The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

UK Establishing a DARPA-like Agency

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The idea was unveiled last week in the Queen’s Speech, in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new government announced its legislative plans, but details about the agency are scarce. Skidmore told the Parliament committee that this new agency would sit outside UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the main government funding agency, to have the independence to focus on cutting-edge projects. He said it would “distinguish itself from the traditional grant-led application processes” by having minimal bureaucracy and core leaders who see the projects through.

If the agency is as successful as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been for the US - get ready for even more of an acceleration of technology.

So what has DARPA actual done for the US? The mouse, the internet, GPS, drones, and Siri. Just to name a few. Now that the US just might have a competitor in the race, it could get very interesting…

2024 Summer Olympics Logo

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The 2024 Olympic Summer Games logo features Marianne - the “national personification of the French Republic since the French Revolution”.

Journalist Megan Clement explains it best:

The French Olympic logo tumbles out of bed on a Parisian morning. She tousles her messy bob, dons breton stripes and ballet flats and whisks down the stairs from her fifth-floor apartment to grab a baguette before enigmatically texting two men who are pursuing her romantically.

47 Megapixel M43 Sensor

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Sony has released a document detailing the specifications for a 47-megapixel Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor capable of shooting up to 8K video up to 30 frames per second (fps).

According to the features list, the sensor features 12-bit A/D conversion, has a 2.315 micrometer (μm) pixel size and offers a variable-speed electronic shutter function. Decreased power consumption is also noted, which should help extend the battery life of any camera it’s used in (or at least make up for a fragment of the increased processing power that will be required to handle all of the data).

Both of Olympus and Panasonic have been making cameras with amazing features and industrial design. If they put this in the next version of their flagship bodies - this would be a game changer. The biggest harp people have with the M43 cameras are the sensor resolution.

This sensor makes the following possible:

  • 8K at 60 frames per second
  • 47 mega pixel with image 6 stop image stabilization
  • With the multi-shot you are looking a 160+ megapixel resolution
  • All this possible in a body the size of an EPL7

Combine this with the next generation computational photography hinted at in the EM1x - and well you can shore bet it is keeping the product planners at Canon, Nikon and Sony up at night.

M43 is dead - Long live M43 !

Brainstorming With the Next Team 1985

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Starting at 18:24:

I felt it the first time when I visited a school. It was third and fourth graders, and they had a whole classroom full of Apple II’s. I spent a few hours there, and I saw these third and fourth graders growing up completely different than I grew up because of this machine.

What hit me about it was that here was this machine that very few people designed — about four in the case of the Apple II — who gave it to some other people who didn’t know how to design it but knew how to make it, to manufacture it. They could make a whole bunch of them. And then they give it some people that didn’t know how to design it or manufacture it, but they knew how to distribute it. And then they gave it to some people that didn’t knew how to design or manufacture or distribute it, but knew how to write software for it.

Gradually this sort of inverse pyramid grew. It finally got into the hands of a lot of people — and it all blossomed out of this tiny little seed.

It seemed like an incredible amount of leverage. It all started with just an idea. Here was this idea, taken through all of these stages, resulting in a classroom full of kids growing up with some insights and fundamentally different experiences which, I thought, might be very beneficial to their lives. Because of this germ of an idea a few years ago.

That’s an incredible feeling to know that you had something to do with it, and to know it can be done, to know that you can plant something in the world and it will grow, and change the world, ever so slightly.

Gun Shop

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This film shows 2,328 firearms, out of the 393 million currently in the US. Arranged in a dizzying 24 frames per second progression, from handguns to semi-automatic assault rifles, “Gun Shop” encourages viewers to critically examine America’s love affair with guns.

The US has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world, more than twice that of the second place country, Yemen. Collectively, civilians in the US own 46% of the guns in the world. We have sickness in this country.

Code That Changed Everything

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Slate came up with a list of the 36 world-changing pieces of code, including the code responsible for the 1202 alarm thrown by the Apollo Guidance Computer during the first Moon landing, the HTML hyperlink, PageRank, the guidance system for the Roomba, and Bitcoin.

My favorites - Of course the piece of code from 1972 that launched a generation of developers, myself included:

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#include <stdio.h>

main()
{
  printf("hello, world\n")
}

That snippet of code, or some form of it is the first thing a budding developer writes. Even today.

And the infamous null terminated string:

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char yellow[26] = {'y', 'e', 'l', 'l', 'o', 'w', '\0'};

From the Slate article:

In 1972, Dennis Ritchie made a fateful decision: to represent text in his new language with something called a null-terminated string. The concept had been around earlier, but he enshrined it in his new language, which he called C, and the legacy of that decision has been with us ever since.

There are two primary ways that programming languages represent a piece of text: It can have an intrinsic, explicit length—“I contain exactly 10 characters and no more.” Or it can be null-terminated—“Here are a bunch of characters, keep going until you hit the zero-byte at the end, good luck!”

An extremely common mistake in C code is to copy a long string into a shorter string and overflow the end, meaning you are destroying other data that just happened to be nearby. It’s like scribbling past the edge of a whiteboard.

Besides merely causing the program to malfunction, such bugs can be exploited to change a program’s behavior by convincing it to overwrite something with specific, carefully crafted data. These are the buffer overflow attacks. Very nearly every security exploit you’ve ever heard of starts here, beginning with the Morris Worm in 1988.

You can code carefully in C to avoid these kinds of bugs, but the language makes this class of mistake easy to make and hard to detect. Nearly every modern language eschews the null-terminated string, but C and C++ still run the substrate of the world, from your router to your “smart” lightbulbs. So we’re still playing whack-a-mole with this class of bug nearly 50 years later.

Jamie Zawinski Netscape Developer

Its intersting how Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie in their classic book The C Programming Language gave us the both the lingua franca of the modern software world, and its greatest design flaw.

Back to Gilead

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The Testaments’ is the long-awaited sequel to the ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. It takes us back to Gilead and shows us how the cruel country came to exist out of what was once America.

While the first book focused on the tale of a single Handmaid, this book tells of three other women who lived during the time of Gilead. We start with the perspective of a character who featured prominently in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’- Aunt Lydia. We follow how her life changed when Gilead was formed and see how circumstances forced her to become the monster she seemed.

The second perspective is that of a young girl raised in Gilead called Agnes and the third of a girl raised in Canada called Daisy. Their vivid perspectives beautifully contrast the difference in their upbringing and international perspective on issues of the time. Daisy is like a modern American teen while Agnes almost seems like a child from a classic.

The writing in the book is as beautiful as the last, it flows easily and wraps itself around the reader drawing them into a world that is scarily familiar to our own. Atwood’s style describes both settings and emotions vividly, truly taking readers on an experience. The book is a must read for anyone who enjoyed ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for it gives readers a wider perspective on Offred’s life and the consequences of her decisions.

James Bond 25 - No Time to Die

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Unveiled on social media to celebrate global James Bond Day - 007 Daniel Craig looking moody and focused in a tuxedo, framed against a blue wall. Whatever he’s gazing intently at in the film won’t be revealed until April 2020.

Model 3 - 24% of Small and Midsize

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From CleanTechnica

At the moment, while the verdict isn’t final, things are looking good for Tesla and Tesla fans. We don’t know precise Tesla Model 3 sales figures in the US, and even educated estimates are very rough estimates until we get more data from Europe and China, but our expectation is that there were between 40,000 and 50,000 deliveries in the US in the third quarter. On the more conservative side, we’ve estimated 43,000 US deliveries. That blows away sales of any other midsize or small luxury car.

1979 - Fifty Songs 3 Minutes

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Chicago mashup masters The Hood Internet has released a musical tribute to 1979, combining 50 songs released that year into a tight 3-minute mix. This shouldn’t work, but it does!


Featuring:

ABBA, AC/DC, Anita Ward, Billy Joel, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, The Buggles, The Cars, Charlie Daniels Band, Cheap Trick, Chic, The Clash, The Cure, Donna Summer, Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac, The Flying Lizards, Gang of Four, The Gap Band, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Kiss, The Knack, Kool & The Gang, Lipps Inc, M, Michael Jackson, Pat Benatar, Pink Floyd, The Police, The Pretenders, Prince, Queen, Rainbow, Rupert Holmes, Sister Sledge, The Specials, Squeeze, The Sugarhill Gang, Supertramp, Talking Heads, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Van Halen, The Whispers, Wire

Next four are due every week this month 1980-1983!!!

We Just Want Normal Libraries

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Alia Wong writes an interesting article in The Atlantic - talking about how maybe in the digital age we are trying to re-invent what is and alway was unbroken:

Likely in the hopes of proving that they have more to offer than a simple internet connection does, many college libraries are pouring resources into interior-design updates and building renovations, or into “glitzy technology,” such as 3-D printers and green screens, that is often housed in “media centers” or “makerspaces.”

Yet much of the glitz may be just that—glitz. Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books. Notably, many students say they like relying on librarians to help them track down hard-to-find texts or navigate scholarly journal databases. “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers,” as the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

The library has always been for most people a collection of books and a quite place to read them - but it has also been a vital and central infrastructure of a functioning urban society.

As best summarized by Ruth Faklis, director of the Prairie Trail Public Library District in suburban Chicago

It never ceases to amaze me just what libraries are looked upon to provide. This includes, but is not limited to, [serving as] keepers of the homeless … while simultaneously offering latch-key children a safe and activity-filled haven. We have been asked to be voter-registration sites, warming stations, notaries, technology-terrorism watchdogs, senior social-gathering centers, election sites, substitute sitters during teacher strikes, and the latest — postmasters. These requests of society are ever evolving. Funding is not generally attached to these magnanimous suggestions, and when it is, it does not cover actual costs of the additional burden, thus stretching the library’s budget even further. I know of no other government entity that is asked to take on additional responsibilities not necessarily aligned with its mission

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

HAL 9000 Prop

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I have always been fascinated by Fisheye lenses. Their crazy 180 degree (and sometimes more!) angle of view leads to some crazy images. However, I could never justify owning one as I had no idea what I would be using one for - besides the occasional goofy portraiture.

But here an interesting article over at Kosmo Foto about another use for a Nikon 8mm F8 Fisheye.

HAL 9000 needed to be all-seeing — the film’s plot hinges on his ability to detect a conversation between two of the crew. So he decided to use a camera lens.

The on-screen HAL 9000 — the single “eye” in blazing red — was played by one of Nikon’s most extreme lenses, its 8mm f/8 fisheye. But how did they add the glow? Simple — they used the camera’s very own red filter (R60) which screws on to the back of the lens. Then they simply shone a light through it.

Peter Jackson owns one of the original props now, and showed it to Adam Savage. What a clever use for a $1500+ specialty lens.


There are so many aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey that were so dead on. HAL 9000 was everywhere. Quietly listening. Quietly analyzing. And Quietly plotting. Its amazing that all of the devices strewn through out our homes are doing the same thing - our iPhones, Alexa, Google Home, etc.

Gives me the chills…

Exercise Whenever You Think of It

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For the Atlantic, Olga Khazan writes about an approach to physical fitness called “greasing the groove”, which some people have translated into the Michael Pollan-esque “lift weight, not too much, most of the days”.

One way to grease the groove is to just do the exercise whenever you think of it. Ben Greenfield, in Beyond Training, describes how he would do three to five pull-ups every time he walked under a pull-up bar installed in his office doorway. By the end of the day, he’d have performed 30 to 50 pull-ups with minimal effort.

McKay opted for something similar: He set up a pull-up bar in his door frame, and every time he walked under it, he would do one. “You’re allowing yourself to practice more without going to fatigue,” he says. “If you’re constantly thrashing your body, doing max sets every time you do a pull up, you’re gonna have a bad time.” Anyone who has tried to climb the stairs to their apartment on achy quads after an overly ambitious leg day knows the risks of overexertion. Within a month, McKay says, he went from being able to do about five pull-ups to about 15.

Gun Control

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America’s gun control laws are the loosest in the developed world and its rate of gun-related homicide is the highest. Of the world’s 23 “rich” countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. With almost one privately owned firearm per person, America’s ownership rate is the highest in the world; tribal-conflict-torn Yemen is ranked second, with a rate about half of America’s.

Here is what gun control looks like in Japan:

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Contrast this with Texas, USA:

Anyone can openly carry rifles in Texas without a permit, and a handgun license lets them put semi-automatics over their shoulders or pistols on their hips when they run to the corner store. Spotting an armed Walmart shopper in the produce aisle is not exactly a cultural rarity. When open-carry laws were approved in Texas, Walmart adopted a policy that employees must request to see a shopper's gun license before allowing them to carry their weapon in the store. Open-carry activists were not happy with the corporate decision.

So how does this translate into gun violence? Here are the numbers for 2019 (only half way through the year as of this writing) gun death rates per 100,000 people from World Population Review for Japan & the US.

Country Total Homicide suicide Accidental
Japan 0.06 0.00 0.04 0.1
USA 12.21 4.46 7.32 0.15

And for those who are numerically challenged - here it is visually:



To our elected officials - we don’t need our thoughts and prayers. We don’t need the outpouring of emotion and the standard visits with the family. We need GUN CONTROL NOW. Japan’s gun policies would be a great place to start.

Builder's Remorse

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A great post by Tim Carmody on kottke.org.

This is the builder’s remorse. Not that you invented a thing, not that the consequences were unforeseen. It’s that you gave the thing to a power structure where things were overwhelmingly likely to end in ruin. You gave the power to people who don’t care about what you claim to care about. And that problem, because of the nature and structure of money and power, is extremely hard to avoid.

A Pixel Is Not a Square!

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A technical memo that I came across by Alvy Ray Smith from July 15, 1995. A good point is made here. Every other book/article/graphics tutorial always models a pixel as a square.

A pixel is a point sample. It exists only at a point. For a color picture, a pixel might actually contain three samples, one for each primary color contributing to the picture at the sampling point. We can still think of this as a point sample of a color. But we cannot think of a pixel as a square—or anything other than a point. There are cases where the contributions to a pixel can be modeled, in a low-order way, by a little square, but not ever the pixel itself.

Walkman 40 Years Old Today

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On July 1 of 1979 - Sony first began to sell the TPS-L2 Soundabout, and soon rechristened the Walkman.

It’s weird to think that, in the years before the Walkman, there was no way to listen to music privately while out in public. There were ways to bring music with you — on transistor radios, on boom boxes, on car stereos — but they forced you to subject everyone around you to that music, as well. The Walkman freed us up. It allowed us to make music more a part of our lives, to build our own private soundworlds.

It was a transformative invention, one of the few that utterly upended the way we listen to music. Soon enough, more and more portable cassette players would hit the market, and the price fortunately dropped. But no matter which company made them, we still used the word “Walkman” to describe them.

That Answer Is Unacceptable

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When asked by Rachel Maddow, “Why isn’t [the Afghanistan war] over? Why can’t presidents of very different parties and very different temperaments get us out of there? And how could you?” Ryan had a ready, pre planned scripted answer:

I appreciate that question. So I—I’ve been in Congress 17 years and 12 of those years I’ve sat on the Armed Services Committee either the Defense Appropriations Committee or the Armed Services Committee. And the lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to stay engaged in these situations. Nobody likes it. It’s long. It’s tedious.

Ryan didn’t answer the question. He didn’t talk of American goals, exit strategies or cost. Instead he was defending a war that is in its 18th year which has no end in site. A war in which we just lost two more - bringing the total to 3,551 Americans. No policy statement. No stance on the subject. Just we need to do more of the same - that I have done for the last 17 years.

And Tulsi Gabbard offered the best foreign policy statement of the night:

Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan? Well, we just have to be engaged? As a soldier, I will tell you that answer is unacceptable. We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan…We have spent so much money. Money that’s coming out of every one of our pockets…We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when this war began. This is why it is so important to have a president — commander in chief who knows the cost of war and is ready to do the job on day one.

This is what the Democratic party needs more of – simple, direct and common sense policy. You want to win against Trump – that is how you do it.

Who Wants to Loose the Election?

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Last week’s Democratic debate - lets just say it was depressing. Besides going on and on about how much the Democrats care about illegal aliens - and I get it, I am a supporter of treating people entering our country illegal or not - with dignity and respect. But when asked the question - do you think illegal immigrations should receive health care? - everyone candidate raised their hand.

What I wish they said was – “Yes. As should every American”