Aah you were there!

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.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:04 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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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".

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:54 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Wednesday, March 11

World

Am I The Crazy One?

I've been arguing today with people who think that the letter by 47 Republican Senators - explaining to the leaders of Iran the principles of enumerated powers and the branches of the US government - constitutes treason.

In other words, I've been arguing with crazy people.  What does that make me?

On the other hand, I got my first Reddit Gold.  Which means that someone essentially paid money to upvote me.  So I'm not the only crazy one.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:35 PM | Comments (12) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Tuesday, March 10

Geek

NBASE-T: When 2.5 > 10

I've been seeing references recently to 2.5 and 5 gigabit Ethernet, and was wondering what the hell was going on.

The general run-of-the-mill Ethernet port these days is 1 gigabit per second - Gigabit Ethernet or 1GbE.  Only cheap-and-nasty notebooks still leave you with Fast Ethernet, which is ten times slower.

The next step up is 10GbE - ten times as fast, more than ten times as expensive, and requiring all new cables.  10GbE specifies Cat 6A cables, where basically 100% of installed network cables worldwide are Cat 5e or Cat 6.

NBASE-T, as it is called, takes the technology developed for 10GbE and eases up a little, allowing it to run at 5 gigabits per second over Cat 6 cables, and 2.5 gigabits over older Cat 5e.

Because of the cabling requirements, 10GbE hasn't expanded beyond the server room, where you can easily run a short length of cable to the switch at the top of the rack, and fibre from there to your core router. 

NBASE-T may finally release us from the gigabit tyranny.  Gigabit Ethernet came out in 1999.  To put that in perspective, the fastest networking standard available to end users in 2015 is as old as this thing:

/images/Clamshell_iBook_G3.jpg

There's a reason they're called "clamshells".

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:54 PM | Comments (18) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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World

Idiots And The Games They Play

Every day we are presented with new evidence of the of the boundless incompetence of the Obama administration when it comes to foreign policy.  From giving a press conference detailing plans to retake territory captured by ISIS to chasing a deal with Iran that everyone knows they won't honour, the White House seems unable to put a foot right.

Why?

Russia, for example, and to some extent Iran, are in game theory terms rational actors.  In an uncertain world, they will look to their short term interest.  That means that unless you pose a convincing threat, they will cheat every single time, treating international politics as an Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma scenario.

The West is both affluent and peaceful precisely because it has learned not to do that.  Except under extreme provocation, Western nations co-operate with each other every time, a strategy known as superrationality.

Superrational actors take into account not only their short-term interests, but the interests of the other party in the interaction, and that party's own reasoning.

If you know that another party is a superrational actor, by far the most rewarding long-term strategy is superrationality on your part.  This involves convincing them that you are superrational as well, of course, because superrationality can only work when it's known to be mutual.

Rational actors in a superrational world are shut out of the peace and affluence of the superational, because, as far as the superrational actors are concerned, the rational actors are a bunch of lying cheating back-stabbing murderous lunatics.

Where to the rational actors, the superrational actors are easy pickings and, frankly, soft in the head.

But if you can persuade everyone to take up the superrational strategy, everyone will benefit.  Defense budgets will drop to essentially zero, with the world's military turned into International Rescue.  No-one will be imposing economic sanctions on anyone else.  No-one will be starving or rioting.  There will be no need for spies or secret police.  For the cost of any of the recent relatively minor wars, we could have established a self-sustaining colony on Mars.

But while a rational strategy against a superrational actor throws away enormous potential in the long-term for real short-term gains, a superrational strategy against a rational actor always loses.  

Only a complete idiot would follow a superrational strategy against a known rational player.

And that's precisely what the Obama administration does.

Why?  Well, because they're complete idiots.  Why are they complete idiots?  For now I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:09 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, March 08

Geek

Wanted

I love Kairosoft games.  I probably spend more time playing them these days than all my PC games put together.

The problem is that only about half their catalog is available on Android and in English.  They come out first on DoCoMo phones, and then get ported to Android later, and then translated into English later again.  

Which means that I can't play this:

/images/KairoPlane.jpg?size=720x&q=95
And it looks awesome.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:16 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Geek

Missed One

I've been lamenting the passing of the Nexus 7.  Google had a great small tablet, and even a modest update could have brought it renewed life; instead they dropped it completely.

I have three of them - the original 2012 model, which was good for the price and the time, and two of the 2013 version, which is a great device. 

I have two because one of them had a loose USB connector, and when I accidentally let the battery run flat I couldn't get it to take a charge.  I ordered a new one and also a Qi charging pad, and I eventually got the original working again, though it took some messing around and a factory reset.

There haven't been any announcements of nice 7" tablets recently...  But Huawei did just announce a 7" phone - the Mediapad X2.  With the exact same 1920x1200 IPS screen as the Nexus 7, but with upgraded everything else.

/images/MediapadX2.jpg?size=720x&q=95
It even looks pretty.

It has an octacore CPU with 4 x 2GHz A57 fast cores and 4 x 1.5GHz A53 low-power cores - so basically the same as the Sony tablet below; comes in two models with either 2GB RAM and 16GB flash (not enough) or 3GB RAM and 32GB flash (adequate); micro SD up to 128GB; dual SIM slots; 13Mpx rear and 5Mpx front cameras; and a 5000 mAh battery, 25% bigger than the Nexus 7's.

Still, it's lighter than the Nexus 7 - 239g vs. 299g for the LTE Nexus 7, and smaller - 183.5 x 103.9 x 7.3 mm vs. 200 ×114 ×8.65mm.  When reading on my Nexus 7 I can curl my hand around it and use the volume control on the right side to flip pages, but it's about as large a device as I could do that with (which is one reason why I'm reluctant to replace it with an 8" model).  The Mediapad has the same button layout, but it's a good bit lighter and narrower, so it would work even better.

Update: It's being reported as a phone, because it can make phone calls, but Huawei list it as a tablet.  There's no reason why a small tablet with LTE shouldn't also work as a phone, and this one does.

The specs list 24 days of standby time.  I had to read that three times before I realised that no, that's not awful, it says days.  Though I just pulled my Xperia Z Ultra out of my notebook bag where it had been sitting (powered on) for two weeks, and it still had a 30% charge, so it's not extraordinary either.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:57 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Friday, March 06

Geek

Mobile World Whole Lot Of Nothing Conference 2015

So MWC was just on in Barcelona.  Samsung announced the Galaxy S6, which dropped the very useful replaceable battery, water resistance, and micro SD slot for a shiny case.  And a much higher price.

HTC announced the One M9, an incremental update from its predecessors.  Not worth upgrading if you have the M8, but a very good phone all around.

Sony didn't have any new high-end phone announcements, which is something of a relief because they've been on a crazy 6-month release cycle.  The Z3 and Z3 Compact remain two of the best current Android phones.

But they did have a new tablet - the Z4.  In fact, it's just about the only interesting thing to come out of this year's show.

/images/XperiaZ4Tablet.jpg?size=720x&q=95
Like all the Xperia devices, it looks like a slab of glass...  Because basically, it is a slab of glass.  Magical glass.

It's a full-size (10.1") tablet, with a 2560x1600 screen, a Snapdragon 810 CPU (2GHz 64-bit quad-core Arm A57), 3GB RAM, 32GB flash, micro SD slot, plus the usual cameras and sensors and speakers and so on.  And it's waterproof, like all of Sony's Xperia Z models.

And it weighs 389 grams.

To put that in perspective, the 2012 Nexus 7 weighed 340g, with a screen half the size and a quarter the pixel count.  The 2013 model weighs 290g.  The two full-size tablets I own, an iPad 3 and a Nexus 10, weigh 650g and 603g respectively.

It looks really nice.  But I already have two full-size tablets, and instead I constantly use my Nexus 7.  On the other hand, part of the reason I use the Nexus 7 is that it's so much lighter than the big tablets.  The 7 is perfect for reading, checking email, and playing Kairosoft games, but it's too small for reading web sites unless they have a really good small tablet layout.  It's also kind of slow, with its 1.5GHz Snapdragon 600; the Z4 should be 2-3x faster (depending on the benchmark).

The existing Z3 Tablet Compact is also very nice, coming in at 270g for a 30% bigger screen than the Nexus 7, and a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801.  But it's only available here in Australia with 16GB of storage, and that's completely inadequate.  32GB is just enough; 64GB would be ideal.

(The problem being that Android no longer lets you install apps to the SD card; all apps, and in some cases - Kindle, I'm looking at you - their content has to be on the internal storage.  Well, some versions of some devices running some releases of Android can move some apps to SD card.  Which just makes things worse, frankly.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:24 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, February 28

World

Periwinkle And Bistre

The llamas' names are Periwinkle and Bistre.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:55 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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