Monday, 31 August 2015

Enough time

Does it ever get to you, that there's never enough time for anything? There's so much to do in life and no matter how much you do, or how fastidiously you focus on your passions, you will never stay afloat. You will never read all of the books, see all the movies, watch all the TV, paint all the beauty you see or tell all the stories you are dying to tell. You are always running out of time, and that's the saddest thing I know about the world. Well, one of the sad things that is, at least, universal. Rich or poor, we all have only the same number of minutes in the day.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I never feel like there's enough time.
PPS - Which is why my chosen superpower would be super-speed or else freezing time.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Revoking access

Access revocation is impossible if you give up everything right away. There's no such thing as decryption that stops working after a certain time. If someone has the keys, the ciphertext and the decryption method, you've given up all control. The only place that access revocation can mean anything is for ongoing services that can't be copied and require a live server to provide. Compare movies to games. If you have a DVD that's encrypted, and it gets decrypted every time you watch it, it can be copied and you can watch it from then on in any format you like, at any time you like, on any device you like, because you've got the decrypted form and it can be copied perfectly. It makes no difference at that point if the DVD publisher puts out an update to their players that says "don't decrypt this movie any more", because the copy is already made.

Conversely, if you need server access to play a certain game, then one day that server won't let you in any more, you can't do anything about it. The previous games you've played don't do you any good. They're over. Backups, news, and social media are like that, because you need access or new content to use them. Your old backups aren't good enough if your provider refuses access. Gradually stagnating news isn't any good except as a historical reference.

Access to books, music and movies, however, is like the first case. Once that genie is out of the bottle, that's it. You can't stuff it back in. If you've got a closed system like the Kindle you can reach out and revoke copies of books, but if the DRM has been broken (which is very different to breaking encryption) and a copy already taken, it doesn't matter.

Key revocation would require the universe to have the property that I can tell you a secret that is only knowable for a specified time, or whose use is, in some way, dependent on a secret I didn't tell you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That can't actually happen, as far as I can see.
PPS - Granted, these things don't always make sense to me.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

I would time-travel back to university

The one time in my life that I might go back and try again would be university. As with most of my life, I never made enough effort to socialise, but with uni there were so many rich opportunities for it that I missed. I could have lived on campus and learned a lot of life lessons that way. I could have spent more time with fellow students if I didn't have to spend an hour each way on the bus, too, and that would put me in (or near) the city by default on weekends, along with every other on-campus student.

Also, knowing what I do now, I would start applying for graduate job positions in the middle of my final year, rather than spend two years unemployed after graduation. Those are my university regrets: I studied too hard and didn't get out enough. I got really good grades, though! ... which left me unemployed for two years after graduating.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That might also have been because I graduated when the .com bubble burst.
PPS - Also, I couldn't have afforded on-campus or even near-campus student housing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Grand gestures

Kids, take note. I'm gonna smack some middle-aged wisdom down on your heads. Are you ready? Too bad.

If you love someone, but they don't know you exist, a big, grand, public gesture declaring your love is about the worst thing you could possibly do. You may have been getting mixed messages about this. In some TV shows and movies, it works out really well, especially in those proposal videos you've seen on YouTube. In other shows and movies, it doesn't work out so well, and everyone is embarrassed. That's the realistic one. The proposal videos are a special case, because you'll note those people have been dating for long enough that it makes sense for them. If you're trying to get someone's attention out of nowhere, grand gestures are not the way.

The flip side of this is that it's all going to fade away anyhow. When you get embarrassed like that, rest assured it will pass. In a few years, as long as you don't let that embarrassment define you, you'll laugh about it with your university friends, your spouse, your kids. Your life is most definitely not over.

The take-home message is this: if you're thinking of making a grand public declaration of love to someone who doesn't know you exist, here's what to do: go home, lock yourself in your room, think about something else - anything else - and don't come out until you stop feeling that urge.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is not much use as advice to young me.
PPS - Young me barely had the courage to daydream about this, let alone attempt a grand gesture.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Anti-Mid-Century Modern

In contrast to "Mid-Century Modern" architecture, which seems almost designed to kill children in accidents (indoor reflecting pools, open spaces and levels, no handrails anywhere), what would architecture look like if it were designed to coddle and protect children even from themselves? My best guess is single-level homes, waist-high railings, gates and doors everywhere, every surface rounded and padded, (but not carpeted, because kids spill things) and nothing installed below shoulder-height. That would start looking pretty odd, is my guess, like someone built to one style up halfway, then another style from there up, for the adult headspace. Some of it, especially in the kitchen, would make the house a lot more dangerous and inconvenient for adults, too. Anything that could potentially damage a child would have to be done at height, and that introduces a secondary risk of dropping something on the child or of being preoccupied up high and failing to see the child down low. Is that a trade-off we must make at some point? Safe for kids is always going to be a bit inconvenient for adults, but when it gets downright dangerous for adults, we should draw the line.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - This is, quite often, what I think about.
PPS - Though, thankfully, not everything I think about.

Monday, 24 August 2015


Occasionally, I refer to myself as "broken", but I don't mean it in the severe way most people seem to perceive it. My mental image is not like a shattered vase, impossible to repair or, even if it were, full of holes and obvious glue lines. It's more like a bruise - a bit damaged, though not too severe, and quite capable of healing.

I think we're all a little bit damaged like that. Nobody's perfect, and nobody gets through life without scars. That's just how it goes. It's nothing to be ashamed of, nor, quite often, anything to even worry about. It's part of the process we all go through to learn how to live. It is my particular scars that make me unique.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, to deal with other people's issues, I need to be at least aware of my own issues.
PPS - Preferably, I'd deal with them completely in that case.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Choice exhaustion

Perhaps part of my exhaustion with modern life is seeing big corporations getting bigger and more powerful, screwing over their customers and employees, all the while making their product and service offerings more confusing and harder to choose between.

That's a big thing, the problem of choice. I don't find myself subject to analysis paralysis most of the time, though - if I'm given a few clear choices, I'll decide rather quickly and easily. It's when the different features don't directly compare that the problems start. If I'm trying to choose between laptops, one of which offers a touch screen and reversible hinge while the other is much cheaper, has a larger screen and a more powerful battery, what am I choosing between? Even if I know which features are most important to me, they won't all be on a single model, which means everything I do, all day long, is a compromise and a disappointment.

That's draining, long-term. It's oppressive. Even with a pretty good life, it can easily feel like everything is disappointing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Not always, just most of the time.
PPS - Which is enough.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

On, by Adam Roberts

I recently finished reading a book called "On", by Adam Roberts. The concept itself intrigued me: what if the world was a tremendous vertical wall, and its inhabitants clung to life on the ledges and crags? It's a high concept, and a fascinating one, and Roberts does a good job of developing a lot of this world, as well as (eventually) backing it up with an explanation of how such a world came to be.

The book follows the adventures of a boy called Tighe, who falls off the world from his home village and travels far, learning the mysteries of the world wall. In this, the book does not disappoint. We get to see rather a lot of the world wall and learn a good deal about its inhabitants, very few of whom, it seems, are pleasant, well-adjusted people.

The problem, for me, was that the ending was too abrupt and was far from the inevitable conclusion it felt like it should have been. Tighe's travels seem somewhat aimless, too. By the end, I wondered what it had all been for, except to speculate on a world turned sideways. So, my final assessment is somewhat mixed. I enjoyed the concept, and the story was told well enough, but the ending made me feel that the whole enterprise was futile.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I looked up some other books by Roberts, but I won't be reading them.
PPS - High concepts aside, I need to enjoy the story, too.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Misleading assumptions

How do you deal with a person who has asked a misleading question, but does not want to be corrected? Not just in the courtroom sense of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" but a question based on some erroneous assumption that renders an answer impossible or meaningless. I mean, I try not to correct people, in part because it's annoying to them, and in part because I might just be wrong. Still, I guess when that situation comes up, you kind of have to refuse to answer the way they want.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As nicely as possible.
PPS - Or not, depending on the situation.

Just be kind

All I want from the world is for everyone to be kind to everyone else - especially to me. This is probably the basis of my pathological attention-seeking behaviour of inciting pity. When people pity you, they treat you kindly. From that point of view, I'd rather have a severe mental illness and be treated kindly for it than to be fully mentally healthy but have any mistakes count very harshly against me.

I want the world to be kind. Can we just do that?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I try to be kind in all circumstances.
PPS - Maybe this isn't the best move, but I prefer the world to be kind.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Edited fandom

Most people who claim to love the Lord of the Rings books actually don't love the books J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. They love a version they constructed themselves by removing all of the songs and poetry.

There are other books and movies subject to this kind of fandom-consensus editing, too. Many people reject the Matrix sequels, or the Star Wars prequels. So the question is: how much of a right do we have, as an audience, to "edit" what we consume?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That probably depends whether you ask artists or non-artists.
PPS - And probably varies between artists, and on whether those artists do remixes and mash-ups.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Shut Up and Dance With Me

"She took my arm,
I don't know how it happened,
We took the floor and she said
Oh don't you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me,
I said you're holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me."
Shut Up and Dance With Me, Walk The Moon.

It's presented in a very upbeat song, but the more I think about it, the more this sounds like one awkward young guy in a club who was being laughed at behind his back, and the kind, energetic girl who made a point of dancing with him so that he would never know. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The next lyric about her being his destiny just adds to the heartbreak.
PPS - But maybe all this is just me projecting onto the lyrics anyway.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Your data on someone else's server is not secure

"Keeping your data private on Facebook" is kind of an oxymoron, but it's still nice that they let us play pretend with their security settings. Just remember that data you don't control is insecure by definition, and data on someone else's server (which is just about everything on the internet) is not under your control, no matter how much they might say it is.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, expect that every server that lives long enough will get hacked.
PPS - This is not just a Facebook problem.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


To an extent, I think all questions of classification - that is either "what defines this type of thing?" or "is this thing a member of that category?" - are ultimately meaningless. Whenever you get too deep into one of these questions, you find out that all the particular questions, exceptions and qualities are fluid and difficult to pin down. Is this person gay? Well, people may be attracted to a broad range of other people, including males and females, with different intensity, although ultimately even their genders are more of a scale than a binary proposition, so what you're really asking is whether this person is attracted to other people of a significantly different outward gender expression than their own, and that's before you get into issues of transgenderism, particular sexual behaviour preferences and changes to all of those things over a lifetime or the other factors that contribute to attraction and have nothing to do with gender at all.

And that's just one question of many types of classification questions that may, ultimately, be too vaguely-defined to even answer. The problem is that we like easy answers, dichotomies and being correct. When there is no "correct" because the question is based on wrong assumptions, we need to let go of those assumptions.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Of course, this makes the world a much more confusing place.
PPS - As is the case with a deeper understanding of anything, really.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

3D models for shopping online

If you're buying something online, you know what might help? A digital 3D model file, to scale. That way, if you have questions about the dimensions of the object, you can measure it any way you like, inside the computer, as if you had the physical item with you, more or less. Or if you prefer physical objects to check, say, whether a particular toaster will sit on your kitchen bench easily (and you have access to a 3D printer) you could print out a model to test the fit in real space. I think this might easily be a feature of online shopping in the future, at least for some items.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Obviously it wouldn't work for clothes.
PPS - And a rough paper cutout model would be more accessible for most people.

Monday, 10 August 2015

My new notes program

I've been working in my lab on something new, or a new version of something old. First, of course, I need to give you some background.

I have a note-taking program I use every day that saves text files to Dropbox, based on hashtags I supply for each note. I also have several computers, some of which are offline sometimes, because I write on the train or have no internet access at work or just haven't switched on my desktop in a day or two. All of this combines to cause problems with the text files - namely, conflicting edits. Dropbox helpfully preserves each copy of the file and I can usually mash them back together again, but sometimes I can't, or it's a lot of work.

So I've written a new version of my note-taking program that doesn't suffer these problems. It uses a design called event sourcing which means that, instead of writing the text files directly, I write a record of the events and actions that occurred, like making a new note, editing an old one, attaching tags and so on. What this means for the program is no more conflicts, or at least not the same kind. Each event is written to its own file with a unique generated name, so they never conflict when Dropbox synchronises. Everything is always perfectly and effortlessly preserved.

The down side is that I am no longer working with plain text files. I can't just open up a text editor and change an entry, or delete it. I need to go through the proper channels to make sure the event stream is preserved. For the sake of never having another conflicting edit in my text files, though, I think this might be worth it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's still in testing, but it's coming along very nicely. From the UI, you can hardly even tell that it's changed.
PPS - The library and pattern will be used on all my other similar programs from now on, too.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Comparing paths

Sometimes I compare my life to others, and of course this doesn't go well. The main point is this: I'm not really management material. I probably won't ever be supervising a team or running a project on my own. This feels wrong. It feels like someone at my stage in my career should really be starting to develop those management skills and moving up the ladder. The fact that I am not doing so, nor likely to do so in the future, fills me with shame.

But here's a recent realisation. There's the management track, where you gain a greater altitude and less involvement in the day-to-day work, knowing more and more about people and less and less about the details of how they do what they do. Then there's the craftsmanship track, where you just get better and better at what you do, down at the low levels, until you are well-recognised as skilled and a producer of quality work. When I get upset that I'm not on the management track, I need to remind myself that those guys have chosen to withdraw from one kind of work in order to do an entirely different kind - one in which I have no interest.

Now, this choice may backfire on me later in my career. Very few companies will want to hire me in a couple of decades as a 50-year-old developer who can't manage a project on his own and can barely mentor anyone else. Still, it's the path I've got, and I enjoy being here. That's what counts.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's the right path for me.
PPS - At least for now.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Planning for when you get hacked

If you're a business of any decent size, then you have servers for your computer networks. If you are following good practices, you have backup and restoration plans for them - maybe even disaster recovery plans, in the unlikely event that the entire server room catches fire one day. However, something that seems increasingly clear to me is that you should be planning for the day you get hacked.

If your servers are internet-accessible (and, for some businesses, their entire business model hinges on this) then you will be hacked one day. Passwords, credit cards, personal details - all of this data is vulnerable and enticing to hackers. What's more, no matter what your security practices are, your operating systems and firewalls won't prevent 100% of attacks. So you will definitely get hacked - it's not a matter of "if" but "when", and it will do serious damage to your company's image and reputation, not to mention the bottom line.

How can you plan for being hacked? Well, you need to take a hard look at everything that is on your servers and imagine that a criminal had full access to it. What could they get? What would it mean to them? Would you know they'd been in there? Starting from those observations, start locking it down. Remove everything non-essential. Encrypt the hell out of absolutely everything else. Make sure that, when (not "if", remember) someone gets into your server, all they find is a minimalist database containing values only meaningful to your company, all locked up with encryption so tight that it would take until the heat death of the universe to crack open.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Well, maybe not that strong.
PPS - Maybe aim for "strong enough that cracking it is not worth it".

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Rodeo safety

I've been to a couple of small, local rodeos in the past couple of years, and I've seen several cowboys hurt rather badly. It's always a worrying time with the paramedics huddled around, making sure this person is at least okay to move out of the arena. The announcers always have to fill in the time and distract from the accident scene, and they always make sure to say that, of course, this is part of the risk of the sport.

What I haven't seen is a lot of helmets and body armour. My best guess is that this is a machismo issue. If you believe yourself to be tough enough to ride a bull, why would you need a helmet? Or if none of the other guys wear helmets, why would you do so? Do you want to be the only wimp who needs armour to protect himself when sitting on top of a 500kg mad bull? The very same bull who, minutes earlier, gave someone a concussion and broke someone else's ribs?

My guess is that protective equipment will, in fact, become more common, as it has in other sports. Even when I was a kid, you wouldn't see cricketers going to bat wearing a helmet, but these days you won't see a single one without it. You'd be crazy to face down a hard ball coming in that fast with an unpredictable bounce that is, quite regularly, aimed at your head.

That's a ball. You can see it coming. It can still kill you, as has been proven, but it's still a small ball and the bowler might want to scare you, but doesn't want to kill you. A bull may be just one letter away, but it's heavy, its hooves are just as fast as a cricket ball, it's less predictable, you spend a lot more time a lot closer to it and it has a temper. So, in brief: rodeo cowboys need to wear helmets and body armour. Come on, guys. You're not riding kittens out there. Those bulls often want to kill you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It might just be our very small, local rodeos where protective equipment is uncommon.
PPS - And it may be that "rodeo safety" is another oxymoron.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

When the well runs dry

I wonder sometimes why life has to be so hard. It just seems, some days, like the littlest things, like picking up little bits of rubbish around the house, washing dishes, the endless mountain of laundry, is just too much to manage. Those days, I feel like I'm on the verge of a mental breakdown, which is ridiculous, because this is just freaking laundry man. It takes minutes to load the machine and minutes to hang out. How can that get on top of me? So I dig into some reserve and I just get through it.

But I worry that reserve is going to run out one day. One day I'll just curl up on the ground and stop dealing with life because it's so much easier that way. And it is easier, but it's not fair to anyone else. Dig deep, get through that as well.

Days like that, I feel like it's better that I don't have kids. If I can't handle laundry on a bad day, I'm not going to raise a well-adjusted child who knows how to deal with life, am I? If I'm huddled in the corner, rocking back and forth, unable to deal with life as it comes up, let alone in the crisis moments, then no matter how much I might love my hypothetical kids, I'm not going to be doing right by them, am I?

I can picture the parents responding to this, now. "You just get through it, because you have to. You won't know your strength until it's tested, and you'll get it done. You will." I don't know about that. There are moments when I feel myself just detach and start to slip away. Dig deep, pull it back, don't quit on me yet. It would be so easy, though, to stop swimming upstream. To reject the way the world rewards hard work and endurance with a heavier load and just say to hell with it, I'm done. I'm not dealing with your problems any more, world. You can keep the struggle, the constant change, the barely-above-water feeling of existence and shove it deep in whatever dark hole you can find. I'm just done getting through it and surviving. I want to enjoy life, not feel like I'm just barely managing to keep it from crushing me.

Dig deep. Power on. No time for self-pity here. People depend on me. Dig deep and pray that the well won't run dry.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Or maybe this is just burn-out.
PPS - I haven't taken any days off in a year.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Fire escape slide?

Could really tall buildings provide a fire escape slide instead of the usual stairs? I wouldn't want to evacuate down 50 flights of concrete steps if I were in a hurry. I expect it would be a major selling point, too. The real-estate agent would bring you up, give you a tour of the place, then say "And here's the fire escape! Whee!" and you all slide down to the ground floor where your kids bug you until you buy the unit.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's probably impractical, in the end.
PPS - And a pain to clean and maintain.