Monday, 30 June 2014

Cooking is very complex art

Cooking shows always impress upon me how particular a craft it is. You have to produce a meal in a limited amount of time (or else everyone goes hungry) and it has to appeal to your senses of taste, touch (texture), smell and sight. Both of these requirements make cooking far more challenging than any other art form. Painting can take as long as you want and only has to look good. Ice sculpture has to happen in a short time, and it has to look good, but probably doesn't have to feel nice and definitely doesn't have to taste or smell nice. A performance - dance, singing or acting - has to happen in one go, but again only has to appeal to one or two senses.

You get the idea. If anyone can think of another art form or craft as demanding as cooking, I'd be very interested to hear about it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My cooking couldn't be described as "art".
PPS - Unless you're being very charitable.

Friday, 27 June 2014

A reverse-secret society

I "started" a reverse secret society as a joke, whose membership consists of everyone who hasn't heard of it yet. It's so secret that its own members don't even know it exists. Congratulations on your excommunication! You are now a non-member of "The Ignoramii". That name was suggested by one of the first non-members on the original Facebook post that exposed (and therefore began shrinking) the membership from "everyone in the world" to "everyone but a few of my closest friends". And now to "everyone but the readers of my blog, too". It's like Godel's Incompleteness Theorem applied to secret societies.

It's just a silly, strange joke, of course, but it makes me laugh. For instance, can I be said to have created it, since, by the time I made it up, I was no longer a member? Maybe I'm more like the "discoverer". Does that suggested name have any validity at all, since it was also created by a non-member? There's no way back in (except, I suppose, amnesia) and no way for anyone to truly define anything about the society, either. Also, anyone outside the society can kick people out, but those inside can't invite anyone in.

It reminds me a bit of "Wonko the Sane" in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, who built his house inside-out and called it "Outside the Asylum", because he realised the world had gone insane. Also a bit like Futurama's "Voter Apathy Party" where you can only get in if you don't care enough to get in. I also like imagining the conversations it could bring up:

"Hey, what's it like being a member of the reverse-secret society?"
"The what?"
"The secret society where you're only a member until you hear about it."
"Huh. It was fine, I guess, until just now."
"Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry."

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You can try to submit your resignation to just about anyone you meet.
PPS - The problem is, once they try to accept it, they're out, too.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Returning to the golden age of air travel

There's a certain amount of nostalgic talk about the "golden age" of air travel, when airlines had style, seats had space and flying was a comfortable, pleasant luxury rather than a messy, smelly, exhausting, time-consuming, unreliable, scary affair.

You can still fly in the comfort and enjoyment of that time. You just need to buy a business-class ticket for 4 times the price of economy. Airlines are still willing to treat you like people rather than cattle, as long as you have money. And, oddly enough, business-class tickets are proportionally about as expensive as it was to fly in the "golden age", too. So what's really happened is that corners were cut and concessions were made in order to bring air travel within reach of a much larger market.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And cavity-search security. That happened, too.
PPS - You're also allowed to bypass that for money.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Anti-net-neutrality is just a denial of service attack

Here's an interesting way to illustrate the hypocrisy in the anti-net-neutrality debate. Feedly was recently hit by a DDoS attack, slowing down traffic and making the site unusable. The criminals behind the attack demanded money to make it stop.

Now, read that again, only substitute "Netflix" for "Feedly" and "Comcast throttling" for "DDoS attack". Both of these events are crimes (though I am not a lawyer, so don't take my word for that). One is being considered for legalisation in the USA. The only difference is that Feedly was able to solve the problem without paying up.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This kind of shennanigans has to stop.
PPS - I mean on both sides, but definitely on the cable company side first.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I miss sleepovers

You know what I miss? Sleepovers. It's weird, but sometimes I just long for a party weekend where it all just keeps going until everyone is too tired to stay up, then we all have breakfast together the following morning. I'm not sure what that says about me. Maybe it was just a good time in my life and I don't feel like it lasted long enough. Maybe I'm lonely since all my friends moved away or had kids and couldn't see us any more. Maybe I don't feel like I appreciated what I had at the time. I want to go back and tell my younger self to stay up later, say yes to new things, let people in, stop trying to be seen as the scary one. Maybe I wasn't ready to grow that much at that time. I don't know. I just know I miss it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some unfinished parts of my life I've been able to mourn.
PPS - This one is more of a puzzle.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Committees vs good ideas

During a recent sermon, one of my Facebook posts was quoted. The quote was:

"Committees are where good ideas go to die."

Hearing it out of someone else's mouth made me uncomfortable more than proud. It's a very negative saying, and it isn't completely true on its surface. Not every idea gets killed in committees, and not every committee is a death trap for good things. There are plenty of people in the world who serve on committees that do good, or at least do the best they can with the limited resources and information they have.

The problem is what we make of those other committees. The bigger they are, the slower they move. They'll be more likely to include someone who, for whatever reason, needs to have their mark on everything, and sometimes that means saying "no" to every possible idea until they have changed it significantly enough to be a contributor, even if the idea is already in its best possible form.

That's how committees kill ideas. Not through their nature, but through the nature of some of their members and their mass. More people means more potential anchors, which means less activity.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't sit on any regular committees.
PPS - Or any irregular ones, come to think of it.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Commonwealth bank security vs convenience

I've started to use the Commonwealth Bank mobile app for a lot of the little management tasks for my accounts, just because it lets me log in with a PIN instead of a username and password. It's much more convenient and faster than the website. Of course, it's also a bit more annoying to have to use the small touch screen than a mouse and keyboard, so it's a trade-off. So far, though, the convenience of the login is beating the usability of the computer desktop.

The desktop website is deliberately written to prevent any browser password manager from remembering your password. I don't memorise my passwords, myself, because they're stronger if they're unique, randomly-generated and long. For me, this makes its usability much lower.

I think, together, this says something about security and convenience, in that people will choose greater convenience over security when they can. I know I have.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Except for the complicated, unmemorisable passwords.
PPS - I've made sure to stick to that.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

DRM and ownership

I think we need to stop talking about being able to "own" media that is tied to a particular online distributor and locked up in DRM. I can't "own" a Kindle book if Amazon can forcibly unload it from my devices. I don't "own" TV shows if I can lose access to them because of a network outage or a business going bust. That's a service agreement, not ownership, so that's the way we should talk about it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't been able to keep myself from buying DRM-locked goods.
PPS - I don't consider any of those purchases really mine as long as they're under DRM.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

When solar power will become viable

The point at which solar power becomes economically viable is probably driven more by the rising cost of fossil fuels rather than the slow and steady advances in efficiency and affordability in solar power itself. At some point, those graph lines - the falling cost of solar and the rising cost of oil - are going to cross over, and that's when solar will start to become far more important to the primary energy production companies of Earth.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'd like it if solar were important to them already.
PPS - However, I think that misses the fact that money is their motivator, not environmental concern.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Understanding vs agreeing

The very idea of rational debate hinges on the notion that you can understand someone without agreeing with them. If the act of understanding someone automatically conferred agreement, then every informal debate would be over as soon as one person decided to examine another person's claims.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Conversely, you need to understand your opponent's points in order to argue them.
PPS - Otherwise we're just shouting at each other.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Gender-flip to understand gender issues

If you have to gender-flip something to understand why it's so bad, then go ahead and do it. It still says something is fundamentally broken with our society, though. We can't see injustice unless it's personalised to our point of view, but if it gets the job done, I think it's worth doing.

And if you gender-flip some gender-based social justice issue and it still sounds like it's not a big deal, there's only one real possibility: you haven't understood what you're looking at.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This post pretty much inspired by this series of gender-flipped Tomb Raider images.
PPS - They're kind of ridiculous, in the best possible way.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Late communication

Late communication with support staff (I'm thinking IT support in particular, because that's my area of experience) leads to poorer service. It's not because they're bad at their jobs - far from it, in most cases - but when you only call them at the point where it's last-minute urgent, they can't set priorities in their work. They have to drop everything and focus on you, and then focus on the next catastrophe and so on. It leaves no time to keep the system as a whole in working order. It also means that your service is going to remain in its worst possible, barely-functional state at all times, because none of the issues are going to get fixed until the last minute.

I see it in software development, too. Clients will sometimes withhold information on requirements until the last minute, either to avoid "overwhelming" the development team or to manage the sequence of development. Neither one works very well, because decisions can only be based on what is known so far, and sometimes a wildly different decision would be made with all the information up front. If a developer doesn't know that, for instance, the next requirement up from "get this working for one user" is "now make it work for my whole team", a decision may be made to work on a single-user-focused platform like Access rather than something suited to teams.

The lesson is to do as much communication as possible up front. That way, everyone knows what's coming, conflicts come up right away when they're cheapest to fix, priorities and plans can be set and everyone knows what everyone else is thinking. Even if you don't know what's coming, communicate what you can. I promise it will go better that way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Some things will still be missed, I know.
PPS - Mostly it's because some things seem obvious to one person and not to another.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Naked DSL internet is just as expensive as line rental plus ADSL

What I don't understand about naked DSL plans is that they all seem to be $20-$30 more than the equivalent regular ADSL plans, which is exactly how much you're supposed to be saving on line rental. For instance, on TPG, you have this:

ADSL2+ 100GB/month: $29.99
Naked DSL2+ 100GB/month: $49.99

That's the equivalent of a $20 line rental when Telstra charges $30. So you're not really saving all your line rental fees. Just a third. On iiNet it's this:

ADSL2+ 100GB/month: $29.95
Naked DSL2+ 100GB/month: $59.95

That's the full line rental fee you're not saving. The higher iiNet naked DSL plans are only $20 more than their equivalents, though, so that's the same $10 saving as TPG. The thing is, we were sold on these plans as a way to save your line rental fee, which makes sense as a concept, but if the fee is just built into the plan instead, that's broken. The only reason I'd do it is to avoid having a home phone, and I can do that anyway by not plugging one in.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's what I'm currently doing.
PPS - It worked out cheaper for me to do it that way.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Personal lock-out is kind of tricky

My step-sister has this exam-time ritual for staying off Facebook. She has someone else change her password, so when she wants to get on Facebook, she needs to go and ask that person to log her in. It involves a fair amount of trust on her part, but since her mum is her go-to gatekeeper, it's fairly safe. I know that there are browser extensions that can limit your time on websites - I use StayFocusd, myself - but I wondered whether there was any way you could lock something up and only let yourself back in at a specified time, without involving any self-discipline. Also, since this is a password situation, it would be better to avoid any insecure third-party systems like email delays.

Obviously you want to encrypt the password. That's a given, or else everything else is pointless. The trouble is, that doesn't get you anywhere on its own. The encryption needs a key, and if you need to get in later, then you need that key, so you'd better hold onto it. But now you're back where you started, trying to keep the encryption key secret from yourself until the designated time.

The only thing I can think of is encryption that's relatively breakable, but will take some time to crack. If you encrypt your Facebook password in a file with this encryption that will take, say, three hours of computer time (on your own PC) to unlock, that might work. Unfortunately, there's no actual way to predict exactly how long a crack will take. It might unlock on the first try, cutting 3 hours down to practically zero. In all likelihood, if it's going to take 3 hours to try everything, you'll probably get it done in half that time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess, if you encrypt the password, keep the key and then use a third-party delay system, that might work.
PPS - As long as you destroy all your local copies.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Monopolies and scope of choice

Monopolies affect the scope of choices you make, especially as they expand their interests. You can, say, choose not to register on Facebook, but at a certain point, that choice is synonymous with not keeping in touch with your friends. You can choose not to pay for the crappy service from one particular internet provider, assuming there is another competitor with better service. You can choose not to subscribe to this or that online video service, but that is also choosing to miss out on their exclusive content. You can choose, as an artist, not to list your music on iTunes or your books on Amazon, but you'll be cutting yourself off from 90% of sales. The more power an individual company has, the less free you are to choose not to do business with them, because that choice means more than boycotting one individual company. Often it means boycotting an entire line of business instead.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When you can't afford not to do business with someone, that's a problem.
PPS - Whether it's a monopoly or not.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Versatility or safety

Versatility is often in a trade-off relationship with safety and complexity. A stanley knife is versatile, but so difficult to use safely that they are banned by most safety-conscious organisations in favour of more specialised tools. Those tools, of course, form a more complex set than the old stanley knife, each with its own mode of use. They're more complex to use, they take up more space and it's harder to know, without training, which one is right for the job at hand.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When making the trade-off, always ask yourself which is more valuable: versatility or safety.
PPS - Sometimes, the risk is worth it.

Friday, 6 June 2014

I want a whole-home filing system

Cory Doctorow wrote about a theoretical home organisation system in Makers that was called "Home Aware". You get a lot of plastic tubs to put things away, they use RFID tags to recognise objects and a central database where item locations are tracked. He brushed aside the data entry requirements by saying that they'd have people come in and do it for you, over the course of a day or two. If you're looking for an item, you just ask the database and the right tub lights up. If you want to put something away, you just find a tub with enough space and do it. The RFID reports the item to the database and its location is updated. I would very much like to try that system out, even if it meant I had to keep tagging and adding new items as we buy them or as we put our existing stuff away.

What would be interesting would be the accumulation of metadata - what items come and go from which tubs most often, what hasn't moved in six months and might be worth selling or giving away. An item that's gone missing - not being seen in any tubs for a while - can be flagged so people can look out for it. You don't even have to do all the data entry yourself. You could tag new items quickly with a new RFID sticker and they can be registered and tracked until you have time to do the data entry later. If the tubs have cameras, they might be able to take adequate photos of new objects, too, to help. If you link the system up with your friends and family, not only could you search to see if there's something you can borrow or lend to them, but you could see if you left anything behind at their place when they put it away.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Frustratingly, I can't seem to find anyone talking about this or any similar home organisation systems online.
PPS - I thought I saw a reference to one some time ago, but I can't find it.

Thursday, 5 June 2014


Ninite is a great tool for getting a lot of software up and running quickly. I've used it a few times recently. I see three problems with it, though. One, there's no way to tell what the installer is configured for before running it. Two, there no way to exclude or include programs once it's created. Three, it doesn't have a huge range of software in its library. If you want a new program in your Ninite installer, you have to go back to, tick everything you had in the last one and anything new you want. If it changes again, you need another new installer which, as mentioned above, will give no indication what is inside it until it's running. I like Ninite as a quick start for a new system, or as a multi-update tool, but the best way I can see to use it is to go to the website every time, get a new installer and then discard it after it's done. And even when you do, you'll have to go elsewhere for some of your other software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's good that it avoids bundled toolbars and things.
PPS - And it's quick and painless, too, so there's that.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Money always seems to flow uphill

If most money is flowing from poor to rich, then most people are becoming poorer. Where does it end? My best guesses are dying in poverty, neo-slavery or revolution. Or massive financial collapse followed by economic reboot. That scenario probably ends up with the formerly-rich owning more land, goods and companies than ever before, just because they know how to take advantage of those situations. The only rich who would suffer much through the destruction of a whole currency are those with mainly virtual assets: the entire financial sector. Anyone who owns buildings, land, companies and in-demand goods would probably come out of it just fine, though they might suffer a bit in the short term.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - "Suffer" is, of course, a relative term.
PPS - As are "rich" and "poor".

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Mars One colonisation show directorial challenges

What are the Mars One team going to do to spice up the reality show funding the trip if it turns out to be rubbish? The way they normally cast reality shows like this is to put the loudest, most obnoxious, most insane people they can find in a tiny house and point the cameras at the carnage. When you put that same type of "TV-interesting" person in a tin can and fire them at another planet, waving goodbye forever, my bet is that exactly one of them arrives intact, smeared with the blood of his former crewmates, wearing their ears as a necklace. If you cast the reliable scientists who will get along and get the job done, by gum, then you'll have the most boring geology-focused reality show ever. So the best bet is probably to play it down the middle, choosing folk who are not completely crazy-town, but not mayonnaise-and-golf boring either.

Next problem. Sooner or later, someone is going to die on Mars, and that is a major bummer. Despite what all other TV has taught us, I don't think death would spice this one up. Instead, it would remind us of the mortality of all of our chosen reality-TV-nauts and we may cut ourselves off to save the pain.

One day, the ratings will slip. I mean, "Day 400 on Mars. Found some more red rocks." is not going to cut it. What do you do, then, as a producer of the show? Command someone to do something to spice things up? How? You are limited to asking politely from millions of kilometres away or sending a refresher crew to introduce something unknown. That's my guess. Once the ratings pay off, "season 2" is crew 2, on the way to Mars to expand the colony. Or, more likely, to form a separate faction and go to war with the old guard, because, seriously, screw those guys.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There has to be a self-sustaining tipping point we aim to reach.
PPS - At least before "Europa One" takes off.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Self esteem vs lovability

The modern cult of self esteem fails to answer the question: why am I valuable? Why am I significant? Why do I matter? We aim to raise children (and adults) who love themselves because it's the right thing to do, not because they are lovable in any way.

Try to be lovable. It will work out so much better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't know if I'm lovable.
PPS - I guess the test should be how many people love you. I haven't counted.