Friday, 30 May 2014

Origami envelope for holding small objects

There's a standard way to fold an envelope out of an A4 sheet of paper. It looks quite neat and stylish, too, with two alternate corners bevelled. The problem, for some purposes, is that you can't use it to hold small objects, because it's wide open from a big slit at the back. If you were hoping to put a key or some coins in there, it just doesn't work. This is more suited to a letter, where all it has to hold in is ink.

To hold small objects, you can follow the same instructions, but with one extra step in advance. Before following the instructions above, fold the paper in half - just like the first step - but then follow the instructions from the beginning with the doubled paper. You'll get a smaller envelope, but you can open it up, put small items in the middle, then re-fold it. Your items will remain in place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I used this just recently for some coins.
PPS - That's also how I discovered the flaw in the original design.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Efficiency in the face of overwhelming volume

There can come a point in any inbox/process/outbox system, such as email, when the volume coming in simply outpaces your processing capacity. I call it the "firehose point". When you simply get too much email to handle, what can you do? It's not a matter of "time management" at that point, nor of getting more efficient at handling individual emails, because any time management or email handling strategy you employ can be overwhelmed again by more volume. I mean the point when, no matter how quickly you handle any item - even to delete it - by the time you're done, at least two more have arrived.

The only possible response at that point is to accept that you will never see everything. Some people handle holiday email with a kind of declaration of bankruptcy: select all, delete, rely on second-notices if it's important. People do the same on social media, only reading the most recent items. It's an acceptable strategy, in its way, but you really should only apply it to situations where it doesn't matter if you're uninformed.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, if you happen to miss the second notices, too, you've got bigger problems.
PPS - Assuming you have real responsibilities managed this way, that is.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Writing and rewriting

Lately I've been trying and failing to write a longer version of a flash story that I finished over a year ago. The basic idea was that a guy got addicted to building little worlds in magical bowls and playing God with them. In the flash version, he is telling his story to a support group, called Worldbuilders Anonymous. Even though it was a small scene, I felt it could be more show, less tell if it were longer, so I set out to do that. It dragged on and had a lot of little scenes that worked well on their own, but I realised that instead of writing one flash story, now I had several and no real glue between them. So I replotted and came up with a different outline as a longer story ... but I haven't been able to finish that one either. It hasn't been a great week for writing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Actually, I think I've been working on this a lot longer than that.
PPS - It feels like a very long time.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Seven virtues

You don't hear as much about the Seven Virtues as you do about the Seven Deadly Sins. It's probably because the virtues are rather passive or long-term. Chastity, Diligence, Charity, Temperence, Patience, Humility and Kindness are much harder for us to characterise than Pride, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Lust and Gluttony.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It just doesn't work as a Se7en sequel, is what I'm saying.
PPS - Not much does, though. That's probably why there never was a sequel.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?

How many TV shows are essentially Sherlock Holmes? Obviously there's Sherlock and Elementary, which are fairly direct modern adaptations, and House, too, but there's also Monk and Psych, both of whose main characters fit the "hyper-observant eccentric" mould very well. Shawn Spencer on Psych even has a sidekick with a medical background, albeit in pharmaceutical sales rather than actual medical training. On Castle we do have an eccentric civilian consultant, but he's not hyper-observant, so I wouldn't necessarily count that. On Bones, the eccentric and the doctor character are the same person, and her powers of observation and deduction are fairly narrowly focused on anthropology, but you could make a case for Temperance Brennan being a type of Sherlock Holmes, too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When you start looking into it, those particular character traits show up quite often.
PPS - Especially on shows with single-word titles.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Crème fraîche

It bothers me, because I'm not really a foodie, that "crème fraîche" means "fresh cream" when translated literally, but really means a specific type of cream, soured with a bacterial culture. Then, of course, in France, "crème fraîche" actually does just mean "fresh cream", because the world is a deeply confusing place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've been watching Masterchef.
PPS - There are few other ways crème fraîche could insert itself into my consciousness.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Netflix vs Comcast

The Netflix/Comcast agreement demonstrates that Net Neutrality is not a case of poor, overworked, underpaid ISPs finally getting their due from freeloading content providers. It's a hostage situation or a protection racket. "Pay up, or else all your lovely bandwidth could have a nasty accident". This is bandwidth, by the way, that everyone has already been paid for once. Netflix already pays its ISP to provide a service, and Comcast customers already pay Comcast and Netflix for the bandwidth and service, respectively. The only reason Netflix had to pay Comcast again is that Comcast has the power to kill Netflix traffic. That's not a normal commercial agreement. It's extortion.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At least, for their part, Comcast seems to have used the extortion money to make Netflix faster.
PPS - It just shouldn't have been Netflix that had to pay for it.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Hulu and VPN

Hulu recently blocked paying customers who are accessing the service internationally via VPN software. This seems like a particularly vindictive move, but, really, Hulu doesn't want to cut off their international customers. Someone forced them. No company says "we're making some money from overseas customers. Is there a way we can do less of that?" So it's pretty clear to me that this wasn't their idea. It wasn't their idea to geo-block international users in the first place.

So who wants Hulu to be far less useful to international customers? The same entertainment companies that have archaic distribution agreements for different world regions, and also refuse to pay much attention to those non-USA regions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As soon as no entertainment can leave the United States, they'll be happy.
PPS - I mean no entertainment, ever, in any form. Zero exports. That's the win condition, apparently.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

SixthSense vs Google Glass

In 2009, Pranav Mistry demonstrated some technology he called SixthSense, a wearable, gesture-controlled computer system whose visual output was a surface-mapped projector, allowing you to turn any surface into a computer or interact with the world as naturally as before, but now with seamless access to networked info everywhere. It was incredible. It was also a little bit awkward, worn around the neck on a lanyard. Though the software was released, the project has stalled. People can't build it.

In 2012, Google demonstrated Google Glass, their wearable computer. It is limited to a tiny display in one eye, though, and has to be controlled through voice and swipe gestures. However, with its front-facing camera, it could easily pick up on SixthSense gestures. Swapping the inward-facing eye display for an outward-facing projector, you could have a platform to run SixthSense, assuming the software issues could be overcome.

So we're still a few steps away from that world, but I think we're going to get there. In a way, it makes me mad that we don't have this yet, since Mistry was so close. He had devices, he had the software, now the software is released, but the devices aren't available, the software doesn't build any more and Mistry doesn't have time to work on it because he's busy with other projects.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It doesn't have to be SixthSense. A similar project would do.
PPS - It's just that a lot of the work is already done for SixthSense itself. It would be a shame to waste it.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Browser security just got a lot worse

A massive security vulnerability is being introduced to the Firefox web browser by Mozilla, on purpose, and it is to remain there for the forseeable future.

Mozilla is adding closed-source DRM to their otherwise open-source web browser, Firefox. Nobody in the world is happy about this except for a few media CEOs that we should still be able to push around. Now here's the worst part. Because of the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause, it is illegal to tell people about security vulnerabilities in DRM systems. Responsible disclosure of security vulnerabilities is the only thing keeping your software up to date and virus-free. Since one of those closed systems is getting into your web browser and nobody is allowed to tell anybody about security vulnerabilities, it is no longer safe to do anything secure online. These DRM systems will have security vulnerabilities, and they must be kept secret, which means that only the people who discover them will know about them, they will never get fixed, and they will be used to steal your credit card numbers when you are online. Believe it. The internet just got a lot less safe so that Netflix could hallucinate that they are finally safe from piracy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Don't worry, it's not just Firefox. All browsers will be getting DRM soon, to protect themselves from you.
PPS - And, of course, making themselves far more vulnerable to malware and identity theft in the process.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Personal storage and couriers

Seen at BoingBoing, there's a startup called MakeSpace that combines small personal storage (in units of Big Plastic Tubs) with on-demand delivery to and from wherever you are. It still costs a fair bit for delivery, though, because they're essentially offering a courier service on top of storage.

This is a business that I think will take off when flying drones take over from couriers and the post office, because it can let you rent as much or as little storage space as you need for your stuff and still get to it quickly and easily, wherever you are and at whatever time of day. If that kind of storage is quick, cheap and convenient, imagine how the world would change. Parents could keep their kids' Christmas presents out of the house and have them delivered back at the last minute on Christmas Eve (provided enough drone capacity in the system). Shoppers could wander around the city, send their purchases into storage and keep shopping, without the need to carry a lot of bags around. You can have your stuff moved between cities or suburbs automatically and never care where, specifically, it is stored, as long as it can come to you quickly. You can list it for sale online and collect payment from your buyer without the physical box even needing to move, because the tub can just be reassigned to a different owner account.

It will also save the storage industry money because they can use whatever space they need, wherever they can find it, rather than needing large, car-accessible facilities with individual lock-up doors. They can just get one big warehouse with tall shelves wherever is convenient and save the larger facilities for items that won't fit in the tubs.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Security is obviously still an issue, though.
PPS - Especially in transit.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Cameras aren't safety

A camera isn't safety. A camera will just tell the jury who murdered you after the fact, assuming the lighting and angle are right, that he's not wearing a mask and that his face is easy to find in some database without any possibility of false matches. Actual camera safety means a vigilant person watching with a very quick response team ready to come and help you. They don't actually do that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They can't afford people to actually watch what the cameras see.
PPS - That's why they got the cameras in the first place.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dictation software for spelling

When you have no clue how to spell a word, dictation software might help. If your pronunciation is clear, you can ask your phone how to spell a word by asking it to take a note or run a search. I wonder if that's a Google Now command? It would make sense.

The only trouble is when your pronunciation is also uncertain. If you're looking to spell "deteriorate", it won't do any good if you ask "OK, Google, how do you spell deteriate?" A machine might, with some clever programming, be able to suggest a word that sounds kind of similar to what you've said, but it won't necessarily be as good as a human at inferring the word you want to spell.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The usual caveats with dictation software apply.
PPS - Such as being unable to use it in quiet places or fearing looking weird.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Katy Perry pranks birthdays

I realise this was a little while ago now, but I love that Katy Perry went to some kid's birthday party and made their day with the surprise. You can see in the video for Birthday that these kids thought it was the best thing ever. What is less obviously fun is the (deliberately) terrible face painting she did before taking off her disguise. It's also not clear from the video whether she unmasked herself at the other four birthday parties she attended as various terrible entertainers. If she didn't, then the joke isn't "I pretended to be a terrible party entertainer but I'm really Katy Perry". It's more like "I was an actual terrible party entertainer and then I left", which is less of a joke and more a way to ruin a party for no reason. The only way to "pretend" to be a terrible entertainer is to be a terrible entertainer.

I sincerely hope that, after some awful "entertaining", she took off her disguise at every party and performed as herself for everyone. It might not fully make up for some parts, such as the staged car crash (at one of the parties) that upset several kids and parents, but "Katy Perry staged a car crash at my birthday party" is a more positive story than "Some horrible clown ruined my party and there was a car crash, too". Pranks rarely have positive outcomes for the recipient. It's important to keep that in mind when planning one, because only the prankster and anyone in on the joke end up laughing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That said, when Katy Perry gets a real movie role, I'm going to see it.
PPS - Besides "Part of Me", that is. And those one-episode roles in How I Met Your Mother and Raising Hope. And her voice work in The Smurfs.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Hollywood should embrace crowdfunding

For any movie that Hollywood is afraid to fund themselves, they should use crowdsourced funding. Can't bring yourself to back a Wonder Woman or Black Widow movie? Ask the fans for the cash. Let them pre-pay their cinema ticket price or DVD purchase price and see if the idea has legs. Then, when you drown in all the money, just go ahead and make the movies, would you? Please?

Seriously, someone needs to start a whole movie studio based on the crowdfunding model. Imagine their website as just a list of potential projects, the required budget and the current funding level. Even the backer rewards would be pretty simple to set up. Cinema tickets, DVD/Blu-Ray discs, posters, autographed portraits of the stars or maybe, at very high investment levels, a share in the profits. It would look like any online shopping cart system, except either you don't get charged right away or the money goes into escrow until funding targets are met or the funding deadline falls through. Veronica Mars proved that crowdfunding works to make movies, but also that the existing movie studios are terrible at thinking of their customers as investors instead of wallets attached to eyeballs.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The old guard are still pulling record profits, though.
PPS - So maybe their way is working well enough for now.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Data is just the first step to control

Step one in any diet or budget plan is "pay attention". Write down everything you eat or everything you spend. Whatever you're trying to control, you need to track it. But tracking is not enough. You can't just track what you're eating and hope for the best. That collected data is just a step. To make progress, you need a plan. You need to set limits on what you spend, and bring the pain of spending off your budget closer to the enjoyment of the moment. When you spend from a credit card, the pain comes at the end of the month, and until then, you have the pleasure of the purchase. To change your habits, it helps to make that pain immediate at the point of purchase. You need to see your balance whenever you contemplate a purchase.

This is where mobile apps can help. Imagine that all of your purchases went through an app that also monitors your budget. You have $100 you are allowed to spend on groceries this week, and when you get to the checkout, that number comes up and your purchases are deducted from it. You see imediately the bite you have taken from your budget. EFTPOS doesn't show your balance on the machine, for good reason, so this would be a step up.

But maybe that's not immediate enough. You might fill your trolley and only realise you've made a mistake at the checkout. What you need, then, is a budget app that helps you track a trolley of shopping as you stack it up. Then every time you pick something off the shelf, it comes off the budget. You'll see the damage you're doing that very second. That's real immediate pain at the point of the decision.

For dieting, this is not so easy. A daily weigh-in isn't enough. You need to see your projected weight gain with every bite you put in your mouth. Perhaps something like Google Glass connected to pressure sensors in your shoes. Every time you stand still you'd see your current weight. If you eat standing up, you'd see the number going up the whole time. That's bound to make you think.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Though, as demonstrated by the faults with BMI, weight is not quite the right thing to measure.
PPS - I'm sure we could arrange a belt to measure your waist at all times.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Capitalist environmentalism

The capitalist solution to industrial pollution is to sell the polluted environment and therefore make it somebody's economic problem to stop the pollution. The problem is that the polluting company can just buy the river (for instance) and dump their effluent into it and be legally within their rights. It's their river and their factory, so they can put their waste in it. There is private responsibility for common property, then, but a conflict of interest.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think anyone is consciously attempting this.
PPS - Yet.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Microsoft innovation

Microsoft's best "innovation" comes from panicked reactions to industry trends. People started installing Linux on tiny laptops that were too underpowered for Windows Vista, so we got Windows 7 with performance improvements. People started buying tablets instead of "real" computers, so we got Windows 8 and the Surface, designed for touch. Desktop users hated the Windows 8 tiled Start screen and mostly didn't have touch screen hardware, so we got Windows 8.1 Update that brings back a "classic" desktop look for mouse-and-keyboard users.

The lesson is, if you want something better from Microsoft, don't complain, just launch a product that starts to siphon away their revenue.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There may be more, given that this is a simplification.
PPS - It does feel this way, though.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Maybe I'll switch to Twitter

I'm considering moving away from Blogger to Twitter. I know they're not the same kind of thing, and I know they don't provide the same level of expression, but that's kind of the point. I'd like to learn to express my ideas more succinctly, and 140 characters is just the way to do that. I might set up an IFTTT recipe to post my tweets to Blogger, but that seems like a waste.

I always thought I'd keep blogging until I ran out of ideas to share. I didn't consider that, perhaps, I would run out of worthwhile ideas to share, then not really notice for a few months. That time may have come.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - At least for this week, I'm going to do both.
PPS - I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Single-beneficiary charities

When I hear about a charity set up to benefit exactly one person, I'm kind of conflicted. I appreciate that people have needs that aren't always met, and that charity is a good way to support those people, but it seems to me that a charity focusing on one solitary person might be too narrow. What happens if you are spectacularly successful at raising money to support yourself via charity, so that your new means far exceed your needs? I don't know how most of these super-focused charities handle that, but I expect some people would just say that's their good luck balancing the bad, and keep it. Some would hoard it just in case, for example, there's a relapse of cancer and more support is needed. The only ones I could respect would give it away to others in similar situations.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure how I would handle it, though.
PPS - I mean, for example, how can you tell in advance how much cancer treatment you'll need?

Friday, 2 May 2014

The roach motel content sharing model

The "walled garden" is the online model of the old days of AOL and Compuserve, back when your ISP tried to run every service you would ever need, without any external interaction. That's not how we do it these days, because that model, rightly, failed. These days we have a different kind of walled garden, which I call the "roach motel". Content checks in, but doesn't check out.

Think of Facebook. It is possible to pull in anything from any other website to share on Facebook. Videos, pictures, articles, you name it. What you can't do, however, is take what you saw embedded on Facebook and share it elsewhere. That's what every big service online wants to be these days. The gravity well towards which everything online flows. All roads lead to Rome, hail Caesar Zuckerberg.

My concern is that it seems to be working so far. I can't see the catastrophic failure at the end of the rainbow, and that bothers me. One day, you see, Facebook will go away, one way or another. If it is where we kept everything, then everything will disappear.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The only possible end I can imagine is a competitor just as big, stealing all the users.
PPS - That's not so much an end as a transition, and a very unlikely one.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Showbiz jealousy is a natural byproduct

I think jealousy in show business is a direct result of the that there are only so many jobs to go around. If someone else gets more attention, they get the gigs and you don't. Those circumstances are exactly what you'd set up if you wanted to turn someone into an attention-seeking jealous monster, because now that's practically their job description.

Can we regain the human goodness in those circumstances? Can we have "show friendliness" rather than "show business"? Probably not, as long as there is limited money to go around, and money is always limited, one way or another.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I couldn't make a living in Hollywood.
PPS - I'd love to act, but I wouldn't handle being a celebrity.