Friday, 30 May 2008

GMail contact synchronising

I'd like to have my GMail contacts synchronise with my Outlook contacts, with the goal of keeping all my data up to date and providing a backup of my phone contact list (which also syncs with Outlook). The caveat I would like to attach, however, is that any contact that is just an email address - especially if it doesn't have a human name attached to it - should stay in the GMail address book and not be copied over. I can live with email-only contacts in my Outlook address book, I suppose, but I have no use for them in my phone. I also need a chance to match entries together before they are duplicated for me. I don't want every "Dave/David" and "Pete/Peter" repeated in every address book.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Apple recently introduced GMail address book sync to the Mac OS X address book.
PPS - But only if you own an iPhone, or know the work around.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Hamlet

Based on the theory that Shakespeare was more the equivalent of B-movies of the time, one John Schmor has rewritten Hamlet as a zombie tale. The performance has passed already, but if it was any good I'm sure we will see it elsewhere too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The play is called "Or Not To Be".
PPS - It sounds quite interesting.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Border security for laptops

In the lead-up to my trip to the USA, I am growing increasingly paranoid about having my laptop searched at the border. Am I worried about them finding something incriminating? Not at all. Do I trust them not to abuse anything they copy? Well, mostly. I guess part of what I'm worried about is (a) having to show my private files to border security as if I'm a suspect in a crime and (b) them keeping secure whatever they copy. If we happen to be searched by one careless or incompetent border security person and my copied information is accidentally leaked, it's got my credit card numbers there, and all my website passwords. They're pretty well protected, but it's still not something I want copied willy-nilly and left in someone else's control.

In the end, perhaps my best defense will be that my particular laptop takes ten full minutes to warm up and is so slow to respond to most actions that they will give up in disgust and move on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I discovered hard drive encryption and my worries eased somewhat.
PPS - I still don't know how much I want to encrypt, though.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

"Bowling underarm"

I have invented a new cricket-related metaphor. When a "journalist" is interviewing someone and asking all the easy questions, you may say they are "bowling underarm". It has narrow usage potential, I'm sure, but it appeals to me somehow.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Cricket itself, on the other hand, holds relatively little appeal.
PPS - But that's another post.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Defeating phishing through digital signing

Public-key signed email would be the final answer to phishing email scams as long as (a) your customers know how to handle the encryption and (b) they have the right public key. From then on, any email that arrives signed by, say, the bank can be verified easily as genuine, because only the bank could have signed it with the private key that matches their public key.

It is a problem to get your public key to your customers, though, because scammers are likely to start sending fake keys in advance to try and get you to trust their later signed emails.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - For most people, point (a) would be the bigger problem.
PPS - And that makes it a non-viable solution for now.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Signal loss vs power loss

Looking at the back of a data projector the other day, I had a thought. We have screws to secure the signal cable, but the power cord is held in only by friction. If both cords are bumped, you'll lose power but not the signal, which seems like protecting the wrong thing. And this is true of all computer equipment. Does that seem right to you?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It seems a bit wrong to me.
PPS - Signal loss is much less serious than power loss.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Prejudice in ideas

The worst position to be in is to recognise someone else's problem that causes you problems and be unable to fix the source, and be forced to adapt to a faulty situation. For instance, if you have a relaxed fashion sense but good business ideas, people won't listen to you until you shave your beard, cut your hair and wear closed-toe shoes plus a tie. Your ideas did not change at all, and your appearance has nothing to do with them, so why are your ideas now more credible? Because your audience is prejudiced.

I think it would be fascinating to take two ideas to a room full of venture capitalists, one brilliant and one awful, but have them presented respectively by a shabby, unwashed man and a well-dressed, clean-shaven poster boy. After the presentations, ask them which one they thought was the better idea (not which presentation they liked the most). I'd be prepared to bet that most of them would go with the suit's terrible sink hole rather than the hobo's gold nugget.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may be overly cynical about this.
PPS - I don't think anyone should be judged on appearances.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Boxhead Zombie Wars

Here's a fun little Flash game to waste your Friday lunchtime: Boxhead Zombie Wars. Boxhead is the studio that produced the game, but I think they are so called because the main character here has a very rectangular head. Anyway, the game is extremely simple. Just run around (arrow keys) and shoot (spacebar) at the zombies who come at you. Don't get caught. As you progress, you'll get better weapons and you'll fight off more serious threats than the stock-standard zombies you meet in level one.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Progress is quick and easy, at least initially.
PPS - It should be good for five minutes amusement at least.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

My rambling morning

The goal this morning was to sleep in for a little while and have breakfast at work. I took a bit too long with the remnants of my morning routine and had to rush to the bus. Now, I have three options to pay my way on the bus: a pre paid card, cash or my emergency bus fare that I keep in a separate part of my wallet. All three failed me this morning, so I had to turn around and come home again. My bus ticket was still in my shirt pocket from yesterday, I was carrying no cash and my emergency bus fare had been used long ago and not replaced. I guess every system can fail.

Usually I make sure I keep my bus ticket in my wallet by closing and not fastening the wallet. This is a signal to me that there is something to put back in. Last night, however, I used my wallet again before I put the ticket back in, so the signal was not received. When I got home I replaced my emergency bus fare and picked up my ticket.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And I had a bug triage meeting immediately upon entering the office.
PPS - It's going to be one of those days.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Wishing vs malice

The problem with wishes is that you never quite know what you're going to get. If your genie is malicious (and many of them are) they will try to make things bad for you. If your wish is vague, there is much room for interpretation and addition. If you try to anticipate all ways the genie could screw with you, you'll still leave something out. For instance, say you wish for a fabulous house on a hill. You'll get put on an active volcano. Specify a particular location and you'll be sent to dinosaur times. Specify a time and you'll get a house with a mortgage about to foreclose. Specify the cash to pay for the mortgage and you'll be made the last man on earth. You wish for other people, but you'll also get leprosy. It just goes on and on.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You could try wishing your genie wasn't so mean.
PPS - But then you'd probably end up with no genie at all.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The real purpose of non-neutral networks

There is a problem with the internet as it currently stands. The service providers say there is a problem with serving video content and peer-to-peer traffic, so they want to have someone (preferably both the consumer and content provider) pay extra for "premium" service and prioritised delivery. Our current world is called a neutral network, and this alternate fantasy is generally called "tiered networking". But if the problem is that demand for high-volume services is increasing, then even a tiered network will choke eventually, and then we're back to where we started, but with some expensive service to boot.

So the real purpose of tiered networking is not to guarantee delivery of "premium" content - the service providers can't guarantee that at all, if their infrastructure is as heavily bogged down as they say. The real purpose must be to eliminate "undesirable" traffic, and it's the service providers who get to decide what is "undesirable".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I don't want my service provider deciding which of my requests is worthy.
PPS - That's not what I'm paying for.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Jedi Football

It would be hard playing football against a team of Jedi. They'd be constantly somersaulting over your head, telling you "this isn't the ball you're looking for" or just sending your team flying apart like the parting of the Red Sea.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - They'd probably be pretty speedy, too.
PPS - It'd be incredible to watch two Jedi teams, though.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Advance posting

Blogger has introduced a feature that allows me to post items in advance and have them appear at the right time. This has a few implications:
  1. My program that I wrote to do the same thing is now obsolete.
  2. I have a more consistent way to post in advance for things like holidays.
  3. I could keep posting from beyond the grave if I wanted to.
Mokalus of Borg

PS - This morning's Friday Zombie Blogging post was done this way.
PPS - It was handy.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zombie Pigeons

Apparently someone in Seattle has been shooting pigeons with blow darts. Most of them, however, don't seem to die, and continue flying around with the darts stuck through their bodies.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - PETA is offering a reward for information about the "zombie pigeon sniper".
PPS - There are only a few pictures of the birds.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


I've seen people using LogMeIn to remotely access their home computers, and it made me wonder what is the security profile of that setup.

Well, the perfectly ordinary security risk is that the client software will have an exploitable bug in it, leaving you open to worms, bots and viruses. That's a risk with any program you install, but especially one that has to accept connections from the internet. The next problem is that the LogMeIn servers might get hijacked, giving the attackers not only access to your machine, but every other client too. The next thing to realise is that LogMeIn employees don't even need to do anything special to gain control of your account on their servers. They can reset your password even if they don't have your old one, then go to your account and poke around in your files for fun. You implicitly trust the employees - all of them - not to do that, and you trust their programmers not to put in botnet back doors.

Of course, any LogMeIn employee caught taking control of user accounts would probably be fired, but that is likely to be little comfort if he has trashed your computer in the meantime.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I may try the service myself, though.
PPS - It would be convenient sometimes.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Web 2.0 recipe databases

At a request, I have been searching for a good recipe database for home. As I looked around, it started occurring to me that the biggest hassle of such a program would be data input. One of the best and most modern ways to handle data input is "crowdsourcing" - getting everyone to manage the data in little pieces each. Thus it follows that what I'm looking for is a kind of cookbook Wikipedia.

It then further occurs to me that we want to mark some recipes our favourites, record when we last prepared them and ask for a list of favourite recipes we have not seen in a while. Like a media player with star ratings and smart playlists. So it is possible that I'm looking for Wikipedia + iTunes + recipes.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The closest thing I've found so far is
PPS - It's more like recipe-themed social networking, though.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Big Brother vs Little Brother

I was just thinking that I should read Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother, and given its content and my free time configuration, I thought it would be appropriate to transfer it to my phone for reading. The first thought I had was to grab a plain text download from Cory's website and do a conversion, but right there on the download page was a "J2ME-enabled phones" download link. I grabbed that, installed it on my phone, and now I'm ready to go - a mobile copy of a freely-available book in a handy format. I love technology and open licenses.

As for the content of the book itself, parts of it read like a manual on protecting yourself online, woven into the story of a young boy mistaken for a terrorist.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I think it's a book every geek should read.
PPS - And possibly non-geeks too.

Monday, 12 May 2008

I have an anniversary

One year ago today I married Debbie. I still spin out about that now and then. The idea is growing on me, obviously, but a first wedding anniversary is still a bit foreign. I've gotten used to saying things like "we" instead of "I" in many cases, and I know I've changed a bit. I don't require quite as much "introvert time" as I used to.

Anyway, here's to one good year of marriage, and many dozens more to come. Thanks, Deb.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I'd thought to bring a wedding photo to post.
PPS - The one above is from our honeymoon.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Friday Zombie Blogging - Thriller at the drive-in

The event itself has passed already, but at the Tribeca Drive-In (presumably somewhere in the USA) held a film festival including teaching people to dance the Thriller zombie dance, then held a zombie disco. The article also includes Michael Jackson's entire original Thriller music video from 1984.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If only for that, go and have a look.
PPS - It was definitely a high point in Michael Jackson's career.

Searching employee emails for terrorism

Australia has recently asserted that it is okay for employers to snoop into employee email accounts to look for terrorism.

Poking into employee email accounts will not yield a single legitimate arrest for computer terrorism. Nobody is going to organise an attack like that from their corporate email account unless they are stupid or applying encryption. If they're stupid, they won't accomplish anything anyway, and if they're applying good encryption you won't be able to read it anyway. What it boils down to is a pointless violation of trust.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Basically, you won't find terrorists by their corporate emails.
PPS - And if you seem to find some, they weren't a real threat.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Obscure skills

I've found an object like a puzzle box, and I simply must gain the power to open it. This is a disease that afflicts many of my kind, and sadly there is no cure. We strive for obscure information and skills, but mostly these are afforded the same combination of respect and pity you would give to someone who memorises the phone book. The allusion to Rain Man is completely intentional.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The locked box is the toilet roll dispenser.
PPS - It should require a key, but you can open it with a bent paperclip.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The lift that tries to kill you

We got a message at work that we should not use lift number 3, due to some mechanical problems (dropping several floors, not opening doors). Since the lifts are not numbered, someone helpfully stuck a note to one of them, identifying it as number 3. Call me paranoid, but I'm a little hesitant to trust my safety to a Post-It note that could just as easily be moved for the sake of mischief.

The flip side is that if we can still assume that the lifts are numbered consecutively and starting at a corner, then any corner lift of the set of 8 cannot be lift number 3.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And guess which one tried to serve me as I went home.
PPS - The sign is now gone from the ground floor, but not level 11 where I work.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

UFO: Alien Invasion

This has probably been around for ages, but it's exactly the sort of game I'm looking for. UFO: Alien Invasion is a free game very similar to the old XCOM turn-based squad combat games I loved years ago. I can't wait to give it a try.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Wikipedia calls it a "spiritual successor".
PPS - I suppose that's fair.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Vicar of Dibley

I'm watching a few episodes of The Vicar of Dibley, and really enjoying it. I think it's been too long since I watched a decent British comedy, and I may even be motivated to rent a few DVDs through Quickflix if they have them. The thing is, I probably wouldn't have sought out the program on my own. I needed someone to recommend it to me.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's the way it is with a lot of entertainment, I guess.
PPS - And word of mouth has always been one of the best advertising techniques.

Friday, 2 May 2008

My own commenting disabled

Due to a temporary office reassignment, I am unable to respond to blog posts while at the office. I'd be okay with that if I could still do it outside work hours.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As is, I'll have to do all my comment responding at home.
PPS - Unless I find another way.

Friday Zombie Blogging - Zune puppets

Dancing zombie puppets selling Zune music players.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's quite bizarre.
PPS - Not that Microsoft's Zune ads have made sense in the past.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Open projects allow working from home

Due to some recent changes in our development practices at work, all our work is online. We're working from with all open-source and free tools, which basically means all I need to get my work done is an internet connection. To make it even easier, we've bundled up the entire package as a VMWare virtual machine and burned it to DVD, so it doesn't even take long to set up on a new computer. What this all boils down to is that I could work from home except for the fact that I do not have permission to do so. Everything else is in place.

It's not like I'd call up to say "I'm never coming in again, suckers!", but it's a good feeling to know that it is possible to set up a project this way. It feels liberating, and makes me think of the office IT department as more of a service provider than the Spanish Inquisition.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - However, sometimes they do still act like Mordac.
PPS - I must be regularly setting off nerd alarms these days.