Wednesday, June 30
Still waiting on my copy of Noam Chomsky Sleeps Furiously...
At least I'll know where to spend it all.
92" monitors? 3.8GHz desktop PCs with solid-state disks and 16GB of memory? Laptop computers with built-in RAID? Linux servers with up to 32 CPUs and 112 expansion slots?
As I mentioned before, there will be a rally held in Sydney tomorrow (June 30) to demand that Australia's troops be withdrawn from Iraq. Of course, as of yesterday our troops are there at the express request of the Iraqi government, so this demand is unlikely to gain much traction.
Thursday July 1 marks the first birthday of the Mu.Nu Forums, and your lovely hostess Renata is holding a party! All welcome as long as you behave... Unless your name begins in S, or you live in Texas or Michigan. (Registration necessary, otherwise you can't see the good bits.)
Sunday July 4 is Australia's Reserve Forces Day, with a parade through Sydney's streets featuring 90 horsies and a column of armoured vehicles! How cool is that? Also, our American friends will be celebrating their Nation Barbecue and Fireworks day.
Monday, June 28
Pixy Misa's award for Correct Use of Algebra this month goes to Pretty Cure. In the first episode (by the way, can anyone tell me what that theme song is reminding me of?) our heroine Nagisa (the sporty one) is called upon in class to solve the equation:
x - 7 = 19 + xWhile she was dithering on the screen, I was saying to myself That's not possible - it simplifies to 0 = 26! Then our other heroine, Honoka (the brainy one) stands up and says That's not possible - it simplifies to 0 = 26! Perhaps you meant to write x - 7 = 19 - x, and then x would be 13.
Apart from that the show wasn't particularly impressive..
And irritating trick of the month goes to Aishiteruze Baby... Which puts an extra minute of story after the closing credits, something I didn't discover until episode 12.
Saturday, June 26
I think we may have seen this one before, but anyway:
Sunday, June 20
Brought to you care of Serenity and SarahK.
But... Um, ladies, I knew about this. And I'm, err, well, a guy.
Friday, June 18
I'd love to read a book with that title - assuming it lived up to the title. Or even to write one, though it would take me a full year of work, because I'm not nearly well-enough informed on the subject to even consider writing it now. Either way, though, we need such a book, because the current issue of New Scientist* has a headline
Conspiracy threat to anti-nuke treatyWho? China selling secrets to Pakistan? Pakistan dealing with Iran? North Korea and Syria?
Read the sub-head:
Secret swapping between the US and UK is undermining global stabilityAnd ask yourself: What the hell kind of planet do these lunatics live on, anyway? The US-UK alliance has been the underpinning of whatever peace we've enjoyed here on Earth this past century - flawed though it has been. Remember World War I? World War II? The Cold War? The Current Unpleasantness? Hello? Mr Functioning Brain Cell? Hello?
They are allies, and more than that, they are the core of The Allies. And they both already have nuclear weapons, and they aren't sharing the information with anyone else, so it's unclear exactly how this is supposed to lead to proliferation.
The only bright point of the article is the reference to the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. No, really, that's what it's called.
* Yeah, them again.
Thursday, June 17
From Rob of XSet this little meme:
- Bold those you’ve readmore...
- Italicise those you started but never finished
- Add three of your own
- Post to your blog
I'm not sure why I keep getting moderator points, but I guess it's because they pretty much give them away like candy. Of course, I violate the Moderation Guidelines every chance I get:
Concentrate more on promoting than on demoting. The real goal here is to find the juicy good stuff and let others read it. Do not promote personal agendas. Do not let your opinions factor in. Try to be impartial about this. Simply disagreeing with a comment is not a valid reason to mark it down. Likewise, agreeing with a comment is not a valid reason to mark it up. The goal here is to share ideas. To sift through the haystack and find needles. And to keep the children who like to spam Slashdot in check.Whenever I get mod points, my first thought is to chop down some of the idiots that plague the place. The fact that many of the idiots are also lefties simply makes the task more enjoyable.
Since the place is full of lefty idiots with mod points, lefty idiot posts tend to get moderated up to the maximum rating of 5 rather often. If you take a look at the details, though, you'll often see a post rated at 5 with +11 positive and -7 negative - so there's clearly more than just me battling the lunacy. Unfortunately, they don't have the moderation flags they really need, like +1 Right, -1 Wrong, and -∞ Stupid.
Anyway, there's something interesting coming out of this hotbed of Crypto-Communism - oops, that's Kuro5hin - this hotbed of political naïveté:
In a forum with a strongly liberal readership, just 1% are voting because they favour Kerry. (Or whoever they think the challenger is; there's at least one commenter voting Libertarian.) That's gotta hurt.
Displaying poll results.
Why Will You Vote In The Next Election? No reason, really. 1459 / 5% Hate the incumbent. 12990 / 44% Love the incumbent. 1866 / 6% Hate the challenger. 1711 / 5% Love the challenger. 378 / 1% Civic duty. 7035 / 24% Pride. 685 / 2% Just want to get 'I Voted' sticker. 2821 / 9% 28945 total votes.
Don't complain about lack of options. You've got to pick a few when you do multiple choice. Those are the breaks. Feel free to suggest poll ideas if you're feeling creative. I'd strongly suggest reading the past polls first. This whole thing is wildly inaccurate. Rounding errors, ballot stuffers, dynamic IPs, firewalls. If you're using these numbers to do anything important, you're insane.
(Though it just provides another datapoint for the thesis that the current Democratic Party is not for anything, only against things. As if we needed another such datapoint.)
Wednesday, June 16
When I was ten, I wanted to be a writer.
Young Pixy: You mean they pay people to make up stories?!When I was twelve, I wanted to be a teacher.
Teacher: Yes, child. It's called journalism.
Teacher: You don't want to be a teacher! You're too smart for that; it would be a waste of your talents.When I was fourteen, I knew I was going to be a computer programmer.
Young Pixy: Guk.
What I wanted to be, of course, was a wizard, but there's no money in wizarding.
And programming is the next best thing. In fact, if you think about it, it's the same thing, except that it sometimes works. You say the secret words, and if you get it right, the result is magic. If you get it wrong, of course, you get dragged off to hell by demons. (Don't try to tell me otherwise. I had sign off on a major Y2K project. I saw the contract.)
Programming allows you to work in a medium that is almost infinitely tractable. It's not like, say, sculpture, where one slip of the chisel and
Oops. That's got to hurt.If you make a mistake, you can go back and do it again. And again and again. And you can make multiple copies of your work and the touch of a button, and compare them, and make changes, and keep the good and reject the bad.
No, she's meant to have no nose. It's, like, allegorical.
It got bitten off by one, then?
The problem with that is that the results are largely limited only by your skill and your patience. More so now than fifteen or twenty years ago, when the absolute limits of the computer hardware put a clearly marked boundary around most projects. If you only have one megabyte of memory, and the feature list would require two megabytes of memory, then some of the features have to go. When you have eight gigabytes of memory, you can no longer make this argument.
Instead, today it's more a case of, Yes, you can have everything you want. If you can think of it, it can be done. Now which features did you want first?
It's a sort of a Limited Omnipotence. We can do anything, we just can't do everything. (And of course, we don't always know the consequences of what we do.)
And when it works, it's magic. Take Google, for example. If I wanted to learn about, say, magnetohydrodynamics, I can just type in the word (assuming I know how to spell it) and hit enter, and in three-tenths of a second (or to touch on something I'll come back to later, no time at all) I have the first ten of over forty-four thousand results. Bing! The demons of Jack Vance's Dying Earth books were never this helpful.
And the reason that it's magical is that we can't see how it works. Unless you already know how Google works, there's not much you can determine from using it. You can work out some of what it does, the way it ranks pages, for example, but those are the just rules that it follows, not the reason it follows those rules. It's kind of like our understanding of the atom before the discovery of subatomic particles - we can describe and predict how atoms behave, but we don't know why.
One of the most useful ways of finding out how something works is to look at a broken one - or indeed, to break one deliberately and see what happens. There's a lot of information in failure modes. That's why scientists built atom smashers, for example. And if not for a faulty connector, I would never have known that Cityrail ticket machines use EBCDIC.
And that's also why, I think, we get so mad when software doesn't work. There's no feedback on the internal operations when it does work, unlike the familiar machinery that surrounds us with its clanking and grinding and whirring. When a car is about to break down, it usually makes horrible noises first, and then makes a really horrible noise just as it fails. And even if you can't tell from the noise that the flange sprocket has worn through the fairing pin and fallen into the gearbox, you can at least tell that something has actually, physically, broken. And that replacing the broken thing will make the car work again, and that although this will cost lots of money, you can at least be reasonably assured that upon payment of said money, your car will be repaired.
But with computers...
Yesterday, when I clicked this, it retrieved my email. Today, it doesn't work. I don't get any errors, it just doesn't do anything. (My crystal ball doesn't work!)The problem is, we are wizards, near enough. We're just not good at it.
Have you tried rebooting? (Did you start again from page one in the Codex Emailulorum?)
Yes, that's the first thing I tried. (Yes, that's the first thing I tried!)
Did it help? (Did it help.)
No. (No. And can you do anything about these sales pitches for time-shares in Hell I keep getting?)
(End of Part 1)
There's a reason that this blog is called Ambient Irony. Take a look at this*
Reporters at three news organizations are resisting subpoenas issued in the trial of a lawyer charged with conspiring to support terrorists.So the question is, are the quotes accurate, or did the reporters edit them to suit?
Prosecutors issued subpoenas to four reporters at Reuters, The New York Times and Newsday, saying they want the reporters to testify that lawyer Lynne Stewart said what they quoted her as saying in their articles.
Lawyers for the reporters have argued that making the reporters testify would compromise their neutrality by forcing them to side with prosecutors.So, that means you made the quotes up? Or is it just that being legally required to tell the truth compromises your principles?
In a motion filed Monday, a lawyer for Newsday argued that its subpoenaed reporter, Patricia Hurtado, might have to stop covering the trial if she is required to testify.Well, yes, I think that would follow.
My suggestion: Look for the little ... markers. They're a dead giveaway.**
* Of course, since it's linked from Instapundit, you probably already have.
** I wouldn't be at all surprised if the quotes were edited. A while back my brother was interviewed by The Australian (Australia's Least Worst Newspaper&trade for an article on PocketPCs. They had him speaking in marketese ("maximise the product synergies" sort of thing), and I asked him if he really said that. He replied "Well... Not exactly." And they didn't even use the ... markers!
Step 1. Pick up a newspaper.Note: This may not work with The Wall Street Journal or similar papers. It's not that they're not biased; it's just that their bias boils down to Money good. More money better. Unless you live in Berkeley, California, you are unlikely to score any points by protesting this.
Step 2. Pick any article from the first four pages.Anything after page four is what is known in the business as "filler": material that is there just so there aren't embarassing blank areas between the ads.
Also, picking on the OpEd pages is a task reserved for our grade school classes. (Well, and Tim Blair. But that's only because we can't get him to stop.)
Step 3. Pick a paragraph at random.Check to see if it is an unedited quote with attribution; this sometimes happens. (Look for the little ... markers; these indicate that the quote has been changed so as to reverse its original meaning. Sometimes these markers are left out, this is covered in our Advanced Course.) If so, pick the following paragraph instead.
Under no circumstances follow the story beyond the "jump" - the point where it says, Continued on page Q-37. Paragraphs after the jump are often written by underpaid assistants or "stringers" and rarely exhibit the quality and quantity of bias we are seeking.
Step 4. Publish the paragraph on your blog as an example of the treachery of the MSM (mainstream media).You may want to disable comments at this point too.
[A] movie promo for "The Stepford Wives" ... depicted Condoleezza Rice as a topless hottie and Hillary Clinton as a bosomy housewife holding a baking sheet.I don't think it would have been tolerated either.
"Henry Kissinger was national security adviser 30 years ago, and if he had been used in this way at the time, I don't think it would have been tolerated."
(Words of wisdom from the Washington Post)
Okay, now that I have that off my chest...
I was reading the latest catalogue from Software Warehouse on the way home tonight, and I noticed that they are selling some new tape drives, including the Sony SAIT. Now, I'd never heard of SAIT before, so I thought I'd do a quick Google to find some details, only I ended up at Google News instead and it took me half an hour to finally stop cursing and pry myself loose.
Anyway, one downside of the 12-month doubling period for hard disk densities I mentioned in the previous episode was that the capacity of backup tapes wasn't growing nearly as fast, so instead of (as it was in the old days) one tape backing up multiple disks, it took multiple tapes to back up one disk. Which was rather less convenient than the other way round.
Sony have come up with an interesting solution to the problem with SAIT: They cheated.*
Check out the physical specifications of the drive:
5.25" Full Height Extended (5.8"W x 3.3" H x 12" D)I haven't seen a full height 5¼-inch drive for years, and 12 inches deep?! Okay, so it can store 500GB compared to AIT-4's 200GB, but AIT-4 would actually fit inside a normal computer! AIT drives are usually half-height 3½-inch devices, about 4" by 6" by 1.6"... So about one sixth the size of the SAIT.
Bring back 9-track tapes, I say. At least you could watch them spin while the blinkenlights blinked...
* By the way, Sony guys and girls, your website lists "Desktops Computers" as a destination in the menu. Either they're awfully big or you've got a typo.
From The Globe and Mail:
Iraqis dance around victim's bodyOf course, having Arabs dancing around the bodies of their victims is nothing new, but it never seems to get reported unless it can somehow be spun into a broader defeat for America and her allies.
'Down with USA' Baghdad bomb another blow to reconstruction
By ORLY HALPERN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - Page A1
BAGHDAD -- Baghdad's second major car bombing in 24 hours killed at least 13 people yesterday, including five foreigners working to rebuild critical power plants -- the latest blow to U.S. reconstruction efforts just two weeks before sovereignty is handed back to Iraqis.
Think I'm reading too much into it? Read a little further:
While the insurgent attacks set back reconstruction efforts, Iraqis hold the Americans responsible for the lack of improvement.Not "some Iraqis". Not even "many Iraqis". All twenty-some million of them, one assumes.
And here's the Arizona Republic:
Arizona Republic - 10 minutes agoAh, the good old firestorm of rage! Nothing quite like it for cleaning up after the party.
BAGHDAD - Iraqi insurgents struck at the heart of downtown Baghdad on Monday, setting off a huge bomb as a Western convoy passed, an attack that killed at least 13 people, wounded dozens and triggered a firestorm of rage against America's presence.
Google News is a wonderful tool for finding examples of outrageous bias in the media. Of course, all it's doing is throwing up articles at random from a broad spectrum of the media - but that's all it takes.
President Mohammad Khatami has warned Europe's three big powers [Three big powers? That would be, uh, Britain, okay, I guess they can be counted as part of Europe, and then there's... Um....] that Iran's future cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors may be at risk if criticism of Tehran's nuclear program persists, newspapers said on Tuesday.You can tell it's Reuters, because they said that with a straight face.
Iran: If you don't stop criticising us, we'll stop co-operating!Reuters, Tuesday: Terrorists around the world walked off the job today in a protest against unfair treatment, demanding better working conditions and free dental care.
World: But you aren't co-operating now.
Iran: Right, that's it! Down tools! Everybody out!!
(Though there remains the question of why Reuters is reporting what the newspapers reported. Slow day down the salt mines?)
Heck, even Xinhua is less biased, and they're a mouthpiece of the Evil Chicoms™:
Car bomb explodes near Jewish settlement in GazaWell, apart from the near-universal use of the euphemism "militant" and the "showers" and "rain" of gunfire from the Israelis, it's pretty straightforward: Terrorist tries to blow up checkpoint; IDF, not being stupid, fire on car; bomb blows up killing zero infidels, no virgins for you.
GAZA, June 15 (Xinhuanet) -- A car bomb exploded on Tuesday near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip as a Palestinian militant drove his explosive-laden car and tried to approach one of the lookout posts, Palestinian witnesses and sources said.
The militant, whose identity was not known, was killed after his car was showered by the gunfire of the Israeli troops stationed on the outskirts of the settlement, Palestinian security sources said.
Palestinian witnesses said that as soon as the car approached the post, soldiers rained the explosive-laden car with gunshots until it blew up. The militant in the car was killed as flames and black smoke were seen coming out from the vehicle, they said.
Mind you, The Australian - possibly Australia's least worst paper - actually manages to report the news on the same incident:
Car explodes near Israeli troopsLight on detail, perhaps, but pretty light on the bias too.
From correspondents in Gaza
June 15, 2004
A VEHICLE blew up near Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip today after soldiers fired on it, the army said.
There were no reports of Israeli or Palestinian casualties.
The vehicle apparently was rigged with explosives, the army said. Palestinian witnesses said no one was inside when it blew up.
The blast went off on a road closed to Palestinian traffic. Black smoke was seen in the area, and Palestinian witnesses said they heard gunfire.
Is it so hard? Really, is it so hard? You report the facts. If all you have is statements from opposing parties, you report the statements with attribution. He said. She said. This is third-grade composition class stuff; surely at least some journalism graduates know how to do this.
Or maybe their writing skills were all consumed by the firestorm of rage.
Tuesday, June 15
I barely made it through the opening them (one of those incredibly dreary Suzanne Vega type things, only in Japanese) but it's worth it for the sandpit politics and the moment when five-year-old Marika turns to her mother and demands that she produce an older brother for her.
And the observation of the five-year-old's mind - the logic of why, if Yuzuyu loses her crayons or has to change her school uniform, her world comes apart - is spot on. (Though if you're hiring a voice actress to play a little girl, you should make sure she can cry properly. Otherwise you get the tired-and-upset whine when you should be getting the heart-broken choked sobs.)
(More information here)
Things aren't looking that great either. From the invention of the hard disk, up until about 1998, storage densities had been doubling roughly every 18 months. Then for a little while things kicked into high gear, with densities doubling every year.
However, since the introduction of the 80GB 3½-inch platter late in 2002, things haven't moved at all. We're now not just behind the fast 12-month curve, but behind the older 18-month curve as well.
Seagate have just announced a new range of drives, including one with a capacity of 400GB across 3 platters. However, it's taken 18 months to bring about an increase of just 66%, which makes the doubling time more than two years.
(Hitachi already has a 400GB drive available, but it uses 5 80GB platters, so it doesn't represent any new technology. Also, the last desktop drive to use 5 platters was IBM's ill-fated GXP75, which was so unreliable that it landed IBM with a class-action suit, leading the company to sell off its disk-drive division... To Hitachi.)
Monday, June 14
Ice cream vendors had hoped to cash in selling cool scoops to hot demonstrators, but estimates are that only 50 of the 5,000 expected protesters materialized.(FOXNews)
Sunday, June 13
There's a protest being held here in Sydney on the 30th of June calling for an end to the War and for our soldiers to be brought home.
I have a few difficulties with this.
First, the 30th of June is a Wednesday. You know, in the middle of the week? When people who have actual jobs have to work?
Second, the war is already over. If you have been following the news on TV or in the papers, you may have missed this, but we won.
Third, the 30th of June is the day that Iraqi sovereignty is to be officially handed back to the Iraqis. Of course, this has already happened, but we'll let that slide for now. So I assume the date was chosen to make some sort of point, but I can't work out quite what.
Fourth, the Australian troops in Iraq are involved in the training of the new Iraqi Army and Police Force. You know, so Iraq will actually have an Army and a Police Force (as opposed to undifferentiated uniformed thugs) and won't, you know, need foreign soldiers to protect Iraqi citizens from attack.
So you want them brought back... Why, exactly?
Go on, tell me it's all about the oil. For old times' sake.
As a change of pace from all the cerebration, here's a little video I found. It's called Ecchi* Boys of Anime and it's by Maria of Choco Fansubs**.
The music, by the way, the Don't touch Junky Boy song, is the closing theme from Maze***. I always liked it, and I'm glad to see it being put to such good use.
* The term ecchi comes from the Japanese pronounciation of the first letter of the romanisation of the Japanese word hentai, which means pervert or perverted. Clear? Anyway, ecchi is a softer term, and its meaning is closer to, say, naughty - though the context is still sexual. The video clip is work-safe, anyway.
** If you like this one, follow the link and you can download a file containing this and another 31 other clips by the same group. They're called Anime Music Videos, or AMVs, and they consist of, well, anime videos set to music.
*** Maze himherself appears in the clip a couple of times too. He's**** the guy who doesn't get clobbered by the girl he tries to kiss. The first time, anyway.
**** Technically speaking, the previous footnote should have read as follows:
Maze herhimself appears in the clip a couple of times too. Shehe's the girlguy who...However, referring to big sisterbrother that way rapidly becomes tiring.
[I wrote most of this last weekend, but didn't post it then because it clearly needs an edit. I don't know when that's going to happen, though, so I decided that I'd post it anyway. This is a blog, after all, not Communications of the ACM — Pixy]
I've written recently on the untimely death of Moore's Law and on one of the first side-effects of the faltering and failure of that law. But, being somewhat dead myself, I didn't have the time or energy to go into any detail, and probably left my less-geeky readers saying something along the lines of Huh?
But this is important, so I'm going to give it another try.
Way back in 1965, just four years after the first integrated circuit was built, Gordon Moore, then working at Fairchild, made an observation and a prediction.
His observation was that the number of components in an integrated circuit was increasing, while the cost of each component was decreasing; his prediction was that this trend would continue. Intel has made his original paper available for you to read. It's a little bit complicated; Moore is talking about trends in the number of elements in a integrated circuit required to achieve the minimum cost per component - efficiencies of scale, in other words.
Reduced cost is one of the big attractions of integratedWhat he's saying is that by 1975, it would be cheaper to build a single integrated circuit with 65,000 components than to build two 32,500-component circuits - and, by comparison, a 130,000-component circuit (if such a thing could be built) would cost more than twice as much.
electronics, and the cost advantage continues to increase as
the technology evolves toward the production of larger and
larger circuit functions on a single semiconductor substrate.
For simple circuits, the cost per component is nearly inversely
proportional to the number of components, the result of the
equivalent piece of semiconductor in the equivalent package
containing more components. But as components are added,
decreased yields more than compensate for the increased
complexity, tending to raise the cost per component. Thus
there is a minimum cost at any given time in the evolution of
the technology. At present, it is reached when 50 components
are used per circuit. But the minimum is rising rapidly
while the entire cost curve is falling (see graph below). If we
look ahead five years, a plot of costs suggests that the minimum
cost per component might be expected in circuits with
about 1,000 components per circuit (providing such circuit
functions can be produced in moderate quantities.) In 1970,
the manufacturing cost per component can be expected to be
only a tenth of the present cost.
The complexity for minimum component costs has increased
at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year (see
graph on next page). Certainly over the short term this rate
can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the
longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although
there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly
constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number
of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost
will be 65,000.
I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single
Events since then have proved him right (and happily he is still around to enjoy it). And more right than he imagined because not only have the components been getting smaller and cheaper, but at the same time they have been getting faster and using less power. And this has been going on, following a curve where (to take the most widely noted example) processing power has been doubling every 18 months. For my entire life processing power has been doubling roughly every 18 months.
My first computer, which I bought as a teenager, saving pocket money every week until the day of the Big! Christmas! Sale! was a Tandy (Radio Shack to many) Colour Computer. It had 16k of ROM (which contained the BASIC interpreter; there was no operating system as such) and 16k of RAM. It was powered by a Motorola 6809 processor and a 6847 video chip. It had a maximum resolution of 256 by 192 - in black and white - or 16 lines of 32 columns in text mode.
It ran at 895kHz.
Yes, boys and girls, kiloherz. It was an 8 bit chip (with a few 16-bit tricks up its sleeve, admittedly); it could execute, at most, one instruction each cycle, and it ran at less than a megahertz. (Also, it had no disk drives at all; everything was stored on cassette tape, which fact is directly responsible for the irretrievable loss of my version of Star Trek and the completely original game Cheese Mites.)
Not quite twenty years on, I'm typing this on a system with a 2.6 gigahertz 32-bit processor than can execute as many as three instructions per cycle, some of which can perform multiple operations like doing 4 16-bit multiply-accumulates all at once. It has more level-one cache than my Colour Computer had total memory. Its front-side bus is eight times as wide and nearly a thousand times as fast. My display is running at 1792 by 1344 in glorious 24-bit colour. And it has six hundred and fifty gigabytes of disk.*
It cost a bit more, it's true. My 1984 Colour Computer cost me $199.95, and Kei, my 2003 Windows XP box, cost me around $2000. The best I can do today for $199.95 (ignoring for the moment two decades of inflation and the fact that this now represents a morning's earnings rather than a year's) is a Nintendo Gamecube. The Gamecube only runs at 485MHz (achieving a measly 1125 MIPS); it only has 40MB of memory; it only has 1.5GB of storage. Its peak floating-point performance is a mere 10.5 GFLOPS, compared to the Colour Computer's... I don't know, exactly, since the CoCo had no floating-point hardware at all, and I doubt that the software emulation achieved so much as 10.5 kiloFLOPS.
So, depending on exactly what you wish to measure, 20 years of innovation has given us somewhere between a thousand and a million times better value for money.
And here it is again: This has been going on for my entire life. Every year, tick tick tick, new and better and faster and cheaper. You buy the latest and greatest and it's obsolete before you get home from the mall. It's so much a part of our lives that it's a joke, a cliche.
The death of Moore's Law has been predicted many times, not least by Moore himself, but when you get IBM's Chief Technology Officer saying
Scaling is already dead but nobody noticed it had stopped breathing and its lips had turned blue.you know something's up. Particularly when he's not making a prediction, but talking about what's happening right now.
And everything was planned so neatly too. 90 nanometres was to come on line late '03, ramping up this year; 65 nanometres was to be the big thing of '05, followed by 45 nanometres in '07. Now, beyond that, at 30 nanometres and 20 nanometres, things were less clear, and beyond 20 nanometres not clear at all, but at least the path was marked out from the old 130 nanometre stuff down to 45, giving us 9 times the transistors and 3 times the speed. Only someone forgot to check with the laws of physics.
Wired: How long will Moore's Law hold?So, what exactly is the problem? It's not, as Moore and others predicted, a question of actually building the circuits - that's still working fine. IBM, Intel, AMD and others have all produced working chips at 90 nanometres. The problem is leakage. Each of the millions of transistors in a chip is a tiny switch, turning on and off and incredible speeds. Each time you turn the transistor on, or off, you need to use a little bit of electricity to do so. That's okay, and it's expected, because you don't get anything for free. The problem is that the transistors are now so small, and the layers of insulation - the dielectric - so thin, that they leak. There's a partial short-circuit, and so instead of only using power when the switch switches, it's using power all the time.
It'll go for at least a few more generations of technology. Then, in about a decade, we're going to see a distinct slowing in the rate at which the doubling occurs. I haven't tried to estimate what the rate will be, but it might be half as fast - three years instead of eighteen months.
What will cause the slowdown?
We're running into a barrier that we've run up against several times before: the limits of optical lithography. We use light to print the patterns of circuits, and we're reaching a point where the wavelengths are getting into a range where you can't build lenses anymore. You have to switch to something like X rays.
So what? Electricity is cheap. Well, the so what is heat. Modern microprocessors use as much electricity as a light bulb, and that means they produce just as much heat. If they didn't have huge heat sinks and fans bolted onto them, they'd very quickly overheat and fail - a fact that some people have inadvertantly discovered.
Until now, each new generation of scaling, each new node, has brought smaller, faster, cheaper and cooler transistors. At 90 nanometres, transistors are smaller, cheaper, probably faster again - but they run hotter. And the competition in the processor market has already driven power consumption (and heat generation) about as high as it can go. So when the new generation was discovered to increase the heat rather than decrease it, the whole forty-year process of accelerating change ran head-first into a wall.
Back at the end of 2002, I made the following set of predictions for the coming year. I felt pretty comfortable in all of them, the first no less than any of the others:
My predictions for 2003:But not only did we not see 4GHz processors in 2003, it's doubtful that we'll see them in 2004 either. (I was wrong about number 3, too. No-one resigned, and the media moved onto the next scandal. Rinse, repeat.)
1. Microprocessors will hit 4GHz by the end of the year. Marketers will try and largely fail to convince the public to buy them.
2. A major scientific breakthrough will lead to a new and deeper understanding of something.
3. A major political scandal will result in a huge media kerfuffle and only die down when someone resigns.
4. There will be a war.
5. Bad weather will affect the lives of millions of people.
6. There will not be any major, civilisation-destroying meteor impacts.
7. Astronomers will find new and interesting things in the sky.
8. Spam, pop-ups and viruses will continue to plague us. The Internet will fail to collapse under the strain. Pundits will predict that this will now happen in 2004.
9. A rocket will explode either on the launch pad or early in its flight, destroying its expensive payload - which will turn out to be uninsured.
10. Cod populations in European waters will continue to fall, and the European parliament will fail to act to prevent this.
11. A new species of mammal will be discovered.
12. A species of reptile or amphibian will be reported as extinct.
Now, assuming you're not a hard-core computer gamer, hanging out for the release of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, why should you care?
Well if you have broadband internet, or a mobile phone, or a DVD player, or a PDA, or a notebook computer, or a digital camera (or a digital video camera), or you use GPS on your camping trips, or you enjoy the low cost of long-distance phone calls these days, if you download anime or the latest episode of Angel off the net, if take your iPod with you everywhere you go, if your job or your hobby involves using e-mail or looking things up on the Web, you can thank Moore's Law for it.
Modern communications depend critically on advanced signal processing techniques, performed by specialised chips called Digital Signal Processors, or DSPs. These things are everywhere - every modem, every mobile or cordless phone, every digital camera, every TV or VCR or DVD player, every stereo, every disk drive. It's the relentless advance of Moore's Law that has made DSPs fast enough and cheap enough to do all this, and made them efficient enough to run on batteries so well that your mobile phone might last a week between charging. (My first mobile was lucky to make it through the day.) Disk drives demand high-speed DSPs to sort out the signals coming from the magnetic patterns on the disk and turn them back into the original data. DVD players need them to turn the tiny pits pressed into the aluminium surface into a picture. The entire global telephone network, mobile and fixed, depends on DSPs. And any advances in any of these areas will require more and faster and cheaper DSPs and - uh-oh.
And there's more: The advances in computers and communications over the past four decades have been the primary driver of the global economy. The economy has been growing all that time, even though we have made no fundamental breakthroughs in finding new resources or new materials. If you're better off than your parents, you can thank Moore's Law for a big chunk of that - if not the effort you put in, then the new opportunities it opened up.
And it just died.
I don't think the financial markets have a clue yet what's going on, but in any case it's going to be a soft landing. All of the processor manufacturers have been in a mad rush over the last decade to produce faster chips at the expense of pretty much anything else. The funny thing is that they've been pushing so hard, they've left a lot of things behind. Take a look at this chart:
You don't have to understand exactly what this means, but the first number relates to "integer" performance, which is important for things like word processing and web browsing and databases, and the second number relates to "floating-point" performance, which is important for games. (Well, and other things too.)
1076 763 Pentium M 1.6GHz
805 635 Pentium M 1.1GHz
237 148 C3 1.0GHz (C5XL)
398 239 Celeron 1.2GHz (FSB100)
543 481 Athlon XP Barton 1.1GHz (FSB100 DDR)
581 513 Athlon XP Thoroughbred-B 1.35GHz (FSB100 DDR)
1040 909 Athlon XP 3200+ (Barton 2.2GHz, FSB200 DDR)
1276 1382 Pentium 4 3.0E GHz Prescott (FSB800), numbers from spec.org
1329 1349 Pentium 4 3.2E GHz Prescott (FSB800)
560 585 Athlon 64 3200+ 0.8GHz 1MB L2
1257 1146 Athlon 64 3200+ 2GHz 1MB L2
The Pentium M is a modified version of the Pentium III, customised for notebook computers. Since notebook computers run off batteries, and batteries don't hold much power at all, the Pentium M has been tweaked to provide as much speed as possible while using as little power as possible. The Pentium 4, on the other hand, is designed for speed at the expense of everything else. And what we find is that the 3.2GHz Pentium 4, despite having twice the clock speed of the 1.6GHz Pentium M, is just 25% faster on integer (useful work) and 75% faster on floating point (games).
And - here's the tricky bit, and the cause of Intel's recent and dramatic change in direction - the Pentium 4 uses four times as much power as the Pentium M. So if, instead of putting one Pentium 4 onto a chip, you put four Pentium Ms, it would use the same amount of power and produce the same amount of heat, but it would run up to three times as fast... Overall.
Which is great and wonderfuly if you can use four processors at once. I can, quite happily, and more than that. A word processor can't, not easily, but then word processors already run pretty well. Games, and other graphics-intensive stuff like Photoshop or 3D animation software certainly can, though most games haven't been written to do so. Not yet.
But they will. That's the next paradigm shift for programming, by necessity: Everything will be multithreaded. And it won't stop at two threads, or four. AMD has just announced the new Geode NX. It's a 1GHz processor that runs on just 6 watts of power, around a tenth as much the power-hungry monsters inside today's high-end desktops... Which run at around 3GHz, and would be stomped into the dirt, aggregate-performance-wise, by a chip with ten Geode NX cores on it.**
Apart from more cores, we can also expect cores that do more in one cycle. We've already started to see this with Intel's MMX and SSE, Motorola's Altivec and AMD's 3DNow, all of which are designed to take a 64-bit or 128-bit register and use it to perform multiple 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit operations in one go.
The advantage of these instructions is that many DSP algorithms for video and audio applications - like MP3 files, or DVD video - only require 8 or 16 bit values, but modern processors are designed with 64-bit registers for doing floating-point arithmetic. If you can subdivide that register and do eight 8-bit calculations at once, you can get through the work eight times as fast - or you can run at one eighth the clock speeed, and use a fraction of the power.
The Intrinsity Fastmath LP, like the Geode NX, runs at 1GHz and draws 6 watts of power. Unlike the Geode, it is a single-issue in-order core, which makes it smaller and simpler, but also slower.
On the other hand, it has a 4x4 matrix of 32-bit arithmetic units, each of which can hold two 16-bit elements. It can perform 16 billion multiply-and-add operations (the core of many DSP algorithms) per second - which puts it equal to a dual 2GHz G5 Macintosh. (And Intrinsity have a 2.5GHz version of the Fastmath too, only it uses more than 6 watts.)
I have a Sony Vaio mini-notebook; it has a 733MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor. It's kind of slow, and when I try to play the opening sequence of Jungle wa Itsumo Hale nochi Guu on it, it pretty much freezes up. That could be fixed by using a big, power-hungry Pentium 4 processor (like my desktop), but then I'd have a battery life of about five minutes. If instead Transmeta included a matrix processing unit like Intrinsity's - and someone wrote a video codec that used it - I could watch the whole video without dropping frames, and without being tethered to by desk by a power cord.
The chip for Sony's upcoming Playstation 3, known as the Cell, takes this even further - judging from the patent applications, anyway; little technical information has been released. It has four cores on the chip; four effectively independent processors. Each of these cours has eight vector units attached to it, and each of those vector units is capable of processing 128 bits at a time - four 32-bit calculations, or 8 16-bit ones, or 16 8-bit ones. And you can be pretty sure that it can multiply-and-add in one go. So in a single cycle, it can perform as many as 16 times 8 times 4 times 2 = 1024 operations.
Which is rather a lot.
What's more, it's called the Cell because it's designed to be hooked up to other Cells in large networks, all working together. Which should make Dead or Alive 5 visually impressive, to say the least.
There's an article on lithography in April's Scientific American, and it plots the trend for CPU speeds forwards as far as 2020... Assuming that the trend continues as it has. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem like it will happen any more, and we won't be seeing 50GHz processors after all, at least not from conventional silicon chips.
Which is bad news for the people making those conventional silicon chips. But it's good news for designers of unusual devices like the Fastmath. And it's good news for programmers, because all those single-threaded applications are going to have to be re-written.
One of the regulars on the newsgroup comp.arch noted some time ago that even if Moore's Law failed tomorrow, we'd still have a factor of ten in performance improvements up our sleeve, because today's processors are designed to make it easy for programs to run fairly quickly, rather than to simply deliver the maximum theoretical performance. It's a trade-off, and it's been the right choice until now.
And now it's time to roll up our sleeves.
* That's dedicated disk; we'll set aside the terabyte or so living in the file server.
** And the Geode NX is a full Athlon core too, so you're not losing anything: It's still packed with 3-issue out-of-order-execution goodness.
Saturday, June 12
Whoops and whoops again. These posts somehow got lost in my scramble to put up the tents and get the show underway; I've since added them to the regular schedule, but just in case you missed them the first time, here they are in their own little mini-Carnival:
Laughing Wolf, Laughing Wolf, where have you been?
Trapped in my spam filter? Languished unseen?
Sprung free from the trap, he sinks his jaws -
Not into me, but the Old Media, of course.
Alas, poor Helen,
I know her well.
What happened to her entry
Only Mozilla can tell.
And whatever her name is,
And who she might be,
Is for her to decide -
Not the phone company.
(And from 2:01 to 2:03
She can call Malaysia for a pound a minute.
Sounds like a good deal to me
I doubt there's any money in it.)
At the bottom of the garden, down behind the rusty shed,
Is a spamtrap made entirely out of glass.
It mostly does its job and leaves the spam completely dead,
But every now and then it bites me in the arse.
King of Fools brings us the sad story
Of a marine, two reporters, and 7% diversity.
Dissecting Leftism takes on a difficult word,
Greenie Watch says 7 billion will now go unheard,
And PC Watch reports something yet more absurd.
Northstar reports on a maritime disaster...
Only he slept through the whole thing and didn't find out about it until after.
Steven Den Beste has been hitting the hard stuff again. Anime, that is. In this case, Masamune Shirow's classic Ghost in the Shell.
Now, I'm a shallow sort of guy, and I read Shirow's work mainly for the hot anime chicks, but in GitS (as it is known) he does raise some important questions. In a not so distant future where people are often part machine and part computer, what does it mean to be human?
And beyond that, what does it mean to be a thinking being, and what does it mean to be alive? As a mechanistic atheist engineer, Den Beste finds these questions important, and difficult, and troubling.
I'm also a mechanistic atheist engineer* and I also find these questions important - but not difficult or troubling. That's because I've worked out what the answers are. And that's because I've argued the point with a number of people who aren't mechanistic atheist engineers. Of course, they think I'm wrong, and I think they're crazy, but that's not the main point here.
Den Beste asks, Is a virus alive?, and confesses he doesn't know. To me there is one obvious, clear, simple, and comprehensive answer, and it is sort of.
A virus is sort of alive. For any useful definition of life, salt, for example, pure sodium chloride, or, say, hydrogen gas in its ground state, are not alive. For any useful definition of life, people, cows, cats** and fish are alive.
I'm quite comfortable with saying that amoebas are alive, and bacteria too. Individual isolated proteins aren't alive, not really. And viruses are sort of alive.
It's the argument from utility really; as Den Beste himself has put it, It is what it does. Does a virus act like life? Well, it does, sort of. So it is sort of alive.
Some people don't like this; they want a yes/no answer, a knife-edge division between life and unlife. To them, I say: Tough. Neither life nor the Universe owes you an easy answer. Why should life be a binary property, any more than, for example, intelligence, or complexity?
The same argument also solves*** the even trickier questions of the conscious mind. Is there actually an identifiable self with continuity of existence which is typing these words? asks the engineer. Well, yes, there is. In the same sense that the surface of this table is solid, Steven Den Beste is a real, identifiable, continuous entity.
Of course, at an atomic and subatomic scale the table is mostly empty space. And at a low enough level, consciousness is just Physics. But that doesn't matter, because it still works. This keyboard is not going to fall through the table, and the fact that it is a big blob of atoms doing the thinking in my head does not contradict Descartes' Cogito ergo sum.
* Well, more or less. I'm a computer programmer, so I have aspirations towards engineering, and try to apply the principles of engineering to my craft.
** Most cats. Not Schroedinger's, and not dead ones.
*** For a sufficiently small value of "solves".
I've mentioned here before that New Scientist is the only magazine I still buy (or indeed, read) regularly. Back in the 80s and early 90s I bought and saved three magazines every month: Byte, Dragon, and Scientific American. I still have boxes full of each at home.
I still buy New Scientist because, although the information is available online, I'd have to spend a great deal of time digging it out. It's worth the few dollars I spend to have the staff of New Scientist to seek out the latest news and compile the magazine for me. I pay them to be editors, really, rather than writers.
Which is why it's particularly galling when their editors run off the rails. They're generally pretty good with science, a little weaker on environmental matters - there's a clear bias there that assumes that bad news is intrinsically more reliable than good news, and pretty much hopeless on politics, being a bunch of unreconstructed lefties.
But I still don't expect them to be pushing the hokey old line from Frankenstein that there are some things Man is not meant to know. And yet, this weeks editorial on choosing the gender of your baby, titled Boy or girl? Best leave it to chance, sums up as follows:
Increasingly, reproductive science is taking us beyond the limits of nature. On the grounds of safetey and the unknown societal impact such novel technologies could have, governments surely have a responsibility to regulate. Needless meddling is never good, but in this case drawing the line as to who can use the technology might be the least intrusive move of all.So, when exactly did the secular European left align themselves with the reactionary Christian right? These people make the old Count Vorkosigan look enlightened.
Friday, June 11
The next Carnival of the Vanities will be appearing at Jessica's Well where the team will be presenting your finest posts as interpretive dance.
The place to send your submissions is email@example.com. Neatest correct entry wins a prize!
Well, and all the other entries too.
Powered by Minx 1.1.4-pink.