Thursday, 31 January 2013

Buildings and wireless technology

We should be making houses and other buildings that don't interfere with wireless signals. Whether that means making them radio invisible or making the whole house into an antenna, I don't know. The point is that all kinds of wireless signals - TV, radio, WiFi, 3G etc - are a huge part of our lives and economy these days. The fact that they get blocked by our ordinary buildings means we have problems everywhere.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is probably the civilian application of stealth technology.
PPS - Or those "invisibility cloak" experiments I keep hearing about. Same principle.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Creators and critics

I've seen the beginnings of a kind of creative movement online, or just a creative attitude. I'm sure it's older than what I've seen, but the basis is this: your right to criticise or comment on anything is proportional to the amount you create yourself. This means that practically every YouTube comment is rendered invalid, because the commenter is (usually) not a creator. It also matters how high is the quality of what you create and how many people like it. But in essence, unless you make things, you don't get to criticise the things other people make. And, conversely, I don't have to listen to your criticism unless you make things too. Your value as a critic is directly related to your value as a creator.

Now, you will know whether you like something, and you will probably tell other people what you like and don't like. That's fine, as long as there's more in the positive column than the negative one. But one thing you can't do with your negative opinion is take it to the creator and demand they stop making things. The New Makers Reputation Economy (TM) is built on people continuing to make things. If you ever advocate that it stops, you won't be heard.

So, two take-home points. Number one: go out there and make things. Don't just sit and think about making them, go and actually do it. Even though the first things you make are going to suck, make them anyway. Number two: once you've started making things, then you can start commenting on the things other people have made.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I need to learn some more skills to make physical things.
PPS - And not because I want to criticise anyone.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Non-urgent communication

Texting has reached the point where we expect people to see and respond to their messages immediately. Email, too, at least during business hours. The only "non-urgent" form of electronic communication I can think of now is Facebook messages. We don't expect people to be on Facebook constantly, so any messages we send there can be ignored for a while, but that means sending all of our non-urgent personal communications through Mark Zuckerberg. I don't like that idea.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And when you think of it, we probably shouldn't send anything that way.
PPS - But who's going to do stop?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Laptops suck

People have been buying laptops much more than desktop computers, for home use, because they're easier to set up, they have only one external cable (for power), and you can move them easily. They really do have a lot of advantages that way, but there are some down sides that people don't often account for.

They cost more. That's the first red flag that should get raised when you're thinking of buying a laptop. You will be paying several hundred dollars extra for the convenience.

They are less powerful. In almost everything that goes into a computer, they suck more than a desktop. Slower processors, less disk space, less RAM, more heat, smaller screen, fewer USB ports. That's just what you get on every model. And remember, you're paying extra for this.

They are much less ergonomic. The screen and keyboard positions cannot and will not ever meet proper ergonomic guidelines if the screen is attached directly above the keyboard. Long-term, you may injure yourself.

They have all-in-one failure modes. If the keyboard stops working or the screen goes dead, your options for replacements and repairs are more limited and expensive.

Lastly, the battery will wear out, but by then you will probably not be able to replace just that part, because next year's model will use a slightly different battery and nobody will be selling the old model any more. From then on, your portable machine becomes a low-powered, cramped, uncomfortable, unstable, expensive, stationary computer.

My only conclusion is that people in general must be resolved to spending $1500 every two years on a new laptop, because "that's just what you do". I spent $1200 on a desktop about four years ago and it's still going strong. I expect it to last at least another two years.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you "need" your computer to be mobile, buy a tablet for $250.
PPS - If that actually doesn't do everything mobile that you need, then you might need a laptop.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - The Inner Circle

I had finally worked my way into the inner circle. The Illuminati, the most secret of secret societies, those who run the world. I was sitting at a table with the puppet-masters themselves. They all wore masks, but mine had cameras at every angle the tech boys could figure out how to jam them in. Maybe we wouldn't get their bare faces, but we'd get their voices at least.

I had worked my way quickly up through the ranks of the Sydney criminal organisations, found their contacts in local politics and followed the unofficial chain of command up from there. It took years to get in contact with the upper-echelon bankers online and get them to agree to this meeting. I could bring them all down at once. It would make my career, if anyone could ever hear about it.

Everyone at the table seemed to be waiting for someone else to take control of the meeting, so I figured I should probably let them know I had called it and why. It seemed unlikely they would be happy about it.

Just as I was going to open my mouth, however, a woman at the other end of the table, wearing a mask made of crow feathers, spoke up.

"You've been called here to attend an important meeting. You have no idea just how important it is." She took off her mask with a flourish, and it was a second before I realised that there were no gasps of surprise from the other members. "My name is Special Agent Regina Flores, FBI, and all of you are under arrest for several varieties of conspiracy that I'll be happy to go over with you later."

I was about to pull off my own mask when two men sitting beside Agent Flores stood up and introduced themselves as CIA agents. "We'll take over from here," they said, without any humour or recognition of any growing absurdity.

Then someone else stood up - MI5, apparently - and FSB and several other national intelligence agencies announced themselves. In the midst of the shouting, I tried to bring out my badge and tell people I was with ASIO, but the arguments about jurisdiction and rage about blowing years of cover work had started, as would be expected. There were lots of fists pounding on the table and someone started shoving. It looked like nobody was actually with the Illuminati at all, and I made a quick exit before the full-on brawl began. As I slunk quietly out of the building, I started mentally composing a report on the matter, preparing to close it off, then I thought, wait a minute, someone did send us here. This intelligence community nightmare might have been exactly what they wanted. Expose all the rats at once and go on with their business. Perhaps I still had work to do.

That's the thing about secret societies, though. You never quite know when you're done with them, or, really, if you've even started.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This one just seemed like fun to me.
PPS - It was one of those random thoughts that occur to me sometimes.

Accessing Exchange from my Android phone is a bad idea

Google is retiring Google Calendar Sync, claiming that it is no longer needed, because it is possible to access Microsoft Exchange calendars from an Android device directly. I decided to give this a go.

After a short period of searching online for some settings advice, I got my company Exchange account added on my Android phone. It gave me a warning that the account administrator required some additional privileges on my phone in order to activate this account. Though I was somewhat wary, I clicked the "Okay" button and finished setting it up.

As soon as the phone tried to access Exchange, a message popped up to tell me exactly what permissions the Exchange server required on my phone to allow me to access my email and calendar. The first item? Erase all data, performing a full factory reset remotely, at any time, without warning or approval from me, the owner of the phone.

No. Absolutely not. I am not handing over that permission to my company admins, for two reasons. Number one, they will activate it, destroying my personal data along with my company contacts, email and calendar, if I ever choose to leave the company. That's what it's for. There's no arguing here that they won't actually do so, that the permission is just a precaution. They didn't have to request that scary permission, and they wouldn't unless they intended to use it. Number two, I don't trust that they won't accidentally activate it, say, when they're trying to nuke someone else's phone. Worse, there is apparently a bug in Exchange that can cause that feature to activate if you make ONE incorrect login attempt. Our passwords expire monthly. If I forget to change it on my phone when it expires, KABOOM. Factory-reset phone.

This leaves me with a problem: Google Calendar Sync was the only way I could legitimately access my work calendar on my phone, and it is no longer supported. I will not hand over the "Nuke My Phone" button to the company IT department. I am, therefore, out of options.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or, actually, out of Google-supported options.
PPS - I'm sure I could work something else out on my own.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Apps for staying in contact are too visible

There's a problem with synchronous internet communications, like IM and VoIP. The problem is that I am not always in one place, looking at one screen, on one network and connected to one profile. My PC at work stays switched on and connected to the internet all week, but I'm not sitting there all week. I go home at night, or I go out at lunchtime. During those times, my home computer or my phone might be a better way to reach me. Plus, I am listed on four (!) individual accounts: Facebook, MSN, Google Talk and Skype. The best I can do is use Pidgin for three of them, but Skype requires its own client. All of those profiles need to follow me if I step away from the computer. Lastly, I have some contacts that are on multiple profiles, but it's tricky to group them together into one record (impossible unless I use a cross-protocol client like Pidgin). If I want to contact someone, which program do I turn to, on which machine? It's all separated a bit too far from "me in contact with my friends, family and co-workers".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apps and operating systems need to be invisible.
PPS - I often feel like this topic needs its own label on this blog.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Technology and goals

For a while, I went around asking people "what do you wish your computer could do for you?" Now I think that's the wrong question. The trouble is that it's too narrow, and people lack imagination with computers. You ask what they wish their computers could do, and you get something like "single-spaced documents by default in Word", giving you the impression that their computers are almost perfect, except for that one tiny thing. Someone else has to do the imagining for them, after observing what their problems are. What I should be asking is "what do you wish you could do more easily?" From there, I can try and figure out what computers and technology can do to help, if anything.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Technology is just a set of tools, after all.
PPS - The goals always differ.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

How I Misuse Google Calendar Sync

Recently, I realised something about the way I've been using my calendar software and, specifically, the way I've kept using Google Calendar Sync (GCS) since a long time ago. When I had a standard Nokia mobile phone, I had to use something called Nokia PC Suite to manage it when I connected it to my computer. It allowed me to synchronise my calendar with Outlook, and I also used GCS to keep Outlook and Google Calendar in line with each other. Basically, I used Outlook as a halfway house to sync my phone to Google. It was a little ugly, but it worked pretty well. Because new events could come from anywhere, all sync actions were two-way.

When I updated to a Samsung smartphone, running Android, it started synchronising with Google Calendar directly over the air, but I still used GCS to get my work calendar on my phone. Because it's what I've always done, I set it to two-way sync.

But then I got to thinking: why should my personal calendar be synchronised to the office Outlook system? I don't need it there, and I don't need them to know any of that. Plus, with it there, if I have a personal appointment, there's not much I can do to hide it from colleagues who have calendar sharing set up. So I tried an experiment: I set the sync to just go one-way from Outlook to Google. I figured that eventually my personal events would drop off the radar and I'd get just my work events in Outlook and everything in Google. Unfortunately, that transition period is a bit more of a problem than it seems. If I edit an event on my phone, for instance, and it is in the Outlook calendar, too, then GCS will overwrite my changes with the original details. I can't change anything that appears on my Outlook calendar unless I do it there first.

So it seems like more trouble than it's worth. My options are either to delete all my personal events from Outlook and recreate them on Google, or turn two-way sync back on. For now, I'm taking the easy way out and using two-way sync. Maybe, when I move jobs, I can start on the right foot by using only one-way sync against their Outlook system.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apparently GCS is being discontinued anyway.
PPS - That's another story.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Mostly International System of Units

Every now and then I get tired of talking in feet and inches for everyday things. We are an SI country here in Australia. We measure everything in (centi)metres and kilograms ... except for TVs and computer monitors, people's heights and newborn baby weights. Oh, and Subway sandwiches, too. Try telling people you saw a 180cm man go to Subway with his 3kg newborn, order a 30cm sub and sit down with his 25cm tablet computer. Everything about that sounds strange to me, and I was raised Metric Orthodox. I only give my height in centimetres, that's the easiest one of the lot, and I still get strange looks as people convert it back to the Middle Ages reference scheme they keep in their heads. I had to make a special effort to learn how big a "normal" newborn is in kg, because everyone always talks in pounds for that (it's about 3kg, for interest's sake). I want to measure my computer monitors and TVs in centimetres, too. It even sounds bigger that way, so I'm surprised nobody does so. I have not yet tried ordering in centimetres at Subway, though. Maybe someday.

My point is that these ancient, obtuse measurement scales have a lot of momentum, and it's going to be a long time before they are properly and rightfully put to rest, even in countries where they aren't the default. Thankfully, we're all okay with kilometres for long distance, Celsius for temperature and metric measurements for volumes and masses in the kitchen.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It would just be easier if we all used the same, standard measurements.
PPS - Of course, that's the point behind the SI standard in the first place.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Banana Republic

I watched the parade coming down the beach, seeing flags waving, hearing the whistles and cheers, and beamed with pride. They carried Kapi, the first elected government representative from the lowest social caste, on a sedan chair made of bamboo and decorated with feathers and bright flowers. I had finally done it. Kapi was smiling almost as much as me when they turned inland to carry him to the government building.

Two years ago, I inherited a banana republic from a great aunt. Not a banana plantation, a whole country. A tiny island called Nollberg that had seceded from a larger nation that had seceded from an even larger one. When I first came here two years ago, only two of the three social castes were represented on the government council. Those two representatives didn't see the need for the lowest social caste to be represented at all. Pogo, the upper caste member, had particularly objected, even though the low caste made up about two thirds of the tiny island's population.

The debates were long and heated. I had to look up obscure points of law late into the night and fight to overturn some of them. Even though there were only three of us, it took a long time. We still had to govern, after all.

It came down to taxes. The poor paid no income tax and had very few possessions. But they reasoned in a circle. The poor pay no taxes, so they don't have a representative, and they have no representative because they pay no taxes. Nobody saw any reason for the low caste to have a member on the council except me.

But now I had done it. Full representation in just less than two years. I watched as Kapi's chair was lowered to the ground and he stood to wave at the people.

That's when the shot rang out. At first I didn't know what had happened. Kapi stood there for a second, looking confused, and then the blood started to soak his shirt, and he fell. The rest of the people scattered in a hurry, screams and shouts filling the air. Someone shuffled me inside, and I found myself at the council table. Pogo was the only other one there, and it took me a second to realise that he didn't look shocked at all. He looked pleased.

"Pogo? What just happened?"

"Someone shot Kapi," he replied in a plain tone, as if remarking on the weather.

"Why? Who even has guns here..." I trailed off, remembering who I was talking to. Pogo's caste was rich, by island standards. They could have got a gun here easily. It was stupid to assume that was difficult.

Pogo gave a condescending smile. "Some people do not want the poor on the council, I suppose. It's for the best. Taxes buy rights, and the poor pay none."

Nobody from the low caste would want to be elected to the council now, even if they had the right. I had changed the political landscape of Nollberg with two years of debates and legal changes. Pogo changed it back with one bullet. I just hoped it wasn't the end.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I was lucky to be inspired by a dream this week.
PPS - Hopefully next week will bring something else inspiring.

People run the world

The world runs on people. As much as you might want to think it runs on corporations or money or governments, all of those things depend on people, and many corporations don't survive without their founders. So it's clear that people run the world. And people in charge are, at their core, just like you and me. They have hopes and dreams, fears and wishes, vulnerabilities and strengths. If you approach the world as if it is run by money or corporations or governments or computers, you'll make some severe miscalculations.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Especially if you are a corporation or government.
PPS - Or a computer, I guess?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Windows on the web

Eventually, HTML will grow into a proper windowing framework like a desktop operating system, or something else will come along to do that job. At that point, it will finally be as functional as desktops of the early 90s. On one hand, that's an exciting time to look forward to. On the other hand, that level of stagnation and limitation is incredibly depressing. Websites will always look older and work slower than a local application.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They'll never go away, of course.
PPS - They just offer too many advantages of centralisation for that.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Phone plans vs prepaid

I use my phone very little for phone calls. Mostly it's my pocket notebook, navigator and my window to the web. It's the computer I can have with me everywhere. Because I use it so little for phone calls, I wonder if I would be better off with a pre-paid phone plan. Let's see.

I'm currently on a $29 plan with 3, who were purchased by Vodafone in the middle of my contract. Over the 24 months of that plan, my total cost is about $696. My included call credit ($180/month) easily covers my calls and texts. Every two years, I sign up for a new plan mostly to get a new handset for free, so that would have to be part of a pre-paid budget too.

Now how would a prepaid plan with a BYO handset work? The new handset I currently want is the Nexus 4, for $400. If I had to buy one every 24 months, that leaves just $296 for calls and data over the two years, or just more than $12 per month. I'd have to survive on a $30 top-up only four times per year to make a pre-paid phone more cost-effective than a 24-month plan. I use more than that, though I do use fairly little.

So what about if I were to sell my old phone after 6 months and buy a new one? Well, that's much worse. Even if I were able to reclaim 75% of the original price and the prices of new phones didn't go up, I'd still be spending an extra $100 every 6 months, which is a bad deal, price-wise. It's the same cost as replacing the $400 phone every two years. The only difference is that the average age of my phone would go down, and that doesn't matter very much to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never had a prepaid phone, so I might be missing some important factor.
PPS - If not, then they're terrible value for me.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Websites vs data

Websites don't matter. Valuable data is what matters. The problem is that data is most valuable to a website when it is locked up and meted out in miserly portions, but its value to customers and users increases when it is open and available to use and mix with other sources. There's a tension. The database owners need to appear to be open and generous with their data, to attract users, but need to hold it back just enough so that it retains its value to them. In other words, data only matters to website owners to the extent that it draws you to their website as a user to generate revenue, but websites only matter to you as a user to the extent that they give you access to the data you want. We don't care where data came from as long as it is easy to use and valuable to us. Website owners don't care what data we are using as long as we come to them to get it. As long as that fundamental tension exists, the internet will always be a disjointed library of isolated websites, and we will be forced to use it in awkward, difficult ways.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The tension is eased if one company controls all the data.
PPS - But that makes them a monopoly, which is bad in another way.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Modern medicine and ageing

How many generations have grown up believing that modern medicine would save them from ageing? They've all been wrong so far, to some extent. There will probably never be a "eureka" moment where lifespans multiply tenfold and the effects of old age never kick in. All of us will have to deal with either getting old or dying young.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Though, actually, nobody has to deal with dying young themselves.
PPS - As long as it's sudden.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Rebuilt

The concrete trucks arrived within days of the earthquake. The city was eager to rebuild, and with a population like ours, there was no time to be sentimental about it. Too many people were out on the streets as it was - there was only so much emergency shelter to go around.

My own home was destroyed completely. I got out, along with my phone and the toaster. I was in a panic. I just grabbed the first thing I saw. I lost my computer and the backup drive that sat right beside it, so all my old family photos and videos were gone. My filing cabinet, too, with my birth certificate and passport. I kept meaning to buy a fire safe. I don't know if they help against earthquakes.

They allowed me a day of scrounging through my rubble before the bulldozers came in and levelled the place, then came the printers. They looked like big, hollow scaffolding on wheels, with hoses to pump concrete and a lot of motors on top to move the print head around. They were going to rebuild everything in basic concrete, they said. It was faster and cheaper that way. We'd all be living in identical grey boxes, the most depressing suburb you'd ever see.

I waited in line at the shelter, my box of worldly possessions at my feet, shuffling slowly towards the door, hoping that tonight I might get a bed. I don't think I can take another night in the line. My skin is clammy and my muscles numb from lack of sleep. I know I'm basically running on adrenaline alone, and I feel like I haven't showered in days.

I get a bunk in a room that used to house 2 people, but is now squeezing in five. At least there are blankets. I sleep curled up with my box at my feet, a little uneasy, but grateful for the small comforts.

In the morning, I check out the window as I brush my teeth with a shelter-provided toothbrush, and notice something odd. Over where my house used to be, there's a tall concrete tower. Lots of them, actually. I spit the toothpaste into the sink, grab my box and run as fast as I can to find out what they've done to my land.

The construction foreman won't let me past the fences to see, of course, and he's got hundreds of other people to deal with. There are cops in riot gear guarding the reconstruction area. The foreman stands up on a box to tell us all that everything is explained on the signs and pamphlets hanging beside the gate, then he ducks back inside and locks himself in. The concrete printers still climb higher, laying down rebar and concrete to grow the structures into the sky.

People push forwards, all elbows and shouting, either trying to get to the gate or to see the signs. I can only make out a few words: "compulsory sale", "high-density housing", "new era of shared living space". It doesn't sound good. On a hunch, I check my bank balance on my phone, and there's a large deposit named "compulsory sale", just like on the sign. It's not as large as it should be. I've sold my land against my will and now, I assume, I'll be allowed to buy back into this concrete jungle.

Sure enough, I had email, too. "Exciting opportunity", "bargain", and, much further down, words like "shared facilities" that, despite the positive-spin adjectives nearby, made it clear that my bathroom, shower and toilet wouldn't be mine alone. I'd get out of the emergency shelter and go straight into my own, just like it. It wasn't appealing, but at that point, I didn't have a lot of choice. I headed out to work. At least if I was going to be forced to live in a concrete box, I'd make sure I could afford a good one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is much later than I would normally like to post a story on Friday.
PPS - And still less time than I would have liked to work on it.

Eating addiction is hard to deal with

Combating an eating addiction would be really hard for two reasons. First and foremost, you are addicted to an act that you require to stay alive. You're going to have to keep doing it, which means it's never going to be gone from your life, and you're going to have to face it every day. There's no analogy to explain that. No other addiction has that problem.

The second reason that makes it hard is that the desire for the endorphin rush you get from eating too much yummy food feels exactly like hunger to you. You can't tell that you're not really hungry, just itching for a fix. To start with, you just need to eat a very specific, portion-controlled diet and scream through the withdrawals where your body is telling you that you're still hungry - starving, even - and you'd better get more food before it gets deadly. That would be the hardest part of all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm fairly sure I've never been addicted to eating.
PPS - Unless I still am, and don't realise it.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Saving online games from shutdown

An online game can only be saved from cancellation and abandonment if it is peer to peer or runs on an open server architecture. Otherwise, the power to turn it off resides in the hands of one company, and they can do what they want with it. And if it is already running on an open architecture or community-controlled servers, then nobody can even threaten to shut it down in the first place, so it never needs to be saved in this sense at all.

As time goes on, however, such a project still runs the risk of being outpaced by updated hardware. What used to run on Windows 95 and Pentium chips now has to deal with Windows 8 and ARM chips. Interfaces that were designed for hardware keyboards and mice don't work so well with touch screens. The software may live on, and the core concept may never die, but unless it is maintained and updated, it won't continue to be usable. Keeping software alive and functional requires constant effort, and that effort might not be best spent on maintaining old versions instead of writing new software to do the same job, or writing something else entirely.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This has been on my mind since City of Heroes shut down.
PPS - All the community effort to save it was in vain if the company wanted it gone.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cloud desktops for phones and tablets

Cloud desktops might first be realised on phones and tablets, where we have already handed over complete control of the platform. At that point, and with people running multiple devices and migrating hardware in some cases every six months, why not attach everything to a cloud account to keep it available more easily? Indeed, we are already pushing (or being pushed) in that direction.

When all your files are in the cloud, all your apps are web services and your phone or tablet becomes a mere thin window onto the internet with no real capabilities of its own, you've already got a cloud desktop of sorts. If you can lose your device and replace it without losing anything and without having to run any backup or restore operation, you are definitely dealing with a cloud desktop.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My Android phone is not running a cloud operating system in this sense.
PPS - A lot of the apps, however, are basically websites.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

3D paper printing

Perhaps affordable home 3D printing will come from paper pulp. Feed your 3D printer from your paper shredder with a little glue and some inkjet colour cartridges and you might be able to build a really cheap-to-run 3D colour printer. It would be like automated paper mache, so not actually strong or detailed, but good enough for simple decorative models and disposable toys.

The advantages would be that the machine can run on paper waste, common household glue and ordinary inkjet cartridges, all readily available and cheap. That's assuming the whole idea works, of course.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And is worthwhile.
PPS - It's probably a bit too narrow a niche to be useful.

Monday, 7 January 2013

A TARDIS keyring

I made myself a TARDIS keyring yesterday. Because of the size, it's not that detailed, and it's not quite completely dried yet, but soon. Soon.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's also pretty rough.
PPS - Also, the camera flash made the blue seem lighter than it is.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Friday Flash Fiction - Apocalypse is a word for "heart"

They strolled clockwise around the rusted, piled-up car bodies that formed the wall of the city. They were looking for shelter, for food, for anything useful they might sell to get either of those things. Maurice and Janet were not the first to pick over this section. They never were.

Maurice made an excited noise and hopped over to dig a car hood out of the dirt. "Would you look at that! The apocalypse just skipped a beat! We can add this to our roof!"

As pleased as she was to find a piece for shelter, Janet rolled her eyes. The day when Maurice didn't make five or six jokes about his heart being called "apocalypse", well, the world really would end. He once told her that he wished they still had defibrillators so he could get shocked by one and say that someone had kick-started the apocalypse.

The man who would be king inside the city called it "Jericho", ignorant of the Biblical implications. He just liked the name. He didn't like Maurice. At all. Janet could have gone inside, probably even to the "palace", with warm beds and hot food, or so she had heard. She wouldn't go alone, though. She knew what happened to lone girls who went into the city.

Janet caught a few rats to eat, and they dug up some flammables, too, so at least there would be cooked meat for dinner. As they picked the meat off tiny bones that evening, looking at Jericho over the sunset, Janet wondered if it was worth it. Maurice was right - Jeremiah, king of Jericho was not a good guy on a good path. One day he'd be overthrown, from inside the city or outside, it didn't matter. Things would change, then.

Janet watched Maurice sleep under his leather and hessian patchwork blanket, snoring softly after dinner was done. She saw, as if for the first time, the lines on his face, and realised he might not see the day when Jericho returned to him, though it was his by birthright. Birthright didn't matter in this place, or Maurice never would have been thrown out at all.

It was time. Now or never. Janet found Maurice's old travelling cloak and walking stick. She couldn't leave him a note, couldn't tell him she was going, because he'd try to stop her, but there were other nomads around Jericho now. She had seen their fires in a wide circle around the city. She was determined to rally them against Jeremiah.

Before she left him, asleep, she kissed his cheek and put her hand on his chest, to feel the beat of his heart. We'll get this, she thought to herself. We'll take back the city before the apocalypse stops. And with that, she walked into the night, towards the cooking fires of the other nomads.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I seem to have been having a motif or theme lately.
PPS - I'm sure it will pass.

Science tools that are not available to laypeople

It's easy to ask questions that household science can't answer. For example: how tall can a tower of LEGO be before it collapses under its own weight? Well, it's easy to see that we need to know the weight that will crush a LEGO brick, the weight of each brick and the height of a brick. Given that, the maths is easy, and we can measure the height and weight of a single brick relatively easily, even if we have to combine several of them and divide to get an accurate measurement. What is much harder to do, with tools from around the house, is to measure the weight that will crush a single LEGO brick. For that, you need some kind of force scale that can crush the brick and tell you how much force was used. Not so easy, and a critical missing piece. Quite often, it is not possible for people to do their own science, and that is a problem.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Inspired by this BBC News article about the tallest possible LEGO tower.
PPS - I'm not sure what could be done about it.

Thursday, 3 January 2013


I don't like to think of myself as easily influenced - none of us do - but when I look at it objectively, I'm pretty easy to push around if you know what you're doing. Take, for instance, my personal habits and state of mind compared to the TV shows I'm watching. When we were watching a lot of Psych, I was profiling strangers on the train, noticing things like cat hairs on their shirts, chipped nail polish, and cheap shoes with an expensive bag. When we were catching up on shows like The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Alphas or anything else with someone a bit socially awkward and literal, or flat-out autistic, I became much more stubbornly literal too. Now that we've started Burn Notice from the beginning, I'm eating yoghurt. When I first saw Terminator 2 in high school, I spent weeks perfecting an imitation of Robert Patrick's running style, and I learned the Verbal Kint cripple shuffle from The Usual Suspects, too.

So all it really takes is showing me something kind of cool, or some way to be different by copying something else. Sometimes it's as if I don't have a personality of my own, just a bunch of random habits and quirks that I picked up from TV, movies and friends. Even my writing style starts to take on similar traits to the authors I'm reading at the time. My love of movies and my zombie obsession were borrowed from coworkers and an ongoing office joke respectively.

Basically, sometimes I wonder if there's anything here that's really me, or if I am just a collection of social pressures and complicated tics.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm just wondering about individuality and conformity.
PPS - Of course, it's unlikely for me to have discovered anything I like on my own.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

I might not need

Do I really need Amazon to open any more? The only things I really buy from Amazon are books, and since I got a Kindle, the main way I buy them is in digital format, which ships instantly over the internet. So for that, I don't need an Australian Amazon.

On the other hand, the reason I don't buy other things from Amazon is mostly the shipping costs. It's much cheaper to buy things in Australia, or from other local online vendors. If Amazon opened an Australian domain, with Australian warehouses and domestic shipping charges, I might buy more from them.

The other reason I don't tend to buy physical goods from Amazon is region-specific vendors and goods. Some things - even simple things like some lint-free tea towels - can't be shipped to Australia at all, and other goods like DVDs are only available in USA region-locked formats. An Australian operation would fix those problems.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Come to think of it, I haven't shopped online in a while.
PPS - Perhaps my needs have changed lately.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Is it the future yet?

I like to do this on the new year - look at the current state of technology and see where we're at - but I'm not aware of any significant advances in consumer technology over the past year. Anything I'd write about - tablet computers, 3D printing, ebooks - was already the case at the beginning of 2012. What's up with that?

The one thing I do know that's happened is that there is now a streaming video service in Australia with a monthly subscription fee, but a very limited catalogue.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's progress.
PPS - But our tech landscape is still controlled by a very small group of people.