Thursday, March 30
Speaking of furore in geekland, there was a certain amount of consternation when benchmarks of Intel's new* Conroe processor showed it handily outperforming AMD's top-of-the-line FX-60 for games, traditionally** the Athlon's strong point.
Some people criticised the benchmarks, but they have been redone independently, and while not especially painstaking or comprehensive, they do seem to be showing a real and very significant performance jump.
So how has Intel managed to suddenly leapfrog AMD with what is, basically, a souped-up Pentium Pro?
For some time, both Intel and AMD have supported 128-bit short-vector instructions, performing two 64-bit or four 32-bit floating point operations at once. Except that neither one actually had a 128-bit FPU; both required two passes through a 64-bit unit.
So Intel fixed that, and as a result they are ahead of AMD. For as long as it takes AMD to double the width of their FPU, something that they were already working on anyway.
* New as in not available for another six months.
** Traditionally as in for the past two or three years.
Tuesday, March 28
It's Python, so it's good, but it's Microsoft, so it's evil. I haven't determined the exact good/evil balance as yet but given that it's a one meg download, you can't go too far wrong.
Update: So, I can embed IronPython in my VB.NET application, which is great. But can I then access SQL databases from IronPython via the Python DB-API? Because then I can do... Uh, something that I would really like to do. I can do ADO.NET calls from IronPython, but that would mean I'd have to either write two versions of all the database queries or write a wrapper myself.
Okay, here's what I'm trying to achieve. Everyone knows I'm developing a blog/forum/wiki/portal/community application called Minx. What I haven't said much about - because I haven't gotten anywhere with it - is a client side application called Miko, which is supposed to let you easily manage your Minx sites. To do this properly, I need to embed parts of the Minx server engine. I hadn't found an easy way to do that previously short of writing the whole thing in Python, and I didn't want to do that because then there are problems with distributing the thing.
But if I can write it in VB and embed IronPython to handle the parts I've stolen from Minx, then I'm half-way there. But the Minx template system has SQL calls right inside it; it was designed to work with pretty much any SQL database but it doesn't have a separate storage API. And IronPython doesn't seem to have any way of using the Python DB-API. Still, writing a layer that translates to ADO.NET calls is probably a better way to spend my time than rewriting the template system in VB. (I'll just bundle it with SQLite for people who don't already have MySQL, PostgreSQL, Firebird, SQL Server and DB2 installed.)
There seems to be a certain furore going on over the latest delays in Windowsville. Since, as far as I can tell, every feature planned for Vista has been removed except for the new resource-sucking layer* I'm not sure I really care. Windows XP is a more-or less adequate operating system, as long as you're not trying to develop a flexible server application. Windows in general sucks beyond belief for that; any version of Linux or Unix or even something like VMS blows Windows into the weeds in that scenario.
But for desktop apps, and for developing desktop apps, it's not too sucky. Still sucky, yes, but at a level one can deal with while retaining some shreds of sanity and self-respect.
Except for the virtual memory system, which as far as I can tell has survived unchanged since the release of NT 3.1. Back then you were likely running with 16MB of memory; these days if you're doing anything remotely serious you have at least a gigabyte, even in a notebook. A virtual memory system tuned to work well with 16MB of memory is a festering pile of crap when you have a hundred times that amount.
There are two things that need to be fixed in Windows. One is the networking, which I thought they swiped from BSD, but doesn't act like it. Windows has the most thoroughly screwed up network behaviour of any operating system on the planet. Look, Bill, just go back to BSD and swipe their TCP stack again. Easy enough, surely.
The other thing they need to do is steal /proc/sys/vm/swappiness from the Linux 2.6 kernel, so I can set it to 0. Every time I copy a large file you swap my applications out. Stop it, you morons!
Two little things, guys. Then no-one will care if it takes a decade to push Vista out the door.
* Aero Glass
Monday, March 27
Any time you can turn a latency problem in a bandwidth problem, you can count that as a win.*
* Which is to say, I've inlined my comments.
Saturday, March 25
We have a new contender in the heavyweight trackback spam championship: In just a few short hours, go2url.be has rocketed to second place. Do they have the stamina to make it to the top of the charts? Keep watching!
(That ranking doesn't mean they've sent us 32880 trackbacks [or whatever the number is when you see it]; it's subject to geometric decay, and they've been at it for hours, so it means they've sent us considerably more than 32880 trackbacks. Dickheads.)
(And what is it with Belgium and evil rat-bastard trackback spammers?)
For four decades, from their invention until about 1997, the capacity (or more properly, the density) of hard disk drives doubled roughly every 18 months. In 1997, improvements in manufacturing techniques, drive head technology, and digital signal processing shifted this growth curve to doubling every year, until, in early 2002, I was able to buy a 200GB 3.5 inch drive.
Then the entire storage industry ran head first into a wall.*
For perspective, if that growth rate had continued until now, you would be able to buy a 3.2 terabyte disk right now. It would cost $500, but you could buy it. The largest disks actually on the market today are only 500 gigabytes.
At roughly the same time that the rotating rust makers hit the wall, though, flash memory was taking off. Since 2001, flash memory densities have doubled every year, with a 16 gigabit chip from Samsung due to hit the market later this year. 16 billion transistors on one chip.
If they continue at this pace, the capacity curves (though not the price curves) will intersect next year. Samsung has already announced a 32GB solid-state 1.8 inch drive; the largest 1.8 inch disk currently available is 60GB, not quite twice as large. And despite the promises of perpendicular recording, disk drive capacities have been growing at a glacial pace - relative to the expectations of the computer industry, anyway.
What this means is that within a few years, there will be no more scrik scrik scrik scrik, no more whirrrrrr-PAKLUNK, no more The disk in drive C: is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?
And not a minute too soon, I say. Not a minute too soon.
* Not long after that, the CPU industry also ran into a wall, but that's another rant for another day. And besides, the CPU guys are working their butts off to go around, or over, or under the wall, with notable success; I don't doubt that the disk drive engineers are also hard at work, but they have less to show for it.
Incidentally, the 1.2GHz Athlons mentioned in that post ended up at the office as my development machines. One good thing about the lack of improvement in processors is that a five year old machine is still useful.**
** Five year old memory with a cascade of single bit errors is much less useful.
Thursday, March 23
The Xbox 360 launced in Australia today, three weeks later than originally planned.
Except that the seem to have forgotten to release any games.
There's not many console games that I've really found worth playing. Final Fantasy X, sure, and X-2 was kind of fun as well. I spent some time playing Sudeki. And then there's Dead or Alive and Rumble Roses. Racing games, sports games, general fighting games without hot babes, I could care less. Shooting games I got enough of with the orginal Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem.
And what are they launching with?
Ghost Recon 3 - a shooter.
Burnout: Revenge - racing.
Condemned - some sort of horror thing, another category in which I have no interest.
Fight Night Round 3 - a boxing game. No babes.
Kameo: Elements of Power - an RPG which actually looks interesting.
Project Gotham Racing - the name speaks for itself. Nice graphics, boring as hell.
Perfect Dark Zero - a shooter. A shooter with a babe, but still a shooter.
Amped - a snowboarding game. Yeesh.
Madden NFL 2006 - ick.
Quake 4 - see above.
Ridge Racer 6 - more racing. Yay.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 - even more boring than the real thing!
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion - yes, it's an RPG, but based on the two hours I spent playing Morrowind, it's an RPG that I don't need to play.
Meh. And a number of those seem to be US imports, and not local releases. Either that, or they are just horribly overpriced.
Must haves: 0
Might be okay: 1
Number of consoles sold to Pixy: 0
On the other hand, there's another Sims 2 expansion pack out next month. And I don't even have Open For Business yet...
Wednesday, March 22
To the big two. Any minute now, the 2,000,000th trackback will bounce off the munu spam filter.
That's since November.
Spammers suck. But they suck less with Snark™.
Tuesday, March 21
I've finished the Neverwinter Nights campaigns. Mephistofleas is reduced to an unpleasant stain on the cobblestones of Waterdeep, Aribubble is reredeemed, and the Underdark has been made safe for Mind Flayers once more.
So I'll be around here a bit more. I'm also back to working on Minx, though I didn't ever stop work entirely. I've quietly replaced the database, the editor, the template engine, and the web framework - which basically means nothing of the original is left except for my accelerated options parser. I'm taking some time off next month with the aim of getting a demo version up and running, so watch this space for news on that.
Of course, the Xbox 360 lands in Australia this Thursday, so my plans may yet be derailed. At least I won't be moving house any time soon...
Wednesday, March 15
The previous post notwithstanding, an 18th-level pixie* Sorceror/Monk/Paladin is kind of fun to play, particularly when you can't rely on any other members of your party when you're facing down a blue dragon. You're a bleedin' 16th level half-orc Barbarian, and first sign of scales you run away screaming like a girl.
Anyway, I beat the stuffing out of it, unarmed and unarmoured.** Then I thought of something:
In the various encounters with dragons in the Neverwinter Nights official adventures, one common point is that as soon as you attack the dragon, the door locks behind you so that you can't retreat beyond the dragon's reach and attack it from a safe distance, which is exactly what any adventurer with an ounce of sense would do. Because otherwise one person with a quiver full of arrows of piercing, a +2 bow, and a ring of fire resistance could take out an ancient red dragon, no trouble.
Makes sense from a point of game balance. Only... If the dragons can't get out, how did they get in?
* Thanks to the NWN Player Resource Consortium for adding pixie support to Neverwinter Nights. Works great - except that I'm permanently polymorphed into a halfling because otherwise the pixie twinkles drive me crazy.
** There's this lovely little scene at the start of Hordes of the Underdark where a drow thief steals all your gear. They do this to make sure you don't bring in superpowered items from other adventures. Of course, I was carrying roughly 800 pounds of equipment in 20 magic bags and 5 bags of holding, so this was just a little irritating.
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