One Google query = one Apollo program’s worth of computing – Boing Boing

19 09 2012

As a kid in the mid 70’s, I remember being blown away by the early electronic calculators. The white Sinclair with red “bubble” LEDs was a little freaky. I even vaguely recall it used reverse-Polish (that’s for the “proper” geeks out there in blogland), but I could be wrong.

Wikipedia: Sinclair Scientific, circa 1974

A mere couple of years later, I owned my own calculator – a Casio fx-39, that I still possess.

Vintage Technology: fx-39

Put a few nerdy teenage boys on a bus together, and they soon figure out that despite it having 2 less digits in its display than the more expensive model (fx-120 if you’re THAT much of a geek), it still calculated them. So, subtract the 8 visible digits from the answer, and it would give you the extra 2 significant hidden digits.

Yeah, you’re quite right, dear reader… who the hell cares?! Perhaps it’s why teenage boys from grammar schools don’t do so well with girls…

Anyway, all this just to say that in less than 10 years, the average schoolboy was already walking around with more computing power in his satchel than Neil Armstrong had at his disposal to go to the moon! According to this article on Boing Boing, those annoying musical greeting cards each probably have more processing power in them than the entire planet did when Sputnik was launched!

I actually find it less surprising that a Google search uses more processing power than Apollo 11 had though. There’s many extra powers of 10 been added to the digital data held on the planet now than was available in 1969.

It did remind me though of a trip I took to the Smithsonian in DC. I went to the Air and Space museum. Well worth a visit if you’re in the ‘hood. On display was the guidance system out of a Minuteman nuclear missile. All beefy and manly looking with over-engineered cable connectors and rivets. Of course this appealed to the testosterone in me, and the fact I was a software engineer at the time. I had personally rejected the opportunity of writing software for the more modern versions of such things, but I still got a buzz from seeing it up close. The “cool” just didn’t outweigh what these things were designed to do.

Smithsonian: Minuteman Guidance System

Anyway, the thing that turned my blood cold was that this electronic circuit… the one that was responsible for steering a nuclear warhead to the right postal code… was “wire-wrapped”. For the uninitiated amongst you – wire wrap is used these days for quickly knocking together a prototype before you commit a circuit to mass-production and solder.

Wikipedia: wire-wrap

Back in the day, it was also used for production. As you might infer from the Wikipedia photo above, they’re not exactly immune to being shaken and rattled about. Like say… on the end of a missile!

On the other hand, the Russian space suit on display showed the wooden door through which the cosmonaut entered in the back.

C’mon… would I lie to you?! OK – just a little…

Smithsonian:  Krechet Soviet Moon Suit

What a concept! – tauba auerbach: RGB colorspace atlas

19 09 2012

If you’ve ever struggled to pick a paint colour from those charts at Home Depot, this is NOT the book for you!

An 8″ x 8″ x 8″ book, an atlas if you will, purportedly of every colour that exists.

Well – technically, it’s only every colour that can be reproduced in the gamut of the digital offset press used, but let’s leave that for now.

Full article on designboom: tauba auerbach: RGB colorspace atlas.

The long arm of the law…

19 09 2012

So yesterday, serendipity took me to this blog entry on Sound & Noise: Young Persons Called to Private Grand Jury for Owning Books

At the time, I was attracted to read it by the very idea that people could still be sought out by the police in a so-called democracy, simply because of what they read. I say “sought out” – I really mean “presumed guilty and hounded with guns and pointy things”. (My British birth makes it hard not to use down-playing euphemisms.)

After a suitable period of tut-tutting and head-shaking, I moved on – once more reinforced in my decision at having chosen to live NORTH of the 49th parallel. And then I read the following article on Aunty Beeb: BBC News – Why British police don’t have guns.

It’s an oft-repeated debate, regarding the unarmed UK police forces. But one line in particular seemed to be the crux of it. And underlined my frequent unease when I’m in the States:

Arming the force would, say opponents, undermine the principle of policing by consent – the notion that the force owes its primary duty to the public, rather than to the state, as in other countries.

I don’t for one second doubt that the vast majority of policemen the world over are motivated by nothing more sinister than the desire to help their communities prosper by reducing the threat of wrong-doers. But at the end of the day, “wrong-doer” is defined by others, and when those others are not held separate and accountable from the political engine of State (let alone Church!) they can easily end up as unwitting puppets.

Don’t take the local bobby for granted – no matter which country you’re in, they have a shitty job and they’re doing it the best way they can, for you!

The Zombie Apocalypse: Already Underway – Questionable Evolution

17 09 2012

Er… WOW!
We have an annual issue with Carpenter Ants, here in our “glorified shed” of a wooden house, and have to endure reasonably frequent permethrin treatments to the outside perimeter. So I have no love of this particular species of ant. Fascinating though their satellite colony social structure is. Anyway… I was actually looking for blogs about mycology, having recently joined the Vancouver Mycological Society. I never for a second thought I’d find both things in the one blog. Coolio!

Questionable Evolution

Common Name: The Zombie-Ant Fungus

A.K.A.: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Vital Stats:

  • Whole “graveyards” of 20-30 ants may be found within a single square metre
  • Telltale bitemarks on fossil plants suggest this fungus, or a related species, may have been in operation for the last 48 million years
  • Host species is the carpenter ant Camponotus leonardi

Found: Tropical forests throughout the world

It Does What?!

Despite all the advances of modern neuroscience, the fact is, human understanding of brain chemistry and its manipulation still has a long way to go. Much to the chagrin of those plotting world domination, we won’t be chemically controlling each other’s minds any time soon. How embarrassing then, that a mere fungus seems to have perfected this technique. Almost fifty million years ago. Scooped again, humanity.

It begins with an ant walking along the ground, deep in a tropical forest somewhere. This…

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BC Landscape

16 09 2012

So, I was challenged a few months ago by barbaraelka and kalyrical to post some photos of the wide open spaces of BC.

Now BC is a very diverse province in terms of landscape. The Lower Mainland is pretty urbanised in places. There’s wide open areas of agriculture in the Fraser Valley. Obviously the ski hills around Whistler as well as Big White are different again. Loads of unspoiled first growth as well as second, third etc. growth (i.e. previously logged and now managed) forests. And desert and near-desert in the east of the Province.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my son and heir (in lieu of the missing hair) for a couple of nights camping, when we had a public holiday. Expecting the more popular sites to be totally heaving, we went to one of OUR favourite sites. Being a bit out of phase, our favourite places are  w-a-a-a-a-y  less likely to be busy. Sure enough, we easily got into the Juniper Beach Provincial Campsite, just outside Cache Creek. As well as the usual RV pads, it’s a lovely tent site with a beautifully manicured lawn to pitch on, as well as hot showers to offset the usual pit toilet experience common to BC campsites. So why so easy to get a spot on the long weekend? Easy… trains. Lots of trains. It’s in the Thompson valley, with CPR tracks on one site and CN tracks on the other. Every hour or so (all night too) there’s a freight train on one side or the other. You get used to it, but apparently it’s not to everyone’s taste!

Needless to say – I took a few snaps. The colours were a challenge, as it’s quite an arid area, with lots of washed-out hues. Below are a few of what I think are the better photos. Comments always welcome…

Painting with light

15 09 2012

A few weeks ago we had some visitors from the UK. As is expected when you live in the Lower Mainland, we took them to Whistler (largely to stop them complaining about how cheap everything was compared to the UK.) It was a long day, and quite dark by the time we headed home along Highway 99. I had taken literally hundreds of photos during the day, and was suddenly struck with the patterns the headlights were making, and out came the trusty Canon again. (I wasn’t driving – don’t worry. Actually – my wife was, so perhaps you should!)

Obviously I was using relatively long exposures and rejoicing in the randomness of the suspension bounce on the lines being painted by the photons on the CCD. Exposures were in the one second range. Let me know what you think. (Unless you don’t like them, then keep it to yourself.  :))

Illusion › The Most Amazing Creations in Art, Design, Photography, and Video

14 09 2012

Haha! I nearly pissed myself laughing when I saw this on “Illusion”. Click to see the animated version if it’s not moving…

Illusion › The Most Amazing Creations in Art, Design, Photography, and Video.

Controversial Condom Commercial Demonstrates ‘Sex Without The Mess’ –

13 09 2012

Hm… well, I reckon if it’s not messy you’re not doing it right! (Isn’t that what ScotchGuard is for?)

One Pound Johnny Club: With terms like “johnny” and “shagging” (not to mention prices in £’s), this is plainly a UK site. Nice little pun with the £<->lb too! 🙂

Interesting concept of having a monthly subscription! What man would want the stigma of admitting they weren’t using up their monthly quota? When I lived in the UK, Mates were Virgin’s condom brand. Anyone know if they still are? I wonder if Branson field tested them…

Controversial Condom Commercial Demonstrates ‘Sex Without The Mess’ –

No sex please, we’re just cuddling strangers

9 09 2012

Around 10 years ago or so, I worked for a company that brought me into regular professional contact with female American co-workers. I was “fresh off the boat”, being still a trainee Canadian at that point and still very much awash in UK social rules and protocols. I remember being quite literally rigid with shock and discomfort when I was often hugged by these co-workers. Nothing untoward, I emphasise – simply friendly bonhomie from welcoming colleagues. But it was so far from the social norms of my prior experience that I couldn’t process it at all. A decade later, incidentally, I am not much better and often feel my personal space being violated by “over-friendly” strangers from the New World. (I once joked that Brits have reproduced asexually since the times of Victoria.)

It seems this un-British overt display of touchy-feeliness is spreading, and after a minor hiccup is making real inroads down under – in the land of beer drinking and rugby. The “Cuddle Party” company charges $35 entrance to one of its parties, and makes a huge thing of it being a non-sexual, strictly clothes-on event.

I’m sure the fact that most of the people in the photograph are women is simply a statistical aberration.

No sex please, we’re just cuddling strangers.

BBC News – Why are fountain pen sales rising?

4 09 2012

So I am of an age such that I was required to use a fountain pen at school. Not one I had to constantly dip into an ink well – though the desks were actually of that vintage and still had the hole where the ink well would have sat. (Some of the etched graffiti was actually in Latin, though that was more to do with it being a grammar school than being THAT old).

Anyway, I was bought a lovely Parker fountain pen by my proud parents. I was mortified when it became a little warped after meeting a Bunsen burner flame one particular Chemistry lesson, and I have no idea of its whereabouts as I type. I do recall it had a lovely gold nib though.

Most of my school peers were kitted out with the workhorse “Parker 25” fountain pen, but it wasn’t until many years later that I myself acquired one of these stainless steel stalwarts. While still living in the UK my neighbour presented me with one, having found it lying in a gutter. He thought I might like it, as I plainly knew how to use such a mystical tool, and he himself (being a pigeon fancier and lurcher owner) was a little sketchy on the whole literacy thing.

As documented elsewhere – I’m a bit of a “fiddler”. Unfortunately, my incessant screwing/unscrewing of the steel body from the plastic barrel in moments of stress and boredom resulted in a fatal injury to the plastic threads, and they gave way with a pitiful crack.

Being sure of Parker’s stability as a company, I enquired about spare parts for this ancient implement. Surely a replacement for this piece of plastic would be no more than a couple of dollars. That’s when I discovered they had been out of service for decades, and to merely “assess” the repair would be $40. And it’d be sent to France for that honour. Also that in Canada, Parker’s service department is represented by Rubbermaid. I shit you not!

“But I know exactly what’s wrong! I just need a replacement part!” Nope. No good. I was not trained to make such assessments. I would need to send the entire pen for analysis. Bugger that! I’m not letting some Frenchie mess with my pen! Then the solution struck me… eBay! Surely people would be divesting themselves of Parker 25s for mere pennies. After all, nobody uses fountain pens any more. Boy, was I wrong! The average price for a Parker 25 in North America was well north of $100! For an out of manufacture “run of the mill” fountain pen. Cheaper in Sweden though, for some reason… until you add postage.

And then I read this in the BBC… seems there’s a resurgence in “proper pens”.

BBC News – Why are fountain pen sales rising?.

Of course – there’s still no solution for the left-hander’s curse of smeared writing and a blue little finger. (Unless you learn Arabic, I suppose…)

O me miserum.