Friday, 31 January 2014 doesn't know I have a wish list

Since the launch of Amazon Australia for digital content, my wish list is a mess. I had a lot of titles on there for my Kindle, and now when I log in, I am told that some of them are no longer available. This is because they are now to be exclusively sold through if I am in Australia, though this is not spelled out on To make it all as difficult to use as possible, of course, my wish list itself is not accessible from the Australian site. So to buy a title from my wish list for my Kindle, I have to make sure I go to, but if the title is not actually available there, I have to go to and do a search to make sure I haven't been lied to.

Like I said, a mess.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm moderately confident this will get better in the future.
PPS - Moderately confident, not supremely confident.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Trust vs accountability

An act of trust is an act of faith. Some people say that we need total transparency to trust each other - everything out on the table up front. But total transparency is not trust. It's accountability.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's still a good thing.
PPS - Just not the same thing.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Home automation

If I were installing some home automation, and I could secure it properly, I would put internet-enabled sensors and controllers all over my house and get an app for my phone to control and monitor it. I'd want to get alerts when my doors and windows are open if I'm out of the house, and just a basic report on those states available at all times. I'd really like to be able to close the doors and windows remotely, in case I left them open and I hear there's rain coming. That also goes for the garage door: alerts when it's open, remote control to open or close it.

I'd want to be able to switch the lights on and off in blocks all at once, and be able to check and switch off appliances and power points too, in case I think I left the oven or iron on. It would be nice, but not essential, to be able to control my TV, DVD and media centre from my phone, but that can be a separate project.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In a pinch, I would probably settle for an "all lights out" switch in the bedroom.
PPS - I think home automation would be cool, but then I struggle to think what I'd actually do with it.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Following your dreams

We can't all follow our dreams. First, the world won't work if everybody refuses to do anything that doesn't interest them. There just aren't enough truly passionate career janitors and retail salespeople in the world. Society would collapse on that alone. Second, for every successful musician, there are at least a thousand garage-band wannabes who will never make it, despite being just as hard-working and talented. There is just not enough room in the market.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We all have to do things we don't enjoy.
PPS - Sometimes, we have to do them to make a living.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Hugo Something

I am somehow constantly forgetting Hugo Weaving's name. I forget it for a while, go around in my head trying to remember it, usually bringing up "Hugh Jackman" as something similar and immediately discarding it, but the only other suggestion that ever seems to come to mind after that is "Jack Human", then "Something Hu-something" and white noise static. So I look it up, smack my forehead, vow to definitely, really remember it this time, only for it to come up a few days later and to draw a complete blank.

It's Hugo Weaving, brain. Hugo Weaving.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I very nearly typed "Hugh Jackman" again there.
PPS - Hugo.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Open plan

The promises of open-plan offices are that it makes everyone more available to help everyone else, and makes it easier to work with your neighbours. The reality of open-plan offices is that being available to help others means you are more likely to be interrupted and unable to get your work done, and even if you aren't the subject of an interruption, you will be aurally distracted any time coworkers strike up any conversation, work-related or otherwise. Open-plan offices have been shown experimentally to be terrible for productivity, and employees must usually deal with the overwhelming noise by drowning it out with headphones, further harming productivity.

If you want your workers to be productive and to cooperate with each other, almost any office layout will be far better than open-plan. Just keep it in mind if you've got an office on the drawing board. Open, flowing space is good for parties, not for getting work done, for identical reasons.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not a fan of open plan.
PPS - Unless you're throwing a party. Then I'm in.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Technology in cars

I don't think we really know how we want technology to integrate with our cars just yet. There are some things that seem like good ideas (integrated GPS) and others that are boneheaded wrongness shoehorned in because the car manufacturer says so (DRM on batteries). Some are a mixed blessing, offering some benefit while keeping it locked up and adding unknown security vulnerabilities (Lojack/OnStar come to mind, that can track and remote control your car, including unlocking it with a phone call, but might be accidentally offering that capability to hackers). We're starting to see concept cars with computers that keep you up to date on social networks. Distractions are a terrible thing to build into a car, but apparently that doesn't occur to the designers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think car technology should be halfway between real-time industrial monitoring equipment and mobile computers.
PPS - That's a lot to cram into a computer system.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sexism at the office

A few times during my office-worker career, the admin assistants or receptionists have had occasion to complain that people are leaving unwashed dishes in the sink, and that they are having to wash them up. "We're not here to clean up after you", they say in the meeting. At this point I always notice the older men smirking and looking at each other as if to say "What does she think she's here for, then?". I realise that attitudes towards gender roles have changed over time, and that institutional sexism has, in theory, gone away, but it always stuns me to see that it was only a couple of decades ago that wearing a skirt in an office was the clear signal that you are here to look after the important men-folk who do the real work. It's funny how quickly and how slowly that change has happened, is what I mean. Quickly because it was not that long ago that it was normal, but slowly because it's technically not gone yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's usually the way deeply-entrenched ideas die.
PPS - By failing to be passed on to the next generation.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

DRM from another perspective

I'm starting to see DRM from a different perspective lately. Not a positive one, just one of understanding. See, I would like to be taking steps to counter the actions of those who would prey on me. It's just that, because I'm an individual, the ones who would prey on me are big, powerful corporations. I use encryption and privacy-preserving services to keep them from taking advantage of me.

If, however, I were a big powerful corporation trying to sell things to the public, then those who would prey on me are the general public or, more specifically, the behaviours of certain members of the public, such as those who take what I'm selling without paying. If I were in charge of one of those corporations, I would take whatever steps I could to mitigate those behaviours. DRM is one of those "solutions" sold to such people. They're being told it works. It will protect them. It's not true, but they bought the lie anyway.

A better approach might be to look at those behaviours, at what motivates them, and try to change business practices to remove those motivations. For instance, lots of people in Australia pirate TV. It's the national passtime of our geek set. Some of the motivations given are that it takes far too long for content to get here from the USA, and then all the legal channels are either blocked or sold in ways meant to maximise the customer's bleeding. A lot of this has to do with regional distribution agreements that were designed last century to handle pre-internet-era TV, and have persisted mostly on momentum and habit.

So the best way to mitigate the behaviours being displayed is just to sidestep everything in the old system. Make your shows for the internet directly. If you need a lot of startup capital, go to Kickstarter. I think this can work.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, I'm not the one who knows what works.
PPS - I just know the promises of DRM are lies.

Monday, 20 January 2014

City needs

For life in a city, electricity and running water are as much needs as food, shelter and clothing. When the power goes out and the water systems fail, cities get sick. They can't function the way they should.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They become individual needs because the environment requires them.
PPS - It's a bit of an odd position.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Redundancy 2

Yesterday I was made redundant at work. Downsized. Regretfully let go. It's the second time in my career that's happened to me, and I think I handled it better this time around. The payout was nice. It will go a long way to keeping us afloat while I find another job. I could see on the video conference that my boss was not having a good day either. I gather he had to do this a few times today. I was hoping I could wheedle a last-minute title change to "Senior Professional", just to look better on the resume, but that was evidently not an option.

I'm considering options at the moment. I could take a month off, attend some acting auditions, maybe try to sell some writing. If it doesn't work out quickly, I can always look for a more traditional job. Maybe it won't interest me enough at all. I guess we'll see.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - While it gets easier to receive redundancy, I wonder if it gets easier to give it out.
PPS - I doubt it.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Secret accountability is not accountability

FISC/FISA is clearly not working as a procedure for keeping the NSA in check. Why? Because "secret accountability" is a contradiction in terms. It isn't real accountability, it's conspiracy, because the wall of secrecy is drawn around the two of you, and all information is forbidden from leaving, ever.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Self-policing always devolves into no policing.
PPS - Because it's easier that way.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Trusted random number generation

When you're engaging in some activity online that requires random numbers and you don't know if you can trust the other side, you have a problem. Say it's a game, and you each need to roll dice regularly. If you each just generate random numbers and tell each other what they were, you can't know that your opponent isn't lying in their own favour. You also can't just generate the random numbers for each other, because that has the same problem. To trust the randomness, you need something that neither side can lie about, that can't be rigged to favour one side or the other, and that can't be known ahead of time.

Something like this:
  1. Both encrypt a seed and send it.
  2. Once you receive your partner's seed, send the key to decrypt your side. This is important, because your partner can't change their seed at this point, and neither can you.
  3. Decrypt the seeds and combine them in some agreed way (say, by multiplying or adding them together).
  4. Generate a random number using the combined seed.
  5. Discard seeds and start over to avoid look-ahead cheating.
It seems simple enough, and there are some variations you can do for other, more complicated scenarios. Unfortunately, it doesn't stretch far beyond the limited concept of shared, verified randomness. It can't be used to verify identity, for instance. It only tells me that I can trust the random numbers generated this way, not that the other machine generating them is who I expect to be on the other end. Also, since I'm not a security expert, it's possible (or very likely) that there's a blatant flaw in the scheme that allows it to be biased for some purpose. I don't know.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So far I've been unable to determine a version that allows the equivalent of both sides drawing random cards and keeping them secret.
PPS - For now, this is obviously a trusted P2P dice mechanism and nothing more.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Blank board game supplies

Just on a whim, I went looking for blank playing cards online, and I was delighted to find a whole range of blank board game equipment for sale: blank playing cards, plain white game boards, blank-faced dice with stickers, plain coloured pawns. This makes me very happy just because it's a kind of midpoint between total DIY and professionally-published games.

If you've got an idea for a board game, obviously you can find some cardboard and do a lot of cut-paste-draw-write yourself, but after some play testing, maybe you want your home-made game to look a little more professional. Something you can bring to family and friends game nights. This is just what you need. If I ever hear of a kid who is into board games and is pretty creative (as kids often are) then I will order a bunch of this stuff for their birthday or Christmas, probably along with some professionally-published game too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think the world has enough good board games.
PPS - I also don't think there is enough good board game software, but that's another story.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The interpretation of facts

People who think they are having a scientific argument online try to throw up supporting facts for their theory or falsifying facts against their opponents. This is what is happening with the anti-vaccination movement. Celebrities have bought some story about vaccinations causing autism, and are taking up the noble cause of terrifying parents into foregoing all vaccinations. As a result, preventable illnesses and deaths are on the rise in America, and autism ... well, autism is still doing its own thing exactly as before.

It would seem to be a simple cut-and-dry case of "What The Hell Were You Thinking?", but no matter the facts being shown, the scare-mongers are not backing down. It is therefore clear that this is not a fight about facts. It is a fight about mindset, about worldview, about basic scientific literacy. It is a fight about the interpretation of facts. If you start with the wrong axioms, you will view facts in a distorted way, but it is also the case that starting with the right axioms gives you a bias. Facts do not speak for themselves. They never have, and they never will, because your audience will always have a worldview ready to apply their own interpretation. Facts don't cut through delusion automatically. When you present facts about the number of preventable illnesses and deaths, compared to the number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations, someone with the "vaccination = autism" viewpoint will assume that not enough scientists are looking for the link, so they need to scream louder until the world wakes up. The same facts, wildly different interpretations.

Question the axioms. It's your only hope of winning an argument like that. Also, you can't change someone's mind for them. You need to ask the right questions to make them examine their assumptions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Knowing what your opponent is assuming is always a good step in an argument.
PPS - At least for understanding them.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Weather warnings that aren't warnings

It's storm season here in Brisbane, which means occasional severe thunderstorms and warnings to pay attention to. What I need is an app on my phone that tells me when I or my home is in a storm warning area so I can react appropriately. The "Early Warning Network" has an Android app, but it seems to be nothing more than a slightly different version of going to the Bureau of Meteorology website and checking the warning areas manually. Not even a slightly better version, just slightly different. Either way, I need to check the warnings myself, and that's not a warning or alert system. That's a passive information system.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Doing it properly would require spatial data to be published by global weather services.
PPS - I don't know if they do that.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Spending movie marketing money on charity

I would like to see lots more charity projects as publicity stunts like this Walter Mitty Philippines trip, even if the studios get to write off their marketing budgets as charitable donations. Wouldn't that be great if all marketing budgets turned into foreign aid instead? Even if we get "Coca Cola Presents Uganda Aid 2014", I think we'll come out on top.

By the time Casey Neistat suggested spending $25K on a trip to help typhoon victims in the Philippines, 20th Century Fox kind of had to let him do it. They'd look like major douches if they turned him down, and it still kind of fits into the theme of the contest they were running. I understand Walter Mitty does some travelling to poor areas in the film. Plus they still get their publicity. It's not as if Neistat just took the money, quietly gave it to people and went home without a fuss. He gave it to them on video on behalf of 20th Century Fox and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and it's going viral. Everyone wins.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure yet if I'll see the movie.
PPS - It's on the list, but so are lots of movies I might not end up seeing.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Setting priorities

I am terrible at prioritising my time. This is obviously not a boast. It's also how I ended up with over a hundred YouTube videos waiting on my attention, a growing backlog of podcasts, tons of unwatched TV and many articles and books (physical and ebook) to read, all sitting and rotting in multiple lists I might never get around to.

Recently I realised that I need to make some choices. Clean house. Admit my limitations. I also realised that I have a suitable toolset for the task already. I have a program I use to vote pending blog posts up or down, relative to each other, to help ensure I post the best stuff here. As it turns out, that same tool can let me prioritise my entertainment if I put it all into one giant list, and the only decisions I have to make, now and then, are whether I want to watch, for instance, this TV show more than I'd rather read a particular book.

So far, it's working pretty well. It's still a bit of a pain deconstructing my other playlists and wish lists, but because everything is in one big list, it's really no extra trouble once it's done. It's helping me to feel like I'm not going to neglect something important or fun. And eventually, if I keep at it long enough, the worst items, whether books, movies, TV shows, articles or YouTube videos, should naturally fall off the end of the list, never to be heard from again. That is the ultimate goal: discarding what I really didn't need to spend my time on while using my recreation time on the most enjoyable things. It's a system for strategically neglecting the least important entertainment.

I'm actually pretty excited about it at this point. My previous method had been to arrange one whole type of entertainment - say, my TV backlog - before all others, and to stick with that until I was completely done with everything in that category. I'd listen to all my podcasts on the train ride home until that queue was empty, then allow myself to read books. It wasn't working. This new way, with everything in one list, a good book has an actual chance of winning out against TV that, in the end, I might rather not watch at all.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I rewrote the voting algorithm just for this.
PPS - That's another bonus of this method: I get to write more software.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


Playing on some fake blackjack tables for our company's Christmas party, I started wondering about dealer systems. Do casinos have a simple set of rules that blackjack dealers are to follow? Say, if hitting one more time on your own hand, the dealer's, might be safe a lot of the time, but you've already beaten half the table, it would be better if you don't hit and pay out half the table rather than hitting, busting and paying out the whole table. I'd be astonished if there weren't several such simple systems for blackjack dealers to follow, all with their own names, special rules, advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, a quick web search shows up lots of results for player systems rather than dealer systems.

I also gained some respect for people who are able to count cards, even in a very simple system. Those cards come quickly on a busy table. If you're able to keep track of a deck score by registering each card, counting up or down and still keep track of your own hand, deciding whether to hit or stay based on the deck score, your cards and whether you still need to beat the dealer, and do it all quickly enough not to raise suspicion, my hat is off to you, sir.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If systems exist for the dealer, they're buried under a lot of chaff.
PPS - It wouldn't need to be secret information for the casino, though. They'll win regardless.

Monday, 6 January 2014

How Facebook will retain dominance

How should Facebook combat open social networks as a business threat? Two possibilities. One, just be the better product. Use your head start to keep adding the features that people want in their social networking. Two, allow one-way interaction. You could view anyone else's external feed integrated with your Facebook page, but nobody can view Facebook anywhere but Facebook itself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - So far, the threat of other social networks to Facebook is minimal at best.
PPS - And they're already doing one-way interaction of a sort.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Freedom vs security

What is the point of safety if it takes away your freedom? You can be perfectly safe suspended in a tank, fed through a tube, guarded in an underground, nuclear-proof bunker, but then what? You won't be truly living at that point, just surviving. You aren't being kept safe for anything. You might as well be a food processor or, better yet, not exist at all and save everyone the trouble.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think that's what they mean when they say you shouldn't give up freedom for security.
PPS - Freedom is what security is for.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Disagreeing with substance

When you encounter someone with whom you disagree directly - a "yes it is/no it isn't" type of disagreement - please try something other than head-butting for resolution. If your first response to a conversation that started with "Yes it is", "No it isn't" is to say "Yes it is" more loudly, the next response is not going to be "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't realise, but your loudness must indicate the force of your belief and therefore your correctness. I humbly apologise." Like five-year-olds who lack negotiation and proper argument skills, you're just getting into a yelling match. If you recall being in that kind of conflict at age 5, it ends when someone hits the other or backs down in tears.

There needs to be some substance to your argument. Try "Oh, I thought such-and-such meant that this was the case." At least that offers the possibility of debate rather than the suggestion that you are digging in your heels and stubbornly refusing to be swayed on an opinion you have pre-decided.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sometimes I get sucked into a content-free disagreement.
PPS - It's hardest to step out of it when I'm tired.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Is it the future yet?

Our cars continue to get more amazing features, such as self-parking, reversing cameras and integrated GPS. Many car stereo functions, however, would be better served by an off-the-shelf tablet computer. Some US states allow test-driving of robot cars.

Speaking of magical handheld glass screens that put the entire world's knowledge at our fingertips at all times, we have a large variety of those now, but they're all incompatible with each other and still cost a fair bit. 7" tablets are cheaper than both 4" phones and 10" tablets. Smart watches and head-up displays are making consumer inroads.

Amazon wants to deliver your purchases by flying drone. Assume that pizza delivery and PO boxes will allow this, too, but not for a few years.

3D printers keeps getting cheaper, in general, but are still not regular household appliances.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can also buy internet-addressable light and power switches.
PPS - Facebook continues to grow into the size of a small country.