Ooh! My gu-uts, my guts.

Saturday, January 24

Geek

On Being The Wrong Size

There's a problem with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies: The scale doesn't make sense.  Little things, like the fact that the town of Dale is about as big as Minas Tirith.  And big things like the dwarves' attempt to drown Smaug in molten gold.

If we assume that the volume of molten gold is about the same as an Olympic swimming pool (and frankly, it looks larger), then we're talking about 2.5 million litres of gold.  That would weigh close to 50 thousand tons - 50 billion grams.  Gold in our world is currently runs about $40 per gram.

That's two trillion dollars worth of gold right there.  And never mind the hoard itself, which is much larger.

It's possible that gold is more common in Middle Earth than on Earth, but that just means it's less valuable, since it has little practical use in a pre-industrial economy.  (It doesn't corrode, which is good, but it's soft and very heavy.)

And the dwarves pay Bard in silver, not in gold, and yet that is enough for him to risk his life to smuggle them into Esgaroth.  Either the values of silver and gold are inverted - in which case the dwarves wouldn't be hoarding gold - or the economy of Middle Earth is bigger than Earth's - which isn't possible; they have nothing we'd even recognise as a city in the modern sense.

Of course, this particular part is Peter Jackson, not Tolkien, and The Hobbit is a children's story (and canonically, is told by Bilbo, who is not an entirely reliable narrator).

Still...  Where is everybody in the Lord of the Rings movies?  The world seems to be utterly depopulated.  It's the movie equivalent of a Bioware game.

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Wednesday, January 21

Geek

Samsung U28D590D Review

TL;DR: Oh my God, it's full of stars.

Tech Specs

Resolution: 3840x2160
Input: 1 x DisplayPort 1.2, 2 x HDMI 1.4
Output: 1/8" audio jack
Power: External power brick

The Samsung U28D590D is a 1.5th generation 4K monitor.  Early 4K screens were targeted squarely at the professional market, with prices upwards of $3000.  Second generation 4K screens, showing up now, are priced under $1000, still use high-quality IPS panels, but forego some high-end features like colour calibration.

The U28 sits below those, as a high-end consumer model, for consuming rather than producing high-resolution content.  And it's priced appropriately; I paid A$499 for mine on sale; regular online prices range upwards from $549 to $699.

Out of the box it takes a few minutes to attache the stand (you'll need a large-bladed screwdriver, either plus or minus) and get it plugged in. The default settings are retina-searingly bright; I have the brightness and contrast turned down to 60 currently and it's still on the bright side.

This is a subjective review; I have no measurement equipment.  But there are no static colour or brightness inconsistencies significant enough to notice (and there were on my old Dell U2711, a professional monitor), and no visible dead or stuck pixels (though at 4K they might not be easy to find).

Colours are vibrant and text is very sharp.  It's not quite perfect - I'm judging it against my 2560x1600 Nexus 10 - but it's very good indeed.

The stand isn't as solid as it could be, particularly compared to the Dell, which is rock steady.  I'd feel comfortable leaning on the Dell if I needed to climb on the desk to change the light bulb (and have); I'd never do that with this monitor.

This is a TN panel, so there is going to be some colour shift if you view it from an angle.  Good news is that the horizontal viewing angle is as good as any monitor I've seen, including expensive IPS screens.  Bad news is that if you stand up and look down at a 45 degree angle, white turns to blue-grey and other colours take on a distinct blue shift.

Both my desktop with its Radeon 7950 and my notebook with its Intel integrated graphics (Haswell CPU) recognised the monitor immediately and worked flawlessly over HDMI, albeit at 30Hz.    What didn't work so well was connecting my 7950 over DisplayPort.

On one of the two mini-DisplayPort outputs on the card, the display shows graphical glitches on random horizontal bands every 10-30 seconds.  On the other port, the whole screen goes black and then restores itself every 20-60 seconds.

Adjusting the resolution to 2560x1440 stops the problem, but that doesn't look particularly great.  On the HDMI port at 30Hz, the display is rock solid.  I suspect this is an issue with my DisplayPort cable - my card has mini-DP, and the included cable is full-size, so I picked up a mini-DP to DP cable from the corner computer store.  I suspect it might be an older cable only rated for DP 1.1, and so not able to reliably carry the 4K@60Hz signal.  I'll order another cable online and test that again.

Right now I'm running quite happily at 30Hz; you can notice the difference, but for work, watching movies, and light gaming it's not a really problem.

The remaining question is Windows 8's scaling.  It's a bit of a mixed bag.  I'm having more luck (for some reason) on my desktop than on my notebook (a 1080p 13.3" screen, so basically the same DPI as this).  I'll report back on that aspect in a few days.

The on-screen display is driven by a little joystick on the back of the monitor; you can easily reach it from the front - it's just behind the lower right corner.  It works quite well, and has all the usual amenities.  I haven't yet tried features like picture-in-picture or picture-by-picture, but I have little use for them anyway.

Overall, it's a good monitor for its target audience, and at this price, a good buy.  The big selling point is not this monitor in particular but 4K and high-resolution displays generally. : It's like washing the mud off your screen; everything is suddenly so clear.  I'd find it hard to go back, and I've only had it a day.

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Tuesday, January 20

Geek

4K Or Not 4K

Guess the answer is 4K.  Dick Smith has the Samsung U28D590D on sale for $499 right now, and even had it in stock at my local store, so I trotted over there at lunchtime and got one.

This is one I considered and rejected before, because it's a TN rather than an IPS panel.  Having now had a chance to look at one up close...  Frankly, if they'd said it was IPS I probably would have believed them.  It doesn't have the characteristic colour shift of TN when viewed at a sharp angle, though there is a brightness/contrast shift.  I think it will do fine.

Also, at $499 for a 28" 4K monitor, I'm willing to forgive a few minor foibles.  Just 15 months ago the only 4K monitor for sale here cost $4200.
  
The stand does wobble if you poke it, which is the first thing every review comments on.  Samsung, spend another $5 on the stand for next year's model, okay?

Review later once I finish work for the day and have a chance to set it all up.

Update: The display glitches when I run it on DisplayPort at the full 4k@60Hz.  It doesn't glitch on HDMI running 4k@30Hz.  I'll try it with a different DisplayPort cable as soon as I can find one.

Running at 30Hz isn't a killer, but you do notice, so I'm really hoping that it will be happy at 60Hz with a cable swap.

Update: Some other people have reported these issues with this monitor and Radeon video cards, and the solution is to find a better cable.  So I'll do that.  Meanwhile:

/images/Desktop2015a.jpg?size=720x&q=95

Also on the plus side, I plugged it into my new notebook, and it worked immediately.  Only 4k@30Hz, but many notebooks have trouble running higher than 1080p for an external display, so I'm happy with that.

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Sunday, January 18

World

Charge Of The Rights Brigade

Fascists to right of them,
Fascists to left of them,
Fascists in front of them
    Splutter'd and blunder'd;
Storm'd at with speech and spell,
Boldly they code and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
    Rode the cryptographers.

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World

Let One Hundred Fascists Bloom

The leader of the free world weighs in on the debate:
"If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem,” Obama said. He said he believes Silicon Valley companies also want to solve the problem. "They’re patriots.”
They may be patriots, Mr Obama.  You are not.

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Friday, January 16

World

In Other News...

The Oxford University Press issued a guideline to authors not to mention bacon for fear of offending unspecified parties, possibly Presbyterians.

The publisher didn't specify whether they were referring to Roger, Francis, or Kevin.

(If this is a joke, then it's a very widely sourced one.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:15 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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World

Standing On The Doorstep, Leaning On The Bell

Reactions to the appalling murder of the staff at Charlie Hebdo have been, shall we say, mixed. The culprits have been chased down and shot, which is only as it should be. Millions of people and dozens of world leaders have turned out in support. The first issue published since the attack sold out immediately - and the print run has been scaled up from sixty thousand to five million to meet demand.

Meanwhile, major media outlets reporting on the events have taken great care to censor the images of the cartoons at the centre of all this, which makes one think that they have forgotten what journalism is. Pope Francis has said "One cannot make fun of faith." Which is odd, because it's actually pretty easy. And the usual assemblage of useful idiots has come crawling out of the woodwork to say "Of course I support freedom of speech, but -" To paraphrase Robert Heinlein's character Lazarus Long:
The correct way to punctuate a sentence that starts: "Of course I support freedom of speech, but -" is to place a period after the word "but." Don't use excessive force in supplying such a moron with a period. Cutting his throat is only a momentary pleasure and is bound to get you talked about.
But - sorry.

In all this the most shameful response so far - and I hope the most shameful response ever - has been that of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
And let me now address very directly this issue of how we have the right legal framework to intercept the communications of potential terrorists. There are two issues here. One is what is called communications data. That is not the content of a phone call; it is just who made which call to which person, and when. As everybody knows, this vital communications data is absolutely crucial, not just in terrorism, but in finding missing people; it's vital in murder investigations; it's used in almost every single serious crime investigation.

And what matters, in simple terms, is that we can access this communications data whether people are using a fixed phone, a mobile phone, or more modern ways of communicating via the internet. We have already legislated in this parliament to safeguard this vital data, because it was under threat from a particular European directive. But it is important in the future that we make sure we can get this data when people are using the more modern forms of communication that are being made possible through the internet. So that is one piece of additional legislation that will be necessary.

The second thing, which is more contentious, is about accessing the content of a telephone call, or another form of communication. And here again the same problem exists. Will we be able to access the content as the internet and new ways of communicating develop?

Now I have a very simple principle to apply here, which should be at the heart of the legislation that will be necessary. The simple principle is this:

In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people, which, even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary personally, that we cannot read?

Now, up until now, governments of this country have said no; we must not have such a means of communication.

That is why, in extremis, it's been possible to read someone's letter. That is why, in extremis, it's been possible to listen in to someone's telephone call. That is why the same applies with mobile communications.

Now, let me stress again, this cannot happen unless the Home Secretary personally signs a warrant. We have a better system for safeguarding this very this very intrusive power than probably any other country I can think of.

But the question remains, are we going to allow a means of communication where it simply isn't possible to do that?

And my answer to that question is no we must not.
(I couldn't find a transcript of this speech online, so I transcribed it myself. I apologise for any errors I may have introduced.)

Now there are a number of things I need to say about this. In order:

Mr Cameron, you have no right to dictate the means of communication available to the British public.

My outrage at your position is only slight tempered by the fact that you have no power to dictate the means of communication available to the British public. Encryption is mathematics, and you cannot legislate mathematics.

You seem to believe that all you need to do is contact a small number of major companies and insist that they install back doors in their software for your spies, and that will be the end of it. If that is indeed your belief, then, Mr Cameron, you have been quite remarkably poorly advised, and should fire everyone, immediately.

First, back doors in communications systems are security breaches. Security breaches get exploited. That's simply what happens. Those major companies are not going to talk to you.

Second, any competent programmer can deploy an unbreakably secure communications system in a day. Making it user-friendly, making it attractive, making it scale, making the idiot users select sane passwords, those are the hard problems. Encryption we've solved.

To actually implement your proposed legislation would mean prohibiting computers from the United Kingdom entirely. Not even North Korea has gone that far.
The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe.
No, Mr Cameron. The first duty of any government is to not become a threat to the very people it serves. All else comes after that.

If you read the United States' Bill of Rights, you will notice that it does not specify what the government can do. It specifies what the government cannot do. It says, Congress shall make no law...

George Orwell wrote us a powerful warning in 1984. Mr Cameron, what he was warning us about was you.  Orwell didn't warn us against attackers from outside, but against our own principles leading us into disaster.  The death of the soul of a nation comes not from invasion, but from a thousand cuts to the freedom of its people.

Even the NSA, in its blatant breaches of fundamental human rights and the US Constitution, had the grace to be embarrassed, and to carry out its acts in secret.

That you could even present your position in public tells the world that something is very, very rotten in the state of Britain.

Mr Cameron, you are not just taking the first steps down the road to fascism; you are standing on fascism's doorstep, leaning on the bell, peering in the window to see if anyone is home.

There is still time to step back. But the sand is running out of the hourglass very quickly.

Update: The Guardian has something worthwhile to say on this.  That's twice in one week.  Remarkable.

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Saturday, January 10

World

They're Not Wrong ALL The Time

Nowhere in Farago's pro-censorship argument does he address, or even fleetingly consider, the possibility that the ideas that the state will forcibly suppress will be ideas that he likes, rather than ideas that he dislikes. People who want the state to punish the expression of certain ideas are so convinced of their core goodness, the unchallengeable rightness of their views, that they cannot even conceive that the ideas they like will, at some point, end up on the Prohibited List.
Glenn Greenwald, of all people, writing in The Guardian, of all places.  Even a blind pig finds a self-evident truth now and then.

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Friday, January 09

Cool

A Very Modest Proposal

The greatest satire of modern "liberal" thought you'll read all year.
This new human rights law will set up state surveillance of intolerant citizens, including those who voice anti-feminist views and those who voice overt approval of a totalitarian ideology. Intolerant citizens will not only be arrested, but will also be sent to special re-education facilities designed to instill values of tolerance, and the law will also require all media outlets to promote a climate of tolerance. The law carefully takes freedom of expression into account.
The only question is whether this is intended as satire.

Update: The 21st century's answer to Jonathan Swift insists that she's serious.

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Monday, January 05

Geek

Next Problem

Most of my remaining errors were being caused by Windows Error Reporting.

This thing is awful if you're trying to run older software.  Turn it off and suddenly things work again.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:56 AM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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