Friday, December 31, 2010

Feeling Deep, Heavy Pain

At the passing of Kodachrome.

There's a Kodachrome slide of me as a baby with almost perfect color.  I shot many rolls of Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64  in the latter half of the 70s and early 80s.  Because it's Kodachrome, we'll be looking at those brilliant reds for years to come, but there won't be any new images.

This past Thanksgiving I drug out my old Kodak Carousel projector, dug out some old slide trays and old yellow boxes, went to the old camera store and bought a spare ELH lamp in case the over-25-year-old bulb in the projector expired (it didn't!) and showed some slides to the family.

Like everyone else, I've succumbed to making digital images for the past few years.   I knew this day was inevitable.  Still, it's sad to see it come.

So long.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Big Win on Hulu Plus

Okay, the Roku box we got for Christmas has been fun to watch but the big score was last night when I discovered on Hulu Plus all seasons of Saturday Night Live going back to season one in 1975-76, really the only one I really enjoyed or watched on a fairly regular basis.  I was able to watch some sketches that I haven't seen since then but had a pretty good memory of.

Sinuous Chrome Browser Game

Is clever and fun to play.  What's this about apps in the browser?   Here's a good example.

I just realized, now that the Chrome App Store is public, I can pass on this really neat game!  Just install it in your Chrome browser.  There are other apps in the Chrome Web Store.

However, I discovered a rare example of the graphics on my old desktop PCs being slow!  The only thing I have fast enough to really run this at an enjoyable speed is the Macbook from work.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Talking Tech and Building an Empire From Podcasts

Jon Kalish in the New York Times writes about Leo Laporte's network.  

I listen to four or five shows per week, and sometimes more but I don't always have time.  I usually listen to the podcasts (via Listen for Android) in the car and sometimes watch the videos, e.g., on Youtube, or now on the Roku.

Balancing on a giant rubber ball in a broadcast studio and control room carved out of a cottage in Petaluma, Calif., Leo Laporte is an unlikely media mogul.

From that little town in California wine country, he runs his empire, a podcasting network, TWIT. For 30 hours each week, he and the other hosts on his network talk about technology — topics like the best e-book reader or how to get rid of a computer virus — for shows that he gives away online.

Mark McCrery, chief executive of Podtrac, which is based in Washington, and measures podcast audiences and sells advertising, said TWIT’s advertising revenue doubled in each of the last two years and was expected to total $4 million to $5 million for 2010.

Starting at $40 per thousand listeners, TWIT’s ad rates are among the highest in American podcasting and are considerably higher than commercial broadcasting rates, which are typically $5 to $15 per thousand listeners.

The shows I listen to are:

  • This Week in Google (the first I started with)
  • This Week in Tech
  • MacBreak Weekly
  • Security Now
  • The Tech Guy
And, as time and circumstances allow.
  • Tech News Today
  • Live Specials
  • Home Theatre Geeks
  • Net@Night
  • Four Cast

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts on Getting a PhD

I recently forwarded the insightful post by Matt Welsh on getting a PhD.  This article by Eduardo Pinero is similarly astute.

Happy Winter Solstice

Tuesday 21 December 18:38 EST.   Yeah, that's tomorrow but I wanted to send this before I forget.

Thinking About Little Home Servers

Where size=small (Mac mini) or size=zero (virtual, cloud).

Size = small

I find myself thinking about smaller servers at home now, mostly inspired by the Pogo Plug (

Smaller servers could mean the Mac Mini.  It's not the cheapest, but it's capable and brings the usual Apple Mac reliability and style (e.g., silent running).  Could I switch over to OS X-based servers rather than Linux-based?

Could I?  Should I?  Would I move completely away from Linux?  Well, since Linux is central to my work, abandoning it at home doesn't seem like a good idea.  It's also much cheaper to run and more flexible, for what that's worth.  But then tt's not clear to me that flexibility is that important lately, I find yearning for simplicity.

And can you run a OS X machine as a server?  Of course, and it's not that much different from Linux.  However, I expect that adding something is not as simple as sudo apt-get install.   Also, I'm not sure what would happen if I needed to do a wget, configure, make, make install.  You can certainly get to the point where this second case works, but how easy or hard is that?  It turns out that Apache and it's LAMP-ish friends are most important and Apache and ssh are already installed on MacOS.  Add MySQL and a little mini-server would be pretty much set.

That's what the little Pogo servers are.  I looked and you can buy generic Linux boxes with that little form factor.

The idea here is a little minimum-sized server, possibly Atom-based, with local solid-state storage for the OS (no moving disk).  You attach an external 2.5-in hard drive for large-scale moving-disk storage and plug in an ethernet cable.  I like that form factor as I gaze over a nearby set of mini-tower-sized machines.

Size = zero

Well, what about zero-sized virtual servers?  Why have home-based physical servers at all?  I could just set up one or more boxes in the cloud, something like on Amazon's EC2, and run my servers there.  Now the hardware part of the equation is cancelled out and only the essense of OS administration remains.  Storage is elastic and similarly free of hardware worries.

Okay, so it's all on >= 1 VMs.  What do I really need to run there at that point?  Half of what the home systems provide is infrastructure, but that could really be handled by the wifi router, the ISP, and the Internet in general.

Ultimately, for home, I need a few web-based services, file-sharing and data backup.  Data backup is one of the most important functions.  So, a cloud-based file-sharing and data service, say maybe Carbonite, Drop Box (yeah, I know they are different services, so maybe both) or something like Amazon S3, might be sufficient for that.

There's still a missing puzzle piece.  The cloud still doesn't support code development meaning I still need a Linux shell, emacs, Python, etc., etc., for code development.  To provide that in the cloud, at least a VM is required but it will be great when we can put all of that into a browser-based experience.  Sometime I'll have more to say on this topic.

You might ask, what happens when you lose connectivity when your ISP fails?  That is a key concern.  Generally everything stops anyway.

That brings us to the point where everything is in the cloud and there are no servers with administration worries.  It also brings me back to the same three questions:  Could I?  Should I? Would I?  

It's a thought.

Video of the Day

Tom and Ray of Car Talk fame sing and play after being presented with a custom-edition guitar by Martin and Company.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Monday night-Tuesday morning 20--21 Dec

On the actual winter solstice!  The circumstances of the eclipse are reported in Sky and Telescope.

Partial eclipse begins   1:33 EST
Total begins   2:41
Mid-eclipse  3:17
Total ends  3:53
Partial eclipse ends 5:01

Binoculars are a great instrument for observing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

ChromeOS---Finally Someone Gets It

Joe Wilcox and, via reference, MG Siegler, actually understand ChromeOS.  Wilcox writes about it in his blog post A week with Google’s Chrome OS laptop, Day 4: Who is the cloud for?.

Look, there are basically three (well, four) easy steps to grokking ChromeOS.

Step 0:  Most people use a browser for most things most of the time

At my own house, this has been obvious for years.  When I set up a Linux workstation in years gone by, I would install Firefox, Flash and that was about it.  They were ready to go.

Even at work for several years, most applications have been accessed via a web interface.  It's a huge advantage to just browse to a secured site rather than install and maintain a thick, or even thin, client.

And finally, I've been using Google Gmail and Apps (Documents, etc.) at work for years as well.  From any trustworthy computer and browser I can get to nearly everything at work that's important.  That was true even at the university.

Step 1:  For most folks, an OS is a liability

For most of us, the OS underlying the browser just brings trouble.  It's a place for viruses and worms to take hold, for cruft to build up until it crawls along so slowly that many people just give up and buy a new computer.   It requires constant help and repair and, in the best of cases, constant updating and vigilance to keep it safe and useable.

There are only a few computer professionals that really need, or think they have a good reason to need, an actual OS with all of the rights and priviledges thereof.

So, with ChromeOS, you just shave all of the OS overhead down to the minimum necessary to run Chrome, and that's it.  You still need the parts that talk to Wifi, card reader slots, USB ports for a camera and such, but there's a gigantically huge amount that you don't need.

The resulting system can then be reinforced and rearchitected to make it maximally secure.

In the ChromeOS world, you're using on-line apps.  They are updated constantly and invisibly to you.   You don't have to worry about the above problems and their related tasks.

Step 2:  You can work in the cloud

In this browser-only world, you keep all of your files on-line, in the cloud.  You don't have to worry about backups, installing apps, or lost data.  Your files are backed up, usually geographically distributed on a wide scale for redundancy, and easy to find.

It's true, relying on the cloud requires a level of trust.  We're used to having our stuff on our own computer and media.  Truthfully, though, most people do a bad job of managing and securing it.  The cloud is many times safer than what they currently do.

We've kept our personal finances, our money, in banks and financial institutions for all of my life.  Most corporations do, too.  Most businesses don't keep their money in a closet behind someone's desk.  For all practical purposes, the financial institutions are a cloud.  We're convinced that they take reasonable and appropriate security measures and that there are sufficient backups and failsafes in place.  And further, most of us continue to use and trust them even in the face of some recent reasons perhaps not to.

Step 3:  Then the rest of the apps

Okay, even if you admit that you can do your email, social networking, word processing, spreadsheets, etc., in the cloud, what about the heavy applications that just have to be run on a computer, i.e., that require a real OS?

In my experience, examples of these heavy apps fall into three categories.

  1. Media-heavy such as image- and video-editing.
  2. Graphics-heavy such as 3D games.
  3. Programming and development

With the advent of HTML5, all of these are possible to do in the browser.  There are earnest efforts to bring to market instances of the first two.  I've seen them.  Since last summer, I've done nearly 100% of my photo editing on-line in Picnik.  It actually works great!

Number three is the last hurdle and there are people hard at work on that one.  I've been thinking about it a lot myself, and I've done some experiments and even changed my daily work habits.  The only real thing I need other than a browser, really, is an xterm emulating a vt100 to access a Linux machine with Emacs, Python and some other tools.   If those can be moved out of the very old VT100 environment into a browser window, then I'm basically done.   Even I admit I'm not sure I'm ready to make that shift from 25 years of doing things a particular way, but I'm ready to give it a try.

One more final step is support for off-line caching so you don't have to skip a beat when you disconnected from the Internet for a while.

Once this is all done, the computer, whether it's a ChromeOS laptop or whatever, just doesn't matter.  You can close the lid and leave it on a table in a restaurant.  If someone else picks it up, if they don't know your password, they don't have your data.  But I can pick up another ChromeOS laptop, even borrow one from another person, log in, and pick right back up where I left off.  Secure, with all of my tools and data, ready to work.

This may be apple pie, but it's not blue sky.  Most of this technology is in place and it only needs to have the edges smoothed and polished.

See also: What does Chrome OS and Google notebook mean to you? by Andy Ihnatko in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Voyager Is Near Solar System's edge

BBC News reports.  A distinct change in the general velocity of charged solar-wind particles measured by Voyager 1 indicate is close to crossing the heliopause, by one definition, the edge of the solar system.

Now 17.4 [billion] km (10.8 [billion] miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.
It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.
The newly reported observation comes from Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, which has been monitoring the velocity of the solar wind.

This stream of charged particles forms a bubble around our Solar System known as the heliosphere. The wind travels at “supersonic” speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock.

At this point, the wind then slows dramatically and heats up in a region termed the heliosheath. Voyager has determined the velocity of the wind at its location has now slowed to zero.

Story by By Jonathan Amos,
Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

Monday, December 06, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Where's My Workspace?

I find myself once again dabbling in ~LISP in the form of Racket Scheme as part of an informal study group at work (perhaps, having apparently lost my mind completely).  Since most of my (extremely modest) LISP hacking hails from over 30 years ago, my first question was, How do I preserve my workspace?  I want this to work like Smalltalk!

My colleague, JB, showed me the scheme mode and some commands in Emacs which let you load definitions from an Emacs region or a single s-expression.  Hm, maybe that will work.

I found this blog post to be an interesting discussion on the topic.

For the record, I'm just auditing the study group!   8-)

And yet, I'm sitting here compiling a racket workspace for myself on a VM.