Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The way it should be

So I find myself on some well deserved vacation. Not that I have been able to stop working on my projects. They have become, once again, some of what I must do to be happy. Alas, I digress.

I am at Zoey's Coffee Loft in Ventura, CA. Free wireless internet. Quiet. And with music. Right at the end of El Jardin (a sort of alley full of shops, what in Argentina we'd call a gallery). 451 Main St, suite 8. What a cool place... so if your traversals take you to Ventura, you must come here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

SHH, NO LA ARREGLE! (Shh, I did not fix it!)

Ahhh summer, what a nice time to be in New Orleans! People are voting*, schools have reopened*, and thus all is fine. Which brings us to the next hurricane season and its inescapable questions:

Who was held accountable for last year's disaster?

What has been done to address the issues since then?

Apparently we have not learned much. All those people dead for nothing. We just sent them to /dev/null, along with all those that were forced to move. How convenient. And on top of this, we have the audacity to proclaim ourselves owners and creators of eternal truth on all possible topics of discussion.

I am thinking that this time we will not need a category 3 storm to suffer serious damage, and that we are just asking for reality to slap us on the face some more.

So, what is it going to be then? More finger crossing for you, my friend? More of being told "we will prevail" after disaster strikes? Another round of gambling New Orleans against ever worsening hurricane odds?

This is what evolution is for us: the random walk of the highly pretentious monkeys.

* Don't these headlines look familiar?... oh look, gas futures are dirty cheap!!! Moooo!!! BUY BUY BUY!!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sending a message, expecting no answer

In Smalltalk, every message has an answer. So, when I write here instead of doing so in a mailing list, how come I have come to expect no answer? How come most blog posts, in general, have no comments? What is the point of writing a blog if you have no feedback?

I am concerned that blogs have some sort of connection to isolation. And, as of late, I have started feeling they might be seen as the glorified mailing list post regarding self. You know: the presentation, the topic, the fact that comments are not immediately available in most cases, even down to the powerpoint-style one can sometimes perceive.

Enough of this. Where is the real conversation? We cannot have a proper exchange with this kind of disassistance from a computer. The fact that these emails look pretty and (for the most part) do not come with spam does not make them more interesting to read nor answer.

Hopefully Croquet will help in these matters when geographical distance makes real life interaction impossible. Yet I wonder why do we choose to have this fundamental problem that forces us to google up the world to find someone with whom to play.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the assumed value of delays

Sometime ago, I read what an exec from some iPod clone company said in regards to supported formats and available capacity: "we do mp3 now, and eventually we will do wav". Right or wrong, I wondered if there was something to be learnt from this.

Lossy compression schemes such as jpg and mp3 are popular because they provide a (usually) indistinguishable approximation to the real thing while requiring much less space. So if the game is to provide very good content in very little space, then we would lean towards improving lossy compression schemes so that we can squeeze things further and further.

Doing a bit of research, however, it turns out that audiophiles are resorting to lossless compression formats for music more frequently. These, such as FLAC or Monkey's Audio, don't compress nearly as much as mp3. In fact, sometimes they can consume significantly more resources to produce and reproduce. So why would someone do this when a ~200kbps .ogg file is pretty much overkill already? Why would someone deal with larger files instead?

Well, would you feel excited if you downloaded your favorite song in 1 second? I contend the lack of a pause, of a delay, and in fact the lack of temporary hindrance to get what you want prevents you from feeling it is valuable.

The same thing happens with software installers. Do you think a 2ghz computer really has to labor that much to unpack the 15mb compressed file so that the program can be installed? With that kind of CPU, it should be almost indistinguishable from xcopy. To add insult to injury, it used to be the case that messing up the clock of your computer so that hours seemed to go by in a few seconds made installers finish really quickly.

So in reality, lossy compression was a response to dial up connections. Now that bandwidth is relatively cheap and mp3 takes no time to get, we seem to need something larger so that it takes time to get it.

In the same way, why settle for 3mbps divx quickly when you can have 8mbps mpeg2 with more delay? Why settle for simple web pages that have properly presented content in 250kb when you can have the same content presented with 5mb of flash files? Why do you need larger and larger versions of the same thing? Why do you need bloated things like Vista to do essentially the same things you did with Office-style programs ten years ago? Why should things become bigger and bigger just so that it takes more time for you to obtain what you want? Because if not, you would not be inclined to think they are valuable as it would be too easy to get to them.

There is a limit to this. When you do not have access to a broadband connection, all those flashy sites and large files are quite bothersome. The wait is too much for the content. So while there needs to be some delay, it shouldn't be too much.

So here is the question: what is the function that correlates delay and perceived value?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monday, May 15, 2006

That lovely problem is back...

So... unhappy with trying to find proper solutions of quadratic diophantic equations in hard cases, that other problem is back... determining whether, if x is an integer,

f(2x) = x,
otherwise f(x) = 3x+1

will end up with f(f(...)) = 1 for all positive integers. If someone is working on this, please drop me a line and maybe we can exchange notes.

This problem is also known as the Syracuse algorithm, Collatz's problem, the 3x+1 problem, and other names.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My grain of sand for Vorbis

Would you guys please change your defaul extension, .ogg, to something that when pronounced can be confused with a word? You can say mp3 and it even sounds like a noun!

Seriously, how about kwl? Who would refuse to talk about kewl files? And besides, mp3 files are not kewl!

Friday, May 05, 2006

The pattern appears again

Bruce Badger of OpenSkills fame gave a presentation at NYC's Smalltalk User Group last Thursday. He adopted a very lightweight strategy to run a Smalltalk web server: develop in VW, push all the code to GemStone, and run headless with each Gem being an HTTP server.

Oh by the way the whole thing runs, shared page cache and everything, in 64mb of ram.

And I couldn't help thinking that it was a familiar approach. Indeed, I did something of that sort for the contest, where originally I had thought of several processes that would take a snapshot of the universe, think about it for a bit, and make new objects available to other processes. So... this MultiGem approach may work very well for AI-style problems.

Very nice Bruce! I really liked the "push all code to GemStone" button, followed by startUpOpenSkills script in a Unix shell --- and that's it, the web application is running with essentially zero time lag!