Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)


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Sunday, 04 November 2018, 20:31

Pulling things apart

I pulled an old deskjet printer apart the other day. It wasn't a particularly expensive machine and it broke years ago; it's just been sitting in the corner of my room collecting dust for the day I threw it out or took out the useful bits. I guess what I found most interesting is despite it being a disposable item just how well put together it was.

Basically it looks like it was designed to be repairable. Can't imagine the equivalent today would be.


I also have a more recent machine that still runs, a mains powered electric hover mower. It's one that has the motor on a separate spindle to the blade which is driven by a belt. For a few years it's been 'running' rough due to bung bearings, I had looked at it before but it looked irrepearable. The whole base-plate, clutch and drive pulley assembly can be bought as a FRU but it must be ordered from England. The last time I tried I couldn't get the payment to go through and so i've just been living with a mower on the edge of self-destruction.

Today it was getting so bad I finally had another look at it. And lo! I managed to get the bearings out, although it took about 2+ hours with the tools I have at hand and an awful lot of swearing! Anyway the two bearings should be easy to source and hopefully it'll be back up and running once I put it back together. It would be a pity to get a whole new mower just because a couple of small cheap parts failed, and repairing it would've been prohibitively expensive. Hate wasting stuff.

Apart from all that I took a few days off and have been doing a lot of gardening, preparing vegetable gardens and whatnot. Hopefully a year or so basically fallow will work in my favour, I need some more exotic chillies and home-grown tomatoes can't be beat.

Tagged biographical, philosophy.
Friday, 20 November 2015, 09:36

time is an illusion

But so is reality so it doesn't make any difference.

I've got too much of it to fill with boring tedium either way.

Tagged philosophy.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015, 19:41

the risk of centralisation

So I don't really have much to say here but this is mostly just to add a "see, that's what happens" with regards to an apparent on-going problem with sourceforge.

I noticed a maintenance message a couple of times in the last few days and just put it down to being on the wrong side of the world as per usual; but it seems they've had some disk failures and restoring a site of that magnitude to full functionality isn't a trivial task.

Of course, the catch-cry is to use github, but that is also at the whim of hardware faults or just economics (as in the case of google code's demise), and savannah isn't immune to either. This also holds for blogger and wordpress and all these other centralised services, whether they be 'free-but-you-are-the-product' ones or paid services.

Not that I think the software i've been playing with has any intention to be the solution to this problem but decentralisation is an obvious answer to managing this risk. It may mean individual sites and projects are more susceptible to overload, failure, or even vanishing from history; but by being isolated it better preserves the totality of the culture represented in these sites and projects. Economically it may also be more expensive in total but as the cost is spread wider that concern just doesn't apply (parallelism and concurrency is wonderful like that).

I was already focusing on my current software project being 'anti-enterprise' - not in an economic or political sense but in an engineering sense - but events like this encourage me.

Tagged philosophy.
Wednesday, 10 September 2014, 11:21

Boycott nvidia, cuda?

nvidia has taken the nuclear option to sue every other gpu maker in existence (apart from ati/amd with which they already have cross-licensing agreements i guess).

Patent trolling is usually the last gasp of a failing business. Which implies that despite (or because of) their overpriced hardware they are failing as a manufacturer; GPus are now commodity items and the margins no longer exist to run their type of high-margin business.

Patents are a cruel abomination which distort the workings of a "free market"; they directly codify rentier behaviour which costs society both economical and technological progress. The only beneficiaries are the unproductive leeches of society at the cost of everyone else.

If you're an engineer or scientist who is currently using or considering cuda for your work I suggest you reconsider both to protest this failure of a strategy and to protect the future value of your work.

Just for nvidia to consider this strategy shows they are not long for this world and choosing to use such a single-supplier would be foolhardy.

Tagged opencl, philosophy, rants.
Thursday, 07 August 2014, 20:19

On my god, it's full of local binary patterns!

I recently had need to look into feature descriptors. I've previously played with SURF and looked into others but I wasn't really happy with the complexity of the generator and needed something Java anyway.

A small search turned up FREAK (why the silly 'catchy' acronym names? Maybe it started with S-USANs?) which looked doable so I had a bit of a play. There is code available but it's OpenCV and C++ and the version I saw just wasn't very good code. I wrote up my own because I had some different needs for what I was looking at and porting the C++/OpenCV was going to be a pain.

I guess they work as advertised but i'm not sure they're what I want right now. I tried porting the AGAST detector as well but it wasn't really getting what I was after - i'm after specific features not just 'good features'.

The paper does include this interesting diagram though:

Although the paper doesn't reference them this diagram is pretty much a description of local binary patterns. The FREAK descriptor itself is just a very long local binary pattern with optional orientation normalisation.

Perhaps more interestingly is that this specific diagram could just as well be a description for how my fast object detector works. It is effectively a direct implementation of this diagram.

Assuming the above diagram is representative of human vision I guess one could say that the whole of visual reality is made of local binary patterns.

Tagged ml, philosophy.
Tuesday, 04 February 2014, 14:00

Is VR really a good idea?

It looks like the technology is just about there to create affordable and usable 'virtual reality' hardware for the general public: but as with many other technological advances one has to ask whether the technology is ahead of society's ability to cope.

TV is already a pretty good conversation killer and mobile phones have become little cones of isolation even when "socialising" with friends or family, so how will it play out if you're whole field of view (and hearing?) is encased in a helmet?

I can see a lot of agro from brothers and sisters fighting over the one head-mounted display that these things will only be able to support for the time being. And some angry mums when little Johnny or dear little Alice wont come out of his or her bedroom for dinner because he can't even hear the calls (and god knows what they're up to in there). And some pretty boring get togethers with mates around the TV getting sea-sick looking at a view from the one player's eyes.

Another more disturbing factor that will play into it is the continual fine tuning of the skinner box trade - games which are pretty much just poker machines / gambling devices for extracting money from the vulnerable. Since those are making such a fuck-ton of money at the moment they are only going to get worse. If people can already get lost in a tiny screen on a phone how will they cope when they're shut-off completely from the outside world? The scope for manipulation of vulnerable or susceptible people is enourmous. It's easy to blame people as being weak-minded but it's not entirely their fault: they are being manipulated without even knowing it, but intentionally by maniplators who know what they're doing.

Or propaganda / religious / idealogical indoctrination, both scurges of right-thinking citizens everywhere. Cut off from immediate self-correcting factors like someone telling you what a dickhead you are.

As an aside I wonder when hollywood became such an obvious propaganda front for the neocon/zionist agenda? One of the recent transformers movies was on the other night on TV and I couldn't get over just how blatantly propagandist it was at every level: an [unemployed] 'nerd' who saves the day, with a super-model girlfriend, with happy middle-class parents, with nothing but leisure to keep them occupied, government secret organisations [being a good thing, by] protecting the [whole] world from bad stuff [that usually happens in the middle east], to advanced alien race only wanting to deal with the USA [who are obviuosly the good guys], even to some [crazy] conspiracy nut not only being believed by everyone but also being incredibly wealthy. I guess we had some of that shit in the 80s and 90s but at least we had some stuff to counter it too (and a bit of fucking humour) and now it's just so overt it's bordering on sick. Although it's been an undercurrent for some time I suppose it was around the turn of the century it really took off so brazenly by taking advantage of public maleability at the time. And the really sick part is they get upset when people don't want to pay to be advertised at and brainwashed (or maybe the sick part is people want to go to the effort to get it in the first place). But I digress ...

Back to the VR stuff: potential health issues. Spending many hours staring at a screen with a fixed focal distance can't be good for your eyes. Modern lifestyles are already sedentry enough and the lack of external vision enforces this even further as you don't have a choice but to sit while doing it unless you live in a rubber room. And if socially retarded people (like me) can already get caught up in reading books or hacking code well into the next morning what's going to happen when you can't tell if it is night or even know where you are? I wonder how long until someone dies using one? Or loses their job/fails at school because they'd rather spend time outside of IRL, because lets face it, IRL pretty much sucks for most people at least some of the time. Although it's not like both of these don't already happen with existing technology.

And imagine not being able to skip adverts or mute them - or even look away from them? That's nightmare material.

There are some potentially interesting non-game uses that spring to mind which seem to contradict some of these points such as remote communication or stuff for mobility impaired (whether through age or disablement). And others such as training. But most of these will be short-term or irregular.

But overall i'm just not sure on the whole idea for entertainment itself. It could be totally bloody awesome or it could be the beggining of the end for western civilisation (civilisations never last forever ...). Ok probably not the latter but there are big issues beyond the technology capability itself and those explored by some laughably fantastical stories by Neal Stephenson.

It'll certainly be interesting for a while anyway - a new area of technlogy to explore. Don't get me wrong there are some really exciting possibilities for games and other uses that i'm looking forward to trying out one day. But in the end there may need to be mandatory breaks, minimum age restrictions, ambient input (e.g. external cameras or see-through screens/windows) or other tweaks just to protect people from themselves.

I guess we'll see in about a decade, assuming the experiments in the next few years become commercially successful.

Tagged games, philosophy.
Tuesday, 26 March 2013, 09:37

Another pointless bruhaha at an IT conference

I just have 2 words to say: Google Glass.

Better get used to it, and more.

Tagged philosophy, rants.
Friday, 01 March 2013, 13:17

The brain dump

Last night I was pretty exhausted - the neighbours had some bricks delivered around 7am which woke me too early after what was a pretty lousy night of sleep. I got up with the idea of turning off the watering system (starts at 7am) after it had done the pot plants and kind of forgot about that and ended up hacking for nearly 15 hours straight.

Ok so it was probably a bit obsessively intensive, but i'm pretty surprised I still get such a level of buzz out of hacking code after 25 years of doing it for fun. In terms of effort and intensity, it could have been any other xmas holiday from any of those previous years. On the other hand i'm writing more and better code than ever before because the platform is fuller than ever before. The only downside is that I can't keep up the intensity for as many consecutive weeks as I used to and end up with aches and pains from sitting still for so long.

But as I intended to take a bit of a break for a few days I thought i'd jot down some feature ideas, todo's and wishlists in my engineering notebook (a paper one) while the ideas were still hot.

As I wrote things down my memory started to vanish very rapidly - as if waking from a dream. I got the main feature points down fairly completely but I was pretty stumped at the todos. Although only minutes before I had a mind full of all those little refactoring, renaming, and tweaking ideas for improving the codebase, by the time I went to write them down I drew a near blank. I've experienced something similar before when I left the Evolution project; as I wrote all my knowledge down all the anxieties from keeping track of the 'known bugs' and 'future plans' in my head just melted away. But it wasn't quite so abrupt, although both instances were very cathartic. To be honest i'm still surprised I can keep so much in my head for weeks at a time - when I often forget where I put a screwdriver only a minute prior.

So it was a very good idea to write it down and let me get a good nights sleep. And although my brain is now bereft of most of the details I managed to write most of them down, and i'm sure the others are in the source as FIXMEs or will come back when I get into it again - if they were important.

Tagged dusk, hacking, philosophy.
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