Monday, March 21, 2011

Are the Risks of Nuclear Power Being Overblown?

The Fukushima I nuclear accidents are a very serious matter.  However, the crisis is being misused as a heavy-handed warning against further expansion of nuclear power generation in the US.

Consider the facts:

  • The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is nearly 40 years old
  • The plant was only designed to handle a magnitude 8.0 earthquake (the Tōhoku earthquake was measured at 9.0)
  • The plant was only designed to handle a tsunami of 5.7 meters (18.2 ft) but was subjected to waves of water 11 meters high
Here's a great visual chart of radiation dosing... see if you can find what the Fukushima I incident resulted in, along with Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and normal safe limits.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thinking about a New PC? Sign Here.

The most common complaint about new Windows PCs?  Bloat-ware.  Truly a shame that an excellent operating system running on even the best hardware available can be soiled by such poor product planning. Trouble is, what goes on a new Windows PC (other than Windows itself) is really beyond the control of Microsoft, and it really shows.  

To achieve true performance from the start, geeks and nerds around the world just format the hard drive inside their new PCs and install Windows from scratch, bypassing all the bloat and trail software that the PC manufacturers install on top of Microsoft's fantastic OS.  However, this is not for the faint of heart, especially if one is not very tech savvy (not that there is anything wrong with that).  There is a solution for the average Joe though: Microsoft Signature.  On Microsoft's online store, one can purchase PCs configured  by experts and lacking any clutter.  Until the manufacturers learn the hard way, the best PC experience can be enjoyed by making friends with a geek that knows how to clean out all that rubbish or, by purchasing a PC directly from the horses mouth with Microsoft Signature.

Friday, March 4, 2011

BPCE and PCE

The "Post-PC Era" doesn't exist. That's right, I said it. There are currently only two eras worth mentioning that are related to computing technology. Those are the PC Era (PCE) and that which I've termed "Before the PC Era" (BPCE). Apple fan boy or not you are still in the PC era and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Let me explain why.

BPCE

Before the PC Era computers were large power thirsty refrigerator or larger sized devices. They often used vacuum tubes and required their own power plant to operate along with a team of experts, scientists, and fly swatters (Early computers were plagued with insects that would nest inside them near their heat generating parts, which is where we get the term "computer bug" from). Computers were nearly always purpose built and in the pre-PC era computers that were reprogrammable wasn't even necessarily a mainstream idea. This is something we all take for granted now-a-days when we quit playing Angry Birds and stop to check our facebook.

The Personal Computer Era

Then along came the PC, a small desktop sized machine that could do what larger machines could do before it at a fraction of the cost. Commodore, IBM, and Apple pioneered here with offerings all targeted at different markets and make not mistake, these *were* pioneers. No one knew whether anyone even wanted one of these machines in their home or business. Many other companies followed suit shortly after with copies and clones, all the while paving the way for one of the biggest explosions of technology the world has ever known. What the PC did to change business, culture, even life as we knew it was, rather is, incalculable.

The World Wide Web

Enter the Internet. Online services, bulletin board systems, and eventually the Internet connected these PCs into a global network that took the world by storm. Slow to start (the Internet was first opened to the public in the late 1980s) the Internet eventually became an integral part of most everyone's life, whether at home or work for business or pleasure. This amazing communications technology still relied (relies?) on the PC. Content made for the Internet is produced on PCs and the wires and bits that the Internet runs on are useless to humans without the interface a PC provides.

Mobile Communications

Parallel to these developments was another feat of technology, the mobile phone. The first mobile phones were large, clunky, and awkward devices, yet they demonstrated a capability that was previously only dreamt of in episodes of Star Trek. Through the years, mobile phones have been miniaturized and enhanced with features such as color LCD screens, QWERTY keyboards, and most important of all, connectivity to the Internet. The result of this integration of technologies was the smart phone. Developments in the mobile communications market opened door for wireless computer networks and the cornucopia of smart phones, net books, and tablet PCs that have recently come to market.

Still a PC Era

It may be simply a discussion of semantics, but PC stands for Personal Computer. A PC is a computing device that is small enough to be owned by a single person. This was true of the first desktop computers in the 1980s and it still applies to laptops, net books, smart phones, as it certainly does to tablets. These devices are still personally owned, reprogrammable computers that provide three features that allow us to interact with the Internet, a display, an input device, and a network connection. There will not be a Post-PC era until this model changes in some significant way.

The Cloud

The *real* Post-PC Era is when The Cloud becomes mainstream. When, instead of interfacing with a device, we interface with The Cloud, directly. Or maybe when the world around us is the computer and we interface with that instead, can we claim to be in the Post-PC Era. (Watson anyone?) This may sound a lot like something out of Star Trek, but think back to that first cellular phone and how radically different it was. This kind of technology may not be too far off but it is definitely not a mainstream reality quite yet.

None of this is to detract from the excellent job of creating hardware and services that Apple and their charismatic leader Steve Jobs have done in the past five years or so. They deserve to be recognized for their efforts but what they don't deserve (yet) is to be credited with the end of the PC Era.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Slonkast Covers Chromium Projects' "Courgette"

As discussed on the Slonkast Episode 23, arecently published design document on the Chromium Projects website discusses the benefits of smaller software patches and updates.  Chromium developers devised a new algroithm for computing a differential file to update existing installations of the Chrome Browser.

The algorithm is called Courgette and it uses a disassembler to compare code changes at an assembly language level.  The results of employing Courgette are file patches that are two orders of magnitude smaller than the browser installation, and one order of magnitude smaller than normal bsdiff methods done at the binary level.  These patch files can be applied without reinstallation of the app and use much less bandwidth than traditional patch methods.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Watson

Has anyone been watching Jeopardy! this week? If you haven't seen or heard about it, IBM has a super computer playing as a contestant. This week features Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the most successful Jeopardy contestants to ever play the game. Their calling it the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge and IBMs entry is a massively parallel supercomputer designed and built by IBM named Watson (after IBMs founder).

After the first round, Watson tied Brad with $5000, and Ken trailed with $400.  Watson pulled away during the second round with Watson standing at $36681 Brad $5400 and Ken $2400.

Watson has been programmed with facts and algorithms to parse natural language questions and find the best answer. He has no connection to the internet but has a butt load of storage 16 TB of RAM and over 2800 POWER7 processor cores.

There is one more day of the challenge tomorrow, if you are at all interested in computers or seeing Star Trek type technology come to life... this is your chance.  Just to give you some idea of the feat that has been reached here, researchers have recently determined that all the processors in the ENTIRE WORLD contain the computational power of about one human brain. So Watson is really the underdog in this race!

Truly amazing times we live in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC3IryWr4c8

Wednesday, February 2, 2011