Friday, 29 October 2010

NaNoWriMo and motivation

Only about 20% of people who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually complete their 50 000 words. What does that tell you about writing and people? To me, it says that a publicly-declared intention does not ensure follow-through on a goal, and that setting the goal is not the problem. It takes more than "just get started, then keep going" to write a novel, and those 80% of people who fail will attest to that. I think NaNoWriMo needs to look to those 80% of failed participants and ask them what went wrong. Did they run out of steam? Was their idea not sustainable for the length of a novel? Were they derailed by some personal disaster, or could they just not commit to the time it took every day?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not enough attention is paid to failure stories these days.
PPS - Which is a pity. We could learn so much.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Left 4 Dead mods

This week, two mods for Left 4 Dead:
One which mimics Super Mario 64 settings, in case you felt Mario didn't have enough zombies to fight.
The other replaces zombies with Teletubbies, in case you want to do violence to children's TV.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't actually played Left 4 Dead, modded or not.
PPS - I don't know whether I would enjoy it.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Supervillains and unusual weapons

Why do supervillains spend so much time and effort developing hand-held freeze rays, death rays and other weapons when we already have ordinary guns? Either they have some kind of fixation with non-lethal weapons or they want to prove their intelligence by going out of their way to create unusual ways of doing harm and incapacitating people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I'd probably go with a freeze ray.
PPS - Not an ice ray, but more of a time-stopping gun.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bees 1, Humans 0

I've just read that bees out-perform our best traveling salesman algorithms, and it's not entirely clear why. I think the abstraction of the problem doesn't directly translate into physical space all the time, and that could skew the results. A computer needs to travel the graph in a specified manner, only following connections that are given between nodes. How do you model, for a bee, that flower A can be reached from flower B, but never directly from flower C? No matter how you lay them out, you can never exclude a particular route between two points without completely constraining the results.

As observed, however, this indicates one of two things: tiny clusters of neurons are more powerful computers than anything we have ever built, or we have drastically misunderstood this problem. Given how often nature outsmarts us, I'm going with option 2, but either way is a pretty big failure on the part of us humans. Either we can't build a computer as powerful as a few bee neurons or decades of programming has never yielded the shortcut.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apparently I have trouble explaining why this is a difficult problem.
PPS - If it wasn't difficult, quite frankly, it wouldn't be a problem at all.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

What IKEA needs

Outside IKEA, there needs to be an area designated for family members to camp for the night with purchases that didn't fit in the car this time around. Now the question is: who do you leave behind to guard your stuff?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would depend on who you have with you and what they're guarding.
PPS - You might find they've banded together and built a fort with other stranded people when you return.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Phone obsolescence

It's scary how quickly mobile phones become outdated and obsolete. Our phone companies make us sign on for two years to get a handset, the warranty is typically 12 months and the phone is woefully out of date after 6 months. Are we going to reach a point where things level out? Mobiles will always lag behind desktop computers in all attributes so there will probably always be advancements to be made, especially if we keep on changing wireless technology.

The thing is, at some point there's not much difference between dirt cheap speed and memory amounts. When there's not much practical difference between processor speed, memory and storage, we've reached the point of "good enough", where basic hardware meets everyone's needs adequately, and no one handset has much of an advantage beyond any other. Then there is no obsolete, only worn out.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I would like to live in those days.
PPS - But then there would be something else to complain about.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fighting tsunami with tsunami

Can a tsunami be stopped by a head-on collision with another tsunami? With ordinary waves, the answer is "no", because a wave is not moving water, but moving energy, and two ordinary waves will not collide but briefly mix, then proceed on their way, much unchanged. To stop a wave, you need to absorb, divert or nullify the energy, which pretty much means walls, not waves. But if a tsunami is actually moving water, then perhaps a lot of the energy can be absorbed by a counter-tsunami, assuming you can create such a thing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - From Wikipedia, it looks like a counter-tsunami would only be useful on land.
PPS - And that makes no sense.

Friday Zombie Blogging - BZW2010

I know I mentioned it before, but now all the details of Brisbane Zombie Walk 2010 are worked out. From noon on the 24th - this Sunday! - from Wickham Park to Centenary Park, I and a lot of other zombie-attired people will be shuffling and moaning to raise money for the Brain Foundation. Apparently there will be food and entertainment beforehand, as well as an after-party. Should be pretty cool!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I'd been more organised, I might have gone with a Plants vs Zombies costume.
PPS - As it is, I'll pretty much be "cubicle zombie", with a name tag and old computer mouse.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Respect for astronauts

Just as I was going to sleep the other day, I got a weird kind of sympathetic claustrophobia on behalf of astronauts. For that moment, I could almost imagine being sealed inside a tin can millions of kilometres from the nearest atmosphere, and it freaked me out. From that point of view, it's like having to be buried alive to see the stars.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might be why they look forward to spacewalks so much.
PPS - It would be like getting out for some fresh air, in a weird way.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sharing Skype

It seems awkward sometimes that Skype can't have two accounts signed in on the one machine simultaneously. If I have a separate account to Deb, but we share one computer most of the time, then we need to choose which one of those two accounts will be signed in, but we might not have matching contact lists, so, for instance, Deb might miss a chance to talk to an old college friend because they think she is not online. It's a pain to switch accounts, and it's not always possible either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only answer I've seen is to use two Windows accounts and external handsets.
PPS - Or not share a computer.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Finding the perfect shoe

I have solved the problem of women's shoes forever, as long as you think the problem is never finding shoes that fit and match your clothes. With a 3D printer in your home, assuming you can find goop that wears well, you could print shoes that fit your feet perfectly and always match your clothes. You'd never be without the perfect pair of shoes, but you would have to put in work to design and print them yourself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And you'd probably end up with a house full of prototype shoes.
PPS - Which I know sounds like winning to some people.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Diminished Reality

Diminished Reality is a real-time video processing system that can erase objects from live video. The demo only looks at stationary objects, which I suppose is the limitation so far, but I suspect it will not be too long before it can remove people from video. The upshot of this is a new nifty feature for script writers to incorporate into their next heist movie.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The thieves just need to load the software into the security system.
PPS - And selectively erase themselves, of course.

Friday, 15 October 2010

One-time password keyrings

At some point we have to acknowledge that those little RSA random-number one-time-password keyrings are not the answer to our security problems. For one, if every password was backed up with a unique one-time-password token, I would be carrying more of those things than keys on my keyring, and would probably need a big old-style janitor's keyring to keep them all. You know, the kind that's so big you could slide it on your arm all the way up to your shoulder? I'd also have a lot of trouble telling them apart.

Okay, so what do we do instead? Probably the best compromise is SMS as a second factor, since we all have mobile phones. If your objection to that solution is that it's too easy to steal, remember the tokens. They're even easier to lose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure someone could come up with better two-factor authentication.
PPS - As long as it's genuinely two-factor

Friday Zombie Blogging - Undead Banana

A drawing of a zombie banana. Just look at it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The text says "old bananas never die".
PPS - I guess they just fade away.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Indispensable tools

I don't think any individual tool qualifies as "indispensable". What matters most is that some solution exists to the common problems of life, such as communication, transport, food and shelter. The telephone could be replaced by Skype, your car by communal dirigibles, the supermarket and your fridge by local farmer's markets and your private house by a staked-out area in one enormous aircraft hangar for your community. The world doesn't need to look and behave like it does today for society to keep working.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The internet could be replaced by carrier pigeons.
PPS - A lot of pigeons.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Negativity and the security mindset

Does security thinking foster a negative attitude? When you're thinking about things in security terms, you think about what would make it fail and what the results of failure are. If you carry that way of thinking into everyday life, it's probable that you would see a lot of things very negatively. It wouldn't necessarily affect you that way, but it would be a strong tide to push against.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps it would work out like negative visualisation.
PPS - That is, picturing negatives makes you appreciate your current positives.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Password generation

Using the same password everywhere is easy but insecure. If one account is compromised, they all are. Using different passwords everywhere is more secure, but much harder, because you have to remember a whole lot more different things. Perhaps a good compromise is a hybrid scheme where you construct site-specific passwords based on their context. You'd have a normal, short password as your base, then mentally construct the rest from the website name.

So, say (as a bad example) that you're using "abc123" as your base password and want to sign up to Dropbox. You decide you will append the last 4 letters of the site in reverse order to your base password, so your Dropbox password becomes "abc123xobp". Then later you create a Google account, so your password there is "abc123elgo". Unique passwords, memorable (to you, hopefully) so there's nothing to write down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally I use KeePass to generate random passwords.
PPS - But that means I'm helpless without it.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Unreliable networks and tools to use them

Despite the way our internet connections are getting faster and more reliable, sometimes we have to deal with file transfers and remote control over network connections that are somewhat below the minimum reliability threshold. In those cases, it helps to have systems in place that can tolerate a lot more network interruption than is expected these days.

For instance, say you need to run some maintenance programs on a server that's halfway around the world, and the network between that point and your desk is dropping out once every minute. A normal remote desktop session isn't going to cut it, because it expects a constant connection and a certain bandwidth. You'd do better with commands relayed asynchronously, perhaps via an intermediary.

And very large file transfers in such circumstances should not have to be done in one go, because it probably won't happen. You need something that can resume when it drops out and retry parts that don't work properly. Today's standard methods simply don't expect or handle unreliable networks.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Akira would probably fit the bill for the first part.
PPS - And I've already written about Bittorrent for the second.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Google Chrome vs Firefox

I heard that Google's web browser, Chrome, was gaining popularity among my people, so I decided to give it a go. For a week at work I've been using Chrome for my personal web browsing, which might not have been the best test, since I don't do that much personal browsing at work. The pros and cons, as I see them, weighed up as follows.

Since I use for my bookmarks, I didn't have options to import anything, so I had to find things manually. The Home button doesn't show up by default, and I don't notice any particular speed improvements over Firefox. I also slightly miss my Facebook toolbar and the way Firefox protects saved passwords with a local master password.

That said, Chrome makes better use of screen real-estate than Firefox and I quite like the history thumbnails that show up on new tabs. I also like the way extensions can load without requiring a browser restart.

So on the whole, not a big change, but a few points where Firefox could pick up some slack.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure which one I'll stick with long-term.
PPS - Probably Firefox, for now.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Movie zombies comparison

Know Your Movie Zombie Outbreak Survivability. This is just a graph of movie zombie types on axes of intelligence and speed.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously the stupider and slower they are, the better.
PPS - Though it doesn't hurt to be well armed and to outnumber them.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Discounting iTunes gift cards

JB HiFi and various other retailers occasionally sell iTunes gift vouchers at a discounted price, so you're able to get, say, $40 iTunes credit for only $30 outlay. This means two things. One, it is cheaper to go through a middleman retailer for your iTunes credit than to hand your money directly to Apple. Two, Apple are selling these cards to retailers for less than their face value, presumably as a form of advertising for iTunes, and cutting off part of their profits as a result.

Whatever proportion of the sale goes to Apple when you buy directly from iTunes is probably half or less what they get from selling cards to retailers. And as it is easy to verify from many online sources, Apple's profit margin on iTunes is massive compared to what the publisher and artist get, so there's plenty of room to bargain. But why undercut themselves by so much? Well, it's either a way to get non-credit-card-holders onto iTunes or simple advertising, as I said earlier. If you get in the habit of buying from iTunes, sooner or later you'll stop bothering with the cards and just buy direct.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Even when they're generous, they're insidious.
PPS - Did you expect anything else?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What would happen to the Clem Jones Tunnel?

Even before the tunnel opened, there have been news stories about the imminent death of the Clem Jones Tunnel and the company that owns it. They're still kicking on, and they may yet find a way to turn a real profit, but my question is this: what happens if the company does die a horrible death? Our council has already said that they have no interest in buying and operating the tunnel, but somebody has to end up owning it. To what other uses could a tunnel like that be put, if not for toll-based transport? I suppose tecnically you could build a long, narrow, underground office in there, though then it might not meet fire safety standards.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The city council is still the most likely eventual owner.
PPS - And the only one that really makes sense.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Any shopping bags are a problem

You know, with everyone in such a state about shopping bags, almost nothing seems like a good option. Ordinary plastic shopping bags take forever to break down, get eaten by wildlife etc. Biodegradable plastics are expensive or don't work. Reusable green bags wear out and are made of pretty much the same stuff as the original plastic ones. Maybe the best option is to use unbleached paper bags made from recycled paper pulp. They go straight back to our home recycling bins to be remade into new bags. No fuss, no mess. The only problem with them would be strength, and I'm sure we can get around that one if we try.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or we could all get those old-style trolley bags.
PPS - But I'd feel silly with one of those.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Naming diseases

Is it more helpful to name diseases after their symptoms (eg whooping cough), the organs they affect (eg appendicitis), their discoverers (eg Wilson's disease) or something else entirely? Perhaps their cause? They'd each have their slight advantages, whether quicker diagnosis or teaching medical history. Sometimes I get the impression that some diseases could use better naming schemes, and they're usually the ones named after their discoverers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, since my medical opinion is based entirely on House, add a grain of salt.
PPS - It's never lupus.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Exercising to avoid sickness

I have heard people observe that when they feel themselves getting sick, exercise sometimes helps them stay well. Could there be anything to that? My only theory is that a raised body temperature from exercise does much the same thing as a fever would, and burns out the infection.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Getting yourself up and moving is another matter.
PPS - I never feel like being active while sick.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Studies

If you attend the University of Baltimore, you could sign up for English 333: zombie studies. Students will watch zombie movies and read zombie comics. Presumably, at some point, they are assessed on this in the traditional way, but I like to imagine a different scenario. At the end of the semester, the professor says to the whole class, "Let's see what you've learned!" and releases a horde of zombies into the room.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you survive, you win.
PPS - If you die ... uh ... refund?