Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pattern matching

Here's a cool video:



Set to Apollo 440's Machine in the Ghost, it's a good example perhaps of our amazing ability to pattern match -- grep, if you will -- faces out of randomness. It's not something we're born with, it's a learned trait, from all the smiling faces that peered down at us when we were toddlers. Honed when we're looking for faces in clouds. It's actually quite entertaining to look for faces in radar data too :)

Funny how Apollo 440 always tends to get written off as "yet another no-talent electronic band". For the naysayers:



...a live rendition of their tribute to Gene Krupa.


The incredibly catchy studio version's on Youtube too:



I tried once to get a drummer friend interested in them... and he lost my borrowed copy of Electro Glide in Blue. Hey Willie, you owe me that CD!!! Did I ever mention I like drum 'n' bass? Goo...

Monday, November 27, 2006

More pix

You remember the CHILL radar security force, right? Well, we now have a PR rep too:

CHILL PR Rep :-)
Meow!


Some days back, we had some unusually heavy frost. Winter wonderland? Well, err... almost!

Winter Wonderland... kinda!

Ubiquitous DSPs and Exploding CPUs

Yup yup, thought I'd clean out the cobwebs around here...

Anyway, this post was inspired by an article I read on EEPN: it's a switch mode power controller -- with a DSP in it! Here I was, thinking that DSP-based motor controllers were over the top, but this just takes the cake. This is quite interesting, though, for the microprocessor power supply market. I worked at Force Computers, India for a while, and I remember being quite amazed when I found that the P4 Prescott (which was pre-release back then) had a supply current of 68 amperes (yes, that's right, AMPERES!) at 1.3 - 1.5V. The supplies have to be designed very carefully to prevent load transients from taking the voltage too far, since even a few tens of millivolts above the rated maximum will drastically reduce the lifetime of the CPU. With these new DSP-based power supply controllers, designing for specific transient responses should be a lot simpler than the usual black magic associated with the usual analog switch mode controllers.

Lesson to be learned here: there are differences between motherboard makes, and this usually has to do with the power supply design. Signs of a bad PSU include an unstable system and in the long term could end up with your $200 CPU going up in a puff of smoke. The video, despite it's geeky music (damn German techno!) almost caused Intel and AMD fanboys to come to blows, and sparked off (pardon the expression) some obviously fake crap. Me, though, I watched it, and two days later, went out and bought my first AMD mobo and CPU (was a 3000+ Barton, methinks). Quite frankly, fanboyism among people who don't know any better is pretty dumb, but is sometimes a necessary evil: would AMD/Intel have otherwise been able to sell the Athlon64 FX/Pentium 4EE at outrageously bloated prices?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Animutations

I'm late behind the curve, as always, when it comes to picking up Internet fads... here's the newest one I found, called Animutations. These are just perfect for my warped sense of anti-humour :-) Most tend to be Flash animations consisting of images of pop-culture icons dancing around to music, mostly of Japanese or German origin. Most tend to make fun of the Engrish common in J-pop tunes, or else they use a variety of nonsensical Mondegreens. Yeah, I know, it doesn't sound like much, but you have to try a few! The very first one I saw is called We Drink Ritalin... would you believe that's Engrish for "Wishing, Revealing?" lol!

The funniest one has to be Wizard Power: Einstein must die!!!

Special mention for Holy Shit!!! Ninjas!, although it may not seem too funny for non-gamers.

A really quick one is Asian Pride, short, sweet and funny as hell!

For more, visit Animutation Portal and click on "Flash Portal".

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Videos for Mac Fans

All ye Mac fans (we know who you are!!!), I found a bunch of commercials and other videos, many with a pro-Mac twist. One I liked in particular is Mic & Mac (23.5 M download), a video of a Win98 box falling in love with an iMac :)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cheap(ish) Linux Box

At work, I specced and put together a few Linux boxen (heh!) to use as workstations. I've already got three of them working pretty well, so I thought it'd be good to share the specs in case you're thinking of getting one yourself.

The requirement, initially, was to get a machine capable of running Fedora Core 5, which would mostly be used as a display station for our radar system. The display software is written in Java (and hence needs a beefy CPU+memory, with lots of L2 cache), and a 19" LCD would be nice to do the display on. Oh, and it has to be cheap!

Being an AMD fanboy, I decided to go with an Opteron CPU. 64-bit Linux is available in all distros now (yes, even Debian!), so the CPU's capabilities are not going to go waste. Most of the radar data processing suite can take advantage of the 64-bit CPU as well. Plus, Xeons are still too expensive, and the AMD64 architecture provides a larger memory bandwidth (which DSP software desperately needs). My choice of CPU is the Opteron 165, a dual-core unit with 1 MB of cache per core. I felt this is important because the Java virtual machine (used by the radar display software) would then mostly fit into the cache and hence run a bit faster. Most Athlon64 CPUs only have 512 kB of L2 cache, but there are exceptions. Opty 165s are capable overclockers, too, should I need the additional horsepower. I also went with the boxed retail version, since it comes with a very beefy heatsink, and the price delta between the retail and OEM+extra heatsink is not very high. Boxed CPUs also have a 3-year warranty.

I did think about the socket-AM2 CPUs, but I also wondered how many times I've actually upgraded the CPU on a comp without changing anything else... zero! So that argument goes down the drain. Also, they (and the motherboards + DDR2 memory) are more expensive than their socket-939 bretheren, which use DDR-400 memory. Linux support for some socket-AM2 mobos is also limited.

The motherboard I picked is the Asus A8N-VM CSM. On a microATX with GeForce 6150 integrated video, this mobo is one of the few that has a DVI socket onboard! It has a gigabit LAN port (supported by the forcedeth driver), which performs well with our network. I've yet to try jumbo frame support, though. A few points to watch out for on this board:
  1. X seems flaky when using the default video drivers for Linux. It helps to do the first boot in text mode (by adding a "3" to the second line from the boot sequence in grub), download and install the video driver, then do an "init 5" to go back to graphic mode. Installing the video driver in Fedora Core 5 requires three steps: first, at a root prompt, type rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-5.rpm and then yum -y install kmod-nvidia . Finally, type nvidia-config-display enable and you should be done.
  2. The BIOS needs to be updated to something at or above release 1003, this fixes a bunch of problems that otherwise require a ton of kernel boot-time options to fix. Most new boards have the update, so it should be OK.
  3. Occasionally, the mouse pointer would turn invisible (but the mouse still works), the fix is to, as root, open the X config file /etc/X11/xorg.conf. Locate the "Device" section and add the line Option "HWCursor" "off" This is a bug in the nVidia video driver, and will be fixed in their next release.
  4. The DVI port only supports digital output, you can't use an adaptor to connect a second analog monitor.
  5. If you want to use all four memory slots, be sure to buy at least two single-sided sticks (this is a known issue).
  6. There is a version called the A8N-VM CSM NBP, which currently does not work well with Linux. It doesn't have any additional features except for DRM-chip support (and who wants that, anyway!) Be careful when ordering.
For memory, I used a 2x512MB combo pack from Patriot. This isn't critical, I would recommend searching for a good deal before buying. The Patriot memory just happened to be on sale when I bought it. Look for single-sided memory, due to the limitation mentioned above.

Video is built-in, and is good enough for use as a workstation. Gamers can add an additional video card into the PCI-Express 16-lane slot for better performance.

For the case, I picked the cheap and cheerful Rosewill R604. It has an ambitious toolless optical drive mounting system, but it makes the drives sit too far in, so I removed the plastic brackets and mounted the drives with screws. Given this is on a tight budget, the choice of case is justified. For $40, you can't go wrong (and this includes a 400W power supply!) If you're looking for a better case, though, one that would make several heads turn is the gorgeous Lian Li PC-V800A. <drools>

The hard disk is a Seagate Barracuda ST3250820AS 250GB SATA unit, fairly capable, and with enough disk space for most uses (the radar data currently goes onto a 2 TB RAID). 250GB is the current sweet-spot for GB/$, so unless you want to save about $10, stay with this drive.

I used a BenQ DVD Writer, again, this isn't critical and I picked this because it was on special and came with a free BenQ slim keyboard. Other recommendations include the LG GSA-H10B, which supports DVD-RAM media as well (until recently, NewEgg shipped a free DVD-RAM disk with the drive... the first time you use a DVD-RAM, you'll get hooked!)

I'm very picky about mice, so I chose one I'm comfy with: the Logitech MX-310. X can be configured to take advantage of the extra buttons, which then work as forward/back in Firefox, etc.

The monitor is a Samsung 930B 19" LCD. This may not have been the best buy, since for $10 more, you can get the Samsung 940BX, which features a height adjustable stand (I'm currently using an old phone book... heh!) Anyway, it has a DVI port, and that's what mattered. Cheaper LCDs generally only have an analog input, which is poorer quality than the all-digital DVI system.

Anyway, the system works flawlessly as a radar display and as a general workstation for day-to-day tasks. I was so happy with it that we got another for use at Pawnee and a third one to replace an aging Sun Ultra-10. The latter two have an Athlon64 4000+ CPU instead of the Opty 165, but still perform well. The Asus motherboard, aside from the initial hiccups, works like a charm, highly recommended for Linux users.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Security Cat :)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHow could I forget this, I took a pic of what has to be the skinniest cat ever! Poor thing's actually the mom of several kittens, and took a liking to Bob, the tech. Now that he's away, one of us feeds her in the morning. We can't forget because she reminds us in no uncertain terms! Anyway, about the title, Pat once said we don't have to worry about leaving the site unattended, because we've got our army of "security cats" :)
So there ya go. Skinny cat against weeds, against a radome!

Judgemental bigots!

Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed

Just great. I believe the British first came up with "divide and conquer". What goes around comes around. I hope those two sue the hell out of the airline and every one of the racists on board.

On a related note, I found an interesting documentary hosted by Richard Dawkins, titled The Root of All Evil? The documentary is available for download here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Devil's Workshop?

I don't know why, but I was listening to Massive Attack's Karmacoma (from the album Protection) today, and felt like posting this:
You sure you want to be with me
I've nothing to give
Won’t lie and say this lovin's best
Leave us in emotional peace
Take a walk, taste the rest
No, take a rest
A weekend away from work, and all I can do is sit at home and introspect? Ugh, shame on me!

Been waiting to try it, so when I got an invite, I thought I'd try Blogger's Beta version. The changeover is pretty painless, despite having a modified template in place. The changes are minimal, the most obvious is post categories (even though I don't see where I can type them in). They've also finally switched to using dynamically generated pages, so there's no more delay when doing a "publish".

Fort Collins is slowly coming back to life, since the university's fall semester starts on Monday. Previously empty streets are now filled with overenthusiastic freshmen, screaming their lungs out. If I don't hear one more "WOO HOO!!!" at 2:30 AM, it'll be too soon :-/ Heck, even as I type this, there's a cop car right outside my window, setting up a pretty lightshow with all them blinkenlights!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Meet a real genius

Pretenders like me should take notes from this guy: Steve Wozniak. I found an excellent interview he gave, where he talks about his approach to computer design. The one thing I noticed was the enthusiasm and the pride with which he talks about his designs, and how proud he was that "even back in high school I knew I could design computers with half as many chips as the companies were selling them with." It's really quite sad when the real genius behind Apple computer gets sidelined in favour of the other Steve, but then as Woz notes in the interview, he doesn't really care, as long as he gets to show off the next new gadget he'd designed. Awesome, I wish I knew more about this man when I was in high school.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Pawnee connection - Part 2

Having poured in liberal amounts of blood, sweat and tears, we got the radar up and running, complete with calibrations. And mostly moth-free (hmm, now there's a good corporate slogan...)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

That's the signal processor after I set it up. From top to bottom, it now holds the test source, high-precision GPS-derived timebase from which radar timings and frequencies are synthesized, antenna position indicator, antenna control, main signal processor, a monitoring console, the digitizer computer and the transmitter control unit. The second pic has a clearer view of my baby, the transmitter control unit... yes, I'm really proud of it :)

Not shown is a gigabit network switch to hook all of this stuff together, and a KVM switch for the signal processor and acquisition node.


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Here's some of the data collected by Pawnee today. Ignore the "radar name" field, that's a software bug. The first pic indicates the signal strength (which gives an idea of the rainfall rate), the second indicates the radial velocity, ie, how fast is the rain moving towards/away from the radar. As Murphy's law would predict, we have a working radar but no rain :-/ Most of the weak echo seen is from so-called "clear air" echo: insects, birds and airborne dust. Note the velocity gradient, this means that the wind is blowing in a NE-SW direction. The little white cross indicates a tiny localized storm.

I know, I know, I need a life. I left mine in my other trousers.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Pawnee connection - Part 1

Dave and I started the move to the Pawnee radar site today, and remembering how the place looked the last time I was there, I took my camera along.

Pawnee EntranceThe CSU Pawnee radar is CSU's "other" radar. The flagship (CHILL) is much more capable, and that's where I usually work. The move involves getting some of the new stuff I've been working on, like transmitter waveform shaping, to Pawnee.

Pawnee's up about 40 miles north of Fort Collins, smack in the middle of northeastern Colorado, i.e., nowhere! The first thing that hits you after you step out of your car is the silence. It's like nothing we city folk are used to, all you hear is the hinging in your ears. Then you dare to look around, and there is literally nothing around for miles. Here's a brief idea:



A few miles up to the north is Wyoming. Anyone who's watched Brokeback Mountain will need no further introduction.




To the west is... well, a farmhouse! You can just make out the Rockies behind the clouds. I like the sunlight filtering through the clouds, what Rush referred to as Jacob's Ladder




East of the site is the biggest dose of nothingness, and if you look close, you can even see Tito and Dorothy... but don't worry, click your heels thrice and you'll be back at Pawnee in time for supper.


This is what a part of the inside looks like. The signal processor rack (on the left) is currently being filled in, this is the "before" picture :D I took the picture from where the radar displays are usually located. Behind the processor rack you can make out the archaic MicroVAX that serves as the antenna positioner. Behind the wooden door is the transmitter room, with the same FPS-18 klystron transmitter CHILL has, but running at around 400kW. The processor rack contains (from the top), the calibration signal source, antenna position indicator, antenna positioner, yawning open space :) and a UPS.

Interesting trivia: the site's apparently in the path of a moth migration route, and every year, they come in by the millions, shed their wings, scales, dead relatives... ugh, it's quite a mess! Most trips to the site involve at least one "debugging" session with either a broom or a vacuum. Grace Hopper, you got nothin' on me! Let's hope I don't unleash something as horrific as COBOL on the world!

This is a view of Pawnee's antenna from inside the radome. Unlike the spacious, inflated CHILL variety, Pawnee lives inside a cramped, fixed dome. This makes repairs difficult and taking pictures damn near impossible! The dish is about 7 m across, with a vertically polarized feedhorn at the prime focus. The dome unfortunately leaks quite a bit, and the rainwater leaves quite a mess inside. Luckily, we've been in quite a dry spell this year, so it's not so bad. In it's former life, this antenna used to operate without a radome, which is why it has a mesh structure, unlike CHILL's solid dish. It is, however, generally quite disconcerting to see a big 7-meter dish pointing in your general direction, so we've got a dome. Here's a funny story about the dome: the dome base (see the first photo) is made of wood, and one day during a routine check, Bob (the CHILL tech) found an arrow stuck in it :)



Here's the best part about the site: the road home :)


This one's for, uh, her. The flowers are everywhere! The madness, the torture... ack!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Orkut: to pic or not to pic

Alright, I admit it, I have a profile on Orkut. With the usual crap on it, and the usual list of friends on the right, and the requisite list of communities I joined and then promptly forgot about (except for one, of course). One thing that was missing, though, was a profile pic. Which caused the occasional storm-in-a-teacup and much wastage of internet bandwidth. Apparently some people see this as a tease, so I decided that that I'll put aside the real reason I never posted a pic and take the plunge... quite literally, as it turned out. Now from fending off "why don't you post a pic" questions, I have to answer the "why a shoe of all things" questions. Why not a shoe? I love my shoes. They serve my feet well. A bit stinky and perhaps discoloured, with a worn out sole to boot (hmm... that is funny!), but they're all mine.

Oh, and my lousy skills at taking pix ensured that the real point of that pic (emphasizing about 40 feet of empty space *below* my shoe) kinda got lost in the madness. Joy.

It would seem my alarm clocks need to move up to fly-by-wire style quadruple redundancy. I have an array of three clocks to help me wake up... and today, all three failed. Blech. Had lots of explaining to do coz of that. Heh, then every morning would be like the opening of Floyd's Time.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The move

After a year of living in an apartment where it was like in the James song Say Something, I finally moved! Granted, it was a week ago, but I'd been too busy with work to blog (leave home at 7:00 AM, get back at 9:00 PM... urk!)

My new room is nice and spacious, and the long walk to and from school only makes things better :-)

You're as tight as a hunters trap
Hidden well, what are you concealing
Poker face, carved in stone
Amongst friends, but all alone
Why do you hide

Say something, say something, anything
I've shown you everything
Give me a sign
Say something, say something, anything
Your silence is deafening
Pay me in kind

(read the rest of the lyrics)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rant mode

A lot has been said of how programmers' time is more valuable than a few machine cycles they save by trying to make their software run faster. A convenient excuse, I think, for laziness. Which may be why you find slashdot etc. full of posts on how interpreted and bytecode languages/platforms (like Mono and Java) are going to swamp compiled languages into the dirt, and while they're at it, provide "safer" code. I think it's a thinly disguised ploy by the software companies to steal some of the hardware guys' lunch. "We write the bytecode interpreters, and are hence in control"

I believe this is one road that's best not taken. I use software that runs on Java all the time. It's slow, it's pokey and it crashes. Examples? Eclipse, Matlab, Azureus and an in-house radar display program called VCHILL. All of them share common characteristics: they start up fine, then slowly eat up memory until my workstation chokes and I kill the program. I lost track of how many collective hours have been wasted due to this.

But wait, it gets worse. We now have "Embedded Java", which Agilent have decided to incorporate into their N1996A Spectrum Analyzer. Now we have an instrument that takes about 3 minutes to start up... even if it's been plugged into the wall for days (older analyzers needed a warmup time for their frequency reference ovens, which you got around by leaving it plugged in). The software is so crummy that if you enable a cursor and move it around, THE ANALYZER STOPS SWEEPING! This is, simply put, the world's most poorly designed analyzer interface. Ever. If you're ever considering a budget spectrum analyzer, stay away from the N1996A until they've revised the software.

I was just telling Dave today, it used to be that the signal processor systems in a radar were the ones that needed expensive custom processor chips and supercomputers, while displays ran on workstations. Now, we run our processing on a workstation (and use barely 10% of CPU doing it), while the display needs a monster rig with tons of memory, and doesn't provide a single additional feature. Pathetic state of affairs.

I need a vacation...

Reeling under the pressure of 19 hour workdays is usually enough to make someone write off blogging. Yeah, things got so hectic at CHILL because of missed deadlines and the NCAR folks tapping their feet and wondering when they'll get their promised data. Finally, we're churning out about 3GB of moments (or 220GB of time-series) a day for them, let's hope it's what they wanted.

Anyway, I found some funnies recently:In other news, I'm moving by the end of the week! Woohoo, won't have to deal with as much crap for a while!

These days, I alternate between moping around, thinking about the crummy deck life dealt me and thinking about... well, shh. You may find out soon enough. I'm so excited that I sometimes remind myself to not think about it, in case I jinx it and nothing works out. Right, enough tittering like a pre-teen....

Of late, the following have seen regular rotation on my iPod:
Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
Thermal and a Quarter - Plan B
U2 - Achtung Baby
Pearl Jam - Yield

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Just in case you missed the point...

Pump is Pumping

... we got a pardy goin' on here!

Classic case of "have display, will show crap". Something very "embedded"1 in human nature, it seems :-)

[1] 10 points for Gryffindor if you get the pun

Saturday, June 03, 2006

First Light!

As if I didn't already need a reason to be crowned "high-priest1 of nerd-dom", here I go again. This time, they're a pair of graphs that almost nobody in the world would care for.

Whatiteez? They're the receiver calibration curves for the new digital receivers I designed for CSU-CHILL :-) They saw first light (well, first microwave, anyway) today. The first order of the day for a radar receiver is a noise cal, and that's just what I did. It's not terribly impressive by radar standards, but -113 dBm minimum detectable signal is still pretty good. To put that into perspective, -113 dBm is 5.01 femtowatts of incident RF at the low-noise amplifier inputs. To put it into further perspective, the radar transmitter generates approximately 600 kilowatts (+88 dBm) of power during it's transmit pulse. The dynamic range here is an astounding 201 dB! Human hearing, by comparison, has a dynamic range of about 150 dB before you go deaf, that's still 105 times less than the power levels CHILL deals with. Considering this radar is rather run-of-the-mill by military standards, I wonder what sort of numbers they deal with.

Note that I ran out of power on my signal generator at the upper end, so the slight compression is due to the signal generator, not the receiver.

In other news, my laptop acted up a couple of days back. Quite funny, I took it out to the radar, plugged in the serial port to a test point on the radar, opened a terminal emulator. Punched keys, nothing happened. Then, quite mysteriously, the laptop powered off. "Strange", I thought, and pushed the power button. The LEDs all blinked and went off again. I thought it must be a dead battery, but as I was plugging in the charger, I noticed a burning smell! WHOOPS! Anyhow, after a while it started working again, so I'm still happy. Back up yer data, folks!

[1] I actually took some "test your nerdiness" quizzes. Most of them put me in the 95th percentile. Ugh, I need a life...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bandwidth: the Final Frontier

Bharath said I should write about why I think FPGAs are being seen in more new networking devices. Not having much exposure to this use of FPGAs, I will instead attempt to address another area where these amazing devices are seeing ever more use: high speed DSP.

Barrier Traditional DSP manufacturers (like ADI and TI) have long since realized the limitations of the usual von Neumann architecture that's so common in commodity computer systems, the most important one (from a DSP point of view) is memory bandwidth. The single bus over which both instructions and data must be fetched is the stumbling block when it comes to systems designed to crunch vast amounts of data down to manageable chunks. One method through which this is attacked involves the use of small blocks of high-speed cache memory, however this approach does not help DSP applications when the data must be fetched from a high-speed sensor and constantly floods the cache, negating it's benefits. These factors all resulted in the familiar DSP chips of the 90s, the ADI SHARC and the TI C6xx series. The ADI design, in particular, is interesting in that they rely on all the main memory being a high-speed type residing on-die, typical SHARC designs did not use external RAM. This guarantees single-cycle execution and the benefits of the Harvard architecture (simultaneous data/program access), without the associated explosion in pin count (back in the days when BGAs were as exotic as Leprechauns). However, once the data is inside one of these chips, options are limited by the number of ALUs and multiplier units, usually not more than 5-10 operations per clock cycle.

Now that we're used to desktop CPU speeds in the several-GHz range, a 40 MHz chip seems quite puny. However, it's still enough to perform quite complex DSP tasks like FFTs, and this is indeed what DSPs were destined to do most of their lives. One thing they could not do well, though, is very simple processing (eg: an FIR filter) at extremely high sample rates (eg: 50-100 MHz). In the few cases where it could be done, the memory bandwidth would be strained to near breaking point and the DSP cost could not justify it's application to such a 'trivial' task. The gap got filled in by ASSPs like the famous Graychip GC4016, a digital downconverter. These take the vast amounts of data spewing from ADCs and crunch it down for DSPs. The price you pay though, is flexibility. Replace the ASSP with an FPGA and you now have a device that can reduce both the vast quantities of data as well as complex algorithms required to further process the reduced data. What's more, you are now free to reprogram the data reduction filters as your design changes (not always a good thing, though). These design changes can include simply slapping on an extra bank of memory on some unused I/Os if you find you don't have enough memory bandwidth. This is simply not an option with most traditional CPUs and DSPs, which are limited to one (or at most two) buses. Exceptions exist, as we'll soon see.

Desktop chips have attacked the DSP problem in several ways. The most obvious is inclusion of vector instructions like MMX, SSE and AltiVec, which addresses the ALU/multiplier restriction. Cache control instructions can be used to set up "Fences" in memory, the fenced-off portions are not cached. The idea is you can set up your sensor to DMA data into a fenced region of memory. The CPU will then not bother trying to cache this, since it'll anyway only be accessed once. This prevents flushing of more important program variables. Still, in very high speed applications, a CPU will still spend most of it's time reading data in and out, not performing calculations. ASICs and FPGAs, however, are designed to stream data through, preventing this phenomenon. Simple example: a radar receiver FPGA I designed runs at a rather tame 80 MHz, but performs 1920 million multiplies/sec since it runs 24 multipliers in parallel. Few CPUs would be capable of sustaining this performance (peak performance doesn't cut it) or getting the memory bandwidth required to do it. Even if they could, it would be a tremendous waste of a desktop CPU to simply have it do something like digital downconversion.

One promising technique desktop CPUs have started to adopt is on-die memory controllers. Now, memory bandwidth scales with an increase in CPUs. This gives an additional degree of freedom to the system designer to increase the available memory bandwidth.

How does all this tie in with networking applications? Well, like I said, I'm not the best person to comment, but I can see some parallels in the requirement for vast bandwidth in and out of the CPU in line-speed applications. FPGA costs have been getting ever smaller (thanks to our good friend, Gordon Moore :-), and inclusion of hard-IP like Xilinx' Rocket-I/O is going to make FPGAs a more viable alternative to NPs, especially for multi-gigabit applications and switch-fabrics.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Flexibility, a blessing?

The electronics industry at large sort of revels in the fact that it's flexible and ever changing, that we can build products that, with the click of a mouse, turn into something completely different. I sometimes wonder, though, if this is entirely a good thing, at least for the blokes who make these things.

My argument is simple. Ninety nine percent of electronic products today contain some form of programmable element (usually a microprocessor), which sits on top of other hardware. While flexibility in the form of a re-flashable microprocessor certainly helps everyone (most importantly, the end user), the MPU has traditionally relied upon a layer of bedrock, the hardware on which it runs, which remains relatively unchanged. These days, though, programmable logic has changed much of this, and we have systems where the hardware, a previously impermeable and immutable layer, now shifts around like quicksand beneath developers' feet. This hardware-du-jour phenomenon has made designing embedded systems doubly difficult, with constant bickering between the hardware guys, the software guys and (oh horrors!) management. Instruments designed with such an arrangement must now additionally tag all data with a 'hardware version' number, sometimes one for each chip the data passes through.

On the other hand, it can be a good thing from the "the more data the merrier" school of thought. No, I don't mean more work, I only mean that the more data you preserve (or the closer you preserve data to a sensor), the better you can process it offline. The only trouble, of course, is bandwidth.

Debugging such an application can invoke some rather extreme displays of hair pulling, mostly when you need to figure out if the problem lies in software or hardware. I have a hard enough time doing it alone, I wonder how these guys at various companies with 'hardware teams' and 'software teams' see eye-to-eye :)

In the end, though, decisions postponed in the name of "flexibility" are eventually done so out of sheer laziness, and the hope that someone else will pick up the slack. Eventually no-one does, and another deadline whooshes by. When will it stop??? :-(

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Trouble with Perfection

After another few busy weeks at the radar site where I work, I've come to the conclusion that so many others have come to before: perfection is a moving target and not really worth it in the end. Our task is a formidable one, by any standards: take a research radar that's mostly in pieces, put it together for a rather large multi-organization project, and oh yes, do it in two months or so. All this sounds easy enough, except that there's only two engineers and a tech working on it. Tensions ran high, as component shipments got delayed, cables broke, computers refused to boot, FPGAs started dancing to the beat of their own drummer... our normally-pessimistic site manager had a field day on this one!

To top it all, there's always this sense of aiming for "perfection", where things have to look and work "just right." Words that no self-respecting engineer should ever use, this stuff is strictly reserved for upper management and marketing droids. Unfortunately, yours truly (engineer, don't know about the self-respecting bit) started aiming a liiittle too high and hoped to build, test and validate a working radar receiver FPGA with all sorts of fancy features in about... heh... a week! Surprise surprise, after days of simulations and a 45-minute PAR run, I got a bitstream of pure junk. With only a day left, I decided it's best to drop the whizbang features and go back to last year's design, with tweaks. By some good fortune, Neptune was ascending when I did my last PAR run, and I have a working receiver :-) Lesson learned, sometimes aiming for mediocrity has it's benefits, at least it meets deadlines!

Well anyway, now you know why there's not been much by way of posts here. As if you cared...

In other news, Xilinx has finally decided to update their tried-and-tested architecture based on 4-input LUTs, they've released the Virtex-5 series with 6-input LUTs! Man, this is just what I've been waiting for, for someone who eschews synthesizers and likes to place BELs, this is a dream. I only wish Maxwell's laws would make it possible to get these in non-BGA packages so poor schmoes like me can actually solder them :/

After all the excitement, I did manage to squeeze in some telly, and, heh, I watched re-runs of "Mad About You" Fun stuff.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pressure

Tick tock!Time. The final frontier. The one thing we can almost simultaneously have too much and too little of. Both equally tragic. There's times when I think I'd never see the end of something, can't wait for it to be over, wishing I could reach escape velocity and break free from time's grasp. There's other times I find yourself mulling over "if I spend two minutes a day waiting for a bus, that means I waste a whole hour every month. A whole hour!!! DAMN!!!". For completely different reasons, though, there are times when I wish time would stop whooshing by, to smell the roses, as the saying goes. Once in a while, I get a chance, and guess what, I smell manure instead of the roses that grow in it. Bleah.

Tick tock, tick tock. Every minute I sweep under the rug is a ticking little time bomb, and the ticking's driving me nuts! Where's that light at the end of the tunnel when you need one?

This post is brought to you by Bleary Red Eyes incorporated. BRE, where the insomniac workaholics (and slave labourers) go. Crunchy goodness in every bite.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rush - Grace Under Pressure

Finally, a review of a Rush album :)

Grace Under Pressure
This ranks as my favourite Rush album, from their impressive roster of 17 studio albums. Released in 1984, it deals with the concept of resilience in the face of doom, using examples such as the Cold War. Even though it's from Rush's synthesizer era (Signals to Hold Your Fire), it still prominently features Alex Lifeson's tango on the fretboard.

Distant Early Warning deals with the nerve-wracking job that radar operators on the DEW line in the Canadian arctic had to deal with. The fate of the world literally lay in their hands, they decided the fate of billions, all while sitting alone in a cold, desolate station in the middle of nowhere.

Afterimage is about loss and carrying on. Easily the best song on the album. Lifeson's solo is the highlight, it's like he channeled all the sorrow and negative emotion he could into those chords... awesome.

Red Sector A is based on bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee's mother's imprisonment in, and liberation from, a Nazi concentration camp. After years of suffering, when she was finally free, she believed they were possibly the last of humanity1

The Enemy Within is about how the worst fears we have are the imaginary ones in our own heads, and about the inner strength required to overcome them. Absolutely fantastic bass guitar work, Geddy's the king!

The Body Electric, one of my favourites, is very offbeat, detailing how an android, simply referred to as "Unit 1" breaks free of it's routine, monotonous existence, and becomes self-aware. Here's an interesting bit of trivia: the chorus goes "one zero-zero one zero-zero one, S.O.S.", 1001001 in binary translates to 73 decimal. The 73rd ASCII character is "I", and the android is self-aware. This is hard enough for most geeky-types to come up with, but Neil Peart (drummer and songwriter) is a highschool dropout, and this song was written in 1984, well before the Internet. How does he do it???

Kid Gloves, I'm still working on this one, but I believe it's about how a big part of growing up is the schoolyard posturing that we all indulge in, and how it's a struggle just to fit in. Again, includes a masterful solo by Lifeson.

I think Red Lenses is about the cold-war hysteria that got drummed up mainly by media reports that got blown out of proportion. Living under constant fear of "The Reds" requires "grace under pressure". Much like today's "war on terror"

Between the Wheels deals with how all we have is the memories of good times, while we live from one source of pressure to the next. Holding on to memory is all we can do to cope with all that life throws at us.

So here it is: in my opinion, the best collection of eight songs ever made. All I can say is "get it, get it now!"

Rating: 6/5? ok, ok, 5/5 :)

[1] see the Wikipedia entry on Red Sector A

Sunday, April 23, 2006

MyFirstTag™

Been blogging (if you can call it that) for only three months now, and I've been tagged already by Quills, so let's see how this goes.

Five people who top your shit list..... and why:

Only two are specific people. The rest, well, I thought long and hard and couldn't come up with any more people who I hate, so:

  1. My room mate who complains about everything I do
  2. Pseudos and other associated vermin who like to pretend they're someone they are not
  3. People who take me for granted
  4. Religious leaders who guilt-tripped me into believing in their deities.
  5. Me (sometimes)

Close brushes with death/danger:

I lived nice cushy, closeted life, so there aren't many. The closest, I would say, is when I got under the rail at Niagara falls when I was five. Apparently it took a lot of chocolate to get me back to safety.

Five Preferable modes of suicide, in descending order:

  1. Abduction by aliens
  2. Doing the superman thing
  3. Organophosphates
  4. Sodium Thiopental
  5. Sawed-off shotgun to the mouth (why hello, Mr. Cobain)

Five guilty pleasures:

  1. Onam Sadhyas :-)
  2. "Death by Chocolate" at Corner House, B'lore
  3. Peach Cobbler
  4. Penguin Caffeinated Mints
  5. Spending excessive time on that potential special someone

Five things you never want to forget:

  1. The hurt I felt the first time I let my crush know how I felt
  2. Finishing 12th standard and thinking "School's out forever"
  3. My first trip out to the Pawnee site and taking in the immense open space that's the American mid-west
  4. My trip to Paris :)
  5. Getting paid for the first time (well actually, using the ATM for the first time!)

Five things you wish to forget:

  1. See #1 above
  2. That I once ate duck food. This one's funny: it was at Sea World, SFO, I was five. The duck food dispensers worked the same way as gum ball machines, but didn't need a dime. So I turned the crank and stuffed my face with the resulting "free gum balls"... ouch.
  3. That my greatest dream once was to become a plumber. Stupid Nintendo...
  4. All of 7th standard.
  5. An incident in 3rd standard: we had this system of "demerits", teachers could award demerits for bad behaviour and when you accumulate three, you get detention that Friday. The school was run by sadistic harpies in habits who loathed the sight of us boys (was a girls school where boys studied up to 3rd std), one of whom gave me two demerits for hiding behind a pillar and screaming "boo" at my friend. The week that I got my third demerit, the principal introduced a rule that those who get detention must announce in front of the school why they got it. So I march up, knock-kneed, to the microphone and say "I got one for wearing the wrong shoes and two for scaring a boy". The whole school took about five minutes to calm the heck down.

Five really exotic dishes you have tried:

Downside to the cushy life: I've never tried anything particularly fancy, so anyway here goes:

  1. The "Mumbo" and "Rambo" rolls at Fanoos, B'lore. A friend made the disturbing observation that there are no stray dogs in that area...
  2. Pâté de foie gras, on a boat on the Seine :-) I almost missed this coz I didn't have a dinner jacket. I was all "wtf is a dinner jacket?"
  3. The samosas at Ashmath's canteen, SJBHS
  4. Fried Squid (yes, Quills, Calimari is a euphemism for wimps :-p )
  5. Cactus (thanks, Miguel!)

Five crushes/loves in your life... in chronological order:

Suprisingly, I've had only five real crushes in my life. Well, six, if you count one before my voice even cracked... lol!

  1. 9th standard. Ultrapopular girl from the school-across-the-road. The kind who had at least fifteen guys tracking her every move. I believe the only thing I've ever said to her is "Hi"
  2. 9th std to 11th std. Another one of the above. This time, I think I spoke one more word, which was "no", an answer to a question she asked someone else. This one was very bad, I asymptotically approached making a fool of myself.
  3. 12th std. Very sweet girl who lived nearby. We had the same bus route to school. She was going through a hard time, and I got entirely the wrong idea. Nuff said.
  4. 12th std. This one actually toyed with me, led me on and then gave me the finger. Ouch.
  5. First sem, BE. Love at second sight. Remember it like it was yesterday. We had something going for six years. Now we don't. (cue The Smashing Pumpkins' Muzzle)

Strangest dream you ever had:

Not exactly the kind who remembers dreams. I tried once to keep a 'dream log' (eek!) and it's sole entry documented this dream during Crush #4 (see above), how she hired someone to track me down and beat me up. Something about a railway station and lots of running.

Five most valued personal possessions:

  1. My 45 GB of music
  2. My iPod Nano and my Shure E2C earphones
  3. Beast and my Onkyo
  4. What's left of my sanity
  5. The fact that I took so long to come up with this list :)

Five favorite superheroes..... and why:

Not being the comic-book hero type, mine are a bit offbeat

  1. Batman: Dark. Brooding. Mysterious. Driven by revenge. Everything I always wanted to be.
  2. Spaceman Spiff: Bravely going where no six year old has gone before
  3. Captain Linger: Captain Linger, Captain Linger, the day he saves may be his own!
  4. Invader Zim: My almost-namesake. Not really a superhero (more like a bumbling idiot, actually), but loveable nonetheless.
  5. Motoko Kusanagi from "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex"

Now then:

DJ K, Harish, Karthik, Karthik and Vaishnavi

Rise, for I dub thee TAGGED!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Life minus Vestiges

First off, I'd like to say there's nothing like a few comments to make me realize I actually have a blog... thanks all :)

Damn Sinuses!On with the topic: I wish that once we're maybe past the age of self realization (5-6 for most of us, possibly 18+ for a few "duuuhs"), we should be given a choice to get rid of vestiges we don't need. Like nasal sinuses, for example. Every now and then they painfully remind you of their meaningless existence, by filling up and hurting like effing hell.

Days go by where all you think about is "careful not to make sudden movements with your head", drugged out on painkillers and coffee (to stay awake through it all). Supposedly they make your skull lighter. Hogwash! Why then, does it feel like a ton of quick-drying concrete poured down your nose while you were asleep??? Must be aliens behind all of this. Yeah. Should keep those windows locked at night...

The worst part is that it leaves you frustrated and crabby, snapping at people for very little reason, if any. Routine things like winblowz crashing (yes, it's almost periodic!) which I'd otherwise brush off and treat with a three-finger-salute, blow up into episodes of blinding rage. Almost like Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations. Which may be why my keyboard's missing a few keys :(

Speaking of keyboards, methinks I should treat myself and get me one of these. Still, at $149 a pop, I'll make sure it's safely stowed away before the next sinus attack.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Improve your face value

I found this on a water pipe in a loo at school today. It's actually valve handle, with an arrow below and the words "off" and "on"... but it looks so cute!

Today's trip down memory lane was triggered by White Town's Your Woman. Seems like I ran out of gas half way through, though.

I just remembered those shopping bags with the slogan "Smile, it improves your face value." Wish I could...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No Rain?

It's funny how a song can sometimes bring back such vivid memories of a particular time, place or even a person. It happened to me again today while listening to No Rain by Blind Melon. Suddenly I was back in high school, hormones-a-ragin', a month after we moved to what would be our house for the next eight years (damn, that's long!) It was all filmi-ishtyle, when I caught a glimpse of... the girl next door. No no, I didn't burst into song (heh, that'd be a sight!), I just allocated an excessive number of CPU cycles. I knew it's hopeless, but hormones have a way of screwing up task schedulers. Anyway, for the next month or so, I kept having this recurring dream of walking over and asking her if she had a copy of No Rain, I don't know why. I never did that, though, and she moved in a few years.
And I don't understand why I sleep all day
And I start to complain that there's no rain
And all I can do is read a book to stay awake
And it rips my life away, but it's a great escape
escape... escape... escape...

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
ya don't like my point of view
ya think I'm insane
Its not sane...it's not sane.
Some day I, too, will find my field full of bee-people to dance around with.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Peter Gabriel - Shaking the Tree

This is a compilation album from the former Genesis vocalist who struck out and created his own very unique brand of music. The tracks here range from 1977's Here Comes the Flood to 1990's Shaking the Tree. Released in 1990, it unfortunately does not include his more recent chart toppers like Steam or Digging in the Dirt, but that by no means leaves this compilation short of it's "wow" moments.

Peter Gabriel's songwriting skills, combined with his oddball experimentalism (Genesis was a prog rock group while he was around!) make for such memorable and entertaining tracks as Shock the Monkey... which is incidentally also is one of the first commercially successful songs to use the Fairlight synthesizer. In fact, there's a short clip on the DVD Play: the Videos which features Gabriel using the Fairlight to sample the sound of breaking glass! Much of the lyrics have a twist in them, and can be interpreted in many ways. For example, Shock the Monkey sounds a lot like an anarchist's rant against capitalism, while it's really a song about jealousy.

Also included is the epic Biko, about the South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, and slower numbers like Red Rain. By 1990, Gabriel was experimenting further with world music, which resulted in the title track Shaking the Tree, which he co-wrote with Youssou N'Dour (of Seven Seconds fame1).

This is a thoroughy enjoyable album, although I would recommend getting either 2003's Hit (another best-of compilation) or 2004's Play: The Videos

Rating: 4/5

[1] with Neneh Cherry

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fedora Core 5

Fedora LogoI finally got around to installing Fedora Core 5 today. I went to the Red Hat site and got one of the DVD ISOs through BitTorrent. I used K3B to write this onto a DVD, and rebooted. Rebooting was a bit sad, coz I had this right before I did it:
20:27:56 up 26 days, 16:28, 2 users, load average: 0.01, 0.11, 0.14
Oh well... all good things must come to an end! So anyway, I did a media check of the DVD first, then got it to update the existing Fedora Core 4 install. It took a while, but was otherwise smooth sailing; I didn't need to make any further changes to settings.

After the install completed, I needed to get FC5 to start in runlevel 3, since I use an nVidia graphics card, and the "nvidia" accellerated drivers, which need to be rebuilt when the kernel version changes. The bootup went by flawlessly, but running the nVidia installer gave me a nasty surprise: there were no kernel headers installed! It turns out Redhat did goof up with the kernel headers, but the next update (in a couple of days) should fix that. To get a GUI up, I changed the xorg driver to the open-source "nv" and went to runlevel 5... ah, it was glorious! I don't really know what changed, but everything just seems smoother. However, I had some trouble with my mouse after I logged in (cursor froze up). This happened only with my old login, I suspect it's something in .Xmodmap. Anyway, I couldn't figure it out, so I made a new login and imported my mailboxen (hehe!), browser profiles and other stuff.

I was wary of not having MP3 support, but livna.org announced support for FC5 just a day after it's release. To set up livna repositories, I used the command
rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-5.rpm
I then installed the MP3 codecs using yum -y install gstreamer-plugins-ugly Sound support under FC5 is vastly improved, one of the major updates being ALSA supporting dmix software mixing by default. I found these and a bunch of other useful tips here.

The Pup :)Doing a yum -y update updated a huge number of packages... just days after release! Dontcha love open source? There's a new package management tool called PUP (Package Updater), featuring the cutest icon known to man!

FC5 uses Gnome 2.14, which seems to be a lot snappier than 2.10 (from FC4) and is also sprinkled liberally with extra icons. The default theme (Bluecurve) has received a slight face lift. It also seems like my earlier fears about Beagle's memory useage are unfounded, the overall free memory on my box is actually lower than before!

I think Redhat and the community have done a fantastic job with FC5... cheers all around! Highly recommended. If you're still putzing around with Winblowz, rebooting five times a day and worrying about keeping your antivirus updated, the time to switch is NOW!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get Happy

This is one of the most amazing short films I've ever seen, More, by Mark Osborne. A moving story, the details of which I leave you to figure out as you watch the short, it's set to the ethereal Elegia, by New Order. Feeling depressed? Just Get Happy. Quicktime required. Batteries not included.

It was released way back in 1998, and was originally filmed in 65 mm IMAX format. A DVD version, with a documentary describing the making of the short, has been released and is available from www.gethappy.com.

It took a team of stop-motion animators nine months to complete... odd, given Mark Osborne's inspiration to make this short was the birth of his son.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good People do Exist

It's almost a fixture of the growing-up process, that we become cynical and doubt everyone's intentions. I don't personally know anyone who's past their mid-twenties and still has a predominantly optimistic view of life. Friends, colleagues, room mates, significant others (oh, don't get me started...) end up nothing like you imagined they'd be. Occasionally, though, there's the spark of decency that tends to make a believer out of me for a while. Case in question: my friend Karthik, who's hit a rough spot, found out that he could count on some of his friends to help him get through... we're with you, Kazi! Think you can help? Visit Karthik's blog and leave a message.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's alive!

After many months, the CSU-CHILL radar was alive again! Somehow, no matter how many times you do it, there's always something exciting, something macho about getting a 500 kW transmitter to radiate again! Antenna drives down, we had to be satisfied with watching the beam bounce off the Rockies. There was some echo from a storm rolling in, which made for an interesting test of the signal processor.

That storm brought with it some pretty hefty wind, and for a while, the radar site looked straight out of a western, complete with howling winds (literally) and tumbleweed blowing around! At one point, I caught myself saying "This town ain't big enough for the both of us!" to the fencepost...

Here's a scan of my new board... ain't she a beauty? I learnt the trick to taking pictures of boards some time back: place them on a flat-bed scanner!

Without a care in this whole world
Without a care in this life
It's what you take that makes things right
And in my mind I'm everyone
In my mind I'm everyone of you
You make it right
It's all alright
You make it right
Porcelina of the oceans blue
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,
The Smashing Pumpkins

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Caffeine nights

Lately, I've turned into my former nocturnal self, after getting hooked (again) onto coffee. The evil drink (!) was a huge part of last semester, but I managed to get off and stay off... until two weeks ago. So it's back to sleeping at 3 AM. Which is all good, except for the rest of the next day. You know you're too sleepy when you're looking at your monitor, then look down to a piece of paper on the table and wonder why there's no mouse pointer there... Well, anyway, I'm on detox now, so the jittery hands should go away... just what I need to solder properly! Speaking of which, my new boards have arrived! They look so slick, I'll post a pic tomorrow.

In other news, Fedora Core 5 should be released on March 20th! Gnome 2.14 goodness! I noticed that of late, the livna repositories have tapered off their updates to Fedora Core 4. Things like Firefox have been stuck at really old versions (would you believe, 1.0.7!) for some time now. The upgrade to FC5 should bump up the versions of many packages to current. On the other hand, FC5 now integrates the Beagle search tool into Nautilus... which may in itself be A Good Thing, but my experience with Beagle (on Suse 9.3) has been disappointing. Maybe it's my bias against "managed" language platforms like Java and Mono (which Beagle uses), but they always seem to think that "All Your Memory Are Belong to Us" until I kill the respective VM. Give me straight C any day! One problem which started way back in FC2 still remains: no out-of-the-box MP3 support. This means that until livna et al get FC5 repos up, I'll stick with FC4 so I can enjoy my music...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dazed and Confused!

Not as many updates as I had planned in the last few days. This is one of the reasons why. It's my revision 1 waveform synthesizer board. After slaving over it for months, I found that inherent design problems in the digital upconverters (these are hiding under the blue heatsinks) won't let me use the board the way I wanted to. The design for Rev. 2 is done, and is at the PCB fab right now. Hope it works the way it should...

Anyway, we live and learn, or so I'm told. Mistakes I made on this board should be fixed on the new one, of course, to reveal more. The rat race. Now on a board. I should get in touch with Milton Bradley...

Then this snow's driving me nuts. The snow in Fort Collins is usually powdery and dry, but for the last few days it's the east-coast type thick, wet snow. It's so icky, it clings to you like a puppydog ex-love. Now I know how she must've felt. Damn.
I hope they catch the bastards responsible for the bomb blasts in Ayodhya. Spineless morons can't even agree on who's responsible.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Personal Incredulity

I've been reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, a very thorough and easy-to-read guide to the theory of evolution, for the layman. Dawkins, a zoologist, provides some extremely powerful arguments in favour of evolution, while simultaneously refuting several historically important arguments in favour of competing theories beliefs.

I bought it at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which had a special exhibit on evolution and the life of Charles Darwin.

Dawkins argues his case without mincing words; he's direct and to the point. What I liked best though, was his demonstration that most of the arguments against the theory of evolution involve what he calls "Personal Incredulity", where someone attempts to disprove evolution simply because they don't believe, or can't bring themselves to believe, that it could work. Reading some of the arguments, the less philosophical among us could actually start to wonder if there's some truth in them. Dawkins, however, is quick to shred the thin logic apart and expose it to be, in fact, merely the result of a lack of understanding or simple refusal to accept the blindingly obvious.

Some further thought shows that offering up personal incredulity as an argument is all too easy. It may be as obvious as just saying "I don't believe so-and-so" or more sneaky, saying "how can so-and-so be possible?" and proceeding to quote references like "common sense". Sometimes, questions asking the "do you think so-and-so could ever happen?" are used to trick you, the reader, into accepting a point of view because if you don't, then your common sense is called into question. We'd rather believe dubious claims and beliefs than question our own common sense: egotism in it's finest form.

Follow your minds, people... egos are only meant to be neatly pressed and folded into an old suitcase.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Kraftwerk - The Man Machine

Some of the words come to mind when you listen to this album include "delicate", "artificial" and sometimes "prophetic". "The Man Machine" (1979) was Kraftwerk's seventh studio album, in which they continue their trend of what on the surface seems like naive praise for modern technology and the comforts it provides. Closer examination reveals a wariness which doesn't quite become fear, but it's still like a warning of sorts, which is what I meant by "prophetic".

Kraftwerk (German for "powerplant") were well ahead of their time, releasing albums which are composed entirely of analog synthesizer sounds with little or no recorded material besides vocals.

Recently, Coldplay sampled Kraftwerk's Computer Love (from "Computer World") for their single Talk (X&Y) after Chris Martin (a Kraftwerk fan) wrote a letter in halting German to Ralf Hütter.

Spesh mention: The Model, Spacelab and The Man Machine

Rating: 4/5

Additional trivia: many Malayalam movies produced in the '80s seemed to like using Kraftwerk, in particular, The Model as a stereotypical "western music" prop :)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Spring Creek Trail

Today I did something I usually don't do: get out of home :)

I took a nice long walk down Spring Creek Trail, a bike trail through the middle of Fort Collins, along the banks of Spring Creek. The weather had warmed up and I needed to take my mind of, uh, things (refer previous post). It was good to be able to walk and not need my iPod to block out the sound of traffic. Instead got to enjoy birds cheeping, honking or quacking, depending on species. Around spring, Canada geese migrate back to their breeding grounds, and it seems like NE Colorado is a major hub/terminal of some sort, they're everywhere! You can also see great V-shaped formations of geese flying north. There were a couple of Mallard nests on the way too.

One of the funnier sights on the way was a telephone junction box with this sticker on it. Derived from the Obey Giant urban phenomenon, I found the Bush likeness absolutely hilarious! A jogger further down the trail thought I was nuts because I was still laughing! Also note the attempts to scrape the sticker off... Fort Collins is a conservative town despite the University.

That walk was just what I needed. It cleared my head of some of the tensions that built up over the weeks. I should do this more often. If only my bike wasn't stolen...

Later at night, though, I got reminded why I was in that state in the first place: I went to Zydecos, a local pub with my roommates. As usual, I did my "thing" of standing around, busying myself staying out of people's way. By 10:30 there were the usual bunch of girls trying to get attention from atop the bar (it's supposedly a tradition). My only regret was that the pretty barkeep was not working the bar tonight :/ Each time I go there I wonder why I bother. I can always buy some vodka and coke from the liquor store, so it's not the drink. The women who'd frequent a place like that most likely have no interest in someone who's sole joy on a Saturday night is to buy a Gyro from a street vendor. And my roommates are busy with, um, other things, so maybe I'll just stop. There was, of course, that one time I got hit on by a gay dude... at least it's nice to know I have options.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tongue Tied

How many times does it happen after you've passed puberty? When you're faced with someone who captures your interest completely, when you think that there may be a chance this person finds you interesting too? When you secretly hope, as crazy as the idea sounds, that things could be different, but then reality crashes back down? When all the thoughts running through your head buzz so loudly you can't hear yourself think? When all you could want is a sign, however feeble, of being acknowledged by another? When all you have to offer is a feeble "Please don't walk away and I promise to say something intelligent"? Why here? Why now? It's too soon, I'm not ready for this.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breakdown

One of Guns 'n Roses less appreciated songs. This one was a great source of inspiration in 9th std... damn, eleven years ago!
We all come in from the cold
We come down from the wire
And everybody warms themselves
to a different fire
When sometimes we get burned
You'd think sometime we'd learn
The one you love is the one
that should take you higher
You ain't got no one,
You better go back out and find her

Just like children hidin' in a closet
Can't tell what's goin' on outside
Sometimes we're so far off the beaten track
We'll get taken for a ride
By a parlor trick or some words of wit
A hidden hand up a sleeve
To think the one you love could hurt you now
Is a little hard to believe
But everybody darlin' sometimes
Bites the hand that feeds

When I look around
Everybody always brings me down
Well is it them or me?
Well I just can't see
But there ain't no peace to found
But if someone really cared
Well they'd take the time to spare
A moment to try and understand
Another one's despair
Remember in this game we call life
That no one said it's fair

I've come to know the cold
I think of it as home
When there ain't enough of me
To go around
I'd rather be left alone
But if I call you out of habit,
I'm out of love and I gotta have it
Would you give it to me if I fit you needs
Like when we both knew we had it?
But now the damage's done
And we're back out on the run
Funny how everything was roses
When we held on to the guns
Just because you're winnin'
Don't mean you're the lucky one

Eek! Manure alert!

Sheesh! And we thought it couldn't get worse... 240,000 litres???

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dummy

Portishead is probably best known for their song off this album, Glory Box, which was featured in that, um, naughty Levis ad. You remember, the one with this couple flirting in an elevator while this kid looks on? Dark, slow and haunting, Dummy is a pioneering work in the downtempo "Bristol Sound" or "Trip Hop" genre that groups like Portishead and Massive Attack helped to popularize.

The music's perfect for that "wallow in self-pity" day, when you can totally understand why Beth Gibbons would pen lyrics like these (from Biscuit)
At last, relief
A mothers son has left me sheer
The shores I seek
Are crimson tastes divine
I can't make myself heard, no matter how hard I scream
The slow hiphop beats make for easy listening, and once you're hooked, you pay attention to the amazing songwriting on this album. On the flip side, it is kinda depressing, and unless your day's already feeling like it's got a flat, save this for a truly rainy day. You'll love yourself for it.

Rating: 5/5

Here we go again...

Hardware always turns around and bites you in the ass when you're not looking. Just a few posts back I mentioned how proud I was of my waveform synthesizer. Well, apparently it's not good enough. For reasons I won't delve into (do I hear a collective sigh of relief?) I have to do a new board. From scratch. Ugh.

There was a time when I'd be happy to get news like this. Heck, a part of me still is, but how do I convince the rest of me? :-/



These are the creatures I do battle with. Pretty, aren't they?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Garden State

I remember vaguely having rented Garden State from Blockbuster about, oh, a year back. Popped it into the player and... fell asleep. It was a busy week, and before I knew it, I had to return it and I didn't even watch the whole thing. Fast forward to yesterday and I watched it again, courtesy isohunt.

One word could sum up this movie: sublime! I could relate to Largeman's view of life as this sort of thing that sails by dreamily, occasionally populated by animated figures you can never figure out. The part I like best was when he's at Mark's party, and everyone's getting happy while he's just watching life sail right by. I think the drugs that did this to him are a metaphor for what "the daily grind" does to us: steals away the curiosity and wonder we were all born with. In a predicament like that, all you need is your own personal Sam to make the dreams sailing by stop and come back to life.

After watching it, I liked the music so much that, again, courtesy isohunt, was able to listen to the soundtrack. About the best OST I've ever heard. My favourite is In the Waiting Line by Zero 7. Close runners up include Don't Panic (Coldplay), New Slang (The Shins) and One Of These Things First (Nick Drake). The only reason Let Go and Lebanese Blonde are not on that list are because I've heard them before. Maybe the best part about this soundtrack is that while all the music (except for The Only Living Boy in New York) is new, it's still instantly listenable, the way only a classic could be.

Rating: 5/5

Where's my Sam now? :-(

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Demotivators

Heh, I like these:

Achievement
Conformity
Delusions
Idiocy
Inspiration
Overconfidence

Two that are particularly apt:
Loneliness
Persistence

D&D

I've never played D&D, although it sounds like fun. Doing my usual browsing around Wikipedia, though, I found this... what will radical Christian groups think of next? It's almost as if a communist government went after people playing Monopoly... no, wait, that probably already happened!

Octopus attack!

Octopuses, while kinda creepy, are supposedly one of the most intelligent invertebrates. They can apparently solve problems, figure out complex ways to get at food (including opening jars!) and have one of the most sophisticated eyes in the animal kingdom. Probably why you get that creepy feeling, looking at their eyes.

Anyway, I found a video of shark getting eaten by an octopus. Well, gotta shelve those scuba diving plans :)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Snow day

Woke up this morning with a slight shiver... despite my stoopid room heater! Looked outside and all I could see was white. Another day where I had to put on four layers of clothes to beat the fscking cold! This morning it was -12 C outside (or 10 F as our metric-challenged friends would say...), but with the nice bright sunshine I thought the foot of snow would melt away. No such luck, because in the evening it was down to -16 C and I almost froze my palms to the radar site gate while locking up...

On the flip side, the stuff I'm working on, well, works! For the terminally bored, it's a radar waveform synthesizer, and today it actually synthesized arbitrary waveforms when told to do so :) I'm so proud of it I'll post some pix Real Soon.

There's something almost funny about the crunch snow makes under car tyres. Maybe it's old Beavis and Butthead-style gross-out humour, but hey, that's me! Snow itself, though, sucks. Despite my colossal Columbia snow boots, I still skate around all over the place! For now I'll just blame that on a defective inner ear and hope that I don't fall tomorrow...

Woohoo! I tried one of those online "personality tests" which cheerfully told me that the world leader I most closely resemble is... (drumroll)... Adolf Hitler! Gak... never saw that one coming. Apparently I don't trust people. :-/

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Sub

By popular demand (hehe!), here's a pic of my Onkyo's sub. It's shy, so it's looking away! The center channel's actually under my table. The rears are stowed away since I don't have much space in my room. Also making a guest appearance is my Athlon64 which I optimistically named "beast". It's a year old, but still potent: A64 3000+/1G PC3500/GeForce 6600GT/MSI Neo:4 Diamond mobo/1x 120GB PATA, 2x 80GB SATA. OS of choice: Fedora Core 4! Festooned with fans, it certainly sounds like a beast!

No seriously, my digs are too small, gotta move out...

Things work again!

After yesterday, I almost didn't want to touch my scope and LSA at work today for fear that I may jinx them all over again... so I busied myself with getting Linux onto yet another Athlon-MP S2460 machine. This time, I was careful, so I ran memtest86, made sure that everything checked out OK. Then I started the install, with some hiccups along the way coz I couldn't decide if I should make a RAID-1 array out of the two 60GB WD Caviar drives. Anyway, while RAID is nice, I figured it's not safe to make the bootable drive a RAID because recovery is that much harder. It installed, booted fine, sat there for a while... and locked up! CURSES! Rebooting gave me four beeps - bad RAM! Tossed one module out (these are expensive babies: ECC, registered) and it booted fine, ran a Prime95 torture test for a solid two hours with no signs of stress. Good good...

All the time away from my tangled mess of LSA probes cleared my head, and I hunted down bugs in the design much more easily. And guess what, no coffee except for my morning cup! *yawn*

Today's album: Images and Words by Dream Theater. Whoa, awesome! Portnoy really shows off his double-bass! Spesh mention: Surrounded and Wait for Sleep.

Rating: 5/5

Wilfred and Tony, from Div's old band Mixed Fruit Jam, are huge DT fans, and I remember how they used to practice so hard playing Surrounded until they got it just right...