Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The world of tomorrow

My friends recently made a whole new person called Georgia. Thinking this morning of the world she will grow up in, I noted the following things:

1. There have always been iPhones and iPads.
2. There has never been an unbroken male line of Australian Prime Ministers.
3. Michael Jackson has always been dead. Same with Heath Ledger.
4. WiFi has always been available on planes, and the TSA has always tried to stop you getting on board.
5. There has never been a building called the World Trade Centre.
6. George W Bush has always been a former President of the United States.

There's obviously a lot more that will be true about the world by the time she grows up, and it's possible items 4 and 5 won't stay on the list, but it's interesting to think about.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think I'd recognise this world through those eyes.
PPS - At least not yet. They can't quite focus.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Standard photo naming and organisation

What standard naming convention would you want for your photos? There are any number of metadata bits that might be relevant for photos, and some of them I would like to store in the file name. There's the date it was taken, where, why (as in, what event, if any), who took it and who is pictured. The "who" questions can probably be answered in a secondary database like Picasa, but the rest should provide some means of automatic organisation. I think I'd want them in monthly folders, but I'd want to vary the actual file names for landscapes (location), portraits (subject) and happy snaps (event).

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Group shots might give me trouble.
PPS - Does anyone have a standard photo naming and organisation scheme?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Reasons Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is two movies

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't see how there could be other reasons.
PPS - Well, probably not.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Anne Hathaway

In a promo video for Saturday Night Live this week, Anne Hathaway has a zombie moment. It being Thanksgiving, she says she is thankful for brains. Aren't we all?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And for Anne Hathaway.
PPS - Not sure if there's more about brains in the actual show.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Automatic doors at home

I saw an ad the other day for a product so simple yet so ingenious that it had already been invented: automatic sliding doors. The unique thing in this case was the fact that it was packaged as an add-on motor and sensor for existing domestic doors. Genius! Makes me wonder why nobody else ever thought of doing that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps they did, but never had the cash to get it off the ground.
PPS - Or the determination, or the right connections...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The tiny little cute store

Every time I am shopping with girls and we see some version of a common item that's smaller than usual, there's a definite excited reaction. Tiny saucepans, little boxes, micro-sized cake tins, it's all the same. This gives me an idea: the Tiny Little Cute Things Store, full of really little things for girls to love and men to loathe. It would sell basically everything you'd need in a house if you happened to be child-sized. No female would leave empty handed, and I'll make a killing!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would be a great place to shop for cubby houses.
PPS - Or play kitchens.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Alternative dishwasher designs

Our dishwasher never seems to clean properly the items that sit in the corners of the racks. This looks like an obvious design consequence of using one circular spinning spray arm to clean a square rack. So how would you solve that problem? I can think of three things off the top of my head that might work better: circular racks, four smaller spinning arms and a fixed square array of spray nozzles. They all have their problems, I'm sure, and since I'm not a white goods engineer, I doubt I've even thought through all the consequences. I just wonder whether it's pure economics that means the single spinning arm design is the only one we see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've always been a fan of the industrial dishwasher with free-moving trays.
PPS - But that's a bit impractical for home use.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Airline ticket scam

I've just heard about a complicated website scam that basically launders stolen credit cards through airlines. The scam goes as follows: criminals use stolen credit cards to purchase airline tickets, which they sell at discounted prices for cash through a website (using "mule" bank accounts to transfer the money). Victims who purchase the tickets can even call and confirm their flights, but once the credit card is reported as stolen and the charge reversed, the ticket is canceled, the money is gone via its intermediate route and they have no real recourse. It's fairly clever in that the victims get real products, the criminals get cash and the money trail (thanks to the mules) is hard for victims to follow up.

Now, how would you investigate this? First I'd want to get as many of the mule account details as possible, and track any common transfers they've made to third parties. Chances are, however, that the end points are dead ends, another mule (who withdraws cash to transfer in person) or far outside local police jurisdiction.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure what they'll end up doing.
PPS - I hope it catches these guys, though.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - PvNvZvP

Coming soon to iPhone and its cousins, Pirates vs Ninjas vs Zombies vs Pandas, in case your iPhone doesn't have enough zombie-themed games yet. This one seems to be about hurling its namesakes at other players' defenses as living projectiles, presumably in an attempt to knock down walls and take over territory.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not entirely clear from the screenshots.
PPS - And the trailer is still "coming soon".

William, Kate and Diana

For the past day or two, all the news has been about Prince William getting engaged to Kate Middleton, only somehow it hasn't. What I've heard about so far is Diana's ring, Diana's dress from Diana's dressmaker, how sad it is that Diana is not here to see Diana's boy get married to a girl everyone wishes was Diana II. Some parts of the world, and especially the royal family, have got to start being about people that are not Diana. Let these two be themselves, and let them make their own way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not saying forget about her.
PPS - Just don't make her overshadow people a full 13 years after her death.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mobile broadband and phone tethering

I predict that dedicated mobile broadband plans with their own USB modems will disappear in favour of ordinary mobile phone plans and occasional tethering, at least for domestic applications. There are only a couple of situations in which dedicated mobile data at 3G speeds comes in handy, and they overlap completely with mobile phone usefulness. It's going to become an increasingly hard sell, which is why most providers are attempting to prevent you from tethering your phone unless you pay extra. With today's phone plans and included data, they suddenly have a stockpile of absurd, outdated wireless modems they either need to sell or write off. And since they have near-total control of their wireless networks, they're choosing to impose restrictions to upsell you on the tethering option, or get you to buy dedicated mobile "broadband" while that still sounds halfway sane.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In my first month of an internet-enabled phone plan, I've used less than 100MB.
PPS - That might be just me.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Super speed for the win

My standard answer to the question of what super-power I would take is super speed. I guess it says a lot about my outlook on life - there's never enough time in the day to get everything done. If I had super-speed, I could read entire books in a flash, travel anywhere without wasting a lot of time in between and generally do more instead of feeling like time is rushing by. There's also the really cool effect of being able to get in and out of anywhere before people notice ... except for the sonic boom and other chaos.

I guess the down side would be that I'd find it hard to do my ordinary desk job because I'd be cramming six months of work into an hour before anyone could tell me what to do next. I suppose, however, that I could earn my day-to-day living in emergency response and pizza delivery while writing novels in the blink of an eye.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could also do stocktake for retail stores so quickly they wouldn't need to close down.
PPS - Though they'd need to double-check the results.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


I've been a long-time critic of the TransLink website for its limited, stylised maps, poor descriptions of bus stop locations and generally confusing trip planner results. They've just launched a new website that is much prettier ... and exactly as useful as the old one, which is not enough. I'm not saying they haven't put some effort in here, because it's clearly been someone's year-long project to attach bells and whistles and generally polish things up. What I'm saying is that if you're going to redesign your website, take the time to run a usability study and find out where the problems are.

For most of your users, the problems will not be "the menus aren't animated enough" nor "I need the individual parts of my journey planner results to light up when I mouse over them". For me, the first thing I would say in that focus group would be: "when I get my journey planner results, I need to go elsewhere to load a map to figure out where my bus stop is, and even then I'm not sure I've got it right".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've heard they plan to make their data available to Google Maps before the end of the year.
PPS - If they can do that, surely they can integrate real maps in their own website.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Miles Dyson's lack of curiosity

If you were Miles Dyson working at Cyberdyne Systems in the universe of Terminator 2, what would you think about the chip you were studying? Personally, I believe I would assume it came from a millitary operation that went wrong - something advanced and secret from the US armed forces blew up in some Afghanistan desert somewhere and someone managed to find the chip to copy.

The robot arm, however, would be much harder to explain, which is a little unexpected given how much less advanced it is. However, it's far more specialised. A chip could be used for anything from missile guidance to robot vision or radio signal encryption. A robot limb in the exact shape of a human arm doesn't involve so much imagination. Either it came from a whole human-shaped robot or it was a prosthetic for an amputee. If it belongs with the highly-advanced chip, however, you have to be talking humanoid robot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That "don't ask where it came from" policy just wouldn't work.
PPS - Not with a bunch of engineers.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Friday Zombie Blogging - Christmas Carols

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols" features zombified versions of Christmas carols. I'm hoping it's not just a case of all the lyrics being turned to "brains".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Although a group of zombie carolers singing about brains would be a sight to see.
PPS - Right before they eat you, of course.

The natural state of a TODO list

What is the natural state of a TODO list? Is it naturally empty, always growing or always in motion? Your one true TODO list will never be really empty, and it shouldn't just sit stagnant, ever-growing and eventually ignored. It needs to be in constant flow, like a stream of water, with new items coming in and done items going out. Your list will shrink and grow sometimes, but on the whole it will probably remain about the same size. The particular items on the list, however, should definitely change, and technically (according to the Getting Things Done method) nothing should stay there longer than two weeks. That's a real trick, and I certainly don't have it down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's what weekly reviews are for.
PPS - I haven't made time to do them lately.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Proposing a heckler's license

Deb and I went to see Tripod the other night, and it was pretty good. Now, of course, most live comedy events will have a heckler or two, and this was no exception. The band was pretty good about it, and even encouraged it by interacting with the guy, because, well, that's part of the spontenaity of a live event. The trouble was, for the most part, this particular heckler was just bad at it.

So I think it's time there was a license involved. You take your six months at Heckling School and get your official Heckler's License for this state, and then you're free to heckle at any live comedy gig. It might be a bit more disruptive during the show to have ushers going around checking licenses, and the performers want to know they're being heckled by a worthy opponent, so they may need to be given special hats or something to identify them quickly. I'm sure we can work out the kinks later.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or we could just put in a heckler's pit at the front of the stage.
PPS - Then open a big trap door just as the performers come out.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Where memes go to die

There are certain ideas that are really mean or unpleasant to pass on. I know several of them, because I am on the internet a lot, but I'm not even going to mention any of them by name or implication, because that's the point of this post. The only reason to tell other people about these things is to share your pain, but these are not the kinds of situations where pain shared is halved. If anything, it multiplies. For myself, I prefer to be a place where such evil memes go to die. I won't pass them on, and I won't talk about them. Those times where I find myself in power to do so, I will prevent others from passing them on, too. They will never truly die, I suppose, but by being voluntary meme quarantine zones, we can help slow their spread.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only I could reverse the spread and actually destroy one.
PPS - Or stop new ones being created.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

GMail priority inbox continuum

Email has gotten to such ridiculous levels for some people that plain old spam filtering isn't enough. I like Google's idea of Priority Inbox, where it helps you decide what is important and what's not, but I'm not so sure about the way it divides the inbox into tiers. I'm sure they tried it, but I wonder how it would look if they just sorted the inbox by perceived importance, highest at the top, lowest at the bottom. There's not always a clear distinction between Important and Unimportant, but some things are more important than others. With just a continual gradation from Most Important to Least Important, no matter how much Important email you get, the most important stuff is always at or near the top.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't get nearly enough email to test this.
PPS - And I'm not going to try getting enough.

Monday, 8 November 2010

One-way trips to Mars

So NASA is talking about one-way trips to Mars, because the difficulty with getting to Mars is getting back. But who do we send? Then consider the jail debate: we have some prisoners on death row that we're just going to execute. It seems like two problems with one solution, where we turn Mars into a prison planet. The bonus is a new reality TV show, too. The unintended side-effect? Only one guy arrives alive at Mars, wearing a necklace made of ears.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In reality, a one-way trip to Mars will probably be even more expensive.
PPS - Because after a few years, you have to send a rescue mission.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Desktop environment missing features

Things that are missing from today's computer desktops:

1. Multi-touch monitors. Not that you would use them all the time, but why the hell do we only put touch screens on mobiles?

2. Tabbed desktops. Just about every program has tabs for different contexts or documents these days. It's time the desktop environment caught up.

3. Zoomable desktops. MS Office has started to go the right way with a zoom slider in the bottom right corner. Desktop environments need to play catch-up again.

4. Universal file tagging, with accompanying search and browse functions. My files don't fit in single folders and if they did, I'd forget where I put them. I should be able to use ad-hoc tags to identify my files, and don't forget the ability to list all untagged files either.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We seem to have had basically the same visual environment since the original Macintosh.
PPS - Or only slight improvements.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Hand-painted shoes

Some enterprising artisan has created some hand-painted zombie-foot shoes. Well done.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, and the post-walk announcement for the 2010 Brisbane Zombie Walk is up.
PPS - In short, 10000 participants, $13000 for the Brain Foundation, and behave yourself next year.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Job satisfaction

I read recently that the myth of the "dream job" tends to make you put less emphasis on your current job and forget the hard work necessary to start your own business. Once you look past the fluff like "have the courage to follow your dreams", you find that most people who did so were already skilled in a valuable and rare field, which is what they went and used to start their dream job business. The other half of the argument said that people who perceive their own jobs as a career or even a calling are more likely to be satisfied where they are, and they found some very ordinary jobs with very satisfied people to back it up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So the moral is that job satisfaction has a lot more to do with you than your job.
PPS - Unless your job involves regular abuse or questions about fries.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

For the price of a cup of coffee

I jokingly posted to Facebook the other day that charities who sell useless pins and pens "for the price of a cup of coffee" should just raise funds by selling coffee. Coffee is pretty cheap to make, and now rather than asking people to give up their coffee to help a charity, you're giving them coffee and the opportunity to help a charity. It seems like a slightly better way of doing things, mostly because what you're selling is now consumable instead of destined for landfill, nobody has to change their behaviour much (just buy your coffee from here instead of there) and you might get noticed as the charity that actually thinks about fundraising a bit differently.

The one disadvantage is the loss of free advertising. When you sell someone a pin, if they wear it, you advertise your charity to other people and your donors get to display their support publicly. The Facebook comments sorted that out quickly enough: just get the cardboard cups printed up with the name and logo of your charity. If enough charities buy into the idea, you might even be able to offer this as a regular service at a permanent location, though that might drive the overheads up a bit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I would buy a coffee from a place like that.
PPS - Then there are others who prefer the pens and pins. To each their own.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Electronics convergence

All portable electronics are destined to be converged into the mobile phone. That is not to say that there won't still be iPods, GPS navigators, cameras, ebook readers and so on, but our phones will be able to do the same thing well enough that they will swallow up the low end of the market almost automatically. Only if you want really high quality or fine-grained control will you need to buy a dedicated device. For everything else, there's an app for that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And for some things, an app is the only time such functions have been feasible.
PPS - That's the extreme low end of the market where it's not worth making dedicated hardware.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Australian public holiday oddities

There are a few oddities in the Christmas 2010 and Easter 2011 public holidays in Australia coming up. First, since both Christmas and Boxing day are on a weekend, their public holidays have been moved to the Monday and Tuesday BUT the Monday one is officially for Boxing day, which means we get our public holiday for Boxing Day before Christmas Day. As for Easter, it turns out ANZAC Day is on Easter Monday, so an extra public holiday has been scheduled for Tuesday, making the Easter long weekend in 2011 a whopping 5 days long. As if that weren't enough, the real Christmas and New Years' Days are also public holidays, though they fall on weekends, which bumps up the official count of public holidays for the year, but doesn't really provide any benefit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I almost forgot to post today.
PPS - But by my clock, I still have about 83 minutes left of today.