Just How Powerful Are Smartphones?

The Apollo moon missions were completed with the benefit of the cutting edge computing power available at that time - even so, the abilities of the guidance system was about equivalent to that of a middling pocket calculator.

So what does that say for a current smartphone? Even though we know smartphones are pretty slick, capable devices these days, it's still a little surprising to see the iPhone 6S stack up favorably against the 2015 MacBook. Now, a single test is hardly conclusive, but still...
John Gruber from Daring Fireball benchmarked the iPhone 6S using Geerkbench 3, a multi-platform testing tool designed to measure overall computer performance.

Needless to say, the results are impressive. The phone’s A9 chip can outperform or beat the $1300 1.1 Ghz MacBook, and nearly go head to head with the 1.3Ghz model.


You Might Be A Geek If...Part 10 (binary)

Here are some more tell-tale signs:

You might be a geek if...

... you count Comic-Con as a national holiday

... you consider 65536 and 256 to be “nice round numbers”

... you agonize over new ways to do simple things

... you understand that there's no place like

... you are completely free of tan lines

... your favorite color is #0000FF

... you start your emails with <body>

... you subconciously put "LAN" in front of the word "party"

... your non-geek friends have no idea what you actually do

... you can make the Vulcan salute without using your other hand

... you know the difference between zero, absolute zero and NULL


New Zealand: WETA and The Weta

There are a couple of good reasons to visit or not to visit the antipodean playground that is New Zealand. One is the glorious and varied landscape that movie effects house WETA used as the basis for Middle Earth, the fantasy world of J R R Tokien's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit stories.

If you are at all squirmy about BIG bugs (I am - they give me the willies) then you might not want to visit the land of the Weta (after which WETA was named, funnily enough). Wetas look like mutant crickets, and while not poisonous they can bite or scratch if provoked, like most creatures. The Giant Weta is also, well, a giant bug.


Atari 8-bit GUI Lovin'

It seldom fails to impress me how much time and effort (and love?) geeky types will put into a passion project. Here is a further example; another attempt at bringing a GUI Operating system for Atari 8-bit devices (remember those?).
The completed graphical OS will include:

    A pre-emptively multitasking kernel supporting up to 16 processes
    Inter-process messaging system, supporting up to 64 open messages
    Completely replaces the Atari OS and DOS
    File system drivers supporting FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32
    Overlapping, movable, sizeable windows
    Cascading pull-down and pop-up menus
    Movable desktop icons and shortcuts
    Per-process and overall CPU load profiling
    Dialogue boxes with a rich control set (list boxes, spinners, sliders)
    256 character fonts from 6 to 32 points
    Italic, boldface, and underline, outline, and shadow styles for all fonts
    Smooth, quick and responsive mouse control
    Desktop file manager with drag-and-drop support
    Comprehensive API and technical documentation for developers


I Guess I Really Do Like Linux

I have used Linux on my AMD powered laptop for about 3 years. It originally came with Windows of course, and our main PC in the home runs Windows 7 - my wife mostly plays Flash games on it. I have jumped around various Linux distros over the years in a weird kind of nervous "distro dance" that I can't quite explain. 

A Smarter Personal Digital Assistant

Siri, Google Now, Cortana and the like can give us something like the experience of interacting with HAL 9000, but without the homicidal tendencies. They are not really "smart" though, like that movie AI. These things that we tend to think of as some kind of Artificial Intelligence are really not - but they will be, courtesy of Viv Labs' Viv, or something like it.
Whereas a Siri or a Cortana might know how to handle requests about weather, sports and about 20 other areas, Viv's knowledge and vocabulary will be extensible and unlimited. They will tap into the databases of thousands of online services—stores, flight-booking sites, car-sharing services, flight trackers, restaurants, florists, dating sites—and understand how everything all fits together.
“You can ask Siri, ‘Where does my sister live?’ and ‘What's the weather in Boston?’” Cheyer explained to me, “but you can't say, ‘What's the weather where my sister lives?’ because that integration hasn't been written by a human. But Viv will weave things together.”
It sounds like some fantastically complex relational database, but I suspect it more clever than that. While I enjoy using Google Now - mostly because it's usually easier than trying to type something out - I tend to be leery of the whole privacy aspect (or lack thereof). Having all my questions, searches, etc. sifted, evaluated and scrutinized by others makes me a little squirmy. 

It seems to be the way of things though, and I suppose a better digital assistant will be more useful. 

"I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."


Star Wars BB-8 Toy - How Did They Do That?

When I was a kid, on more than one occasion I would take apart a toy to see how it worked. They seldom worked after that, but it was a learning experience. So called "tear downs" seem to have become a thing in this YouTube age, along with "unboxing", although I think the former is much more satisfying in most cases.

Since the new Star Wars droid BB-8 showed up at Comic Con and we realized it was indeed also a practical effect and not just CG all the time, I think a lot of folk like me were curious to see how that worked. Magnets, gyroscopes - yeah, probably, but how, exactly?

The good folks at UbreakiFix did the work for us, and while this is the toy version, I think we can assume the bigger movie version operates on similar lines. For the record, I think both the movie BB-8 and the toy are very cute and a worthy companion (successor?) to R2-D2 - which I think has a place in all geeky hearts.

R2-D2, BB-8 and some pesky humans


Ashley Madison: Players Being Played

In a Gizmodo article, Analee Newitz finds that the Ashley Madison database had 30-odd million male users, around 12,000 actual female users, and around 80,000 chat bots pretending to be female users.

A kind of scummy concept overall, but a great business model if all you want to do is squeeze some money out of randy men. Until the site was hacked, of course.
The code tells the story of a company trying to weave the illusion that women on the site are plentiful and eager. Whatever the total number of real, active female Ashley Madison users is, the company was clearly on a desperate quest to design legions of fake women to interact with the men on the site.