I mark the first day of spring with my ears

I mark the first day of spring with my ears. When I hear our mocking bird sing his first repertoire I know the world has tilted toward the sun. For the 13 years I’ve lived here we have had a mocking bird bring us spring time. The first one I met sat on the neighbor’s antenna, his great great grandson likes the tree across the street. We live in a small cul-de-sac so wherever they lite, their songs reach us easily and clearly.
Always makes me smile when I hear him trying to get a date – “Hey, you hear something you like?” He asks with his tunes. “I’ll be here all week.”
Must work too because like I said, we’ve had this magnificent visit for 13 years and probably many more before I showed up – although it has been suggested I am a mocking bird magnet.
Sometimes after he’s done his latest composition, I’ll whistle one of mine. Something short, easy for me to remember, and him to pick up. And he does. It takes me two, four at the most tries before he gets it, and then he owns it. I have to go find a new one if I want to hang out in his yard.

The second best thing about Mr. Mocking bird is his dance. This guy is a super salesman, who could resist? After he’s wowed us, and all the female mocking birds with one or two of his songs, he jumps up into the air and flaps his wings in a semi spiral flight that defies aerodynamics and logic, almost as if he were in a fight with some other imaginary bird, culminating it with a delightful glide, wigs wide, down to his chosen perch.

Then he looks about, and if the bushes or shrubs doesn’t rustle (the common over here big boy signal from the female) he starts all over.
Just like the year, starting all over.


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Gimmickry versus content in 3D

Stereovision, the promise of a new form of entertainment since it was first introduced by Samual van Hoogstraten in 1655, has been the on and off again novelty of promoters, technologists, photographers, and movie directors. Now we have the newest wave of enthusiasm fueled by movies from Polar Express to Avatar. The notion of “3D” – stereo view on a flat screen, has hit the mainstream and companies are scrambling to get on the bandwagon.
RealD leads the parade on the big screen, Sensio is trying to win the 3DTV opportunity, and Nvidia has all but sewed up the PC with their 3D Vision. Nintendo has grabbed the handheld space with the 3DS, and various eye-blurring tear invoking autostereoscopic signage displays are vying for the large screen public spaces.
3D is here and if you want to be cool, in, with it, and at it, you’ve got to have a 3D story, a 3D play, 3D.
Verizon heard that and in a recent edition of the San Francisco Chronicle included a cardboard insert of a pair of “glasses” with snap-out frames so you could wear them. And on page three they took a full page color ad of a guy staring into space with circles behind him. Putting on the glasses you were supposed to see “3D”.

Except Verizon forgot two things – newspaper printing isn’t very good or very consistent from one run to the next, and there really should be a reason, a story, a message for the 3D effect., Nevertheless Verizon paid big bucks for the glasses, the insertion, and the full page color ad. If I had any I’d sell my Verizon stock, this company is run by idiots.
Some movies like Clash of the Titans have given 3D a bad name and reminded people of the trash that was served up in the late ‘50s which evolved, or maybe oozed, into porn. The 2D to 3D conversion is the great hope for bringing lots of 3D content to the TV. But do we want to see I Love Lucy in stereo?

The TV set makers are investing zillions in building 3D ready TVs. Blu ray discs are being pressed, some content is being converted, and games are being developed. It’s all a big rush to the “If you build it they will come,” based on an unshakable faith in the technology and the thirst of the consumer. But, if the watering holes get polluted with stupid promotions like Verizons, and insulting movies like the Titans the hungry consumer will get bad taste in their mouth and turn their back on the whole concept.
We need a new level in reviews. The movie, TV, and game critics – the dwindling few who actually get a paycheck for what they do and have syndication, need to learn about 3D – but just a little. They just need to know what to call the artifacts (like ghosting) and then they need to apply their well honed critical eye and sensibilities to the content.
A review should read like this: “The story was OK, the actors pretty good, but the stupid gratuitous 3D effects ruined all that.”
A few intelligent reviews that don’t pander to the cliché of “goofy glasses” would do wonders for reining in the exploiters and concept killers in the movie-making, publishing, and TV business.

I love stereo. I always have ever since I first saw it in the movies and then professionally in aerial photography looking for, well.. that’s another story.
I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Toy Story 3. It adds to the experience and the fun and can excite the viewer and entice him or her to go to the movies or watch it on TV or play a game with it – and even pay a premium for the experience. Let’s not cheapen it with amateur and poorly done stuff made purely for the sake of being able to say its 3D.
It occurred to me we may be in the realm of 3D the same as we were when color came to the movies, then TV and then the PC; rampant, extravagant, misuse of it for effect and without regard to the content. We got past that with color; will we be as lucky with 3D?

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Pripyat – it calls to me

So I was thinking about firing up STALKER and doing a little exploring, but felt a twinge of guilt – I should be working, doing something more productive than playing. Or should I? After all I have been at it now for twelve hours, and it is Sunday.

I have friends who come home from work, flop in a chair and watch sitcoms like Earl, The Office, and Two and a Half Men.

They are unwinding from a hard pressure filled day.

I’m sympathetic, and whereas I don’t have the 45 to 90 minute commute each way, I do start early and am in need of a diversion and relaxation by the evening – so I go exploring the marshes of Zaton looking for artifacts and trying to avoid anomalies

I know some guys who can’t wait for the weekend so they can go fishing. They get on a boat and go out into the bay and sit there drinking beer with their poles hanging out.

I like to spend a few hours on the weekends shooting wild dogs, mercenaries, climbing into underground tunnels looking for ammunition, and trying to find helicopters that have crashed mysteriously.

There are people who love to sit in the stands of the ball park drinking beer, eating hot dogs and nachos, it costs them about $100 to $150 for that kind of entertainment and it lasts for about two maybe three hours.

I spent $50 and have been exploring for over 25 hours with no real end in sight, and I’m only on the basic level, as I learn the way and the dangers I’ll move up to an experienced Stalker.

My reflexes and peripheral vision are getting so sharply tuned I can empty a 20 load clip dropping five mercenaries in less than two seconds – and I’m an amateur.

I know a gal who drinks a couple of beers, OK several beers at night while watching TV and she tells me about the three shows she watches at the same time: a movie, a travelogue, and something educational, she says.

She says she’s learned how to spot the pauses and knows just when to switch, but she keeps a second window open on one of the other channels as a check to make sure she doesn’t miss anything important.

I have a glass of wine or two, or three, and hunt for needed medkits to repair the damage from the hit I took from the wild bores or the undetected anomaly.  When I’m healed I look for dead soldiers and rob them of their ammunition, food, and radiation treatment drugs.

How is it any less valid to explore a virtual world and interact with it than it is to be passive and let someone else lead you through a story?

My pals like to get together on a weekend and watch a game. They yell together, high five and fist bang each other, pass beers to one another and have a great time being together swapping stories and belching.

In Pripyat where I hang out you have no friends; every living thing, many dead things that are still walking around, the weather, the emissions, and even the radioactive ground are your constant enemies.

You can’t count on anything except that dropping your guard gets you killed faster than you can say, what the hell was that?

Every day some of my neighbors go down to the ferry, ride it, get off, walk to their office, go in it and reverse the process eight or ten hours later – they have just about worn a trench in the path they take day after day after week after year…

I can’t find a path in the marshes of Zaton, there are five hundred paths in Jupiter, and more alleys, tunnels, ladders, roofs, streets, and doorways than I can, or dare, count. Nothing stays the same, things get blown up, emission distortions confuse you and often kill you, there is no path, no routine, no regularity. And yet, I keep coming back, like the cat that’s going to get killed for its curiosity I have to see what’s in that abandoned warehouse, which I know probably really isn’t abandoned and just filled with people and/or things who want me dead so they can steal my ammunition and medkits.

I go into bars and sell weapons I’ve taken from dead guys and use the money to buy passage to another place, hoping life will be better there, but it never is. OK, sometimes it is, but it doesn’t last long and soon I’m looking for bodies to scavenge so I can sell more stuff and buy anti radiation drugs.

I admit it, I am a Stalker, I’m not always proud of it, but I’d rather hunt and be hunted than sit passively and watch inane comedies, or vein-popping news stories. We all need to unwind, maybe pursue our hobbies. My hobby right now is Pripyat, drop in some time – you’ll hate it.

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Apple’s iPad – The screen and what’s behind it

A lot of thought went into the design of the new Apple iPod, and most of it centers on the human contact point – i.e., the screen.

The Screen. Apple’s iPad features a 9.7″ 1024 × 768 LED-backlit, IPS (In-Plane Switching) TFT LCD display. IPS has two transistors instead of one (per pixel), which lead some to believe that they are less batter-friendly. The IPS display has a very wide, 178° viewing angle; which allows the user to hold it almost any way they want, and still get a bright clear picture. However, is not a wide aspect ratio display (i.e., not 16:10 nor 16:9), but rather 4:3. That is, in our opinion, a good choice for cost, power consumption, and overall usage allowing the display to be used (and look good) for books, magazines and newspapers (the screen provide a high resolution 132 pixels per inch) and still satisfy the requirements for video and gaming. Apple says the iPad uses “arsenic-free display glass” (which is now standard from Corning) and a “mercury-free LCD display” (which is one of the benefits of LED backlights).

The touch. Apple claims the iPad has the largest capacitive multi-touch display, with “thousands of sensors” to provide the same touch sensing accuracy that the iPod Touch and iPhone have. The front surface of the display is coated with a “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating,” which was introduced in the iPhone 3G S.

The chip. The system on a chip (SoC) application processor (AP) in the iPod, which has been revealed to be labeled “A4” was designed by Apple’s in-house team which includes former members of PA Semiconductor and some notable people from ATI and AMD now working at Apple.

We believe that design includes a 1 GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor, and Imagination Technologies SGX 535 (see TechWatch vol.10 No.2, page 2) graphics core, and is being fabricated for Apple by Samsung.


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The Tinkerer’s Masterpiece or The Wonderful “Computer & Display”: A logical Story

The other day Kathleen’s PC, just over a year old showed signed of dying, and she said, “I swear, they must make these things to last one year and die so you have go buy a new one.” That reminded me of a marvelous poem I read as child and thought about often since, and so here is my adaptation of it. (You can skip to the end for the credits if it is too long.)

The Tinkerer’s Masterpiece or The Wonderful “Computer & Display”: A logical Story

Have you heard of the wonderful Computer & Display,
That was built in such a logical way,
It ran millions of hours to a day
And then of a sudden it – ah, but do stay,
And I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the user into fits, —
Frightening people out of their wits,
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

It was back in nineteen hundred and eighty five
When Dell and HP came alive
Snuffy old drones from the IT hive
Had no way of knowing how it would play
Or that there’d be a terrible Meltdown-day
Or that the tinkerer finished the Computer & Display

Now in the building of PCs, I tell you what,
There’s always a weakest spot,
In hub, display, in keyboard, or a grill
In panel or crossbar, or floor or a fill
In screw, bolt, cross brace, — or lurking still
Find it somewhere you must and will
Above or below, or within or without,
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chassis breaks down, but doesn’t wear out

But the tinkerer swore (as tinkerers do,
With an “I do swear,” or an “I’ll tell you”)
He would build a Computer & Display to beat the town,
‘n’ in the country ‘n’ all the country round,
It should be so built that it couldn’t break down
“Fer,” said the tinkerer, “’tis mighty plain
“That the weakness place must stand the strain;
In such a way ta fix it as I maintain, is only jest,
To make that place as strong as the rest,

So the tinkerer inquired of all while on the road
Where he could find the strongest of code
That couldn’t be split, nor bent, nor bowed
That could be used for OS, and apps and APIs
He sent for a wafer maker to build the die
The crossbars were fast, that let the data fly
And the power was the best of supply
With a disk that whose capacity was really high

The hubs were of titanium
Last of their kind, they couldn’t sell em
Never no head had seen their discs
And the wedges flew from between their lips
Their blunt edges frizzled like celery-tips
Case and brace bolt and screw
Spring, motor, axel, and linchpin too
Steel of the finest, bright and blue
Perfect leather covering, thick and wide
Top, side, and front from old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died
That was the way he built her through
“There!” said the tinkerer, “Now she’ll do.”

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less
Women had babies, and breads turned gray
the tinkerer and his friends died away
Children and grandchildren – where were they?
But there stood the stout old Computer & Display

Years came and went and it could be found
the tinkerer’s masterpiece strong and sound
Nineteen eighty came and increased by ten
Generation Y they called it then.
Nineteen ninety and ten more came
It was running as usual, much the same
Two thousand at last did arrive
And then came two-thousand and zero five

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
It’s yours -no extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER, — the Meltdown-day,
There are traces of age in the Computer & Display,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn’t be, — for the tinkerer’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.
For the discs were just as strong as the grills
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the power supply neither less or more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And the spring and CD tray and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, half past five
This morning the user turns on a drive.
Now, small cats get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful Computer & Display,
Booted up by a rat-tailed, CD bay.
“Ctrl-alt-delete!” the user said and off went they.

The user was working his latest text, –
Had got to 125, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the discs stood still,
Close by the coffee-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, –
And the user was sitting on his sock,
At half past nine by the coffee-house clock, –
Just the hour of the meltdown shock!

What do you think the user found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chassis in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, –
All at once, and nothing first, –
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful Computer & Display.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, –
All at once, and nothing first, –
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful Computer & Display.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.

With apologies and gratitude to Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The Deacon’s Masterpiece or The Wonderful “One-Hoss Shay”: A Logical Story
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
“Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay…”

One Hoss Shay


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How about your own generator?

Electricy stampHow many people do you know who have their own independent electrical generator for powering their home or office? Many people who live in large cites don’t own a car. Few people have private well, and who has his or her own telephone system? We are for a major part of our existence tapped into large supply systems, whether it’s electricity, water, or transportation. We engage these supply systems on an as needed basis and pay for them that way too (sometimes with a base fee for the connection.)

How many of you have heard about the SETI program, or the Folding at Home project? These are programs that have seemingly unlimited need for compute cycles. And as most of you know, we have cycles to spare in our multiprocessor,  multi GHz PCs, especially when we’re not sitting in front of them which is at least 50 percent of the day. So those unused cycles can be farmed out to projects like SETI and FAH and instead of just sucking power can make a contribution that could lead to great discoveries that could benefit all of mankind.

If we can contribute CPU cycles, why can’t we collect them? Large online retailers like Amazon. eBay, and others offer server services – you can buy CPU time for a fraction of what it would cost you to setup one for yourself. The idea of the cloud as the computer is manifested in this concept, and many companies that are not running their server plants at full capacity 24/7 farm out time. For instance, HP farms out cycles to DreamWorks when DreamWorks has a crunch to get some rendering done.

What if all the server farms of the world were made available like a giant electrical grid? What if instead of upgrading your PC every other year for a fraction more of GFLOPs you could instead just call on the cloud to crunch whatever it was you needed processed? You may already be doing this and not know it.

When was the last time you clicked on Help in a Microsoft program? Try it with your computer not connected to the net. Chances are you won’t get any help and instead you’ll get a message that says


That’s actually a good thing because what Microsoft is also doing, with your permission, is collecting information about your usage and problems. Some of that data gets fed back into MS’s help database as do other discoveries about the interaction of the dozens of subprograms that lurk under the skin of a simple word processing program like Word.

Now lets take the example of a massive spreadsheet with dozens of solver programs and macros running. It doesn’t take much to drag down your 3.2 GHz quad core with a big problem of multivariant simultaneous solutions or dozens of matrix tables trying to best fit a nearest neighbor problem. But suppose you could upload the problem (quickly) and it parsed itself (magically) and distributed the problem to available processors in the cloud? It’s an easy model to conceptualize, and before you start playing junior engineer and tearing it apart with the “what abouts…” just consider the idea and how life would change if it was done. Now, while your mind is open, let’s give you one more shock – it’s going to happen, it’s already happening, and it will probably happen without you knowing or caring about it anymore than you knew or cared about the water pipes that were put in to your new subdivision before you moved in.

One of the primary enablers of this brave new world will be banks and banks of GPU-based server clusters. That makes ATI and Nvidia the equivalents of GE and Westinghouse when distributed electricity began in the 1880s.

And, it doesn’t mean that we’ll have ridiculously thin client terminal or dumb net/smartbooks, the PC that know and love, take with us on trips and vacations will still be part of our persona. It just means that we won’t be limited by it. The PC, our personal companion, will have a very – VERY big brother in the cloud to call on when the need arises.

There’s another example of the cloud being the invisible server and that’s our mobile phones – our other personal companion, our silicon sibling. In the very near future, like months away, you’ll be able to use the camera in your phone for augmented reality applications like translation services, and GPS augmentation. This is no news flash or science fiction scenario. But the work isn’t going to be done in your little pocket warmer; rather your handheld device will be what it was originally designed to be – modem – a network interface device. The idea is exciting, and already being realized in some senses.

Early this year we visited a museum in Barcelona with an old pal and while wondering around he called up on his Blackberry Wikipedia to “augment” the information on a painter we were interested in. He was able to get more information for us than we could from the exhibit and it truly did augment our experience. But he didn’t have that information in his Blackberry (and yes, there is a pocket WikiReader – see http://www.jonpeddie.com/reviews/comments/wikipedia-in-your-pocket/ ) rather he called on a few dozen servers to get it, and he was able to go to specialized web pages that were specifically dedicated to explaining and extolling the artist.

Don’t take this concept to ridiculous extremes and assume we don’t need more CPU cycles, and sell all your ARM and Intel stocks short. You know that isn’t true. But it may slow down the upgrade process.

There are still many grand problems like weather modeling that would use 1.7 million x86 processors to carry out the 10 petaflops required to simulate Earth’s atmosphere at cloud-resolving resolution. So we’ll keep building super computers and we’ll keep putting more powerful laptop in our briefcase and desktops in our offices, and at the same time our computing capability will go up by magnitudes as the cloud is engaged.

And then when that happens our PCs will get really intelligent, they will anticipate our needs, and not make us do stupid things like having to mouse up to a ribbon bar to select a function and then select an item and then verify that’s what we wanted. (Some programs like Autodesk’s Inventor do this now my having a dialog box with task-associative functions come up where you are working.)

With enough bandwidth and little to no latency we could evolve to a thin hardware client that did all its work in the cloud, and just required a light software client. You can get a sense for that with Google office apps. Another example is TV, there’s a thin client that uses the network to deliver content, and we interact with it.

utilitiesSo since we’re not all going to dig our own wells for water, install our own generators for electricity, or put septic tanks in our apartments, why is it so far-fetched to envision a generator in the cloud that has more computer power than we could ever afford to buy, and we can tap into it an pay for it on a usage basis as we do now for telephone, gas, water, and electricity? Why isn’t compute just another utility?

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