Friday, 31 October 2014

Network disk space

How much does it actually cost, per gigabyte, to supply network storage on-site to a company? I wonder because, no matter what company I work for, no matter what size, there always seems to be a 300GB network drive that is almost full. Considering that you can buy multi-terabyte desktop drives for $100, it seems absurd that large companies would limit themselves to such a small amount of shared space unless there are massive costs involved in keeping that storage alive and backed up.

Because I assume IT departments are not staffed by muppets, I don't expect anyone's mind will be blown by the suggestion that more storage could be provided at very little cost. Therefore, there must be a simple explanation for the typical 300GB limit. Anyone care to chime in?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - My best guess is that they use expensive server hard drives, so it's more expensive.
PPS - And that it's harder to convince people to archive files if they've got a lot of storage.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Creating value

Wealth is zero-sum. If I get more, then you have less. There's only so much physical property in the world that people can own and only so much money in circulation (even if we print more, inflation means it's always worth about the same in total). Moving things from place to place, as in buying and selling, doesn't increase net wealth, so the share market is just a way for rich people to get richer at the expense of poorer people.

Creating, however, has value. It adds value. Take something that was useless or raw and make it useful or beautiful. That is what it means to create value.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - In the very long term, I think value might need to be measured in terms of entropy.
PPS - But that's a totally different concept.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


There should be separate words for fake documentary films made for humour and fake documentary films made as pranks or for similar purposes. I'll lump in those made to show off video editing skills with that second group. Right now, the best word we have for them both is "mockumentary", and I don't feel that covers the second case very well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - There's also "docufiction", but I struggle to see that one taking off.
PPS - Perhaps two words for such similar concepts would be confusing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why no surgical use of superglue on TV?

Why do no TV shows or movies have the out-of-hospital medical carer use superglue rather than stitches to seal a wound? Is it because the majority of the audience would think it's too weird, regardless of its practicality?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I guess it is pretty weird.
PPS - Still, it seems like the kind of thing a gritty action hero might have learned.

Monday, 27 October 2014

How to keep your office chair from being borrowed

I'm sitting near some "quiet rooms" at work these days, which should be familiar to anyone who has worked in an open-plan office. Basically, because open-plan sucks and allows the slightest noise to carry everywhere, there are meeting rooms provided that are big enough for a couple of people to use for short stretches of time for things like conference calls or stand-up meetings. Anything that might make distracting noise, really.

Okay, down to the point: chairs. These rooms often host meetings of four or more people, and only contain two chairs by default. My coworkers frequently fall victim to chair borrowing, since two of them are part-time. I, however, have managed not to have my chair kidnapped yet, and I think it's down to one simple difference: my chair has a jacket on it all the time.

If you're going to borrow a chair for a short meeting, you want one that isn't in use. That's the bare minimum of consideration in this situation. My chair with the jacket looks like it's always in use. To borrow it, you'd have to either take the jacket with you or remove it from the chair and place it on my desk. If you take the chair with the jacket, I will find you, like an overzealous interpretation of a Liam Neeson movie. Most people will be too courteous to move the jacket when there are other, undecorated chairs right there. So maybe that will work for you in a similar situation.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also, because of the design of our chairs, it keeps them from shearing off the buttons from my back pockets.
PPS - It's a weird and specific bonus, but it matters.

Friday, 24 October 2014


Lately, the file I keep of draft entries for this blog has been shrinking. This hasn't happened for a long time, but it's been going on for some time now. I'm just not writing as much for this blog as I once did. Oddly, this fills me with both sadness and a weird kind of excitement. On the one hand, have I truly run out of interesting things to say? Well, yes, probably. In fact, that ship likely sailed some time ago. My 2-views-per-post average speaks volumes about that. From that point of view, seeing this blog go the way of the dinosaurs wouldn't be so bad. As long as it goes like a dinosaur skateboarding into a volcano. Rad.

On the other hand, I loves me some incremental progress. The laundry pile getting slightly smaller every day, the garden getting a little bit neater, my reading list shrinking just a little bit. I get a kick out of that, and a shrinking draft posts file feels just like that. I feel like I set myself a goal I didn't know about when I started - say all the interesting things - and I'm getting closer to that goal. I will put a big tick in the box of life accomplishments that says "natter inanely on the internet for 10 years", sit back and smile, satisfied at a job well done. Yup. All squared away.

It just depends if I hit a rich vein of inspiration some time in the next year or so before my draft entries run out. I guess we'll see. Perhaps this is a chance to refocus.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll let you know.
PPS - Or I'll disappear one day and both of you will shrug and get on with your lives.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Identification by implant

I would like to see a supercut of all instances on Bones where a medical implant serial number has provided the identity of a victim. It's not all the time, and it's not even more than half, but it pops up a lot. I remember breast implants, artificial testicles, pacemakers and even a prosthetic stapes (eardrum bone). There have been more. Putting them all together into a supercut would point it out pretty well. It feels, sometimes, like this is a shortcut the writers take when establishing the identity of the victim is not a central plot point, or they don't have time for that as part of the main story.

It also makes me think that having such an implant, even cosmetically, might not be such a bad idea. Quick and easy identification of my remains, in the unlikely and hopefully-only-theoretical event of my grisly murder, could save a lot of time for the investigation. Or I could wear dog tags, but those are much easier to remove or lose.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wonder if any doctor would perform a surgical implant just for posthumous ID.
PPS - Probably not. In most cases, it wouldn't be worth it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Can't text. Driving.

I've seen a couple of ads trying to get people to stop texting while driving by responding with "#X". It's meant to be a shorthand to let people know you're driving and so won't be responding to texts for a while. However, there are a few problems.

First, unless you know what "#X" means, if you get a text like that, it's not going to make sense, and the problem persists. In the ads, a person receives "#X", pronounces the person responsible and proceeds with their day in a good mood. The person who doesn't receive the "#X", however, keeps texting, being ignored and growing more furious. If you don't understand it, however, the "#X" won't solve that problem. It needs to be something you discuss with people.
Second, why "#X" at all? The ads all show people about to start driving, receiving a text and responding with the tag. But if you're not driving *yet*, why do we need a code? Just text "Driving. Can't respond." or something similar. Same effect. The only reason to make "#X" a standard is to be a quick response you can dash off *WHILE DRIVING* which defeats the whole purpose.

Third, if you really want this to be a thing, what you need is for the phone OS to change. Monitor the phone's physical speed via GPS. If it's over a certain speed, there will be no text alerts and, optionally, you can have it respond automatically with "Driving. Can't respond." No need for an ad campaign or a special tag, just a more considerate phone OS or a Don't-Text-And-Drive app.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm fairly sure I'm not the only one who's had that idea.
PPS - In fact, here's one you can use now.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

One format for digital publishing

People want there to be one choice for buying ebooks, I think, because they're sick of the incompatibility between platforms. I want to be able to buy books from anywhere I want and read them anywhere I want, too. Right now, because the big ebook publishers/retailers are locking down their wares to a single device and platform (a dedicated app per retailer is lock-in, regardless of how many operating systems it runs on), the simplicity of a compatible format is just a dream and the only way to get what we want is to choose one retailer over the others.

The retailers, of course, are all on board with that plan, despite it being terrible for their customers. We as consumers need options. We need competition, and that means compatibility. We need the retailers to stop their monkey-feces-flinging fights, their indiscriminate use of padlocks nobody asked for, and start serving their customers out of necessity. We need them to drop DRM. On everything, right now. The fact that we as consumers, so far, are going along with the DRM lock-in, even defending our chosen retailers, means that we are not understanding the stakes of the game. If Amazon "wins" the ebook publishing "war", everyone loses, including the authors who publish with them and the readers who chose Kindle. And of course everyone else loses, too.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - If you don't stand to personally gain from Amazon being the only winner, you shouldn't defend them.
PPS - And definitely don't fight for them.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Getting better or worse

Is the world getting better or worse or is it possible that more good and bad things are all being brought to our attention, and we pay mind to what we think the world is already like?

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It kind of makes a mockery of both pessimism and optimism.
PPS - And it leaves me wondering what I should make of humanity in general.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Facing anxiety

I want to face my fears so I can learn to stand up to them, but the problem is that most of my fears are social anxieties. I fear having nothing to say. I fear being perceived as boring. I fear making small talk with strangers. I fear being judged and lauged at. I fear being inadequate at my job and letting people down. Facing those types of fears doesn't make for a great story. You can't jump out of a plane and say it's done, because it's an ongoing battle. It's something you just have to deal with, every day, and it never goes away.

Imagine you live up in the clouds, like on The Jetsons, and the only way out is by parachute. Every day you have to strap on that chute and jump, and every night you come back home, up in the clouds. Now imagine that, somehow, you never get used to it. Every day you worry that, today, maybe your chute won't open, or the cross-winds will blow you into the ocean, or the straps will break, and the fear just grabs you every morning. Maybe today is the day you fail so badly you can't get up again. What would you do? If that fear stays with you, all the time, you never even get to enjoy success, because what if it's tomorrow you fail, or the next day? It becomes less a question of facing fear and more of wondering when you're going to fail.

And it's exhausting.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I wish it was like jumping out of a plane.
PPS - Then I'd probably get sick of it every day.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why I can't be a professional artist

Sometimes I think I would enjoy being an artist of some sort - an actor or a writer - to make my living. It just seems like the work would be more rewarding in and of itself than software tends to be. However, it's the peripheral stuff that would really get to me. In software, you learn someone's business, write or fix their software, move on and repeat (sticking around for anywhere from months to years at a time). Deal with a few people, network a bit, but mostly it's the programming you have to worry about. Making a living as an artist is maybe 10% about the art. The remaining 90% is about networking, politics, publicity, advertising - all the most exhausting and sleazy things I can imagine. I don't think that would suit me. Even if an agent did most of it for me, it's not their job to allow me to avoid any public appearances. Quite the opposite. I don't feel like I would do well.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I know I'm making excuses.
PPS - Mostly that's because risk is terrifying and the potential downfall is catastrophic.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Stagnant standards

One of the awkward things about technology is that we get the best use out of it when we have standards, such as common network protocols, but the most useful standards come out of ad-hoc solutions to emergent problems. So you need a way to send human-readable messages from one person to another, and we get email, but at first we get lots of different ways of sending email, which are incompatible with each other. Eventually we settle on one interoperable standard, and the world is good. Well, until Microsoft "embraces and extends" it, rendering themselves the keeper of the new ad-hoc standard. Ahem.

The other difficulty is that the standards we developed 10 years ago are now inextricably tied into absolutely everything, so even if they are no longer ideal or even vaguely appropriate, we have to keep using them because the status quo isn't going to stop or join you in a pre-emptive upgrade. HTTP 1.1 is probably the last version of that standard that will ever be produced, and the last of its kind as well. JavaScript may get some teeny-tiny upgrades, but it must maintain backwards compatibility with the websites of the 90s that it was designed to serve. Those had vastly different needs than today's interactive web applications.

So we get stuck in old standards, doing new things, and we will never be rid of them until the entire system collapses or someone tries something so fundamentally different that it demands a new ad-hoc solution.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It's an odd pattern for advanced technology to take.
PPS - Or maybe it's a human pattern.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When you're allowed to fail

Always remember: you are allowed to fail. I mean, unless you've failed before at this particular thing. Or someone else is counting on you as part of their job, or you set a budget or a deadline, or it's extremely public, or if someone else gave you money to do what you're doing, or if you're talking on TV, because we'll make fun of you for that, or if you're making art that you're going to show someone. Then it's not okay to fail. But mostly, you know, as a rule, it's totally okay to fail and to learn from it.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm a bit bitter about the "fail early, fail often" school of thought.
PPS - Mostly because I've never felt like I actually have permission to fail at anything.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Convenient bank opening hours

If I ran a bank, our branch opening hours would be Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 7pm. I figure we can keep the labour costs exactly the same, but boost customer convenience significantly. It's still only 35 opening hours per week, but now 15 of those hours are outside "normal" business hours. Banks could really do with this kind of bending-over-backwards-to-please-you attitude, given how people feel towards the entire financial sector right now. I'm not asking for much, I don't think. Just a bit of consideration that, for services like banking, regular business hours can be really inconvenient.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'll also need doctors, dentists and the post office to do this.
PPS - Actually, our dentist is open on Saturdays, and it's pretty great.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Shopping by feature

Shopping online is great. You can't beat the convenience or prices, but the research can still be a real killer, especially if you're looking for a particular kind of item (say, a car stereo) with certain features (aux and USB inputs) that are not reported by the website you're looking at. I can look at car stereos at JB HiFi, but if I don't care about the brand, just the particular features, I'm out of luck. If you need that information, you have to read every description or check the manufacturer's websites and collate it yourself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that can be its own kind of frustration.
PPS - I rarely care about manufacturers more than features.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Three answers to prepare for a job interview

There are three questions I prepare for in every interview: why this career, why this company and why this job? You'll find it covers an astounding amount of what interviewers want to hear.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Also be ready to answer "Tell me about yourself".
PPS - Because that's about the first thing you'll be asked.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Sometimes I have an encounter with someone who is way more together and grown up than me. Someone with some real practical skills, used to being in charge. Bosses. Parents. It makes me wonder what kind of video games I need to play in order to gain that same maturity myself.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Is it Tetris? It's Tetris, isn't it?
PPS - I really do wonder about my maturity, though.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Know your assumptions

I like to say that it's important to recognise and state your assumptions up front, because that is the basis of logical thought. If you aren't assuming anything, you aren't speaking logically or rationally. If you don't know what you're assuming, you don't know where your reasoning might fall down. The problem, however, is that it is sometimes very difficult to see what you are assuming when you are making an argument. It's not based on assumptions you consciously place on the table, label "Exhibit A", and refer to as conditional. Your assumptions are quite often subconscious, and you won't necessarily know what they are before you use them.

That doesn't make it less important, just less likely that you will know your assumptions until you go looking for them. You have to question what you believe to be true. When you analyse your own thoughts, you will find yourself at some level saying "Well, of course that's true. Everyone knows that.". That's an assumption, but it might not be the very base level you could get to. Keep digging, and you'll be surprised just how much you've been taking for granted.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - You will, however, assume you are correct in all your beliefs.
PPS - Despite knowing that, in general, you must be wrong about something.

Monday, 6 October 2014


The SCiO pocket spectrometer is a pretty neat invention, working with your phone to determine the rough composition of everyday objects by light spectrum. The question is how soon such a device will be standard to embed into a phone. There's already a light sensor in your smartphone: the camera. If the camera can be tuned or upgraded to sense spectrometric data, you might already have everything you need to do the work of SCiO, with the right software.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm not sure how viable that idea is.
PPS - SCiO probably has a relatively sophisticated sensor, more specialised than a camera.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Other people's expertise

When other people estimate the size and difficulty of your job, they will tend to lowball it, because of the Dunning-Kruger effect: when they don't know what you do, they think they're practically an expert. You'll find them saying things like "it shouldn't take long for you", "it's not that big a job", "there's not much to it" or "it can't be that hard". You won't be able to convince them otherwise without teaching them how to do your job, because as long as they can hallucinate that they know better than you, they will assume they have a high level of expertise in your job, regardless of what it is.

Could you write a book? Yeah, of course, you just hit all the keys on the keyboard in the right order and there's your worldwide best-seller. You've got the idea for it already, and all you have to do is write it, which is just mechanical. Could you be a model? Uh, wear clothes and walk? I think I can manage that. Could you be a rock star? All you need is to learn an instrument then roll around in the piles of money, right? Pfft. Simple. Read the news? They tell you what to say!

You get the idea. Just try to remember, before you guess that someone else's job is pretty easy, that you know practically nothing about it, and that destroys your brain's ability to make that judgement.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Estimating your own job tasks can be difficult for different reasons.
PPS - And that's a whole different issue.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The ethical treatment of artificial life

There have been many hypothetical experiments proposed on such topics as language, culture and isolated populations that would be at best impractical and at worst unethical to actually perform. Given the ability to fully simulate a human brain, however, along with a body and environment, would those experiments become viable? I imagine the computing power required would be staggering, and the setup work alone would probably be a lifetime's work. Where would you begin if you wanted to study the thought patterns of a whole village of people who natively speak constructed languages such as Klingon, Elvish or Lojban? There's always more than that influence in their lives, and every other influence is a variable.

But even if you could do it, would such experiments still be unethical? If you can simulate a whole human being, and you can copy her, branch her off into multiple timelines on a whim, merge her back together, move her between worlds at will and subject her to any kind of stimulus you so choose, whether pleasurable or painful, does she have the right to be treated with the same ethical restraint that applies to "real" humans? By the time we gain the technology to carry out these hypothetical experiments, we may prevent ourselves from doing so on the same ethical grounds that stopped us in the first place.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Science fiction keeps revisiting this idea, and with good reason.
PPS - I had problems enough with my Creatures and Sims.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Fair cake distribution

To ensure fair distribution of portions of cake (or whatever) between two people, there is a method called "cut and choose". One person cuts the cake, the other person chooses which of the two pieces goes to whom. It's a way of ensuring fairness without the need for a third party or authority figure. The problem is that it only applies to situations involving two people, and quite often there are three or more people involved. I've wondered for a while whether it is possible to extend the method to deal with an arbitrary number of people.

One way might be to have one person cut the first piece of cake, then someone else decides whether to take that piece or to have the cutter take it. Once you take your piece, you're out of the process (to enjoy your cake) and the other person in your cut-and-choose pair continues as cutter for the next piece. The problem is that it's really tricky, for instance, to judge a fair 1/7th of a cake by eye, so the first few cuts are likely to be very inaccurate. It's still as fair as you can get, though, because you either cut a fair piece or you lose. Cut too big and that much cake is gone from the game. Cut too small and you leave with less. The problem would be if 1/6th of the cake looked close enough to be fair, which has a carry-on effect to the rest of the cutting.
I'd love to give this experiment a try with real people, just to see if it works.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I'm sure "share some cake with me" will be a pretty easy sell for experimental subjects.
PPS - However, "please carefully follow this procedure before eating" might be more difficult.