Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Spreadsheet vs database

I spend a fair amount of time handling problems that occur when the words "spreadsheet" and "database" are considered synonyms. Spreadsheets might be good for small ad-hoc data storage and analysis, but they're awful for the volumes and complexity of data we try to manage with them.

We have critical financial and project management information passed around by email in spreadsheets as if that is just how things should be. We could (and in my opinion should) be using proper databases with data type and format rules that help to keep the data clean. The reason we do not do so is that the step into a spreadsheet is very small, but the step from spreadsheet to database is huge. Everyone knows how to use a spreadsheet and the tools to do so are readily available in the office. The freedom they afford, however, comes at the price of accuracy.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I can't see a way to make databases as easy as spreadsheets.
PPS - Microsoft Access tries, though.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Garbage archaeology

Will our current rubbish landfills be of interest to anyone in the future? I can imagine that they might be either subjects of archaeology (determining the state of society by the waste it produces) or mining (harvesting materials that have become useful in the time between landfill and subsequent technological advancements). I can also imagine that landfills will be of no interest to a future society, them being too obsessed with their own present and their own problems to be concerned with our waste.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think there will always be historians interested in the past.
PPS - And those people will be motivated to dig for it.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

The Sunday Mok - A Ghost at the Juice Joint

Sunday - After church in the morning, Deb and I had Miv and Julia over for lunch, which was fun. After they left, we watched some Star Trek: The Next Generation before church in the evening and got some food at the Coffee Club afterwards.
Monday - I dozed on the bus because I was tired in the morning. I stayed just a few minutes too late to catch my usual bus, so I had to walk down past the train station. In the evening I ran the computer for Jane's commissioning service at the church and a few of us stayed around to chat for a while afterwards.
Tuesday - I was still carrying two phones around, waiting for my service to switch over. Anthony, Deb and I went to Dad and Beth's for Dad's birthday dinner and I forgot to bring his present. We read some Harry Potter before bed.
Wednesday - Both Deb and I woke at 02:00 and, strangely, both felt rather hungry. I worked trying to repair timesheet data for most of the day. Traffic was bad in the city, so I walked past it, but I would have done better staying put. Bible study in the evening, all about discipline.
Thursday - More attempts to repair timesheet data, but no luck. In the evening, Deb and I went to see The Simpsons Movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Friday - I attacked a few random tasks at work, including setting up a Customer Relations Management program for evaluation. At youth group in the evening, we roughed out a term plan, then played Zombies again. It went quicker with only four players, but we still didn't finish.
Saturday - The guys from church all helped Michelle move house in the morning, then Deb and I went to see Transformers, but we missed the start. In the evening, we attended a murder mystery night where I happened to be the victim. I decided to just hang around making ghost jokes rather than take another character. It was fun.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Now I'm tired and a bit sick.
PPS - Hopefully this week will be less busy.

Friday, 27 July 2007

The saga of the new phone

This is a rough breakdown of the events that revolved around me and my new phone.

Day -2: Go to 3 Mobile store in the city and ask about plans.
Day 0: Go back to 3 Mobile store to sign up.
Discover that one handset is only available in orange at the moment. It was previously stated that this handset comes only in black.
Go to other 3 store to ask about black phone availability. No, only orange.
Sign up for plans anyway. Service cutover is to be as soon as possible.
Day 1: No service.
Day 2: Call 3 customer care line to inquire about service. Told that it takes two working days to get details into the system.
Day 4: Call 3 customer care line to inquire about service. Told that the store seems not to have forwarded my details, and asked to call back tomorrow.
Day 5: Call 3 customer care line to inquire about service. Put on hold while call centre operator checks with the store. There had been a "technical difficulty". Temporary number is to be set up within 15 minutes, real number within 24 hours.
Two hours later: Service finally kicks in.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It could have been worse, I suppose.
PPS - The orange phone now belongs to Deb.

Friday Zombie Blogging: Rec (movie)

There's a new teaser trailer on the web for Rec, a Spanish zombie movie with similarities to the Blair Witch Project. This looks to be a very serious attempt to produce genuine fear, not just screen shocks. I'm not sure I'll see this one myself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The trailer even looks a bit Blair Witch.
PPS - And slightly poorly acted.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The most annoying ringtones

The three most annoying ringtones I've ever heard, in ascending order of irritation:

3. A recording of incomprehensible toddler babbling. This kid might have been trying to say "hello", or might just have been yelling into the microphone. I'll never know.

2. The sound of a smoke alarm with a low battery. Aside from being a bizarre choice, it was piercing like the call of a bird of prey and audible across the entire office floor.

1. That frog. You know the one I mean. The only place I've heard it recently is in my mind, which just goes to show how potent it was. I don't tend to really dwell on it, but every now and then it surfaces in my memory and shatters my zen-like calm.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I haven't compiled a list of the best ringtones.
PPS - In my opinion, though, the best ones are silent.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Open Source Online Role-Playing Games

What would an open-source MMORPG look like? Well for one thing it would be much more open to cheating, and I imagine the servers would be widely dispersed and peer-to-peer networked to make one big game world. There's an interesting thought: a peer-to-peer open source MMORPG that doesn't need central servers for the world, just your spare cycles. I have no idea how it would work, because that's not my area of expertise, but it's a fascinating concept. I guess a few games have come close, like Guild Wars that uses mostly locally-instanced maps and Second Life that is pretty open. I'm not aware of a game run on a global scale without a centrally-controlled server dictatorship.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The competitive gaming nature would probably be at odds with making the game.
PPS - Then again, it might work.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

New phone as a paperweight

So my shiny new phone isn't in service just yet. The cutover was meant to be almost right away, but something appears to have gone wrong, so for now I'm stuck with my trusty old Nokia 3310. The SIM card is locked to it, too, so I can't even just use the new handset on my old plan or automatically copy my old contacts.

The weirdest part was when I called the (offshore) 3 Mobile support line. The heavily accented call centre operator told me that I couldn't inquire about the phone just yet because it takes two working days to show up in their system. So Wednesday morning would be the time that I can *actually* inquire about the phone I bought on Saturday, assuming that the service still hasn't kicked in.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know I could get Optus to unlock my old SIM card.
PPS - Seems a bit anti-customer to lock it in the first place.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Beating the high odds

I'm starting to suspect that the 7-11 near the office will never give me a winning Snickers bar in the current "1 in 6 bars wins" give-away. I've been rather unlucky so far. I'd expect to have won twice so far if the bars were strictly "every sixth one wins", which they're not.

My chances of encountering a loser bar each time is 5/6 or 83.3%. Over twelve bars, that decreases to 11% - more suspicious, but not beyond chance yet. I need to buy 17 bars and have them all lose before I can be justly suspicious by my understanding of statistics. By that stage, the chances of me encountering all losing bars would be less than 5%.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I expect I'll tire of the chase before then.
PPS - But not the chocolate.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

The Sunday Mok - A shiny new phone

Sunday - Deb and I read a little Harry Potter before the morning church service, then did our weekly grocery shopping. I made lunch and we started cleaning out a room to be Deb's Mary Kay office. I ran the computer at the evening church service.
Monday - I snoozed through my alarm in the morning and worked during the day on timesheets. I cooked dinner in the evening, then Deb and I watched the end of The Awful Truth season 1.
Tuesday - I spent the morning coaching a new support officer through all my support actions at work. The idea is for him to handle the operational stuff while I just do development. I didn't feel like going to karate until I got home, and I was a few minutes late.
Wednesday - I felt like I had an unproductive day at work. Bible study in the evening was all about courage and fear, so some parts were a bit intense.
Thursday - I was just debugging and tinkering at work, and met Deb in the city for lunch. We didn't have much time together, though, so we just looked at some new mobile phone plans.
Friday - I slept in for 30 minutes and ate breakfast at work and went to lunch with Ross and Yan. In the evening at youth group we played "Zombies!!!", a board game that was a lot of fun.
Saturday - A full day. I went to a men's breakfast at church in the morning, then went to the city to pick up Deb's pre-ordered Harry Potter book and signed us up for new phone plans. I went to Emmaus training in the afternoon, then to Erin's birthday dinner.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My phone service still hasn't switched over.
PPS - It should have been just about instant.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Friday Zombie Blogging: What not to do

This article lists ten things not to do in a zombie outbreak. A bit helpful, but ultimately you'll need positive advice like "blades don't need reloading" and "keep quiet, keep out of sight".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The article also attributes the list to "zonbiephiles.com".
PPS - Personally, I think that must be a typo.

Change the world

To change the status quo, you must prove that it is wrong. It is not enough to challenge the established principles to prove themselves correct. The problem is that proofs outside our established ideas do not tend to register. We have to question our assumptions before they can be proved wrong.

When you're trying to change people's minds, remember this: the scientific minds of the time watched Galileo drop unequal weights from the Tower of Pisa. They hit the ground at the same time, contrary to popular belief of the time. These scientists walked away maintaining their old assumptions. They saw absolute proof and did not believe.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A challenged assumption proved right is much stronger than before.
PPS - A challenged assumption rejected is less likely to be tolerated in others.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Methinks it is like a carefully constructed lie

Richard Dawkins used a program that deliberately aimed at a simple sentence to prove that evolution by random mutations and natural selection could work. Using longer genomes, higher mutation rates, fewer offspring or longer lifespans (ie realistic values) shows just how wrong he was, as seen in this program.

I had always figured that Dawkins' reasoning was fundamentally flawed, but I had not suspected that it was quite as bad as this. I guessed that if you (an intelligent programmer) write a program that aims to produce a pre-defined sentence and it succeeds, you have only shown that you are a programmer. I had no idea that Dawkins' program could be used to debunk its own claims.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm only spreading the word about this flawed argument.
PPS - Feel free to maintain your own beliefs.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Showing my false Britishness

Recently I've started using the word "naff" to mean "cool" just because it's a bit different. Then it occurred to me to look it up. See the results here:
"naff. adj. Chiefly British Slang. Unstylish, cliched or outmoded."
Oh, bother.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And nobody ever believes you when you say "bad means good" any more.
PPS - We're well past the 80s now.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Personal development and The Force

The Dark Side destroys you slowly by sucking you in and delaying the cost. It feels good until you realise it's too late.

The Light Side builds you up so subtly that you don't always realise it's happening. It can feel slow and pointless until you look back and see the progress you've made.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It often takes an outside perspective to see change.
PPS - We rationalise our own changes, for better or worse.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Google "My Maps" not linkable by name

With the recent introduction of "My Maps" on Google Maps, I had kind of hoped that my calendar entry map links could work with location descriptions like "Dad & Beth's" or "Church". So far, that's not quite the case. I could make my maps public and search them with everyone else's, but that's not ideal (and probably still wouldn't help with "church").

What I'd like is for my map searches to prefer my named places over those of random strangers. As it is, my map searches scan the United States (not my country of residence) for matches to my searches, and that produces results that are just plain incorrect. I don't think this has gone unnoticed by the Google Maps developers, but a change is yet to surface.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Named searches do work directly from Google Maps.
PPS - Just not from anywhere else.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

The Sunday Mok - It's all about Harry

Sunday - The sermon in the morning church service was delivered by a passionate overseas missionary. I want a faith like that. Deb and I did some grocery shopping, then drove out to make an appearance at my Aunt's birthday party. After that, we drove to Mia's Chrysalis closing service. After that came the evening church service and supper at the Coffee Club.
Monday - I spent my work day on our new Knowledge Workbench program and the performance appraisal database. Dad gave me a cordless drill as a birthday present on day early. Deb and I watched three Star Trek: The Next Generation before bed.
Tuesday - My birthday. Deb gave me my presents before cooking pancakes for breakfast. Work was plain. Dad took Deb, Anthony and me to dinner at the local Thai restaurant which was nice. Before bed, Deb and I watched more Star Trek then read from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Wednesday - In the evening we had the first of our new bible study meetings. Mostly we chatted and looked over some possible study materials. We dropped in to Mia's place to pick up some of Deb's skin care stuff, then read some more Harry Potter before bed.
Thursday - I spent the last of my working week documenting databases. It had not been done before and will take some time. I went to karate in the evening because I had skipped Tuesday and my evening was free. Sam and Mia came over for dinner, then we all watched one sub-par episode of The Awful Truth. Deb and I read more Harry Potter before bed.
Friday - I slept in and ate breakfast at work, where I spent the day on documentation. I went for a 20 minute run after work, then had dinner. At youth group in the evening, we played Wii games together, mostly Mario Strikers Charged Football. More Harry Potter before bed.
Saturday - Deb and I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with Murrae, Tracey and Mia, then met Bridgit and Erin for ice cream. We started reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before bed.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Yes, that does seem like a lot of Harry Potter input this week.
PPS - But at least I'm catching up with the rest of the world now.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Friday Zombie Blogging: Dead Air (movie)

I don't think I've linked to Dead Air before. It's a zombie movie centred around a radio host who stays on the air right near ground zero of the outbreak. He and his production team serve as an information hub, gathering and disseminating intelligence for survivors.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Sounds okay.
PPS - I might wait for the DVD.

Could an underdose help you?

If everything is poisonous in large enough quantities, does it work the other way too? Is everything good for you in small enough doses? I'm talking about substances here, like rattlesnake venom, vitamin A, mercury and cholesterol.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I assume vitamin A is good in small quantities.
PPS - Otherwise it wouldn't be called a vitamin.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Standardisation on the move

I'm a big fan of technology standards in practice. However, there will always be emerging technologies or those on the fringe of the user space that have yet to be standardised. There will also be some common technologies that, for some reason, have avoided, resisted or overlooked standardisation. So I guess if your career is the production of standards, you'll be set for life as long as you're good at it, because there will always be a need for new standards and new efforts at practising standardisation.

For instance, there are current web software efforts are focused on instant messaging and global login. But there will be other efforts in the future on, say, AJAX libraries and other technology we don't even have yet.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I could only think of one example of current tech that could be standardised.
PPS - Maybe HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray counts as a standards battle.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


I've been asked on the emailcash.com.au Quick Survey "Which medium annoys you the most with the amount and type of advertising it carries?" The options were: TV, radio, online, cinema, magazines, newspapers, outdoor, or none of the above. For a moment, I was stumped, for the following reasons:

1. I don't watch television in the conventional way anymore. I record it on my PC and skip the ads later or I watch it on DVD with no ads.
2. I use ad blocking software online, so I hardly see any ads. Those that get through are ignored or blocked manually.
3. I close my eyes when the cinema screen accuses me of being a copyright thief and otherwise enjoy movie previews which are the primary type of cinema advertising.
4. I only read two magazines and skip the ads.
5. I don't read newspapers.
6. When I'm driving, ads are a distraction from the road, so I don't look.

I guess that leaves me with radio, plus a realisation to my near-complete selective blindness to advertising.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I do see some.
PPS - Probably bus shelter billboards are the ones I notice most.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Daylight Savings Time

When "daylight savings time" lasts more than six months every year, it's not "daylight savings" anymore. It's the norm and the rest of the year is in "daylight spending time". The entire time zone has to be re-branded an hour ahead with a special note that, between these certain months, this part of the world turns their clocks back an hour. It starts sounding very strange indeed. Stranger still is when someone suggests a further daylight "savings" period covering the middle of the existing one so that those days are shifted by one hour further.

I think the logical next step up from Daylight Savings Time arrangements is Standard Sunset Time, where we all agree that the sun will set at, say, 7pm every single day. Our clocks will be automatically adjusted at midnight by computers so that, no matter the day of the year, sunset is always at 7pm. This will require regular and accurate predictions of sunset times for every day of the year so that clocks can be adjusted accordingly. Of course items like mechanical wristwatches will become antique curiosities, because any modern timepiece will require a GPS receiver and the ability to calculate the minute when sunset is expected for that location.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Above the Arctic Circle is where this starts getting super-strange.
PPS - And below the Antarctic Circle, of course.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Could you be prosecuted for your own accident?

Could WorkCover ever prosecute someone for their own accident? It seems like a possibility. If your own accident is the result of your own negligence, you are the party responsible for causing the accident. They might see your injury as punishment enough, and the usual policy is to lay the blame as high as possible. That would mean that your employer is responsible for your incompetence because they didn't train you adequately. They'd rather assign blame there than with you directly because that has farther-reaching consequences than just blaming you.

But say for a moment that your company has taken a lot of trouble to ensure that you know how to fasten a safety harness. They trained you in it and verified that you were capable of doing so and understood its importance. They even retrained you every month to make sure it stayed fresh in your mind. Then you go out and, unlike hundreds of times before, you fail to fasten your harness properly, due to simple carelessness, and you fall and injure yourself. Now, this is demonstrably not the result of poor training, nor the result of ignorance. It's an on-the-job injury that is at every level your fault. If it were me investigating it and I learned all this, I'd probably just say you did it deliberately to extort insurance money.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't know if WorkCover actually prosecute people.
PPS - If they don't, that would make this a rather pointless post.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

The Sunday Mok - Fading sickness

Sunday - I was sick again for the whole day. Deb and I skipped the morning church service because we both felt a bit rotten. We cleaned out the pantry and threw out a lot of really old food. I was scheduled to sing at church in the evening, but had to back out due to sounding terrible.
Monday - I took the day off work due to continuing sickness, so I just relaxed at home. I read news and watched videos online for a while, then Deb and I decided to rent a movie. We watched Idiocracy and Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real. Both were good in their own way.
Tuesday - I went back to work, medicated on Codral, and felt that I needed no more after midday. I was due to teach karate in the evening, and there were five students there, so I had to plod along, not participating much. I got pizza for dinner and watched Serenity.
Wednesday - I spent the last half of my working week improving one website, but eventually got uneasy about the size of the change. In the evening I helped Deb prepare dinner for Dad & Beth who stayed to chat for a while. We read some Harry Potter before bed.
Thursday - Family dinner in the evening was meant to be my (early) birthday celebration, but by coincidence only Deb and I could attend. Still, the food was good and we chatted with Dad & Beth for a while. We packed in the evening to set out for Buderim early in the morning.
Friday - I was alone for most of the day, so I caught up on reading and podcasts. In the evening Deb and I had Italian for dinner at Bella Venezia.
Saturday - I went for a half-hour run in the morning, then more reading. I picked Deb up after her training in the afternoon and we drove back to Brisbane, then I went to a Chrysalis service for Mia.

Edit: Note that my birthday was not on Thursday, but is on the 10th of July.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I've felt busy recently.
PPS - And a bit unproductive.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Irregular posting

Apologies for missing yesterday's regularly scheduled post, fellow citizens of the net. I'm on the Sunshine Coast taking advantage of an opportunitiy to rest for a couple of days while Deb does some Mary Kay training. I've amused myself by catching up on reading and podcasts, which sounds more boring than it is. Regular posting will resume tomorrow with a Sunday Mok.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And perhaps a belated zombie post.
PPS - For now, more reading.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Brisbane water restrictions

Has anyone asked the question yet about when Brisbane's water restrictions will be relaxed again? Say we get solid rain right over the catchments for two weeks. Do we go back to Level 4 then? Can we wash our cars? Is there an end in sight, given enough rain? How about after the Magic Pipeline is completed - are we allowed to use the water again?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure.
PPS - I have a feeling we'll always be at least at Level 3.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Security by communications blockout

When George W. Bush visits Sydney, Australia later this year, there are plans to block all mobile phone transmissions via special helicopter-mounted equipment. It sounds very stupid to me, especially when the following idea came to mind: the loss of mobile phone coverage in such a densely-populated area can be used as a signal that George Approacheth. When you can detect such a signal with an electronic device, then connect that device to a bomb, you now have, for want of a better phrase, a President-seeking-missile. Do you know where the President's motorcade will be going? No, but that's okay. They're going to broadcast its location by blocking mobile phone traffic.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's a very specific defence for a particular threat.
PPS - So why don't they do this for him all the time in the States?

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Why chocolate is better than cigarettes

Ten reasons why chocolate is better than cigarettes:
1. You can eat chocolate at your desk.
2. Nobody ever died from just being near someone eating chocolate.
3. It's cheaper.
4. You can cook with it.
5. You can share it with your 4-year-old and not go to jail for it.
6. You don't need to borrow anything to get started.
7. The residue on your fingers and teeth is edible.
8. You'll never burn down your house by falling asleep with chocolate.
9. It doesn't give you cancer.
10. Your breath smells the same afterwards, if not better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Anyone care to offer ten reasons cigarettes are better than chocolate?
PPS - I can't think of one, but I'm not a smoker.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Desired features of a new media player

It may be near time to start thinking about my next portable media player. The Zen Micro is showing signs of age like occasional corrupted library entries and slow start times. Also, I'd like a higher capacity and the ability to show video and photos. It might be nice to have e-book functionality too, but that isn't something I've exactly longed for. Also, it has trouble with really long files like the podcasts I favour and sometimes refuses to include some files for no apparent reason.

I demand that the connection be standard USB compatible - no proprietary connectors - and that it play nice with Windows and maybe Linux. If I can set aside some disk space (say, 2GB) for use as a portable hard drive, that would be good. It must be possible to synchronise contents easily and automatically, too.

So I guess the next step is to take my list of demands around to electronics vendors and see what they can offer me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And I have to wait for my next pay day too.
PPS - Which is fortunately close.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

The Sunday Mok - An anti-social head cold

Sunday - There was a combined church service at the Uniting church, comprising the morning and evening congregations. It also included breakfast. Deb and I caught up waith Mal and Mia in the afternoon then watched two movies: Employee of the Month and Music and Lyrics. We went to the Coffee Club in the evening and invited the rest of the regulars, but only Stu showed.
Monday - I think I generated as many new tasks during the work day as I finished. Deb had done most of the work of assembling our new bed frame during the day and I helped until we got stuck. Mal came over to help us out. We read some Harry Potter before going to sleep.
Tuesday - I've been waking up before the sun, and it's depressingly dark. To make it worse, I come home in the dark too and don't often get outside at lunchtime. I went reluctantly to karate, then Deb and I had dinner with Mal, Murrae, Tracey, Scott and Michelle.
Wednesday - I've been listening to Cory Doctorow podcast his long-titled novella in progress There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life. So far, I like it. Deb came to the city and we caught the bus home together. In the evening we cooked a spicy corn chowder and watched two Star Trek Enterprise episodes.
Thursday - I heard back from a recent job interview and they didn't want me. I think it upset Deb more than me. Family dinner in the evening and more Star Trek, then late to bed.
Friday - I deliberately slept in until 06:30 and had breakfast at work. It was nice to get up in daylight for a change. At night we went out with some of Deb's friends from her Philippines trip and saw Blades of Glory which I enjoyed. We happened to bump into Murrae and Tracey at the cinema too.
Saturday - I was sick all day and just stayed home while Deb spent more time with her trip friends. I had a fever in the afternoon and went to bed at about 17:15, though I didn't sleep soundly that whole time.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm still sick this morning.
PPS - But better than yesterday.