Currently Browsing: Technology
Apr 26, 2013
Things at work are busy. In addition to the main project I’ve been working on coming to a header in the next few weeks, as we get closer to final delivery, on the side I’ve been busy layering my wookie suit. I’ve started a Bitcoin mining pool based on a half-baked suggestion from our CEO.
Bitcoin mining is actually quite like real prospecting, only digitally. They are looking for rare hashes; ones with a certain number of runs of zeros (determined by the network), which is unusual mathematically. The network can adjust the required difficulty up and down, depending on how quickly new Bitcoins are being discovered. This is algorithmic, so there’s no “central bank” so to speak, controlling the supply of the “currency.” This is what makes Bitcoins so attractive to the wookie suited among us.
Prospecting involves running through a lot of SHA256 hashes looking for the “valuable” ones. Turns out GPUs are quite adept at doing SHA256 hashing, and since we have quite a bit of GPU processing power hanging around not doing a whole lot, it seemed like a potentially fun experiment, to try to find some of those rare and valuable hashes. I have no idea whether this can earn real cash, or what we could actually buy with Bitcoins, but our company encourages side projects, and this seemed worth learning a bit about (no pun intended).
Fortunately for you guys, the blog server was absolutely pitiful at mining Bitcoins. It has CPU power (which sucks at prospecting) rather than GPU power (which excels at it), so I decided using the blog server’s spare CPU cycles was never going to be worth the electricity it consumed. My workstation is also not so good at mining, even though it has a decent GPU, partly because I think Apple’s OpenCL implementation is craptastic. But a Linux machine with a mid-range ATI Radeon card in it? All your hashes are belong to us.
Mar 7, 2013
One key theme of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster speeches was that the filibuster was about reinforcing the advise and consent function of the Senate against the Executive. There was quite a bit of discussion going on in my social media corners about how Congress should stand up to the President more – regardless of who is in power. In general, it got people talking about the limitations of government and how government should be effectively run. It was all rather refreshing to watch.
But that got me thinking about another nomination process issue that has been overlooked. The last couple of weeks, folks have been talking about the fact that unlocking your cell phone is now a felony with a penalty of up to 5 years in jail. Yes, 5 years in jail for wanting switch cell phone carriers. Who the hell made that decision? Well, the Librarian of Congress, James Hadley Billington, is ultimately charged with the task.
That got me looking up just who the hell the Librarian of Congress thinks he is if he is ultimately tasked with making regulatory decisions that make people who want to switch cell phone companies into felons. He was nominated in 1987, more than 10 years before the DMCA would even become law and leave such decisions up to the Library of Congress. He was approved on a voice vote, and the issue of his nomination has never been revisited again as far as I can tell in a few searches of Thomas. I would argue that once a man is given such power, it would probably be wise to haul him in for questions about how he plans to do with his new authority to make Americans using common technology into felons, and maybe revisit who should have this role.
Of course, some might argue that because I was using a pretty handy tool of the Library of Congress to do some digging on the Librarian of Congress, maybe the Library just stepped out of bounds on this one issue. Well, as Reason highlighted this week, a retired guy with just a high school diploma and some computers has created a database of historic newspapers with 22 million newspaper pages with just the expense of some equipment he bought himself and an internet connection. Meanwhile, the project to do the very same thing that Billington has created costs taxpayers $3 a page and only managed to archive 5 million newspaper pages. Even with the credibility of the Library of Congress behind it, Billington’s historic newspaper project sees less than half of the traffic of the archive of an amateur.
I guess with all of the enthusiasm that accompanied Rand Paul’s reminder of Senate checks and balances, I wonder if questioning past appointments who haven’t faced nomination scrutiny in more than a quarter of a century will ever be on the table. In the case of the Library of Congress, there are clearly questions about their copyright policies if Americans can become felons for wanting to unlock the cell phones they legally purchased and there are also clearly some questions about smart spending of resources. Maybe it’s time to again question the authority of someone who has been in power with little oversight for 26 years.
Jan 27, 2013
OK, so I’m starting out learning to fly very cheap and simple RC helicopters. My current one is showing here. A basic v911 fixed-pitch heli which can be flown indoors or outdoors in light wind:
I am looking to upgrade, at some point in the not so distant future, to a collective-pitch model. I am looking at the Blade mCPX v2, or debating whether I want to jump to something bigger. If I’m careful, the wind isn’t too bad, and don’t hot dog very much, I can avoid crashing.
My eventual goal is to work up to a larger bird, capable of lofting a video camera, transmitter, and possibly flying autonomously if necessary. I’m not sure how much bird I’d need to loft that much gear, but that’s more in the distant future. My sometimes co-blogger Jason (owner of the CNC and 3d Printing hardware) was working on a quad-rotor design a bit back with more advanced capabilities than typical RC helis, so at some point I might talk to him about reviving that, but for now I am just enjoying learning to operate these things and harassing the neighborhood bird population.
So any transmitter advice anyone can offer would be appreciated. I’m probably thinking a six channel, like the Spektrum DSX6i, and if anyone has any experience with the Blade mCPX as a beginner collective-pitch heli, I’d be happy to have advice or warning there too.
Jan 1, 2013
Interesting thoughts here. I think there are a few things we’ll look back on in 50 years with horror. One of them is drugging an entire generation of jittery boys with amphetamines instead of dealing with the problem through proper discipline, and the other is over-prescribing of anti-depressants. I think these drugs can help some people, but these days doctors I think are too keen on making problems go away with drugs than with taking the time to deal with the underlying problem a patient might be having. I don’t blame them, because family doctors aren’t therapists. But the idea that SSRIs don’t come with any downside I think is a fanciful. Clayton’s observation is interesting:
In addition, the warning information on SSRI antidepressants now includes the very real hazard that a person who is severely depressed, once taking the antidepressant, may now have enough energy to plan and carry out a suicide.
Could be. We don’t really know a whole lot about how the brain works, which is why I’m skeptical about tinkering with brain chemicals in new ways and expecting that every issue is going to come out in clinical trials. It’s a lot more complicated than treating other well-defined medical problems.
Dec 9, 2012
On Thursday evening the motherboard on my workstation died a horrible death. On Friday morning I went on to Amazon, and ordered a new one with Prime’s $3.99 next day shipping, and it arrived today. Given that I’ve ordered a grill, a hot water heater, and a portable air conditioner all using Prime this year, and considering saved my butt during this computing emergency, I think I can safely say I’ve gotten my 70 dollars worth out of it.
The new board is an Intel Gigabyte GA-Q77-D2H, replacing my Gigabyte GA-Z68MA-D2H-B3 that ate itself. Fortunately the CPU seems to be fine (given the socket was damaged when I removed it, I had worried that the failure may have fried the CPU too.) But all is well, and this new board actually works much better than the old board for my purposes. I am hoping this will be the end of my crashes. At this point the only thing I haven’t replaced is the power supply and CPU.
Dec 6, 2012
There’s some discussion about 3D printing over at The St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner. Jason and I have spent a good deal of time exploring both possibilities, since he has both a rudimentary hobbyist-grade 3D printer and an inexpensive and workbench sized CNC mill. We started off trying to print a magazine for an M11 submachine gun. One issue is that extruded ABS from a printer is a lot less rigid than the thermoplastics that are often used to make magazines, so the walls needed to be a lot thicker than on a production magazine, which reduced capacity and reliability. We still haven’t gotten around to trying to live fire a magazine.
Then Jason did an AR-15 lower receiver that uses a modified, bolt-together design to make it easier to mill than a standard lower. This actually works quite well. There’s also an M1911 in the works, but until Jason gets his Delorean back on the road again, that’s on hold.
There really isn’t a comparison between the two techniques. Hobbyist grade 3D printing is currently not up to the task of making guns, and is barely up to making plastic copies of plastic magazines. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, one has to be careful in one’s selection of plastics to avoid legal issues when using plastics in firearms. CNC machining works fine, however, and is within reach of hobbyists. Jason is not a skilled machinist, and yet still managed to add a bit to his collection. That’s not to say that CNC milling doesn’t require any skill: it does. There’s also a good bit of trial and error that a skilled machinist would likely avoid, and aluminum isn’t cheap. The real promise of 3D printing over CNC is that 3D printing takes relatively less skill, at least in theory, but the technology is not quite developed yet, and metal 3D printed parts are still at a price point beyond that of a hobbyist.
Dec 4, 2012
Today was an office day, and there was much to do. In addition, I had to swing by MicroCenter on the way home to exchange some memory I bought last week which turned out to be defective. Took a few hours on the memory tests to make sure these sticks were OK, but lo and behold:
We will now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.
Nov 21, 2012
I came across this new controversy yesterday of some random lout posing herself in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and appearing to shout and flip the bird. Pretty reprehensible, sure, but I’ll never really get the Internet’s penchant for obsessing over random idiots and louts. There’s a whole lot of Lindsey Stones out there in this world, and life’s too short for me to concern myself with them. But then again, maybe there’s not nearly enough public shame in this world for poor behavior, and perhaps we could use a lot more of it.
UPDATE: From Tam:
It’s the difference between lighting up next to a “NO SMOKING” sign, and lighting up next to a “NO SMOKING” sign in a pediatric lung cancer ward. One’s rebellious, the other’s reprehensible.
Oct 30, 2012
I’m surprised, lately, by how much decent news Google passes by. It’s easy for anyone with an Internet site, who isn’t a traditional blog, to get categorized as news, even if the content they are producing is shit no one reads, or would want to read. The signal to noise ratio has become quite high.
Sep 27, 2012
It used to be, when I first started blogging, you tracked incoming links on Technorati, which did a pretty decent job of showing who was linking to you. Then Technorati kind of fell apart and out of favor, so everyone switched to tracking incoming links via Google. Unfortunately, Google kind of sucked at it, and you got so many spammy links that it practically was never worth it to even look. But for the first time in a while, I just looked at Google’s link tracking, and all the incoming links are legit. This pleases me, because a driver of blogosphere “conversation” is incoming links, and if you can’t see who’s talking about you, you can’t really join in. I am pleased to see this working well again.