Aah I'm late.

Saturday, March 28

Rant

Canaryception

This blog service has not yet been charged for offences relating to the "warrant canary" provisions in the Australian government's 2015 data retention legislation.

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Tuesday, March 24

Cool

Then Along Come Three All At Once

Icewind Dale 2 came out in 2002, and that was pretty much it for high-budget 2D fantasy RPGs.  Until Kickstarter came along, and people realised that if you had a team, an idea, and at least some history of actually delivering games, the internet would throw money at you.

It still takes a while to build a full-scale RPG.  But after a successful Kickstarter campaign late in 2012, Pillars of Eternity, a spiritual sequel to the classic Planescape: Torment, ships this week.*


Torment: Tides of Numenera, a literal sequel to the classic Planescape: Torment and another big Kickstarter hit, has a planned release towards the end of the year.*


And there's Sword Coast Legends, which wasn't on Kickstarter and kind of appeared out of nowhere, but doesn't look too shabby and is also due out this year.**


Typical.  Spend 13 years waiting for a bus and then along come 3 all at once.

* On Windows, Mac, and Linux.
** On Windows and nothing else.  Way to let the team down, guys!

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Monday, March 23

Geek

Azunyan Est Arrivé

I checked this morning and it hadn't shipped yet.

In fact, I checked just now and it hasn't shipped yet.

But it's sitting on my desk right now.  Apparently Star Track Express use a tachyon drive.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:10 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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World

Stupid Facts

So for some reason I was looking at the Wikipedia entry for the geography of the Northern Territory.  Blah blah blah, largest lake is Lake Amadeus, with an area of WTF km2.

There's a lake of over 1000 km2 in the Northern Territory?!  I know the northern parts along the Gulf of Carpentaria and Timor Sea are positively soggy, but most of the state is arid, and I'd have noticed a lake that big on a map just by casual inspection.

Oh.

Right.

Salt lake.

Most of the time, dry salt lake.

Like Lake Eyre, which is the largest lake in Australia, and the 18th largest lake in the world....  When it has water in it.

Or the Todd River, where the annual regatta had to be cancelled in 1993 because there was water in the river.

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Geek

Six Years Counts For Something

So Azunyan will be showing up tomorrow with any luck, and I was wondering just how her GPU will hold up.  It's a Radeon R7 M270, which is a slightly tweaked R7 M265, and not a very fast chip.  It's roughly in line with AMD's better integrated graphics, or Intel's very best, but with the benefit of having its own 4GB of dedicated RAM, and drivers that work.

But according to this comparison, it delivers 80% of the 3D performance of my recently retired Radeon 4850.  And 80% of the 2D performance of my current Radeon 7950, which has no trouble at all with my 4K desktop monitor.

That's better than I expected.  I played Mass Effect 1 and 2 and Dragon Age (the original, accept no other) on that 4850.  Not at the full 2560x1440 resolution of my monitor of the time, but with full graphics details otherwise.

So at 1280x720 up to maybe 1920x1080, depending on the game, it should be adequate.  I'm going to give Cities: Skylines a try at 4K just to see what it looks like; it's not a graphically taxing game but I still expect it to over-extend the M270.

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Friday, March 20

Cool

Colossal Order For President

Cities: Skylines


Oh yeah, Windows, Mac, and Linux.  And only $30.  And it's on Steam, so if you're short of cash, you can just wait a little.

Two more points.

First, I was going to say that the cities look too clean to be real, but then I learned that the developers live in Finland.

Second, this review: I named a dog and just followed it wandering the streets for a bit. It didn’t wander far, but made me appreciate the level of detail.

You can currently grow your city up to a population of 1 million.  And you can name a dog and watch it explore the neighbourhood.

I played Sim City 4 back in the day on a 1.2GHz Athlon with 512MB of RAM, running Windows... ME?  I think.

I now have an 8-core 4GHz AMD system with 32GB of RAM, not to mentioned a graphics card with 3GB of RAM and a 3TFLOP GPU, so a hypothetical city builder game that took advantage of all that power would probably look something like this:


Or maybe this:

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Thursday, March 19

Rant

Blarglezarglewargle

TPG is buying iiNet.

Blah.

Not the end of the world, not even close to the end of the world, not even the end of the street, but blah.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:43 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Wednesday, March 18

Geek

Time For A Change

So Mio is nearly five years old now.  Still working just fine, but five years is a long time in notebookland, and I'm looking at getting one of these.

/images/Azunyan7000.jpg?size=500x&q=95


3GHz 5th generation Core i7 (up from a 2.13GHz 1st generation Core i3), Radeon, Radeon R7 M270 (up from a Radeon 5650), 16GB RAM (from 4GB), 4GB video RAM (from 1GB), and a 256GB SSD (up? from a 500GB HDD).

And a 3840x2160 IPS touchscreen up from a 1920x1080 TFT nontouchscreen.  Touch I don't care about so much, but 4K IPS on a 15" notebook is very nice.

Only obvious problem is that it lacks dedicated page up/down, home, and end keys.  For editing code, that's a pain.

Update: Ordered.  Azunyan inbound, ETA Tuesday next.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:28 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, March 14

Geek

Five Good Things

The world's a mess, as it always is, and Moore's Law is coming to an end.  The automatic cycle of faster-better-cheaper that has helped drive the global economy for thirty years is coming to an end.

But engineers are smart people, and when one avenue for progress closes, they turn their attention elsewhere.  Here's five things to look forward to - some of them, in fact, already on the market.

  1. 3D Chips

    Flash memory is a near miracle combination of cheap, capacious, and lightning fast.  I have a Sandisk 128GB micro SD card; it cost me about $150, stores the equivalent of a million Apple II floppies, and is the size of my little fingernail.  I was afraid I would lose it before it was safely installed in my tablet.

    The problem with flash memory is that it wears out over time.  Not quickly - recent tests of consumer-grade SSDs showed that they last a long time even under appalling workloads.  But as technology advances and flash chips get smaller, an unavoidable consequence is that they wear out faster.  The newer your SSD or SD card, the shorter its lifespan.

    The answer?  Move into the third dimension.  To pack more capacity into its flash chips without making them less reliable, Samsung is now stacking up to 32 individual flash cells on top of each other.  The drawback is that this requires a level of control that we don't yet have in the latest process technologies - around 20nm.  Samsung had to go back to an older process, closer to 50nm.

    But by combining larger memory cells with 3D stacking, Samsung can keep increasing capacities without sacrificing lifespan or reliability.  The 850 Pro and 850 Evo SSDs, already shipping, use Samsung's second-generation 3D flash, and other manufacturers will follow in the next couple of years.

  2. USB 3.1 and the Type-C Connector

    Remember before USB?  When printers had printer ports, and keyboards and mice had keyboard and mice ports?  Modems had serial ports, joysticks had joystick ports, and every mobile phone in the world had a different charger.

    USB swept all that away with a single cable (cough) and a single connector (cough cough).  Yes, since then we've had USB 1, 2, and 3.0, in a total of four different speeds and at least eight standard connectors.

    USB 3.1 changes things just a little.  First, it's 2.4 times the speed of the already fairly zippy USB 3.0, thanks to a higher bit rate and improved encoding standards.  Second, it boosts the power supply standard from about 10W to 100W - from just about enough to charge a tablet to enough to charge a full-size notebook.

    And third, it introduces the Type-C connector.

    The Type-C connector is the same at both ends of the cable.  It works either way up.  It's about the size of the USB 2 micro-B connector, but more robust (at least, it's designed to be), and has up to 100 times the usable bandwidth.

    And if can carry a video signal to drive a 5K monitor at 60Hz.

    Look for it to do to things like HDMI, DVI, and Thunderbolt what USB 1 did to parallel and serial ports, and to notebook power supplies what the micro-B port did to phone chargers.

  3. NBASE-T

    That looks like gibberish if you don't know the history of Ethernet.  Early ethernet ran over shared coaxial cable, and used something called CSMA/CD to control the sharing of the bandwidth.  That worked fine if the network wasn't busy, but congested networks just plain sucked.  Plus, coax cable is a pain to work with.

    It was slowly supplanted by 10BASE-T, a standard for running a 10-megabit network over cheap twisted pair cabling.  That was supplanted by Fast Ethernet on the 100BASE-T (or, really, the 100BASE-TX) standard.  And that has been replaced by 1000BASE-T, gigabit ethernet.  

    There is a standard called 10GBASE-T - 10 gigabits over twisted pair.  The standard was published in 2006, and you can count the number of consumer products implementing it on, well, zero hands.  Even Apple's fancy Mac Pro doesn't have 10GBASE-T.

    The slow uptake has been due to a combination of factors - the power requirements to drive a signal that fast, the chip design required to handle the signal processing, and the cost of ripping out all your old cables because they don't meet the 10GBASE-T spec.

    NBASE-T basically says, well, if we can't do 10 gigabits, rather than dropping all the way back to the 1000BASE-T standard from 1999, let's see if we can run at 5Ggbits, or failing that, at 2.5Gbits.

    If that doesn't sound immediately exciting to you, think of how it would feel running any other piece of computer equipment from 1999.

  4. Retina Displays

    Like computer monitors for example.  The standard resolution - dots per inch - of computer monitors had remained largely unchanged for at least 20 years.

    The screens got bigger, something made possible by LCD panels, because a 30" CRT is not something you can conveniently sit on your desk.  But the number of pixels was tied directly to the size of the display.

    No longer.  Now, thanks to technology that started in the mobile phone and tablet markets, everything is all over the place.  At the common screen size of 27", you now have a choice of 1920x1080, 2560x1440, 3840x2160, or 5120x2880 - anything from 2 million to 14 million pixels.

    The change has been so rapid that it's left video standards behind; 5K monitors require two DisplayPort cables to run at 60Hz, and likewise, a 4K monitor only runs at 30Hz over HDMI unless both your video card and monitor support the very recent HDMI 2.0.

    And companies are forging ahead to 8K.  Which is where it will likely stop, because 5K is already pushing the point of diminishing returns.  Until we get to large, continuous workspace displays - where your desk is backed with a single curved sheet of glass a couple of feet high and six or more feet wide - 8K will do.

  5. 2.5D Chips

    Nvidia have just released their new crown jewel, the Titan X, which is one-and-a-half GTX 980s squeezed into a 600mm2 die.  With 3072 shaders, 8 billion transistors, and 12GB of RAM on a 384-bit memory bus running at 7GHz, it's a technological tour-de-force, and not surprisingly, it will set $999.

    But its reign as the fastest single-chip video card on the block may be short-lived.  AMD is tipped to release their Radeon 390X, which will have a memory bus running at only 1GHz...  But 4096 bits wide.

    This trick is made possible by the prosaically named high bandwidth memory, a process of stacking and connecting individual memory dies vertically, and then presenting a very wide bus - up to 1024 bits wide - to the CPU or GPU.

    The 390X is expected to come in 4GB and 8GB versions, with four memory stacks sitting right next to the GPU die on a tiny interposer board.

    Which leaves the rest of the video card to do, basically, nothing.

  6. Shingles

    As a bonus, Seagate recently released an 8TB disk drive.  It doesn't cost the Earth, either; Amazon list it at $270.  To bring that capacity down to that price, they've played a little trick.

    The read head on modern disk drives has for a while been much smaller than the write head.  After all, the write head needs to force the magnetic domains in the surface of the disk to change polarity; the read head only needs to sense the polarity as they zoom past.

    In fact, the read head is about half the size of the write head.  So in theory, you can read twice as much data from the disk as you can write.  Which is a dumb theory and makes no sense, and that's just what Seagate have done.

    The trick is this: The write head lays down a track of data - like tracks on a vinyl record, except they're invisible and largely intangible and they're concentric circles rather than a continuous spiral.  And then the head moves inwards half a track, and writes the next track of data.  And then it moves half a track again, and writes the next track.

    So the tracks overlap each other like shingles - hence the name.  The read head, being half the size of the write head, has no trouble reading just the half that isn't overlapped.

    The complications arise when you need to go back and change or delete something - you can't just overwrite it directly, because that would wipe out the half-track next to it.

    The solution is to put gaps into the tracks.  I don't know the exact numbers Seagate have used, but let's say they started with a 5TB drive, used this shingle trick to double it to 10TB, and then left every fifth track empty, giving an effective 8TB.

    When you want to overwrite something, you read four tracks from the disk into the buffer in the drive controller, make the change you want, and write them back again.  That means you get twice the storage in the same space, and reading and writing files is as fast as ever, but changing data takes four times as long.

    Since SSDs are phenomenally superior to regular disk drives for storing data that needs to be modified frequently, this makes for a good division of labour: Store your operating system, applications, documents, and databases on your SSD, and your media files - music, video, pictures, books - on the disk.  Because 8TB of SSD isn't cheap, even now.

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Thursday, March 12

Geek

Google > Apple

So two days ago, Apple announced the Macbook Nothing, which depending on your perspective is either a Retina Macbook Air with all the ports removed, or a 12" iPad Pro with full-size keyboard option.

It has one USB Type-C port.  This is the great new standard that will be showing up everywhere in short order.  It's about the same size as the USB 2 micro-B port found on most phones, but it supports 20 times the bandwidth and 10 times the power.

/images/Macbook.jpg?size=720x&q=95
That's the good news....

And that's it.  One USB-C port.  No charging port; you charge over USB.  No SD card slot; you connect to storage over USB.  No video port; you connect to monitors over USB.

Which is a teensy problem if you want to do more than one thing.  Though Apple will happily sell you a $79 dongle that gives you an outdated video connection (no DisplayPort for you!) and another USB port.

Also, if that USB-C port breaks - and while we haven't seen USB-C in the wild before and don't know exactly how well it holds up, micro USB ports have a bad habit of working loose or failing entirely - you have a $1299 paperweight.

Google announced their new model Chromebook Pixel today.  It has a higher resolution screen and a faster processor than the Macbook, optionally more memory, and it comes with two USB-C ports.  One on either side, either of which can be used as a charging port or a video port...  Or a USB port.

It also has two regular USB 3.0 ports.  And an SD card slot.

/images/ChrombookPixel.jpg?size=720x&q=95
Image borrowed from Ars Technica because those fuckheads at Google won't even let me view the product page without a US passport.

I don't know for sure what Apple were thinking when they released an expensive notebook with a single port for I/O, video, and charging, but I believe they were thinking "iPad" rather than "getting stuff done".

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