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The Journal of Gregory Lightyear

Oct. 17th, 2003

12:07 am - Funniest thing I've read in a long time...

Okay, it ain't from Detroit, and it ain't intelligent...

I've been one of those bizarre, avid readers of As The Apple Turns for... well... as long as I've been a Mac owner (I will never be able to thank F.M. enough for that)...

And this one rocks:

(in particular, Bono showed up to claim that he doesn't always "kiss corporate ass," which is technically true because we think there was one time back in the early '80s when he blacked out and his lips came off for about twenty seconds or so)

Funny how the years of "Bo Knows Hos" become "Bono Knows Brown-Nose". Hardware, software, music, *and* sugar water. Now that's an industry first.

Oct. 11th, 2003

06:37 pm - Nerve Gas, Duct Tape, and Stupid People.

Okay, I'm lost for words. I followed a link from slashdot to an article discussing the fascinating recent events going on in the Midwest - an invasion of ladybugs, it seems, has overpowered the local populace.
Or, at the very least, outwitted. As for why I'm guessing it's not that difficult:

"I decided to duct tape the cracks around the doors and windows, like George Bush suggested to keep us safe from the terrorist gases," Grgurich said. "But it seems that the ladybugs are more invasive than gas. The duct tape isn't stopping them; it just seems to slow them down."

Okay, so someone tell me this guy doesn't *actually* think that duct tape on door cracks is going to save him from a nerve gas attack. Or any gas, for that matter. Doesn't anybody ever question what they hear on the news anymore? It's like those nuclear fallout shelters they built in the old days, where all of us gradeschoolers would listen for the nuke alarm and hop on down to our 'nuke-proof' cafeteria in the basement to wait out a nuclear winter's worth of radiation and death. In third grade, I can understand why it doesn't cross your mind that your cafeteria isn't going to be much protection from a nuclear bomb going off anywhere in your vicinity.
As an adult, it's unthinkable and unforgivable that someone thinks that duct taping the little slit under your door is going to protect you from a chemical weapon. What, the little biotoxins will get stuck on the sticky duct tape, and say "fuck it man, let's try that house over there; this guy's too clever for us."
Sheeple. Lots and lots of Sheeple, hearing some burning Bush on TV telling them to barricade themselves in their bathrooms, and it's taken them a full year to figure out that hey, this duct tape shit might not do much. That if the bomb went off, the only thing more unlikely than me spending days in my bathroom, with all my worldly possessions surrounding me, eating canned food and drinking bottled water while I wait for news on my little wind-up FM radio is the likelihood I'd actually be alive in that room, instead of dead, surrounded by a bunch of useless shit, with a little perplexed look on my face when I had that last "gee whiz, why didn't that duct tape work" thought pass through my feeble little brain.
In case of actual emergency, this tone would be followed by you being very dead, not by official news and instructions.
This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

Sep. 27th, 2003

10:38 pm - Squeaple died today.

Motorcycle accident.

I've been flipping through various photo albums; Norm has a few photos of him, and I've got some old photos from the Catcher's birthday party in 2001, but I haven't got much of him that's recent - I haven't seen him in quite some time.

Most of the time, the fact that I haven't seen many of my friends in a very long time doesn't get to me; I still think of them the way they were the last time I saw them, a frozen memory I can reconnect to anytime I felt like doing so. Most of them are no more than a phone call and a pub away.

Or they were, until tonight. And now, for Squeap, all I have left is that frozen memory.

Not one of my better days; and it's left me with a lot of questions over what, on closer inspection, looks like pretty questionable behavior on my part. "Endeavouring to do better" isn't going to make him any less dead.

I'm okay - feeling a bit numb about it. It doesn't help knowing that he died in a motorcycle accident, of course; having just about barely survived one myself, I seem to have woken suddenly to the awareness that everyone I know, just about, is now riding one - including M., the other half, N., who I just got off the phone with, and J., one of the guys I work with. The only time the list gets shorter is when one of them ends up as roadkill or gets an all-expenses-paid morphine addiction courtesy of their nearest NHS A&E.

I'm definitely going to the funeral; I just don't know how I'm going to react. Of the many people I know who've been in accidents, this is the first of my friends to die on one. I want to see him again, to give him a hug and say goodbye, or something. Instead, I'm left wondering whether there's going to be an open casket, and trying not to imagine how it's going to feel to know he's lying there. I imagine this horrible moment of falling to pieces at the casket, just for a moment; it's hard not to think about the purple elephant shaped like your dead friend in a silk-lined box.

This will be the last thought on this I'm going to allow myself before the funeral, I think. Unlike job interviews and dates, funerals are not one of those things you're meant to go over and over in your head, rehearsing and imagining outcomes of. You don't build little scripts of funerals in your head. Or shouldn't, anyways, I think, and so I'm going to give a damn good try at not doing so.

Sep. 20th, 2003

12:23 am - A Tale of Two Experiences

Similar, in that both were beautiful stories; different in that only one of them was a well-told masterpiece.

The first was a film for adult minds who wish to see a world of magic through the eyes of their own childhood again; the second was a film for children who wished to see an adult's vision of a world of magic without using their minds.

The first film was Miyazaki's Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), and it was more than just an animated wonder of cinematography; it was a beautiful story, full of allegory and rich in cultural references, a window into the soul. It was an experience I won't soon forget, and it brought back wonderful memories of the time I spent in Japan, wandering through Kyoto's temples, shrines, and streets. The movie is rich, brilliantly animated, inventively concieved, excitingly told, and stunningly executed. It is, without doubt, one of my top ten films of all time.

The second film was Underworld, and I regret stepping foot into that darkened room to waste my time. Oh, it's beautiful - an attempt to do film noir in color, a film that reeks of B-movie storylines and execution. A shining example of just how much special effects can do to turn a poor movie into one which can at least draw audiences, it's often visually stunning - unfortunately, the acting, and the storyline, are mentally jarring, and I found myself more than a little frustrated.

Without doubt, I had expectations: I was a lover of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade; their detailed depictions of centuries of history of Vampire society through the curse of Caine by god and his transformation and inevitable self-exile from the world of Man, and the dance of the Masquerade, hiding themselves from the world of men, fearful that the cattle, so many in number, would rise and destroy them if they ever became aware of their presence.

As a fan of the genre - of more than just this particular set of intricately woven legends - I wanted to like this film. How horrific to find that I was unable to find it within myself to see what was essentially an Immortal's take on Romeo and Juliet, a world where Werewolves, once slaves of their masters, become the hunted and sworn enemies of the Vampire clans living their decadent lives in glorious gothic scenery. A heart-rending story, when told well; an utter disappointment when incarnated in this lifeless body of cellulose, the light passing through it adding no illumination to the imagined thoughts passing through the mind of that director when he finally decided that film was done.

One of these films is worth seeing. Take your best guess as to which.

Sep. 2nd, 2003

08:23 am - First day...

This is a record of my first day on the job. I'll file what happens on it as comments, as I don't want to fill my journal with more crap than it's already full of. :)

Sep. 1st, 2003

08:24 am - Response to Guardian's "License to drive a computer"

I've become a relatively gabby poster on the Guardian's online newsblog at http://www.onlineblog.com/. I saw a comment today that caused a few of the hairs on my neck to rise, and thought I'd respond; both there and here, as it's one of my less fond memories.

The article on the Guardian I was responding to was on Microsoft's operating systems, and how users should be more responsible users of these complex machines.

my responseCollapse )

Aug. 29th, 2003

03:32 pm - Someone congratulate me. :)

I've just been hired as the new CTO of What's On When, which provides worldwide event services to everyone from LastMinute.com to Travelocity.

I'm very happy. :)

01:56 pm - IBM's Compilers on MacOS/X

Well, there's been a major announcement - IBM has just released beta versions of their XL compilers on the Mac.

As to why this is important...

G4/G5 CPUs are unusual beasts. As are most CPUs. Each of the mainstream CPUs diverges from 'orthagonal' purist CPU design in a variety of ways; generally to get specific optimizations.

The most common compiler in use today is GCC; it runs on and builds code for a wide range of platforms - many more than most people have ever actually used in their daily lives. It's the standard compiler on which most people tend to think in and use; the most commonly used compiler suite on the planet, in all likelihood.
And yet, it suffers from poor performance. Not because it's a poor compiler - it's one of the best compilers on the market - but because it's a universal infrastructure, that models an orthagonal, generic CPU design.

Real CPUs don't look like the internal CPU representation that compilers use to generate fast, efficient, optimized code. As a result, the code gets the job done, but can be wasteful in terms of time and efficiency (and size, for that matter). Jack of all trades, master of none.
So, application developers looking to use the best their hardware has to offer - from geneticists running BLAST to search for genomes to mathematicians in Mathematica, from graphic designers in Photoshop to web monkeys in Dreamweaver, are generally using code compiled not with GCC, but with a vendor-specific compiler.
Intel users often end up using the Intel compiler; it generates more efficient, and higher quality, code than the competition, by a sizeable amount. On large runs, this can mean differences in runtime of anywhere from seconds to *hours* of real-world twiddling-of-thumbs time.

Traditionally, MacOS/X is a GCC box, as is Linux. Our Operating System is compiled using it, as are all of our applications; we rely on GCC to provide us with the quality and support that GCC has traditionally offered, and rely on application authors to hand-tune their code to work on our systems using either assembly language subroutines or pseudocode like the AltiVec extensions on G4/G5 systems.

This announcement means that the Mac OS is headed for a kind of parity that it's not traditionally had; while historically G4 AltiVec performance has trounced that of its Intel competition, even with the GCC compiler in comparison to 'native' compilers on those platforms, that we're about to see a new kind of compiler that has the promise of really using more of the CPU we already have in our machines; in other words, change compilers and your applications run faster on existing hardware.

More importantly, these compilers, as well as more accurately modelling our G4/G5 CPUs than GCC, often offer features that, right now, you just can't get in GCC. The most promising of these is called OpenMP - it's a language extension which allows you to write parallel code at a low level easily. What this means for us is that it will become very easy, using IBM's compiler, to turn algorithms in applications, even if they don't know anything about threads, into applications that, for those computation-intensive times, know how to use the fact that many of the Macs shipping today ship with more than one CPU. It means that multiple CPUs will get used more often, and that means a lot less thumb-twiddle time.

Today is a good day for mac developers; it promises to make tomorrow a good day for mac users. Today, we should be thanking IBM; tomorrow, your investment may have just become a better value for money.

Current GCC vs XLC performance comparisons show optimized GCC vs optimized XLC compiles showing improvements of anywhere from 11% to 51% on SPECint2000 scores. For floating point performance, the difference is even more extreme - more of the numbers are over the 50% mark than under; the G4/G5 have always had stronger floating point, and now the compiler backs that up with the appropriate optimizations to make use of the unique features of the architecture that enables that to be true.

For more information, have a look at IBM's presentation on their current and future compiler features along with some performance notes on how they got there. While not an example of how this will perform on a Mac, it's definitely a sign of just how much can be accomplished by moving to native compilers - something we can all look forward to in future releases of software on our embattled platform.

10:31 am - The Music Industry

There's a raging discussion going on in the rafters; most of the hub-bub was kicked off by a rip-off of the iTunes Music Store website by downhillbattle.org; it's raised some questions, as has what has turned out, for me, to be a very enlightened response by thehypercube here at LJ..

The issue, of course, is around Apple's profits in the iTunes Music Store, and the share of that money which actually makes its hands into the pockets of artists. Apple takes 35% of the cost of a track or album - that 99 cents, or 10.99. But the downhillbattle site also takes umbrage with the fact that the record companies will likely only hand back between 8 and 14 cents.

The argument is that this was the artist's choice - CDBaby, for example, a well-known label which offers the necessary CD production without bogging individuals down in overhead, takes its share and splits it 9% for CDBaby, and 91% for the artist/band.

In other words, the band knew this when they were walking into the label and signed the contract. They knew that the label would front all of the money for their production and release, and they knew what they'd be getting out of it.. The market isn't nearly as closed as people think it is, and there are other ways, other than the big labels, to get your music out there. These bands are choosing the 'get rich quick' offerings of the major labels, but they had a choice; this wasn't always true in the past, but it's true now.

So I don't actually have a problem with the labels anymore. The RIAA, of course, I still have a few bones to pick with - hence and my involvement with that project. But in the wide world of music, you do get what you pay for; and if you're dumb enough to give your music to the big labels, then they deserve to get your money.

The funny thing is, it's not like everything the big labels produce is crap. Some of it is fantastic, quite frankly - and some of the smaller labels that have been bought by Sony and others have every ounce of the music quality they had before they were swallowed whole.

Artists have a choice; that choice is that they can do for themselves or find elsewhere the things that a big label is willing to do in those package deals that we believe screws the artists out of millions of dollars. Hopefully, we'll see more of them make that choice, as the means with which to get our attention become more accessible.

Jul. 23rd, 2003

11:15 pm - Oh yes...

It's good to be back. :)

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