January 18, 2007

Locked Out!

UPDATE: GameKnot (AKA ChessColony.com) has decided not to answer any of my queries regarding my account lockout. Another person at my office, who had purchased a lifetime membership, was accused of manipulating his rating. When they looked at the fact that he and I play from the same IP address (corporate firewall) and frequently at the same time (when we return from lunch, where we play chess, likely). That they have decided to give me the silent treatment for a week, and remove me from my team, I can highly recommend that you stay the hell away from their service.

For some reason, Gameknot.com has decided to lock out my user account. The only thing that I can do with it is play the current ongoing games that I have. I can not look at team statistics, download my games library, contact team members or friends or leave messages on ongoing game boards.

I have sent a message to their administrators to see just how I have broken their rules and terms of service, or whether they have just chosen to stop serving my account (part of the terms of service says they don't HAVE to provide me with an account...fine with me!). I know that I have used this space to recommend GameKnot in the past. However, I will be appending that blog post with information about this turn of events to help others to avoid having to deal with their accuse-first-ask-forgiveness-later tactics. There is no way that I would recommend that you use their service under these conditions. This has made me feel like a third-class citizen.

UPDATE: I found from a message from my team captain that the reason my account was banned was because they think I MIGHT be a duplicate account of someone else who plays from the same IP as me (occasionally). This person happens to be a coworker of mine who signed up to the service based on my recommendation. He had been ACCUSED of ratings manipulation, his account put on restriction, and they're keeping his lifetime membership fees. I know that he has not lost chess games on purpose to manipulate his ratings. He may have slow played games on the site, or played only people rated lower than himself to watch his rating go up and down, but his account should have no bearing on my own.

January 17, 2007

Dark Energy May Be "Giant Sucking Sound"

Over the past many years, astrophysicists have been involved in a search for the energy that is causing the apparent accelerating expansion of the universe. You see, the observed expansion of the universe created a puzzle, because when you compare the gravitational pull of the matter in the universe, the universe should be slowing its rate of expansion. Instead, it is accelerating. This energy has been dubbed 'dark energy'. There really is no simple, quick way of describing dark energy theory, so I'll let Wikipedia fill you in on the theories to date.

An article on Eurekalert dtd 16 Jan 2007 talks about research being done to measure 'dark energy' to within 10%. Allow me to quote from the article:
In a third paper, led by the Danish team and released this week, the many new theories that have been proposed to explain the acceleration of the universe are critically assessed in the face of this new data. Dr. Jesper Sollerman and Dr. Tamara Davis lead the team who show that despite the increased sophistication in cosmological models over the last century the best model to explain the acceleration remains one that was proposed by Einstein back in 1917

You see, back in 1917, Einstein wrote the General Theory of Relativity. At the time he didn't realize that the universe was expanding, and because experimentation was not agreeing with his theory, he needed a cosmological constant (that he labeled lambda) to explain the differences between theory and experimentation. In other words, he got as far as he could go with the theory and put a label on what was 'left over'. Once it was discovered that the universe was expanding at an increasing rate, he took back his constant, and apologized for the 'biggest blunder' of his career. However, it was not recognized at the time that his cosmological constant would actually become explainable in terms of energy that we know about.
Let's skip ahead in the article:
In modern terms the cosmological constant is viewed as a quantum mechanical phenomenon called the 'energy of the vacuum'. In other words, the energy of empty space. It is this energy that is causing the universe to accelerate. The new data shows that none of the fancy new theories that have been proposed in the last decade are necessary to explain the acceleration. Rather, vacuum energy is the most likely cause and the expansion history of the universe can be explained by simply adding this constant background of acceleration into the normal theory of gravity.

January 13, 2007

Why don't people use their brains?

The Internet brings with it a humongous library of experiences and knowledge captured over thousands of years. It brings it right to your work desk, your home office, your cell phone and your laptop at Starbucks. Why don't people use it?
Today, this news article about a woman who died from "water intoxication" hit the front page of Digg.

I'll bet you didn't know that you could die from drinking too much water, did you? If you didn't, try this little experiment. Go to Google and type "can you die from drinking too much water" into the search bar. Try reading a selection from the first 5-10 hits you pull up. Now, with that knowledge in hand, do you think it's safe to hold a contest like the one held by 107.9 The End?

If the radio station had bothered to take just 10 seconds to check into the potential health hazards, instead of leaving it up to their rabid adoring fans to know beforehand about the risks, this tragedy could have been avoided. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

January 12, 2007

Devil's Advocate and the iPhone

By now, you've heard of the Apple iPhone (or whatever they end up calling it after Cisco is done suing them). One of my readers (Yes, I have one!) asked what I think about the iPhone. Having nothing better to write today, I thought I'd expound on the pros and cons as I see them.
    Why they'll sell:

  • It's an Apple product. Brand loyalty amongst the Apple crowd is religious.

  • It's a 'next generation' iPod. If you have money to burn, you get a phone with your iPod. Sure it will have less space than your iPod, but who really listens to 20,000 songs?!?!

  • It's really cool looking. Nice interface, very nicely done user interface.

  • It will just work. This is the Apple way. Whatever the device can do, it will work without too much trouble. You won't have to tweak it or know what IMAP is just to make it read your email.

  • Partnerships with Yahoo and Google will make people go ga-ga over it. The integrated services that will be available on the phone should be pretty cool.

  • Why you'll be disappointed:

  • $599 and a 2 year contract?!? Ouch. Buyers remorse will set in once you find out what you can't do with it and that you're stuck for the next 2 years with a device whose leading edge is lost to fast-paced competition.

  • Slow network connectivity. Yes, it will speak Wi-Fi, but unless you live in a free wi-fi city, this will just mean it's fast when you're home or at work, when a desktop or laptop will be more convenient to use. Until 3G comes along, Internet browsing on a phone is an exercise in boredom. It's too slow to actually be useful, and the network connectivity breaks too often during a commute.

  • No support for Open application development. Apple said it will run OS X, but it won't REALLY. The phone is going to run a minimalist version of OS X, just like Windows CE or Windows Mobile isn't really Windows XP, but looks like it. If you really want to gain access to hundreds of free applications, wait for the linux-based open source smartphone OpenMoko

  • No expandable memory. 8GB is smaller than your iPod, so already you're going to have to cut back on your library, but now add your pictures and applications...I have an iTunes phone that takes miniSD cards, so changing up my song library is done with a quick click/pop/click. It's going to take effort to change out your library on the iPhone.

  • No built in GPS. Again, the OpenMoko solution will have GPS built in to it. The device probably won't be as plug and play as the iPhone right away, but it will be more useful out of the box.

  • No support for Blackberry Enterprise Server. The iPod won't replace your Blackberry if your company is so nervous about email security that they've invested in RIM's technology.

January 09, 2007

Einstein would be pleased.

June 26, 2006 - Gerard Hooft 't published the revision to his theory "The Mathematical Basis for Deterministic Quantum Mechanics". In describing what this theory is, let's try a comparison of the world of the very small to the world that we normally deal with.

From very far away, look down at the earth. The earth has features that are very obvious to the space observer, such as the oceans, and the continents. The movement of the earth itself is very much standard. It revolves every 24.something hours. The continents drift a small amount over thousands of years. The ice melts and refreezes over millions of years. It seems to follow patterns that are very deterministic. Yet, within the observations of the overall system, there are small variances. Variances caused by weather systems, and other goings on within the earth itself. In fact, humans, which are virtually undetectable at such a far range of observation, are able to cause large impacts to the overall environment. Larger impacts take a great deal more time (for example, it took them thousands of years to come up with the atomic bomb and drop it on Japan). Occasionally, though, these large impacts occur. Something outside of the normal patterns occur, yet their cause is indeterminate to our observer.

As an observer, we close in. Because our observation method (visual light for visual observation) allows us to, we can zoom in with our interstellar camera until we see cities and towns. We can measure the impact that cities have on the polution content, how that polution affects the earth's environment as a whole. We can see that not all cities are exactly the same, but that they follow an overall average, with outliers on the pollution index. Say, a city such as Los Angeles pumps out similar pollution content to New York, London or Melbourne. We can build a model with these 'average' measures, but there are still outliers that we can not account for. Sooner or later, we're not happy with our model and we need to zoom in again.

Zooming in requires that our observational method is supported by the bandwith in our observational wavelengths. Light allows us to see very small things. But it only goes so far. Physicists have ways of seeing things that go beyond the observational capabilities of just light. They can detect change that is as small as the particles that carry light waves (photons). But then they run into a wall, beyond which they no longer have tools to measure the very small. At this point, they have to guess what will happen (or is happening). This is the point at which quantum mechanics takes over. That is the wonderful world at which actions have, at least until June 26, 2006, been indeterministic. Einstein, upon being faced with the inability to pre-determine quantum interactions, said "God does not play dice with the universe." The rest of his life was devoted to the search for a Unified Theory, one that would explain quantum interactions as well as all of the forces that we are familiar with (gravity, electromagnetic and nuclear). I think that Einstein would have been very pleased with Hooft 't.

Hooft 't has a theory that the world of the quantum is made up of an even smaller world, a world that interacts smaller even than the particles that carry energy as we know it. This world cannot be observed, because the energy that we use to move information about does not have a wavelength small enough to carry any information about that world. This world exists even beyond (smaller than) the size of the particles that carry the forces of energy that we use to observe things. His paper provides a mathematical model for such a world. As a theory that can not be proven using observational means, science and scientific method is going to have to advance quite a bit to provide proof (and likely future modification) of this theory, but in the meantime, we have a workable model to take the dice away from God.

I think that Horton finally Hears a Who.

Thanks to The New Scientist for bringing this to my attention.

January 06, 2007

Flash RAM Drive Space Coming To Your Doorstep!

Flash memory assisted hard drives came up in the news at Wired. Hard drives today already come with an onboard cache, normally in the 8MB and 16MB ranges. However, this memory tends to be used just to cache read/writes to the disk surface in a linear fashion, and it is not non-volatile RAM. Flash assistance technology using flash memory could (and will, according to reports) be smart about what information it caches, such as frequently used operating system and application library files.

It looks like there are three flash memory technologies that are making their way to the fore-front, possibly 4 if you include the new SanDisk 32GB(not a typo) 1.8" form factor solid-state hard drive replacement for notebooks. That's a complete system drive replacement big enough to hold an OS and a suite of business applications. With no moving parts and using 60% less power than a hard drive, my notebook is already drooling out its USB ports in want of one.

But the other three technologies on the near horizon include
  • ReadyBoost (a flash memory you might use, say, for paging system data to[faster than your hard drive, but slower than your system memory]) in Windows Vista
  • ReadyDrive (another Windows Vista name, but basically the name of Vista's support for the hybrid hard drive)
  • Robson - system module by Intel that will offer an NVRAM module to system architects that won't depend on support from a hybrid hard drive, but instead offer the flash memory as a standalone add-on to a system, with configurable RAM quantities starting at 256MB

As any system developer can tell you, you're in for a much faster user experience if they properly integrate these technologies. Memory-bound file systems are extremely fast, and using a RAM drive is a technique used to speed up databases by offloading work from the high-cost [energy wise], yet slow hardware.

The great thing about SanDisk's solution is the published MTBF of their device, 2 million hours. That's 228 years before the device fails! Once the price of their device falls (and it will, alternative flash memory technologies are already in R&D labs) to consumer levels, notebooks will be quieter, cooler and faster, with longer battery lives to boot.

They'll also be much bigger. Consumer 1TB drives have just been announced by Hitachi and Seagate is not far behind with theirs promised for the first half of 2007 (rumours abound that they will announce at CES this month). Ten years ago, it was impossible to imagine a 1TB drive for your business much less your home. The Internet was abuzz for the past month with rumours of a 300TB hard drive by 2010, but that rumour should be squashed quickly, with the logic and the reality pointed out by this article in TechWorld. Thanks for the reality check, guys. Still, a 3TB drive by 2010 (the realistic top estimate)? Who needs that much storage? That's probably more content than you can realistically consume before your computer dies of old age, anyway.

January 04, 2007

Inspiration Without Motivation

This article talks about the Open Courseware at MIT, and discusses how the OCW is no replacement for taking the courses themselves at a university. What's missing? Interaction with teachers and other students, being able to pose questions and get answers, discuss problems and network successfully. This inspired me a little bit, because it's only a small stretch of effort to combine an online forum/collaborative workspace with the OCW content through linking mechanisms offered by web technology.

There's only one problem - I'm not motivated to act on this inspiration. I already have a fulltime job, a fulltime family and a fulltime hobby. There just isn't enough time to act on every inspiration that comes to mind. Life is too short....what to do, what to do?

The Disconnected Worker

Telecommuting, working from home - it's old hat by now to allow people to work from home if they don't need to be in the office to perform their duties. It's a great concept, but is it causing a new problem?

What do I mean by a disconnected worker? Just today I was discussing a problem with a coworker. Or, rather, he was discussing it with me. I didn't offer him much help in solving his problem other than the random clarifying question, but he solved the problem on his own while I was listening to him. As I left his office, he said "You know, I've got to come up here more often. It's so much easier when I talk about these problems with you." This got me to thinking that I've had the same problem - solving problems while sitting alone in my office is difficult, but inviting someone else to look at the problem with me, regardless of their skill level, helps me to solve the issue just by discussing it with them. If the problem is pronounced enough to notice when I am in an office instead of an open work room, how much worse would it be if I were working from home where I couldn't just walk next door to my office-mates? Yet another random thought worth more research..

World of Addiction

I'm back to playing MMORPGs, this time World of Warcraft. I play on the Kilrogg server as a Horde Warlock (forgot the name of my race, actually, but it's undead). WoW is a MUCH better experience than Everquest was. There is a LOT less downtime, quests are much better scripted and connected to the storyline, and rewards, for the most part are adequate for the tasks. It's an easy game, and death's penalty is mild, causing at most 10 minutes of downtime (where you can take care of non-fighting business like merchanting, banking and tradeskilling) when you die somewhere really dangerous. WoW also has some nice PVP setups on the PvE servers, allowing even wimps such as myself to taste the blood of other players when the thirst arises.

As an indicator of how easy it is to play, I'm already level 36 out of 60 and I've been playing for about a month. The content is interesting, and the product is well-polished.

January 03, 2007

So long, Jeffrey Harrow (?)

For some time, I have held a link to The Harrow Technology Report on my blog. It was one of the newsletters that I swore by, faithfully reading each issue as I received it. It was a wonderful newsletter with tons of insightful pointers to newsworthy application of futuristic technology. Jeff is an insightful man, and had accurate foresight. In 2001, one of his newsletters correctly posited that we would see half-terabyte hard drives in 2006, and indeed we did.

I have been reading The Harrow Report since Jeff Harrow worked at Compaq and it went by a different name, so it was with sadness that I watched over the past year, Jeff had not posted another newsletter. Perhaps he has become busy with other projects, perhaps he has hung up his hat. No matter the cause, it is sad to see him go. He was well thought of on the Internet and even won a web award for his meanderings.

I checked his website yesterday, and his newsletters are sitting there, sorted by title rather than date, and the copyright notice still reads through 2005. A letter from Jeff in August, 2006 mentioned that he wanted to get things up and running again, but it doesn't look like he got back to publishing the report. While I hold out every hope for Jeff, it is time for me to let go. So, here's to Jeff Harrow, Futurist and Pundit.

January 02, 2007

Welcome to 2007

Happy New Year! Hope that you all had a pleasant New Years Eve... I took the family to First Night Alexandria, a conglomeration of music and performers at various points of interest in Alexandria. The evening culminated at the Masonic Temple with a cappella singers and fireworks. Unfortunately, the drizzle started picking up right near midnight, putting a damper and a fizzle on the fireworks. They set them off anyway, but it wasn't as spectacular as it should have been. We were able to hide under a cameraman's tent that he had set up for his equipment, and lots of folks brought umbrellas. Many others just braved the rain.

The music was good. We saw one group that night, Quintango, that even my 13-year old son enjoyed. And for a 13-year old to say that a tango was interesting, you know they're on to something. They played with gusto and passion, and it really came through in their performance. We also got to see some Zydeco music at the Masonic Temple theater. Two electric guitars, an accordion, a drummer and a stainless steel washboard/shirt made up the band. When they were done, the audience called for an encore, so they performed an extra few minutes.

So, it's back to work today. Resolutions for the year are typical for me: Get organized, and get skinny again. Let's see where they lead. I've gotten a good start with my email box at home, since I've set up the new machine, I'm putting all of my email into rules that automatically sort my incoming mail. I hope to have it all sorted out except the truly unique emails (the REAL communications) so that my Inbox stays empty or nearly so.

One thing I use and swear by is Spam-Bayes, a Bayesian filter for Microsoft Outlook. It filters out a large portion of the SPAM that I receive in my inbox, and is very configurable. I installed it and put in the training messages for it to learn what's junk and what isn't. If you haven't installed a client-side SPAM filter, this one is FREE(!!!) and open-source and very easy to use.