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.