Mild science, tech news, stories, reviews, opinion, maps and humor

25 December 2012

Summer days and nights of 2009

This video was recently featured on the HPC Wire YouTube channel. It is an animation of the summer weather of 2009, as only super computers can do! HPC refers to "High Performance Computing". Cray was one of several contributors to the project. I still think of Cray as THE super computer developer, though those days are probably past.

What's so special here?

A recent HPC Wire article about climate change explained why simulation at such a fine resolution (7-kilometer) was so difficult, because it required:
a special allocation of computing time on the Athena supercomputer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS)... For six months, the entire 18,048-core system was at the disposal of the team. Among the results ... were simulations that represented boreal summer climatology at 7-kilometer resolution
Notice shifting cloud cover and precipitation in shades of gray scale during the summer months of 2009. The quality is exceptional.

03 December 2012

MintChip denouement

The Royal Canadian Mint is the official mint of the Canadian government. In March 2012, the Royal Mint announced that it would discontinue all future production of penny coins. A week later, the Toronto Star ran a news story, in which the Royal Mint introduced the first national digital currency in North America, the MintChip.

A Royal Canadian Mint spokesman provided the following description:
MintChip doesn’t plan to link to a person’s bank account or credit card information. And unlike BitCoin, a peer-to-peer hosted digital currency with a fluctuating value, MintChip is simply a new way to exchange Canadian dollars. Plus, it’s backed by the Canadian government. 
The MintChip doesn't satisfy criteria for what I would consider a bona fide currency. Rather, it seems more like a type of electronic payment network for the Canadian Dollar.

Golden prize

A rather intriguing contest, MintChip Challenge was announced in the same Toronto Star article. MintChip Challenge was an app developer contest sponsored by the Royal Canadian Mint, with top prizes to include the equivalent of CAD 50,000 of gold bars and coins, in gold bullion, i.e. 99.99% gold.

The top comment on the Toronto Star article offered this suggestion:
Did you know that one of the leading proposals for how to use MintChip is for purchasing bitcoin? Because of the irreversibility of MintChip transactions, this would solve a lot of issues. See paragraph 6 of MintChip Misses the Point of Digital Currency via Forbes.
MintChip Challenge generated much excitement. The 500 entry spots were filled in merely four days! Prize winners were to be announced on 25 October 2012.

What's up with MintChip? 

The official website hasn't provided much information. I was curious. Erstwhile gAt0mAl0 was curious too:
So what happened with MintChip – Canada’s digital currency? It has disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle of digital currency holes – a news blackout. 
The denouement of MintChip Challenge was distinctly anticlimactic. gAt0mAl0 explains more about the Canadian MintChip, and Bitcoins too. Alternatively, you may prefer to explore gAt0's rather impressive Bitcoin Mind map chart, featured in his prior post, Bitcoin and Forex Trading which I enjoyed much more than the entire MintChip mess, from start to muted finish.

04 August 2012

Craft work

This ornate butterfly is an anti-maccassar. It is one of many in a set of Lepidoptera-themed craft work. Clicking on the image will take you to the rest. It is not my work. I can knit. Poorly.
Crochet decoration
Crocheted butterfly
Although the image description says "crochet", I think this resembles embroidery or needlework, as it is so finely detailed. It is beautiful, especially those curled antennae.

Anti-maccassars are those little covers on the arms rests and backs of chairs. They aren't doilies. I tried to find a less arcane sounding word, to no avail. Alternative word suggestions are welcomed as comments!

03 August 2012

Short Storage Story

Napkin Story: How sMash works

IBM sMash data storage method
Via The IBM Curiosity Shop, CC/by-nc/2.0/

This is so sweet! I don't know what sMash (SMASH?) is. As a first guess, I would infer it to be a storage protocol rather than database-type software. Perhaps it is a new way to organize data, an alternative to DB2, CICS and IMS. Each use different block sizes and partition types, among other things.

I will try to get a definitive answer, and return1 with an update.

I hope to see new items in The IBM Curiosity Shop set, Napkin Stories on Flickr. It doesn't seem likely though. This friendly drawing was uploaded on 22 December 2010, yet no others have joined it in the interim.

Flickr-to-Blogger did not offer the option of "publish to draft", else I would have prepared this post more thoroughly.

08 July 2012

Statistical analysis of science fiction authors and fans

The classic science-fiction related excerpt that follows after the jump is neither up to-date nor analytically robust. I tidied it a bit, but to do a decent job would require re-running the data, not to mention collecting data with a more recent vintage. But it is entertaining, and the concept may be of use to others. To whom? Well, I have spent a fair amount of time on Stack Exchange sites recently. Let me tell you all about it.

What is Stack Exchange?

Question and answer websites are popular. Stack Exchange is a free, mostly user-run Q&A site. It was co-founded and managed by Jeff Atwood a.k.a. @Coding Horror and Joel Spolsky. EDIT: Joel now runs Stack Exchange, as The Coding Horror has departed.

The prototype version of the site was known as Stack Overflow, and continues to thrive. There are many stacks on Stack Exchange. Most are computing or analytically-themed e.g. programming, systems administration, website design, mobile applications development, mathematics and quantitative finance. Others are more eclectic, and thus of a more experimental nature. They are labelled as such, by a beta designation, and guided along by the whimsically named Area51 Stack Exchange site. Now that you've been enlightened by that tangential aside, I'll get to the point. I was thinking of Literature Stack Exchange in particular.

The problem at hand

Literature Stack Exchange was initially overrun by book-recommendation inquiries. This was unfortunate. Why? Because suggestions about subjective matters are nearly impossible to provide to friends and relatives, let alone on an online forum. Fortunately, the issue has resolved itself for the time being, through better site administration.

Update - The issue has resolved itself permanently, because the site was closed due to a general lack of interest in early May of this year. Stack Exchange does have a thriving Science Fiction community, which enjoys a great deal of activity! So let us continue, along the same, still relevant theme.

Perhaps the following approach might provide inspiration for those seeking reading material recommendations.

Via io9:
Politics has not only reared its ugly head, but pushed much of its slimy body into the world of science fiction.

A Political-Scientific Mapping

chart of sci-fi sub-genres with political preferences of fans
Correlation between sci-fi sub-genres 
by author and reader political viewpoint

11 June 2012

eDiscovery and demise of News of the World

A new use case for text analysis is emerging in the legal field. It is referred to as eDiscovery. Such methods are not widely accepted, let alone implemented as yet, but they are receiving increasing amounts of attention.

What is eDiscovery?

eDiscovery is a platform, combining algorithm, software and productivity tools. It is most obviously useful for expediting in-house legal document retrieval. I learned of the existence of eDiscovery quite recently. Inside Counsel gives this definition as part of an 8 June 2012 post on the limitations of eDiscovery:
eDiscovery offers search methodologies to rein in time spent on electronic document review. One strategy is “computer assisted review,” also known as "predictive coding" or “predictive analytics.” Predictive analytics is the nonspecific term for a computer program that uses algorithms to sample and predict relevancy across large collections of electronically stored information.
Both terms, "predictive analytics" and "predictive coding", were confusing to me. The terms are similar to ones used in quantitative analysis. They may almost be considered as applications of the same methodologies, but in a legal context. There is a greater emphasis on text though. There are other details which I haven't read enough about, thus cannot hazard a better guess as yet.

Further refinement needed

According to a 2010 Duke University survey of major companies (via the same Inside Counsel article), emphasis all mine:
magazine coverThe expense of electronic discovery is the most rapidly increasing item in the average litigation budget... This growth in e-discovery expenses is even more alarming [because] there is no evidence that it has resulted in a corresponding increase in the volume of relevant or important material being produced in litigation.

An Analysis of Hackgate

eDiscovery can be exciting, especially when it is about the recent demise of 'News of the World' ('News of the World' is the much publicized and scandal-ridden Rupert Murdoch flagship publication). Here's the premise:

What if the analysis were to have been approached with an eDiscovery-enabled perspective?

23 May 2012

Especially useful curation

A list of uncommonly useful links and news items by an uncommonly astute person, Greg Linden (formerly of Amazon search in the early days) follows below. This is the best of all worlds: Having access to someone who has superior insights due to field of expertise, is reasonably articulate, and is willing to share without ulterior motive or bias.

I first heard of Greg Linden back in my days of using Google Buzz. At first, I thought he was a Linden of Second Life's Linden Lab! This isn't to say that he is my online friend or contact or anything like that. I miss Google Buzz. It was my introduction to Web 2.0 type online interaction, and was very positive, genuine.

Okay, that's enough pre-ambling from me. Have a look at those links and annotations.

Geeking with Greg: More quick links:
What has caught my attention recently: $1B for Instagram was silly and caused by fear ( [1] [2] [3] [4] ), but it is impressive ...

This would be worth paying for, if Greg Linden were to want to sell a  subscription newsletter for technology investing. That does not seem likely.

I stopped wondering "Why does he do this?!" awhile ago. Now I am quietly appreciative. I often forget entirely about visiting his weblog, for months at a time, as it is such a low-key and pleasantly ad-free corner of the internet!

A New Hajj Exhibition

I read a review of the Hajj Exhibition which opened recently, on 12 April 2012, at the British Museum in London.

A Collective Undertaking?

The new Hajj exhibition has been praised for its profound cultural importance by some. Others were critical, considering it an obvious whitewash of political and social injustice in the geographic region.

The photography featured in the review are striking. Most are copyright protected, so I will reproduce the only one that was allowed here (under Creative Commons license). There is a link at the end, so you can view them in all their intricate splendor.

antique map of Mecca as the center of the world
Map of Mecca as the center of the world; Turkey, 1650
via Leiden University Library

I liked the final paragraph of the review:
The exhibition succeeds in providing an understanding and an appreciation of a centuries-old pilgrimage that involves millions of people, globally. It allows non-Muslims to participate in a cultural, intellectual and perhaps even spiritually moving way.
True cosmopolitanism entails an imaginative act of sympathy with others.

As promised, here is the link to the Hajj exhibition online gallery.

01 May 2012

Post future modern art mystery

QR code style artwork by Dali

Click on the image to view full-sized. It is necessary, to find the many layers of detail.

Puzzling provenance

Every time I edit this post, I notice additional bits and pieces that I  missed earlier. I am uncertain whether this is even the entire image. It may be a reproduction that was photocopied from an art book (just guessing), then uploaded to Picasa. Note the curved edge on the right. Was that intentional, or created after-the-fact, by a photocopier? 

I don't know the title of this image. I found it late one evening while browsing on Google+, surfing the image galleries of strangers from around the world. It was in a collection of Salvador Dali artworks. I recognized nearly all the others, thus presume this is too. I see Dali's distinctive cameo on the upper right. When rendered as it is here, it resembles the now-familiar mask of Anonymous, more than the also-familiar look of Dali-esque cameo imagery in Persistence of Memory, and elsewhere.

Coincidence or prescience?

What I found most striking about this piece is how it evokes, for me,  a QR code! Yes, I realize that Salvador Dali predated the creation of bar codes AND QR codes by at least 50 years. Well, Dali was in his last days when bar codes were just entering widespread use. 

There was a stylistic movement in art, commonly known as "Cubism", from approximately 1900 - 1930. This could merely be an instance of that. Yet Cubism preceded Dali, and I don't recall that he was a contemporary of Picasso, et. al. 

Salvador Dali was a surrealist, chronologically on the cusp of post-modernism, and almost contemporary. But was he sufficiently contemporary to be influenced by 8-bit art, or even pixelated images? I don't know. If he were not... then... this is all the more remarkable.

Antique maps

via Bobak Khomaan and Picasa Google Plus
Double Hemisphere Map by Petrus Planciusc, 1599
This is one of a series of 120 beautiful, historically significant antique maps of the world. I found the entire collection a few sleepless nights ago. Creation dates are from the 15th through 19th centuries.

*I just noticed the puzzling enclosure link below. It was supposed to be a link to the complete, publicly visible photo gallery of maps posted by a Picasa user over the past four years. I have no idea why  this URL was attached instead, and am eager to learn more about its intriguing subject matter!

16 April 2012

Threat assessment of Iran

Iran is no more likely to use nuclear weapons than any other nation that has such capabilities.


Iran is not riddled with out-of-control corruption. Consider Nigeria. Nigeria is an oil-rich nation but operates most of its petroleum production facilities at only 40% of capacity. Nigeria must even import refined fuel for its own consumption. Iran doesn't do that.

Unlike Afghanistan, Iran has a decently educated population. What of matters such as state-imposed religion, negligible women's rights and censorship? Regardless, it is highly unlikely that the people of Iran find the prospect of war, in the Middle East or elsewhere, to be a desirable outcome. The cascade of destruction from ANY country using nuclear weapons would be disastrous, whether it were the U.S.A., France, India, Israel, Russia or others.


U.S. foreign policy has been unclear to me lately. I do not see motives of self-defense, nor of imperialism. But the "war on terror" is not going well. The U.S. cannot sustain a constant state of foreign conflict. Yet that appears to be the case, continuously since 2002, and intermittently throughout the preceding 40+ years. 

When necessary, there will be intervals of war. These must have a conclusion. The delineation between peace time and war time needs to be finite, discrete.

Peace and war and peace

I am a U.S. citizen and I love my country. I don't want us to be in wartime conflict on two or three fronts for years at a time, particularly since the "fronts" are not adjacent to our sovereign territory. Terrorist actions on U.S. soil, e.g. the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, elsewhere, on September 11, 2001, must be responded to decisively. That doesn't necessarily mean going to war though. Let the CIA, or military counter-intelligence do what they are intended to do.

The first three months of 2012 have seen tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, nearby international waters, the sovereign waterways of Iran, and of neighboring countries. The same issues were a concern last year at this time, though. Barbs were exchanged in the international press. Nothing awful happened. Not last year, not this year.
Iran recently held military exercises and announced production of highly enriched uranium fuel. What of that? 

Iran seems to be participating in the world community much as other countries do, and have done for centuries, with saber rattling as a show of strength.

17 March 2012

AOL's Running Man still lives!

AOL's Running Man lives on in memories

Location: Left Bank in Adams Morgan, Washington D.C. on August 27, 2009.
Photo by Shawn Duffy, via Flickr.

04 February 2012

Return of the British Space Program

This video is a seven minute documentary about the development and successful mission of PARIS (Paper Airplane Released Into Space). It was the culmination of two year's effort by The Register UK, a well-known information technology and data security online publication.


This is not a parody. Although humorous, PARIS did succeed in attaining sufficiently high altitude that the curvature of Earth was clearly visible. The PARIS mission achieved a maximum altitude three times greater than any prior paper airplane flight. Lego fans should make sure to look closely at the pilot.

Watch in "full-fat, high-definition" format, as suggested in the accompanying post, 4 November 2011. Both 720p HD and 1020p HD are supported.