Thursday, April 30, 2009

Android 1.5 Cupcake Demo Video

Here's a pretty good demonstration of Cupcake on Android at Engadget,  in spite of the droning, monotonic voice-over.  8-/

More MBV Videos

My Bloody Valentine - I Only Said 

My Bloody Valentine - To Here Knows When

My Bloody Valentine - To Here Knows When

Android Cupcake First Impressions

My phone announced it had a system update this morning and, with permission, proceeded to download the new release code-named cupcake.  Since I have a developer phone, I could have downloaded it long ago, but was waiting for the push since I wasn't that interested in being that much of a beta tester.  This is my actual personal phone that I need to work!

The Upgrade

There was a download that took a handful of minutes, then a reboot, then a picture of a big yellow arrow going from a package to a phone, then a picture of a big  yellow arrow going to a chip (firmware upgrade?), then a reboot, only a few seconds, then another reboot.

The first thing was, during boot, the animation was no longer the little pulsating, green android (which I sort of miss) but the word android with animated highlights moving across it.  It does look neat.

It says it's now Linux kernel version 2.6.27 and build CRB21.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed was the presence of transparent items on the main screen.    Now the lock display and the unlock screen appear transparently over your normal background.

The second thing is that I would swear the screen is higher resolution.  I'm not sure if it really is higher-res, or if some of the icons are higher res images, or if it's just clever artwork.  Some icons, notably the browser and Gmail, which are on my home screen are different.

On Screen Keyboard

If you don't have one of these phones, you may not realize why this is important.  To me, the flip-out keyboard is essential.  I want to be able to type quickly and accurately with two thumbs and it works well enough.  However, when you just need to type a word or short search term, flipping out the keyboard and rotating the phone is bothersome.  It's nice to just be able to immediately type on the screen at that point.

So far, the on-screen keyboard works surprisingly well.  The ribbon of suggested completions is good.  You just start a word then tap on a matching suggestion if it appears.  Typing is not too bad and it is effective, but it is, of course, slower than the physical keyboard.

At first I had no idea how to access the keyboard.  (Answer:  Tap a text box, only once and lightly!)  Fortunately, under Settings there was a System Tutorial which was really only a tutorial for the keyboard.  That was perfectly helpful.


Now it has a camcorder.  At first I wondered if it would already be downloaded in the upgrade, but it was right there in the Apps.  It works, the controls work well, and it knows how to upload a video to YouTube, essentially with one click.  

The CCD (or whatever it has) on this phone is notoriously slow.  Still pictures are easily blurred and, for the same reason, the frame rate of video is ~low and the frame images are easily blurred.

Snappy Speed

Everything seems snappier and faster.  That's completely subjective, of course.  Menus scroll faster.

Find on page

The worst thing about the older browser was there was no find-on-page function!  You can hardly use the web without this function.

For example, you search for the word “android.”  A page comes up that's many screens long.  Somewhere on that page is the word android.  Where is it?  I'm certainly not going to read through screens of text to find it.  You need find-on-page!

I use it constantly.  Now it's on the browser menu, right there on top.  The implementation is well-done, too.

Voice Search

Google voice search seemed to work better.  I don't know if this is because of Cupcake, because I read that you should hold the phone at a normal distance and maybe I was holding it too close, or if the phone is learning more about my voice.  In any event, voice search has been mostly terrible before now.  This morning I said “android cupcake” and it got it just right.

What's really important, I think, is that Jamie Dupree was talking on the radio in the background, and the volume was pretty loud, and that didn't seem to interfere much at all.

Okay, I just tried it again, saying “italian food” and the name of our town.  It thought I said “italian food snowbowl”.   Hm.  Then I just tried “italian food” and, of course, it knew where I was and listed all of the local restaurants.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gamma Ray Burst at z = 8.2

A gamma ray burst (GRB) has been observed at redshift z = 8.2.  Ignore everything people say about distance since those numbers are model-dependent.  What you can say unquestionably, is that the universe is now z + 1 = 9.2 times larger than it was when this burst occurred.  That means the universe was about 11% it's current size.

This is GRB090423A observed by the Swift satellite gamma ray observatory.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

High Precision Strontium Clock

Rick U at work first told me there was some interesting work being done with a strontium lattice.  Then was this recent story from NIST regarding work on a high-precision atomic clock based on strontium.

Here's the actual story on work being done on ultra-cold strontium in the Ye Group at Colorado.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Now on Twitter

This blog is now on Twitter.  Sigh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Good Review of Star Trek

Chris Tookey of the UK Mail Online likes the new Star Trek movie. From the review, it sounds good.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Email Should Die

Here's one example of why email should die, IMHO.

Consider four users A, B, C, and D sending messages in a discussion, maybe to a list they are on.  A sends original message x.  B sends y in reply.  C sends message z and D sends message t.

In a typical scenario, here are what inboxes and sent folders look like after A sends x.

  • A
    • inbox: 
    • sent: x
  • B
    • inbox: x
    • sent: 
  • C
    • inbox: x
    • sent: 
  • D
    • inbox: x
    • sent: 

Now B sends reply y.  Note that the message will typically have x quoted at the end.

  • A
    • inbox: yx
    • sent: x
  • B
    • inbox: x
    • sent: yx
  • C
    • inbox: x, yx
    • sent: 
  • D
    • inbox: x, yx
    • sent: 
Next, C sends message z, quoting the first two.

  • A
    • inbox: yx, zyx
    • sent: x
  • B
    • inbox: x, zyx
    • sent: yx
  • C
    • inbox: x, yx
    • sent: zyx
  • D
    • inbox: x, yx, zyx
    • sent: 
Finally, D sends message t.

  • A
    • inbox: yx, zyx, tzyx
    • sent: x
  • B
    • inbox: x, zyx, tzyx
    • sent: yx
  • C
    • inbox: x, yx, tzyx
    • sent: zyx
  • D
    • inbox: x, yx, zyx
    • sent: tzyx

Note that message x has been stored on disk 16 times.  This is just with four users, each sending one messagse.  Imagine a group of 20 to 100 users, and a thread that goes on for a dozen messages or more.

Even if each person is careful about not quoting the previous messages, you have this best-case scenario.

  • A
    • inbox: y, z, t
    • sent: x
  • B
    • inbox: x, z, t
    • sent: y
  • C
    • inbox: x, y, t
    • sent: z
  • D
    • inbox: x, y, z
    • sent: t

There are still N users * M messages copies stored.  Granted, these may be stored on different email systems.

Now, compare a BBS or forum system.  All users post to and read from a particular topic in the forum.

A posts message x.

  • Forum topic: x

B posts message y.

  • Forum topic:  x, y

and so on…

  • Forum topic: x, y, z, t

Previous messages are easily read without quoting.  The storage implications are obvious.  Consider also the disk I/O bandwidth and even network bandwidth implications.

When the first scenario above occurs in an enterprise with hundreds or thousands of users, thousands of message threads, and millions of messages, the storage and bandwidth load is massive.

Add to that the idea that the email system they are using is open to the Internet with an influx of spam and other security attacks, and it's no wonder that such systems barely survive.

There are some email systems that implement message storage with one copy and pointers in each user's inbox and folders.  That certainly helps, but I argue that one may as well move to the simpler BBS, forum and topic model in the enterprise.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Google Voice

I just signed up for Google Voice last night.  Very slick!

That gives me a “permanent, personal number” which I can point at any phones I want to.  You can have filters so that particular callers go to particular phones.  I could have anyone from work that is calling forward to my work cell, while friends and family go to my personal cell.  You can block callers or have some go straight to voice mail.

I you enable it, it transcribes voice mail messages into text like email and  you can read your voice mail just like email.  There's a little button where you can play the message, too.  You can send a reply via SMS (TXT) or call back if you are using the web interface from a cell phone.

There's a listen-in feature, so when your phone rings, the computer voice tells you who is calling.  You can then listen in to their voice mail just like an old-fashioned answering machine and “pick up” on the call if you wish.

If you are talking to someone, say on a desk phone at work, you can press * and transfer the call to another phone in your list, like your cell phone.  Your cell will ring and, when you anwser, the call is transferred, and the caller doesn't even know (except they may hear your cell ring).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Classifying Communication

Okay, these ideas just became clear to me.  Classifying communication with the following scheme helps to sort out all of the options a little.  Let's see how this goes.

One definition:  When I use “BBS,” I mean an on-line bulletin board system, typically with messages organized into topics and fora.  Examples are implemented using phpBB, phpNuke, vBulletin, etc.  You can make a good argument that Facebook and MySpace are fancier instances of BBSs and I think that's right.

When I use Facebook, I'm implying MySpace as well in most cases.  I'll note the exceptions if there are any.

One to all

Apps:  blog, Twitter

This is where one person wants to post messages to the world.  A blog is the next to most recent way this is usually done and Twitter is the newest.

One to many

Apps: BBS, Facebook, subcription blog, Twitter with closed account

In this case, one person wants to communicate to a closed group of people.  Everyone else is excluded from the conversations.

This is a mode I find myself using and it's where the BBS, Facebook and MySpace usually fit.  In the email paradigm, the mail list filled this need.

It just occurred to me that a subscription blog, where the blog is limited to a set of registered users, may fit this instance much better.  The discriminating factor concerns who does the posting.  If everyone posts messages, usually, then the many to many model fits better.  On the other hand, if I'm the one doing nearly all of the posting, then the subscription blog may be better.  Subscribers can comment on the postings and they can even be given permission to post.

I and a small group of friends tried this in a brief experiment with Blogger but there was one feature lacking that made it unusable in my opinion.  If someone went back and added a comment to an old posting, that new information wasn't indicated in any way.  The old post didn't move itself to the top of the list or a notification wasn't sent.  (Hm, there actually may have been a way to receive notifications of new comments).  Just browsing the blog didn't make new comments obvious however.

There's a subtle continuum transition from the one-to-many to many-to-many.

Many to many

Apps: BBS, Facebook, Twitter with everyone using closed accounts

This is when you have a group of people that want to have closed communication, limited to the group.  Everyone sends messages and those messages usually go to everyone else in the group or to a large subset.

This is where the BBS  and Facebook, etc., are a big win, especially over the email model (which I claim is nearly obsolete).  Single storage of messages, history of communication, limitation and control of who is in the group, and even in subgoups, makes such a system easily manageable and programmable.

I also think this spot is where there is the biggest potential for the biggest win.  

Trying to manage this type of communication with email, especially at the corporate level, is now at disaster status.  Any success at all is a result of huge effort and expense.

Using a closed BBS or Facebook (-like app) should represent a corresponding huge reduction in cost and effort with  increased functionality and success.

All to one

Apps:  web form, email

This is the answer to the question:  How do I contact you?  Most sites seem to have discovered the solution to this that I implemented years ago:  the web form.  You put up a web page with a form to fill out that allows anyone in the world a way to send you a message.  But the content is controlled and it requires filling out the form as opposed to just sending email, which subjects the recipient to the spam problem.  You can even use some of the mechanisms to verify that a human is filling out the form, like the so-called captcha schemes.  (By the way, I really hate the name “captcha”).

One to one

Apps: email with white list, Facebook inbox, BBS private messages

This can be done with special features in each of the applications.   Email with a white list handles this pretty well.  The private message features in Facebook and BBS applications also do this.

Twitter allows one person to address another, as does the Facebook wall, but in a very public way.  That's sort of a weird hybrid that's one to one with everyone listening.  That type of public communication seems to be pretty popular, and seems to indicate some sort of declining interest in privacy.

If I did this right, I'd probably have seperate categories for  one to one private and one to one public.


Facebook seems to be a solution to all of these except one to all and all to one.  (Sounds like the Three Muskateers, doesn't it?)  Sure, you can accomplish one to all if you open up your Facebook site so that it doesn't require adding you as a friend, but then you lose the one to many and many to many modes.

The all to one problem in Facebook is only solved by someone requesting that you add them as a friend, and that grants too much just so someone can send you a message, maybe only a one-time message.

For me

What does this mean for me?  

One, I may be putting a lot of effort into maintaining many to many solutions when, in fact, one to many is the problem I need to solve.  I should consider moving to a subscription or hidden blog.  A subscription requires a user account and permission to access the blog.  The hidden case means the blog's URL is obscure and not listed or indexed.  Anyone that knows the URL can access it, but they shouldn't be able to know it unless someone tells them.

This also includes a couple of email lists I've maintained over the years.  Maybe I should move those to subscription blogs.  I need to simplify things some how.

Two, I've already given in and started using Facebook.  Email is more and more like the old hangout that is now empty.  You walk in the door and there's no one there except some weasely sales guys here and there talking to each other and the email administrator behind the counter, wiping it with a cloth, with a sad look on his face.  Or maybe he just looks tired.  When you go looking, you find that everyone is down at Facebook.

Other conclusions and topics

It's time for email to die.  I'm more and more convinced of this.  I'll say more about this later, though most of the reasons are above.

The archival problem.  Everyone is putting so much effort into Facebook and that record of their lives is now stored there.  What happens as Facebook completes its arc and begins to fade.  How do you personally archive all of your Facebook life?  Do you even care?  Maybe not.  I think Twitter has an even shorter arc and of course no one is sure what will come next.  As each of these (probably shorter and shorter) arcs occur, some of us will worry about how to archive each one.  Some will worry too late and some won't care.  It would be nice if there was some homogeneous medium to put it all in and make it searchable.  Please find something better than XML before we go to far down that road!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More About Area 51

Slashdot has a pointer to an LA Times interview with some former workers from Area 51.  

The problem is the myths of Area 51 are hard to dispute if no one can speak on the record about what actually happened there. Well, now, for the first time, someone is ready to talk—in fact, five men are, and their stories rival the most outrageous of rumors. Colonel Hugh “Slip” Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s. Edward Lovick, 90, featured in “What Plane?” in LA's March issue, spent three decades radar testing some of the world's most famous aircraft (including the U-2, the A-12 OXCART and the F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, a CIA experimental test pilot, was given the silver star. Thornton “T.D.” Barnes, 72, was an Area 51 special-projects engineer. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men in charge of the base's half-million-gallon monthly supply of spy-plane fuels.


And the quintessential Area 51 conspiracy.that the Pentagon keeps captured alien spacecraft there, which they fly around in restricted airspace? Turns out that one's pretty easy to debunk. The shape of OXCART was unprece-dented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel. Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft's tita-nium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun's rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.

In all, 2,850 OXCART test flights were flown out of Area 51 while Slater was in charge. “That's a lot of UFO sightings!” Slater adds. Commercial pilots would report them to the FAA, and “when they'd land in California, they'd be met by FBI agents who'd make them sign nondisclosure forms.” But not everyone kept quiet, hence the birth of Area 51's UFO lore. The sightings incited uproar in Nevada and the surrounding areas and forced the Air Force to open Project BLUE BOOK to log each claim.
The A-12 OXCART was the single-seat (except for a trainer) predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird.

One interesting story I read (I'll have to go back to find the citation) said the Blackbird was originally called the RS-71 but Lyndon Johnson flubbed the name in a speech, so they went back and changed all occurances of the name to the SR-71.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jaguar 1.64 Petaflops

At the National Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Jaguar is now one of the most powerful supercomputers at 1.66 petaflops. (That's 1.66e15 floating point operations per second).

New Scientist article

Some brief specs:

  • Cray XT4 with 84 racks
  • Cray XT5 with 200 racks
  • XT4 board, four nodes, one AMD quad-core Opteron 1354 Budapest, 8-GB DDR2-800
  • XT5 board, four nodes, two AMD 2356 quad-core Barcelona 8-GB DDR2-800
  • SuSE Linux
  • Node-node communication: MPI, OpenMP SHMEM, PGAS
  • Liquid cooling with R-134a refrigerant on the entrance and exit of air
  • Lustre-based shared file system
  • Storage: 48 DDN S2A9900 = 13,440 1-TB SATA drives and 192 Dell OSS servers.
  • High-speed intra-cluster network: Infiniband DDR @ 889 GBps on three 288-port Cisco 7024D IB switches. 48 24-port Flextronics IB switches. Zarlink IB optical cables.
  • External networks...
  • 2 Cisco 6500 routers and a Force10 E1200 router
  • Internet2: 1 OC-192 connection
  • DOE ESnet: 1 OC-192
  • DOE Ultrasciences: 2 OC-192 connections
  • TeraGrid: 1 OC-192
  • Archival storage on 28 Dell servers, two STK PowderHorn robot with 14 STK 9840 tapd drives and 11,000 tapes. Two Sun StorageTek SL8500 robots with 16 9940, 24 T10000A and 24 T10000B tape drives and 9800 tapes. Four DDN 9550 with 1500 TB of disk for disk caching tier.
  • Job scheduling is apparently via PBS (portable batch system).
Looking at the top500 site's most recent listing, Jaguar was number 2 in November 2008. It looks like that was only the XT5 and was rated at 1.05 pf max and 1.38 pf peak. It also looks like the recent boost is from linking the XT4 to the XT5.

The number one system in Nov 2008 was the Roadrunner IBM BladeCenter system at LANL at 1.11 pf max and 1.46 pf peak.

Why am I posting this? Well, it's a nice super computer and I think a record at computing capacity (I wonder if anyone is actually turning out data from the combination of linked systems yet) and I was interested in the exercise of digging the specs out and seeing what they were actually using.

If OC-1 =~ 55 Mbps, then OC-192 =~ 10.1 Gbps (okay, I found 9953 Mbps).

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Surprise Comet Yi-SWAN C/2009 F6

From Sky and Telescope alerts:

A small 8th-magnitude comet is now making its way slowly across Cassiopeia toward Perseus. The surprise visitor, called Comet Yi-SWAN, should be within reach of small telescopes for most of April and May 2009. However, bright moonlight will make it a challenge to spot until the second half of April.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope

The next Ubuntu, 9.04, Jaunty Jackalope, is now available in beta.