Monday, 28 February 2011

The business of education

Universities and other education institutions don't care if there are jobs out there to fill. They only care whether there are students enough to fill their classes and campuses. If every single person in the world wanted to study nothing but fingerpainting, universities would be all too happy to furnish them with a useless four-year degree on the subject. When their fingerpainting careers failed to take off because everyone else in the world is a similarly dismal artist who doesn't want anyone else's fingerpaintings, can they sue the university for being misleading or not providing them with relevant job skills? Not at all. You came here to learn fingerpainting, and that's what you got. Payment received, service provided, exactly as described, end of story.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - People have tried to sue their universities for providing irrelevant degrees.
PPS - Seems like blame-shifting for a bad choice.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Friday Photo - Brisbane By Night

Taken from the Kookaburra Queen on the river on Valentine's Day, this is the best of the batch.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The others were a bit blurred by the motion of the boat.
PPS - They all look fairly similar to this one, though.

The Dawkins Delusion

Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion denounced all religion on the basis of suicide bombers and other obviously crazy people. Anybody can do that, and plenty have. The problem is that it's similar to saying all clowns are evil because some people in clown makeup rob convenience stores.

What would have been actually impressive would be to show, logically and step-by-step, that religion is patently dangerous because it leads to people like Mother Theresa. If Dawkins could show, irrefutably, that the most well-known and best example of Christian goodness was a blight on the world, then he would be saying something worth hearing. As it is, he has cut off the worst end of a long continuum of religious morality, leaving a very large part unaccounted for.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If he could have done it the other way, I'm sure he would have.
PPS - Personally, I can't imagine such an argument.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Privacy and security

It's important not to confuse privacy with secrecy. Privacy is control over who has access to what information. Security is the mechanism by which we exercise that control. This is important to remember when Mark Zuckerberg claims Facebook users do not want privacy. He's not ONLY saying they don't want their information to be secure, but claiming further that they do not want to be able to control who sees what on their Facebook profiles, which is crazy talk of a whole different level.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can have privacy and security together.
PPS - And you must aim for it.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Green Hornet as actual criminal mastermind

The only difference between the Green Hornet and any other aspiring crime lord is motivation. The only thing that makes the plan of posing as criminals just a front is the fact that he and Kato don't actually set up their own criminal empire in place of what they tear down.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They let someone else do that.
PPS - I suppose, on balance, it would work out, at least at the top.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Outsourced utility bargain hunting

It should be possible to outsource your utility bargain hunting. You'd sign up with a utilities broker and they make sure you get the best deals on electricity, phone, internet and so on. So far most places that do this offer it as a one-off connection service and are in bed with alternative providers. I'm talking about paying ABC Utilities for your electricity, water, phone, gas and internet in one bill, trusting that they will find you the best prices for each individual service, or the best bundled price for some. It might be a difficult business model unless your operating costs are low, since you'd have to take a cut for every client which might eat up their incentive to pay you instead of bargain-hunting on their own.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless the stress of bargain-hunting is too much.
PPS - Which it might be, for some people.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Suggestions vs browsing

The benefits of book stores and magazines over internet search is finding things you weren't looking for. Online suggestions features do offset this to some degree, but you'll probably never find a whole new genre of entertainment that appeals to you via suggestions on Amazon.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personal recommendations from a friend are still the best form of advertising.
PPS - But you can't engineer that easily.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Friday Photo - Stick Peace

I found these sticks in our courtyard, hastily arranged them and snapped the photo above. I think it works.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sticks can make peace.
PPS - If you use them properly.

DRM denial of service

In Die Hard 3 ("With a Vengeance"), the tactics of the bad guys constitute a denial of service attack on the police. First, they occupy everyone looking for a bomb in a school, then get them off their radios to slow down their communication. The same thing can happen with DRM systems. If your DRM scheme involves requests to a server on the internet (as most of them do), it could be vulnerable to a denial of service attack where all of your customers start requesting licenses at once. Or else someone with malicious intent starts directing a lot of traffic at your license server. And this exact problem has happened before.

Some people might say "so what, big crybaby, can't you get by without your games for a few minutes?" but with games being a bigger business than movies these days, and most of our entertainment consisting of movies, TV, music and games, plus representing most of our piracy too, server-based DRM has become more common and will continue to become more widespread. And all it would take is a large, sustained denial of service event to make people wonder exactly what good it does them as consumers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then, of course, it would only take a week or two for everyone to forget it again.
PPS - Because we have such short atten- OOH, LOOK! SHINY!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Automated tailoring

It should be possible to step into a laser-measurement booth, take your measurements, choose a style and have a new garment custom produced on the spot. It might waste a bit of fabric, and it might be quick and shoddy, too, but if the world moves any further towards disposable fashion, then these highly trendy clothes don't even need to last long at all. Plus they'd be a perfect fit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And you could re-stitch them if you wanted them to last longer.
PPS - Or just get new ones.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Home sleep labs

You know sleep labs, where people come to be studied for sleep disorders? Couldn't you give people a recording box and some electrodes or sensors to do those sleep tests in their own homes and beds? It seems odd that there tests can only be done in a lab where people won't sleep normally anyway. I can't help but think that must be skewing the results.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never had to go myself.
PPS - Although I do snore.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Driving cabs by remote

What if you could outfit a fleet of taxis to be driven by remote over the internet? You could outsource your taxi driving workforce to India without importing any people. Or perhaps this would work better as a driver hire service for your own car, until someone takes it for a virtual joyride and the extradition rules aren't clear. And the network connection would have to be pretty reliable, too. But apart from those major deal-breaking issues, not a bad idea, eh?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wouldn't get in the spooky, driverless cab, ever.
PPS - Well, maybe on a dare.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Cameras on desktop computers

Cameras are so common that it's almost impossible to buy a laptop or phone without one. On a desktop machine, it's still a third party extra. Why is that? Cost? How much more does it cost to put a camera in a phone? Low demand? There are a lot more people on Skype now, so demand should be rising. Customisation? If we build cameras into monitors, but you want a better one, you could always buy one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Those are the only objections I can come up with.
PPS - I'm sure I could find a monitor with a camera if I looked hard enough.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Defending against mistakes

I saw a story on some current affairs show about someone who had mistyped a number on an electronic bank transfer and sent money to the wrong account. It was a significant amount of money, and the question was immediately raised: why don't the banks defend against this kind of mistake? The reason is that it's impossible to tell intent from that action.

If I meant to send money to my Uncle Bob for the first time, but I hit the wrong number and get AAA Pottery Supplies instead, how can that look accidental to the bank? I might have bought something from them and need to make a transfer, besides which they don't know Uncle Bob is my uncle or that I meant the transfer to go to him. Furthermore, I don't think the banks can even get names to associate with accounts from other institutions, and if they were able, they shouldn't, because that makes confirming (or brute-force guessing) account details much simpler.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only thing you could do is extra chances for manual checking.
PPS - But those quickly become automatically skipped.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Mickey Mouse Operation

When you want to say that a company is small-time, you can say they're "a Mickey Mouse operation". I'm not entirely sure when that saying started, but it makes absolutely no sense any more. Mickey represents one of the biggest media and entertainment companies in the world. They own four amusement parks and enough lawyers and lobbyists to change United States copyright law as if it exists only for them. They have revenue of billions a year - after tax. They could probably buy an entire state and set it up as their own sovereign country. A Mickey Mouse Operation should conjure up images of world-eating corporate machines, not two guys in a shed.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - People don't say it much anymore, I suppose.
PPS - Not my generation, anyway.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Semi-communal living

I wrote something in passing about how individual houses could be replaced by one big aircraft hangar to house whole communities where everyone stakes out their own little area proportional to how much they pay for upkeep. The more I thought about it, the more it started making a lot of sense as something between wasteful individual houses and hippy communes. You might still have to keep communal plumbing and lighting, but that's bound to be more energy and water efficient than individual houses anyway. So what do you think? Could you live in a small, private, secured area of an aircraft hangar, sharing plumbing with a few hundred other people if it meant lowering your environmental impact and relying on the superstructure for a roof over your head?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not totally sure how I'd handle it.
PPS - Once I got over feeling a little bit homeless, that is.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Always-on video phones

The next step from always-on internet is always-on video conferencing. For instance, a family dispersed across the globe could set up video conferencing always-on in alcoves that look like windows. Then it would look like you're living in one house with a few connecting portals. The oddest thing about it would be time zone differences making it look like it's night in the next room when here is bright daylight.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, as the size of your family increases, so does the screen space required.
PPS - And the bandwidth.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Curving a bullet

Would a bullet curve if it were round and had a side spin and low velocity? Mythbusters tested the bullet curve idea from the movie Wanted and found it to be untrue (of course). What I'd like to know, however, is whether they gave up too soon. See, soccer balls curve in the air all the time. All it takes is side spin to set up a "Magnus effect". So if you want to curve a bullet, perhaps what you need, rather than unbalanced projectiles or fancy gunplay is a low-velocity, spherical projectile with high drag coefficient spinning sideways.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't have access to such things myself.
PPS - Nor a place to test it, if I did.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friday Photo - Gecko Hitching

See those feet and tail poking out there? That's a gecko under my windscreen wiper who hitched a ride home with us from the movies. It's about a 17km drive, taking 20 minutes, and most of that time he was clutching onto the lower corner of the windscreen. We only noticed him when we were halfway home.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Those feet are great at gripping.
PPS - So great, in fact, they copied the design to make tape.


WordLens is an obvious next step in Augmented Reality and Machine Translation. It translates between English and Spanish (though obviously other languages could follow) by pointing your phone camera at written text and it overlays the translation in place, as if the world were changing to match your native language. And it does so without a network connection. It might not be perfect yet, but it's a great idea and improvements are sure to follow.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My nightmare scenario for AR is an app that removes clothing from strangers.
PPS - But I suspect that could be beaten with anti-image-recognition fashion.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Reevaluating my blogging procedures

Until now, I have been keeping my blog post drafts in a text file, and selecting my next post from the end, representing the most recent entries, since they're likely to be the most relevant. However, the drafts file has been growing and growing, and I feel like I've been a bit lazy about posting quality. My best work may be lurking in the middle of the file where I'll never see it again.

Enter the Comparator. Now I have written a program to present me with the entire backlog of post drafts, two at a time, and I vote for the one I like best of each pair. The scores are saved, the file sorted and rewritten. Now the best posts will gradually float to the end of the file and the worst ones will sink to the beginning, making this a win in a few ways. I should be posting better quality entries here while saving space removing the worst from the drafts file, and I'm much less likely to overlook a high-quality draft. The first few sortings will take quite some time for me, but after a while, I will start to see much more clearly the difference between my best and worst work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So far, I've only made one voting pass.
PPS - But it already looks like it's doing a good job.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Future internet services

It seems likely that Microsoft will push more to online services as its standard business model, in part to prevent piracy, but also to allow users access to their own standard home computing environment from anywhere. Imagine being able to log in to any Windows PC, anywhere worldwide, and seeing your own familiar environment, hosted at Microsoft, with your email, browser bookmarks and personal files right there as if you were at home. You pay a yearly subscription fee, plus a monthly fee depending on how much storage you're using. That's "software as a service", and they're big on that.

The Big Three in IT (Google, Microsoft and Apple) will continue to be big, but their core business will be more about servers and services available anywhere. Client software will continue to be important, but will focus on two areas: using the Big Three services to provide value, or doing without the Big Three entirely, working in a serverless, peer-to-peer network fashion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It will be interesting to see how the internet develops.
PPS - I think there's a lot of changes ahead.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The cost of moving Wicked tickets

The show Wicked at QPAC was forced to displace 40 000 tickets in response to the Brisbane floods. That means 40 000 phone calls to make to patrons who may want to reschedule or may want to get a refund. Let's say it takes an average of 20 minutes to make each of those phone calls, and say they can have people working on it, non-stop, for 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. That's only 120 calls per worker per week.

To get through all the calls in a reasonable time of two weeks, they'd need 334 people working full-time. If you're paying them $20/hour, that's $534 400 just in wages, not counting phone call costs, administration and office rental that you'd obviously need for your brand new 334-strong dedicated call centre. So if they can afford to spend that much on rescheduling tickets, imagine how much they're making by putting on the show.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There may be fewer than 40 000 people to contact, due to group or pair bookings.
PPS - It's funny that a show about the Wicked Witch of the West was damaged by water...