Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: Technology (Page 1 of 9)

People are ruining Google

“Hmmmm, car window is sticking. I wonder if there’s a way to fix it without taking the door panel off.”

Googles “car window sticking.”

Finds article titled “How to fix a car window without taking the door panel off.”

Clicks on link.

Third step: “Take the door panel off.”

I’m not sure how we expect Google to circumvent human deceit via algorithms. (After all, not only was content creator actually lying with the title of the article and page, it was part of a network of human-designed and machine-assisted sites linking to each other, pushing the page rank up.)

I’ve noticed recently that this is becoming an actual problem for some of the more obscure searches. Searching for an error message while coding results in dozens of sketchy sites copying all content from the one site that mentions the error, burying the original site. Why? Because computing power makes it trivial to set up those dozens of sites that obfuscate the useful one, and the added-up pennies from ad revenue matter when you’re talking about millions of pages. Linking from reputable sources doesn’t help as much if people aren’t linking to the search term in the first place.

My mind is made of clockwork

…tick, tick, tick…

For various reasons, this is a bad time to be starting a new project, but I had been planning to do this for quite a while. I’ve written a little about work and software development here, but The Phantom City never seemed to be the most appropriate place. So, for those ideas, I present The Clockwork Mind!

I really need to get back into writing more, and hopefully one blog will inspire the other. On most subjects, I’ll be here. On programming, software development, and management, I’ll be over there.

No more [email protected] on the PS3

Well, there goes my sense of social contribution. Sony will be removing the Life with Playstation client from the PS3 with the 4.30 update. The client, which contributed processing time on the PS3 to medical research using folding protein models, was used by around 15 million people to contribute over 100 million hours of calculations.

My system has a little over 500 nights’ worth of calculations under its belt, which would be about 3000 hours. I figure my function has been to supply money for power for the PS3 to keep doing important work. Now what’s my purpose, and what’s it going to do? 🙂

Here’s hoping Sony changes their mind, or figures out some other way to use those processing cycles.

Courtesy of The Escapist.

Nice one, Apple

I was thinking about updating my Macbook Pro in a few months. Now I have to wait to see if Oracle is going to take up the slack on maintaining a JVM for Mac OS X, and whether Apple will let them.

Add that to the announcement of a Mac App Store, and I get to wait till post-Lion in 2011 to see if Apple is thinking about turning their laptops into iPads with keyboards.

I know I’m not a typical consumer, but if I end up having to run a VM to use things as basic as Eclipse and SQL Developer, why do OS X at all? I like Apple’s build quality and the digital ergonomics only they seem to get right, but paying a premium to surf the Web in nice surroundings won’t cut it.

Hopefully we’ll hear more about Java and Apple’s commitment to producing user-modifiable computers in the near future.

Update: I should point out that my primary problem with this move isn’t that Apple should continue maintaining their own version of the JDK. That seems like a waste of time for them. However, if you’re going to stop supporting it, perhaps we should get some other information, like “Hey, Oracle’s going to take care of it!” Dropping it in the release notes just brings up memories of other changes Apple PR has tripped over in the past. (No third-party languages on iOS, anyone?)

Update 2: James Gosling and a Steve Jobs quote. Before reading the comments, I had completely forgotten that no JVM means no JVM-based languages. Haven’t gotten into those yet.

Premature Optimization Considered Better than Smacking into the Moon

Ran across this story about the computer aboard Apollo 11, and a fortuitous 0.1-second difference.

LUMINARY was never completely bug free. Allan told me about a fascinating series of events that could have easily prevented the first moon landing and might have caused disaster. Allan was the principal designer of the LM’s descent guidance program which steered the LM by gimballing and throttling the descent engine. Whenever the computer commanded the engine to increase or decrease thrust, the engine (and LM) reacted after a short time lag. Allan’s descent program needed a routine to accurately estimate the new thrust level, which could be accomplished by reading the “delta-V” (change in velocity) measured by the LM’s accelerometers. He wrote a short routine that took into consideration, i.e., compensated for, the engine’s lag time, which TRW’s “interface control document”, full of useful information for the programmers, said was 0.3 seconds. It took 0.3 seconds for the LM’s descent engine to achieve whatever thrust level the computer might request. The final version of the thrust routine, which was put into the LM, was written by Allan’s friend Don Eyles. Eyles was sufficiently enthusiastic about the programming challenge that he found a way of writing it which required compensating for only 0.2 of the 0.3 seconds. The IBM 360 simulator showed Eyles’ program worked beautifully. His routine was aboard Apollos 11 and 12 which landed successfully. However, telemetry transmitted during the landings later showed something to be very wrong. The engines were surging up and down in thrust level, and were barely stable. A guy at Johnson Space Center called Allan and informed him that the LM’s engine was not a 0.3-second-lag engine after all. It had been improved some time before Apollo 11’s launch such as to lower the lag time to only 0.075 seconds. Correction of this item in the interface control document had simply been overlooked. Once this discrepancy was discovered, theIBM 360 simulator was reprogrammed to properly simulate the actual, faster engine. Running on the simulator, Don Eyle’s thrust program, with the 0.2-second compensation, exhibited the surging that had occurred on the real flights. But here’s the most interesting fact: the simulator also showed that had Allan Klumpp chose to “correct” Don Eyles’ program by compensating for the full 0.3 seconds that was printed in the document, the LM would have been unstable and Apollo 11 would never have been able to land. By pure luck, Don Eyles was creative enough to write the thrust routine in a way that kept the LM just inside the stability envelope and allowed successful landings!

Full post at’s archive.

What the %@$*&^!?


I just ran across this little requirement in signing up for a service that I’m now nervous about using:

Username: 3+ lowercase letters and numbers, starting with a letter.
Password: 8+ Alpha Numeric characters & must include – 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, and a number.
Special Characters are not accepted!

No special characters?!? I haven’t been this annoyed since I figured out my database IDE couldn’t handle a schema password with an @ in the name.

Immediate thoughts on the iPad

I might think different after a while, but I was kind of interested in MacWorld’s live coverage of the event, so I decided to write down some thoughts to see if they survive as time goes on.

  • I really hope at some point they come out with the iPatch.
  • The iPad is an iPhone I can’t fit in my pocket and can’t use to make phone calls.
  • The iPad is an expensive, but lighter and shinier, netbook where I have to pay extra for an hardware keyboard and comparable storage.
  • The iPad has access to the Apps store, so I can run iPhone apps without having to squint at them.
  • Maybe the iBookstore can force Amazon to start supporting epub?
  • I’d get one over the Kindle DX at a similar price. I don’t know about Kindle 2.0 at its current price point.
  • Unlike the iPhone, I could use it for extended reading. One also assumes the Amazon Kindle app will still work.
  • iWork apps are kind of cool. Could use it for presentations at work.
  • I love the data plan pricing, particularly the pre-pay option.
  • I kind of wonder about the whole 250MB plan. That could be fine on the iPhone, but I suspect people would use video on this more frequently.
  • Might have been an awkward design at 16:9, but I was a little surprised at the 4:3-ish screen ratio. Oh well, it’s not a TV.
  • Games will be prettier, faster, and more involving, but I’d need to pick one up to see whether the size would be awkward for a handheld.

I like this gadget, but I just can’t see where it would improve my life in the age of the iPhone and netbooks. I’ve already got light-enough computing in a form factor that’s been around forever, and I’ve got good-enough ubiquitous data access.

But, that all being said, it’s one step closer to that future of computerized houses, touchpads, and jetpacks I’ve been hoping for since I was a kid, so I appreciate it for that.

Update: Almost forgot…if it’s running the iPhone OS, I’m guessing no Flash. Maybe more pressure to adopt some HTML5 alternatives?

Update, redux: I’m getting slightly irritated by the sheer number of blog posts I’ve read lauding the iPad as high-tech at a cheap price. Really? At the base level, it’s a 1GHz processor, 16GB of flash storage, 1024×768 multi-touchscreen, and Wireless-N. It’s not delivering high-tech…it’s delivering good-enough tech in a better form factor than we’ve been used to. That’s called design, and Apple does that regularly.

BTW, I have figured out an awesome use for the iPad in my life: A computer my mom would regularly use. She’s not a big fan of mice, or touchpads, or the pointy cursor, but a large touchscreen would be awesome for her. Now, if AT&T would actually deliver 3G to Reidsville, NC, getting her on the Internet would be easy. As it is, we’d have to get cable or DSL and a wireless router in her house.

Darn Left-Wing Programming Languages

This is an extremely odd post about OLPC (One Laptop per Child):

The processor is more than fast enough to run software written in capitalistic programming languages like C++, but the majority of the user interface is written in slow left-wing languages like Python. – Errata Security: Why the OLPC promotes terrorism

I mostly program in ColdFusion at work. I like to think of it as a feudal language. 🙂

Link courtesy of Global Nerdy.

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