different, it would be hard to compare them to each other, but the elements they share in common could be tested, in theory. I imagine the most useful single number to boil down would be gameplay hours until decent proficiency, but since you can't directly define "proficiency" across games, it would be almost impossible to get such a number.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I think City of Heroes has a much nicer UI than WoW.
PPS - It's more helpful but still isn't intrusive.

Friday, 17 September 2010

iPod Prices per Gigabyte Then and Now

If they had kept making old versions of the iPod, how much would they cost now? The original iPod held 5GB and cost $399, making its cost $79.8/GB. The latest (mid-range) iPod Touch holds 32GB and costs $334 or $10.43/GB. So an original iPod at that cost per GB would now only set you back just $52. Conversely, an iPod Touch at the old per-gigabyte price would cost $2553.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I got the current iPod Touch price from JB HiFi.
PPS - And I may be comparing AUD to USD, but you get the idea.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies caught on traffic camera

As an art project, Joe Sabia dressed up some people as zombies, arranged them around a red light traffic camera, then deliberately ran the red light to get the pictures delivered to him. It's kind of surreal.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Imagine that the camera is still faithfully doing its job after the zombie apocalypse takes over.
PPS - In that case, probably nobody would have to pay the fine.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Nokia Ovi Suite contact sync with Thunderbird

Tucked away in the update notes of Nokia Ovi Suite v2.2.1.23 is this: "Nokia Ovi Suite now supports syncing contacts with Mozilla Thunderbird 3.1". That's really significant for me, because the ability to sync my contacts with GMail is something I've been waiting for, and I know I can go via Thunderbird. I don't know yet whether it can sync calendars with Thunderbird, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Technically, I think that would be synchronising with the Lightning plugin.
PPS - And surely if they've done contact sync, they're aiming for calendars too.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Optical illusions on the road

Optical illusions have no place on the road. You might think it wouldn't enter anyone's mind, but apparently that's not the case. Some time ago there were trials conducted with painted speed bump illusions, and now a company called Preventable is running trials with a decal made to look like a child playing with a ball. These are bad ideas for two reasons. One, when drivers encounter them first, they draw undue attention from other driving tasks, potentially causing more accidents in the process. Second, once drivers get used to the illusions, they are trained to ignore them, which means they are less likely to pay attention to real road hazards, causing more accidents in the process.

In short, the upshot of optical illusions on the road is more accidents and more complacent drivers, which is the exact opposite of the intended effects. Ironically, it might be safer to put real people on the road in order to get drivers to slow down. At least they won't learn to ignore them.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps what we need is a dynamic speed-responsive hazard.
PPS - That is, one which reacts more strongly the faster you're going.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

GMail Priority Inbox

GMail's new Priority Inbox feature is kind of neat. Despite the cheesy animated explanation, the idea is nice and solid, and the implementation pretty good too. Basically, it extends the built-in spam filter a level further to determine which of your incoming emails are the most important and which can wait for later (but aren't spam).

I was doing a similar thing with my work email a few years ago via Thunderbird's built-in spam filtering, and it was extremely effective. I look forward to the same results in my GMail account, but first I might have to disable a few of my filters - until now I was using them to hold back unimportant emails. Now if only Outlook could catch up and include features that are in all the other email clients.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I say "all the others", but I'm only thinking of GMail and Thunderbird.
PPS - Though I'm sure there are more that beat Outlook at certain tasks.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Homeopathic Cola

meopathic reasoning, wouldn't drinking water from an old cola bottle become more effective at keeping you awake as time goes on? The residue becomes more and more diluted as time goes on, so that should make it a more potent homeopathic remedy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Homeopathic remedies have never produced greater effects than placebos.
PPS - But maybe sometimes that's enough to keep you awake.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Unpaid overtime should be illegal

It should be illegal not to pay workers for the overtime they work. Many bosses love to hold up workaholics as shining examples of the desired corporate culture. Basically if you're working a 70-hour week for a 40-hour wage, your boss will love you. And why shouldn't they? They're getting an extra 30 hours out of you, and all you ask in return is to be allowed to do it again next week.

I've written about this some time before, and how it amounts to slavery of a sort, but now I feel we need to go one better. We need to make sure it is illegal for companies to give you anything less than your full hourly rate for time you spend over and above your normal hours. Hopefully the least that will occur is that companies will start realising the diminishing returns they get from overworking people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course it's hard to verify unsupervised work in some cases.
PPS - So there would be cheats, but there are cheats now, so how is that different?

Friday Zombie Blogging - Why a zombie outbreak would fail

Assuming a zombie outbreak managed to start at all, has a list of reasons it would fail quickly, including natural predators and the inability to heal themselves.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It makes sense.
PPS - But that doesn't make the prospect any less scary if real.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Consulting and short term gains

There's always a problem in consulting companies of short foresight. They'd rather you make money right now doing billable work rather than spending money now that will save three times as much in the future. And if you think you're waiting for a good time to do process improvement, you'll never get there. There's never an ideal time. Either saving future money is a priority or it's not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sometimes it's hard to figure out concrete return on investment numbers.
PPS - And sometimes even that doesn't help.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Water tanks and storm water drainage

Would water tanks on every home reduce the need for storm water drainage? Thinking about it briefly, it should mean that whatever water is running off the roofs of houses is being trapped in water tanks and not running down the street. Then again, you'd still need to account for the kind of storm that fills every tank to overflowing, which means you need full capacity.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And on the whole it's probably not worth taking into account.
PPS - It may become more relevant as time goes on.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Warm-weather skiing

I have a theory that we could bolt down some spongy netting to a mountain or ramp with an appropriate coating or sheath that would approximate the sensation of under-the-skis (or board) snow without requiring cold weather. Apparently they do this already, but you can't turn on it. To me, that's a pretty serious design flaw. To ski-jumpers, it's hardly noticeable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure it comes in handy for them in their off-season training.
PPS - But even ski-jumpers have to turn at some point, don't they?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Forwards-compatible standards

Forward-compatible standards are the next step after getting everyone to implement interoperable industry standards. Actually, there might be a step between those that I'd call "open standards". Implementing any kind of standard is much better than relying on proprietary formats, and implementing open standards is better than that, because it fosters innovation and competition, leading to better products. Forward-compatible standards means that my set-top DVD player would be able to play Blu-Ray discs (though probably at lower resolution) if only the standards committee had designed for a bit of growth in the standard. I wouldn't have to keep upgrading my home entertainment systems if the standards were designed with a bit of forethought.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Forwards compatibility is a lot harder than it seems.
PPS - More so in hardware than in software, I think.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombies Win Court Case

About four years ago now, a group of people dressed up as zombies to protest mindless consumerism at a mall. They were arrested and jailed on the grounds that they possessed items resembling weapons of mass destruction (an iPod with speakers). Anyway, they've won their court battle against the city of Minneapolis.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There were only seven people in the group.
PPS - So I guess their protest didn't look very much like one.

Motion-capture actors

I think motion-capture actors should be called "puppeteers" because, in a very real way, they're moving a virtual puppet around. To apply terms like "virtual actor" to the combination of human and digital effect is a bit overblown, in my mind.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It does kind of broaden the definition of "puppet" though.
PPS - The world changes, though. Its words should change too.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Your computer doesn't care if you're angry

It surprises me just how quickly people lose patience with computers. The moment the extremely complex machine sitting on their desk goes even *slightly* wrong, it gets hit with a string of adjectives like "stupid", "useless", "frustrating", "annoying" and quite often growling too. I've learned to be more patient, quite simply because the computer doesn't care. It's not an entity that will respond to your anger, it's a box. Getting mad at it makes as much sense as railing at the traffic lights for being red. This is what they do. They were doing it before you got here and they will continue to do it obliviously after you leave. This is a problem or puzzle to solve, not a malicious imp that you can scare away. Cut your PC some slack, will you?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's like an artist blaming his canvas for being blank.
PPS - And it's about as helpful.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Train platform side announcements

Every day on the train I hear them announce what side of the train the platform will be on. Every time it's something like "platform will be on the right-hand side in the direction of travel". Now, there are a couple of terms already for the left- and right-hand sides in the direction of travel: port and starboard. People might not be quite familiar enough with them to get it right away, but I think they would catch on soon enough. What do you think?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I were making the announcements, I might do it just for fun.
PPS - And then I'd probably "ARR!" like a pirate.