Monday, 31 December 2012

Privacy is encryption

Nothing - nothing - is safe, secure or even remotely private unless it is strongly encrypted and you are the only one with the encryption key. This is almost never the case online. Just remember that.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And then go on living as if your Facebook posts are actually private.
PPS - Just like I do.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - The Doomsday Office

It was Michael's turn today to put up the forecast for tomorrow. Not rain or sun or snow, but doom, always doom. The end of the world. And it always had to be specific. The CPFA - the Centre for the Perpetual Forestalling of Armageddon - had that very important task of making sure that every day as it came up was predicted to be the end of the world.

And Michael had nothing to go on. The possible addition errors in the Mayan calendar had run out, and it wasn't the new year yet, so none of the 2013 predictions could be used, either. He was stuck, alone, just between two possible doomsdays, and if he couldn't get his job done by midnight, there would be disaster in more ways than one. He'd be fired, of course, but that would be the least of his worries at that point.

The theory went like this: if human beings think they have predicted the exact end of the world, then it definitely won't happen. Every single doomsday prediction in the history of mankind had been proven wrong so far. The CPFA just institutionalised it. Whether God held back his wrath to avoid being out-thought by His mere creations or something else was at play, the philosophers/astrologers/numerologists/prophets at the CPFA worked hard to make sure doom was predicted, specifically to make sure it never happened.

He glanced at the clock again - 10:40pm - sipped his coffee, long gone cold, and ran his fingers through his frazzled, greasy hair in a frustrated motion. The star charts said nothing useful until Wednesday. The ancient religious texts were suspiciously quiet about the last few days of the year 2012, even accounting for genealogy uncertainties.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. He was so tired. Perhaps a few minutes of shut-eye would clear his mind and give him a fresh perspective. Michael laid his head down on his desk in the glow of the late evening news just to rest his eyes, just for a second.

When he awoke with a start almost an hour later, Michael was disoriented. Some paper had stuck to his cheek and as he pulled it off, he saw the clock and his blood ran cold. 11:53! He had seven minutes to come up with something. If he couldn't predict doom, then doom was certain. Maybe.

And then it hit him. Turning to the empty window on his computer, he began to type an entry to post to the CPFA website, just in time:
CPFA Fails to Predict Doomsday

The rest practically wrote itself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I realise this is related slightly to last week's story.
PPS - I just thought it was a fun topic.

Being interrupted

People are always walking up and interrupting me when I'm talking to other people. I have yet to figure out what causes it - whether it's because I'm too quiet when I speak, or I'm not making enough obvious eye contact. Whatever the cause, I do find it very frustrating. I don't talk much, unless you get me onto a topic I really care about, so if I am talking, it's kind of a big deal, at least to me. To have someone blithely wander up and interrupt without apologising or without even realising that I'm in a conversation is very insulting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If I were being aggressive about it, I'd make physical contact while speaking.
PPS - That should leave no doubt about whether I'm speaking to someone, right?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sherlock Holmes

We have three current incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, or at least three that are high-profile and ongoing. One is the movie version portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, set in its original era and with the original stories, though with a couple of steam-age/modern tweaks. I like it, mostly for RDJ.

The second is "Sherlock", made for TV, 90 minutes per episode, three episodes per season, and only one season every two years. Modern setting, updated versions of the old stories. The appeal here is mostly in knowing the old stories and seeing how they are updated, plus Holmes' character, which is quite fun to watch, especially as he absentmindedly takes advantage of Watson.

The third and most radical departure from the source material is "Elementary", also made for TV, but this time created and set in modern-day America. Holmes is still English, and shares many characteristics with his literary namesake, but each 45-minute episode is a new story, revolving around a case-of-the-week and Holmes' unique investigative style. The female Watson, played by Lucy Liu, is a bold and excellent casting, and watching their relationship unfold as recovering addict and hired "sober companion" adds a nice depth to the show. I am thoroughly enjoying this one, which just goes to show that the appeal of Sherlock Holmes is mostly in the character himself, his abilities and flaws, than in the particulars of the old stories. There are also some aspects of the old stories shared here, but not so many that they're heavy-handed or awkward.

Incidentally, Holmes first appeared in print in 1887, and we have these three current incarnations today, approximately 130 years later. James Bond first appeared in a novel in 1953, so I expect something of a major deviation and branching of that character by 2083, which should be interesting, if I get to see it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Doctor Who won't get that chance at a total re-imagining until 2093.
PPS - If the character lasts that long, that is.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Single-purpose baking appliances

There are so many different single-purpose baking appliances that it's a wonder nobody has sought to consolidate some of them. For instance, if you can have a doughnut maker, a cupcake maker and, I saw today, a brownie maker, all with approximately the same function, why not one programmable bench-top baking clamshell device? You'd just need different inserts for various shapes of cakes and other baked items, and different presets for temperatures and times based on those standard recipes, plus user-defined profiles.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Then again, you might as well add programmability to a normal oven.
PPS - But you can't sell that as easily at Big W.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas 2012

The build-up to Christmas this year has occasionally caught me off guard, and occasionally felt really festive. It's odd to swing so quickly between "it can't be Christmas yet, I'm not ready" and "it's Christmas, and that's cool". A few times, it's been the heat and the cicadas outside that made me feel like it's Christmas time, because those feelings and sounds are strongly associated with the Christmases of my childhood.

I never really feel like I've done enough, and I usually feel like I can't do any more. I guess I'm just saying that Christmas has a kind of dual feeling to it. There's anticipation versus experience, expectation versus action and charity versus materialism. It can be hard to deal with, but I feel good about Christmas in general this year.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish I'd taken an extra day or two off work last week.
PPS - It would have helped me avoid the feeling of Christmas sneaking up on me.

Monday, 24 December 2012

No life on Mars

How many missions, rovers and experiments would it take to convince people that there was never any life on Mars? Well, it's impossible to prove a negative conclusively like that, but we could reach a point some time in the future where it is more reasonable to believe that there is not, and never was, any life on Mars. We keep going back with more and more specialised equipment designed to find life that a lot of people are convinced was there. But every mission that fails to find signs of life decreases the possibility that it was ever there. At some point in the future, that hope is going to stop being reasonable. Some would say it already is. If you want to go back to Mars after that, you're going to need a different argument.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Colonisation seems like a weak answer.
PPS - It's more expensive than fixing Earth.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Apocalypse Not Yet

'Twas four days before Christmas, and all through the net,
The apocalypse nerds were beginning to fret.
As the old Mayan calendar came to a close,
And Bolon Yokte' from his slumber arose.

His mysterious visage did wax and did wane,
Inside the conspiracy theorists' brains,
Consulting their charts and predicting our doom,
They alerted the world while they paced in their rooms,

Then the clocks all struck midnight and nothing befell,
No matter what anyone thought to foretell,
So they're back to their books to re-check our fate,
And now predict doom in three thousand and eight.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I couldn't resist composing something like this.
PPS - Especially when all the times coincide nicely.


Honesty is more than just telling the truth when you speak. It is also speaking the truth rather than remaining silent or, sometimes, keeping silent rather than speaking up at all and confusing matters.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That's why we have that whole "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" bit.
PPS - But we tend to think of honesty as "not telling lies on purpose".

Thursday, 20 December 2012

How to save $430 per year on Brisbane public transport

TransLink are increasing public transport fares in Brisbane by 7.5% next year. This will raise my weekly costs to about $52.56. But there's a small hack that can change that and save money.

When travelling on a go card, you only pay for the first 9 trips you take in a week, from Monday to Sunday. So if you travel 5 zones to and from work, like I do, your Friday trip home is on the house, and you can travel free on weekends, as long as you worked five days during the week. But 5 zones is expensive, and 1 zone is much less, plus it counts as a trip. So if you go out at lunchtime and hop on a bus in the city - any bus - then travel one stop and get off again, walking back, you pay $2.63 for that pointless (off-peak) trip, which is a lot, but you will rack up another trip towards your first 9 for the week.

So on day 1, you pay $5.84 on the way to work, $2.63 for a pointless trip at lunchtime, and $5.84 home again for a total of $14.31. Do that again on Tuesday and Wednesday and your total for the week is $42.93 so far. But then, for Thursday and Friday, you travel completely free. For me, those few extra minutes and extra pointless trips will save me $9.63 - almost double what the free Friday trip home is worth. It's not a whole lot, but if you did it for every working week of the year (accounting for short weeks due to public holidays), you would save $430.99. That's quite a lot, and definitely worth it. Plus I get exercise walking to and from the bus at lunchtime instead of sitting at your computer absorbing Google radiation. It's the equivalent of nearly 74 free trips, which you would never get in a normal year.

I have allowed for three complete weeks of leave during the year and 7 weeks shortened by public holidays. On those shortened weeks, it is still worth doing this, because you would normally pay for all four days, but with the hack you pay for only three. Your savings for shortened weeks only amounts to $3.79, but that's still better than nothing.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is worth doing this no matter what the price.
PPS - As long your 10th and following trips are free, and your commute is more than one zone.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Apocalypse TV

There have been a few apocalyptic TV shows recently, but I think there are still some new types to be made. We've got the zombie apocalypse (The Walking Dead), an alien invasion apocalypse (Falling Skies) and an electric apocalypse (Revolution). Apparently there was one called "Survivors" about a plague apocalypse, though I haven't seen that one. It's possible that Terra Nova counted as an environmental apocalypse, but since it was all set on prehistoric Earth, that might be pushing the definition. Some we haven't seen yet are economic collapse, nuclear war and, discounting Terra Nova, environmental. I'm sure there are others.

But then, apocalyptic stories are rarely about the setting. They're more about the people and how they survive in their specific circumstances. An apocalypse is interesting, but the people in those circumstances are fascinating.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And, of course, it makes us wonder how well we would survive.
PPS - Usually the answer is "Not well. Not well at all."

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


HDMI is a real pain. Because of the slow back-and-forth negotiation of HDCP security every time your computer monitor or TV turns on, there's a big delay. Monitor went to sleep? Wiggle your mouse, then wait a second while your computer convinces itself that the same monitor it was just using is not a dirty imposter. Dragging a video currently playing from one monitor to another and it will black out, pause, then resume about a second later if everything goes smoothly. It's as if the PC is saying "Wait, wait, wait! What the hell is that? You didn't tell me you wanted to play video on the other monitor, too! Just let me go back and check if that's okay. ... Yeah, okay, it's cool. Totally cool. Don't even worry about it. Forget I was here." For extra lulz, try dragging THE EXACT SAME VIDEO, STILL IN PROGRESS straight back to the first monitor again. Same result. It's like your video card poops its pants every time something changes, including things it has seen several times before.

But of course all this is worth it, because we finally beat the pirates. Did you notice how there's way less piracy these days? No? Huh. Weird. I thought that was the whole point.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Don't worry, I'm sure the next great technology will finally beat them.
PPS - And it's sure to be much less annoying and intrusive, right?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Imagining cloud desktops

What would the world look like if we were all using rented cloud desktops as the normal state of affairs? Well, for one thing, consumer hardware would not have advanced much beyond what is necessary to display video in real time. The only place beefy hardware would be needed would be on the server side. Our network hardware, on the other hand, would be quite impressive and our mobile networks would probably be a generation or two above what we have now. People would be investing in bigger screens as their main desktop hardware investment, and only upgrading or replacing their computers when they wore out or when better screens became available.

Microsoft, Apple, Google and probably some other companies like Amazon or Canonical would be running even bigger data centres to centralise and back up everyone's personal desktops. Our phones would merely access a specialised view of those desktops. The operating systems would be upgraded as a matter of course, without our involvement as consumers at all.
The interesting questions start popping up when you consider families sharing entertainment and knowledge-work businesses. Do you have separate, shareable file storage beside your rented cloud desktop so that the whole family can access your data, or do Microsoft make you individually log in to access your desktop environment on the TV? On the plus side, this would mean if you're at a friend's place and you want to show your photos or start playing your music, you just log in and do it.

For businesses, where workers need to collaborate on projects, cloud storage becomes a must, and it needs to be secured and shared, too, so that only the right people have access to it. But that's not enough. You also need to give them access to the right tools for the job, including work email, so you need a separate desktop for each employee, in addition to what they rent for themselves at home. You might not be able to prevent them from accessing their personal desktops at work, though.

As for security, it will be a different kind of total mess. If someone got hold of your virtual desktop account, they would have total control of your entire online life, especially since these desktops would make single-sign-on a reality. You wouldn't need a password for Facebook or for your email or banking websites. Once your desktop is authorised, we could just use certificate security from then on and do away with passwords forever. Securing your desktop at that first login level with something rock-solid would be absolutely essential.

It's a funny looking world, that one, and we won't be jumping in there in one go. I don't know if we're heading there at all, to be honest, but in some ways it does seem inevitable.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - We'd have very big problems when the internet is slow.
PPS - Not like today where you can still at least play Solitaire.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Strathpine

The Straight Pine, or "Strathpine" as it was known in the old language, lived true to its name. The grain was straight vertical, the bark split and curled, but always in vertical lines. It was an even twelve metres around. The knots where its branches grew were perfect circles. It housed an entire colony of hippies who were always having to protect the tree from some developer or natural disaster or termite infestation. The tree held great magic, and someone or something was always trying to tap into it or take it away.

The bulldozers parked at the base of the tree, and the foreman of the work crew called up to the hippies on the high branches. Those branches were six stories up, and were some of the lowest on the tree.

"You can't stay there forever!" called the foreman.

After a short pause, a voice called back down, "We've been here for four years so far, and we're self sufficient now. You can't take this tree! It's our home!"
"I mean you have to come down, legally! The land and the tree have been sold! It's coming down!"

"It is NEVER coming down, and neither are we!" A chorus of cheers followed the proclamation down the tall, straight trunk.

"There must be something you want that you can't get up there, right?" called the foreman.

There was a long apparent silence while the tree-hippies conferred among themselves.

"Moonlight says she broke her last sitar string a year ago," called the voice from the tree. "Could you get us a new set?"

"If you come down, sure, I'll get you a whole new instrument!" The foreman wasn't sure what a "sitar" was, exactly, but the only stringed things he knew were instruments, and he took a guess.

"We're not coming down. You get us what we want as a sign of good faith to the wise old Strathpine!"

Oh, good, thought the foreman sarcastically. They're worshipping it now. He called one of his apprentice boys over and whispered some instructions in his ear, not willing to risk the hippies overhearing anything. The boy gave a quizzical look in response, and the foreman shooed him along.

"We're getting your sitar," called the foreman up to the tree. There was no response.

About two and a half hours later, the boy returned with the sitar, wrapped carefully in hessian. The foreman wondered briefly whether the hippies would be offended by the use of plant fibres to wrap the gift, then remembered that the sitar itself was made of wood, so it probably wasn't a big deal. He left the package at the base of the tree and pulled the bulldozers back far enough that they posed no immediate threat.

Then they waited. And waited. It wasn't until the night had fully fallen and the moon has lighting the way that one of the hippies crawled down the trunk, apparently tied to a harness held from above. She looked around for hidden men from the bulldozer crew and, seeing nothing, checked the package.

Don't look too closely, the foreman wished at her. She didn't. Strapping the sitar to her back, she started ascending the tree again, assisted by the rope harness. A quiet cheer was heard from the branches a few minutes later, then the soft sounds of plucked strings started tinkling after them.

Gradually, though, the sound grew fainter, less certain, with more gaps. It faded slowly to rest and silence. The sitar, freed and played, produced a magical combination of music and scents that could put anyone to sleep, and it had done so here. The effect wouldn't last, though. The foreman called in the fire engines with their long ladders to remove the hippies so he could begin felling the tree in the morning.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm thinking of ending the Brisbane Suburbs collection in the new year.
PPS - Maybe I'll pick it up again later.

Astrid and GTD projects

I've finally figured out a way to use Astrid with the Getting Things Done (GTD) concept of projects, being sequences of actions. One thing you're supposed to do in GTD is to review your projects list to make sure that each project has a current action, to keep it moving. I've always had a Projects list in Astrid, but now I'm using Astrid's "subtasks" feature to assign other tasks to projects.

They're not quite real subtasks, though, just indented from the others which makes them look subordinate. Also, you have to specifically enable the feature and select drag & drop ordering for your list on Astrid for it to work at all. Still, it was a missing piece of the puzzle for me, and I'm glad I sorted it out. Now I have a Projects list with all my ongoing projects on it, plus individual context lists like Shopping, Home and Errands to sort tasks into their necessary groups. It's working pretty well for me so far.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm going to look at some other organisation methods soon.
PPS - Just to see if there's anything better for me than GTD.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Quickflix on XBox requires Gold membership

I was disappointed to find that Quickflix streaming, now that it's finally available on my XBox, requires an XBox Live Gold membership to actually use it, and that costs extra. I am already paying for Quickflix streaming, so why do I need to pay an extra ongoing fee just to get that feature on my XBox? If I were already paying for XBox Live Gold, it wouldn't matter at all, but I don't currently have any need for it, besides Quickflix.

While I'd like to rant about it some more, I also understand where it's coming from. Microsoft already sell streaming movies through their Zune store, which makes Quickflix a direct competitor. If Microsoft just allowed Quickflix members to access streaming content on their XBoxes without a Gold membership, they'd be cutting themselves out of the profits. I'm cutting both of them out of the profits, though, because I'm not going to opt in to a "pay and stream and pay" service any time soon.

Then again, there's a suspicious inclusion on the (free) Silver-level membership tier: "Rent your favourite TV shows and movies with FOXTEL On Demand". So unless there's some kind of profit-sharing partnership between FOXTEL and Microsoft, someone's being inconsistent.

Personally, it doesn't affect me much yet. The Quickflix streaming library, although it's growing, is still way too small to be a regular part of my viewing. In summary, I won't be signing up to XBox Live Gold just to get access to Quickflix, especially when an HDMI plug device from Kogan for about the price of one year's Gold membership can give perpetual access to Quickflix streaming.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - A Foxtel On Xbox subscription does require Gold membership.
PPS - Quickflix on the Playstation Network doesn't cost extra.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

DVDs vs streaming collections

A streaming movie/tv library is certainly the future of home entertainment, but there are a few factors that need to be sorted out first. I'm thinking here of flat-fee subscription streaming packages like Quickflix.

You need to be able to get the shows/movies you want, when you want them, without paying extra to play them. If any of those factors is absent, the whole exercise is rendered practically useless. Right now, in Australia, availability is abysmal. I have 85 titles in my Quickflix queue. Guess how many can be streamed? Three. Two of those are BBC TV series.

One of the problems standing in the way is that a vast catalogue of online entertainment does away with the need for broadcast TV (as long as your internet bandwidth can handle it). That means, if the content owners give control of all their back-catalogue to online distributors, they are automatically screwing over their existing broadcast partners. Not all at once - there will still be those who get their TV via free broadcast - but it would definitely cause tension with pay TV companies.

Streaming from an internet source means you need a vast amount of bandwidth available. The average Australian household watches 22 hours of TV per week. If we estimate 1GB/hour, then you need 88GB/month just for TV. I think the future of streaming entertainment services is that they'll be rolled into ISP packages, so they can be unmetered. It's most likely for Foxtel to attempt this first, in partnership with Telstra for the internet bandwidth to handle it. It may only be after the National Broadband Network comes into play, whose fiber-to-the-premisis connections should have the speed to handle HD video streaming with no apparent buffering.

All that being said, however, new media doesn't succeed by being just like the old media (in this case DVDs), only better. Quite often, it is an awful substitute for most of the features of the old media, but a giant leap forward on the things old media did badly. Streaming entertainment may succeed in ways I have not yet comprehended, but I suspect the availability of familiar content will be a big initial selling point.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - As for displaying our favourite movies, we can do without that.
PPS - Or, more accurately, we're doing a lot of that on social media instead.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


It's too hard to keep a computer clean when you try out new apps, eventually uninstalling them, and it's also difficult to set up a computer just right to run certain programs. On phones, most apps are standalone, but they can interact with standard data stores found on the device, like call logs, SMS, plain old data files or online servers. On a desktop, programs are much more obviously not sandboxed away from each other. So creating such protected sandbox areas is probably going to be difficult. It would be good, though, especially for running conflicting versions of the same program.

Even once you do it, however, you still have a problem of permissions or managing the sandboxes. You can't have one per app, because some of them need to access certain data. You can't just have one big sandbox for everything, because that's not a sandbox any more. Someone has to manage the sandboxes manually while the system keeps all the relevant firewalls in place. That's a pain for users.
And even if you could get all that correct - properly sandboxed groups of apps - users will stomp it all to bits anyway. App writers will ask for more permissions than they need, because that lets them make more money in new and different ways. Users will grant those permissions, because they are blind to any question above a "Yes" button on the screen. That destroys any benefits that a sandboxing regime might have had in the first place.

That problem will never go away, unless we know what data is most important, and granting access to that data for programs is proportionally painful. Your entire contact database, plus the permissions to broadcast it over the internet at any time should not be hidden behind a simple "Yes" prompt. The operating system needs to understand the dangers for you and protect you from them by asking permission in other, more complicated ways.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There are programs that can help you do this for your PC.
PPS - I recommend Sandboxie.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Cinema format war

Are we headed for a format war in movie cinemas? Right now we have 2D, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D and, coming soon, High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D, starting with the first Hobbit movie. This, according to the pre-emptive flyer sent out by Warner Bros, is going to provide "another option in the movie theater for each consumer's taste", but there's a big problem and assumption here. We aren't getting any more screens just because we're getting extra formats, and there won't be any extra screening time per day, so if you have a preferred format (such as Good Old Doesn't Suck 2D), you will now have fewer sessions to choose from, because other sessions have to be allocated to other formats.
This is quite obviously a Bad Thing.

Now, I'm all for making 3D not suck any more - call me when you've sorted that out - but I think we should probably be trying one thing at a time. If you are going to have HFR 3D movies, then that's the only 3D format that should be shown. Naturally, the problem is hardware. Not every cinema will be equipped to show HFR 3D right away, so some will need the lower frame rate 3D. That's just the way it is. And there will always be a transition period where some movies were filmed in HFR 3D and some were filmed with the older 3D technology.

So The Hobbit is going to be a test to see whether people want higher frame rates on their 3D movies, but probably won't give an accurate answer to that question, because you won't always get your chosen format playing at your chosen cinema at a convenient time, and you'll be forced to compromise.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm curious to see how HFR 3D movies would look compared to normal 3D.
PPS - Not curious enough to buy a ticket, just generally curious.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - Dutton Park

Artifacts as found at the ruin of the homestead of Mr C Kelly, Dutton Park. Catalogued by Acolyte (First Order) R Smith.

Item 1: A plain wooden spoon. Slightly worn handle. A hole at the end with a short length of rope threaded through. Slightly charred.

Item 2: Mobile phone. Brand uncertain. Touch screen melted, casing badly damaged.

Item 3: Frying pan. Cast iron, 30cm. Mysteriously magnetised.

Item 4: Pile of bricks. 11 in varied colours. The bricks have been fused together at the molecular level. They can only be counted due to the odd angles at which they face.

Item 5: Doorknob. Brass. Interdimensionally twisted. Appears to be turning in four dimensions when viewed from different angles.

Item 6: Workbench. 1.4 metres high, 2 metres long, 1 metre deep. Heavily worn and scratched. Appears to have held glass beakers, whose cracked bases are now fixed to the bench. Other shards of glass were found scattered throughout the ruin in various sizes. The surface scratch marks appear to have been made by claws of some kind.

Item 7: Eyeglasses. Gold wire rims, round lenses. Cracked. Stained with blood.

Item 8: Spell book. Remarkably unharmed. Bookmarked at chapter 13, "Summoning".

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wanted to try something a bit different with this week's Flash Fiction.
PPS - It's good to be back writing short pieces again.

Android note-taking programs and subscriptions

Why are all notepad apps on Android sold as a monthly subscription service? I understand that they provide a website to access notes, and that running such a service is not free, but what if my notes synchronised to and from my phone via Dropbox and were accessible by a desktop program? Then there would be no ongoing costs for providing the online service and no need for monthly subscriptions. That would appeal to me as a consumer.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I already have my notes synchronising via Dropbox.
PPS - But those are only the ones I write on my desktop computers.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Surveillance Camera Man

There are some videos on YouTube called "Surveillance Camera Man" where a man with a camcorder walks up to random strangers and records them, offering no justification except "it's just a video". Because there's no statement from the "artist" and no justification given in the videos themselves, it's hard to attribute any motivation to him. That's probably part of the point, but it makes it harder to decide whether this is just a joke or whether it's a statement (and, if so, what the statement is). My guess is that it's a statement, because someone who was joking would probably be giggling at some point.

The motivation attributed on BoingBoing was that this is a statement about how we feel about surveillance. When it's an anonymous, remote, unobtrusive camera on every single street corner and behind every desk, we don't care. The second someone takes hold of that camera, it suddenly feels invasive. So the point is to demonstrate that we have a double standard with cameras. I'm not 100% sure that's it, but it's a good point. We have probably already pushed surveillance cameras to the natural limit of what people will accept. Push any further and you'll get widespread objections.

Or will you? If we have a generation grow up with surveillance at this level, expecting that everything they do in public is on camera, then their children will be likely to accept a greater level of personal surveillance. It might be possible to erode that privacy feeling so far that it disappears entirely, and no one individual or social agenda will be responsible. It will be something that humanity has collectively decided to do to itself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I only watched one of the videos.
PPS - I'm pretty sure I got the point.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Consumables reused

I like using up consumables that would otherwise be wasted, like soap, shampoo, single-sided printouts and the last crumbs in a packet of chips. I also have a weird affinity for sculpture or practical repairs involving found or free materials - rubbish that would otherwise be thrown out. When the grip on my micro-clutch pencil wore out, I wrapped several rubber bands around it to make a new grip. They came from several sushi lunches over time, and they would otherwise have been discarded.

I think our society is too wasteful, and if I were doing all this on purpose, it would count as an artistic statement and social commentary. As it is, I think it just qualifies as a type of hoarding.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, I don't always get around to using the things I gather this way.
PPS - Which definitely pushes it into hoarding territory.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Slowing down action movies

It might be possible to use variable speed video playback software to make fast-paced action movies more comprehensible to older people whose brains don't process visual information as quickly any more. I'd like to see that experiment. Of course, at 75% speed, it would take exactly 3 hours to get through the visual assault of Speed Racer, and that might be more time than you'd be willing to commit to.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I only made it through about 30 minutes, myself.
PPS - And that was at full speed.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Educational software and investment

I saw this rant on the Raspberry Pi forum about how "free" is not always a good thing because it stifles commercial investment. The ranter's specific example was himself, where he had a brilliant idea for a software project that would be very beneficial to the education community, and he had the skills and money to pull it off, but he refused to do so because it was not going to produce a return on his investment.

You know what that's called? A good business decision. If you have a business idea but it is not going to make a profit, and that is your only concern, you should pull out before you invest too deeply. That's what you're supposed to do. Nobody goes around complaining that they have a brilliant idea for a store that only sells left-handed screwdrivers, but nobody would buy them so there's no point.

But here, business is not the entrepreneur's only motivation. He wants to help educators, too, and that is kind of in conflict with his business goal. Schools and educators do not have cash to burn on software. That's why Microsoft sells to schools, universities and students at discounted rates. It's not because they're being nice to schools or anything like that. They're selling their software for less because otherwise schools have to look to something free like Linux. Schools are poor. They're a poor business opportunity. But Microsoft needs Windows to be everywhere, so they sell it to schools at a discount. "School business opportunity" is basically a contradiction in terms.

With schools, you either invest as a kind of donation, to help people out and build up your nation's education system, or you get out and sell your software elsewhere. His point was that the Linux culture of free and open-source software is what is killing his business opportunity. Free software didn't take away your brilliant school business opportunity. The under-funded education system did.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Selling educational software to parents might be a different idea.
PPS - But getting kids to actually use it would be much more tricky.