Friday, 27 February 2015

The problem with prison

Before our morality fully develops, we picture prison as a place where bad people go to be punished. We don't want prison to be a comfortable or nice place, because it's for bad people. A lot of people never really grow out of that mental image.

The problem with prison, to me, is that criminals are a drain on society whether they're in prison or out. Economically, the best result of prison sentences should be rehabilitation - turning criminals into non-criminals. That doesn't happen automatically, and it doesn't work on everyone, but it should definitely be the goal. Otherwise, we're losing to criminal enterprises on the outside, or we're paying a large amount to keep criminals locked up. If we can, instead, vastly reduce the rate of reoffences, we'll start seeing some economic benefit. It will take a lot of time for society to change its collective mind about criminals, but if we can view prison as more of a hospital for criminal minds, rather than a dark pit we put people we'd rather not deal with, that will be a start.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are probably fewer criminals unable to be rehabilitated than you think.
PPS - Or I'm a naive optimist.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Don't pre-reject your work

I read Chuck Wendig's (typically profanity-ridden) rant about "pre-rejection" which is what I've been doing to, well, everything I write, basically. Except the flash fiction I vomited straight to the web that one year when I was actually writing. I've been stowing away my pieces because they're "not good enough".

Well, Chuck would have some harsh words to say about that, and I really need to listen. The point is, I've got a couple of pieces I'm sitting on because I've pre-rejected them and I've decided they don't belong out in the world for whatever reason. It was some time ago that I promised to start submitting to real publishers, and it's high time I lived up to that promise, starting as soon as possible.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that story I actually sold still hasn't run.
PPS - I'm kind of starting to think it won't, which is a demoralising thing to happen to your first sale.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Diversifying Hollywood

Hollywood may need to start doing more with less in the future. Putting all their eggs in very few baskets of the "traditional" Summer blockbuster is going to prove a more and more risky proposition until all we get year to year are endless Transformers sequels, cut and pasted from previous scripts. Sooner or later, someone will stumble onto the obvious idea of diversifying their portfolio, figuring out how to make better movies for less money or just making a wider variety of movies.

I think, in general, the days of the behemoth movie companies are numbered. When they collapse, there will be a lot of creative people with nothing to do, but a love of movies and visual entertainment. Those people will probably start making lots of smaller movies on shoestring budgets and putting them online.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For some people, that's probably all they can do, and so they did.
PPS - And I'm glad for it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I assume all calls are scams

If you as a company are initiating a customer call, it should be standard practice to identify yourself first. Otherwise the call comes to the customer and basically goes:

"Hi, this is 'Robert' from Telstra, can I please have your full name and date of birth to verify your identity?"

Your immediate answer should be "What? No, sorry, I have no way of knowing you're really from Telstra."

Unfortunately, at that point, you run into a bit of an impasse. The customer shouldn't divulge any information over the phone until he or she is satisfied they're talking to the real company. The company shouln't offer customer information over the phone until they're sure they're talking to the real customer.

The only way I can see this going well is for the company to call the customer and ask them to call back on a publicly-listed customer service number to complete the call. That way, the customer starts with reasonable confidence that they're talking to the right company, and the company can ask for identity confirmation. Unsolicited calls, unfortunately, need to start with a high level of distrust, because scam callers have broken the whole industry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I tend to do just as the title says.
PPS - It makes receiving calls awkward, but more secure.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Google robot cars to update street view?

I wonder if Google's robot cars are expected to update Google Street View more or less non-stop. That would be a pretty big advantage for the company, to have up-to-the-day visual data on city streets, but it could also raise some privacy concerns. Right now, Street View is updated at intervals of a few years, in Australia at least. That's at the level where getting caught on Street View is kind of a novelty and something you might even aim for. If, however, there are Street View captures every single day in some places, then you're more likely to consider it a bit of an invasion. You don't want to get caught on Street View every single day on your way to work. You don't want the only "safe" place to be inside the car itself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It puts us under surveillance.
PPS - So do security cameras, but those results aren't just available to everyone.

Friday, 20 February 2015

The internet is confronting

The internet brought together all people, whether they wanted to be together or not. It challenged old racist and sexist stereotypes by having actual, accidental contact between awful people and the people they despised or misunderstood. By this process, it raised the hackles of those awful people, and their first-generation response is to unionise their awfulness, banding together to reinforce their old ideas to each other and convince themselves that the world is wrong, not them.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't think that will be the response forever, though.
PPS - I mean, I hope so.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

We know the supervillain wanted to get caught

At this point in our superhero movie and TV history, it is reasonable to assume that the villains want to get caught as part of their plan, and that the heroes should definitely plan to do something different to counteract that. If the villain assumes he or she will be caught and will be interred somewhere specific, change that arrangement. Move the facility, audit the security, chain them to a post in the ground in the middle of the desert, anything but the flimsy cell in the middle of the police station or even the standard supervillain prison where all his/her friends are kept, even if that's in specially-designed, isolated cells.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the new common sense.
PPS - Which means it's time the trope was subverted.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

An easier home dishwasher

Unloading a dishwasher can be a pain, and, a lot of the time, it feels really unnecessary. Why go unloading it if the dirty dishes are just going right back in afterwards? Why not just have dishwaser drawers everywhere and, when they're dirty, just run them and the dishes are clean again.

Well, the first problem with that is expense, of course. If every drawer is a dishwasher, then every drawer is as expensive as a dishwasher, too. Instead, I think the best idea is to model your dishwasher setup after commercial kitchens. The dishwasher there is a pull-down square hood that you load and unload with heavy plastic sliding trays of whatever you want. So you have one dishwasher and a lot of trays, and you just put the trays away in your cupboards when they're washed. A little drainage for the runoff and you're set.

Now, your kitchen might start looking a lot more industrial than you'd like, but for some people who prefer function over fashion, I think this is exactly the kind of solution they need.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've been mulling this one over for a while, since my brother-in-law expressed a desire for the dishwasher drawer design.
PPS - It's still very much a first-world problem, especially since the solution will run into several thousands of dollars.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Preventing HIV infection with drugs

Apparently there was a study recently on a potential HIV-preventative drug that found it could be up to 90% effective for preventing new infections if taken daily. However, a very large number of the participants who were given the drug to take daily during the study failed to do so, and some contracted HIV as a result. Despite this, the scientists were able to create a statistical model based on the amount of the drug present in blood samples in the trial group.

So here's my question. You (hypothetically) have been identified as an individual at risk of HIV infection due to your lifestyle, and you agree to participate in a drug trial for the prevention of that fatal infection. You are provided with the drug for free, plus education on how to reduce your risk of infection via other means, then you go home, go out, neglect to take the potentially life-saving drug, engage in exactly the same risky behaviours as before and get HIV. You will now die.

I'm stunned by this. Really. If I were the scientist administering the study, the first person in the trial group who showed no detectable levels of the drug in their system plus an HIV infection would have gotten a sharp dope-slap to the head. The second person maybe a disapproving glare. From the third onwards, a resigned sigh.

The only thing I can think is that these people are so hopelessly lost to themselves that they didn't see the point in trying to prevent infection and prolonging their lives anyway. And now that I've come to that realisation, it makes me sad. To think that there are people so lost and hopeless in the world that they don't really care if they live or die. It's heartbreaking.

Please, if you're prescribed life-saving medication because your doctor thinks it's a good idea, even if you're too depressed to care if it works, please take it. Please. It would be a tragedy to the world if you were to die, as much as it is a tragedy for anyone else to die.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, it's either depression or the "it's treatable" mindset.
PPS - Treatment should be a last resort. An ounce of prevention, etc.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The coffee cups on TV are empty

I hate being able to tell that the coffee cups on screen in a TV show or movie are empty. Actors come in carrying two in one hand at odd angles, set them down quickly and heavily, someone else picks one up and tilts it almost horizontal to sip from it when it's supposed to be fresh and new. It's just a detail I notice that pulls me out of the action and says "this thing you're watching is fake".

The thing is, the fix is super-easy: fill them with water. For any other beverage container - a wine glass, a regular drinking glass, a bottle of water - directors or props people put something in them. For some reason coffee cups are immune to this treatment and are carried empty. No doubt it saves them several seconds of preparation and avoids spills, but I think the main motivation is "it won't be visible, so don't bother". And they're probably stretched pretty thin already to bother with details like this. Still, if I were in charge, I'd make sure the coffee cups were filled, because it's a pet peeve of mine.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Perhaps some props people do fill the cups.
PPS - And perhaps I never noticed those because it looked normal.

Friday, 13 February 2015

How to fall in love

I read an article about a scientific formula for falling in love, and it got me thinking. Basically it's a guided discussion comprising 36 "get to know you" type questions, followed by 4 minutes of constant eye contact. What I wondered was how much of this you could sort of weaponise and deploy against an unsuspecting person if they weren't playing along. Several of the questions ask for each partner to share something in turn, such as a positive observation about their partner, which you might not be able to do to a person who wasn't knowingly participating, and the uninterrupted eye contact would be hard to pull off on someone unsuspecting. Still, some parts could definitely work.

The catch is that this isn't designed to elicit one-way affection. The method is designed to pull two people close in mutual affection, so attempting to use this as a way to just get laid will only work if you're a psychopath.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll be trying this my wife for Valentine's Day.
PPS - I might let you know how it goes.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Swatting is a trust issue

Swatting - the practise of calling in fake anonymous tips to the police to get someone's house raided by a SWAT team - is a security issue, at its core, because it hinges on an abuse of implicit trust. The police trust that an anonymous tip is completely genuine and so urgent that they can't delay acting on it. That trust should not be so easily manipulated. By all means, act on anonymous tips, but it needs to take more than "I'm not telling you who I am but there are guns and drugs at this address and they know you're coming". Maybe send someone around to look the place over first, or quickly check whether the area has seen any bad activity lately. Don't just rush off at the first hint of a chance to use your ex-military tanks and grenade launchers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We do still need the ability to call in anonymous tips, though.
PPS - I just think the police need to be more careful with them.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

You're allowed to correct your outdated trivia game cards

If you play trivia games, you know that sometimes the answers can get outdated, such as "Which movie holds the record for the most Oscar nominations?", depending on when the game was published. People become angry or discouraged at such outdated answers, but why not correct them yourself? You don't need the publisher to produce a whole new version just for you. If you know the answer is wrong now, you could break out a label printer and just stick the right answer on the card, over the old one. Would that be so bad? Yes, you'd be "defacing" the game, but would you rather have a game card that's pristine and wrong, or one that's right?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Somehow it gains more weight when someone else prints things for you.
PPS - I can see this becoming less of a hangup in the future.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Lame Facebook quizzes

Sometimes I look at the ridiculous online quiz results people post to Facebook and roll my eyes. "What's your old-person name?" "How weird are you?" "Which 90s sitcom hairstyle are you?" Most of them seem lame and absurd, certainly not worth my time and very likely not worth anyone else's time either.

However, despite my disdain for them, I won't put anyone down for posting them, because I think they serve another purpose, too: introspection. These days, we spend far too little time thinking about and observing our own behaviour critically. We just kind of let it happen and tell people it's their problem if they don't find us acceptable. These quizzes are the only introspection some people get, and the only hint that they might not be perfect - that there might be some room for improvement in their lives.

From that point of view, I consider it a good thing that lame Facebook quizzes exist. Even though it's done somewhat in public, it encourages the kind of private, critical self-reflection that is so rare in the world these days.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I still won't take any of them myself.
PPS - Well, hardly ever.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Mental health

We talk about mental health and mental illness quite often these days. Is it taking the metaphor too far to say we should practise good mental nutrition and get plenty of mental exercise? Well, whether or not it stretches the metaphor, I think the mental equivalent of eating junk food and sitting still all day is bound to catch up with you, one way or another.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Probably not with a serious mental illness, though.
PPS - Just mental laziness.

Friday, 6 February 2015

I'm not a fan of horror

I'm not a big fan of horror in general, but I think it's modern horror in general that I have a problem with. See, old-school horror wanted to scare you with monsters or aliens - things that aren't real - and let you get on with your life afterwards. You get a good scare, but you can let it go because it is so clearly fiction that it doesn't really stick with you. Modern horror, on the other hand, wants to be completely plausible, get right down there inside your head and settle in for the rest of your natural life, burning in the impression that, with just a tiny little push, your life could be precisely this horrifying, not even kidding a little bit. Old-school horror wanted to give your heart a little shot of adrenaline. Modern horror wants you to have PTSD. Forever.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Oh, and the authors are really good at it, too.
PPS - I suppose I could desensitise myself, but that seems like a lot of work for a small payoff.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

3D printing out-of-production materials

Perhaps one of the big advantages for 3D printing technology as it becomes more common will be the ability to reproduce old things - materials and objects that have been destroyed or are no longer in production. For example, we had some yellow textured glass in our patio in the home where I grew up. About two decades after the house was built, someone threw a rock through two panels of that glass. We were unable to find an exact replacement and instead settled for a pretty close match. With more advanced manufacturing technology, we might have been able to have an exact match produced fairly easily. The same would go for tiles.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For books produced these days, "out of print" is an absurd notion.
PPS - When that happens to physical objects, too, the world will quietly change again.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A la carte TV subscription is not what we envisioned

We are sort of beginning to get a-la-carte pay TV, where you can choose just the channels you want from a wide selection, but it's not quite what I imagined or hoped for. What I imagined was one service (though multiple competing services would be better) with a wide range of channel selections available and the ability to choose only those you want to pay for, not to be forced to buy them in bundles.

What we are beginning to see now are many individual online services - Netflix, Quickflix, Hulu - with different exclusive content each, making them the equivalent of the "channels" of traditional pay TV. Each one has its own subscription costs, which means you're paying individually for the particular shows you desire. So there we are, paying for individual "channels" based on the content we want. It's just a much more disjointed and unsatisfying experience than what we want as consumers.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And consumer desires tend to be at odds with company desires for profit.
PPS - Which is basically an explanation for the entire entertainment industry.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Positive speaking

I have a theory that how we talk about situations, objects and people to each other and to ourselves affects the way we perceive those things. For instance, if you constantly refer to your phone as "this stupid thing", you're not going to develop a healthy relationship with it, are you? You'll be less patient with it and more eager to rid yourself of it, because it's not "my beautiful new phone" any more, just "this stupid thing". It's much easier to attach more negative epithets to "this stupid thing" even than to "my phone". "This stupid thing" can easily turn into "this stupid, slow, ugly thing" and retain those associations for a long time.

I'm not sure what the process of cause and effect is, and it could easily be that the negative associations latch on and cause the insulting name rather than the name causing negative associations, but the point when you assign a negative name must come with some baggage, one way or another.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do try not to do this myself.
PPS - It's harder than you think, sometimes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

How to punish financial crime

The punishment for financial crime should be the surrendering of your entire net worth, right down to the bone, with a 10% "finder's fee" allocated to the auditor (or whoever) that discovers the fraud (or whatever). The beautiful part is that this becomes a self-policing system. If you, as an investigator, are tempted to look the other way for a bribe, you become the very type of person the other regulators are chasing, and you risk your entire fortune as a result. If you manage to hide your assets under some other person's name, you make them an accomplice and they forfeit everything, too.

It doesn't even have to act as a deterrent, because you'd be systematically stripping the corrupt of their hard-stolen cash and at the very least forcing them to start over while the government finally gets all the taxes they've dodged over the years and then some. Everyone wins except the people who defrauded the system. And their dependents, actually, I suppose. Still, with the government suddenly coming into these huge piles of cash, there should be plenty to allocate to welfare systems.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might be hard to get at the cash if it's in offshore banks.
PPS - And this might be kind of extreme, but we're in extreme wealth disparity right now.