tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Archive for the 'Science/Tech' Category

Warning: Pedantry ahead

I’ve been watching (and enjoying) the new take on Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos series about the universe (this time around hosted by the entertaining Neil deGrass Tyson), but I’m not too good about watching stuff when it’s initially broadcast (and I don’t have a DVR), so I’ve been watching it after the fact on Hulu.

It was during one such catchup session that Dr Tyson stated emphatically that ‘the theory of evolution is a scientific fact’.

Before you ask me if I’m a creationist or an intelligent design advocate, I don’t disagree with the spirit of the statement made. Also, I’m disappointed that you have such a low opinion of me. That said, I would hope that a programme supposedly trying to raise public interest in science would be a bit more rigorous in terms of making statements like that, i.e. something like ‘Evolution is the theory that is best supported by the evidence that we have collected so far’. The original statement implies evolution is incontrovertible, whereas the version here suggests that we may discard it and seek a new theory if new evidence surfaces that cannot be reconciled with the current theory. Which is in fact what scientists on the cutting edge of the discipline do routinely.

Probably not snappy enough for TV?

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Apparently DD-WRT or Linksys are screwing me over

With my router between my modem and my PC:


With my modem connected directly to my PC:


Thee words: What the fuck?

EDIT: Apparently something in the router settings was messed up – I reset it to factory settings and suddenly I can watch 720p streams without buffering. o_o

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Broadcasting from a new location

Finished my move last week, and I’ve been at the new place for just over a week now. It’s a great apartment, and the location is pretty convenient. For instance, if I feel like eating out, I no longer need to take a bus anywhere. I still need to go back to the old place and finish cleaning up before doing the final walkthrough with my former landlord – I’ll probably be doing that this weekend.

What else have I been up to? WelI, I tried out the Crysis demo on my PC, and I was surprised to find out that it was perfectly playable at my monitor’s native resolution with everything turned up to High. Sure, I had to leave AA turned off, but the game still looked stunning, and it played pretty well too. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get it, but now that I’ve tried it out, it’s most definitely on my buy list.

Also, a lot of people bitch about Comcast, but the immediate payoff for me has been

  1. Being able to watch Discovery Channel again
  2. Not having three-digit ping to TF2 servers outside Seattle

So yeah, I’m pretty happy.

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The footprint that enraptured the world


July 20th, 1969

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Incoherent rambling

About time for one of these posts, I think.

I’ve found a new place in downtown Seattle that I’ll be moving to next month. My current complex is honestly not that bad except for two problems:

  1. The ISP choices are terrible (I currently have 1.5Mbps DSL, which is the highest speed available)
  2. There isn’t really much of anything within reasonable walking distance

The new place has a supermarket on the ground floor (yay) and a few restaurants within walking distance. The ISP is Comcast, which may be dubious to some but I’m willing to go through the annoying setup process if it means I get a download rate from this century. The only downside is that I’ll either need to take a bus or a company shuttle to work, but eh, I need to start getting up earlier anyway. Getting all my stuff moved over is going to be a pain though…the number of my possessions has increased considerably since I moved to Seattle.

Speaking of Internet, I braved uTorrent a while back to watch some fansubbed anime, namely the first two episodes of K-On! I like it, but I probably won’t be able to watch the rest of it since BitTorrent basically nukes my connection (for reasons I haven’t figured out yet).

Still waiting for Sony to patch in PS2 support for the Madcatz SF4 sticks…I figure if it doesn’t come within another few patches I may just sell this to buy a HRAP3 (which does work for PS2 games). As it stands I need to use my old Tekken 5 stick over an adapter, and going from the awesome Sanwa joystick + buttons to the decent-ish Hori stick and buttons is…well, it’s like owning a Ferrari and driving a Honda instead, if you get my drift.

Installed iPhone OS 3.0 last week. My phone seems to be a lot more responsive now, so it’s obvious they’ve put some work into performance. I don’t use copy/paste much, but the push notifications have been very handy – I finally installed an IM client (Beejive) on my phone thanks to this new feature. Of course, if the damn thing supported background tasks in the first place this wouldn’t be an issue…

That said, I kind of wish AT&T didn’t want $400 from me for the 3GS. That new camera and faster CPU are really enticing.

I took out my guitar for the first time in months today, and all I can say for now is ‘wtf I suck.’ Hopefully this will change.


Writers’ block, yet again

Once again I’m finding myself casting around for something to write about. I’ve got a few ideas, but I honestly don’t think that I could do any of the subjects justice.

So I figure I’ll just start writing stuff and see where it goes from here.

Work has been pretty hectic lately – the project that I’ve been working on for about 4 months now had its first production milestone last week and my team was involved in a last-minute scramble to get everything in place. The first milestone is now done, in that my team’s contribution is more or less over, and after my week oncall I’ve shifted over to working on our next milestone. The last few weeks have been pretty hellish because of some mistakes we made early in the project, and I’m doing my best to ensure that we don’t run into the same problems on our second milestone.

As for what sort of project it is, I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say – suffice it to say that it’s a company-wide initiative that will have a pretty big impact on how all the teams in my organization do their jobs.

I actually had a dream last week where I was interviewing with some other team within the company, although for some reason the team worked in an indoor playground. Not going to bother trying to interpret that one…

I’ve started looking at apartment listings, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Amazon is going to be moving to a new campus downtown, and I’d like to move somewhere closer to the new campus, even if it means I have to commute to work by bus for a few months. On top of that, while my current apartment is really close to work, it’s not particularly close to anything else, meaning that I have to take a bus to do pretty much anything important. And let’s not forget that the effective duopoly on Internet providers in my neighbourhood means that I get to choose between crappy cable and crappy DSL. I currently use the latter, and it’s the #1 reason why I haven’t watched any of the new anime that’s come out in the last…2 years or so. 1.5 Mbps means that even Youtube ends up being a bandwidth hog. Not to mention my pings in TF2 and L4D are awful, even to servers that are relatively close by.

My dad suggested buying an apartment, which is probably not a bad idea seeing how prices seem to be heading lower every day, but I haven’t contacted any realtors yet. Part of me is wondering if buying a property when I’m on a visa that might not be renewed in 2011 is a really good idea or not.

I guess I’ll think about it some more.

On a side note, the CEO of the OnLive service that I talked about in my previous entry has apparently been on the PR warpath, offering interviews to a lot of big gaming sites about why all the naysayers are wrong. Apparently they’ve spent seven years developing a video compression algorithm that can get frame data down to very small sizes, which is great, but that also means the stream is going to have compression artifacts, reducing image quality overall. On top of that you’re apparently locked to 720p or 480p, so if your monitor’s native resolution is something else, you can’t play in full screen mode without blurring the image.

So yeah, it’s not for me. Or for anyone with taste, I’d say.

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Gaming in the cloud?

Apparently it is upon us

I’ve been wondering whether something like this was feasible at all. The prospect of being able to play the best PC games without actually requiring the hardware to do so is quite a tantalizing one. On top of that, unlike the Phantom, it appears to be an actual product (it was test-driven by gaming reporters at GDC). There are a few things that might turn into problems, though.


One of the major selling points of cloud computing is the ability to scale your applications as demand increases. This is all well and good when your app is a web application that’s designed to be scalable from the ground up, but I imagine making an app designed to run on a single machine into something that can run into a cloud must be pretty difficult. I’m wondering if they got the content providers to actually go back and make their apps scale across multiple machines (seems rather unlikely), or if they just have the apps running on virts with a graphics API implementation that just turns around and passes rendering/processing tasks off to a giant server farm (also seems unlikely).

On the other hand they could just be spinning up a virtual machine every time someone starts a session, in effect running multiple gaming sessions on a single box. This actually sounds like it might be easier to implement, although scaling horizontally would require purchasing more hardware as traffic ramps up. On top of that I don’t know how far support for dedicated graphics on virtual machines has progressed.

I’d love to know how they’re tackling this problem (seeing how I deal with a company that has to deal with massive scale all the time)…I wonder if they’ve published any technical documents about their solution.


A major advantage PC gaming has over its console counterpart is the ability to tweak settings to improve performance. I can see a service like OnLive allowing you to fiddle around with the settings present from within the game executable itself, but what about stuff like custom scripts and binds for multiplayer FPSes, installing mods, and otherwise tweaking your settings? It doesn’t sound like any of that will be possible with a service like this.


OnLive will apparently require at least a 1.5 Mbps connection for standard def (480p) resolutions and a 5Mbps connection for hi-def (I’m assuming 720p) resolutions. Assuming they’re actually rendering the source game at 1280×720 in 32-bit colour, each frame will be about (1280 * 720 *32)/10^6 = 29.5 Megabits. To get a playable framerate you need at least 30 frames per second, which translates to about 885 Megabits of data transmitted every second. This clearly vastly exceeds the throughput of a 5Mbps connection, so I’m led to believe they must be either employing compression on the framebuffer output, rendering at a lower resolution and upscaling, or a combination of the two. Either way it sounds like at least graphics-wise, OnLive won’t be a substitute for the real thing at all. On top of that ISPs these days are incredibly finicky about bandwidth usage, and a service like this sounds like a bandwidth hog that’d be liable to get throttling slapped on your account.

And of course there’s the issue of input lag – your keystrokes and mouse inputs need to make a full round trip to the OnLive servers before they’ll be registered. I don’t have any data on typical mouse and keyboard response times, but I am a little skeptical about whether they’re significant compared to typical network round trip times.

In any case, there’s an interview with the CEO of OnLive at GDC here, so go have a watch if you’re interested:


Most interestingly he mentions a solution that deals with the input lag problem I mentioned that took seven years to develop. I have no idea what this solution is – I suppose I’ll need to actually try it out to be convinced one way or the other.

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PC maintenance is hard

I’d really like to kick the idiot at Intel who designed the Core 2 Duo heatsink/fan assembly. I had to use a screwdriver to force that thing into its locked position because my thumbs weren’t enough. Why can’t they just use a backplate and screws like just about every decent third-party heatsink out there?

As for why I was fiddling with my heatsink, well, today I added a fresh layer of thermal grease to my CPU. It’s been running way too hot for quite a while now (50 degrees Celsius at idle) so I decided to finally get to the root of the problem. And of course now it’s idling at a healthy 20 C, with the temperature under load being about ten degrees higher. Given that, since the 4GB of RAM I bought over Thanksgiving was causing my CPU to overheat at load when I installed it back then, I think I should probably give it another shot (although Windows XP won’t be able to use all of it, more RAM is always good). Hopefully it fares better this time.

I also did a reformat recently, and all I have to say is that the entire process has convinced me of the obsolescence of the DVD as a backup medium. I burned something like eight single-layer DVDs trying to back up all my files, which is pretty ridiculous. I’ve been pretty sloppy with my disk management, so I guess what I need is to either create a dedicated data partition or buy a new hard disk exclusively for data. Then again that raises concerns about what happens when that disk fails…

Maybe I should set up a RAID? Heh. As if I didn’t have enough trouble holding on to my money as it is…

On another note I got my hands on Maaya Sakamoto’s newest album かぜよみ (Kazeyomi) yesterday (and before you ask me where I downloaded it from, I paid for it with money, you goddamn pirate). So far, I like it more than 30minutes night flight and 夕凪ループ. It has a few singles on it that are anime-related, most notably Triangular, the first opening theme for Macross Frontier (which is a pretty great song in and of itself). The main reason I bought this album on release is because it was made with Youko Kanno’s involvement – a big plus for me since most of Maaya’s best songs were composed by Youko Kanno.

Tentative thumbs up – I’ll be listening to this a lot on my iPhone for the next few weeks to confirm that initial impression.

And now for no reason I’ll end this post with a Youtube video I capped off my laptop while I was playing Outrun 2006. No, I’m not normally this bad at the game…but I think the fact that Fraps was affecting my framerate might have had something to do with it. Not to mention the fact that I recently switched from using the keyboard to using an Xbox 360 controller to play (great controller, apart from the terrible d-pad).


Water, water everywhere

The snow stopped just around the time I returned, but instead now it’s raining all the time. This would not normally be an issue (this is Seattle after all) but this rain is accompanied by some pretty strong wind, making walking to and from work a bit of a chore.

Oh well, I suppose I need the exercise.

Somehow it slipped my mind throughout the entire return flight that I was to be on call this week. I literally realised this the day before I returned to work. No matter, though – I find my on call weeks to be a decent break between the usually hectic (and sometimes tedious) pace of everyday development work. Although I am looking forward to what I’ll get to work on next week.

My new laptop is plugged into a power socket right in front of the TV. I’m not sure what I want to use it for just yet, although a Media Center PC seems most likely since it runs Vista and has a convenient HDMI output for my TV. Said HDMI output also lets me play stuff like Outrun 2006 in 1360×768 on a nice big screen. Quite nice, I have to say…pity the graphics card seems to have some issues rendering the game at its proper speed.

Speaking of computer issues, this news has me interested a fair bit. I’m not usually one to install pre-release versions of operating systems, but I’ve heard almost nothing but positive impressions about Windows 7 (as opposed to Vista which was sending mixed signals even when it was in alpha). Kagura is about due for a format anyway, so I think I’ll delete my unused Linux partition and create one for trying out Windows 7.

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Lion City Chronicles

Got back to Singapore two days ago. The flight was uneventful, and I managed to gather more data to support my hypothesis that turbulence only occurs at mealtime. I watched Iron Man and judged it worthy of all the praise it got when it was released – that’s one I’ll have to pick up on Blu-ray or DVD at some point. I also watched Get Smart, and I only really enjoyed Steve Carell’s performance (and Anne Hathaway’s presence) – the rest of it felt a bit trite.

So what have I been doing for the past few days?

  1. Meeting friends for dinner and catching up
  2. Trying to get my ancient (vintage 2004) laptop to run Half-Life 2 under Wine and failing (it runs the first game just fine, but then again that game actually had an OpenGL renderer)
  3. Putting time into Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
  4. Trying out some iPhone games (I Love Katamari and SimCity – and I’m not really impressed with either one)
  5. Troubleshooting computer issues (as always)

I’m hoping to buy some programming books and spend some time programming. I’ll probably start with the OpenGL Red Book since the Graphics professor I had in college was pretty terrible, and I’ve always wanted to revisit the subject in a more competent setting. I’ve also brought my copy of The Ruby Programming Language with me, in the hope of finally getting down to writing that IRC client I wanted to write.

I thought about getting a gaming laptop to play TF2 and L4D, but then I remembered that I have a perfectly good desktop computer that does that already. No sense buying something I’ll only use for a few weeks. Still, my ageing Dell needs a replacement…time to go shopping. I guess.


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