a glob of nerdishness

February 27, 2007

On Lisp

written by natevw @ 7:13 pm

Found a particularly funny [xkcd] cartoon via Ryan Tomayko’s blog (which seems to have more interesting things on it and has therefore been added to “Interesting Sites”). Anyway, you might like Randall Munroe’s Lisp cartoon if you’ve ever read the continued praise of the nearly fifty-year-old language.

February 24, 2007

That’s one way of using technology in an unforeseen fashion…

written by hjon @ 8:52 pm

Two ways, actually. Here’s a story about a pianist whose albums have been discovered to be copies of other performers. How was this discovered? iTunes, of all things. Also, here’s a more in-depth analysis.

On the other hand, one could use SETI@home to find a missing laptop.

[both via Slashdot]

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Schroeder and Gibson on hard drives

written by hjon @ 2:00 pm

More on hard drives. Here’s a paper that won a “Best Paper” award at FAST ‘07. And a wonderful summary from StorageMojo. Schroeder and Gibson are from CMU’s Parallel Data Lab.

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February 19, 2007

Google on hard drives

written by natevw @ 8:05 am

Google put out some research on hard drive failure trends lately, and they should know. You can check it [pdf] out, as well as some hundred other papers at Google Labs, or read a summary at engadget. Unfortunately, to keep their edge against competition, I guess, Google didn’t release results related to the failure rates by manufacturer, though they admit there is a correlation. Of course, you can always Google for that kind of advice….

February 16, 2007

Fitting a changing world into a changeable machine

written by natevw @ 9:01 pm

An electrical engineer and professor writes

I’m concluding that there are some limits to the amount of detail that we should computerize.

in response to changes in the real world that affect existing programs. While the example he started with (Daylight Savings) is a change that good system designers have anticipated, he reflected on some issues that I have been conscious of myself this week.

In the past couple of days I’ve had the opportunity [and the burden!] to redesign a map-drawing architecture while converting it from one programming language to another. I’ve been thinking about all the “real world” details that need representation in code, looking at things like Dates, Colors, Map Projections, Shapes, Pictures, Labels, Weather Data…. The many sciences lend insights which change the way things are best codified, and the state of my art is growing as well through time. For every one I need to consider: in which aspects should I follow/trust another’s design, which can I approach better myself (and still have time to squash enough bugs), what should I leave up to the human user to do on their own, and what should I leave until later!

Computing seems to force its binary nature out through the cracks of even a well-designed program or device. Don’t we often have to make a “take it” or “leave it” choice whether or not to invest time storing bits of life in a particular format or form factor? When taking a particular tool to use, it’s nice to know there’s potential for leaving somewhat gracefully later. (For example, iTunes stores a copy of its library data in XML for re-import or use by other programs. Then again, for the time being at least, if you forget your music store password you could be restricted from your encrypted purchases.)

February 10, 2007

Overzealous iTunes podcast organization

written by natevw @ 5:34 pm

My iTunes library seems to collect all sorts of media from all sorts of places. I try to keep it fairly clean, so when I noticed I had a number of neglected video podcasts I set to work. Some video podcasts weren’t interesting enough to warrant keeping around, and some weren’t actually podcasts but rather one-off files packaged in feeds anyway. For example, I had downloaded Rob Carlton’s dry and witty “CARMICHAEL & shane” via an sidebar-ed iTMS link. I wanted this file to show up as a nice thumbnail in the “Movies” section, instead of being nested under “Podcasts”. So I dragged the file to another folder, deleted the podcast, and re-imported the video file into iTunes — only to find it back where it started, under podcasts again!

Long story (including a trip into Hex Fiend to replace all instances of “podcast” into “nodcast”) short, it turns out the Quicktime container that it was in (.mp4/.m4v) contains a bit of metadata which flags the file as a podcast, and another piece containing the feed URL. Lostify does not (yet, anyway) have a way to change these flags, but its underlying utility, AtomicParsley, does. A quick AtomicParsley VideoName.mp4 --podcastFlag false in Terminal, a little time spent thinking, and it spit out a second file with a random “-temp-12345″ infixed into the name. Voilà! “CARMICHAEL & shane” is now a first class movie!

February 7, 2007

Thoughts on Thoughts on Thoughts on Music

written by natevw @ 8:59 am

“Jobs Favors DRM-Free Music Distribution” says Slashdot. I thought about posting my thoughts on this yesterday, but given its prominent spot on Apple’s page and high rankings at the big link-swarming sites, I wouldn’t have been the first and hardly the last to throw my bit into the seething mass of tuppence pieces.

So I direct you to John Gruber’s “Reading Between the Lines of Steve Jobs’s ‘Thoughts on Music’” essay. He brings up all the thoughts and links I had and more in his characteristic well-written and well-opinionated style, so I’m glad I refrained.

Just one other piece to point your attention to, with a little background: Apple, long known for its “loose lips sink ships” policy, has in recent years been accused of committing the Web 2.0 faux pas of not reaching-out-to-customers and not promoting-open-discussion via the Blog Bandwagon. But Bill Bumgarner (one of many blogging Apple employees, ironically enough) welcomes a new Apple blogger that shouldn’t be overlooked.

February 3, 2007

Fat vs. Universal

written by natevw @ 7:52 pm

Sounds like the MPAA looking to devour another tasty morsel compliments of our fine legislative system. But today’s topic is Virtual Machines, not virtual monopolies. By “Virtual Machine”, I don’t mean “Virtual Computer”, I mean “Virtual Processor”. There’s much to be said about the uses and shortcomings of virtual machines. I’d like to focus specifically on how the technology could, or could have, benefit Apple formerly Computer.

Apple has the privilege of designing it all: hardware, operating system and a leading share of the applications. Contrast “design” with “dictate” — it wouldn’t be practical for them to design all the chips they need, nor are they able to write software for every niche that has a need. Even their operating system, whether due to beneficence or lack of market domination, follows an admirable number of external standards. One of these is LLVM, a Virtual Machine standard already integrated into part of Leopard’s graphics system.

The two outside ends, hardware and applications, are the areas where Apple must take extra care in its design to give some deference to the plans of its suppliers and developers. And when it comes to processor choice, both come into play. Apple has already led a fairly smooth transition from PowerPC-compiled applications to so-called “Universal Binaries“. These programs are really just fat binaries, a technology which has been in use on the Mac for quite a while now.

Fat -vs- Universal logos

“Universal” is a misnomer: the text may read one way but, as the dyadic logo implies, the reality is that most Universal Binaries are compiled for only 2 platforms, PowerPC and Intel. The next time Apple asks its developers to “check the box” and recompile could be the last for a long time if they move to an actual Universal Binary compiled to run on top of a Virtual Machine. Apple’s involvement in LLVM has been known since at least 2005, and I have no doubt they could easily pull it off. It might feel like joining the ranks of Microsoft “Why are they yelling?” .NET and Java with its “write once, ugly anywhere”, but I think it would still warrant applause at a future WWDC convention.