Friday, 30 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Train Station Nation

Someone must have flipped a track switch incorrectly by accident. A passenger train roared past at full speed, filled with commuters, half of them confused at the unfamiliar turn their morning route had taken, the other half gawking at the secret shanty town. Time to move on, and quickly. The denizens knew the drill, though many of them had not been part of a move-along before. They gathered grime-faced children, rolled up tents and sleeping mats, packed their camping stoves and other meagre belongings into duffel bags and backpacks. In twenty minutes they were mobile, ready to hike down the tunnels to find another station on a different abandoned train line.

Amil didn't want to let anyone know, but this had been the last abandoned station he'd known of. The last resort, and now it was suddenly exposed. It doesn't happen often, the exposure, but forgotten train stations happened even more rarely. Today the train schedule changes so that fewer services go to this or that station. A while later, services start bypassing the station entirely. The train drivers stop noticing the tracks going off to the left at that one point into a dark tunnel. The station is locked up, the lights turned off, and eventually the streetside entrances are paved over. Nobody even remembers there used to be a station there, except certain doddering archivists and intrepid urban spelunkers. Amil had grown up in the underground, and had scouted for abandoned stations in his youth. Now he had nowhere to lead his people.

They set off down a tunnel even Amil had not seen before. That was a good sign, at least. It angled down and around in a wide helix, and Amil lost track of how far they had come. The train tracks ended at a palatial underground station, older than any Amil had ever seen, art-deco styling, the roof twelve metres overhead, gilded columns and platform signs hand-written in looping calligraphy on carved wood. Chandelliers hanging down and ticket booths without glass or bars. No turnstyles anywhere. The whole floor caked with dust. The mayors of the displaced micronations began staking out territory. New Chinatown. New Little Italy. Nouvelle-France. New Home. The Train Station Nation, modern cave-dwellers with their own laws and their own borders, run out of their own city by racial violence in the war. We may be safe here for a month or a year, thought Amil to himself, but this life is not sustainable. Sooner or later, they'd run out of places to hide, and then could only hope that the world outside would be ready to accept them when they re-emerge into the daylight.

Amil stood back a bit and took a head count, then counted again to make sure. They were missing four. Asking around, Amil found that it was four Russian youths, and that nobody had seen them since the train passed. Amil wrapped his threadbare grey cloak around himself, explained his mission to the elders, and set off in search of the four boys, back up the dim tunnel, along some more familiar tracks, and cautiously to the surface streets.

What he saw there was shocking. From the tales of his father, he expected rubble, dust, violence and fire. Instead, the streets were clean, people were driving cars, eating in open-air restaurants, walking dogs down the street. There was no war, at least, not any more. There was no danger on the surface at all. Amil gaped at it all, unable to take it in. Passing people began to give strange looks to the soot-covered man in the grey coat, and Amil made himself scarce, retreating to the familiar darkness of the subway. When he caught his breath, Amil wondered what to do. What could he do? The youths would not be coming back, he was sure, but what could he tell the others? After a long while, Amil decided it was best the others not know. They had a life below the world, and a nice new station that would be safe for a long time. This was their place. Their home. This, Amil reassured himself, was where he and they belonged.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have a weird fondness for forgotten places.
PPS - And I like the idea that a whole city could forget about a whole train station.

Amazon and region restrictions

The maddest I have ever been at Amazon is when it told me I was not allowed to buy a particular ebook because it was available only to UK customers. It is only available in electronic format, and I am prevented from reading it because Amazon says so. Why? Shut up and get out, that's why. We don't want your filthy Australian dollars, thanks. But I discovered later that I can buy it from the US Amazon site. So what I really have here is a fractured user experience. Is Amazon one global company, from which I can buy what I want, or is it a a few companies obeying local laws? I was on the UK site because they have free shipping to Australia now for orders over $25, but I'm not allowed to buy everything there, because the UK site is only for UK customers. Or Australians who want free shipping, but not ebooks. No, for those exact same ebooks, you need to go to the American site.

I guess the problem is that it is very clear to me that I am not buying a book here. I am using a website that represents a publisher that has certain regional interests that need to be protected who happens to have a relationship with Amazon who has agreed to sell a book under certain conditions. There are so many layers and lawyers between me and the book that it doesn't feel like shopping any more. I need to navigate through the rat maze first, and then I get the food pellet. Hey, Amazon, I came here to buy a book. Do you want my money or not? Their answer, apparently, is "Yes, but only if you find out the right way to give it to us."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I sincerely hope someone is working on this.
PPS - Because if I can buy something digital from one Amazon site, shouldn't I be able to buy it anywhere?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

iTunes Australian prices

American TV is dirt cheap through the American iTunes store. The theory is that it's showing on cable there anyway, so there's not much demand. In the Australian iTunes store, the same TV shows cost four times as much, to make more profit, but a lot of people just download instead. So if the iTunes prices were lower, would that mean more sales and more profit?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess the fear is that there still won't be enough sales.
PPS - It just depends where the natural balance lies.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Android, iOS and market share

If you can retail a capable Android phone for under $100, how is Apple going to maintain their market dominance? Actually, worldwide, Android already has the lion's share of the mobile market (43% according to 2011 research by Gartner, vs only 18% for iPhone), and it's likely to continue to grow. The sub-$100 phones just prove that Android is flexible enough for pretty much anything. The real question is whether that dominance will turn developers to think of Android first and iOS second.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apparently the new iPhone might be due out later this year.
PPS - That could change things again.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Disagreeing with Seth Godin

I've been reading Seth Godin's blog, and while it might sound nice and inspirational, I'm having a few problems with it. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, or at least the motivations behind it.

For instance, he says some people take jobs with big firms to avoid responsibility, and they should be working to fix the problems they find there. But the job you get, especially in a recession, is not always entirely up to you. Also, in a big firm, the people at the bottom are not stupid. They see the problems, they report the problems, and the people at the top ignore those problems because they've got bigger problems. Then the people at the bottom leave in frustration and are replaced by other people who see the same problems. You might know there's an issue, and you might know how to solve it, but that is not always in your power, and that is not always your fault.

Or how about this one: you have chosen to live in a world where certain products are unavailable to you, for instance Mac-only computer programs, Amazon Kindle exclusive content and food that is only available in Norway. Ads for those products that you have "chosen" not to have make you mad, because they remind you of your choice of exclusion. But how can you choose to own and pay for three phones just to get access to all the apps? Can you even choose to live in two countries at once, for example, to have this country's health care but this country's tax rates? No. You can't choose to have everything, so acting like the exclusion is all your fault isn't helping anyone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It seems to me that his worldly wisdom is a little shallow.
PPS - Or just a little too worldly.

Monday, 26 September 2011


I've heard that anticipation of positive events (such as holidays) results in a bigger mental boost than the actual events themselves. Is it also true, then, that anticipation of negative events (getting fired) is worse than the actual negative event? Perhaps that's the reason behind the "get it over and done with" philosophy, the reason we procrastinate (things seem worse before you do them, so you don't bother) and ripping band aids off in one go (peeling slowly prolongs negative anticipation of the rest of the pain). Maybe it doesn't apply in all those cases, but I do think it might explain a lot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Call it the Anticipation Magnification Effect.
PPS - Sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode title.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Unnatural disaster

The earthquake came out of nowhere, shaking the whole city. The side of the mountain liquefied and flowed down in a massive landslide, engulfing a third of the city's buildings and many of its inhabitants. People ran through the narrow streets, carrying what few possessions they were able to gather, urging children to hurry, trying to get out of the way of the advancing wall of mud. The roads and houses filled with the thick, flowing earth, or were crushed, toppled or even lifted from their foundations. Nothing survived in that affected area. The cleanup would take months, possibly years.

Watching from orbit, Gorignak marked off his checklist and shed a tear before turning off the agitator beam, stopping the earthquake he had caused. Being a park ranger for the Earth Natural Reserve was, for the most part, a very good job. The blue-and-white globe out the window of his monitoring station was the best view he could hope for, there was always something new and interesting to learn, and he only occasionally had to lead politicians from the central star systems on sightseeing tours. It was just days like this, when he had to do "population control" that he wished he'd applied to work at the galactic bank instead.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I just wondered one day, what if all our natural disasters were a form of deliberate population control?
PPS - It's far from the simplest explanation, though.

Replacing movies

If big budget movies are failing these days, it's because they're too big. Too much money in each one means it needs a wider audience to make a profit, which means it needs broad appeal, which means it needs to be simple, so they're all basically the same. Or they're built on established properties like popular books (Harry Potter, Twilight). We need something smaller (to reduce risk), accessible (cheap and easy to get to) and with lots of variety (to appeal to as many people as possible). Until downloads completely kill off the old revenue models, that means television.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or vaudeville.
PPS - Video recording is to live performance as word of mouth is to television.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Save and restore pool games

If you were particularly skilled, determined and weird, you could build a robot arm and a computer vision system to save and restore games of pool on a real table. If you get to a point in a game that you want to save for later, you can just hit the "save" button, then a computer will take a picture and remember the position of all the balls on the table. Then, while you go away, someone else can play. Later you can come back, find that saved state again, and have the robot arm accurately replace the balls exactly where they were.

A system like that would enable other interesting options, too. For instance, you could save a trick shot setup to use over and over, or use it as an accurate "do-over" system when playing with less-skilled opponents. You could save a game and take it with you to play elsewhere, so, for instance, if you have to leave a party before you're done, the game doesn't have to stop there and then. You could even, if you were so inclined, play against someone over the internet, though it wouldn't look very exciting unless a robot cue attempts to reproduce their shot before the ball-placing arm corrects the table again. Also, the slight differences in your tables might make such a game a bit unbalanced.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some people have already built pool-playing robots.
PPS - Probably with mixed results.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Watermarked ideas

Apparently dictionary publishers play Balderdash just to see who copies their work, making up random words and meanings. If another dictionary turns up with that unword in it, you know they copied from this particular dictionary. It's like watermarking ideas to see who copied you. Cartographers do it to their maps, too, introducing little mistakes that let them see who has duplicated their hard work for their own profit. It's a clever and subtle kind of watermarking, for sure, but it can have drawbacks. For instance, because this type of watermark needs to look like real data in order to work, it can foul up actual use of the data. In the case of dictionaries, sometimes people start actually using the fake word as if it were real, and that nullifies the purpose because now the word belongs in other dictionaries.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think there have been any cases of people changing reality to match faulty maps.
PPS - Mostly because that's the hard way.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Technology advancement disappointment

When I see old technologies going away, I tend to assume that it's because newer, better things are coming, but that's not always the case. Sometimes old tech dies and there is nothing new to take its place. Instead of more ubiquity, more compatibility, better support and more reliability, the old things often break up and just become a bigger mess of proprietary, incompatible, unsupported, unfinished, inoperable new rubbish. There may be no golden age on the horizon.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Especially if companies don't work towards standardisation.
PPS - Or work towards whatever pleases them.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Paid opinions

If you're being paid for your opinion, it's not just an opinion. You can't shrug off the blame when someone follows your paid opinion by saying it was just your personal assessment of the situation. I know there are probably lawyers whose job is to write disclaimers for exactly this kind of situation, but the fact remains that a paid opinion carries more responsibility than an unpaid, unsolicited one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The credit rating agencies tried to call their published reports "just opinions" after the GFC.
PPS - But they knew nobody treated them as simple opinions.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Think Tank

I couldn't believe my eyes. The Think Tank had made a mistake. An actual mistake. And not a little one either. The defendant was going to go free for this. Of all the people on the entire police force, none were more trusted nor more trustworthy than the Think Tank, a group of twelve autistic savants with a keen eye for detail, eidetic memories and an obsession with crime. They read old case files, discuss them with each other and just basically remember the hell out of them. The defence lawyer was theatrically brandishing his evidence, enjoying his moment: a crime novel, found in the think tank rooms and containing all the major points from this so called case. Fiction was strictly forbidden in the Think Tank, since they didn't care whether they remembered real cases or pulp fiction novels. So that explained it.

The final blow came when the lawyer turned out the inside cover and read the book's owner's name, written on an old, yellowed sticky label. My name. My blood ran cold in my veins and I started sweating. It couldn't be mine. It's impossible. I don't even read crime novels. Why would I? Police work is hard enough without spending leisure hours reading about imaginary crimes.

When the trial concluded, I had no badge, no gun and no idea what was going on, but I did have two things. Two certainties in this world. One, the Think Tank had been manipulated, and I'd been made to take the fall. Two, I was going to find out who did it, badge or no badge. I hunched over to duck past the reporters on the courthouse steps and hurried home through the smoky streets, thinking over the points in a new case - a bigger case than I could have imagined even this morning.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This feels like part of a bigger story to me.
PPS - Maybe it will be, someday.

3D printing and design

We can easily keep improving on the technology behind 3D printing, with faster techniques, cheaper materials and so on, and websites like Thingiverse will be critical to spread printable designs so that anyone can make at home whatever they want. However, after 3D printers become affordable household appliances and the materials are cheap enough to use on a whim, the biggest barrier will be designing the thing you need to print. So if you really want everyone to get into creating 3D objects, you need great 3D modelling software, available for free and very easy to use.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or a vast library of snap-together generic printable parts.
PPS - Like LEGO.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

If you could not fail

There's an inspirational/motivational quote attributed to Robert Schuller that goes like this: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" It's meant to focus you on the dreams you are too afraid to pursue, rather than attempting the literally impossible. But between the impossible and the scary is the very unlikely. If I knew I could not fail, I would make a career of acting. I know I have friends and relatives who would encourage me, but realistically I would put in maybe fifteen years of amateur performances paying my dues, by which time I would be nearly fifty. I might be lucky enough to score a couple of gigs as a background extra before I am too old to work, so over my total acting career, my income would be less than six months at my current salary. I have a family to support, and I can't do that as a struggling actor. But if I knew I could not fail, I would do it. My point is that there's a difference between fear of failure and realistic assessment of probability.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Acting is a very competitive field, and being talented is not enough.
PPS - You have to be well-connected too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Ideas and advertising

The best idea in the world, if people can't hear about it, won't go anywhere, but on the flip side, if there is no idea, there's nothing to advertise. Both aspects need to be in play simultaneously.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, the best products will spread by word of mouth.
PPS - And some advertising only has a product to sell by default.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Diablo 3 dual auction houses

Diablo 3 will be using two auction houses, one for in-game gold and one for real cash. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. On the one hand, it's a way to cut Blizzard in on the action of (currently) illicit cash trading that goes on anyway, so I suppose that's a smart business move. On the other hand, it legitimises the gold farmer sweatshops. I predict a lot of ordinary players will attempt to buy things with in-game gold, but sell things for real cash, which might unbalance the system a bit, but eventually people will probably settle mostly on one or the other.

I suppose one of the good things about the cash market will be the way it levels the playing fields for gold farmers. At the moment, you have to know where to go to buy gold (or other goods), you have to pay that third party, then meet up in game to make the exchange. If you're a small gold farming business trying to break into that market, you have to spend a lot of time and effort to get noticed and gain trust. If it's part of the in-game market, all you have to do is compete on price, so you could be one guy in his basement on weekends or a warehouse full of orphans operating 24-7 and you both get the same chance to sell your wares legitimately for real cash. Who knows what kind of effect that will have on that business model?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might collapse that economy overnight.
PPS - Or it might stabilise it fairly permanently.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Google's new look and why it's bad

Google have been rolling out a new look to a lot of their online services, including Calendar and GMail in particular. To me, something looks a little off about them. I think it has something to do with faded lines and soft text. It's much harder to read, and the individual elements don't stand out as much as they should. This design just feels bad to me, but Google must have done some user testing on it, so I don't know. Must be me. For instance, look at the new Google Calendar layout. It's all faded, soft text. On the previous layout, calendar events used to be displayed with a normal text weight. Now it seems they're half-weight, and it's much harder to read. It almost looks like they're deliberately faded out in order to bring your attention to something else, but that's all there is. The eye just wants to slide off and ignore them in favour of whatever else is supposed to be much more important, but the faded text is all there is. Even the current day highlight is very subtle, so the eye isn't drawn there either. So the whole effect is a page that you subconsciously don't want to look at and don't think is important because there's nothing to draw focus. Mokalus of Borg PS - Maybe it's my monitors. All of them. PPS - Though that seems unlikely.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Minotaur's Library

The librarian gathered her wits about her, thumbed the stack of index cards in her pocket and nervously touched the ball of twine at her belt. She had seldom descended beyond the third circle of the Library before, but she was the only one on duty and this was urgent. The stacks changed down here. The books were wild and old, and the atmosphere heavy, but this was only the third circle. The book she needed was deep down in the fifth circle, so said the cards. Down there with the minotaur.

She played out more twine, navigating around a space-bending circular shelf of grimoires, under the stone arch and down stairs to the left, into the fourth circle. Down here, she knew, were elder-scrolls and magical books that only existed when you looked at them out of the corner of your eye, plus other dangerous wonders. There appeared to be a dark cloud overhead, flashing occasionally with purple lightning, but again only at the edge of her vision. The special wire-rimmed glasses helped keep everything in order right ahead of her. Without them, the books would be conjuring up nightmare images to frighten her away. These books do not like to be read. And still she had to go deeper, following vague clues in the cards and what few signs the Master Librarians of years gone past had managed to leave behind.

It was the third Master Librarian, Mugu, who had discovered the five-dimensional Dewey Decimal System underlying the library's structure. Few other librarians had risen to his level of mastery, possibly because his notes had to be kept here in the fourth circle, where the numbers on the stacks danced and played, never quite looking like numbers unless you knew how to look at them (and could do higher-dimensional library-calculus in your head).

She almost missed the door to the fifth circle in a tiny crack between the stones of the inner wall, halfway around, and had to use an index card incantation to fold herself between them and into the fifth circle. The gravity change was abrupt and unsettling. She was walking on the inner surface of the wall and had a stone floor (or ceiling?) to her right. On the left was a field of stars, offering the only light, and that very dim. The bellow of the blind minotaur roused her from her fascination. She checked her index cards again, performed some calculations, turned three times in a circle and deftly plucked her book from the half-invisible shelf mid-pirouette. She folded herself back through the impossibly narrow staircase just as the minotaur zeroed in on her scent and gave another mighty roar.

The trip back to the binding desk was relatively easy, though it did feel like squeezing her brain into a jar to return from those extra dimensions. She arrived famished, but first needed to clamp the book to the desk, lest it escape. It was vibrating slightly, clearly nervous to be out of its (super)natural domain, so she incanted some soothing mnemonics and it quieted down. Handling books and minotaurs, after all, was her trade. Readers, however, were something truly terrifying.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I quite like Terry Pratchett's writing about the Discworld's Unseen University library.
PPS - And most of his other stuff, too.

Expensive old replacement parts

I had a coworker with a broken washing machine where the repair man told him the necessary replacement part to fix the machine would cost $400. At that, he decided to buy a whole new machine, but wait a second. What is there in a washing machine that could possibly cost $400 to replace when a new machine costs only a little more than that?

I got the impression that the cost was due to the part being out of date, but so what? Either it's plastic, rubber, steel or electronics. The first three can be moulded, milled or printed from computer model files without much trouble, so we must be talking about electronics. Surely reproducing an old chip or two from plans wouldn't cost $400 for just one run, or if it does, it shouldn't. Someone with the right tools and the right info could produce those replacement parts cheaper.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess the hard part there is the right info.
PPS - Circuit diagrams are probably not very available.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Singularity and perception

The Singularity may be as much to do with our expectations and impressions of technological advancement as it is about actual advancement. After a few years of owning something new and exciting yourself, you can't imagine your world without it, so it's hard to imagine that anyone else is doing without it. Who among you with an iPhone honestly believes that pretty much every phone out there is an iPhone or at least a big-screen touch phone with many gigabytes of storage? It ain't true. The pace at which you think technology is advancing is closely related to your own contact with it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The Singularity is kind of when technology outpaces itself.
PPS - Personally I'm not so sure it's going to happen.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Integration vs modularity

I saw inside a taxi recently that the driver had about four different gadgets arrayed on the dashboard to do his job. There was navigation, the dispatch system, credit card reader and the fare meter. It seems like those could all be integrated into one big taxi management device, and there might be some advantages to doing that, but there would probably also be some disadvantages too. For instance, if the credit card reader hardware is found to be insecure and needs to be upgraded, an integrated system wouldn't allow that. You'd have to replace the whole thing.

So if your components are liable to be upgraded individually, modular design is best. But sometimes the benefits of integrated systems will outweigh that advantage, especially if it's small. The overall cost of an integrated system should be lower, it takes up less space and can be designed with one smooth interface.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think the navigation, dispatch and fare meter systems could be done in one app on a dashboard-mounted iPad.
PPS - Then I have another idea for payments I might talk about later.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Technology and people

Technology is inseparable from social forces and pressures. You can't talk about the internet apart from the people who use it. Bittorrent is not the threat, but the people who use it and the reasons they do so. Those people and their reasons are not going away IF the only thing that changes is more people being sued. The only thing that might go away is Bittorrent. If all file sharing services were forever shut down tomorrow (and they really can't be) then file sharing would only get more difficult, not impossible. If you want to stop file sharing, you need to figure out who those people are and why they do what they do, then give them a better option.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Like high-quality downloads at low prices.
PPS - And remember quick availability, too.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Ad-supported phones

Some time ago there were jokes about free phone plans where your calls would be interrupted by spoken ads. It turns out the ad-supported revenue model did come to phones after all, but in the form of free apps with banner ads. That's the one thing I don't like about Android, but I can understand it. Apps are free. That's pretty much what we do these days. But someone has to get paid, and that means either a limited app demo plus a paid full version or ads (plus possibly paid ad-free version). I think this model is here to stay, at least for a while.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not exactly like the old jokes.
PPS - But the point is that ads are supporting our phones, to an extent.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Ocean's Call

The people walked down to the ocean shore and stared. They were mesmerised by the water, though none could fully say why. They had come from all over the world to the shores of their respective continents, drawn by some unheard calling. That was all they knew. Somehow the ocean was calling them forward, calling them to itself, and they were powerless to resist. They all stood there, feet wet in the lapping water, gazing with blank faces out to the horizon. Who knew what they saw there? Perhaps the movement of tides and currents, perhaps the very biosphere of all marine life, or maybe it was just the hypnotic rolling, rolling of the endless waves. Whatever the cause, they stood transfixed for a day and a night, then began to drop what they had carried there. Artifacts of humanity - toasters, lawn chairs, books, hair dryers, all the daily accessories of being human, and then suddenly they were free of the mesmerising gaze. Glancing at each other with slight embarrassment, they all turned and went home, allowing the waves to take their prizes out into the deep.

And somewhere out there, under the water, the Watcher gathered the pieces of discarded humanity to study them. In one day he accumulated a vast museum of humankind, to be preserved and to return with him to the stars, in case this world should ever be lost like so many others.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously inspired by staying on the beach this week.
PPS - Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Multi-threaded programming and Mercury

Multi-threaded programming is hard. Really hard, like "shoot this camel out of a canon through the eye of that orbiting needle". Getting it right is nearly impossible and getting it wrong is often independent of your skill. Besides wrapping your head around the concepts, you will spend many hours wracking your brain trying to figure out what's going wrong, how and where there might be conflicts, mistimed events or other problems. That's why I was so interested to hear about Mercury, a declarative programming language with all-explicit state, one of whose side-effects is the ability for the compiler to figure out the best way to do multi-threading. That's exactly what multi-thread programming needs. The added complexity probably does mean that a whole new language and programming model is what we need to solve the problem. Yes, it's a big change. Yes, it means rewriting your programs if you want to take advantage of it, but aren't you spending that time doing so anyway? Mokalus of Borg PS - There are lots of interesting alternative languages out there. PPS - And this one's not even that new.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Reference ebooks

The Kindle was made for narrative books, to be read end-to-end, one page at a time. Reference books like textbooks were not designed to be used that way, so they don't really fit the Kindle model. For that, we need something different. We need a reference ebook format, or at least some software that more easily allows flipping quickly to a page, cross-referencing, highlighting and notes, and multiple open pages (so you can simultaneously open end-of-chapter questions and the pages to which they refer).

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That quick page-flipping is a tricky one.
PPS - You don't always know the page number, and going one page at a time is a pain.