Monday, July 30, 2007

Buying a Home Theatre System

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What is the limit to digital photography?

My Nikon D50 and its 6 Megapixel chip is now old news, even the lowly D40x has a 10 megapixel chip. So what is the limit for digital photography? Will we need to go back to using 35mm film lenses on bigger chips to get higher resolution any time soon?

According to Wikipedia the DX film sensor is 23.7x15.7mm. The wavelength of red light is 700nm. Assuming that the wavelength of light turns out to be the limit for cell size we have an upper limit of 33,800 by 22,400 pixels or 760 Megapixels.

That allows for a 9'x6' print at 300 dpi or a 28"x19" high resolution 1200 dpi print.

While physics may well make it imposible to achieve the limit itself, electronics and smart interpolation will probably make up the difference.

A 760 Megapixel camera would be more than a match for the 8x10" film of large format cameras. The Nikon D200 is generally reconed to match if not surpass 35 mm film. Doing the math this means that the 760 Megapixel camera would be equivalent to 13x8".

Update: Mrs dotFuture tells me that the limit is two wavelengths. Apparently the proof has something to do with Fourier transforms. Which puts the resolution limit at about 190 Megapixels.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Palmer House Hilton

When a hotel charges $200 a night for a room I should not be woken up by a workman hammering at 8am two days in a row.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Waiting in lines

In the old days of the Soviet Union people used to spend their days waiting in line to buy food.

How may of the people waiting in line to buy Potter last Friday were waiting for an iPhone a few weeks earlier?

What is next month's must buy cultural event?

Monday, July 23, 2007

SPOILER! The end of Harry Potter

The folk at Slate are having difficulty with the end of Potter.

I think that the panel miss the point of Rowling's prophecy: 'Neither can live while the other survives'. The point is that Voldemort and Potter are both surviving rather than living. Both have spent the past 16 years in misery, the past 7 afraid that the other will destroy them.

Despite everything, Voldemort does have a way out: remorse. Redemption is possible even at the very end. If Voldemort feels genuine remorse he does not need to kill Harry and Harry does not need to kill him.

From a plot perspective Rowling plays fair. Voldemort is not destroyed by a deus ex-machina. The method of killing Voldemort is laid out in volume 6 and Rowling sticks to this. The scar was pretty obviously a horcrux. The new element that Rowling lays out is the means for Harry to survive.

At the point when Harry is blasted by Voldemort he is in posession of all three of the deathly hallows. He has the ring, cloak and the elder wand that blasts him recognizes him as the owner. Why shouldn't Harry survive when he is wearing a ring that allows him to recall people from the dead?

Due to the horcruxes Voldemort has to be killed eight times. It seems somewhat pikish to complain that he fails to kill Harry a second time with the same spell that failed the first time round. Voldemort decides that he has to kill Harry himself, which is somewhat illogical as all the evidence suggests that he is the only wizard who cannot kill Harry.

Airport Signs and the documentation problem

Arriving in at Chicago O'Hare this morning I leave the security area by means of the door marked 'Exit' directly opposite the escalators comming up from the walkway from the terminal. This seems to me a natural choice. The airport planners on the other hand do not.

In the airport planners view of the world passengers get off the plane and head straight to the baggage claim, whether they have bags to collect or not. And so there is no reason for a passenger standing in the departures hall to be told the location of ground transportation, and if it did this could wait until after the building work has been completed.

I point out the lack of signs to a customer service rep. "You should complain to the City of Chicago", she injudiciously opines. I point out that the City expects issues of this type to be raised by its tennants.

Finding a taxi may appear to be a trivial issue, but after getting up early the last thing you want to have to do on arrival is to spend ten unnecessary minutes walking about trying to find out information that should be easy to find. Consider the same situation with two small children who are up past their bed times after a long flight.

The same problem crops up again and again with computer system documentation. The information you need may be trivial, finding it is not. What separates an efficient programmer from a slow one is often the strategies that they use to find information that they do not immediately have at hand.

Often the response to questions is the one I got when asking the customer service representative 'not my job'. Often the conclusion is reached that the system is unnecessarily complex. But the real problem is that the right information is not available at the point where you need it.

One of the reasons that the GUI interface has largely supplanted the once ubiquitous command line is that the repetoire of commands is always on view. The user does not have to remember what the command to change font is called, the command is there in the menu. The problem with GUIs is that as the system becomes large, finding the command can become an exercise in itself. Why is the 'Insert Text' option in the menu called 'Edit' and not the one marked 'Insert'?

Finding a taxi is not a complex task, it is a simple task that is made unnecessarily difficult because the party responsible (United Airlines) did not make the necessary information available. I think that in a lot of cases 'complexity' is used as a cop-out, a way to avoid facing the fact that either the system implementation or design does npot provide the user with the information they need.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Slow motion impeachment

History is full of unnecessary wars, wars that were undesirable for all concerned but happened nevertheless because the sides found themselves in a situation where war appeared to be the only course left.

If George W. Bush is impeached it will be as a result of a similar set of circumstances. It is not in the interests of the Democrats to remove a deeply unpopular and widely discredited President from office. But the administration is doing its best to ensure that they have no other choice.

At the center of the issue is the theory of the unitary executive, the doctrine that a Republican President is supreme above all other branches of Government. Needless to say, the doctrine does not apply to Democrats.

Having advanced this ludicrous theory for six years the Republican party is now in a bind. If they continue to support the Whitehouse they risk creating a precedent that they are likely to regret. Meanwhile the Whitehouse advances the peculiar view that the doctrine of separation of powers puts the executive branch above scrutiny or accountability.

In particular the attempt to cover up the Gonzalez/Rove/Whoever US Attorney firing mess is now threatening to make a worse situation into a disaster. Congress issues a subpoena, the Whiteouse thumbs its nose. The next step is contempt procedings which the Whitehouse appears to assume will not go anywhere as long as they get to pick who prosecutes whom.

The judicial branch handling of contempt proceedings is however a recent practice and one that Congress created for its own convenience. Congress can at any time hear a contempt of Congress case and pass sentence itself.

The breaking point then comes when Bush pardons whoever is found to be in contempt. It would be a foolish step to take, but one that it is hard to see Bush not taking. He has got away with so much, it is hard to see how he would back down.

The distinction that Bush, Cheney and Rove are unlikely to grasp is that the Republicans in the Senate may allow him to thumb his nose at the courts with the Libby pardon, but thumbing his nose at Congress is something else entirely.

The clock is running out, certainly. But as the clock runs out the Republican party is forced to look beyond the Bush administration and the Iraq fiasco and how they might rebuild their party. They might well prefer six months of a President Pelosi and a chance of keeping three or four seats in the Senate they would otherwise lose to six months of Bush scandals and a possible war with Iran.

By this time next year the GOP nominee is almost certainly going to be running against the Whitehouse. The Senate cacus will follow.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What it takes to keep core DNS running

Scott Courtney recently gave a presentation on VeriSign's ATLAS system at the Google conference on scalability in Seattle.

The DNS runs without complaint despite constant denial of service attacks. This sometimes leads people to fail to understand just what it does take to keep core DNS running.

Military Papers Found Unprotected Online, Dozens Of Sensitive Documents That May Compromise Troop Security Found Available To Public - CBS News

It is quite amazing how frequently an obsession with keeping secrets goes with a
complete lack of interest in the technical and process controls necessary to protect those secrets.

Louis Freeh behaved in a similar way during the crypto-wars. For six years he waged a war against civilian use of strong cryptography on the grounds that it might impede law enforcement. In the aftermath of 9/11 it was discovered that at the same time Freeh had insisted on the right of the FBI to collect the information he had sabotaged FBI attempts to develop technology to deal with the information they already had.

What is important to these people is the sense of importance they get from knowing something that others are not allowed to know. Control of the information flow is an end in itself.

And the result is that the insurgents that the US is fighting now have complete access to a wealth of information that they should not and will be highly advantageous to them tactically.

We need strong DRM type enforcement techniques to prevent this type of data breach. But more important is an administration that cares about national security and not the protection of what it imagines is its privileges and perogatives.

Man flies 193 miles in lawn chair

What one idiot does, another will copy. If a third copies it becomes known as a sport.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Corn on the Palfrey records

Corns blog seems to be bloggered so I am posting my comments on his post here. Briefly Corn is plugging through the Palfrey phone records for a match and has found a number in the Senate and a Congressional aide.

There are other reasons the female aide might have called. There are not many services that offer male prostitutes for females. So there are straight women who use female prostitutes. it is also possible that her boyfriend or husband called the service or that she called them for a threesome.

Regardless, I don't think that there is a story there unless the aide was personally invovled in familiy values hypocrisy. Its considerably less justifiable than outing gay staffers working for politicians that oppose gay marriage.

In general though Corn is working through the list in the wrong direction. Instead of reverse engineering the list, get a list of home phone numbers for the Senators and congressmen. There are only 450 of those and you don't need to look at anyone who does not participate in the family values hypocrisy. You don't need to investigate Barney Frank for example.

Another tool people can use is Google. Try typing phone numbers into google and you will be amazed at how efficient it is at finding matches.

Innovation in crime certainly does not pay

Most criminals choose a modus operandi and stick to it as long as they can. Inventing a new attack is risky, particularly when the attack involves someone walking into a bank with a bomb strapped round their neck.

Bank staff are told to hand over the cash in the till and the ATM dyepack in a conventional bank robbery. Innovation creates a situation where the response of the bank staff and the police become unpredictable.

The unpredictability meant that the robbery never came close to suceeding. Letting a guy walk out of a branch with the money is not the same as letting someone walk around with a bomb. Public safety says let the first one go, but evacuate the bank and call the cops in the second.

What was predictable was that the police would do everything that they could to ensure that this novel attack did not succeed at any cost.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why nobody can win the GOP nomination

Stick a fork in John McCain, whether it was abandoning the straight talk express to pander unconvincingly to the religious reich or walking in a flack jacket surrounded by half an armored division to pronounce Baghdad 'safe', he his campaign is over.

Meanwhile Guiliani's tenure as front runner looks distinctly unsure. GOP primary voters are unlikely to vote for a candidate who is pro-abortion and pro-gun control no matter how good he might appear to be on terrorism or law and order. Rudy's law and order credentials are already under fire due to his association with Bernie Kerick and his claim to be a forthright opponent of terrorism is at odds with his longstanding support for the IRA.

Romney has exactly the right policy platform for the religious right: opposed to abortion, gun control and gay marriage. The problem is that not very long ago he had exactly the right policy platform to be elected governor of Massachusetts and the two are not compatible.

Of the media frontrunners to date, Thompson is the most viable, but only because he is the least tested. Opposition researchers have already discovered that he was a mole for the Nixon Whitehouse during Watergate and lobbied for a pro-abortion group.

That does not leave many other viable candidates. Ron Paul is beginning to emerge as the Barry Goldwater candidate, but the party is only going to nominate him if they already know the election is lost.

No, I have not bought one.

Explanation of the Crooked Timber thread?

Recently there was a thread in Crooked Timber on Facebook Phishing. Clearly there was a criminal motive, but what. Naneesh Gaur at Diamond Consultants suggested that this story about immigration fraud might be the reason.

The timing is certainly suggestive, this is a relatively new attack and a new line in INS fraud makes a lot more sense than the suggestions I made.

Real Corporate Espionage : Its personal

Hilary's polster has entered soap opera teritory. Lawsuits, allegations of spying on blackberry email, the lot.

This is what real corporate espionage comes down to: petty and personal. Its not about money, its about jealosy and revenge.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Potter to die pt 2.

The hook for Potter hype is whether the wizard will survive or not. Since we know that there must be a surprise the outcome cannot be what we are led to believe.

Snape has to be a gonner. Either he has returned to Voldemort's side or he is playing a double game. He has to go in the denouement either way. Since we are told that two major characters get iced that leaves one to go, quite likely at the beginning to drive home the point that we are dealling with absolute evil here. I don't think that we will see Potter, Ron or Hemionne iced in the opening chapters.

Rowling's reason for killing off Potter is to stop people creating sequels. I don't think it would work because regardless of what happens to Potter the real nexus for the series is Hogwarts. All killing off Potter would do is to make it harder for Rowling herself to do sequels, but not by much. There would still be opportunity for prequels.

I would hazard a guess that for the past five years Rowling has thought only about finishing the Potter series off and not about what to do AP (After Potter). As soon as the manuscript is done the big question is 'whats next'.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Proposed 2011 regulations for Formula One

Like the carbon burning Live Earth event it is easy to poke fun at the attempt being made to make Formula One motor racing 'green' in the proposed 2011 sporting regulations. After all the cars burn about a gallon of fuel a lap.

This misses the point that the vast majority of the fule that is being burned in connection with F1 is by spectators driving to and from events. If technologies developed in the hyper-competative world of F1 make their way onto ordinary cars the potential savings are huge.

Some of the more interesting changes are proposals to eliminate the current bans on turbo charging and energy recovery. The engine is reduced to 1.3-1.6 litre and 4 cylinders. Fuel economy will become a big part of the sport.

What might well be part of the motivation behind these changes is the strong likelihood that the US will introduce strict fuel economy requirements, 35 mpg being the likely minimum. The major motor manufacturers need both the technologies developed through F1 competition and a venue in which to showcase them.

Botched Technology: Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander WRE54G: Electronics

The Vaio is having difficulty connecting to the wireless network. My Lenovo/IBM has no problem but $80 for a range extender is cheaper than $1,500 for a new laptop. Although given the unreliability of the Vaio in thing WiFi I suspect that replacement will be necessary in the near future.

So I get myself a Linksys wireless range expander. The manual sucks. How bad does it suck? Well I have stopped trying to get it to work to write this post.

Trying the automated configuration failed, I suspected it would as I have the network encrypted using WPA. Strike one against the cretin who wrote the manual: no statement as to when to expect the automatic configuration to work and when it may not.

I then try the setup wizard which refuses to accept the fact that I have a NAT box set to net 10.x.x.x. The setup wizard will only accept an IP address in 192.168.x.x.

Why the device requires a hardwired address is beyond me. Either the device is passive and should not require configuration at all, or it is active in which case it can DHCP like everything else.

Update: finaly got the wireless extender configured using a hardwire ethernet conection. Not without difficulty though. The basic wireless settings are entered in one form, the encryption options in another. Setting the encryption options causes the device to perform a hard reboot and the unsaved wireless settings are lost without warning.

This is beyond amateur. The device has clearly not seen any competent usability testing. Instead of trying the system out on real users they simply assumed that real users are idiots and tried to insulate them from the information they need to configure the device.

There is no possibility that the auto configure button could have worked. Not telling the user the circmstances in which it will work is not helping them. If giving them necessary information might confuse its a sign that the automated configuration architecture is bogus. Automatic configuration must work in every possible circumstance or it is bogus.

The way to make automatic configuration work is to make use of USB. Put a USB socket on every device that does not already have one. Use a standard USB memory stick to exchange the necessary configuration information as declarative XML specifications. Web based configuration of network appliances is always going to be a bogus approach: the only reason the appliance needs to be configured is the network is out.

Update 2 I am planning vlog this once I get the axe out of the basement.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The end of Potter

Let the hype begin.

Given the build up indicating that Potter may die we can be pretty sure that he won't. The ending has to be a suprise.

My guess is that Harry's scar turns out to be the last horcrux. Which would of course encourge the 'Potter dies' theory. There is however another option: Potter survives but loses his magical abilities. This would prevent, or at least severely limit the scope for further sequels based on Potter without killing him off entirely.


Was Bill Clinton smart to pick a fight with the White House? - By John Dickerson - Slate Magazine: "When Bill Clinton pardoned Mark Rich at the end of his term, about-to-be-President Bush and his aides didn't make a huge stink. "

On the contrary. Rove directed an all-out assault against Clinton over the Rich pardon. Trent Lott and Tom DeLay led the outcry. Bush and his aides were to cowardly to attack Clinton directly, they used the exact same surrogate slime technique that led to Libby being convicted.

What is the point in a 'journalist' who can't remember the events of six years ago, or be bothered to check before reporting GOP talking points verbatim?


In an email exchange John asked me for proof to back the claim that the WH was involved. This is strange, isn't the journalist who makes an assertion required to provide the proof rather than those who might question them when they make a statement of fact that there is every reason to beleive is false?

The relevant facts omitted from this article are:

1) The fact that senior GOP leaders did in fact lead the attacks against Clinton on the Rich pardon

2) The fact that Libby was Rich's pardon attorney (surely worth a mention here).

3) The fact that the Whitehouse does engage in off the record sliming of its opponents

4) The fact that the pejury charges Libby was convicted of related directly to a Bush administration slime operation.

Seems to me that when Slate became part of the establishment media they started to play by their rules. A fact is what the establishment assert to be fact and may be quoted without the need to provide any supporting evidence as establishment facts cannot be challenged without proof.

So where is Dickerson's proof that Bush and his aides had no part in the Rich pardon controversy?

Update 2

John points out that he did in fact mention the Libby lawyer thing. But still demands proof that what he wrote is false rather than providing evidence to demonstrate that it is true.

Madame Palfrey

So the phone records are to be made public.

My advice for anyone who finds themselves outed as a customer of Mms Palfrey's service is to claim that the calls must have been made by the previous owner of the telephone number.

H/T Crooks and Liars.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Mathew Yglesias Muses on urban density. Will we return to dense urban planning to respond to rising energy costs?

Unless the cost of gas goes way up, I don't think so. Commuting patterns in the UK are pretty similar to those in the US and Gas costs four times the price. The higher population densisty in the urban areas of the UK is due to the higher population density of the whole country.

People are much more likely to have smaller cars in the UK of course. And European cars of all types are vastly more fuel efficient than US models. My 4.0L Jaguar does 28 MPG on highway driving. That is much better than the average US mid range car. Carpoint even lists the fuel economy as a plus point - on a luxury sportscar. It would certainly not be easy to make the proposed 35MPG requirement, but not impossible. Take a 3.0L plant and turbocharge it to get the top end power.

The assumption that I don't think is valid is the idea that telecommuting is going to save us. Not unless we get vastly better videoconferencing than we have today. I telecommute and so I do maybe 3,000 miles a year in the Jag. The problem is that many of those miles are done driving to the airport. I have done 50,000 miles on United this year and 20,000 on American.

I suspect that my travel schedule is fairly typical of telecommuters.

Monday, July 02, 2007

What iPhone is not

As phone manufacturers rush to throw features onto their phones, it is worth some time to think about what iPhone is not, a camera, a TV, a GPS etc.

I think that some of these decisions are wise, but others are not. GPS is a natural function for a telephone.

Another natural function is to be a telephone. The iPhone has WiFi. Why can't it hook into my home WiFi network, find my Vonage access point and place calls on it? OK the answer to that one is AT&T.

But that answer only holds while a cell phone still costs $600. Let us imagine that the phone costs $200 to buy off the shelf, no strings attached. At that point I get two phones instead of a phone and a backup battery. Just arrange things so that when I turn one phone off that calls are automatically routed to the other one.

Its not a telephone number, its a person number.

Instead of thinking about the phone as a phone we should think about it as a personal communicator. I don't much care whether my phone has a camera in it, but I would very much like it to be a remote control device for anything in my house. It would be nice if it could also be an OATH OTP token.

iPhone response

Reading articles on the iPhone in the New York Times and Slate, I am struck by the samness of the reviews.

It seems that everyone agrees that the iPhone is 1) Really cool but 2) not amazingly cool and 3) will mash the competition anyway.

I don't think that comparisons to the iPod are valid. The iPod suceeded because the other MP3 player maufacturers were dim. My first MP3 player was an Archos device with design aesthetics modelled on a brick. According to the manual the device did not even have removable batteries, turned out they lied.

My second MP3 player was a smaller, neater RCA Lycra device. It was OK but the navigation system sucked and it was bulky and clunky.

My third MP3 player was an iPod nano because after trying the cheaper competition I decided it was time to go for the one MP3 player whose manufacturer had conspicuously got the design right.

There are many things about the iPod I would change. I don't like the fact that I can't swap the battery or insert a bigger memory chip. And the ability to sync via WiFi would be really nice. But I am not going to give up the simplicity and ease of use of the iPod to get them.

I don't think that the cell phone manufacturers will roll as easily as the MP3 player makers did. They already understand that design is critical to their success. They may also know rather more about the cell phone business. And features such as battery life and reliability might well be more important than cool.

The biggest frustration with the iPhone seems to be that it is still tied in to the 'lock in' strategy that has driven the cell phone market. The real cost of an iPhone is $2,000-$3,000 for the phone plus two years service.

We don't yet know how long AT&T's exclusive deal will last. At this point the iPhone is not available in any form in Europe or Asia and the lack of 3G means it is not on the cutting edge in any case. Selling a locked phone through one service provider will be a much harder prospect in those markets.

Apple's competitors have plenty of time and even more motivation to come up with a response.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thompson - not ready for prime time

Steve Benen blogging for Josh,has some observations on Sen Thompson's foreign policy.

Like many other Republicans he seems to be falling for the 'hey we can push round other countries goddammit' school of foreign policy that is determined to learn no lessons from Iraq (or from the several centuries of experience of guerrilla warfare since Wellington's Peninsular campaign).

The latest brain-wave is a blockade of Iran, assuming that Russia, China etc. don't mind having their oil supply from Iran interrupted and will be willing to play ball. Also assuming that Iran does not retaliate for an act of war against US troops or by imposing its own blockade of all shipping in the Straits of Hormuz.

Left to their own devices the mullatocracy might well lose their grip on power. Given the gift of bellicose rhetoric from US Republicans they might well be able to survive by directing internal dissent against the external aggressor. It has worked for Castro in Cuba for forty years.

Of course these people understand what they are doing and the effect it will have. One explanation is that they just don't care. Another strong possibility is that they understand the outcome and positively desire it. They realize that a party like the US Republican party can only gain power by exploiting an external threat, whether real or imaginary.