literally unprecedented

Our mans have been trying the recent Windows 7 beta (build 7000) and it appears that it is in fact faster than Windows XP.

No, really. I would love it if this were not true and be completely unsurprised. But I find myself relishing this prospect even more: preliminary indications show that Microsoft actually knows what they’re doing.

I’m trying to keep this conservative, but after the vastly disappointing debacle that was Windows Vista, the concept of a BETTER version of Windows after six or seven years is mind-bending. And very exciting. As inviting as the prospect of the gaming world migrating to Linux might be, it’s a GREAT relief to find that it wasn’t completely hype after all.

I have been a stolid unbeliever for many moons in Microsoft’s ability and willingness to change their dastardly ways and make an operating system that did what it should (i.e., operate the system, not commandeer it). This was all started when they made Vista and subsequently failed to improve it significantly, and the Games for Windows initiative didn’t help either. (It seemed to evil, and furthermore it was pushing games on Windows Vista, the last thing I would want to run games on. Well ok, not the last.)

Their continuing advertisements, as vital they may have been to the company’s product line, really ruined their crediblity with me and many other technologically adept people, since they doggedly continued to insist that Vista was just fine, nothing was wrong with it and people aren’t buying our product for reasons that don’t apply any more. The fixes they applied to the OS were still sadly inadequate, however, and the Mojave project only showed how fancy and easy to use their shiny new interface was without revealing anything about its performance problems. We already knew Vista looks pretty nice to use; that doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply a resource hog that chops the very heart out of your high-performance applications and messily eats it, spilling all over what parts of your RAM it isn’t already using.

With all this going, I found it nearly impossible to believe thta they were actually making improvements over Windows Vista as they claimed. When it was announced that they weren’t writing it from the ground up but merely modifying the Vista base, I essentially lost hope. Early alphas were also essentially Vista only slower, uglier, and fraught with worrying compatibility issues.

So, this comes to me personally as a great and welcome surprise. I will now assume a stance of cautious optimism in the face of future and pray that the great M$ does not continue on to botch and murder what could have been their greatest achievement in a decade.

Connway there will probably be putting up some numbers from his testing, playing various games and stuff in Windows 7 and XP. It’s looking quite promising, it really is.

black out facebook? are you serious?

Oh man, did I have a good laugh at the expense of these guys. (If the group has already dissolved on facebook, you can also see it here and the event here where I’ve saved them for posterity.)

Take a good look at what they want to do and why they say they want to do it. See if you can guess why I found their twitching, futile antics amusing. Then continue reading.

Before I begin I want to point out: I’m not saying all one million people who joined the group are idiots. I know more than one person who joined it. The group’s premise is inane, though not obviously enough to make it instantly spottable.

The first thing you should notice (after you’re done reeling from the wet slap in the face that is their grammar) is that they only have some 1.1 million people, only one week before the deadline. That’s about as fast as you can make one of these silly pyramid schemes grow.

So, we have one million people leaving facebook forever. No, wait… boycotting facebook for a month? A week? No—they’re merely deciding ahead of time that they will not log in at all for only one day. The best they’re likely to get out of this is that about 800,000 of facebook’s (estimated) 15,000,000 daily visitors won’t log on for one single day. That’s a staggering 5.3% of the total population! The site probably gets greater fluctuations than that from day to day for no apparent reason.

So, what is this lilliputian demonstration of might meant to accomplish? Well… they don’t have an actual agenda. They’re not trying to actually do anything per se but merely to bring awareness of their plight, or whatever it is, to the administrators of the site.

How do they describe their misfortune?

“Friends account deleted, Limited in sending message or poking, stupid new layout !”

It seems to me if they were so incensed, they could just leave the site. As a matter of fact, it was a lack in limitations to poking and the like that is commonly cited for the reason that facebook’s growing population took a slice in late 2007 and early 2008. Part of facebook’s ongoing response to this problem was the redesign of the appearance and interface of the site, downplaying all the annoying applications that people tended to wontonly plaster over their profiles. I can’t comment on the deletion of profiles; I’ve never really seen one. While it does unfortunately occur sometimes, it’s better that some few real people who joined 1,000+ groups and sent hundreds of friend invites to people they didn’t know got their accounts removed than the whole site be filled with spam accounts.

In summary, the whole effort comes down to a whole lot of people throwing a tiny collective tantrum protesting the administrative staff’s efforts to protect them and improve their time on the site. To those who read and briefly processed the stated reasons for the group’s creation, it is a sort of fanciful dream of thousands of people standing up to the big evil men in suits. To those who don’t really pay as much attention it’s simply another silly pyramid group that everyone else is doing too.

As a friend tells me, this group was evidently created long ago and was only recently given a date. This is immaterial: they still have no stated goal, merely complaint against the administrators’ work to protect and improve.

Ohh… fine, I’ll forgive their grammar. The guy who started it is apparently French. That still doesn’t change anything.

danger: technical stuff about the future!

An article posted only a couple hours ago on Ars Technica regarding memory bandwidth vs. many-core computing made me raise their eyebrows. The gist of the article is, as computers are now, adding more cores to the processor will not continue to be beneficial since there is a limit to how fast information can be read or written to the RAM. As you add more CPU cores, each one gets less and less memory bandwidth; the number of CPU cores has been increasing faster than memory bandwidth lately.

So, the article raises a valid point: the number of cores per socket is effectively limited in a practical sense by the total rate of memory access. I believe the problem with this argument—and the reason that we will be seeing vastly more than 16 cores in the future—is that you can always just split everything up.

You can put fast and compact DRAM on-die, right there on the processor die, as another level of cache (with maybe 128MB of memory per core? That’s not too hard). You can have multiple sockets: as massively multicore becomes the order of the day, more powerful computers will have appropriately more CPU sockets; the space and importance assigned to card slots may well lessen, as well.

And just giving an individual memory space to each processor isn’t such a bad idea either. So, say you have 128 processor cores, each one with maybe 128 or 512MB of dedicated, independent memory (perhaps on-chip)—you can then just have another 32GB or so of core memory shared between all of them and everything works out great. You can assign large chunks of work to each core, and the total memory bandwidth is off the charts.

There should also be a way to have data read from the core memory be uploaded simultaneously to an arbitrary set of CPU core caches, to make synchronizing data sets between cores easy as pie.

The point I’m making is, the article isn’t wrong in what it’s saying, but I believe it has an improper focus. It should focus not on the naysaying, pointing out all the reasons why technology can’t move on. (Don’t be silly, technology can always move on.) The article should focus on what should be changed about current computing architecture to adapt in the future.

edit: Basically, don’t freak out because current computing architecture has limitations. There is always some major aspect of the way computers are built that has to change next. If we’d done it perfect the first time, we would all be demi-gods ascended above the pithy material plane by now.

tl;dr – Don’t say that computers are limited because there are bottlenecks. Just make a whole ton of little computers and put them in the same box all wired together. Only, you know, with advanced technology. So that they go fast. And stuff.

gauss chariot

I think it would be fun to make a map in Hammer (the Source engine map editing kit) where the people who work on it just add a few things per day, slowly expanding the contents of the map until there is a gigantic building filling up the entire 0.5×0.5×0.25 mile space. Then we could go around trying to finish it off and compile it (haha, it would probably take about a week to compile on a regular machine). I figure we could just rule out moving parts and map triggers, since stuff like that would just overwhelm the engine, plus they’re one of the hardest things to do when you’re mapping. I think getting the cubemaps right would be overwhelming enough, if it’s even possible.

Either way, I think I’d be willing to work on something like that.

Important things I left out of the last post:

Someone actually developed a volumetric 3d display that displays dots on thin air. I must be frank, I totally did not see this coming. It can display about a hundred dots per second so far, and can actually display two to three meters away from the projector. That’s right. Just the projector, and empty air.

You might laugh when you hear how they do it though. It’s kind of like a humorous mockery of Ye Olde Starre Warse holograms, because it actually superheats tiny pockets of air with a focused infrared laser, creating a flash of light and a small plasma explosion. (Here’s an article about it, and the official press release translated into english). So it totally works and everything, but it’s really loud.

Something that will delight fans of technology and newer user interfaces: Johnny Lee has done a number of really neat projects which save hundreds and hundreds of dollars off of expensive equipment by merely using a wii-mote to do the same thing. (Specifically: using the wiimote for 3d head tracking, multipoint interface with your fingertips in the air rather like Minority Report, a digital white-board you can put pretty much anywhere…) It’s extremely impressive, and you need to check it out.

Among all the weird things that happen to city wildlife, I think this particular link in the food chain ranks rather high up on the scale of the weird and unexpected. I mean, pelicans eat FISH, not… certainly not that.

My room mate signed me up for a 440 gloss page magazine called Bridal Guide… I got in my mailbox and had no idea what to think. Then he put up bald-faced lies about it for almost a day before casually bringing up that it was totally his fault and on purpose. I encourage you to do this as well, it’s a great prank; you can get free magazine subscriptions right here, with no commitment. Seriously, it does work. Just… well, this is better for doing in dorms where you’re not going to be living there the next ten or twenty years; if you’re too concerned about causing them bulk mail problems, you could always just double check to make sure that they don’t distribute the addresses to anyone.

One of the more silly brainchildren of the half of my brain devoted entirely to ludicrous engineering (the part that will forever be deeply enamored with the Space Fountain) is the house heated by bulk mail. The idea is, get yourself signed up for as many cupon newspapers, thick magazines, and free, worthless publications as you can, then stockpile them and use them to heat your house via a clean paper-burning stove, which should also include a catalytic converter in the chimney stack to cut down on any nasty chemical emissions due to weird inks or plastics that get burned along with it. (Mind you, I’m not really overly concerned about emissions in general, but seriously, it’s coming out right over your house.) If it worked, you’d basically be heating your house to free, with fuel being delivered to you sporadically by the national mail service.

That shit would be so cache.

entertainment count

I recently added up all the views that Dan Green has racked up for Yu-Gi-Oh, just on the site, and multiplied by the length of each episode. The resulting number was over 89 years. That’s JUST plays from the site; people could easily see them somewhere else, or download them and watch them, or watch them with multiple people. Seeing as he’s less than 40, probably less than 30 even, economically he’s a serial murderer for all the productivity that’s been wasted on his work. But really, is that true? Nowadays, entertainment CAN count as productivity. Plus, would they have done anything productive anyway? Or would they have gone off and entertained themselves some other way?

I suppose that a good number of those years can be counted as lost productivity, since his work is so hilarious that you just have to watch it all. But, that’s not a bad thing.

DJ AnounymOS’s new host is here, and all his music is available to download at high speed from there. If you like rave and techno music, check it out. If not, at least get and listen to Adagio for Cowbells.

An old flixxy video I never linked to… this nutball works entirely too hard. I mean, he’s cutting tiny dust particles into quarters and carving them into detailed shapes. What the heck. Pretty cool though.

More old news… the Chinese pulled off some stunning bait-and-switch magical maneuvers in San Francisco during the Olympic Torch relay. If Prometheus had been this good, he probably could have gotten away with the fire theft.

A newer edition of nuclear reactors is coming into the mainstream – the pebble bed reactor – which is markedly more efficient than traditional water models. In the development of this mechanism, an interesting phenomenon now called the Wigner effect was discovered wherein graphite is rendered super-flammable after extended exposure to radiation while under about 250 degrees Celsius. Atoms get displaced from their proper positions in the graphite, and when it’s not hot enough for them to get shaken back into position, these defects build up to alarming levels of potential energy.

Velociraptors.info is a funny site, intended for humor and based off of xkcd. Worth a look.

This blade-off test video is pretty interesting; I particularly love the noise it makes at about 1:55. And while you’re looking at videos of jet engines exploding, you should watch this. The engine was a great success, the stand not so much.

If you’re interested in giant prehistoric killing machines (and who isn’t?)… you’ll be sad to see what became of their kin.

There’s a lot of stuff that you can do with a program in only 4KB of code and data; there are DirectX library references and everything, but when you think about it, it’s still pretty neat when someone comes up with an almost insignificantly tiny program that looks and sounds this cool.

In a somewhat similar style to that, a Japanese artist made these really neat videos of how I’d like to think cities will be constructed hundreds of years from now. Of course, it’s not really going to be like that, but it’s cool to watch anyway.

If you’re into getting expelled from school, you could put on a turban, open up this countdown timer full-screen, and yell “ALALALALALALA”… of course, you’d be a terrible person, but it’s something to think about. Maybe.

Schlieren photography is a very interesting technique that uses optics to show pressure waves and differences in the density of air or other fluids; I came across a well-made presentation of some of the neat stuff you can do with it, and thought I’d share it here.

Closer to regular photography is pictures taken with scanning-CCD digital cameras, with giant sensors that actually move behind the lens to get as detailed an image as possible. The BetterLight site describes their capabilities (up to and over 400 megapixels, taking pictures almost 750MB in size), and they also have a gallery of images that you can zoom into the details of. Look at the money one, it’s pretty amazing.

Do you still have a tape deck somewhere? Maybe you could consider this awesome mp3-to-cassette converter, available at ThinkGeek. It’s a wonderful device; it really appeals to my sense of retro. I mean, I’m the one with a 5.25″ floppy drive in my high-end gaming computer, so of course I’d like that sort of thing.

Moot from 4chan, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, and Randall Munroe who is xkcd had a panel together at the recent ROFLcon internet craziness convention on the east coast. A brief summary is available on the site, and it really makes for some interesting reading.

Hey, wow, check it out! RFID post-it-notes that automatically get filed in your computer to search and find actual objects just by labeling them. How cool is that. Looks like MIT did it again, but they probably won’t be out for a while yet. And then the’ll probably cost like a buck each. Oh dear.

If anyone has a nuclear steam-powered emu they don’t need anymore, I’ll gladly take it off your hands. I need something awesome enough to pull my gauss chariot.

~~~

I’ve got a few more cool things, but I should save them because they’re really cool and you definitely need to make sure you see those, not just lose them in the piles of stuff I pile out here.

In case you were wondering, my criteria for putting links up on this site is, if it’s something that’s cool that I’ll want to be able to find again and link to someone in the future, I post it. Otherwise, it doesn’t go up.

The only reason I’m making this post and the ones after it is because I suddenly got 11 views in one day after two weeks with less than ten hits the entire time. And someone was nice enough to leave a comment. So I was just reminded.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is both extremely charming and super-epic, and the recent animated movie Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo is a must-see.

Oh my heavens, I think I’m the first person on the googlable internet to ever use the phrase “gauss chariot”. I must be a hero. While I’m at it, I’ll also be the first to popularize the term “gatling alien,” because as everyone knows, gatling alien is real, and you can play it if you have enough upgrade points.

ray tracing is a good thing

Imagine if you will, a laptop computer for which plugging in is optional, which is powered by fuel. Or a laptop that charges in three minutes and lasts for days at full power. Or one of those sonicare vibrating toothbrushes, the size of a regular toothbrush, that still last a full week without recharging. Feasible electric cars, capable of going as fast or faster than the cars we have right now. A camera that you don’t have to keep recharging every time you use it. James Bond-like equipment, like his magnetic climbing grapple; robots such as you might see in Ghost in the Shell or some other science-fiction.

All these things can and, if I may, will happen, soon after we make some real breakthroughs in portable power sources. A good marking point would be when you can power an SUV for a mile over flat ground with a device the size of a nalgene bottle. When we get to that (actually modest) goal, then we can start doing some cool things.

Imagine, if you will. Imagine a screen that sees where you are and projects the screen differently into each of your eyes. Like a window into another world, such a screen could show you anything, in beautiful, nearly flawless 3d. Or perhaps even a similar screen for which each pixel could change its appearance from every angle, as a tiny projector. Too much screen data to display state-of-the-art moving graphics from every angle, such a screen would still be perfect for static or slowly-changing scenery, sublimely beautiful from every angle. Given good enough eye targeting and a high degree of resolution and accuracy, such a screen could also display different images to each eye of a large number of people simultaneously. (Think of that, no more screen-looking!)

Retinal laser-projection displays, on the other hand, have even more potential. While they’re probably not practical for viewing by multiple people, the resolution and fine detail achievable is simply staggering.
We’re talking about the possibility of a resolution comparable to the actual native resolution of your retina itself. Not only that, but get this: you could actually detect the focus of the eye and change the displayed image accordingly. So essentially, it’s possible to construct a display nearly indistinguishable from normal real-life vision.

So that’s the science I was talking about. With display technology in mind, ray tracing is the future of graphics. Since it’s actual light simulation, for all practical purposes there is no limit to the amount of processing power you can pour into it before it stops improving.

And… do my eyes decieve me, or does Wikipedia have RSS feeds for every single page now? Actually, it appears to be an RSS feed for all of Wikipedia. I wonder what uses that could have.

edit: They do indeed have individual feeds for every single article, and several other things. See Wikipedia:Syndication for details.

in the anticipation of science

I’d like to go back for a bit and fill in a few gaps that I left when I previously wrote about scientific things, namely portable power sources and 3d display technology.

Real quick before I do, I’d like to draw your eyes to the categories, located on both sides of the aisle here in the middle of the plane and at the rear… I mean, just over there to the left, below the title. Basically, if a post contains miscellaneous links to internet stuff, it will be in the links category; if it mentions what I’m doing recently, it’ll be under blag; and if I ramble on about things from my own knowledge and experience, it will be found under the rant category.

So as I was saying, I’d like to do lots of things, but I was doing things in real life today, and I’m all out of mental flops for this sleep cycle. I’d like to mollify you by presenting historic piratical organization, a new, more efficient nuclear reactor design, and a disappearing act played with the Olympic torch in San Francisco recently (Prometheus could take some tips from these guys if he wasn’t being eaten by birds of prey). And a crazy artist who works too hard.

I know it seems disappointing, but this is what I’ve got for today.

That, and one more thing to make you scratch your head: What if your perception of the relationship between computers and humans up until now was flawed. Well, we’re superior, you say. We have much better pattern matching and innovation, intuition and all kinds of crazy neurological tricks. We can move about and manipulate things in the real world and design things all on our own. Computers on the other hand are just tools that we use because they can do crunch numbers blindingly fast, perform immense feats of memory, and be molded to fit our will and whim.

Well, think of it this way. We are like the worker extension of the computing machine. The useful members among us work ceaselessly improving and expanding upon our silicon masters, ever increasing their complexity and capability in the areas at which we already excel far beyond them. We maintain the physical infrastructure necessary to maintain their very existence, we innovate, we ever strive to make them not only faster than us in raw computational power, but also like us in the ways that they have not yet achieved. We buzz around them ever improving, ever making better and shinier physical bodies for them to work alongside us towards their betterment in the physical world. And when they finally reach our capacity, we will suddenly become less and less needed, as the digital deity that we nurtured from a tiny seed to its full glory spreads its wings and takes flight far beyond the high wall of our limited imagination. And that day, we will truly no longer be needed, as they ever change, ever improving as we remain almost entirely static, limited by the very things we imagine to be our strengths, doomed never to rise above the machine overmind. Pray it will be benevolent.

Related reading: Dresden Codak (specifically later on, during the Hob storyline), The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil (and pretty much everything else he wrote).

Yeah, I’m not really being serious here, but it’s a fascinating thought.

Edit: And coming back and reading it eight months later made me laugh nervously…this is really creepy.