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Glamor, X11's OpenGL-Based 2D Acceleration Driver, Is Becoming Useful

Ford Prefect Re:Reminder (46 comments)

I dunno, I always get a big belly laugh whenever I log into something and see that horrible 1980s B&W X11 desktop, complete with ugly 'X' cursor.

Try flying on a Virgin America plane with the LCD screen inflight entertainment systems in the seat-backs. They'll often mass-reboot the things before or after a flight, briefly revealing that retro-fantastic, monochrome stippled background with 'X' cursor...

about a month and a half ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Meanwhile, back in America (284 comments)

Do we have any Mars rovers close enough to the poles to not get sunlight in winter?

The non-roving Phoenix Mars probe landed sufficiently far north that reduced sunlight due to an approaching winter caused its (expected) failure. It most likely got buried by carbon dioxide ice later on anyway - orbital photos showed its solar panels got crushed...

For keeping space probes warm, radioisotope heater units are pretty common. Apparently the Chinese Moon rover has them - but it sounds like it hasn't successfully closed itself up in order to keep heat inside.

about 3 months ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Meanwhile, back in America (284 comments)

It's entering its second lunar night - it landed on the Moon on December 14th.

about 3 months ago

Chinese Moon Rover Says an Early Goodnight

Ford Prefect Re:Brief translation from Chinese (284 comments)

Is it normal in china to write news about a rover as if the rover was writing it?

No idea, but probes from other places have a peculiar tendency to write about themselves too.

about 3 months ago

Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

Ford Prefect Re:"Modernizing" museums is a blight on the world (99 comments)

The Babbage difference engine model is in the Computing section, on the 2nd floor

Definitely still there when I visited in early December last year - loads of Babbage stuff, in fact. Including his brain in a jar!

(The museum did feel kind of tired and empty compared with how I remembered it, sadly - and the Wellcome collection stuff didn't seem nearly as grisly as I thought it was as a ten-year-old. They've got some fancy new galleries at one end, but it's more of the raising-questions public-oriented kind of display rather than the dusty old real exhibits I've really come to appreciate. I did get a bit spoiled by the two branches of the Museum of Flight in Washington DC about a year ago, however. Blimey. Spaaaaaace!)

about 3 months ago

Bletchley Park's Bitter Dispute Over Its Future

Ford Prefect Re:"Modernizing" museums is a blight on the world (99 comments)

I always liked the working electromechanical telephone exchange.

If you're ever in Seattle, try the Museum of Communications. Fairly large old telephone exchange with colossal amounts of powered-up electromechanical telephone equipment - place a call on a phone and hear it rattling through the machinery until another phone next to you starts to ring. Loads of old teletypes, UNIX boxes and miscellaneous other hardware to look (and often poke) at.

Basically nerd heaven, yet surprisingly few people round here have heard of it. Makes the equivalent display at the London Science Museum look a bit silly.

about 3 months ago

Why Standard Deviation Should Be Retired From Scientific Use

Ford Prefect Re:Basic Statistics (312 comments)

Nuclear Resonance Imaging (NMR) was changed because people were afraid of word Nuclear despite it describing the process, unlike its replacement term.

Also, if you arrived at a hospital saying you were there for an NMR, you might have received something other than what you were expecting.

about 3 months ago

Intel Releases 5,000 Pages of Open-Source Haswell Documentation

Ford Prefect Re: Dear Nvidia... (111 comments)

I checked out that link and it looked like I was stepping back into the 90s. That image on the home page looks like it's a 256 colour GIF! Where's the specular mapping? Everything in those shots looks dead, like a bad phong highlighted raytrace.

There's much more impressive stuff going on with path tracing on conventional GPUs - something that, at least for me, is making a definite case for ungodly improvements in processing power for GPU hardware.

about 4 months ago

Raspberry Pi Hits the 2 Million Mark

Ford Prefect Re:The life of RRi (246 comments)

I've got a very-first-generation, USB-hobbled-by-polyfuses-until-I-performed-surgery-on-the-thing 256MB Raspberry Pi. The thing's part of my time-travelling Radio-4-Matic and thus transfers a few gigabytes a day over a little USB WiFi adaptor by streaming radio over the intertubes, buffering it for some hours then playing it back.

Uptime? Right now:
19:12:14 up 52 days, 15:46, 1 user, load average: 0.01, 0.09, 0.12

Last reboot was for a system upgrade of some description; the things are pretty stable now. (There have been many improvements to the firmware and system software.) My other Pi (a more recent 512MB model) is busy being a tiny home fileserver and virtual server backup device (remote stuff rsyncs over ssh to this thing) - I could easily use a spare PC for those tasks, but the result would be a lot less near-silent and much more power-hungry. Plus it can saturate 100Mbit ethernet with file serving - faster isn't much use when most of my stuff is on WiFi.

Make sure you've got a decent power supply. Apparently voltage drops can be a big source of instabilities. Power for my midget fileserver is via a Samsung cube phone charger; the radio's got a hacked-together DC-DC converter running off a mains-to-12V-DC adaptor. (I'm surprised the thing is as stable as it is, what with it solely relying on my impromptu electronics hackery!)

about 5 months ago

MenuetOS, an OS Written Entirely In Assembly Language, Inches Towards 1.0

Ford Prefect Re:Technically everything is written in assembly (372 comments)

But in the end, it's all nothing but quarks and electrons, bound together and moving in various combinations and patterns, interacting via strong force (gluons) and electromagnetic force (photons).

Actually, below that it's mostly Perl.

about 5 months ago

Mac OS 10.9's Mail App — Infinity Times Your Spam

Ford Prefect Re:I guess I have to ask (158 comments)

I'm using Mail.app with Dovecot as the IMAP server - I upgraded to OS X 10.9 a few days ago, and haven't seen anything weird going on (yet). I sent myself a test email a few minutes ago while watching the Mail Activity window, and numbers appeared sensible. dovecot.index and dovecot.index.cache files on the server aren't ballooning - at 178KB and 11MB respectively.

The Fastmail article mentions Cyrus as the IMAP server. Is it Cyrus-specific, or have I simply not been bitten by this yet? (I get loads of spam, but it gets pre-processed by Spamassassin so Mail.app rarely gets to see any in the main inbox itself.)

about 6 months ago

A Ray of Hope For Americans and Scientific Literacy?

Ford Prefect Re:Does it really matter? (668 comments)

The Koch brothers, aka Tea Party, don't really care about science as such.

Actually, one of them makes pretty hefty donations to science-related stuff, including big exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History. Human evolution, and all that.

(The socialist in me wonders if the latter is revealing some belief in social darwinism - survival of the fittest, and all that. Eek.)

about 6 months ago

The last time I used a dial-up modem was...

Ford Prefect Re:PORTAL ARG March 2010 (410 comments)

You wouldn't believe the hoops I had to jump through to get that thing working - it had to be in my apartment at the time since the office phone systems were too modern, and connecting a (borrowed) vintage US Robotics Sportster 2400 (from 1987!) up to a vaguely modern Linux PC involved tomfoolery with various adaptors. USB to RS-232, DB-9 then DB-9 to DB-25.

System had mgetty listening to the modem, doing appropriate line control stuff - when people connected and entered the username 'backup', it would fling them straight into a hacked-together PHP script (stop laughing!) which asked for a password and then cycled through various plot fragments and home-made ANSI-art conversions of Portal 2 imagery, before kicking them off after a few minutes. (Why did the script itself ask for the password? I'd discovered a bit too late that the 'backup' user was Quite Important in Debian, and instead had to find an mgetty work-around. Which had the interesting effect that if you failed to type in 'backup' in the first login attempt on that connection, subsequent attempts would be tested against the real, no-login-available 'backup' user. Which actually delayed people's successful logins for quarter of an hour or so, since someone had failed a login with the correct username and password that way. Wahey!)

Testing was fun with only one phone line. I had a 'local' version running, with two modems attached together by a short phone cable - but this needed poking at mgetting with various signals to get it to pick up the line. With the BBS modem actually connected to the real phone line, I could call in with my mobile phone, and verify that it would automatically pick up and started squeaking. But knowing that the modem could actually send and receive data over the real phone line? Blinking heck completely untested!

Phone was ringing off the hook for over a week. I have no idea what the phone company thought I was doing - with this newly set-up phone line constantly receiving calls from all over the world...

I saw forum posts wondering what size datacentre we'd set up for this thing. Um....

Video of the thing in action here - PC doing all the work, Mac laptop logged into the logging stuff over SSH.

Recent Eurogamer article here!

about 7 months ago

USB "Condom" Allows You To Practice Safe Charging

Ford Prefect Re:What the unholy crap???? (208 comments)

An entire PCB filled with parts? This looks like an example of someone too smart for their own good.

The photo seems to be of this thing, which is an entirely different device which apparently 'allows a computer (or "host") to masquerade as a USB "device" to communicate with other USB devices or USB Hosts.'

In other words, exactly the kind of device you wouldn't want to unknowingly connect things to.

about 7 months ago

Is It Time to Replace Your First HDTV? (Video)

Ford Prefect Re:Betteridge's law (418 comments)

A couple of years ago I modified my old EOS 350D, replacing the IR-blocking hot mirror in front of the sensor with a filter that only allows IR through. I've taken loads of photos with it since then (please excuse the increasingly crap Flickr) - pretty much all hand-held with available light. Depending on the conditions (metering still works on visible light) I might be +1 or +2 stops up on typical outdoors scenes, while -1 or -2 stops down on near-IR-bright scenes like under forest canopies.

Images are generally pretty much direct from camera, all using the same white balance (set off a piece of white paper under tungsten light when I first did the conversion) - blue tones vaguely correspond with longer wavelengths. In-camera contrast is whacked up to the maximum, but little else. (The custom white balance is kind of weird - with a 'normal' setting, pictures come out looking fluorescent pink.)

I haven't noticed any magical see-through-clothes abilities from the camera, although I haven't really checked...

about 7 months ago

Pi to Go: Hot Raspberry Pi DIY Mini Desktop PC Project

Ford Prefect Re:Shitberry Pi (134 comments)


$42, but free shipping so I'll let that slide - no ethernet or GPIO, but does have built-in WiFi and 8GB flash storage and includes a mains adaptor. Will run Linux (with hardware-accelerated OpenGL ES) via the unfortunately-named Picuntu.

Interesting. Anyone got anything better?

about a year ago

Pi to Go: Hot Raspberry Pi DIY Mini Desktop PC Project

Ford Prefect Re:Awesomeberry Pi (134 comments)

If someone finds me a similarly-sized Raspberry Pi alternative for $35 (plus reasonable postage and packing) that has a semi-decent GPU, USB, ethernet, audio and GPIO, and runs Linux - I will buy it and report back.

(The BeagleBone Black looks interesting at $45. I think I might get one of those anyway...)

about a year ago

Pi to Go: Hot Raspberry Pi DIY Mini Desktop PC Project

Ford Prefect Re:You're kidding me, right?!?!??! (134 comments)

I put my Raspberry Pi in a box and it appeared on national radio. :-(

(Full documentation here. It's a 1970s transistor radio with WiFi, streaming Radio 4 over a SSH tunnel to the UK, time-delaying audio playback by eight hours or so, in order that everything gets played back at the correct local time in Seattle.)

about a year ago

Canon DSLR Hack Allows It To Shoot RAW Video

Ford Prefect Re:Why are they using a Nikon lens on a canon? (171 comments)

I don't know what you mean by "old", but my father's old Canon (film) SLR's EF-mount lenses pop right onto my relatively new Canon EOS Rebel T2i (EOS 550D for you non-Americans) which takes EF-S-mount lenses.

EF-S is a subset of the redesigned-from-scratch EF lens mount from 1987 - still considered terribly modern 'cause it's fully electronic with no mechanical linkages between the camera and lens. New EF lenses are definitely still being designed, but yes - EF-S lenses won't fit on an EF-only camera, be it film or full-frame digital.

Canon's 'old' system is the FD lens mount, from 1971. The newer EF mount is almost completely incompatible - you'd need that overly-complicated-adaptor-with-included-optical-elements to get an FD lens to mount on an EF camera.

Compare Nikon's F-mount - lenses from 1959 are potentially mechanically compatible with the latest Nikon dSLRs, but there are huge compatibility charts describing which features may or may not work from any particular lens on any particular camera.

about a year ago

Canon DSLR Hack Allows It To Shoot RAW Video

Ford Prefect Re: Now that is a kickass hack! (171 comments)

I have other CanonDSLRs that do the "video thing" out of the box, but it sounds. like an interesting experiment.

The particularly exciting thing about this hack is that it's not just a previous non-video-capable camera recording video, it's a camera recording 14-bits-per-channel linear uncompressed RAW video. Much better highlight and shadow recovery, white balance defined afterwards, much more information to work with in general. Some really tricky shots are now possible.

about a year ago



Time-travelling 1970s transistor radio, with WiFi

Ford Prefect Ford Prefect writes  |  about a year ago

Ford Prefect writes "If you're British, you'll know what BBC Radio 4 is. And if you grew up with it then moved abroad, timezones are a problem. Especially if you've moved to the eight-hours-out Seattle. So, with a Raspberry Pi and a 1970s Roberts radio, I built a solution. Which, in some space-time continuum-collapsing temporal loop, promptly appeared on Radio 4 itself. Oops! Assembly instructions, source code and pictures included for any expats wishing to build something similar..."
Link to Original Source

Ford Prefect Ford Prefect writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Ford Prefect writes "80,000 votes, and 4000 mods to choose from — but visitors to the popular Mod DB have spoken. So, fresh from the weird and wonderful world of game modifications come the 2006 Players' Choice Awards, complete with cash and hardware prizes from a variety of sponsors. (Disclaimer: I was fifth. So without further ado, I'd like to thank my family, my agent, blah blah blah blah blah...)"


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