Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Crane tagging

Lately it has become a hobby of mine to fold little paper cranes from sticky notes and leave them in public, in visible places that people don't tend to go. Sometimes it's surprising how long one will stay there, given how many people must walk past it regularly.

In a way, it's a bit like graffiti, I suppose. I "tag" my locations with my creations, and it is definitely a signature. It's just not permanent. I understand why people mark places like that, though. It's a weird little feeling of power to walk through a place and know that you've marked it as your own, even if nobody knows it but you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe it's a kind of nesting instinct.
PPS - Which is a weird way to think about graffiti.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014


Although I do it myself in software sometimes, I still find it an odd statement, creatively, to say "I couldn't find anything like what I wanted, so I made it myself". When you're talking about creative work, the appreciation and the construction are two semi-independent skillsets. Appreciating art does not confer the ability to create it, though creating it does strengthen the ability to appreciate it. If, for instance, you're looking for a podcast full of writing tips or insider info, and you can't find one that appeals to you, deciding to make it yourself means you need the same education the podcast would be providing, but from other sources. So you couldn't find the podcast, but to make it, you had to replace it with something else anyway.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Your limitations may come up before you succeed at this endeavour.
PPS - "Nobody had painted a better Mona Lisa yet, so I did," is not an artist statement likely to win friends.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Hollywood chains

I think it's a little bit interesting to link up names of famous people that match first to last. For instance, Nicholle Tom -> Tom Arnold -> Arnold Schwartzeneggar. What is the longest possible one? If you insist on including Arnie, I think your only possible path is backwards from there, and I hadn't heard of Nicholle Tom until I went looking. I'm sure there are others.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't find anyone working backwards from Kevin Bacon.
PPS - Or forwards, for that matter.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Why I started using Pushbullet

For some time I was using Firefox as my primary web browser everywhere - at home and at work, on my netbook and also on my phone via the mobile version. I would often pull open tabs from one device to another via the Sync functionality, and it worked pretty well ... as long as it had synchronised by the time I wanted to pull the tabs around and I hadn't closed the source browser before the sync had finished.

Then my phone started misbehaving, I started a new job where Chrome worked better with the web proxy and the whole system fell apart. I looked briefly at XMarks, which is supposed to have cross-browser tab sync, but I couldn't get that working at all.

So I installed Pushbullet, based mostly on the fact that it was a channel available in IFTTT. Now, even though I'm using Firefox at home, Chrome at work and the stock Android browser on my phone, I can push tabs instantly from one device to any other, as well as send small files to and fro and get weather alerts via IFTTT. It's very handy. It was an adjustment to go from a "pull" mentality to "push", but not bad.

The one feature that doesn't quite work is sending SMS from my desktop - I can send texts just fine, and I know they are received because people respond, but there is no record of them going out at all. Not on my phone, not on the Pushbullet browser plugin. Other people have this problem with the feature and for some of them it works to go out and back in to the messaging app or restart their phones. That hasn't worked for me, but I'm not too concerned. I'm very happy with the other features and I plan to keep using them for some time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm very happy with the way another machine doesn't have to be online for a push.
PPS - I prefer my multi-machine software to allow that.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas excitement

As I've grown older, as happens with most people, Christmas has become more about stress than happy family times. In part, this is because family times can bring stress, and the presents that distract us from that stress go away or get less exciting when we get older. This year, however, I'm feeling excited for Christmas. It's a weird feeling. We have the same lights up as last year, the same number of presents and no substantial difference in our plans for the day itself. Something must be different, though. I've got some gifts to give that I'm keen to see opened, but others that disappoint me. One hasn't arrived yet, at the time of writing, because my online shopping was late.

Maybe that's it. Last year, I had all of December to stress and plan and shop and stress. This year we've started late, compressing all my Christmas energy into a shorter time. Is that plausible? I don't know. I'm tired right now, so my introspection gland isn't working properly. The whole point is that I plan to have a great Christmas, and I wish the same for you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I get to spend a lot of time with my nephew, which will be pretty great.
PPS - Assuming he doesn't exhaust me immediately.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The story of the Wattle Fairy scam

I had a clever friend in primary school who figured out how to manipulate his parents based on their desire to maintain his child-like belief in things like the tooth fairy and Santa. He made up something he called the Wattle Fairy who, so he said, would give you a present if you left a wattle flower by your bed at night. He told me about this and I tried it, then was deeply disappointed the next morning to find that the wattle fairy had not left me a gift. I cried to my parents about it who got very awkward suddenly. When I told my friend it didn't work, he said of course it didn't, because you have to tell your parents beforehand. I didn't get it even then. Does that make me a dim kid or just gullible?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've always assumed the former.
PPS - Disappointment is shaped like a wilted wattle flower.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Standing out and fitting in

I do have hipsterish tendencies, in that I enjoy being the unusual exception to the rule. Although it was a pain, at school I enjoyed being the only one taking both Maths C and Drama when they scheduled the exams together and I had to raise an objection. When I was employed at a consulting engineering firm, although it held me back, I liked having a degree that was unrecognised by Engineers Australia, whose accreditation program was intimately linked with the company's promotion practices. I just somehow get a kick out of throwing off expectations. The usual result, of course, is just a momentary "Oh", and then being ignored.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So I guess the lesson is that outliers tend to be ignored.
PPS - And if you aim to be that outlier, you're aiming to be ignored for not fitting the pattern.

Monday, 22 December 2014

You can't take it with you

When people stopped believing in any kind of afterlife, the saying "You can't take it with you when you go" stopped meaning anything. If you don't believe you've got anywhere to go after death, then who cares if you can't take it with you? You don't need it when you're dead, you need it now, when you're alive, and who cares if you die with a lot of stuff or a little? In that mindset, it matters that you have had a comfortable life, not that there's no eternal safe-deposit box for your stuff when you snuff it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which is not what I personally believe, but I do follow the logic.
PPS - It's a difference of assumptions.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Peer-to-peer MMOs

Since City of Heroes shut down - or even since the announcement, really - I've wondered about how to make MMO games robust against that kind of existential threat. When such games become unprofitable, development ceases and the servers are shut down. That's just business. The obvious answer to that problem is to host the game itself on a peer-to-peer network of player machines. Then, no matter how much the game grows or shrinks, there's always enough server capacity.

However, running a game like that on a peer-to-peer network raises some other challenges. For one, there's the matter of trusting the server code and preventing cheating. If the players, technically, have access to all the server code running on their own machines for each other, there's no central, trusted arbitrator for tasks like random number generation and application of the rules. I've outlined before how some trust can be established between peers for generating random numbers, so it's possible it could be worked around, but it requires a lot more communication than an implicitly-trusted server does. It's also probably not the full story for everything that's needed for a trusted peer network of this type.

Still, I'd like to see it attempted, if only to know that, in the future, there's a definite way to save these games from destruction when they become unprofitable, or for smaller, niche games to get a leg up when they're starting out and can't afford dedicated server hardware.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - On the City of Heroes front, a new game called Valiance Online has started open public testing.
PPS - Which is a long way from a complete game, but more than I've seen in a while.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Snowdrift could fund free software

I really like the idea put forward by, encouraging people to set aside some money to fund beneficial open-source projects so that everyone can benefit. The more people pledge to support a given project, the more funding that project gets, growing exponentially. On the receiving end, it seems like a great way to get this kind of project funded, since the people - particularly big companies - each give a little money to build up the common goods in software.

On the other hand, it still relies on charitable giving. Yes, if you fund the development of, say, OpenSSL, which almost everyone uses, then you get active development and the benefits of a well-supported library with motivated developers and proper funding instead of a library casually (but passionately) developed by volunteers in their spare time. But if everyone else funds the project and you don't, you still get that benefit. I'm not clear how Snowdrift solves that problem, except that witholding your funding means a greater chance that the development will stall and you won't get the benefits at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Which is just a statement of the snowdrift problem, I realise.
PPS - I'm not quite sure if that counts as circular.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Smart furniture meets sloppy housekeeping

I've seen occasional videos and concept drawings of small living spaces made more functional with fold-away furniture or reconfigurable room dividers. The thing that always strikes me about such concepts is how tidy the whole place needs to be, and how that compares to my house. If my kitchen table had to be bare to fold it away to get out the TV, well, we would have it forever folded away and would eat on the couch all the time. Or if the ground had to be clear to pull out the bed, we'd probably end up with a half-usable bed and a growing pile of life's detritus in the corner of the room. We just have a tendency for things - the stuff of life - to pile up in the corners, out of the way, and get forgotten for two or three years.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's not as bad as that sounds.
PPS - Except in some areas.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The redundant beverage dispenser

Did it bother anyone else that the Heart of Gold ship in the most recent Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie contained a weirdly imperfect beverage dispenser (as per the joke in the books) but also a perfect food replicator hooked up to a mind-reading device designed to detect cravings? I mean, if Arthur craved a cup of tea, why go to the machine that produces something that merely resembles tea instead of the much better machine that would do a perfect job? Why have the beverage dispenser on the ship at all?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's assuming the craving-machine does work any better than the beverage dispenser.
PPS - The craving-detector would be a very useful thing in our house, even without the food replicator part.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Preventing monopolies

Monopolies are bad. We know that. Oligopolies, where a few big businesses control most of the market, are also bad. So what factors make an acceptable level of competition, or what features flag an unacceptable level of complacent non-competition? It's tricky. I think it's more complicated than realising how much of the market is controlled by how many companies. Presumably, though, there's some number of companies required to make conspiracy untenable. I'd guess it's about twelve, the number of people we put on a jury in the understanding that such a group is too hard to sway as a whole. Whatever the number is, we need at least that many companies competing in every market to prevent monopolistic practices.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Making sure that happens is going to be crazy-difficult.
PPS - Especially when someone creates a brand new product.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Personal space on planes

When I read opinion pieces about air travel and leg room, reclining chairs and all things related to personal space, I think of the current designs for car trailers on trucks. See, when I was a kid, if a truck was hauling cars, they would be lined up in two layers of three, nose to tail. Then someone designed this nifty new way of cramming more cars onto a trailer at a lot of weird angles including one hanging over the truck cabin and hauling cars by truck became a lot more efficient with a lot less wasted space.

My point is this: you might think that your current personal space and comfort woes are about as bad as they can get on a plane right now, but just wait until someone clever figures out how to stack human beings in weird and interesting patterns to fit twice as many into the space as currently fit and you'll wish you lived back in the good old days when our only concern was having barely enough room for our knees and people reclining their seats at us, all facing forwards and upright.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Almost nothing is as completely bad as it could be.
PPS - We humans are great at making things worse for each other.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Quitting anything will bring cravings

I can't say that I've ever had to quit smoking or drinking, having never done either of those things at all, let alone enough to be addicted. I am aware, however, that a lot of people approach the Big Quit by looking for an external force that's going to make it happen, whether that's hypnotherapy, acupuncture, the patch, nicotine gum or inhalers to "handle the cravings". And before I get going, I need to stress again that I literally have no first-hand experience with how intense those cravings can be. Still, here it goes.

There are going to be cravings. Lots of them, strong, hard and frequent. That's how you know you're getting over an addiction. The craving is a withdrawal symptom, and you're not going to be able to quit without getting them. What you need to do, however, is to recognise, anticipate and accept that these cravings will happen, and let them pass without satisfying them. Then do it again and again, as long as they come, for the rest of your life, because that's what quitting means.

By all means, get support, call people, talk to your doctor, read about it, substitute better behaviours, but for goodness' sake, don't keep taking in exactly as much nicotine as before. You don't expect someone who has "quit drinking" to take a little nip every now and then to get over their cravings, do you? If you quit sugar you don't have a little chocolate now and then just to keep the edge off. If you quit, then you quit. Don't half-ass this. It's your life and you're going to be the one making the change.

"But," you say, "it's really hard!" Yes. Yes it is. Of course it is. If it weren't, then they wouldn't bother putting the addictive stuff into cigarettes in the first place, and there wouldn't be a whole industry also built around helping you quit smoking, would there? If it were easy, you'd just decide to quit and then there'd be no step 2. So prepare yourself for a hard job and stick to it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if losing weight were easy, we'd have an epidemic of skinniness on our hands.
PPS - Which would be very strange.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Personal disaster planning

Whatever role you are in, it's important for everyone around you to have an idea of what you do and how they could replace you in case you were hit by a bus tomorrow. It doesn't even have to be such a permanent situation as that. If you broke your leg and had to stay home from work for six weeks, how would the business cope? In some cases - menial work - there won't be much of a problem. Someone else will cover your shift, some other person with similar skills can fill in on a temp basis, no big deal. In some other roles, though - husband, parent, museum curator - your disappearance or disablement may cause serious disruption to the people around you. If you are proactive about this, you should prepare for this eventuality. I call this "the black envelope".

Inside the black envelope is everything anyone would need in case you are no longer available to fill your role, permanently or only temporarily. What you do day to day, how you do it and where everything important is kept. It's like putting together a job handover package before it's necessary, because you might not get to deliver all the information in person.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I actually don't have one of my own yet.
PPS - But, like backups, I've been meaning to start any day now.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Sometimes it happens that a particular subgroup of employees will go on strike for better pay or better conditions. I don't have a problem with fighting for your rights or for your basic living requirements, but I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact that they are part of a much bigger machine. "You can't run a hospital without nurses." That's true. It doesn't make you the only important part, though. You also can't run a hospital without doctors. You can't run it very well for very long without janitors or administrators, either. You can't run a (modern) city without sanitation workers, but you also can't run it without power workers or water supply or police or firefighters or ambulances.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Being critical to a complex system's success doesn't make you more important than anyone else.
PPS - You're just important. Be happy with that, and get what you need.

Monday, 8 December 2014

How 3D-printed toys will work

I have a feeling that domestic 3D printing is going to be a real breaking change to the toy industry. Rather than having mountains of plastic rubbish in the house that gets used for a few weeks, broken and discarded, a home 3D printing system (with plastic recycling) can print off any toy you like, then take it back to be turned into something new or just restored if it was particularly loved. The toys that pile up in the corners of the room and are never used any more can be shovelled into the recycler to be made into new toys when the need arises.

So how will the toy industry adapt? Well, one of the most obvious steps is to sell toy designs for 3D printers. Rather than printing Turtle Man 07b from some knock-off download, kids will value having genuine toy designs from the original source. Yes, it will matter to them. Think back to your own childhood and try to remember if it mattered that the label on your clothes was genuine, that you owned a real Nintendo console or even that you ate brand-name cereal for breakfast. It matters to kids.

Selling printers and branded feedstock might matter, though possibly not as much. Particularly sinister companies might sell printers that are designed to sit and monitor the TV, only unlocking or downloading exclusive printer models if it sees the right ads. Basically, you have to watch our cartoon and all the ads if you want the cool new spaceship model for the week.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's going to be a different world.
PPS - But it's probably not going to be here for a while.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The lottery prediction meta-lottery

For the low price of one dollar, I will predict for you whether you will win the lottery this week. I guarantee 99.9% accuracy or your money back. Think about the money you'll save by only paying me $1 on weeks when you would have lost anyway, when it costs much more than that to enter the lottery!

Now I'm going to spoil my business plan by telling you this: I'll just always answer "no", and it still works, because all I've done is set up a cheaper lottery with almost no payout (in part because, if you pay me for my prediction and you win anyway, I'm the least of your concerns).

The only problem is if someone pays me my dollar, I tell them "no win", then they pick the winning numbers without playing and sue me for the prize money they should have won.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, the only way to prove you "would have" won is to actually register the entry.
PPS - And it's probably not going to happen anyway, because that's how lotteries work.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Real hoverboards

So it looks like we are finally getting real hoverboards. This has been a source of prank material for quite some time, beginning with a Back to the Future behind the scenes documentary and including a recent video with Tony Hawk pretending to ride one. Now there's a Kickstarter campaign and another video of Tony Hawk. This time, however, I'm inclined to believe it, mostly because it looks like it's impossible to steer. If you were going to produce a video of a fake hoverboard, you'd be inclined to make it look more ridable. As it is, this one seems to handle like a block of ice on a sheet of glass. Oh, and it has to be used on a non-magnetic metallic surface, too, so unless you have copper footpaths or, as in the video, a copper halfpipe, it won't be nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Still, the production of a self-contained, non-superconductor electromagnetic hovering effect is quite the accomplishment, and just in time for 2015 - the year featured in Back to the Future Part 2.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, since Tony Hawk apologised for the prank video, I doubt he'd do a second fake one.
PPS - The Kickstarter campaign is here: Hendo Hoverboards.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Security, privacy and spies

How do you define cybersecurity? To me, it is the resistance of computer systems to unauthorised access of any form. And how do you define digital privacy? Well, to me, it is the ability to keep secret anything I wish to remain secret. Okay, so how do you keep secrets on computers? Well, by preventing unauthorised access, of course.

This is why I say that security and privacy are the same thing, and if you try to give up some digital privacy to get better security, you're going about it completely backwards. What people are usually thinking of is spycraft and, in that case, yes, giving up some of your digital privacy does result in easier spy work. Just keep in mind that spies aren't (directly) keeping you safe. Spies are, in essence, a kind of covert *assault* force. The extent to which they keep you safe is just the extent to which they manage to smite your enemies. If everyone has different locks on their doors, then breaking into one house doesn't open up everyone to attack. The thing is, online, everyone lives behind the same door.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, to an extent, in a manner of speaking.
PPS - Like all analogies, that one has its flaws.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Just get started

There are a lot of articles I've read lately about making games, specifically how to "get started". Most of them begin by saying "Just get started. Make something and you'll get better to make new things." That's not very helpful if the actual question was "I am thinking of making a game, and I don't yet know how to make images move on the screen. Can you help me?" and your response is "Just do it". There are some specific technical questions behind the first "how do I get started", and I think these game-making mentors should start with "these are the tools I use, this is specifically how I built my first game". That's more helpful than a vague motivational speech about keeping at your art to get the skills you will need later.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Motivation is good, too.
PPS - It's just that specifics help more sometimes.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Blind computing

If you were designing a computer operating system from the ground up for blind people, what would that be like? You'd probably have to ask a blind person to help you, or blindfold yourself while you worked on it. Watching Tommy Edison using his Mac with the help of the screen narrator was like watching him fumble around in the dark. He was able to do it, but it was clearly blind-enabled as an afterthought to the primary design. Computers are about the one place where you'd think he would be able to find a level playing field, but all our normal desktop operating systems, software and websites are built assuming you have vision.

An operating system built for blind people would be - should be completely different to any existing desktop OS of today, just as a phone for blind people needs to be something better than stock Android on a featureless glass touch screen with an assistant to read out what you're doing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've seen a blind man using a touch-screen phone on the train.
PPS - It did not seem easy for him.

Friday, 28 November 2014

High school

When you're in high school, everything feels momentous and important. Then, the second you walk out of those gates for good, all of it - every single event, team, fight, hookup, embarrassment - completely ceases to matter for the rest of your life. This is beginning to be very common knowledge among adults, but it's hard to grasp when you're there for yourself because, as mentioned, it feels like you are in the middle of the most important time of your life. And you are, but not in the way you think at the time.

It feels like this relationship will go on forever and will matter to you with the burning intensity of a thousand suns for the rest of eternity. Then three months later you're at university and nothing could be further from your mind than your childish hookups. You get a "C" instead of a "B" in your class, which drags down your entire GPA and it is SO IMPORTANT, until it just isn't. Or she says he says she says you did and EVERYONE KNOWS and OH MY GOD IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD but then it isn't. Because the most important thing that happens in high school is that you develop a personality. You wait until the hormonal fire in your brain settles down to a gentle three-alarm blaze and if you actually overcame obstacles, you'll be a decent human being. If, on the other hand, high school felt so easy that it was like barrelling down an oiled waterslide giving high-fives on both sides and crashing into a pool of non-stop bikini chocolate-wrestling, real life is going to kick you in the guts straight away when you graduate.

You can climb the social ladder in high school all you like. When you get out, though, the world tips that ladder upside down, shakes you all off and says that, if you don't like it, you'd better fight back. The only people who succeed and never outgrow high school are politicians, and I'm not sure "politics" really counts as "success".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My own high school journey is kind of a blur in my memory.
PPS - Mostly I think it was frustrating.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Capitalism is zero-sum

Is there such a thing as a capitalist economy where everyone wins? I think not. Capitalism is zero-sum. There's no such thing as making money, only taking money, so for you to "win" at capitalism, someone else loses. Those extra dollars in your pocket come from the people who lost to you. Everything you have comes from someone else's failure and your billion-dollar empire is built not on your MBA and good instincts but on the blood and bones of the enemies you didn't even know you had.

Consider it on a smaller scale. You have twenty people locked in a room for a day. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. No matter what they find in the room, what they buy or sell between themselves, no matter what they do, it's a closed system. The same amount of money is coming out of that room at the end of the day as when it began, even if it's all in the pocket of one guy. He might think the system works, and it did, but only for him.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can print more money, but it represents the same total value as before.
PPS - And all of this is why we need governments that stand up for the poor.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Too hard

I try not to say something is "too hard". I always mentally correct that to just "hard", because "too hard", to me, means "I quit". Some things really are "too hard", though. The whole class of computing problems called "NP-Hard" are kind of one-directional, and, with sufficient size, they are too hard to solve before the universe will collapse into heat death. There are physical tasks that can't be accomplished because sufficient force would destroy the components, which makes them too hard as well. In general, though, I try not to apply the label "too hard" to something just because it is a huge challenge or because it is beyond my current abilities. Those things are hard, but they are still possible. That's what I mean.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Stop me if I ever say "too hard" when I mean "very hard".
PPS - Also, I consider this a case of language pedantry rather than positive thinking.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Measuring favours

How would you measure a favour as a unit of currency? Time would have to come into it, but then there's also skill and difficulty. It would be different getting a master tradesperson to tile your bathroom than getting your two mates to do it for their first ever attempt. And one hour of a really tricky problem is far different to one hour of mindless repetitive labour. You probably can't quantify it adequately in the end. It has to be negotiated each time between the parties involved in a trade.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might be one way to try and build a cashless economy, though.
PPS - Well, until we start printing generic favour coupons to pass around and keep track.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Excessive security is hard to detect

It is very difficult to tell if you have over-secured something. The results of adequate security and too much security look about the same: no security incidents, in whatever form you have defined them. Whether you've spent just enough on security or way too much, your efforts will be an obvious success, and it's very easy to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

However, think of it in engineering terms, if that helps. I want to build a bridge across a chasm. I need it to carry foot traffic, and I have $100,000 to build it. An adequate solution is a simple steel span footbridge costing $10,000. It results in easy crossings for everyone, costs less than budget and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance. An over-engineered solution is a four-lane highway bridge with a smart lane control system, traffic cameras, solar lighting and emergency communications systems. If such a bridge costs the whole $100,000, but also results in easy crossings and lasts many years with appropriate maintenance, then it might be tricky to see, without knowing that the simple footbridge was a possibility, that the solution is over-engineered.

It's the same with security. When you spend way too much on security, it does the job just as well as spending a bit less would have done, but you can't tell how much less you could have spent. Think about that if you are ever in a position to boast about how effective your security precautions were.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It becomes more obvious if you start spending less and nothing bad happens.
PPS - Unless you just faced fewer threats that day.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: What does morning smell like?

What does morning smell like?

Linen a little less clean than the day before. The fading wisps of last night's cool breeze replaced by new dew on the grass. The bitter stale of morning breath.
Hot steam, cool tile. Vanilla soap and foaming shampoo. Egyptian cotton and lavender fabric softener.
Wholegrain toast, strawberry jam. Bitter plunger coffee. No, the home espresso machine. No, wait, barista cappucino, cream, caramel and chocolate! Warm, fresh-baked muffins.
Dusty concrete. Aged upholstery. The gagging sweat of unwashed strangers. Earbud plastic.
Thin carpet with a fine layer of dust. Pine-scented suface cleaner. Burnt ozone of electricity and flourescent lights.
Morning smells like the cycle of daily life.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This was the first and only writing prompt I picked up from there.
PPS - Maybe I should look for others when NaNoWriMo is over.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Software shortcuts can make you a worse programmer

I read recently of some people lamenting the lack of skill shown by modern software developers and the difference between using tools to take over from already-mastered, mechanical processes in your work vs bypassing the learning of that branch of practice entirely. The argument was that it's perfectly fine to use tools to get around the parts of your job that you've already mastered, so that you can focus on more interesting, higher-level challenges, but a lot of modern software development provides tools that let you jump over that mastery from the start, which means you have no idea how it actually works. To make up an example, you might use a framework to read and write data from a database once you know how that works, because that's stock-standard boilerplate code you don't need to rewrite every time. However, if you use that code from the beginning, you'll never know how to connect to a database without it.

The problem is that you can't keep tools from people who don't know how to use them. You can't force a carpenter to use a hand saw until he understands it enough to graduate to a power saw. This goes doubly true in software. The tools don't care who uses them or what their skill level would be without the tool. The only thing you can do is challenge yourself. Start from scratch in everything and build up your own set of tools and frameworks over a career instead of picking up the biggest, baddest set of power tools from the start and demolishing a house by accident. That has to be self-enforced, though. If you couldn't have built it on your own, don't use it yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can't make people earn shortcuts, is my point.
PPS - Once they're open, they're open to everyone. That's kind of the point of software.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Parking ticket diversions

Can a fake parking ticket save you from a real one? That is, if a parking inspector sees a ticket - any ticket - on your car, would they just ignore you? I doubt anyone would tell you. To find out, you'd have to park illegally and put a fake ticket on your own windscreen, then watch a parking inspector walk by your car.

The difficulty with this type of decoy would be that the inspector needs to be fresh on his shift when he encounters your car (so he can assume the ticket was placed by someone else legitimately) or needs to forget that he didn't do it himself. It's probably not a foolproof plan, then, but might work just well enough for some habitual bad parkers to be worth it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best guess is that you can still get more tickets if you've already got one.
PPS - So, in that sense, it's absolutely no help at all.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

So I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year, as I have the past 3 years. Last year I finished, as I did the year before that, so I thought I had this thing down pat. Maybe not. I'm falling behind. As in previous years, my process has been to write like mad on the train to and from work and, as with previous years, there have been a few snags here and there. Some days are faster than others. When I have no pauses between words and it just flows easily, I write up to 1500 words each way on the train, which can make for a very productive day. That can happen maybe once per month. Most days I get a bit over half my quota done each way. I've got some time next week that I can use on my own to catch up, but catching up is not the way I want to go. Right now I'm at 24,007 words, and I should be up to 28,333 today. That's getting to be a big hill to climb.

The story itself isn't coming together the way I'd like. My characters lack agency. They're not making the story go, the story is making them go, and I have to keep making the story make them go, which gets boring for me. I have no idea how to get them where they need to go, so perhaps I need to switch gears, develop some character and figure out how they can work the quest instead of being worked over by it. Maybe that will work.

I'm using Scrivener this year, which I bought on discount from a previous year's voucher. It's pretty good, but I could be using it better. I have notes for myself for next year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't really know if I'll make it this year.
PPS - Maybe I'll learn something from the journey, though.

Monday, 17 November 2014

How Netflix could affect Australian streaming entertainment for the better

It seems Netflix is gearing up for an Australian launch, perhaps at the beginning of 2015. This sounds like really good news for Australia, and it is, but it might not be quite what we were hoping for.

The Netflix name in the USA is associated with cheap streaming content for a very low, flat monthly fee. The closest thing we have so far in Australia is Quickflix, who favour a slightly different "Pay-N-Play-N-Pay" model where you pay a relatively cheap monthly fee for streaming access, then (typically) pay several dollars extra for each TV show episode or movie you want to watch. The other major player in this space is Foxtel, who now charge $25 per month for their basic package and offer similar content to your defunct local DVD rental place, but on their schedule, plus Game of Thrones.

Quickflix, so far, has a pretty disappointing range of titles. Movies are typically only available to "rent" for streaming as long as they are new-release DVDs and it's a pretty safe bet that the obscure old TV show you desperately want to watch isn't on there. Foxtel behaves about the same, when you think about it.

There are two ways Netflix could bring some much-needed disruption into this space. One, a vast library of content currently unavailable in any way, shape or form to Australians. Existing dinosaurian regional distribution deals mean this probably won't happen, because they were signed by crusty old rich white dudes to whom "internet" is that weird noise their grandkids keep making. The second possible disruption is price. If I were to guess, I'd say Netflix is likely to cost a flat fee of $15 per month in Australia because suck it, Australia, what are you gonna do, cry about it? If they aren't charging extra fees for the exact same content as Quickflix, that will pretty much force Quickflix to drop their streaming rental fees, too, or else lose all their customers. However, if Netflix are forced by distribution agreements to charge extra fees for new movie streaming, and they don't get extra content, there's very little reason to prefer them over Quickflix. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not the first we've heard news of Netflix Australia.
PPS - There are perpetual rumours.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Monthly challenges for 2015

I would love to spend each month in 2015 on a different month-long challenge. The thing is, I only know of a few, they're all clustered towards the end of the year and they don't provide much of a challenge for me, as such. See, I could do something called "Dry July" or "Ocsober" except that I already don't drink, so that's pretty much life as usual for me. There's "Movember", too, which is just strategic non-shaving, so that's also not a huge challenge. I've done NaNoWriMo for the past four years and plan to keep doing that, so that's just one item on the list. What are some more I could do?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think January will be running every day.
PPS - I have a list I will be picking from, as the month-by-month mood takes me.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Grooms should get involved in wedding planning

It surprises me to hear uninvolved many grooms-to-be are in the planning of their own weddings. Personally, I wouldn't want to enter into a lifelong partnership in such a passive mode. I would also be a bit concerned if my bride was fine with this, since it means she would have very little interest in my opinions or preferences.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I was involved in the planning of my own wedding.
PPS - It just makes sense that way.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Angry positivity

Hostility always breeds a hostile response. I see this sometimes in otherwise positive places. Instead of "solar power is great", we get "solar power is great, and anyone who says otherwise is a BIG F***ING LIAR WHO CAN ROT IN HELL." Things like that.

My point is, if you find your "positive attitude" contains a bit of "f*** you", then things might be going off the rails a bit. Maybe take a step back, remove the hostility and just present the positive without the attack.

It's a very angry type of attitude. I realise it's coming from a place of frustration, but it really strikes me as unnecessary. Unless you find other people who are angry-excited about the same things you are, you're not going to win anyone over to your cause that way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If your "positivity" can't be expressed without hostility, then I don't think you know what positivity is.
PPS - Or you're a very angry person and should seek counselling.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Guerilla office maintenance

I tend to harbour plans for guerilla office maintenance. For example, the bathrooms at my current place of work feature too few paper towels for a typical day and one bin that is too small for the towels that are used. I figure I could buy a large-ish plastic bin and just leave it there myself, fixing the problem and creating a better work atmosphere for myself and others. I also note that there is far too little cutlery to go around at lunchtime, and I wonder how to get around that problem, too - probably by buying forks and teaspoons in bulk.

To date, I have not enacted any of my plans in any workplace. It's not the money. It's more the expectation that I'll get a "concerned" email saying "Some time last week, a mysterious extra bin appeared in the men's bathrooms on level 8. Security were called, the building evacuated and the plastic bin destroyed with extreme prejudice. It turned out to be just a bin, but this incident illustrates the need for vigilant employee security blah blah blah". Basically, I don't trust that upper management encourages this kind of pseudo-nesting behaviour.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I just see a problem with an easy solution and I want to help.
PPS - The best I've done is carry in extra paper towels from the kitchen.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Computer speech production vs recognition

I wondered here (or maybe I never posted it) about why the early computer scientists and science fiction authors believed that speech recognition would be easy for computers, but speech production would be difficult. A lot of sci-fi has robots and computers taking in verbal commands from humans and producing text in response, when it turns out that the exact opposite difficulty curve was encountered. If you give a computer some text, you can get a passable vocal representation of it easily enough, but recognising speech took a lot longer to get to that same point.

I think now I have some insight into why that misconception may have gained traction. I am currently (well, not this very second, but during this time in my life) watching my nephew develop the twin powers of speech and comprehension of the English language. It is clear that he understands a lot more words than he is capable of producing. He can point to his nose, eyes, head, knees, belly and so on in response to questions, but he can't say all of those words yet, or at least not clearly. He takes in whole sentences and produces one or two word responses which are a little slurred or clipped off. Speech is really hard, but recognition is coming along.

And that, I thought to myself, must be what they believed in those days. A computer is like a child, they thought. We teach it things and it responds as we have taught it. Children learn speech recognition first, before they can produce it well, so that's probably what will happen to computers, too.

The thing is, a computer is really nothing like a brain. We've lived with that metaphor for so long that we often get mad at our technology as if it were trying to thwart us. In many ways, though, a computer is the opposite of a brain. That's why we built them that way. It's why they became such useful tools: because they do things in ways our brains cannot. At their best, computers complement our abilities, and we both become better for it. So if you find yourself thinking about your computer or phone in brain terms, turn it around and think the opposite, as best you can.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Assuming "the opposite" is clear.
PPS - Which it might not be.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Office peer security

Recognising official uniforms as opposed to fake ones is a big problem for security. If you walk confidently into some official location in an official-looking uniform, it is very likely nobody will look twice at you. How do you guard against that? How do you guard against fake IDs in an office building where there are guests coming and going from all areas at all times and you will only ever recognise a handful of faces? Really, the only thing you can do is to encourage an office culture where absolutely everyone spends their time stopping each other and demanding to see ID, and then calling into a central place to verify, because the ID could be fake. That's going to take a lot of time, and if you're doing it properly, lunchtime in the break room is going to be a nightmare. I pass at least a dozen strangers at lunchtime every weekday, and it would take far longer than my lunch break to stop them and call in all their ID. That's what would be needed, however, to provide true peer-to-peer security checks. Oh, and you don't get to stop doing that once you know and recognise people, either, because you don't know if they have been fired but kept their ID since you saw them last time, even if that was the same day.

I counted the strangers I saw in the office over 4 hours before lunch. It was about 30. If I spend 2 minutes checking on each one, that's an hour out of every 4, or 20% of my time. An entire workday per week just checking IDs. At that point, considering that we're asking everyone to spend 20% of their time checking IDs, it is far more worthwhile to hire several security guards to check ID for everyone as they come and go from the lifts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's funny what becomes feasible when you actually count the cost of asking employees to do it in their "spare time".
PPS - Because, really, there is no spare time.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Spoilers as plot points

What's the statute of limitations on spoilers? Obviously if you're personally talking to someone who hates spoilers and has yet to experience the surprise or twist that you could spoil, you don't do so (unless maybe you're evil), but what about public disclosure? In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon spoils a Harry Potter book for Leonard, who had not read it yet, and of course it's a big deal for Leonard, but what about for the viewers? If it's plausible that Leonard hadn't read the book yet, then it's possible it's true for some viewers, too, and the spoiler for Leonard would have been a spoiler for that part of the audience. Now, the book in question, The Half-Blood Prince, was first published in 2005, being 8 years before the TV episode, and the movie of the book was released in 2009, 4 years before. Is that enough time to say "if you haven't seen or read it yet, too bad"? Should there have been a spoiler warning at the start of the episode? There's probably a time beyond which you can't expect the whole world to keep the surprise for you, but how long is that, exactly?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The episode would have been difficult to pull off without the actual spoiler, though.
PPS - Unless they made up a fake fictional franchise, which they don't generally do on that show.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Thing of the week is just a beginning

It's funny how many TV shows start out on "thing of the week" episodes that are relatively self-contained, but then they discover the overarching story that becomes their true focus. Supernatural started with monster of the week, but moved on to an ongoing story about the brothers' relationship against a background of angels and demons. The X-Files moved on from mystery of the week to the Mulder and Scully relationship against a huge government/alien conspiracy. Psych, even though they kept the case of the week format most of the time, explored several relationships, both friendly, family and romantic, as the main focus after a few seasons. Fringe moved on from weird-of-the-week to a battle between alternate realities. You get the idea. Thing of the week is just where the writers start, but eventually they find their real story.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's hard to see where you'll end up when you start.
PPS - I imagine it's a good feeling for those writers when they find their way.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Non-disruptive protests aren't protests

I don't think you can really have a designated protest zone where protest disruption is minimised. If a protest is completely non-disruptive and draws no attention because it was pre-corralled away from the press and from anyone whose attention might matter, then it might as well not happen. It's a tree falling in the woods. It is a protest in name only, de-fanged and technically still extant, but utterly without point.

The G20 summit is happening in Brisbane soon. There will be protests, because some people see the G20 as a colossal waste of time and money where big government officials get together and talk about how great they are and how to screw over the dirty little poor nations some more. Ahem. Anyway, they know there will be protests. These protests will be placed inside fenced-off areas specially designated for protesting, far away from anyone who could matter and with an assigned police negotiator to keep them under control. That's not a protest. That's camping in the city, and it means nothing. If you've been pre-handled as a protester, if you have to give advance notice that you will be protesting, filling out forms in triplicate and returning them to the relevant authorities, you're not protesting any more. You're registering a formal complaint within a system that will file it away and ignore it completely as much as possible, even though you might be present in some capacity. It's a farce.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The best you can hope to do is raise awareness.
PPS - Not in the people that matter, though. Just everyone else who never gets near them.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Jeeves is my new Belvedere

I've gotten kind of excited about a very simple program I've written recently, called Jeeves. It's a replacement for a program I got from Lifehacker that was called Belvedere (so I kept up the butler naming scheme). Basically, Belvedere is able to monitor folders on your hard drive, watching for certain conditions (such as files last modified before a certain date) and take actions in response, such as moving them to the recycle bin. I find it very useful for keeping my Downloads folder clean by setting it to watch for files older than a fortnight.

What bothered me was that Belvedere couldn't look for empty folders and remove those. I've tried various approaches to the problem, including writing a simple C# program to find and delete empty folders. That path started leading me to write a replacement for Belvedere, with configurable Trigger items and Actions to take in response. This turned out to be a very tricky and complicated way to operate, involving passing values back and forth in a generalised and highly flexible way, figuring out how to save and load rules and generally getting very messy. I abandoned the project for a long while.

Recently, I hit on the idea that maybe Python would be a better fit for the functionality, but I still couldn't figure out how to save and load the rules to be run by the generalised rule engine.

Then it hit me. Why do I need a generalised rule engine at all? If my goal is to run arbitrary actions in response to arbitrary conditions, then I should just write scripts to do what I want directly. Suddenly Jeeves, instead of being a complex, extensible file and folder monitoring rules engine, became a lean set of a few helper methods. Now my scripts are machine-specific simple Python programs that consist of statements like:


That's a Jeeves rule that deletes any empty folders under the temp folder. It's such an easy kind of rule for me to write that I hardly need to think about it. It also neatly sidesteps all of the problems I was having with the C# version. I schedule this file with the Windows Task Scheduler, and it works brilliantly. Belvedere, unfortunately, you're fired. I have Jeeves now.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I recognise that this system isn't good for non-programmers.
PPS - Since it's just for me, that is not an issue.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Network disk space

How much does it actually cost, per gigabyte, to supply network storage on-site to a company? I wonder because, no matter what company I work for, no matter what size, there always seems to be a 300GB network drive that is almost full. Considering that you can buy multi-terabyte desktop drives for $100, it seems absurd that large companies would limit themselves to such a small amount of shared space unless there are massive costs involved in keeping that storage alive and backed up.

Because I assume IT departments are not staffed by muppets, I don't expect anyone's mind will be blown by the suggestion that more storage could be provided at very little cost. Therefore, there must be a simple explanation for the typical 300GB limit. Anyone care to chime in?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best guess is that they use expensive server hard drives, so it's more expensive.
PPS - And that it's harder to convince people to archive files if they've got a lot of storage.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Creating value

Wealth is zero-sum. If I get more, then you have less. There's only so much physical property in the world that people can own and only so much money in circulation (even if we print more, inflation means it's always worth about the same in total). Moving things from place to place, as in buying and selling, doesn't increase net wealth, so the share market is just a way for rich people to get richer at the expense of poorer people.

Creating, however, has value. It adds value. Take something that was useless or raw and make it useful or beautiful. That is what it means to create value.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In the very long term, I think value might need to be measured in terms of entropy.
PPS - But that's a totally different concept.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


There should be separate words for fake documentary films made for humour and fake documentary films made as pranks or for similar purposes. I'll lump in those made to show off video editing skills with that second group. Right now, the best word we have for them both is "mockumentary", and I don't feel that covers the second case very well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's also "docufiction", but I struggle to see that one taking off.
PPS - Perhaps two words for such similar concepts would be confusing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why no surgical use of superglue on TV?

Why do no TV shows or movies have the out-of-hospital medical carer use superglue rather than stitches to seal a wound? Is it because the majority of the audience would think it's too weird, regardless of its practicality?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess it is pretty weird.
PPS - Still, it seems like the kind of thing a gritty action hero might have learned.

Monday, 27 October 2014

How to keep your office chair from being borrowed

I'm sitting near some "quiet rooms" at work these days, which should be familiar to anyone who has worked in an open-plan office. Basically, because open-plan sucks and allows the slightest noise to carry everywhere, there are meeting rooms provided that are big enough for a couple of people to use for short stretches of time for things like conference calls or stand-up meetings. Anything that might make distracting noise, really.

Okay, down to the point: chairs. These rooms often host meetings of four or more people, and only contain two chairs by default. My coworkers frequently fall victim to chair borrowing, since two of them are part-time. I, however, have managed not to have my chair kidnapped yet, and I think it's down to one simple difference: my chair has a jacket on it all the time.

If you're going to borrow a chair for a short meeting, you want one that isn't in use. That's the bare minimum of consideration in this situation. My chair with the jacket looks like it's always in use. To borrow it, you'd have to either take the jacket with you or remove it from the chair and place it on my desk. If you take the chair with the jacket, I will find you, like an overzealous interpretation of a Liam Neeson movie. Most people will be too courteous to move the jacket when there are other, undecorated chairs right there. So maybe that will work for you in a similar situation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, because of the design of our chairs, it keeps them from shearing off the buttons from my back pockets.
PPS - It's a weird and specific bonus, but it matters.

Friday, 24 October 2014


Lately, the file I keep of draft entries for this blog has been shrinking. This hasn't happened for a long time, but it's been going on for some time now. I'm just not writing as much for this blog as I once did. Oddly, this fills me with both sadness and a weird kind of excitement. On the one hand, have I truly run out of interesting things to say? Well, yes, probably. In fact, that ship likely sailed some time ago. My 2-views-per-post average speaks volumes about that. From that point of view, seeing this blog go the way of the dinosaurs wouldn't be so bad. As long as it goes like a dinosaur skateboarding into a volcano. Rad.

On the other hand, I loves me some incremental progress. The laundry pile getting slightly smaller every day, the garden getting a little bit neater, my reading list shrinking just a little bit. I get a kick out of that, and a shrinking draft posts file feels just like that. I feel like I set myself a goal I didn't know about when I started - say all the interesting things - and I'm getting closer to that goal. I will put a big tick in the box of life accomplishments that says "natter inanely on the internet for 10 years", sit back and smile, satisfied at a job well done. Yup. All squared away.

It just depends if I hit a rich vein of inspiration some time in the next year or so before my draft entries run out. I guess we'll see. Perhaps this is a chance to refocus.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll let you know.
PPS - Or I'll disappear one day and both of you will shrug and get on with your lives.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Identification by implant

I would like to see a supercut of all instances on Bones where a medical implant serial number has provided the identity of a victim. It's not all the time, and it's not even more than half, but it pops up a lot. I remember breast implants, artificial testicles, pacemakers and even a prosthetic stapes (eardrum bone). There have been more. Putting them all together into a supercut would point it out pretty well. It feels, sometimes, like this is a shortcut the writers take when establishing the identity of the victim is not a central plot point, or they don't have time for that as part of the main story.

It also makes me think that having such an implant, even cosmetically, might not be such a bad idea. Quick and easy identification of my remains, in the unlikely and hopefully-only-theoretical event of my grisly murder, could save a lot of time for the investigation. Or I could wear dog tags, but those are much easier to remove or lose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder if any doctor would perform a surgical implant just for posthumous ID.
PPS - Probably not. In most cases, it wouldn't be worth it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Can't text. Driving.

I've seen a couple of ads trying to get people to stop texting while driving by responding with "#X". It's meant to be a shorthand to let people know you're driving and so won't be responding to texts for a while. However, there are a few problems.

First, unless you know what "#X" means, if you get a text like that, it's not going to make sense, and the problem persists. In the ads, a person receives "#X", pronounces the person responsible and proceeds with their day in a good mood. The person who doesn't receive the "#X", however, keeps texting, being ignored and growing more furious. If you don't understand it, however, the "#X" won't solve that problem. It needs to be something you discuss with people.
Second, why "#X" at all? The ads all show people about to start driving, receiving a text and responding with the tag. But if you're not driving *yet*, why do we need a code? Just text "Driving. Can't respond." or something similar. Same effect. The only reason to make "#X" a standard is to be a quick response you can dash off *WHILE DRIVING* which defeats the whole purpose.

Third, if you really want this to be a thing, what you need is for the phone OS to change. Monitor the phone's physical speed via GPS. If it's over a certain speed, there will be no text alerts and, optionally, you can have it respond automatically with "Driving. Can't respond." No need for an ad campaign or a special tag, just a more considerate phone OS or a Don't-Text-And-Drive app.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm fairly sure I'm not the only one who's had that idea.
PPS - In fact, here's one you can use now.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

One format for digital publishing

People want there to be one choice for buying ebooks, I think, because they're sick of the incompatibility between platforms. I want to be able to buy books from anywhere I want and read them anywhere I want, too. Right now, because the big ebook publishers/retailers are locking down their wares to a single device and platform (a dedicated app per retailer is lock-in, regardless of how many operating systems it runs on), the simplicity of a compatible format is just a dream and the only way to get what we want is to choose one retailer over the others.

The retailers, of course, are all on board with that plan, despite it being terrible for their customers. We as consumers need options. We need competition, and that means compatibility. We need the retailers to stop their monkey-feces-flinging fights, their indiscriminate use of padlocks nobody asked for, and start serving their customers out of necessity. We need them to drop DRM. On everything, right now. The fact that we as consumers, so far, are going along with the DRM lock-in, even defending our chosen retailers, means that we are not understanding the stakes of the game. If Amazon "wins" the ebook publishing "war", everyone loses, including the authors who publish with them and the readers who chose Kindle. And of course everyone else loses, too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you don't stand to personally gain from Amazon being the only winner, you shouldn't defend them.
PPS - And definitely don't fight for them.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Getting better or worse

Is the world getting better or worse or is it possible that more good and bad things are all being brought to our attention, and we pay mind to what we think the world is already like?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It kind of makes a mockery of both pessimism and optimism.
PPS - And it leaves me wondering what I should make of humanity in general.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Facing anxiety

I want to face my fears so I can learn to stand up to them, but the problem is that most of my fears are social anxieties. I fear having nothing to say. I fear being perceived as boring. I fear making small talk with strangers. I fear being judged and lauged at. I fear being inadequate at my job and letting people down. Facing those types of fears doesn't make for a great story. You can't jump out of a plane and say it's done, because it's an ongoing battle. It's something you just have to deal with, every day, and it never goes away.

Imagine you live up in the clouds, like on The Jetsons, and the only way out is by parachute. Every day you have to strap on that chute and jump, and every night you come back home, up in the clouds. Now imagine that, somehow, you never get used to it. Every day you worry that, today, maybe your chute won't open, or the cross-winds will blow you into the ocean, or the straps will break, and the fear just grabs you every morning. Maybe today is the day you fail so badly you can't get up again. What would you do? If that fear stays with you, all the time, you never even get to enjoy success, because what if it's tomorrow you fail, or the next day? It becomes less a question of facing fear and more of wondering when you're going to fail.

And it's exhausting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish it was like jumping out of a plane.
PPS - Then I'd probably get sick of it every day.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why I can't be a professional artist

Sometimes I think I would enjoy being an artist of some sort - an actor or a writer - to make my living. It just seems like the work would be more rewarding in and of itself than software tends to be. However, it's the peripheral stuff that would really get to me. In software, you learn someone's business, write or fix their software, move on and repeat (sticking around for anywhere from months to years at a time). Deal with a few people, network a bit, but mostly it's the programming you have to worry about. Making a living as an artist is maybe 10% about the art. The remaining 90% is about networking, politics, publicity, advertising - all the most exhausting and sleazy things I can imagine. I don't think that would suit me. Even if an agent did most of it for me, it's not their job to allow me to avoid any public appearances. Quite the opposite. I don't feel like I would do well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know I'm making excuses.
PPS - Mostly that's because risk is terrifying and the potential downfall is catastrophic.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Stagnant standards

One of the awkward things about technology is that we get the best use out of it when we have standards, such as common network protocols, but the most useful standards come out of ad-hoc solutions to emergent problems. So you need a way to send human-readable messages from one person to another, and we get email, but at first we get lots of different ways of sending email, which are incompatible with each other. Eventually we settle on one interoperable standard, and the world is good. Well, until Microsoft "embraces and extends" it, rendering themselves the keeper of the new ad-hoc standard. Ahem.

The other difficulty is that the standards we developed 10 years ago are now inextricably tied into absolutely everything, so even if they are no longer ideal or even vaguely appropriate, we have to keep using them because the status quo isn't going to stop or join you in a pre-emptive upgrade. HTTP 1.1 is probably the last version of that standard that will ever be produced, and the last of its kind as well. JavaScript may get some teeny-tiny upgrades, but it must maintain backwards compatibility with the websites of the 90s that it was designed to serve. Those had vastly different needs than today's interactive web applications.

So we get stuck in old standards, doing new things, and we will never be rid of them until the entire system collapses or someone tries something so fundamentally different that it demands a new ad-hoc solution.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's an odd pattern for advanced technology to take.
PPS - Or maybe it's a human pattern.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When you're allowed to fail

Always remember: you are allowed to fail. I mean, unless you've failed before at this particular thing. Or someone else is counting on you as part of their job, or you set a budget or a deadline, or it's extremely public, or if someone else gave you money to do what you're doing, or if you're talking on TV, because we'll make fun of you for that, or if you're making art that you're going to show someone. Then it's not okay to fail. But mostly, you know, as a rule, it's totally okay to fail and to learn from it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm a bit bitter about the "fail early, fail often" school of thought.
PPS - Mostly because I've never felt like I actually have permission to fail at anything.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Convenient bank opening hours

If I ran a bank, our branch opening hours would be Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 7pm. I figure we can keep the labour costs exactly the same, but boost customer convenience significantly. It's still only 35 opening hours per week, but now 15 of those hours are outside "normal" business hours. Banks could really do with this kind of bending-over-backwards-to-please-you attitude, given how people feel towards the entire financial sector right now. I'm not asking for much, I don't think. Just a bit of consideration that, for services like banking, regular business hours can be really inconvenient.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll also need doctors, dentists and the post office to do this.
PPS - Actually, our dentist is open on Saturdays, and it's pretty great.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Shopping by feature

Shopping online is great. You can't beat the convenience or prices, but the research can still be a real killer, especially if you're looking for a particular kind of item (say, a car stereo) with certain features (aux and USB inputs) that are not reported by the website you're looking at. I can look at car stereos at JB HiFi, but if I don't care about the brand, just the particular features, I'm out of luck. If you need that information, you have to read every description or check the manufacturer's websites and collate it yourself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that can be its own kind of frustration.
PPS - I rarely care about manufacturers more than features.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Three answers to prepare for a job interview

There are three questions I prepare for in every interview: why this career, why this company and why this job? You'll find it covers an astounding amount of what interviewers want to hear.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also be ready to answer "Tell me about yourself".
PPS - Because that's about the first thing you'll be asked.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Sometimes I have an encounter with someone who is way more together and grown up than me. Someone with some real practical skills, used to being in charge. Bosses. Parents. It makes me wonder what kind of video games I need to play in order to gain that same maturity myself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Is it Tetris? It's Tetris, isn't it?
PPS - I really do wonder about my maturity, though.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Know your assumptions

I like to say that it's important to recognise and state your assumptions up front, because that is the basis of logical thought. If you aren't assuming anything, you aren't speaking logically or rationally. If you don't know what you're assuming, you don't know where your reasoning might fall down. The problem, however, is that it is sometimes very difficult to see what you are assuming when you are making an argument. It's not based on assumptions you consciously place on the table, label "Exhibit A", and refer to as conditional. Your assumptions are quite often subconscious, and you won't necessarily know what they are before you use them.

That doesn't make it less important, just less likely that you will know your assumptions until you go looking for them. You have to question what you believe to be true. When you analyse your own thoughts, you will find yourself at some level saying "Well, of course that's true. Everyone knows that.". That's an assumption, but it might not be the very base level you could get to. Keep digging, and you'll be surprised just how much you've been taking for granted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You will, however, assume you are correct in all your beliefs.
PPS - Despite knowing that, in general, you must be wrong about something.

Monday, 6 October 2014


The SCiO pocket spectrometer is a pretty neat invention, working with your phone to determine the rough composition of everyday objects by light spectrum. The question is how soon such a device will be standard to embed into a phone. There's already a light sensor in your smartphone: the camera. If the camera can be tuned or upgraded to sense spectrometric data, you might already have everything you need to do the work of SCiO, with the right software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure how viable that idea is.
PPS - SCiO probably has a relatively sophisticated sensor, more specialised than a camera.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Other people's expertise

When other people estimate the size and difficulty of your job, they will tend to lowball it, because of the Dunning-Kruger effect: when they don't know what you do, they think they're practically an expert. You'll find them saying things like "it shouldn't take long for you", "it's not that big a job", "there's not much to it" or "it can't be that hard". You won't be able to convince them otherwise without teaching them how to do your job, because as long as they can hallucinate that they know better than you, they will assume they have a high level of expertise in your job, regardless of what it is.

Could you write a book? Yeah, of course, you just hit all the keys on the keyboard in the right order and there's your worldwide best-seller. You've got the idea for it already, and all you have to do is write it, which is just mechanical. Could you be a model? Uh, wear clothes and walk? I think I can manage that. Could you be a rock star? All you need is to learn an instrument then roll around in the piles of money, right? Pfft. Simple. Read the news? They tell you what to say!

You get the idea. Just try to remember, before you guess that someone else's job is pretty easy, that you know practically nothing about it, and that destroys your brain's ability to make that judgement.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Estimating your own job tasks can be difficult for different reasons.
PPS - And that's a whole different issue.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The ethical treatment of artificial life

There have been many hypothetical experiments proposed on such topics as language, culture and isolated populations that would be at best impractical and at worst unethical to actually perform. Given the ability to fully simulate a human brain, however, along with a body and environment, would those experiments become viable? I imagine the computing power required would be staggering, and the setup work alone would probably be a lifetime's work. Where would you begin if you wanted to study the thought patterns of a whole village of people who natively speak constructed languages such as Klingon, Elvish or Lojban? There's always more than that influence in their lives, and every other influence is a variable.

But even if you could do it, would such experiments still be unethical? If you can simulate a whole human being, and you can copy her, branch her off into multiple timelines on a whim, merge her back together, move her between worlds at will and subject her to any kind of stimulus you so choose, whether pleasurable or painful, does she have the right to be treated with the same ethical restraint that applies to "real" humans? By the time we gain the technology to carry out these hypothetical experiments, we may prevent ourselves from doing so on the same ethical grounds that stopped us in the first place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Science fiction keeps revisiting this idea, and with good reason.
PPS - I had problems enough with my Creatures and Sims.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Fair cake distribution

To ensure fair distribution of portions of cake (or whatever) between two people, there is a method called "cut and choose". One person cuts the cake, the other person chooses which of the two pieces goes to whom. It's a way of ensuring fairness without the need for a third party or authority figure. The problem is that it only applies to situations involving two people, and quite often there are three or more people involved. I've wondered for a while whether it is possible to extend the method to deal with an arbitrary number of people.

One way might be to have one person cut the first piece of cake, then someone else decides whether to take that piece or to have the cutter take it. Once you take your piece, you're out of the process (to enjoy your cake) and the other person in your cut-and-choose pair continues as cutter for the next piece. The problem is that it's really tricky, for instance, to judge a fair 1/7th of a cake by eye, so the first few cuts are likely to be very inaccurate. It's still as fair as you can get, though, because you either cut a fair piece or you lose. Cut too big and that much cake is gone from the game. Cut too small and you leave with less. The problem would be if 1/6th of the cake looked close enough to be fair, which has a carry-on effect to the rest of the cutting.
I'd love to give this experiment a try with real people, just to see if it works.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure "share some cake with me" will be a pretty easy sell for experimental subjects.
PPS - However, "please carefully follow this procedure before eating" might be more difficult.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


What would happen if a game got pulled from Steam? What if it was a really big and popular one? Someone would have to offer refunds, wouldn't they? I mean, you can't take millions of dollars from gamers, imply to them that they will have perpetual access to the game, then destroy it. That's just going to make you a lot of enemies. However, the first titles pulled from Steam would be older ones where the costs of ongoing support outweigh the revenues earned by selling it. Computer hardware advances all the time. Eventually, old titles won't be playable on new machines.

The question is: what does ownership mean in a world of walled gardens? If Steam goes out of business, for instance, what does it mean to "own" the PC games I bought there? What about if Amazon decides this whole Kindle thing isn't worth it any more and pulls the plug? If someone else can take it away so easily, then I don't really "own" what I've "bought" there, do I?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We really need other words for those actions.
PPS - I don't think "rent" or "license" sounds right, either.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Deciding and doing

Knowing what to do and doing it are much more fun than trying to find out what to do next. Decisions are hard. Action is easy, unless you've convinced yourself that you need to get motivated to take action.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Separating your deciding time from your action time is a big part of GTD.
PPS - At least the way I remember it. I need to re-read that book.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Black holes and antimatter

Could you annihilate a black hole by throwing enough antimatter into it, or would that just make it stronger? I guess it would recapture all the energy of the annihilation, but would it convert that energy back to mass by sheer pressure? Would that convert antimatter into normal matter? Clearly I need to brush up on my astrophysics.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or ask someone.
PPS - That's probably easier.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Neutral vs good

Most people are not bad people in the same way that most rocks are not bad rocks. It's kind of the default setting of sitting there, doing nothing. Being a truly good person takes more effort than avoiding the things you shouldn't do. That's neutral, not good.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And if you're always neutral, that's pretty bad.
PPS - It's hard to win that way.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Email inconvenience

When I happen to visit Yahoo Answers occasionally, looking for this or that answer to a technical problem, I notice that the site tells me how many new emails I have. "Oh," I think to myself, "That's convenient. I should check those messages while I'm here." I don't use my Yahoo mail account much, because it's basically my spam trap, but sometimes it attracts something useful. Anyway, I click on the icon and it asks me for my password to log in. "But," I say to myself, "how did you know how many emails I have if I'm not logged in?" At this point, I usually leave, because the convenience factor is gone.

As with all security, it's probable a trade-off with convenience. Yahoo knows who I am based on some old cookie or something, but needs my password before letting me see my mail. Understandable, but inconvenient.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wasn't a fan of the updates they made to Yahoo mail some time ago.
PPS - They took away all the keyboard shortcuts I'd been using.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I am being awesome at remembering names

When I started my acting classes at La Boite a few weeks ago, I told myself that, for once, I was going to be the one that was good with names. I was shocked to find that this worked, to a great extent. I didn't retain everything from the first week to the second, but I did remember about half the class, and picked up the other half again in week 2. By week 3, I know everyone's names.

We all tell ourselves and each other that we are terrible with names. I hear it often, from just about everyone. So being terrible with names is not some defect as such, unless it's a defect that every single one of us shares. What if we started speaking about it positively instead?

There was no trick or pattern to the way I retained names. As people went around the circle introducing themselves and answering some questions, I repeated the names in my head, mentally pointing to each person as I went. I went forwards and backwards around the circle while they spoke, paying more attention to my name memorisation than the personal stories. I tried skipping every second person so I wasn't just retaining a sequence, I associated names with facial characteristics or life stories if I could. I didn't have a great system, just repetition. The only thing I needed in week 2 for the names I forgot was a reintroduction. It's just another form of lines to learn, I say.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now if only every time I met someone, we all stopped for 15 minutes so everyone could talk about themselves a bit.
PPS - I may require another strategy for everyday life.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Synchronised physiological entertainment responses

I heard recently (in Mur Lafferty's podcast "I Should Be Writing") of some people doing physiological response studies on movie audiences, finding that they breathe and blink all at once at certain times. Mur then speculated that the same kinds of things might happen for readers of novels, but that it would happen at their own pace, so it might be hard to do such a study.

You know what might work, though? If you're reading a novel on a tablet, there's a camera pointed right at you that could, in theory, do some eye-tracking and other measurements. If you were looking to do a very broad study of novel reading physiological responses at a low cost, I would look at that. Consent would be hard to get, though, and the data would vary quite wildly, I imagine. Still, it's a place to start, right?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's assuming the data is worth trying to gather at all.
PPS - I can't imagine what it would be used for.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Big Data needs Big Analysis

Data processing is a big, messy prospect, for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, you don't necessarily know whether you can trust the data you're using, but even if you can, you still need to know what questions to ask and how to ask them, you need the right tools to process the data, and you need to know how to interpret the results. Very rarely is this a simple Q&A style interaction where you want to know what is the air speed of a laden swallow. For law enforcement, for instance, it's more like "has this person been anywhere suspicious, contacted anyone suspcious, or done anything suspicious recently?" Asking that question requires you to define "suspicious" a lot more carefully and specifically, and draw information from a lot of other sources, stitch them together and examine the results.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Learning to ask the right questions is half the point of education.
PPS - Figuring out how to find the answers is the other half.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mutual location reminders

While my phone (via Google Now) can remind me to do something when I am at a certain place, it would be quite handy if it could remind me to do something when I am with a specific person. That would require shared location data, but it would, occasionally, be pretty handy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I can probably solve that problem with a text and getting out of the house.
PPS - Unless it's a chance meeting before I thought I'd get around to whatever the reminder was about.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The ways my phone is broken

I don't find apps or the network connection especially reliable on my phone. I also don't know if this is just the normal state of affairs these days, or if I have a particularly crappy phone. I don't want to complain. It's an excellent rectangle, but when it doesn't do the thing it's designed for, doesn't that make it broken? Some things that I'm fairly sure are due directly to the phone itself are network dropouts. Sometimes, out of nowhere, completely silently, my phone will lose its connection to the phone network, switch into "emergency calls only" mode, and be unable to receive calls or texts. It's like someone cut my brakes - I won't notice until later when I manually check, at random. This can be a bit troublesome. It has caused a few fights in our house where I didn't realise I was out of contact at a critical time. It also often drops the connection to wifi for reasons yet to be explained.

Navigation often stops mid-route, too. It goes silent, the screen goes black. This is troubling, because I use navigation to get to unfamiliar places. I can't pull over to fuss with my phone two or three times per trip.

If I switch applications too often in a short time, the phone will poop its pants then, too. Sometimes it can't install an update to an existing application, and that's the only explanation it gives: "the update could not be installed to the default location". Not "...because there's not enough space" or "...because the download was corrupted", just "nope".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When the amazing things we own are broken, should we still be amazed by them and be grateful for them?
PPS - The update situation has gotten better since I uninstalled Facebook.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Little ideas

I have some little ideas that feel a bit too small to develop on their own. So here they are, basically unedited.
  • Someone should make a backpack shaped like big AA batteries. I just think it would be cute and funny to see a hyperactive kid running around with a big battery pack on his back.
  • I want to see a robot snooker tournament.
  • I would definitely watch a steampunk noir detective show with a female protagonist. Somebody get on that.
  • Someone should make a hat with handlebars for kids to hold while riding on an adult's shoulders.
  • I'd like to see an acting-related reality contest show.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - Feel free to point out anyone or anywhere these have happened.
PPS - Or go make them happen. Either way.

Monday, 15 September 2014

CAPTCHA solving motivation

At some point we are going to have a world where computers have become better at solving CAPTCHA images than humans are, on average. Because CAPTCHAs are used to keep spam bots and other malicious software out of places that have value to them, it is therefore a lucrative problem to solve. If you have the spam bot that can solve CAPTCHAs to get into discussion boards and website comment sections where others can't, then your spam bot has more value. Even tiny incremental advantages are big bucks to spammers, so they will keep fighting for every minute bit of progress they can make on this problem. Without entirely meaning to, we have incentivised the world's spammers to solve optical character recognition for us.

Perhaps what we need to do to solve the world's biggest AI problems is to start using them as gateways to spammers. Motivate the world's criminals to start solving things like image recognition, for example. "Which one of these is the elephant?" with four pictures to click on. Whatever difficult computer problems we have, we should use those as the standard CAPTCHA because, while they work, that's their advantage, but when they start to fail, we get better AI software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's kind of a win-win, but in the form of an arms race.
PPS - And if you stop racing, the internet dies.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Proving trustworthiness

Computer security is a problem of trust, like all security. What if your users could earn a higher level of trust? For instance, if you send out a fake internal phishing email, anyone who doesn't respond gets a little more leniency in their network environment.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I ask this because I really want to be one of those trusted users.
PPS - Because network security restrictions really cramp my style.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Most of our information is disorganised

Does Google go far enough in actually organising our information? They have the world's largest, fastest, most comprehensive index of websites, and for some very simple questions they have "top-box" answers. There's also Wikipedia, which is a pretty good summary of the most significant items of human knowledge. Still, there are vast swaths of human knowledge that are too esoteric or difficult to be addressed these ways, and that feels like a wide gulf we can't yet cross.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Wolfram Alpha tries to be a factual answer engine. That's something.
PPS - Neither of them has answers for questions like "what might be wrong with my router?" though.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The fallacy of clean future technology

There are pictures of clean futures in promotional documentation, where all the technology seems to be built in, perfectly integrated and always works, on its own or with other technology. I have a feeling it's not going to be that way, no matter how long we wait or how much we want it. Humans will be the ones using that technology and humans are messy. We'll spill food on our kitchen computers. The wall nook for the screen in the hallway will be cut a little bit wrong and it won't ever fit properly. The entertainment system needs to be rebooted a couple of times before it will connect to the internet. The company that made the smart bathroom mirror are rivals of the ones who made the smart scales, so they use different protocols and won't work together. The fridge syncs to a different online service than the car, so the shopping notifications have to be copied across manually. That type of thing will happen to us all the time, and, as the consumers of such future technology, there is very little we will be able to do about it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Unless we build our own systems from scratch.
PPS - Or buy everything from the same vendor and hope they have everything we need.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Making faces

Sometimes I wonder if humans also have an innate tendency to design objects with faces in them. We find faces in the objects in our everyday lives because we all have this Pareidolia condition, but what if we also have a subconscious reverse Pareidolia where we want to put faces on the things we make? It would explain some objects quite well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is a pleasing visual arrangement, in either case.
PPS - So it would be no surprise to me if we naturally arrange things that way as well as looking for that arrangement.

Monday, 8 September 2014


The landscape of history is made, on the whole, not by great people doing great things, but by the accumulation of everyday actions by everyday people. That is the background on which the large-scale action takes place, and the context without which it makes no sense. It still contains great people doing great deeds, but there are far more ordinary people in the world than there will ever be heroes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The leader of some great nation isn't anything without that nation behind him or her.
PPS - The exact same person in a lesser context, doing the same things, is less impressive.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The modern cyborg

The age of the cyborg is already here. The medical implants like pacemakers, artificial hearts and cochlear implants, as well as the constant advances in prosthetic limbs mean we are already making cyborgs. They may not be the "stronger, faster, better" Six-Million-Dollar-Man type, but you can hardly look at someone with a hearing aid literally plugged into a port in their head and tell me cyborgs are pure science fiction.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps we do need to worry about the ones that improve on humanity.
PPS - Or maybe they'll be unspeakably awesome. Who knows?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Movie/novel borderlines

If you were being kind of weird about it, you could try making a movie that was all text. Just frame after frame of words for the audience to read, like the Star Wars prefaces, but for the entire movie. At that point, would it still be considered a movie, or would it be more of a novel presented in video form?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, ebooks could easily contain video, so you could do the opposite.
PPS - A bit like this, from CollegeHumor: The Kindle 3.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Eulalyzer irony

The Eulalyzer software, designed to scan click-through agreements on other software for potential red-flag terms, requires the user to read the very same kind of click-through agreement before installing it. I find this ironic, though I seem to be alone in this observation. I can't find anyone else causing any kind of fuss about Eulalyzer requiring an EULA click-through to install to do the job of avoiding reading EULAs from then on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've never used Eulalyzer on itself.
PPS - In part because it needs to be installed first, and by then, who cares?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I'll be there if you need me

I'm just now getting around to reading all the articles from comedians and depressed people about Robin Williams' death, and one on Cracked said this about Chris Farley's final hours:

Back behind the wall, the real person was a scared, lonely, awkward fat kid who couldn't even pay someone to hold his hand when he died. "Don't leave me."

I stopped there for a minute and really looked at that sentence. I want to say now, to my friends and family, if you are ever that alone, any hour of the day or night, whether I'm working or sleeping or in another city, you can call me. I'll come and sit with you, or if I physically cannot get there, I'll talk with you as long as you want. I will, in all seriousness, drive across the city or fly to another state when you need someone. Just please believe me that you never have to be alone.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I don't know you, there is someone else willing to do this for you.
PPS - Ask around.

Monday, 1 September 2014

You tell me

When you go ask a teacher or an expert a question and they just throw the question right back at you with "I don't know, you tell me", I find that to be the least helpful response they could give. I understand that it is meant to inspire further research, but it seems a pretty blunt and aggressive way to get the point across. The message I take away is "Don't come to me with questions, ever, because there won't be answers. Go get excited about learning on your own. Not my job." I didn't come here with an idea or opinion that I want validated. I'm curious and I have no ideas. I already ran out. That's why I came to you. So give me your opinion or, at the absolute least, ask me a different question that should guide my further research. If I wanted "you tell me", I could get that from a sign on my wall, and cut you out of the process entirely. I won't come back a second time if you do that, even to tell you what I learned.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a blunt refusal to teach in response to a real request for knowledge.
PPS - To me, there isn't a surer way to shut down curiosity than by refusing to feed it this way.

Friday, 29 August 2014


"I deserve" is a very dangerous concept. It rarely leads to anything good for everyone else. For instance, if you have made some noble effort of self-sacrifice, even if it served a need, does anyone owe you for that? No. Nobody asked you to do what you did, even if they benefited from it. Or if you've done one good deed, do you "deserve" a little selfishness? No, probably not. "I deserve this" is a phrase reserved for people paying themselves out of the goodwill they think they have built up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This also applies to "I've earned this".
PPS - I try never to do this.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Mistakes I made while teaching karate

I taught karate for a year with the Australian Go-Kan-Ryu club, and I quit just before Christmas that year, which meant that I also missed out on the year's remuneration. I just couldn't stand it any more. I enjoyed having students, and especially those few that were outstanding, but I also found it very frustrating with some students and with the very young kids. It's hard to balance the high standards my teachers gave to me with the space to learn and grow.

What made me quit was the need to be available for every class every week. The one or two times I called in sick, it was a bit of a gamble whether a replacement teacher would show up at all. I also felt like my classes were rushed when I went at a normal pace, and then we'd end up trying to fill the last 30 minutes with games that never quite went the distance.

One particular mistake I made still bothers me. I had one student whose sparring was really coming along nicely. He was streets ahead of kids his own age and belt level, and it was inspiring to watch him. I got excited and I wanted to get in and have a go myself, so after the rest of the class was done sparring, I had them all sit down except him, I put on my gear and we sparred for a single two-minute round. He never came back.

What I was trying to do was get back involved in the direct teaching of advanced sparring, because most of the time I just had to watch and make sure it didn't get out of hand. With just the two of us, however, I could finally take part again. What I forgot is that, as a kid with a blue belt sparring an adult with a black belt, that was a terrifying situation I put him in with no explanation. I scared him off with what was meant to be a special learning opportunity. I should have taken a lot more time to explain beforehand what I was doing and why, and asking his permission in a more careful way. Instead of coming across as "HEY, YOU! LITTLE KID! LET'S FIGHT!" (which I didn't say, but is how he would have heard it) at that moment I needed to praise, support and ask permission. More like "I'm really happy to see how well you're sparring lately. If you want, I'd like the opportunity to let you practice with me now, one on one. If you don't want to, that's okay."

What I'm trying to say is: I'm sorry, kid. Just when you were starting to shine, I scared you away.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm fairly sure I bored away a lot of my other students.
PPS - Which is just as bad, but less direct.