Friday, 29 April 2011

Sticky note programs

There are lots of programs that simulate sticky notes for your computer. Windows 7 even comes with one built in. And I've just figured out why I don't like them: you only ever get as much space to physically arrange them as you have on your computer desktop. It's as if someone gave you free reign to write whatever you want on an infinite stack of index cards, and arrange them however you want, but only within a tiny little tray. As soon as you try to store any decent amount of information there, you'll run into problems.

Scrolling and zooming are hardly new concepts in software, but apparently these sticky note programs haven't caught up to that point yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure I'd lose track of some of my notes on an infinite canvas.
PPS - So maybe it's not the final answer.

Friday Flash Fiction - Life Sentence

They sentenced Jeremiah Livingstone-Tannin to three hundred years in prison for three brutal murders. It stayed on the books, though the Old West rose and fell, and Jeremiah kept on ticking away in prison, serving his time. Occasionally a warden or a guard would catch a glimpse of him smiling that too-white smile with the teeth a little sharper than you'd think would be possible. But they shook their heads as if waking from a dream and the image was gone.

He was a model prisoner, and never in fights, neither starting nor finishing them. Nobody ever seemed to ask why he didn't age, or didn't eat at mealtimes. And three hundred years after his incarceration, to the very day, the warden released Jeremiah Livingstone-Tannin, though for some reason he insisted they let him out at midnight. Just as he was walking out of view, the guard would later swear, Jeremiah spread that old dark cloak of his, and took off like a bat in the night.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've (already) grown tired of Friday Photo. I think this idea is more my style.
PPS - Besides, everyone takes photos.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Email and collaboration

When you really think about it, email sucks as a collaboration tool. Either you need to keep copying everyone on every message so they know what's going on, even if you're just passing on a message, because some people might not know that someone else has been informed of something. Maintaining that list of who needs to know what (and who needs to know who knows what) is a major hassle.

That's even before you get to the point of editing documents as a group, where multiple people can be emailing multiple versions of multiple documents so often that it's not even clear what the most recent versions are, let alone whose job it is to merge them into one.

There are solutions, but they tend to be online (where businesses don't trust the data storage) or don't mesh with Microsoft Office. So we stick with that one old tool, email, that doesn't quite get the job done, but manages to do most of what we need.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The core problem is solved.
PPS - It's the migration and market share that we need now.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Simulation games for university training

How much can simulation games help with university training? For instance, designing and operating a mine could be simulated and, as long as the game doesn't do too many of the calculations itself, it could be a very helpful learning experience for budding mining engineers. Given that same software, though, real mining engineers could probably benefit too. You'd just have to swap out the gaming aspects and some of the simulation for real-world measurement.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For all I know, not being a mining engineer, they do this already.
PPS - I also haven't been to university lately.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Arguments and assumptions

Everything stands up to its own logic. It's the assumptions you have to question. I prefer to argue by challenging your assumptions. It's like that old saying, whoever defines the terms, wins the debate. The best way (often the only way) to counter-argue is to question the definitions, not the arguments built on them. The definitions, properly or maliciously crafted, will have the wrong assumptions behind them, and you need to point that out if you're going to argue with any hope of success.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do enjoy a good debate.
PPS - But I never got into the formal kind.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Taking over the world

How would you take over the world with infinite cash but only one year? Most of us have all the time in the world, but not enough money to, say, hollow out a volcano or take the moon hostage. But what if those limits were reversed? You'd have all the cash you could imagine, but a time limit of 365 days. So what would you do if, one year from today, you wanted to be remembered forever as the ultimate ruler of the world?

Personally, I'd probably start with something boring like buying up all the biggest corporations and paying off everyone's mortgages. Then I'd be not only in charge of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world, but every home owner would be on my side too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then I'd start on the assassinations.
PPS - Soon enough I'd be the only one willing to run any country.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Standard device chargers

I would appreciate one standard device charger when travelling. Right now I have one each per phone (for Debbie and me), one for the camera, one for the laptop and one for the iPod. I realise they're a bit different, but surely that's not the best we can do. They all take up so much space and get tangled together so easily that it seems like more trouble than it should be.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've seen DC converters with multiple attachments and settings.
PPS - That's not quite what I want, but it's a start.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Conflicting demands

It's difficult to have your management goals met if you issue conflicting demands to your employees. For instance, if you demand that software documentation be kept up to date at all times, but also say that writing documentation is non-chargeable time and that all employees should maximise their chargeable time, then you will have a conflict where you are actually telling employees not to do documentation. That's just an example. It is not currently happening to me.

The point is, at a high level, you might not seem to have any contradictions in your goals, but when you break them down to their real meanings for day to day work, you might find them working against each other.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And then one is going to dominate the others.
PPS - It might not be the one you want.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Supply, demand and digital distribution

When digital copies are abundant and selling like mad, should the price be lower or higher? I think that's probably looking at the problem backwards. A lower price drives demand, and because the supply never runs out, you don't have an incentive as the supplier to raise prices in order to maximise your profit. The lower the price, the more people will buy your movie, book or music and vice versa. Already music and book downloads are settling into a $1-per-unit price model, simply because that's where the maximum demand and profit lies. Movies and TV shows will probably get there too. It's just a matter of time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I look forward to those times.
PPS - Then they just need to get rid of the DRM and I'll actually start buying things.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ticket scalping vs buying for gifts

Ticket vendors need to try and protect against scalping just as a part of their business. The problem is that ticket scalping and buying as a gift are identical transactions from an information point of view. Defending against one by necessity prevents the other. That is, if I'm buying two tickets for two friends, that looks exactly the same to a ticket vendor as if I were buying two tickets to sell to the highest bidder.

You might say I can include the names of the intended recipients at the time of purchase, but what if I'm buying ten tickets together in good faith that I have ten friends to bring with me, but I don't know which ones they will be yet? You can't just ask me to provide the names later, because that would enable me to scalp the tickets to strangers and provide their names. And what if I meet a brand new person after buying the ticket, and decide to bring them along? Well, that looks like scalping even if you have some way of verifying friendships and family relationships up front.

There's no winning here. You either have to accept a certain amount of scalping or stop selling tickets entirely.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Clearly nobody is going to stop selling if that's their business.
PPS - At least not until it's unprofitable.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Opposing monopolies

Products that oppose monopolies are important, such as Google's Android phone operating system, alternative web browsers like Firefox and Chrome, and the Linux OS. It's never a good situation for consumers when one company holds a monopoly - actual or just practical - over platforms and distribution channels. That's why Apple and Linux are important for computer operating systems and it's why iTunes and Facebook are such problems. It's not that they are bad, as such, just that they have no external point of reference.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the capitalist version of the contrary point of view.
PPS - Without that opposition, products and services grow stale and evil.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday Photo - Roma Sunset

This is a sunset at Roma, Queensland, taken some time in 2009. I had to borrow a tripod to keep the camera steady in the low light.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll be back there for Easter this year.
PPS - And it probably won't be the last time.

Engineering and details

It is an engineer's job to go from vague description to detailed design. Better tools make the process easier, but also expand the scope of what we consider possible. So we think in terms of bigger projects, which also means we pay attention to fewer details at that level. The engineer's job is to make sure those little details you forgot all work together in a cohesive whole. Engineering will never be obsolete. It will just change thanks to better tools that alter what we think of as small details.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder how much detail tomorrow's engineers will have to manage.
PPS - Probably about the same, but they won't look like today's details.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Platform stability

Google's Android mobile operating system is suffering (or thriving, depending on who you ask) from a glut of customised versions. Knowing which apps will run on which phones and whether yours will behave correctly (or whether your phone company has accidentally or maliciously crippled it) is like rolling the dice. You never quite know. I think the nintendo DS is being eroded a little by the many different versions. We are also starting down a similar path with point of sale systems. Right now there are three competing systems in Australia: magnetic stripe, chip-and-pin, and RFID. It's not so much a problem for consumers yet, but I can imagine businesses being annoyed at the competing systems and the constant upgrade treadmill.

Platform stability is important for consumers. You want to know that what you buy today will be supported tomorrow, and that it's not a waste of time and money to invest in it. We have Betamax anxiety about every new consumer technology, especially when backwards compatibility is seen as a stifling restriction on progress.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Blu-Ray is still suffering from this.
PPS - Despite winning out against HD-DVD.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Timeline computing

Imagine your icons - your images and videos, but also your browser history and past versions of files - all arrayed on a timeline, oldest to the left, newest to the right. Finding what you were working on last Friday is a matter of scrolling back. Restoring previous versions of files just means scrolling back to where they were last changed. To remind yourself of something in the future, scroll forward and place a note there.

I don't doubt there would be some issues to work out, like finding a file if you don't remember when you last used it, or expiring old backups and managing hard drive space, but could you see yourself using a computer interface that was built around a timeline? It wouldn't have to be the only way, of course.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are a lot of ways computers could work better for us.
PPS - The main user interface usually only creeps forward in tiny increments.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Simple amateur video editing

There are certain photo correction tools that should be available for video too, like 90-degree rotation, colour correction, cropping and face recognition. For the most part, the only difference between working with video and still photos is the time element. A video is a long sequence of still frames that can each be processed or corrected in turn. For some tools, like cropping and colour correction, you might need to be careful to apply the effect to only one scene at a time, which does complicate things a lot. Still, I think it's about time some of the simple photo correction tools made their way into amateur video editing tools too, like Google Picasa (which can already rotate video).

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd be surprised if Google were not trying to do that.
PPS - I'd also expect it to take some time to do right.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Constant save

Ideally, our computers should use a system where you never need to remember to save your work at all, it just happens automatically all the time. That's how we work in the real world - you never need to "save" what you've written on paper. Creating it and keeping it are the same thing. Of course, that requires software to be written specifically for that arrangement, but then it starts feeling a lot more like something based on reality, built for you, rather than based on engineering constraints and built to suit the hardware.

If you also have a version-controlling file system with automatic remote redundancy, you'll have a very complete history of everything you've done, and backups are practically subconscious. No data will ever be lost simply because you saved over it, accidentally deleted it or even because of ordinary hardware failure.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I use Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh to get some of this behaviour.
PPS - But I'm talking about designing Windows around the idea.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Friday Photo - Port Arthur

This picture was taken at a historical jail site in Port Arthur, Tasmania. It was a few years ago now, so I don't remember specifically what that building is. It might be a chapel.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But I think the chapel or church was bigger.
PPS - Only a few of the buildings still had roofs.

Mythbusters making myths

I can imagine Mythbusters inspiring a few myths and conspiracy theories of their own, entirely by accident. Mostly it would be of the form "that's just what they want you to think" when testing ways to beat the law. For instance, here are some of the conclusions they've drawn that might inspire this reaction:

- You can't beat the lie detector.
- You can't beat the breathalyser.
- You can't beat speed cameras, either with non-obvious plate blockers or with speed.
- You can't beat the bloodhound.
- You can't outsmart the drug dogs.

You just know there are people out there wilfully disbelieving those things.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, you aren't being implanted with mind-control chips when you donate blood.
PPS - At least that's what they told me.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The contrary point of view

Every king needs a fool to mock him. Every trial needs a devil's advocate. The contrary point of view must not be silenced, because by that process we utterly lose our perspective. Anywhere an assertion is made - science, politics, religion, film-making, book editing - there should be someone whose job it is to be the "no" man.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Plus I think it would be cool to see court jesters following CEOs around.
PPS - Who wouldn't like to see that?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Mental and physical games

I want there to be a game that is as much a mental challenge as physical, but not forced like chess boxing or only mental for the coach like gridiron. I want a game where you as a player will only succeed if you are mentally and physically fit and can use both of those skills at once. Maybe what I'm thinking of is some kind of obstacle course maze.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe it's unnecessary.
PPS - Because there are enough games to challenge either mind or body.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Culture and skills

Culture breeds expertise and skills. If you have a culture of valuing problem-finding and solving, then you will grow a skill set in your people of finding and fixing problems. If you have a culture of security and safety, you will encourage your people to develop skills related to keeping things secure and safe. If you have a culture of blame and surveillance, however, you will only encourage your people to learn to shift blame and avoid surveillance or rat out their co-workers for personal glory. Before long, you'd find your organisation feeding on itself so that some bits look successful at the expense of others. Soon after that, you need constant new hires (AKA "meat for the grinder") or you'll collapse and die.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not good to be one of those corporations.
PPS - My employer is not like that.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Google, truth and knowledge

We have gathered the information of the world. It is indexed, it is accessible and easily referenced. But it is missing something. Google is the world's best, biggest and fastest card catalogue, but the information still needs processing. What does it mean and what parts are true? Wolfram Alpha is a different story, but is still quite limited.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We still need experts.
PPS - And ways to find them.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Good programs and good programmers

You're never going to get good programs from non-programmers, regardless of the tools, just like you can't get good dentistry from non-dentists or good flying from non-pilots. As soon as you're getting good programs from someone, by definition, they are a programmer. But the tools are always advancing, so the things we do and call "programming" today are the automated tasks of programmers' tools tomorrow. And, at least in theory, the tools should advance and branch out so that more people can do tomorrow what only programmers can do today.

In contrast with "good programs equals programmer", if you only ever get bad programs from someone, are they therefore not a programmer, even if they've been hired and trained as one?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's a Venn diagram in there somewhere.
PPS - But it might not be worth the effort.

Friday Photo - Pokolbin

This is the view from a winery called Tuscany Wine Estate Resort in Pokolbin, New South Wales. As a photo, I'm moderately happy with it. The colour looks a little washed out, and the muddy grass with the drain could use some Photoshop expertise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It doesn't do the real view any justice.
PPS - Few photos do, though.