Monday, 30 April 2012

Android market eternal purchase history

There is no way to permanently remove or hide apps on the Android market, even if you don't want them any more and they were free. The system remembers that you "bought" them, even if you didn't have to pay, and you can get them again for no charge. Great for paid apps, but not so great for free rubbish you didn't like, or for apps that are not compatible with an upgraded/replaced device. My own history even includes one that is now obsolete, replaced by a paid version. Anything you ever installed on an Android device, even for a minute and even after you uninstalled it, will get the same prominence as something you use every day, at least as far as the market is concerned. There should be a way to make it forget.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Your purchase history doesn't need to be your app install history.
PPS - Especially for free apps.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Positive

"Blow into the tube please."

Officer Matthews waited while the driver blew through the plastic tube on his hand-held machine and checked the reading when it made a beep. Positive.

"Sir, you've tested positive for cheesecake."

"... Excuse me?"

"Sir," the officer repeated, "My machine has detected that, at some stage in the past four hours, you have eaten at least one, probably two slices of cheesecake. I'll need you to step out of the vehicle."

"But ... is cheesecake illegal now?"

Officer Matthews sighed. "Of course it's illegal. Do you think we would go to all this trouble to pull people over near midnight and test them with our very expensive cheesecake detectors if there was nothing wrong with a bit of cheesecake now and then?"

"When did this happen? I never heard about it."

"Ignorance is no excuse. I'll need you to step out of the vehicle, sir."

The driver looked panicked, eyes darting left and right, knuckles white on the steering wheel. Matthews could tell he was going to try something stupid. He signalled to his partners nearby.

"Take your hands off the steering wheel and step out of the vehicle. I won't ask again."

His breathing gets shallow and quick, he looks left and right, well into fight-or-flight mode. Officer Matthews steps back, on alert, but lets events take their course. Tyres squeal, choking white smoke rises up, then the car lurches forward and stops dead on the chocks the other officers have placed in front of the wheels. The man in the car slumps down and finally opens the door, then rests his head in his hands.

"It ... it was just dessert."

"That's what they all say."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Just a silly thought that occurred to me on a drive home one night.
PPS - I'm personally glad the cheesecake police don't exist.

Local business reputations

Businesses are going to get smaller and more local in the future, if they don't get globally huge. We will find it harder to know who is reliable and who isn't, and we won't necessarily know who does what best. Who is going to help us navigate that landscape? It won't be enough to just find local businesses, because you won't know their reputation, and a simple rating or review system isn't much better because you can't necessarily trust the ratings and reviews.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We need a reputation system we can rely on to evaluate strangers.
PPS - I don't think such a thing will actually happen.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Fading taste when aging

I've heard that as you age, your sense of taste begins to fade along with your other senses, so that's why older people tend to eat bland foods. But if you were always one to appreciate food, wouldn't it change your preferences to very strong flavours and interesting textures rather than identical blandness? If I couldn't taste my food as well as before, I would certainly want a variety of textures, and I would want someone to herb-and-spice that thing to the ends of the earth to wake up my lazy taste buds.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, I'd need someone to read out the menu in a loud voice.
PPS - Or get me a large-print version.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Shrinking Hollywood

If there is less money to be made from big budget movies in the future, then Hollywood will just shrink and make fewer movies. That might sound like a good thing, because you expect them to stop making the same exact stories over and over, but it's going to be the exact opposite at first. The few movies made won't be high quality and innovative. They will be proven formulas that present low risks, which means more explosions, more formulaic romantic comedies and lots more remakes and sequels.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The sad part is that we voted for that, with our dollars.
PPS - And they will probably continue to make some money.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

New file system requirements

A modern file system for the networked world would need ways of addressing data across the whole network and indicating backups, duplicates, old versions and arbitrary metadata too, like face tags for photos, the authors of a document, things like that. It should also, preferably, have a way of indicating that a certain file is a member of some kind of "bundle" that should come along with it, because zipping files just to keep them together is a bit silly. Not essential, but nice to have, if it's not too confusing.

The next question is what do we do with such a file system? Just keep all our personal files accessible everywhere, or something more substantial?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure we'll think of something.
PPS - As sure as I am that I haven't thought of it yet.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Paying artists for downloads

The internet has outpaced copyright. Rather than suing everyone into oblivion for their downloads of movies, music, TV and software, what if we tracked what people were downloading and charged them a flat licensing fee to be distributed to artists for each download? To recognise the downloads and match them to the rights holders, however, you'd need to make sure they matched an official version, which is very tricky. But assuming that could be done, and the license fee was charged to everyone at the same rate as part of their internet service, it might work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unfortunately, it might mean less money for artists.
PPS - Also, this amounts to a micropayment system, and those all have pretty big flaws.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - The Stranger with the Pygmy Elephant

It was a summer afternoon when the stranger in red and gold rode into our village on his pygmy elephant. He stood in front of us and unrolled a piece of paper that told him what to say, so he must have been very stupid. He said he had come to collect taxes for our king, which was strange, because the king lives two huts away from me, and he was standing on the other side of the stranger. He looked just as confused as the rest of us.

When we told him the king was just over there, he said no, that is not the real king. The real king, he said, lives far away, and is in charge of all of these lands, from one ocean to the other. Our village belongs to this faraway king, he said, and we must pay him taxes. None of us knew what an "ocean" was, but that didn't seem to matter to the stranger. He stood up as tall as he could and pointed at the ground saying you will pay your taxes right now.

No other strangers in red and gold have come after this little man, and it has been a very long time. A few people say it is because the faraway king was not real. Some others say it is because we sent his pygmy elephant away. Personally, I think it is because we tied the little man's bones to the saddle he used for his elephant when we sent it away, and the faraway king decided one little village was too much trouble if they were just going to eat his servants.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Politics feels like that to me, sometimes. Remote and weird, but without the cannibalism.
PPS - I do pay my taxes, though.

Quickflix pay-per-view

Quickflix have just introduced a pay-per-view service along with their unlimited streaming and disc-by-mail services. What they have not yet done is add a button on the queue page that allows me to see at a glance whether anything upcoming in my queue is available to stream right now. I could click through 120 movies and see which ones might be available for streaming, and if I get especially desperate for anything to watch one day I might do so, but right now it seems like this service was designed as a totally separate product, not with the customer in mind.

For me, renting a movie from Quickflix is much the same transaction, whether it comes in the mail as a disc, or streamed to my PC (and the two streamed options are also kept separate, because of their different billing structures). So what I need is to have the option of grabbing something from my disc queue and watching it via streaming right now, then having it automatically removed from the disc queue. Get that? I'm here to watch movies, and the format they take is a secondary detail. By looking at the Quickflix website, you would assume renting one pay-per-view movie is a totally different mental mode as getting a disc in the mail and watching it later. It's not.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps some people feel differently.
PPS - The Quickflix billing department, for example.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Open source is not on app stores

Closed platforms, by which I mean any hardware, software or combination, that charge developers to list their apps for download, will naturally stifle open-source software and hobbyists. For a project run by a worldwide community of like-minded volunteer geeks, nobody in particular would be responsible for putting up the cash to list their project on the market or app store, so it won't go there. Some very large projects might be willing and able to jump through the hoops and pay their dues, but that's not what the app store model is set up to do. And when you are set up only to accommodate one particular type of innovation, you've already lost.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I do have positive things to say about app stores.
PPS - I'll save that for another time.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Elderly knowledge work

Our elderly citizens, who can no longer do physical work, should be employed in the knowledge work industry. Their minds should be put to use in search, analysis and synthesis, and we can do so with relatively little infrastructure investment. They know how to read and write already, and they know what their interests are. At the very least, they should be blogging articles about their areas of expertise, but some of them might find that they are adept at protein folding or participating in some other large-scale pattern recognition and processing problem. We don't need them to work quickly, we just need to empower them to work on these problems if they would like to.

Personally, I would like to spend my formal retirement investigating the many areas of human knowledge to which I did not apply myself during my employment, and perhaps discovering a new one at which I am adept. I don't want to spend my whole retirement playing Scrabble and waiting for death. I want to learn and help solve humanity's big problems, one drop in the ocean at a time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may feel different later in life.
PPS - In fact, I'd basically count on it.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Physical retail in an online world

Retail of the future is going online, which makes perfect sense. Lower costs, greater reach, lower risk, what's not to like? But not every shopping experience belongs there. Clothes, for instance, when you want to try them on first. Convenience shopping, where you need something right now, and can't wait for postage. Fast food. Bricks and mortar retail of the future has to take one of the following paths: customisation, impulsiveness or convenience.

Customisation can still happen online, but for the case of clothes, it is easier to get someone's measurements if they are physically present, and then the automatic tailoring machine can produce your garments or shoes on the spot, perfectly fitted. Full personalisation and immediate results ensure a niche for that market. Impulsiveness I explained above - basically tricking you into a purchase you wouldn't otherwise have made, except that it was right there and so cheap. Then there's convenience, where, as before, delivery after ordering is too slow, such as for fast food.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There will still be physical retail in the future.
PPS - But the shape of it is going to change.

Monday, 16 April 2012

New story formats

The lines are blurring between books, movies and games, but what links them all is storytelling. To what genre can we assign an interactive iPad app involving text, animation and touch? It is as much a book as a movie and game, but it is none of these. Perhaps we should just call it a story.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, is this what stories will need to become to hold our attention?
PPS - Yeah, that's probably true.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - End of the Line

"It's been six weeks, Belinda! Six weeks today. There's no rescue coming! We have to get out of here!" Carlos was as hysterical as usual.

Belinda replied, "Really, Carlos? Again with this? We have food, water and shelter to last us as long as we need, plus we sent out a search party three weeks ago. There's been nothing from them - not even a signal fire over the horizon. We might not know what's out there beyond the train line, but we can assume they didn't find anything good!"

"I'd rather die trying to get home than waiting here for some imaginary rescue party."

Carlos' words hung in the still, cold night air as we sat gathered around our nightly campfire. The problem was that they were both clearly right. We could survive here, stuck in the desert with the last car of a long-gone train, but we could never really live.

"Then you might as well go, hadn't you? There's no reason to sit here and complain at the rest of us. Take what you need and get out, if that's what you really want. Nobody's stopping you." said Belinda, with less energy than she usually mustered for a Carlos rant.

Carlos sat staring at the fire for a while longer, then, without a word, took his battered briefcase, a few strips of dried rabbit meat and a bottle for water and stalked off into the dark night, dusty grey suit, worn leather shoes and all. The silence lasted a long time, and we were all surprised at what Belinda said when she broke it.

"He's right, you know. We all know. The trains should have been running at least once a day along this line, and even if they had to stop for some reason, they should have started again. Maybe we can ... maybe we can make it back if we follow the tracks."

Someone further back piped up, "That's what the search party did."

"Then what are we supposed to do? Sit here and wish really hard for a rescue? Mike and Alice didn't have strength in numbers like we do. If we go now, we can keep up with Carlos, and maybe all of us will survive instead of just us ... or just him."

Nobody called for a vote. Hands went in the air, heads nodded agreement, so we all picked up what we could carry and hurried off down the train line, the way Carlos had gone.

Owning YouTube

A short while ago - just before Christmas - I started using Instapaper to save long articles to read later, offline. It was so useful and so easy that I immediately went looking for the video equivalent, and found PwnYouTube. Now, a few months later, I can hardly imagine my life without it, because I frequently come across videos I can't watch right now (because I'm at work, or they're too long) but I have plenty of time to watch on the train ride. The problem, mostly, is that when I have the time, I don't have the video and vice versa. With PwnYouTube, I can download online video, copy it to my phone and watch it later. It's perfect, so I expect sooner or later it will be destroyed by copyright claims or other legal difficulties. Obviously, giving me the ability to watch more videos I would previously have skipped completely is a terrible business model for YouTube.

YouTube do have their own "Watch Later" service, but you have to be online with a YouTube account for it to work. The appeal of downloading the videos, to me, is the ability to watch them offline later. Until the official service provides that capability (perhaps via a phone app) then I won't bother, because what I have already works much better than that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I doubt YouTube will ever offer an offline view later service.
PPS - But if they want to display ads and compete with this third party service, it's the best way.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Flawless airline records

How to maintain a flawless record as an airline without being perfect:

1. Sell tickets through Airline A.
2. Wait until plane is boarded and ready for takeoff.
3. Sell entire flight, including plane, to Airline B, also owned by you.
4. Wait for safe landing.
5. Sell entire flight back to Airline A.

If there is a crash at step 4, just skip step 5. Now the only crashes occur on Airline B's watch, and Airline A is, technically, faultless. Granted, Airline A has also never been responsible for a successful flight while it was happening, but as long as you can gloss over that fact, you win.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And you can always create Airline C to replace Airline B when its reputation falters.
PPS - I wonder whether all this is more effort than simply being a good airline.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Dopamine and serotonin

I have a kind of theory of humours for psychology which is just barely based on bits and pieces of science I've picked up over the years. Basically, it classifies people into dopamine- or serotonin-dominated people. Dopamine people are like extroverts, excited by new experiences and meeting new people. Serotonin people are more introverted, and likely to respond to new experiences with fear, thus taking fewer risks. I know psychology is way more complicated than that, and nobody is 100% either way, but we all like ways of classifying the people we meet, and this is one of those ways.

People who are problem gamblers apparently view a near-win as if it were a win, and get the same high from that as they do from an actual win. Some other people, apparently with non-addictive personalities, view the near-win as a loss, and get their reward moment from stopping. I wonder whether this has anything to do directly with brain chemistry. Addiction is tricky, of course, but if your brain has two potential responses to a stimulus, such as flooding with dopamine or serotonin, then those of us with serotonin responses are going to get a negative reinforcement.

I also wonder whether dopamine and serotonin people wake up differently. I think of myself as serotonin-dominated, and I wake up quickly, while Debbie is in the dopamine camp, and she wakes up very slowly. Of course, two data points don't make much of a pattern.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I should probably read about serotonin syndrome.
PPS - Or I could just keep speculating wildly without any training, which is more fun.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sermons podcast in advance

Instead of coming to church to hear a sermon, we could have the sermon delivered via podcast during the week, and listen to it as many times as we like, going over tricky bits and giving it some thought. Then we could come to church on Sunday to discuss the issues with the pastor there to provide the theological insight we need, or to clarify the points we weren't clear on. I wonder whether that would be more satisfying for everyone, and more in tune with today's digital, participation culture. It's the same model that Khan Academy has been using in schools, with some success. What do you think? If you already go to church, would this make it any better or maybe worse? If you don't go to church, would this make it more appealing?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There would always be people dominating the discussion, though.
PPS - And not everyone would have the time during the week to listen to sermons in advance.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Email program options

Most of the time, I don't bother setting some Outlook options, because I can't find them. Next time you get a chance, try to count the Outlook configuration windows and map the buttons required to navigate between them. Why is this window design so complicated? Sometimes you can be three or four sub-windows deep to change some settings.

At the other end of the spectrum, and just as bad, is Thunderbird's advanced options editor. A big long list of key/value pairs that is searchable, but offers no real guidance on what the settings mean or which ones are related to which others (besides their names). There must be a middle ground somewhere that is more usable than Outlook but less daunting than Thunderbird.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do think, in general, that Thunderbird's standard options window is better than Outlook's.
PPS - But then it has "Account Settings" and "Options" as separate menu commands with separate dialogue windows, too.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - The Band by the Road

The band played inconspicuously by the roadside, just another drummer, electric bass and a keyboard, and most people hardly noticed. They hurried about their lives, not taking the time to listen, at least consciously, to the music. But gradually, as they played on, the footsteps of passers-by would begin to sync up with the beat. An occasional stranger would slow down, intrigued by the music that seemed to grip his soul, force him to look. And the band played on.

They gathered an audience whose feet unconsciously shuffled to and fro, matching the rhythm of the snare and bass. Their fingers wiggled in time with the melody of the keyboard, and a warm feeling welled up within them so that they turned their faces upwards, as if basking in the sunlight. All smiles, the crowd grew larger, gathered closer.

When people started to fall over, the others were too taken over by the music to notice their neighbours dropping off beside them. Each new one who approached was similarly taken in, similarly incapacitated. And now the band stopped playing and began to pick among the unconscious bodies of their audience for wallets, phones, watches and rings, any small trinkets and valuables they could find. Their practiced fingers lifted gold earrings, silver necklaces and opal cufflinks with ease. Long before the crowd began to stir, the band was gone, taking with them a bounty of private valuables and the secret of their strange music.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I am at Easterfest this weekend.
PPS - Hopefully none of the bands are these kind of musical magical pickpockets.

One-hit wonders

When the world caters to single hits, you don't need to aim for a career as an artist. You can sing one song, write one book, make one movie and leave it at that if that's all you have in you. There may be fans who clamour for more, but for the most part the world will move on and leave you alone. That's one advantage of society's shrinking attention span.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if it turns out you do have a second work in you, that's okay too.
PPS - You can keep going as long as you like, and stop before your quality drops.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Maze blackouts

I had a feeling you could kind of run a maze by drawing (or imagining) a dividing line between the two end points, then blocking out any dead ends nearby, and using the unblocked areas as a guide. From there, you just repeat the process until the way becomes clear, like a path of light among the shadows. So I gave it a try on a page from my "Office Time Wasters" desk calendar that has occasional mazes in it.
It turns out this is a much slower way of running simple mazes, and that fact, ironically, makes them more fun for me, because they last longer than just finding the path the traditional way. Also, it turns out not to handle loops at all, since they are areas with no dead ends. They amount to alternate paths to the goal, but longer ones that aren't worth it. Still, I plan to do all the mazes in my desktop calendar this way from now on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In the example picture, I've blacked out the loops, too.
PPS - Just because it looked neater.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

If This Then That

It's been observed that most people coming into programming think in terms of "when [event] do [action]" patterns. That's probably why (which stands for "If This Then That") is so intuitive. It lets you set up self-processing rules in exactly that manner, connecting to a set of third-party services such as email, RSS, Dropbox, Twitter and so on. I wonder if you could design a good programming language around those principles.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You'd have to include more than simple actions, though.
PPS - Otherwise some programs would not be possible.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Anyone can be scammed

If the timing and circumstances are right, anyone can be caught out by a scam. You can fool all of the people some of the time, which means we are all potential victims, though that doesn't mean you will necessarily be caught by a scam one day. It just means that nobody is so special that they are immune to it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have been fooled once or twice.
PPS - Though the definition of "scam" is probably stretched in those cases.

Monday, 2 April 2012

There's no reason to use Google+ yet

There is not yet a compelling reason to use Google+, and as long as Facebook has the critical mass, that is unlikely to change. It's "Like Facebook, but without all the people". What good is that? The people are why I'm on Facebook at all. Until they start on Google+, I have no reason to leave, and neither do they. If Google wants people to move to their platform instead of the current establishment, we require compatibility more than equivalence. That's tricky to write into software, but did you think changing the world would be easy? Rather than "if you build it, they will come", you get "if you build it second, they will ask Why Should We Change?".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a valid question.
PPS - And the answer is never implied.