Monday, 31 October 2011

Zune Pass vs Quickflix streaming

I was very excited to hear that the Zune Pass unlimited subscription option was coming to Australia, until I heard it would be for music only. The Zune Store already has movies and TV along with music, so Microsoft could have easily included that in the Zune Pass too, and it would have been available on my XBox, which would have been perfect for me. At $12 per month (or $120 per year) we could have cut out our Quickflix subscription and saved money into the bargain.

Which brings me to the other option. Quickflix is launching a new streaming service the day before the music-only Zune Pass goes live. It will be free until December for existing subscribers, but it seems to be heavily tied to Sony hardware - you need a Bravia TV or Blu-Ray player, or a Playstation, though that option won't be live until the end of the year. Or you could use any PC or internet-enabled phone. I assume I won't be able to download movies in advance to my phone to enjoy on the train, though. Also, since their announcement mentioned "hundreds" of movies, but they have tens of thousands in their library, I'm dubious about the available titles.

On the balance, for me, it's kind of a wait-and-see situation. I need to see whether Zune starts offering movies and TV, and for Quickflix I do need to be able to use my XBox. Both services will require a fair bit of bandwidth, so might require a step up in our internet plan to go with them. And the uncertainty of the available library is a concern too. I don't want to start paying for a service only to discover that most of what I would watch is not on there. I look forward to seeing how they both play out.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Technically, they are probably both competing with BigPond Movies too.
PPS - But as far as I know, BigPond doesn't have an unlimited streaming option.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Professor Sinister and the Radioactive Rats

Miss Phoenix propped herself up uncomfortably on the floor where she had been kicked. Her cape was torn, her mask askew. She spat blood and nursed some broken ribs as Professor Sinister stood gloating over her. His robot clanked to a halt behind him, its job of physical violence done, for the moment.

"You think you can win, Phoenix?" taunted the Professor, "My radioactive rats are already halfway across the city by now, and nothing can stop them! Even if you escaped, there's nothing you can do. You've already lost!"

"No, Sinister. You've lost. Mr Ambient tracked the rats through the sewers with his Geiger sense, and he has the Pied Piper's flute!"

Professor Sinister's face grew pale. Well, paler. "But ... no! I destroyed that cursed flute!"

"You only thought you did. We swapped it for a decoy in the museum months ago, when Doctor Vermin tried to steal it."

Sinister dropped his eyes, scanning his mental reserves for something, anything, that would mean his plan could still succeed. The robot's remote control sparked and released a wisp of smoke in his hand, and just then a jaunty flute tune started to drift in through the window from somewhere far away.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This would be my second superhero vignette.
PPS - Probably won't be the last.

Asking why in technology

There are some people who embrace current technology. Above them are those who wish it could do something more. Dreamers. Above those, however, are visionaries that see past the stack of technology, past the people and the debate about whether it's good or bad, and get right to the heart of the issue, like what the problem is and why it should be solved this way or that, or what we need to do in the future to make best use of what we have. There's a progression of engagement with technology, then, from "what's new?" and "where is it going?" to "why are we doing this?". We need people - leaders - at that top level.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Fortunately, it's not that difficult to start asking "why".
PPS - If you can, you should start doing that.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Review: Makers by Cory Doctorow

I found this book one of the most compelling I have ever read by Cory Doctorow. One that really excited me in the beginning, kind of horrified me in the middle and offered only bittersweet resolution at the end. The overwhelming feel is of transience. Nothing lasts very long, and certainly not as long as you feel it should.

The story follows Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks, a pair of artists and generally creative types, through the rise and fall of micro-entrepeneurship funded on the collapse of big old corporations. With the help of 3D printers and networks of other small businesses, they make some cool stuff, set the world on fire with a new way of doing business and manufacturing, but like the soft plastic goop on which their printers run, it all starts wearing out too soon. Nobody really knows what they should be doing, long-term, and none of it really works out anyway. Businesses are created and abandoned before anyone knows what to do with them, and even interpersonal relationships are made of fragile stuff. At least the villain gets his just deserts, but the conclusion is just part of the wearing down.

It felt a little depressing, I suppose, but also relatable. I got excited about new things and new technological possibilities, but in the end I know it all winds down and wears out, even if you don't want it to. An individual's character remains firm at the core, and relationships built on that core can last, but everything else - the type of work we do, the way we do it and our friends and colleagues - are all built on the shifting sands of time. That said, I could hardly put the book down, and I definitely recommend it. Just don't go in expecting happiness, rainbows and unicorns all the way through.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Makers on Amazon.
PPS - Makers on Doctorow's site including free ebook version.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Deadlines and programming

Deadlines on programming tasks that are meant to create a little pressure inevitably slip because they don't mean anything real. Deadlines that *are* real might slip because programming takes as long as it takes, and knowing that it has to happen before a certain time doesn't really do anything to help that.

There are two ways you can deliver more quickly in programming: reduce quality expectations or cut features. Suggesting the former is a good way to get a swift kick, and the latter will result in long meetings about what features are the most or least essential. Basically between schedule, budget and features, you only get two. If you have an absolute deadline, then you need to choose whether you also have a fixed budget or a definite required set of features.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If it's features and budget you need, it's going to take some time.
PPS - And if it's a fixed budget and schedule, you might not get all your features.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Work and value

The goal of work is to use time and skill to produce value. Our society of trade is based on the idea that other people will produce the right value to exchange for ours. We use money as an enabler of trade, so that even if you have no goods I want and vice versa, we can still do business with each other. With the view of money as a means of enabling trade, two things immediately stop making sense: pure finance markets and people who hoard massive piles of cash. Finance markets make the medium of trade into a product of its own, and that causes inflation pretty directly, because people are paying more than face value for money. Sooner or later that house of cards must fall down. Hoarding cash, similarly, is like preparing for big trades that never happen. Having more money than you could ever use should be seen as a sign of wasted effort, a bad case or paranoia or pathological greed. Only in a few cases could it be seen as having produced something of worth that the whole world wanted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or performing some service the whole world needed.
PPS - But that's even rarer.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Conman's Conscience

Conman's Conscience is the name I have for those situations when a person or a business justifies itself by saying "it's your own fault". People who sell pictures of iPhones on eBay claim their victims didn't read carefully, so it's their own fault. An internet service provider that doesn't upgrade their customers to new, cheaper, better versions of their plans automatically says its their own fault for not checking regularly. If you're exploiting your customers in any way and justifying it by saying they should have known better, you've got Conman's Conscience.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Most privacy invasions online fit in this category.
PPS - And, of course, all cons, short or long.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Ends of the Monarchs

The king delegated his whole life to his servants. Others made his public appearances, prepared and delivered his speeches, signed documents on his behalf. In the end, he needed not move at all, but would have servants feed him, bathe him, dress him, drive him, carry him, read to him, speak for him. In this state, he became essentially useless, taking in resources and producing nothing of value. Realising this, the parliament and the servants came to an agreement. The servants would continue this life without their employer the king, going about the same actions as a collective unit but without a head, so to speak. They became new elected officials with quite specific tasks. This is how the king was replaced, and why our tradition still refers to the servants at the castle as "the king". The castle, and indeed the country, continues functioning as if there were a king, but we long ago outgrew the need to have an actual figurehead there.

In the Palace of a Thousand Steps, the emperor sits on his throne at the top of a miniature staircase, one thousand tiny steps above the audience chamber floor. That is how far you are beneath him. All who appear there to petition the emperor are ritually cut before leaving, for nobody can come face to face with the emperor and walk away unharmed. The emperor must be seen to be unconcerned with earthly matters, including food, shelter and clothing. Thus nobody may watch him eat, though food is delivered. He has no official home. He does not speak, does not walk, performs none of the mundane actions of ordinary life, at least not while anyone is looking. Such ritual, ceremony and tradition grew up around the emperor that, after several hundred years, the position was given to a wooden statue. It was far easier, then, to believe him to be immortal, to ensure he would never bleed and would not age. And, officially, the emperor still ruled, though his vice-chancellor had to do most of the work.

The Gnome Queen of the Opal Caverns holds court over a tiny nation. It is forever shrinking as border disputes, private land sales and plain old erosion nibble away at the edges. Centuries ago the Caverns domain stretched under the earth for hundreds of kilometres. Over time it diminished, by degrees, to only several caves. As recently as two years ago it covered just one cave and a dozen subjects. Today, technically, the Opal Caverns nation is one stalagmite, and has no populace but the queen herself. With a deep sigh of resignation, the Gnome Queen takes the quill from the grinning goblin and signs the treaty that gives away the very last vestiges of her once-great dominion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Everything comes to an end.
PPS - Well, most things.

Pedestrians as traffic control

There is a pedestrian crossing near the train station in my home suburb. It does nothing but allow people to cross the busy road in two stages, with a refuge island in the middle. You cross one half, push the next button, and cross the second half. Despite being exclusively for the good of pedestrians, I believe it has been designed mostly with the cars in mind. For instance, in the morning, when most people are heading towards the train station, the lights are timed so that they give the maximum possible delay to pedestrians crossing the road in that direction. When one pedestrian light goes green on the side furthest from the station, you can bet that its timer is just behind the one on the other side, so that you will have to wait in the middle. If you were coming out of the station at that time, you would find the timing quite agreeable. This timing is reversed in the afternoon.

Second, if you take a look down the road to another signalled intersection, you will notice that the pedestrian light goes red just as that other one goes green, so cars coming in that direction will have to stop at both lights. This does not provide any benefit to the pedestrians, of course, and it doesn't even happen at all if there are no pedestrians. I must conclude, therefore, that the timing is the result of a conscious decision to use pedestrians as a form of traffic control. Somehow that doesn't seem like a good idea.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think the maximum-delay timing is a mistake.
PPS - But I can't know for sure.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Live parking info

If we can get live traffic info from car transponders (sort of like Google Maps does), we could possibly get live parking info too. Because we don't have always-on, internet-enabled car transponders, though, you'd have to get the data some other way. If Google Maps can get live traffic data from users, perhaps you could compare the intended destinations of those users to see if there is likely to be a parking problem in a given area when they all arrive.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There would be a fair amount of guesswork involved.
PPS - But sometimes that's enough.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Inside-out computing

Every now and then there is a major shift in the way we think about computers and technology. It's like this: we make screens bigger, better and more immersive, but they're still screens we have to put in place. At some point there comes a shift - we flip inside out - and suddenly we're not looking at the world with screens put on top, but screens with the world underneath. It usually happens when someone invents a new way of doing things, but it doesn't happen every time. You can't reach that change point with the same technology and the same way of doing things. We can cram more and more technology into the gaps in our world, but eventually we're going to run out of room between existing technology and methods. At some point, we have to redesign and leave old technology behind.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Hopefully for something better.
PPS - Otherwise what's the point?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Smart phones and internet monitoring

Our next generation will probably have their own smart phones before they have their own computers. That means they have their own personal unmonitored internet connection, and for paranoid parents that's a huge red flag. Whereas normal desktops can be placed in common areas at home to discourage inappropriate use (whether deliberate or accidental), mobile phones don't have that option. When there's an internet connection in everyone's pocket, what do you do? You can try locking it down so that the user (the child) is not an administrator (the parent) who decides what is and is not acceptable on the phone. That kind of system has to be perfect to be successful, though, and nothing is ever perfect.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe it would be good enough for most circumstances, though.
PPS - And it all depends how much you trust your kids.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Print on demand

If retail of the future is going to involve a lot more print on demand services, from where are the first 3D printing shops going to arise? Will they be additions to the old photo and camera shops, as a new print kiosk beside the photo printing booths? Will internet cafes install 3D printers for one-off object downloads beside their paper printers? Will they be vending machines standing alone? Will they be in their own service department at big department stores? Perhaps they'll be an important part of novelty shops, who can then print as many weird mugs or toy figurines as they require that day. Maybe they'll find their first niche at the local hardware store, where you can go and get that specific piece you need, the same way you can get a paint colour made to order. Or maybe they will just appear as their own standalone shop, much like current clothing personalisation shops.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I saw Coca Cola booths at Chermside shopping centre where you could have your name printed on a can.
PPS - But that counts more as experimental marketing.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - The Undercity

Thirteen years ago I entered the labyrinth of the Undercity through a manhole I found in an alley. I didn't know where I was going. If I'd known, I would have stayed out. In all my thirteen years down here, I have never found an exit, but I've been looking the whole time. That's why I am both intrigued by and skeptical of the little snivelling creature cowering at the tip of my drawn sword. I've learned the hard way to survive down here in this half-real place, and I've got the scars (and sword) to prove it. You don't live long on these streets by sweating and crying at the sight of every shiny blade, so this kid must be new. The trail back to his entry might still be fresh.

He tried to pick my pocket, a trick most urchins around here know not to try, and as I had wheeled on him, sword drawn, he jumped back, tripped and fell against the wall, with nowhere left to go. At the threat of a swift impalement, he squeaked quickly: "I know a way out!" Everyone is looking for a way out.

The rain pelts down, as always, and we walk. I follow the boy, clearly recovered from his ordeal, around the gravity well, past the blank-faced shops, over the Dozen Train Tracks and the boy keeps looking back to check on me. We turn left into a red-brick street that narrows the further it goes. There is a faint shimmer in the air at an uncertain distance, and on the edge of detection, a scent of ozone mixed with the usual rats-and-garbage smells. We do not seem to be getting closer, nor further away.

Then suddenly, like blundering into a thick curtain in the dark, I feel it. A velvet heaviness in the atmosphere, threatening to press me to the ground. It's as if the space here is more real than anywhere I've been in years. Maybe I've been here too long. Could true reality crush me? Every step grows more difficult, I feel like I'm breathing syrup and the raindrops assault me like almighty hailstones. I am strong. I can make it, I tell myself, but then I cannot. Though I summon every molecule of energy I possess, I fall back, my body too keen to breathe the half-real Undercity air, not this choking reality.

I can dimly see the boy racing ahead, as if this mystic doorway were a mere gap in a wall, then the space shifts, the bricks flow and interlock, and before me is a blank wall. No shimmer, no ozone, no heavy reality. I push myself to my feet, grit my teeth through the pins and needles as the blood resumes flowing, and sheath my sword. I belong here. I have belonged in the Undercity for longer than I realised. But now I know two things. There are exits, and it is possible to use them. The rest is details. Perhaps I can push further into an exit, train my body to be more real. Perhaps there are parts of the Undercity that are more real, where I can re-learn reality. Maybe the boy had a key, or some trick I can learn. Maybe, just maybe, there is a way for me to return home.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I picture the Undercity as a bizarre counterpart to a real city.
PPS - It might be one of those settings I revisit another time.

Compounding errors

There may be computer systems that do their individual tricks well enough, but when you compose them together, they don't do so well. For instance, we have moderately good textual language translation, and we have moderately good speech-to-text software, but if you try to use them together, those success percentages - say, 60% each - need to be multiplied together, and suddenly you only get a 36% total success rate. All the pieces for some really cool software are out there right now, but the overall effect of composing them together is less impressive than it could be.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It can give you ideas, though.
PPS - And it can be useful for prototyping.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Moving lots of data

Services that move a lot of data - tens of gigabytes at a time, I mean - need three things: off-peak scheduling, bandwidth limiting and error recovery. You need to be able to schedule the file transfers for times when the network is not in high demand, or for separate quota times for domestic users. It's a kind of Quality of Service setting, I suppose. Bandwidth limiting means you can set caps on the rate at which data is to be transferred, staying under certain quotas or, again, to maintain the quality of other services. Error recovery is essential, too, since operations of that size are more likely to run into problems sooner or later, and retrying manually is a very large burden. If you can't recover automatically from errors, everything is going to take much longer and be much more frustrating.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A lot of our problems at work would be solved if we had software that did this.
PPS - Guess I'd better get writing.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A QR-code+smartphone point of sale system

Start with a bank-to-bank funds transfer system built on itemised invoices. You can create an itemised invoice with your bank, and they keep it on file, and generate a unique identifier for it. You pass that identifier and your bank's BSB code to your customer. They go to their bank and enter the number, which displays the invoice, fetched from your bank by the number. When they approve it, the appropriate total, as defined in the invoice, is transferred to your bank account. That's the backbone of this system.

Now for the cool part. Say you're at a market, where a lot of small businesses have booths to sell their wares. Using this invoice system and smartphones, these small market businesses can accept electronic payments rather than handling cash. The stall owner can pass the invoice numbers to customers via QR codes, so that there are no mistakes. The whole transaction from end to end would look a lot like tallying up an order on a calculator app, showing a generated code to the customer, then confirming receipt of the funds via the same app.

As long as the banks are all on board, and the apps are available for all major smartphone operating systems (or as mobile-friendly websites), there's no reason for any of this to be tied to a particular institution or device, and no personal information needs to be exchanged between customer and seller, so privacy is maintained (as long as invoice numbers are random) and security is aided by the disposable nature of the invoices.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Hopefully such a system would be provided for free.
PPS - Then again, banks do love their fees.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Critical thinking

Critical thinking requires the ability to analyse statements into facts, assumptions and interpretations. Facts can be checked, assumptions can be challenged and interpretations argued. That's intelligent debate. Most people will come at you with interpretations and facts, but to fully understand their position, you need to know the assumptions that have supported their interpretations. Anyone who says they aren't making assumptions either doesn't know what their assumptions are, or they aren't making logical arguments.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can't make logical arguments without assumptions.
PPS - You could try, I suppose, but they would fall over on their own.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Testing privacy claims

How do you know you can trust a website's privacy claims? You need ways of detecting abuse and one-way layers of revelation, undetectable to the service. That is, lies about your location, job, contact details and so on, thrown out like chaff to confuse and disorient data miners. That way you can test out the service's claims before you reveal any potentially compromising information. If any of those lies are used and abused in ways you did not specify, that site is not trustworthy. How would you detect such abuse?

With some details, like email, it's cheap and quick to set up a fake address and monitor it. Phone numbers are harder, but still potentially possible. Postal addresses can probably only be faked properly with PO boxes or a trusted remailing service that receives your mail at another address and forward it on. If all you're worried about is personal details, you can just lie and see if those lies show up in communication from other, unrelated companies. That means your lies need to be unique for each service. At this one you're an astronaut, that one a pastry chef and at another you're a doorman. If you use a lot of them, it would be tricky to keep track of them all, of course, and, as we all know, lies can come back to haunt you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - To see if humans even view the data, you could list your profession as "CEO of [company]".
PPS - Where "[company]" is the website you're using.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Reality Distortion Field

The reality distortion field, or RDF, had kept Steve functional for a long time - about 115 years, to be precise - warding off infections and assassins equally, like they were mosquitoes. The side-effects of producing inspiration in others were just that: side-effects. Very beneficial, but not the focus of the device. While it sustained him, he could hardly help but become an inspiring visionary leader, or perhaps the head of a cult. He chuckled as he thought the two need not be mutually exclusive and admired the machine in its last moments.

As the tiny nuclear battery whirred to a halt and the indicator LEDs winked out, Steve sighed and resigned to his fate. He'd had some good times, but since that other genius had gone missing, nobody had been able to fix the RDF, and the more people knew about its existence, the less effective it would be. He couldn't afford to get too many people onto the repairs, or they would cancel the very effect they were trying to maintain.

He strolled to the window, looking out at the estate. Its manicured lawns, trimmed hedges and fountains, the circular drive. The stables and private polo field. He'd miss it. Steve figured he had done everything he could. The repairs failed, so he'd made some good succession plans and arranged everything as well as possible to continue after him. The company should survive. His family - great-great-grandchildren now - would be provided for; supported and comfortable but not extravagently so. And that was everything. Time to go out with a bang.

He raced, excited, up to the roof where the Zeppelin waited, donned his goggles, leather helmet and scarf, then took off, flying out over the ocean, higher and higher, until he disappeared from view entirely. He wouldn't be heard from again, and his "disappearence" would be one last mysterious gift to the world.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In memory of Steve Jobs, who I don't think actually had a Reality Distortion Field machine.
PPS - Or a Zeppelin, come to think of it.

Designing for users or not

I saw a talk online from Mix11, a Microsoft conference, where a designer said that the days of user-centric design were numbered. He also said that he was talking about a major shift in understanding our relationship with technology, and that this comes at the expense of seeing ourselves at the centre of the digital ecology. But if we are not designing for users, then by what principles do we guide our design? I think it would have to be via tasks and communication. We have something to do. Humans may or may not be involved, but if you're going to think of that, then you have also to think that computers might not be involved. This could easily be a discussion about human-to-human technology involving nothing but language.

The point is that there are tasks to do to accomplish some goal, and there are players involved who need to provide or receive certain information. The best way to do so might be on paper or it might be with a fully-automated internet-enabled system. To be a designer, you can't think in terms of "what can a computer do for a user in this context" but "what does everyone need to do to complete this task?" As soon as a computer is involved, however, and someone needs to use it to accomplish part of the task, you need to design the interface in a way that makes sense to humans, is easy to learn and easy to use. If you don't design that part for humans, it's pretty pointless.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some software makes me wonder whether anyone considered users at all.
PPS - But that's not new.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Patent licensing

I've seen a question about patent reform where the question was asked: should we be looking to overhaul the whole system, or would we do better to institute a flat licensing scheme to which patent owners can't say "no"? Rather than preventing the implementation of their ideas and suing everyone who tries to copy it, now inventors just get a license fee from everyone who wants to use their idea. Of course, it would still be up to them to find and point out that people are using the idea, and sometimes that argument might go to court to argue about whether or not the patented idea has been used at all, but anyone anywhere is free to build on any ideas anyone else has. Right now, if there are two technologies that are patented by different people or companies, nobody anywhere is allowed to put them together, even if it would work well and do amazing things. In this proposed system you can patent an idea and you don't even have to implement it to benefit. You just need to make sure people who use your idea are paying royalties.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which, to be fair, is as hard as enforcing a patent in the existing system.
PPS - But it should enable more innovation.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Maps and location online

Local services are difficult to do online, because the internet is not built around the idea of your location affecting what you do. That's kind of the point - no matter where you are, you can get to the same websites as everyone else. Sure, someone can create a website that tells you about local places and events, and individual business websites usually tell you where you can find their real-space offices, but that's just another outgrowth of the free-and-easy internet model. The same way Google can build a maps service, so can Microsoft or Apple or Facebook or Foursquare or anyone in their garage with the know-how and time. That's not a step towards clarity for local information.

What we need instead is a standard way to specify location information on any website so that Google Maps, Bing Maps, Whereis and all those other map search websites can crawl and index them, rank them and present them in any way they see fit. For instance, say BP publishes a list of the map coordinates of all their petrol stations worldwide as a KML file on their website. Google comes along and grabs that list, and then when you search for BP on a map, you can get your nearest petrol station, along with whatever metadata they associate with that map tag and a link to the website where it was harvested. We have a standard data format already that we could use for this: KML.

This kind of distributed map data publishing creates a greater incentive to spam, since now we're not just talking about page rank in Google keyword searches, but literal real estate on maps. If your result is more prominent than others, it's much more obvious and much more valuable. So there would need to be good ranking algorithms to make sure the right results show up for certain locations.

I wonder if map providers are already trying to do this, with their crawler bots recognising street addresses and associating them with keywords and icons. It would be surprising if nobody was trying, but I think a distributed map tag standard makes sense. It should also provide support for dates and times, so that we can list timed events too, and not just places.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know Google Maps already displays a lot of useful local information.
PPS - But does that come from automatic website scraping or from a team of people?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Room to fail

So many self-help books, management trends and motivational writers or speakers talk about being willing to fail and learn from it. But sometimes (quite often, in fact) we don't have room to fail. If you need to put your entire life savings into your dream of starting a restaurant, and it fails, then you have nothing. No life savings, no more restaurant and possibly a huge debt, too. You might die homeless and alone, but at least you learned a valuable lesson through your failure, right?

By all means, make the hard choices. Take the risks. Sometimes you will fail, and you will learn from it, but your mistakes will cost you, and you need something to absorb that cost. You might be able to start again from nothing, but "nothing" can look very different to an orphaned minimum-wage-slave in subsidised housing and a musician hipster with a rich, doting grandmother.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When all else fails, endeavour to be the one with the rich grandmother.
PPS - It's generally the better choice.

Monday, 3 October 2011

QR codes for augmented reality

The simplest way to get augmented reality is with a smartphone, QR codes and some software. The software stores data - 3D images, notes, music, whatever - in a database, the QR codes act as identifiers for the data that you can place anywhere visible and the phone reads the codes with its camera and displays whatever data is in the database. You could use it as a way to tag the world, organise virtual note cards, augment ordinary board games, all those things AR is good at. The best part is that there are just two hardware components (printed codes and mobile phones), and they have very high availability.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The system could be very generic and very useful.
PPS - It would make the physical world machine-readable.