Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Non-standard office phone headsets

Why has nobody made a phone for office desks that includes Bluetooth, so you can use any wireless headset you want, or even one with a standard plug for mobile headsets? Even my home phone has a non-standard plug. I don't get it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe some office phones do allow the use of standard headsets.
PPS - Just none I've ever seen.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Low-power tablet computers could run on ambient solar energy

We need tablets and phones that consume so little power that they can run on ambient solar energy. That's something I didn't think of when I was talking about orders of magnitude gains in power generation and consumption. If our devices are efficient enough and our ability to generate power grows far enough, then we won't need central power stations at all. Your whole house can run on a couple of solar panels on the roof, and your portable devices can run on ambient solar energy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless it's cloudy.
PPS - In which case little wind turbines might suffice.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Paying and getting paid

There's always a tension between customers and producers. As software producers, for instance, we want to keep getting income on an ongoing basis. That means monthly or yearly subscriptions. As a business, we try to set up those ongoing yearly license fees to keep getting paid by our customers, and we congratulate ourselves whenever we succeed.

Our customers, on the other hand, would very much prefer to pay once for our software and never pay again, which is fair enough from their point of view. When I consider BuildMaster, the software I use to maintain my personal programming projects, I try not to hit the limits that require add-on subscription licenses to keep using it, such as having more than 10 projects or more than 3 distributed packages per project. I try to think of how I can organise my projects to avoid those limits, because otherwise I will have to pay every year to keep using the software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if I were selling my software, I would be trying to get yearly subscriptions.
PPS - Until someone undercuts me by selling a once-for-all license.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Putting the pieces together

On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., one of the characters said that she was part of an organisation because one person might not have the whole answer, but 100 people with 1% of the solution will get it done. Those 100 people would still need a coordinator to fit them together, though. A 100-piece puzzle doesn't assemble itself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless you count "badly, in a random pile" as "assembled".
PPS - I doubt anyone would count that.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Cmas!

If you're going to abbreviate the word "Christmas", personally I much prefer that you use the English initial "C" than the Greek "X" (chi). Just a personal preference. Merry Christmas!

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you celebrate Christmas as a pagan winter festival, don't say "Christmas" at all.
PPS - Better say "Yule" for that.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Gmail increased image security

Gmail has taken the excellent step of increasing image safety in emails by pre-loading them and presenting transcoded images by proxy. This means it's safe for you to always show images in Gmail now, and you as a user don't need to make a security decision whenever an email contains pictures. That's good, because people are, on the whole, pretty bad at making security decisions. However, Gmail's new functionality is also disruptive to old marketing email practices.

It used to be the case that embedded email images could track who had opened an email and when, by using a unique address for the image in each individual email. Whenever that address was accessed, you could know who was looking at that email. Now that Google hides all image loading behind a proxy, you can't really rely on it any more. It doesn't tell you that an email address is valid, because Google might open that image anyway for an invalid email address, and you can't tell that a particular person opened the email either, because of the same image pre-loading. This could be pretty big.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's one of those situations where we win, Google wins and spammers lose.
PPS - Google's win here is a more usable and more secure email service.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Where the phone connection belongs

If people are abandoning traditional home phones in favour of mobiles, then the wired phone connection is going to be exclusively (or at least primarily) for internet access. Therefore, the phone points that are normally placed in the kitchen would be better positioned in the lounge room (for media servers, game consoles and other set-top boxes). Has anyone done that yet?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know it would make much more sense for me, personally.
PPS - When we move house next, we won't be connecting a landline.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Airline business conflicts

We have reached an odd situation with airlines now. The modern world requires airplanes to function, but they're so expensive to run that they are already optimised up to the eyeballs. Any little delays bump the whole schedule out of whack, plus they're cutting costs and services everywhere they can just to maintain an operating profit in one of the most competitive industries on the planet. There's no loyalty to speak of, so we all pick the cheapest flight we can get for where we need to go.

However, airlines are also businesses. They should, technically, have the right to refuse service to any person for any reason, from "I think you might be a danger to others" down to "I don't like that thing you said about us on Twitter".

And there's the conflict. Our world depends on airlines, so they're a necessity, and necessities should be rights, but they have the right to deny us their necessary service for arbitrary reasons. We need to fly, but we hate it, and if we say so, they can keep us from flying.

So what do we do? We need an airline that cannot deny us service for arbitrary reasons, only for operational ones. A not-for-profit airline. Well, providing necessary services where it is not profitable to do so should be one of the pillars of government. Perhaps this is a service the governments of tomorrow should consider investing in, along with education, public health care, roads and internet service.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are very few rights that I think governments should ignore.
PPS - I'm not sure what label that puts on me.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Apparently I haven't written about this before, or at least I can't find the post, so here goes. I have a custom file sync program I wrote myself, called MediaSync, in order to synchronise collections of files across very disconnected computers that don't have any way to connect with each other except flash drives. I wrote it for picture and video files, but it works on any files, of course. Since Windows Live Mesh shut down, our office network blocked BTSync and my personal photos and videos collections are too big to fit into Dropbox, I have opened up development on this project again, and it's going great.

Basically, it takes an index listing of every machine that participates, checks which files need to be copied around and puts them onto a flash drive. The unique feature it has is space limitations - you allocate, say, 2GB on your 8GB drive, and the sync copies will only ever take up that much space. It might take a few trips to get fully in sync, but you can run it on whatever flash drive you have lying around.

If you can, the whole process would be better served by a large external hard drive and SyncToy, but it's kind of neat to watch the collections gradually get in sync over the course of a week.

The big disadvantage is that it won't update or move files yet. If you rename a file in one location, MediaSync will detect that as a new file and will copy duplicates back and forth between machines. I'm working on that feature, to propagate renames instead of duplicating files, but it could be a while.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not ready for the general public yet, though.
PPS - It still runs in a text-only interface and requires editing XML for full functionality.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Reviewing free items

The practice of sending free stuff to reviewers doesn't result in the same kind of review as you would get from someone who had to pay for the item. A person who got a gadget or accessory or whatever for free will naturally place a different value on it from someone who paid. The reviewer who gets, say, a free Microsoft Surface Pro 2 just because a lot of people follow him, will feel like it's a pretty sweet deal. And why wouldn't he? He's probably also got so many other tablet computers that he's already got his whole family covered for Christmas. It doesn't even have to last for him, because he'll probably get the next generation for free when that comes out in a year.

Someone who paid for the tablet will need it to last. They'll need it to be worth what they paid, not just do cool stuff. He probably already resents the cash outlay he had to make and so starts with a negative impression that needs to be overcome. A reviewer who gets the same gadget for free is already grateful for that, so the minor quibbles are forgiven and forgotten where they might be a dealbreaker for everyone else.

I'm not saying free stuff for reviewers should stop, or else a lot of reviews will also stop. I'm just saying I'd like to know up front whether a review unit was free so I can calibrate my reading accordingly.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If anyone wants to send me a free tablet computer to review, I'd be happy to do so.
PPS - Any make or model will do. :)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Software that's always with you

It's odd to me when I see internet services advertised as "always with you", when what they actually do is keep your data far away on a locked-up server and provide you a tiny little window via your mobile phone. That's not "with you", that's available, and it's only so long as you have mobile data, which can be spotty.

Personally, I write portable software and allow it to sync via Dropbox. That's the way I like my data and apps "always with me". They keep working even when my internet connection drops out.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Online services are only "always with you" in the sense that the internet is.
PPS - And their servers are still running and not flooded with traffic...

Monday, 16 December 2013

Toll transponders for parking payments

You know what would be kind of handy for parking payments? Linking to vehicle toll transponders. That way, as long as everyone has a toll account, you wouldn't even need boom gates, just the archways that detect and charge accounts for entering and leaving. You'd still need to impose the same constraints as normal parking payments, such as being dependent on the duration of your stay. The biggest problem I can think of would be waiving the fee for big spenders. The current procedure is to take your receipts and your barcode card to the concierge who makes a note in the database that lets you out for free. Without taking your toll transponder directly to the concierge, you'd either need some other way to identify your vehicle to the database or you'd need a card to show, which brings back the boom gate and ticket reader. Maybe in that case you can do without the boom gate, though.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And you have to rely on toll transponders.
PPS - Which can sometimes be a bit unreliable.

Friday, 13 December 2013

For-profit social work?

I saw a TED talk saying that the best way to tackle poverty and other global social problems may be to get for-profit businesses involved. If there's a profit there, said the speaker, that motivates business to succeed and also means the solution will scale, because the more you do, the more profit there is, and that is a big carrot to business.

My objection is that "profit" is not some magical wealth created out of nowhere. Wealth is zero-sum. There's no such thing as making money, only taking money. So if your business is working on global poverty and making a profit as a result, where is that money coming from? If it's just you and a poor country's economy involved, then that wealth is coming out of a poor country and into the pockets of a rich company.

That is the exact opposite of solving the problem, and it is the only way that I can see for turning a profit from social justice projects to work. The only other thing they have to give is time and work, and that quickly turns into sweatshops.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which is the time an ethical business will withdraw.
PPS - Here's the talk, if you're interested.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Art of any kind needs practice

I'm starting to think about writing in the same way that people think about music. To get started in music, you take lessons, buy instruments, practice in private, eventually allow your close friends and family to hear what you've painstakingly rehearsed, then, if you're good enough, get some live performance gigs or a recording contract.

People's general view of writing goes more like "pick up pen, if good, get published". There's no notion of practice, let alone tools, and no popular conception that getting good at writing is something that takes time. Of course, there are also people who don't think that getting good at music takes time, either, perhaps because they aren't willing to put in the work themselves.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I practice most days now.
PPS - Not every day, though.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Making a living from art

I feel like I would rather make my living from acting and writing, but that's not a sound economic plan. It's my art, not my trade, and most people can't make a living from their art, for a variety of reasons. It begins with a saturated marketplace: too many artists for the level of demand, therefore the natural price point is negative. If you want people to see your art, you'd better be prepared to pay them, rather than the other way around. It's simply unreasonable to expect to be noticed in that kind of environment. The other consideration is quality. If most artists are amateurs, then most art is going to be amateurish and not worth paying for even if it does get noticed. There's plenty of art of all forms, and there's no rush to see it all. Every cent spent on art is discretionary and non-vital. Nobody *needs* to spend a dollar on your painting, drawing, sculpture, novel, play, interpretive dance performance. They could just as easily spend that dollar on food or clothes or any other basic need. Art is never going to be a need, essential for survival, so convincing people to spend any money on art at all is going to be a bit of an uphill battle from the start.

In addition to all that, it's not even a matter of being good at what you do. Plenty of artists are good at what they do, but they aren't going to get far because they don't have the right connections. Does every single blockbuster movie draw from the same pool of 50 different actors because they're the only ones available and suitable for the roles? Of course not. They do it because they're the ones the top five Hollywood directors have worked with before, and learning to work with new people is really hard, you guys, like seriously. It's easier to stick with the club you know rather than give newbies a shot, so that's what you get.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, that plus big names have drawing power.
PPS - Which is another way of saying fame makes money which means more fame.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Android app permissions

One thing I always thought would make a brilliant addition to Android is individual app permissions. Some apps I don't want to be able to use 3G data at all. Some that are just greedy with their permissions need to be put in their place. All of this is in Android version 4.3, and I intend to make the most of it, if my phone ever gets to update to that version.

Now, what are the potential side-effects? Well, legitimate app makers will want to explain why they need certain permissions, but will need to write their apps to deal with the situation if they are running without them. Less scrupulous app makers will actively ensure their apps don't work at all unless all of their sleazy permissions are enabled. Don't expect to disable the ability of the Facebook app to read your contacts and messages and still have it work. They don't want to lose that permission and the juicy, juicy data that makes their money in the process, so the app will simply refuse to operate if those permissions are denied.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably.
PPS - It depends how many people actually try to turn the permissions off and how many kick up a stink about it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The paradox of data convenience and unity

For me, having my own data all in one place, cross-referenced and easily queried is exactly what I want. It's convenient, useful and valuable to me, because that makes it easier to use. Unfortunately, having all that data together and easily-queried is just as valuable for anyone with access to the data, including identity thieves, spies, marketers and unscrupulous government agencies with too much power. So when I'm dealing with a corporate or government entity I can't trust, it is better for me to have all my information scattered, difficult to retrieve, error-prone and out of date. In other words, for myself, I want Facebook to expand and expand until it is the only online tool I ever need. For the NSA, I want Facebook to shrink, stagnate, fragment and die, because otherwise they will end up using it against me. That data is power, and I do not want to give over that power where it may (will) be abused.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some would argue that governments naturally produce error-prone, out of date, scattered data.
PPS - But even that can be dangerous.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Dish soaking detergent

I wonder how long it will be before someone markets a dish detergent specifically for soaking prior to washing up. Never mind how necessary it is - deodorant wasn't "necessary" until it was for sale, and for a long time there was one type of soap, rather than the definitely non-interchangeable hand soap, face soap, body wash, shampoo, laundry soap and dish soap we have these days. If someone can convince enough people that a soaking detergent is a good idea, it will start to sell.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If nobody is doing that already, then patent pending.
PPS - I'd probably start with dishwasher powder.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Peak time bus information

TransLink should allow a search for which bus numbers go where I want, especially at peak time. At those times, buses don't run perfectly on time, and there tend to be a lot of them I could catch. They all go to the same places, and they often leave from the same stops in the city. This means I have a lot of options, so I don't need the specific time and number if an earlier one arrives and will do just fine. The way the TransLink website presents search results works well for off-peak travel, and shows several options for a specific journey, each on a separate tab and each assuming they run exactly on time. It's good for answering what's the best bus to catch for a given journey, but less useful for finding any bus for a given route.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It wouldn't even be so bad with more results and a slightly different interface.
PPS - Acknowledging that the schedule can be off at peak time, however, would be a good start.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Nothing to hide

The first response to "I don't worry about surveillance, I have nothing to hide" should be "Cool, what's your ATM PIN?" If you think you have nothing to hide, you're not thinking very hard. There are things you hide right now whose secrecy is such a natural part of your world that you don't even think of them as secrets. They're just private, personal details or actions that are hidden by default. They're not secrets because they're shameful. They're secrets because they have to be for the world to work. Those are the things you should think about when people talk about NSA-level global surveillance, not your empty criminal record.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The next question is usually "But why would they even be interested in me?"
PPS - In response I ask, "I don't know. Has anyone named like you ever done anything bad?"

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

In case of emergency

People don't know what to do in case of an emergency building evacuation. I was a fire warden at our previous office for nearly three years and I was still vague despite six-monthly training. Everyone else's idea of procedure is considerably less informed.

Buildings in Queensland (and probably all of Australia) have two-stage evacuation alarms. The first sound you'll hear is a constant tone, often written down as "Beep-Beep-Beep". On this tone, the fire wardens get up, put on their hats and look around for hazards. You, as a non-fire-warden, gather your belongings, lock your computer and stay in your seat to keep out of the wardens' way. Most people, rather than sit still and wait, get up and walk out the nearest door to mill about aimlessly or follow the first crowd they see. Often, this is not a big problem, but it is against standard procedure for a reason.

First of all, what if the danger is outside and your best course is to stay in? You are walking straight out into danger because you didn't wait for anyone to do their job and keep you safe. Second, what if the danger was in a hallway and, because you don't pay attention to stupid emergency evacuations, stumble straight into it before the wardens can determine a safe evacuation route and direct you there? Again, dead because you hate waiting. Third, you might not need to evacuate at all, in which case you're wasting time.

In short, everyone please remember that you don't evacuate until the rising tone, usually written down as "Whoop-Whoop-Whoop".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless your building has a different procedure for some reason.
PPS - Such as being located in another country with different regulations.

Monday, 2 December 2013

WiFi Terms and Conditions annoyance

I have a few public WiFi networks to which I connect regularly: Queensland Rail on my commute and the "guest" network at the office (because it doesn't block Dropbox). Each one of them requires a terms & conditions click-through or a manual login every single time, and I was thinking it would be nice not to deal with that more than once, or maybe not more than once per month. If Windows or Android had some kind of automatic click-through process for sites where I've already agreed or logged in, or the same was available via a browser plugin, that would make life a lot easier for me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I did go looking for one, but didn't find anything yet.
PPS - If I ever do, I'll be sure to post a link.

Friday, 29 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 4

At this point, I'm on schedule to win NaNoWriMo today, and that feels pretty good. I'm probably not finished telling the story yet, but that's okay. The only goal of NaNoWriMo is to finish 50,000 words in 30 days, and I've done that this year.

I think I need NaNoWriMo. I've realised that. It gets me back on track, writing long-form fiction again, and sort of lets me check in with my skill levels. Am I getting better at writing? The answer this year is "yes, slightly and incrementally".

Something else I've learned this year is that writing from an outline doesn't (or didn't) work especially well for me. This might be because of how I did it. I don't know.

Lastly, I think I need to try new things. I don't want to keep rewriting this same book in slightly different forms. I want to be able to say "I've written three novels" next year, and "I've written four" the year after that, rather than "I've written two novels, but they're not really good and I keep rewriting them, but they're not getting better".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It feels pretty good to have gotten this far.
PPS - Last year's win didn't feel as real as this.

UPDATE: I'm done! I finished my 50,000 words on the train this morning.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Google+ makes YouTube comments worse

Google's algorithm for determining what is a "valuable" comment to promote on YouTube with its new Google+ integration includes how many replies it generated. This means trolls, who post exclusively for the "glory" of inciting as much rage in the general public as possible get promoted comments for it - exactly what they wanted. This makes the fetid cesspool of YouTube comments an even less desirable place to be, giving it over entirely to the trolls and ensuring that the rest of us never, ever read or bother writing any comments on videos ever again.

If Google wanted to shut down the YouTube comments section without actually taking it away, they couldn't have done a much more effective job than this.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I haven't bothered reading YouTube comments in a very long time.
PPS - It was terrible before this. Google+ just made the worst more accessible.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Vanishing area and infinite chocolate

There is a paradox or puzzle in mathematics sometimes known as the vanishing area paradox. There are several variations, but they all share the same principle, so I'll just talk about the one in the example video below:

You take a rectangle (in this case, made of chocolate), 4x6 units, and cut it diagonally between 2 and 3 units from the bottom. Make a couple more cuts, swap two of the pieces and suddenly you have a piece left over. You've created extra chocolate out of nowhere!

But you haven't, actually. It's a rounding error and sloppy measurement. The main rectangle is now actually only 5.75 units high, and I can prove it. Think about the right-hand edge. When you make that second cut, 1 unit in from the left, the cut goes partway through that first piece on its right-hand edge. The piece that moves from the top is only 0.75 units tall at that point, but the cut on the original right-hand edge takes the full piece away. You're replacing a full piece with a 3/4 piece, making the whole block of chocolate shorter. Because it's a fairly small difference, you don't notice.

If you're still not convinced, do it for yourself, but do it four times and count the resulting rectangle. You'll probably notice it getting shorter long before you get through all four times. After the second time, one of the rows will be suspiciously half-sized. After the third time, it will be a ridiculously stubby little quarter-size row.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a neat trick, though.
PPS - The shorter row gets less noticeable the wider the block.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Business and hipster don't mix

I once heard a hipster say to a bartender that the place has been ruined by popularity already. I'm fairly certain the owner would disagree, because popularity for him means more money, and that's why he's in business. He's not there to provide a space for bohemian beardies to congregate in obscurity and congratulate each other on finding yet another place that nobody knows about yet while drinking cheap beer "ironically". Obscurity is the enemy of a good business.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - To be fair, I was standing behind the hipster dressed as the Joker at the time.
PPS - That probably has a way of affecting people's judgement.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The limitations of drunk text prevention

A drunk text protection app has to assume that anything and everything you try to text, or any call you try to make while drunk is a bad idea. That might not be the case. For instance, you could be ordering a taxi to take you home, or calling for help after getting lost or stranded. The app won't be able to tell the difference and will block everything. This means either that you will have problems from false positives or you will need some kind of "No, I'm totally fine, I swear" override mechanism which destroys the effectiveness of the app.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never had need of a drunk text protection app.
PPS - Is there a stone-cold-sober bad-judgement protection equivalent?

Friday, 22 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 3

I thought I was ready to rewrite this book. I was wrong.

I mean, that much became obvious from my outline pretty early on, but I'm talking about something deeper now. I'm not 100% sure I was ready to write anything this long and have a good result come out of the other end. Even a usable first draft.

My characters are flat. They have some characteristics, but the whole spaceship colony acts like a big hive mind. They're all tentacle appendages of the communal will. That was not the goal, though it might make an interesting setting if I can figure out a story to tell about it. The point is that, although I know where the story is going and I think I'm going to get there, I'm not happy with the results.

That's normal, I suppose. I mean, you're not supposed to be happy with a first rough draft. It's like the raw clay you smack down in the centre of the pottery wheel. It's not anything much yet. Maybe I'll be happier when I finish.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As of right now, I'm about 1600 words behind schedule.
PPS - I've been behind this whole time.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Internet reliability

Does anyone actually live somewhere that the internet uptime and reliability is five nines? Have you ever worked in a place that blocked Facebook or IM or external email? Do you have the mobile bandwidth to watch a movie per day, or leave your music streaming constantly off WiFi? This is what I mean when I say that the internet is not reliable. It's always there, but if the electricity went out as often as, say, I can't get a website to load, we would consider it third-world standard. If I had to turn my home water supply off and on as often as my router, I'd be looking to move house. It's absurd to talk about the internet as a safe, stable, reliable platform, but that's the way we are using it. Yet every single week something goes wrong somewhere and renders it inoperable in some way.

Yes, it's more complicated than water or power or radio or TV, and yes, it involves a lot more different entities doing their jobs. It's frustrating when the network goes down, but my answer is not "fix my internet or else", it's to stop and rethink how the internet works. If your app depends on 100% internet uptime, it's going to fail for everyone at some time, and for some people most of the time. That looks bad for you. Make sure you don't assume 100% internet uptime when you write software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess it's a good thing the internet is mostly optional.
PPS - And for essential tasks, they're often not urgent.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Software documentation rot

When your tools don't work, you stop using them. This is a problem with software documentation in particular - a kind of Catch-22 situation. If the documentation is out of date or inaccurate, nobody refers to it. If nobody is referring to it, then nobody bothers to update it. So software documentation naturally tends towards chaos and particular software expertise tends to migrate to people's brains instead of documents.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you still need to do the same job, you must get better tools.
PPS - Quite often, better tools just don't exist.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The internet is not special

The world has changed, yet stayed the same. We still do all the same things we did 10, 20, 30 years ago, just faster and with different tools. We order pizza delivered online, but we could order pizza before the internet. We broadcast our thoughts to the world, but we could do that before Twitter. It's just that it took longer, was more expensive and nobody cared (most people still don't care, but high follower counts trick us into thinking they do). We have a global communications network, but so did the British Empire - it just ran on paper, horses and ships, with higher latency and lower volume.

What changes - fundamental changes, not just changes of magnitude and speed - has the internet really wrought? Those in power are still in power, those in poverty are still in poverty. Expertise is more accessible, but that's a change of magnitude and speed, not fundamentally different to pre-internet education.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think, in a lot of ways, a lot of our modern technology is a change of degrees, not a fundamental shift.
PPS - Some of it is genuinely new, but the people side tends to stay about the same.

Monday, 18 November 2013


As much as I want to see Riddick, the third movie starring Vin Diesel as an escaped convict and murderer as anti-hero, I think someone lost track of what Pitch Black, the first movie, was about. Riddick was a big part of that story, but it was a story about redemption, forgiveness, trust and cooperation in the face of life-threatening danger. By contrast, the sequels are about Riddick being an amazing badass in the face of explosions. That's not a story at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm aware I missed it in cinemas.
PPS - Right now, I'm not too cut up about that.

Friday, 15 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 2

Last week I vowed to keep writing, even if I was putting down a steaming pile of words that would never amount to anything.

This week, I wondered a little bit why I am even doing this if I don't think it's good. The answer, in part, is to get better, and that led me to my second related thought for the week: I can write better than this. I don't have to just hammer out terrible words, get my daily count in and go home. I can, at the very barest minimum, practice my craft within the terribleness of my plot. So I started doing that. I took more time, I wrote scenes that might not suck. I brought a little more life to what I'm doing.

It felt better. Not great, just better.

In general, I'm still finding it hard to follow my outline, I think because the plain text format turns out to be awful for outlines, at least for me. I'm still behind on my word count, but slowly catching up, managing to write about 2000 words every weekday. If I can keep up over this weekend, I should be ahead next week. I want to win on novel words this year, rather than novel+notes like last year.

I've also been getting physical pain in my right shoulder, and it's been worse on some days than others. At work, I've moved my mouse to my left hand, and that seems to be helping a little.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably what I need is to get away from computers for a while.
PPS - Or get a work desk that doesn't contort my body into awful positions.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The need for space

There might be something missing from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: space. Either that or else it's very subtly implied by "security of property". I say this because I've heard that the most common dream among residents of Manhattan is that their apartments have whole other rooms they never knew existed. This says to me that they feel crowded in their normal daily lives, and their subconscious wishes for more space. The reason this would be overlooked most of the time is that there are only a few places on Earth where the crowding is that severe, so most people have enough space not to feel overcrowded most of the time.

It makes me wonder what is the actual space that people need, psychologically, to feel right about it. Not in the short term - unless you're agorophobic or claustrophobic, you can stand almost any size space for a short time. Not even the space required to produce the food and energy needs of a person. I mean in the long term, what is the minimum living space that a person can realistically put up with? Is that affected by living with other people? Does it matter how much time you spend in your house as opposed to outside or at work? Maybe we're all living on a sliding scale of claustrophobia, and the more time you spend in smaller spaces, the less comfortable you feel.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Those psychological sliding scales seem to show up everywhere.
PPS - Or at least everywhere in our heads.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Practical projects

I was thinking, just as in Julie and Julia, of taking on a big, ongoing project for my blog. I considered using Jamie Oliver's 15-Minute Meals, which is not especially different to Julie and Julia, but now I've got this Reader's Digest book on tools and home handyman skills. I've always wanted to learn that stuff, so maybe that's the way to go. I need something to encourage me to work through the book, and I feel like doing something more practical with the blog, too. Most of my posts stop at the idea stage, and that's not helping anyone, really.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.
PPS - Just ask an executioner.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Google Keep dictation

Google Keep has the option to dictate a note, which is very handy when you can't type or when you just want to get an idea down quickly. I use it often. The thing is, it can't take dictation without a network connection. In that situation, why not just record the audio? If you need it turned to text, save up the audio and process it later. Would that be so bad?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - No. It would not.
PPS - Other than that, I find the dictation works fairly well.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Food standards and junk food

I think any food standards watchdog organisation has a problem, because the food industry will naturally tend towards addictive junk. Some of that might be acceptable for sale on its own, but when it makes up the majority of food for sale nation-wide, that's not going to work. Say, for instance, that a certain amount of sugar is acceptable in foods for sale. It's kind of okay if it's high in one or two things, but when the high level is the new "normal", you're going to start messing up the insulin sensitivity of your entire population.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It will always, to some degree, be an individual's responsibility to eat healthy.
PPS - A food standards organisation can only really ban foods that will kill you immediately.

Friday, 8 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Week 1

I'm sick of rewriting my book. There, I said it. It's exhausting and it's stupid and it's not coming out any better than the barftastic first version that I wrote two years ago. This is disappointing and a little unexpected. I thought I had matured a lot since then, but I have not sat down like this to write a book in some time. It shows.

I'm behind schedule and I'm not catching up. My outline is hard to follow. It's full of major plot problems that aren't going away, because they're too big. Also, it's physically uncomfortable. I've been writing on the train to and from work, and hunching over in that cramped seat, trying to get the words out is pretty awkward. It wasn't that way when I started doing this. I have an appointment with a physiotherapist (or some equivalent) on Monday to try and help.

I'm going to keep going, though. Might as well. The disappointment has already set in, though. The first draft was far from perfect. This second draft is at least as far from perfect as that, but in different ways. So I guess that's what I'm taking away from NaNoWriMo this year: a second draft that proves there is more than one way for me to suck.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's good that I'm allowed to suck, though.
PPS - How else could I get better?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Pop scare videos

Why are pop scare prank videos so annoying? I'm talking about those videos you get either shared on Facebook or some I've got in email that seem innocent or curious, inviting you to look closely, and then pop up a scary face and a scream sound. Why would that be so much more upsetting or irritating than Rickrolling?

Well, it starts with the way the videos are presented initially. They deliberately lie to you to draw you in. They can't do so any other way. If they were titled "Get ready for a scary surprise!" rather than "This is really weird, watch closely" then they wouldn't have the same effect. You already feel like a sucker when they get you.

Secondly, the prank instigator is not there to have a good laugh with you at the look on your face when it happens, as would be the case with a live prank. You'd have someone to share the "joke" with, or at least someone to hit. With the video, that's all there is. You get sucked in, a genuine pop scare, then it's over. Nobody says "Oh, man, that was great! You should have seen your face!" The video just stops playing and waits for another sucker. The disconnection of the internet strikes again, and the only motivation you can attribute to a person like that is sheer malice.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know Rickrolling has to lie to get you in.
PPS - That one ends with a song, though, not a scream.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Limited term offers

The time-limited offer sales pitch is meant to pressure you into a bad decision. Remember that the next time you find yourself presented with an offer that is "only available for the next 30 minutes!"

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The shorter the time, the sooner they expect buyer's remorse to kick in.
PPR - Or common sense. Either one.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The problems 3D printing doesn't solve

If 3D printing successfully usurped every kind of manufacturing at every level what would the world look like? What tasks would take on greater importance? Well, even if you can just make anything in your own home in short order, you still need to know you're making the right thing, so you need the skill of requirements analysis. What job is this piece supposed to perform, and is it fit for purpose before I go and manufacture it? You also need the skills to install or assemble and maintain what you manufacture. How do you use what you've made? That's not included in manufacturing. Finally, if you can't find the exact ready-made design to fit your needs, you need the skills to produce it from the ground up, including the materials knowledge to decide from what it should be made. Is this a job for ceramics, or plastics, metals or something else?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In short, even ubiquitous, all-encompassing 3D printing won't solve all our problems.
PPS - As with most technologies, it just shifts the problems higher, which can still be a good thing.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Buying custom clothes online

The internet should be able to connect clothes makers with customers directly. You could find a small-time designer you like, send them your measurements, and you get custom-fitted clothes without having to search the racks at stores, plus you would always feel that you were wearing something unique and special.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe that's what some corners of Etsy are for.
PPS - Or maybe someone else is doing exactly this.

Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Day 1

As of this morning, I am embarking on my third National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I'm going to be attempting a rewrite of the book I finished two years ago, because, when I read it again, it was quite choppy and weird. Unpolished.

I treated the first effort as a first draft, turned it into an outline and edited that. I've changed some characters and some scenes, and I'm quite pleased with the outline as it currently stands. I still don't think it's quite perfect, but now I'm out of time. I'll be writing on the train to and from work, as I have before, because that worked out pretty well for me, but I'll also be getting some work done on the weekends this time around. On a good day, I get down about 800-1000 words each way, so the weekdays are covered. I'm not totally sure how I'll handle the weekends yet, but we'll see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do feel like I should be attempting something totally new.
PPS - However, I also want to get this done to a point that I'm really proud of it.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The lost newspaper

On the train the other day, someone left a newspaper behind. I and several other people who live on the internet daily thought nothing of it. An older man, however, seemed agitated. "Someone's left their paper there! Is that yours? Who left their paper? It's not mine, I've got one at home..." And on and on for a while. Eventually he picked it up, folded it carefully and left it on the seat, presumably for someone else to find and make good use of.

My only explanation for the agitation, besides some mental problem, was that, to him, newspapers are the only place news comes from. If you don't read the paper, you don't know what's going on in the world. If someone left it behind, that must have been an accident. To me, newspapers are a relic, published too slowly to be ahead of the game. They're worthless, because everything important in the paper will have already crossed my web browser the day before.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, newspapers actually do have some relevance to me.
PPS - The small, free, local ones are a better place to find local news than anywhere else.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

True fans

Some fans take it on themselves to police "true" fandom, weeding out the heretics so that only the faithful in the Church of SciFi (or whatever) remain. They obviously do damage to fandom in general, their chosen obsession in particular and to authors and creators everywhere, at the same time as thinking either that they are doing someone a favour, or perhaps that they are somehow "winning" at fandom.

These are nerd bullies. "Oh, you can't name every actor who played The Doctor's companion? What makes you think you're a true fan, then, eh? Are you gonna cry now?" That's really the only motivation I can think of that makes sense. It's not a good motivation, just a motivation. These people may have been bullied at school for their unusual tastes, and when they find themselves in a place where everyone is a lot like them (a convention or just a fan subculture), their misplaced rage and a sense of localised superiority makes them lash out. Finally they can be the tiny king of this tiny little hill!

They're not going to be put off by the creators of their chosen show/movie/book/comic saying "cut it out", or at least not permanently. They need to heal.

The only other reason I can think for behaving this way is when you think someone is faking as a publicity stunt or as a way to sell something, like someone putting bad perfume in a turtle-shaped bottle and wearing a turtle suit to sell it to fans of the Ninja Turtles. That person may be pretending to be a fan, but the best way to get them to stop is to pay them no attention or money at all. Maybe what they're doing is damaging to the "brand" of the fandom subculture you're in, but being a bully about it is damaging too. Walk away, let their parasitic business fail and keep loving what you love.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - True fandom is gleeful and positive and inclusive.
PPS - A true fan just wants everyone to experience their joy.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Examining unconscious skill

People who have mastered a skill to the point of unconscious action rarely have the self-awareness to teach you how it works. For instance, to get a good idea of how human masters think about chess, it's too late to ask someone who's already very good. You need to take someone who is an amateur, or merely average, and observe them learning how to play at a much higher level. Then you will get some insight into their thought processes as they progress from average play to exceptional play. Learn how humans build mental models of a chess board and you might be able to build a chess program that doesn't require the analysis of millions of positions to play against a human.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Chess programs are actually still improving, efficiency-wise.
PPS - Whether they are providing any psychological insight remains to be seen.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Options for sanitary public toilet design

Up to half of men using a public toilet do not wash their hands. Some of them fake it, because they feel enough social pressure to appear like they're not filthy, but not enough pressure to actually use soap. For this reason, I recommend the following options for public toilet designs that do not depend on changing the human nature of people who just do not care.

Option 1, noting that door handles will pick up germs, is to move the wash basin outside the toilet doors completely. This has two huge advantages. One, as implied above, it means handwashing occurs after using the door handle, which is obviously the preferred order of events (assuming there is a door handle at all, see below). Two, because handwashing is now occurring in public, non-hand-washers are forced to parade their behaviour under the withering scorn of everyone around.

Option 2 is to arrange the doors so that "Push" is an option to get out, allowing a clean human to use shoulders, feet, back, hip or elbow to push through the door, preserving the cleanliness of his hands until the next handshake or nose blow or computer keyboard use. The doors don't have to push only one way, either, and they don't have to be ordinary doors. Automatic sliding doors, two-way swinging doors, automatic revolving doors or even S-bend hallways with no doors would be acceptable. I have seen many of those options work.

A side-option, for the truly germophobic is automatic taps. Using a dirty hand to turn on the water, washing, then touching the dirty tap to stop the water is also considered futile by true germophobes, so automatic taps are a nice touch to consider, but not essential.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can turn off the tap with your paper towel as an option when the taps are manual.
PPS - The easiest changes to an existing arrangement are probably to have the doors swing outwards.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Advice for your 13-year-old self

Really, the question is not what you would say to your 13-year-old self if given the chance, but how you would make yourself listen. You know what you were like at 13: a whiny, opinionated, entitled brat, even if you were hiding it. What makes you think that unstable bag of hormones would listen to anyone, even if it's you? Unless you're talking about parties, music, dating, sex or maybe food, or how much it sucks to be 13, you're just going to be a buzzing background noise to the rest of the world thundering in your own young ears.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that kind of renders your time travel a bit pointless, doesn't it?
PPS - I hate when that happens.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Priority vs capacity

Priority traffic sounds like a good idea until you throw enough bandwidth at the problem. For example, laundry. If you have some garment that you need to wear and wash every couple of days, such as your only work uniform for a messy job, you might keep it aside and throw it into the wash whenever you put on a load. Everything else sits in the basket and waits its turn. This is a perfectly functional system, but it can break down if too much laundry gets the priority treatment. At that point, even though you have a system for treating some garments as special, their express handling doesn't mean anything, because they still don't get washed quickly enough.

The real solution is more capacity, not prioritising. If you wash enough laundry per day, then all of your garments get washed, whether they are high priority or not. It doesn't make sense to bypass a queue that operates at high speed. The same argument applies to anything buffered: theme park queues, to-do lists, internet traffic, highways or airport security. The answer to delays in general is not to create a new, better, alternative queue, but to throw a lot more capacity at the existing queue.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you're selling express tickets, though, you have no motive to increase capacity.
PPS - In fact, you are now motivated to clog up the regular queue as much as possible.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sinners Anonymous

I have the phrase "Sinners Anonymous" in my head as a description of what the church should be. It's not complete, and it's not that original either, but it's a radical reimagining of how people in church should relate to each other, and how we inside the church need to appear to those outside. We come to church because we need help. We recognise our brokenness and that of our brothers and sisters. We aim for virtue, but we haven't arrived yet.

As I said, though, it's not a complete picture. If the church only focuses on being a support group for morality, we will lose track of Jesus, and he was the one who started his church among the downtrodden in the first place. Jesus' followers were a bunch of prostitutes, tax collecters, addicts, sick and sinful. The ones, he said, who "need a doctor". That is all of us, whether we've learned to hide it or not. Sinners Anonymous is how Christians should look to other people, inside the church or not. Come join the rest of us who struggle with sin. Maybe we can learn together.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or maybe it's still so incomplete as to be meaningless.
PPS - Though if it helps bring more forgiveness and understanding, that could only be good.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Explaining colour

I find it fascinating to hear a blind man explaining on YouTube that the concept of colour is meaningless to him. He says nobody has ever explained it to him adequately, because there's really nothing to relate it to. You can't say it's like certain smells or temperature or sounds, because that's stupid. It's not like that at all, it's vision, and he has no concept of that. It's a quality of light, and in his blind world, there is no light. Not darkness, because that's just a way of saying light that wasn't there. This blind man does not, cannot, know what light is, let alone its different qualities.

It would be like some alien creature trying to tell you what it's like to sense magnetic fields, their strengths and directions. It's not like seeing some other colour, or hearing a high-pitched tone everywhere he goes, nor is it as if the air itself has some extra tactile resistance he can physically feel. He just detects the magnetic fields all around him, all the time, because the flurns in his blarndarp are quiggly, and he knows how strong the field is by how dralnip the pindle trebs, you know? Of course you don't. Those words are meaningless to you, because no matter how much he explains or what analogies he draws, it has to do with some fundamental experience you simply do not share and cannot know.

And that's what you sound like when you try to explain colour and light to a blind person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or so I have it from reputable sources.
PPS - The video I linked says pretty much that.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Code vs words

I don't like just producing words, because they get lost and forgotten. They need people to remember and implement them, like lawyers or bureaucrats. Code can run on computers long after everyone forgets it has to be there. That raises its own issues, but at least you don't need vigilant experts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You just need decent programmers.
PPS - And maintenance techs.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Calendar software views

In calendar software, it is normal for a monthly view to show the whole month on one screen without scrolling. This is good. It is also normal to show the weekly view stretched out vertically so that you can't see the whole thing on one screen without scrolling. Why is that? Why go to the trouble of making one view fit the screen and let another view expand to go way beyond the screen boundaries?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's it. I just really don't get it.
PPS - It's not a choice I'd have made, and not even consistent.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Imagining electricity breakthroughs

Breakthroughs that would change the way the world uses power. Orders of magnitude advances in battery capacity, charging time, power generation and consumption efficiency. If our houses used 10% of today's power, and that power cost 10% as much to generate, you'd be paying less than a dollar per year for all your electricity. Or we'd use 10 times as many appliances, because we could, and that would still cost less than $10 per year.

An order of magnitude advance in battery power and electronics efficiency would mean that your phone could go for about three months on a single charge while still doing everything you do today, and when you do need to charge it up, it would take about a minute. Imagine only needing to charge your phone four times a year, for one minute each time. I expect a lot of new possibilities for mobile computing might open up. We might have more of them or use them in more situations.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - With that level of power storage and use, maybe we wouldn't even have big central power stations any more.
PPS - It might become much more local.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Reprogramming brains by force

Several authors have posited a kind of brain reprogramming through normal sensory input. In Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, the human brain stem can be reprogrammed via the Sumerian language spoken aloud. In David Langford's short story BLIT, a human brain can be crashed like a computer by certain images. It's an interesting concept, and in each of those examples, it involves some of the most complex sensory tasks we humans engage in - visual pattern recognition and language processing. My guess is that complexity played a part in the formation of the concept. Nobody was about to suggest that you could reprogram a human brain with a particular smell, taste or touch.

Obviously it's just a story piece or a worldbuilding concept, but I don't believe anything similar would be possible in real life. It would be like trying to reprogram your computer through the webcam and microphone. Maybe you could sort of do it, but it would exploit a flaw that exposes the normal reprogramming mode the computer was explicitly designed for. The brain was not designed to be reprogrammed like that. The brain was designed to learn the world, make sense of the patterns it finds there (vision and language, in particular) and to control our bodies by conscious will.

The only way to "reprogram" a brain would be to forcibly break neural connections that were built and reinforced over years, then form new ones in their place. That would, as a side-effect, destroy the personality and memory of the person, even if it were only partial, and force a new version to emerge in its place, if at all. While small-scale reprogramming might be possible, doing so on a large scale would be like pulling apart a car to build a motorcycle. It's not going to be the same vehicle afterwards.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And much smaller.
PPS - Which is not what you want in a brain.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Google Glass picture taking UI

Just a quick thought: if the Google Glass aims to be a computer you wear on your face that stays out of the way all the time, then the command to take a photo shouldn't be "OK Glass, take a picture". That's cumbersome. It takes longer than pushing a shutter button.

In my opinion, the command to take a photo should just be "wow". It's what you're likely to say when you see something amazing, so Glass should take a photo at that prompt. Just my 2 cents.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I had a Glass headset, and you could remap the voice commands, that's the first thing I'd do.
PPS - Besides taking a self-portrait in a mirror, of course.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The downside of a meritocracy

The downside of a meritocracy is that it does not value the weak, the poor, the disabled, the elderly or children. Merit for the things you can do means that, if you can't do anything, you are not valuable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's not really any such thing as a welfare meritocracy.
PPS - It just doesn't fit.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Friday writing update - failing to write

For a couple of weeks now, I haven't been writing much. Except by "much", if I'm honest, I have to say I mean "at all". It's been a choice. I could have kept up exactly the same writing schedule as usual - my morning commute to work is still available - it's just that I've been filling my time with TV instead. Breaking Bad in particular. I guess, when I started, the plan was to power through every episode in time to watch (and comment on) the finale with coworkers who were into the show. I didn't make that deadline, despite devoting all my free time to it. Now that I've missed that deadline, however, I've continued to give up my writing time to fit in more episodes, and that's something I really shouldn't be doing.

With NaNoWriMo coming up, I had intended to plan out a second draft of my first novel, The Bones of Earth, so that I could write to that plan and get more than the 50,000 words done in the month. Now, however, I have 20 days left, no plan and I'm not even done with Breaking Bad. So here's the deal I'll make with myself: until November, I will write every day. I'll plan what I can of that novel draft, and I'll be ready for NaNoWriMo. That's my priority. If I have any time left over, maybe I'll allow myself an episode of Breaking Bad.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My friends warned me Breaking Bad would become an addiction.
PPS - They were right.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Compatibility breeds progress

Industry becomes easier when machines are modular and compatible. They can then be combined, feeding the output of one into another as required. Flexibility is key to expediency, and expediency leads to progress.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The same is true of any technology.
PPS - Software in particular.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The pursuit of true happiness

Life changes as you grow up, and nobody is there to tell you what's important and what isn't. You pick and choose as best you can, but sometimes you get to wondering if you picked up and put down the wrong things. You see other people who held onto things you let go, and they seem pretty happy. Cars, booze, music, painting, travel, fashion. You start to wonder if you made a mistake, and whether you can catch up again. But, for the most part, there was no mistake, just different choices.

It comes down to happiness, and some people can't be happy unless they have what everyone else has, or more. So if you gave up a social life to have a career, or gave up surfing to tow cars for a living, you might wonder if you'd be happier the other way around. For the most part, you wouldn't, because people tend to plateau at one level of happiness. It gets better, then you adjust and it feels about the same. It gets worse, and it sucks, but you get used to it. You throw away your whole career to go back to partying all the time, and it feels good for a while, but eventually it fades again.

So rest assured that the only wrong choice you really made was questioning your choices.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Happiness is mostly a matter of being content with what you have now.
PPS - I mean, after a certain point. You have basic needs to meet, as a minimum.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Credit fraud customer service

If you're going to ignore credit fraud until it is reported, because it's cheaper, you had better have good customer service at that point. Victims of credit fraud are only going to be understanding about your response and strategy if they get their money back very quickly and nobody gives them the third degree about anything they should have done differently.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never been a credit fraud victim myself, so I don't know how it goes.
PPS - From what I've heard, second-hand, though, banks do pretty well when handling it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Closing the analogue hole

I don't think it will ever be possible to "close the analogue hole", which is what DRM addicts call it when no older analogue technology can capture movies, music or pictures. If they did, then it would literally be impossible to record a movie in a cinema with a hand camera, as it would also be impossible to record music that is playing over speakers - any music, any speakers, any recording device.

The reason I think it is impossible is because that would close the ability to watch movies and listen to music at all. If audio is immune to capture by any analogue means, that includes your ears. If video is similarly immune to capture by analogue means, that includes your eyes. Anything that truly succeeds against all analogue capture would have to work so well that you can't watch or listen to that media at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That may be the goal.
PPS - The only way to truly stop pirates is to stop the entire entertainment industry.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov

I borrowed a collection of Isaac Asimov short stories from a friend ("Robot Dreams") and found some of the stories surprisingly dark. I thought I knew Asimov. He's like the grandfather of science fiction, and his early stories are really quite bright and hopeful. There's one I recently heard on Escape Pod ("Rescue Party")of aliens responding to an apparent distress call on Earth. The host noted that it was quite positive because the aliens find no corpses. The whole of Earth had to evacuate, and humanity did so, without destroying each other just for the hell of it. Asimov wrote that when he was 19.

Fast forward to the stories in this collection, and among the first few we already find a human deliberately killing the robot equivalent of Moses and some robot cars that actually murder a man. On purpose. When his previous robot stories were basically all about how the famous Three Laws of Robotics interacted and could cause unusual effects, the later ones seem to hold a lot more unease about robot slavery and a potential uprising. It's just not the Asimov I thought I knew.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I believe there was only one story in the collection I'd read before.
PPS - It was "Little Lost Robot".

Thursday, 3 October 2013

BuildMaster review

I've been using a program called BuildMaster for my personal software projects for a while now, and I have to say I am a fan. All I've really been doing with it is managing builds and releases for little apps that manage personal data for me - tracking spending, making notes, keeping time at work - but it's still been really helpful.

Previously, I would develop code up to a certain point, manually deploy it, use it for a bit, realise it had bugs, fix it a bit again, then leave it alone for a while. Repeating that process, even though I was using source control, I would grow less and less confident in the code itself and the releases I had done. What version am I running here? Could be anything. Where did it come from in source control? Can I get it back without having to fix the code I'm updating now? Not unless you figure out all the other answers first.

That's what BuildMaster does for me and my one-man, self-serve software shop. Because I'm naming releases, numbering builds and labelling them in source control, it's all tied together very nicely. Because I have set up an ad-hoc testing environment between development and production, I can do some tests before promoting a build and be confident that, should it be necessary, I can revert to a previous build or get back exactly the previous code version if I need to, without searching the source control history for what looks right.

There's a lot more the BuildMaster can do - integrating with issue tracking, automated testing, databases and so on - and some things I wish it could do natively, such as integrating with Bazaar, my personal source control system of choice, but it has been a real boon to my personal projects so far, and I intend to keep using it at least for that. If I can convince the company to use it, I think it would help at work. We have similar problems to what I had, but on a larger, more annoying scale.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We need something at work, in any case.
PPS - Every software shop needs some kind of system, even something manual.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Google Now

At a prompt from my phone, I switched on Google Now, just to see what it was like. On a positive note, I like that it warns me in advance of traffic delays between wherever I am and home and work, as long as I remember to check. What's more, I didn't have to tell it where I work, it just figured it out, presumably from where I spend most of my working hours. That's both cool and a little bit scary. The weather alerts work about the same as my previous alert widget, so that's kind of a neutral change. The big negative aspect is what it did to my calendar reminders.

I rely on getting audible reminders from my phone about upcoming appointments, and Google Now does provide cards on that, but it does so in complete silence and invisibility until I go to check. At that point, I always see a weather alert, plus maybe a note that says I've got "other cards" to display. Tapping that button gives a several-second delay that might, eventually, tell me about the appointment I missed half an hour ago because of the silent "reminder". I found that I had to disable Google Now for my calendar, then turn reminders back on in my calendar app. I can live with that, but it seems like an odd implementation choice.

I've seen a couple of cards for nearby restaurants, which I thought was interesting at first, but now it seems more like advertising to me. "Hey, I noticed you're near the Hog's Breath Cafe! Why not stop in for a steak?" When I'm looking for somewhere to go, it might be good, but Google can't know when that is.
I've also started using the reminders system via voice commands. "Remind me tomorrow morning to call Dad". "Remind me when I'm at the shops to pick up milk". Location-based reminders are really handy, and creating them in natural speech is a huge plus.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Google Keep also does location reminders now.
PPS - You just can't set them up the same way.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fighting bad reviews with photo evidence

How can we combat fake or bad reviews online? When a business owner pays for dozens of fake reviews to puff up their business, that's bad, but it's also bad when someone posts a fake negative review, or when someone merely threatens to do so in order to get better treatment. That last behaviour has seen many hotels demand that no "unauthorised" reviews be posted at all, just to protect themselves from those crazy people.

We could try to take the "pics or it didn't happen" route, dismissing any reviews that don't include photographic evidence. In some cases, that would be enough, but it wouldn't necessarily stop aforementioned crazies from ruining a hotel room before taking pictures as proof.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In short, requiring photos and video may help, but won't be the silver bullet.
PPS - There is never a silver bullet.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Digital cataloguing doesn't solve hoarding

Cory Doctorow's story "By His Things You Will Know Him" tells the tale of the son of a compulsive hoarder who inherits the hoard but with a technological index that reverses his perception from a useless bunch of junk to a kind of treasure cave, just because he can find anything in the index or search, categorise and rearrange it virtually. While I think that would be powerful, I think the disconnect between the physical presence of the hoard and the separate digital index would create a mental tension that would still make them feel like two different realities. That is to say, you can't just walk up and pick something off the shelf to find out what it is. You see it on the shelf, so you pick up your tablet, scroll, zoom, pan to the virtual object and from there you can see everything about it.

To me, to accomplish the effect described, you'd need more immediacy. You still need the virtual model, separate from the physical goods, but you also need to have the physical goods directly associated with the model so that, when you look at a particular piece, its properties are displayed automatically. You need augmented reality to say this thing is that, here's where it came from, here's what it's worth on eBay, whatever. As long as the model is in another space than the physical collection, it is possible to think of them separately, and that means, sometimes, you will.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Any two things you think are separate will be treated separately.
PPS - Any two things you treat separately will grow apart.

Friday, 27 September 2013

NSA-approved encryption

The NSA has been approving various encryption software lately, saying that this or that one is a good program to use for your personal security needs. I don't know. I feel like getting your encryption software from the NSA these days is like buying your home security system from "Honest Brutus' X-Con Totally Not Fake Alarms".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You don't even get to act shocked when it fails.
PPS - Or when you find out who broke it.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Retirement should mean pursuing passions instead of money

I think perhaps retirement should be thought of in terms of trading financial rewards for job satisfaction. Rather than going on holidays for the rest of your life, take a well-earned break, then go and do whatever you love. If you've planned well, you won't need to be paid well at this point, so you don't need to follow the money, just your passion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you've done well for yourself, you can work for the passion earlier.
PPS - If you've been exceptionally lucky, working your passion is how you got set up in the first place.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Old computers

I always struggle with restraint when my employers auction off old computer equipment. On the one hand, the equipment is being discarded because it is old and underspecified for modern uses. It's ugly, slow, cramped, worn out, and comes with no software or warranty. On the other hand, murmurs a deep, materialistic part of my brain, it's cheap hardware, and you could really use it ... for ... things. Reasons. Just buy it, okay?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My brain wants to live in a house made of computers.
PPS - Or a little fort. That would be cheaper.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Fringe continuity errors between seasons 1 and 2

I've been watching Fringe for the first time, and I'm a little confused by something. There are some potential spoilers here, so if that's a button for you, step aside now.

Really, last chance. I'm going to spoil things right now.

Okay, so at the end of season 1, Olivia travels to "the other side", another world, in which William Bell is currently residing. She gets there in a lift, after Nina Sharp misses a meeting with her. There are weird flashes of light, some other people briefly appear and disappear, then the lift doors open, leaving Olivia in the other world. We see William Bell greet her, but that's it.

At the beginning of season 2, we open on a car crash apparently involving Olivia. After she has been locked inside her car for an hour following the crash, it crumples and she is propelled through the windscreen. In episode 4, Bell calls her back to the other world, then says something about momentum being deferred, which is why she came back last time so violently - he pulled her out of a moving car.

Only hang on a sec, because he never did any such thing. She was never in a car, she was in a building, on foot. I know I didn't miss anything, because I checked. I thought there must have been some episode missing at the end of season 1, but there wasn't. Olivia enters another world in a lift and comes crashing back through her car's windscreen, then we are told something about momentum will blah molecules mumble CAR CRASH! It still doesn't make sense to me, but I can't find any explanation online because there is another, more glaring continuity error in season 2 episode 11, where her dead partner, Charlie, reappears without explanation for one episode.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess for other fans of the show this would be very old news.
PPS - Or irrelevant.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Accuracy matters more online

In a way, though we are conditioned not to expect accuracy online, it is even more important there than elsewhere. When you are communicating face to face, you get all the non-verbal cues like facial expression and tone of voice to help get your message across. When you're on the phone, you lose the visual, but you still get the auditory undertones. When you're online, communicating only in text, you only get that text to convey your message. If your message is subtle or complex, face to face you might get away with some vagueness and people will still understand you. Online, however, you are already at a disadvantage. If your attitude is "it's just the internet, nobody takes it seriously" then you will almost always be misunderstood. When people misunderstand you online, two things can happen. One, you could find yourself engaged in a flame war over a perceived slight or some other problem. Two, you could just be ignored, mentally filed under the heading of "that one who doesn't make sense online" and people won't bother reading what you have to say, because it's just too confusing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's why accuracy matters online. If you ignore it, the world will end up ignoring you.
PPS - And in an attention economy, being ignored is exactly like going broke.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Personal FM vs DAB+ transmitters

Many people have add-on FM transmitters for their in-car audio, because all cars have FM radios these days, and it's a good stop-gap measure for connecting your portable media player and your car stereo. I don't think we will ever see digital radio (DAB+) transmitters for the same purpose, though. Car stereos with digital radio receivers are much more likely to have an auxiliary input, meaning you can connect any audio device directly with a simple audio cable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or Bluetooth for a different kind of wireless connection.
PPS - We're actually in kind of a weird transitional time, I guess.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cloud software legacy support

There's a problem with cloud software that might never be solved as far as software development is concerned: legacy support. If Microsoft made Visual Studio available only as an online service, then only the most recent version would be available at any given time. Given that corporate software projects tend not to update at the same speed as Visual Studio does, a lot of customers would find themselves having to update their software projects a lot more often than they otherwise would. This would mean more jobs for software developers, but at the expense of requiring much higher software budgets on the part of companies. The actual end result is much more likely to be lower-quality software tolerated for much longer, just because it's so expensive to maintain, patch and upgrade.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I prefer my software installed rather than rented.
PPS - Maybe that's just my old-school way of thinking.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Internet publishing is different

Owning a website is like being a self-published author who gives away his work for free, and whose customers can demand as many copies of his book that they like. You don't get a say in how many copies each person can have, and every one of them costs you money to print and send. If you're very lucky, you have ads that people see and when they buy products from those ads at your Please-Take-My-Book-For-Free stall, your advertisers give you a little bit of money that may or may not cover the costs of shovelling free copies of your book at people.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So, yeah, websites are weird.
PPS - Technically, I don't own this one, because I'm not paying the bills.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Colour-matching makeup

I've heard that it's pretty difficult to match foundation makeup colours to skin tones. I also know that hardware stores have nifty machines that take a colour sample and mix up paint to match that colour exactly. Someone connect the dots here, please.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, you'd need to pretty up the process to sell it for makeup.
PPS - Few people want the implication that their skin is so weird that it takes industrial paint equipment to match it.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Pretend hygeine

Why do some people only pretend to wash their hands when they go to the toilet? They clearly feel enough social pressure to put on the show, splashing water around, but equally clearly they don't feel any need to actually clean their own filth from their disease-ridden hands. The only reasons I can imagine are laziness ("Soap is so much hassle, I'll just pretend"), incredulity ("There's no such thing as germs") or stubbornness ("You can't tell me what to do, SOCIETY!"). All of those positions sound crazy to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess that's the way it is with anyone who is different to ourselves.
PPS - These people, however, are a little bit different to modern ideas of hygeine.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Responding to awkward conversation starters

Rather than learning good ice breaker conversation, I'd like to know how to respond to stupid ice breaker questions and comments, like, "hot today, isn't it?" What do you say to that? How about someone who just says "rush hour!" in a crowded lift? The only thing that ever pops into my mind is "yeah".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which just puts the burden back on the other person again.
PPS - And usually they only had "nice weather" to say in the first place.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Technology is always amazing

I watched a video of a man showing off a sequence of Photoshop improvements to his granddad. Granddad had an old photo of himself in what might have been a Navy uniform, and the grandson had posted that cracked old photo online to ask people to touch it up and repair it. He had a sequence of about ten prints showing the gradual improvement, and Granddad was quite impressed by stage three where you could still see a lot of lines and some unintended background (it was a photo of a photo). It's funny how impressive technology is these days, when you think about it, and how much we take it for granted. I'm not really amazed at all by the process of photo touch-up, nor the way in this case it was crowdsourced, each person making a contribution, but this man's Granddad was pretty much blown away at every step. He grew up with low expectations of technology, I suppose, so the fact that any improvement is possible is a bonus.

I grew up with moderate expectations of technology. Our first computer was slow, ugly, ran MS-DOS 3.0 (I think) and Dad had to create the printer driver by hand, copying the hex code out of the manual. We had no internet until I went to university and I didn't get a mobile phone until I could afford it myself, when I started working full time. In my mind, everything impressive about personal computers has happened in my lifetime.

The next generation will grow up where the internet is in the air all the time, mobile phones have always had touch screens and tablet computers are the rule, not the exception or just a toy. They will think about technology very differently to me and my parents, and it will be fascinating to see what they dream up when it's their turn to reinvent the lot.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, and then there's Google Glass.
PPS - And the smart watches, too.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Higher-level network functionality

As computers become cheaper and more generic components of larger systems, software and networks become more important. And as network functionality becomes more critical and common for software, it becomes more important for operating systems to provide standard higher-level network functionality. Rather than just exposing a TCP/IP layer directly, operating systems should be providing sync services, REST buffers and message queues. We need to aim for interoperability at a higher level than the basic network transport layer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some of that would be really handy for me.
PPS - I'm sure there's more of it around than I know.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Software incapability

A major selling point of corporate software seems to be incapability, or what your minions can't do with it. I guess it's related to security, because who can trust their filthy employees these days? Still, it seems weird to see bullet points like "Prevent changes to schedules!" and "Lock down data access!" presented as if the main IT problem in every company is that the technology just works much too well and provides far more functionality than employees need. In my experience, that is often the opposite of the truth.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - With corporate leaks, I imagine security is a high concern for companies these days.
PPS - And for governments.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Misleading documentary interviewees

How common and accepted is it in documentary circles to lie and mislead interviewees by telling them you have one goal while secretly pursuing another? I ask because it seems to be an accusation leveled at documentary filmmakers when they have managed to include a "hostile witness" or anyone who disagrees with the film's central idea. So do people making documentaries go in with that goal - to lie in order to get the interviews - or is the making of a documentary such fluid and uncertain work that you can barely pin it down before it is finished? That's the best benefit of the doubt I can assert here, and it sounds weak.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's also possible that interviewees misunderstand the situation.
PPS - But just as possible that this was the intended result.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Notification overload

Sometimes, I need an alert mute on my phone or desktop, usually both, and only temporary. I get email alerts on my phone all the time, and also on my desktop. They are interruptions, and I want them to just go away for a while and let me think. That's not an option when everything uses its own process for sending notifications to the user. I installed a Chrome plugin called Chime to unify my alerts for Gmail and Facebook, but that, coupled with Outlook using its own alert system, plus SMS and another Gmail notification system on my phone still made for a lot of interruptions coming my way on some days.

I tried Growl for Windows, which seemed fairly good, but to get Gmail and Facebook notifications with it, I needed to run two more apps in my system tray. Oh, and I had to code a special macro to get Outlook alerts. It did allow some greater control, but it wasn't what I was looking for.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The best option, I think, is to just keep alerts to a minimum to begin with.
PPS - If I need them off altogether, I'll just set a timer to remind me to turn them back on later.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Dropbox datastore API

Dropbox has launched a datastore API that allows app developers to store data in Dropbox that is not in traditional file formats. This sounds tiny and boring, but for some applications it is exactly the opposite.

For instance, for a long time I have wanted a cross-platform messaging system that is robust in the face of network failure. On top of this, I would build new versions of some personal data tracking applications I have, including time and expense tracking, notes and action lists, plus possibly remote control computer actions. Passing that info via web services is entirely possible, and even easy, but the fault-tolerant network communications, where reliability is far more important than immediacy, would mean writing my own network command buffer, which is a bit of a pain. If Dropbox provides this kind of functionality, they have solved the problem for me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't tried using it yet.
PPS - I'll let you know when I do.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Crazy talk

There's crazy talk, and then there's talk so crazy that you can't possibly be joking. Usually on TV, when someone starts with the second type of crazy talk, someone assumes they are trying to distance themselves from something. It is quite often played out as if this crazy talk is meant to push someone out of a relationship. But if someone tells you that they're not from a small coastal town in Maine but instead from a place called The Enchanted Forest, where our fairy tales came from, they're either having a psychotic episode or they're telling the truth. Nobody tries to tell a story like that as a distancing mechanism.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, nobody I've ever met.
PPS - And I've never attempted it either.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

You could run a taxi from a tablet

All of in-taxi operations could be done by a phone or tablet app. A driver can receive job dispatch info online, get GPS directions to the pick-up and drop-off, that GPS data can be used to calculate the fare, and the payment can be received by PayPal, or another online credit card payment. I'd be surprised if someone hadn't done this already, or wasn't working on it. So will it be long before we see it happen, or will we still have individually-sold hardware to do each little job?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could probably do it now without any specialised app.
PPS - Because texting, GPS and PayPal already exist.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The opportunity cost of being an extreme cheapskate

I saw a show called Extreme Cheapskates or something like that, about people who, for instance, spend an entire day raiding dumpsters or cycling around picking up loose change, because it's cheaper than shopping and it feels like free money. The problem, of course, is that your value assessment of these activities does not take into account your valuable time. Let's say you manage to pick up $7.50 in loose change around town, and it takes you 8 hours to do so (actual example). You are settling for a wage of less than $1 per hour. People would pay you more than that to rake up the leaves in their yards.

It's that level of cheapness where it starts to feel like you might have a mental illness similar to hoarders, placing an irrationally high value on something that actually costs you more.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Calculating costs vs savings is important.
PPS - But, as a guideline, spending your whole day scrounging for less than minimum wage is not worth it.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday Writing Update - Dealing with critiques

I've run a couple of stories through Critters writing workshop now, and I think I need a system for dealing with critiques. People are helpful and friendly, but the feedback can get overwhelming when there's a lot of it. After the first couple of critiques come in, I usually feel really good. People tend to like what I've written, they almost always want it to be longer, and they have good suggestions that I take on board immediately. Towards the end of the week, I'm getting into double digits of feedback and losing enthusiasm. I don't even get to reading the last few when they come in.

Here's how I want to try handling it from now on:
1. Read each critique once. Make small editing changes as you go.
2. Extract each major point into a list. If a point has been made before, mark it up as more important.
3. If clarification is needed, or if the critique was particularly helpful, write back.
4. Let the story sit for a while before reading the notes and trying to improve the work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't tried it yet.
PPS - Next time.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Hydrophobic umbrella

If it were more affordable, I would buy enough Ultra Ever Dry to coat my umbrella. My umbrella already does a good job of keeping the water off me, but it would be even better if, once I step under cover, a single shake would leave the umbrella dry as a bone. No need to cover it in a plastic sleeve to keep it from dripping on the floor, no need to open it inside to dry out for several hours and, perhaps most importantly, I could fold it up and put it back in my bag on public transport immediately. That would be a really big benefit, because I've left at least one umbrella on the train before, simply because I had to keep it away from my bag while it dripped. If it could hardly help but keep completely dry, there would never be any need to keep it separate ever again.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There may be similar hydrophobic coatings that are more affordable.
PPS - The question is why umbrellas aren't manufactured hydrophobic in the first place.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Safety equipment and risk

Safety equipment merely raises the bar on what risks people take. We like a certain amount of danger. When you reduce the amount of danger involved in a certain activity, we increase it again by doing the activity in a more dangerous or extreme way. As soon as you give a helmet to someone, they'll feel free to endanger their head as much as before, safe in the knowledge that the helmet will turn deadly activities into merely disabling ones.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless they're a teenage boy.
PPS - In which case "risk" is not yet part of his world view.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Giving credit

I wish it were easier to give credit to creators rather than curators online (or worse, plagiarisers). The fact is that it's way easier to just credit the person who shows us something cool than to go looking to see if it is being properly attributed.

Perhaps we should be in the habit of watermarking all photos, videos and audio with creator info so that it's easily discovered no matter where it goes. If it's important information about a file, it needs to be inside the file. That doesn't mean plagiarisers won't be able to re-mark a file to claim it as their own, or that someone can't steal the idea behind a piece and produce something similar on their own. It would just make it easier, when someone shares a video or picture online honestly, to track down and inform the creator that their work is being shared.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course a lot of sharing is just linking these days.
PPS - However, linked or copied, marked by the maker is best.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Lacking communication skills

I am constantly frustrated by my own communication skills. I understand that it is important to express ideas in a way that other people can understand them. That's very clear. My problem is that my mental model of all other humans in existence seems to be flawed. Not just a little bit off-centre or sometimes too presumptuous about shared knowledge. I mean I say a sentence, then spend ten minutes trying to explain myself. Or we just drop it and move on with dismissive hands waving in my face. "You don't talk right. Stop it and let the humans have a go." I am very familiar with the furrowed brow of all my acquaintances, friends and family.

What can I do about this? I'm already very slow to speak. I feel like if I speak sooner, before my thoughts have had a chance to ramble off topic, I'll be even less coherent. My words will become alien sounds bearing no resemblance to your earth languages at all. If I take longer, I'll appear fully autistic, responding to questions long after the conversation has moved on.

My usual response is to sit completely silent, avoiding the embarassment of speaking and being misunderstood and replacing it with the mild shame of being the only one who can't contribute to group discussions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Every idea seems to take too many words to express.
PPS - And too much background info to establish.

Friday, 23 August 2013


My early attitude towards user-friendliness was a kind of elitism, at least in part influenced by the movie Hackers. We'll skip over the argument about computer realism in Hollywood and go for some examples of what I mean. I learned to touch-type at school, and the first time I got my own computer keyboard that I didn't have to share with Dad or my brother, I covered the keys in stickers to obscure the letters. If you can't touch-type, was the not-so-subtle message, then get out. I carefully replaced the indicators on my multi-colour pen that I used at university so that all the buttons were black but it retained all four individual colours of ink. Learn the arrangement or get out. I used to say "destroy user-friendliness" when I did things like this, and at the time I believed that it was to educate people and force them to learn, but didn't provide any path for that learning.

I was big on insider knowledge. It was fun, because it made me feel powerful. I know things that you don't. I had to force it, but I did it, because I wanted to be powerful and that was the quickest, easiest way to demonstrate power. In that sense, it was kind of a bully thing, albeit intellectual bullying.

Now that I've been out of university for some time, and I've worked with real software users, my attitude is completely the opposite. If you can't use the software or hardware without first taking a course, studying a manual and practicing for several days (or weeks, months, years) then that piece of technology is broken, and people like me need to fix it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can take user-friendliness too far.
PPS - Usually, however, it's not taken far enough.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

History and hilarious lies

Sometimes I worry that historians of the future will be unable to tell the difference between our genuine scholarship, our satire, our hilarious lies for their own sake and spam. Where you have real news, you also have misinformed news, biased news, fake news, celebrity news and propaganda.

Perhaps history and archaeology in the future will merely involve the development of more and more effective spam filters and a sense of humour. Which is much of what we are trying to cultivate today, actually. Carry on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I sometimes have trouble telling the difference myself.
PPS - Because sometimes satire is so close to trolling.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why you need disposable identities

When you care about privacy and security, then every system where you link to someone else - all social networks and communications methods - or any time you give someone a powerful piece of personal information (like a credit card number) then you have to build in temporary aliases that can be revoked later. Instant message accounts, emails, phone numbers, credit cards, mailing addresses, social network accounts. Every one of them needs to have two layers of identity in them: the real account details, known only to you and the service provider in question, and an ever-changing set of straw man contact details that are known to your peers and colleagues, but are only valid until you revoke them.

Because you will eventually have to revoke some of them, and you never know which ones those are in advance. Maybe you gave your credit card number to a dodgy internet site, or a friend's phone got stolen and now you're getting obscene phone calls at 3am. No matter who you trust or how you manage your life, these details will eventually cause you grief, and you need to be able to shred them without having to undo your whole life, change your phone number, move house and assume a new name.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It does seem like an extreme position to take.
PPS - And in some cases, the risk is too small to bother.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Schoolies Week vs Spring Break

In some ways, I think Schoolies Week is a bit worse than Spring Break. At least in the States, Spring Break is full of college students who have been starting to learn how to do life on their own. They're failing, because a lot of life is still taken care of for them, and they have other priorities than, say, laundry and hygiene, but at least they are dealing with a little bit of responsibility along with their freedom in their daily lives.

Schoolies Week, by contrast, is full of high school students who are out on their own for the first time ever. They haven't learned anything yet except what they've been taught in school (algebra, Shakespeare and dissecting frogs) and now they're out on their own for a week, unsupervised. That's not a celebration, it's Lord of the Flies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Keep in mind, however, that I've never experienced Spring Break for myself.
PPS - And my Schoolies Week was remarkably tame.