Late October Grab Bag

  • After a decade using Twitter, I’ve thrown in the towel. I met a lot of great people and some of my best friends on the service, and didn’t take leaving lightly. But in the past few years it’s become a poisoned well of misinformation, bad actors, and bottomless outrage. That hasn’t been enough to scare advertisers away, as negative engagement is still very active there. User involvement driven by anxiety, rage, and fear is at least as valid as positive participation by the people looking to sell ads to frantic eyes. But the the service has become a dysphoric compulsion for most of its users instead of a healthy social medium, and that’s impossible for me to overlook or support.

Nobody is beholden to use a free service when it stops being fun. And don’t forget: all of the companies in the business of providing social media platforms monetize your distraction, selling the data you give them to organizations committed to using it. Going forward, I think Cambridge Analytica is going to be a fumbling baby step. I won’t speak for you, but I’m gonna find something else to do.

Advertising shot of a Silicon Graphics O2, with ’90s lighting that really pops. Found at
  • VICE has an entertaining piece about the cohort of computer hobbyists keeping Silicon Graphics machines alive in the 21st century. Like the community that’s playing the Atari Jaguar and making new games for it 25 years out, the community’s a sliver of what it once was. In the SGI users’ case there’s also justified grief and protectiveness over how eager PC builders are to snap up the dwindling quantities of this gorgeous, expensive hardware just to yank out everything that makes it distinctive and plop in standard PC bits. That’s a testament to how iconic the case designs are, and you’d think the company nominally holding SGI’s assets – first Rackable Systems, now apparently Hewlett Packard Enterprise – would partner with someone to make a limited edition run of PC cases. But the article leaves an important question unasked: how are these systems being used now?
The SGI Onyx, used for many purposes but most notably as development kits for the Nintendo 64. Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

A decade ago my hydrogeology professor had an old SGI workstation on his desk… but even then he almost exclusively used it as an X terminal connected to the Linux machine he kept in his laboratory. Do people in 2018 still incorporate them into 3D rendering jobs? Is anyone using them for production work? Are developers maintaining software for IRIX, the SGI Unix implementation that has been abandoned for the past decade? Without that perspective it’s a little like an article about people who love seventies folk music, and how these people go to concerts, run fan sites, build communities, and trade merchandise without ever talking about what the music is or why people love it.

Though at the very least I can confirm: they run Doom.

Damn It, Jaden

The son of Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith has been foisted into the public eye to decidedly mixed results. But his brand was arguably established by his Twitter feed, a soupy mixture of faux philosophy and surely-he’s-stoned non sequiturs. And yesterday, the Huffington Post published an article where he’s asked to explain a selection of his most famous thoughts.

It’s not good, guys. I’m bolding the quote in question and italicizing his commentary, and then I’ve got a couple of things to say. Continue reading “Damn It, Jaden”

Server Mark One, and Mark Zero too.

A little while back I determined to do something about my desire to fiddle with seismic data on a computer dedicated to that task. And whether you call it a server or a workstation, you’ve ultimately got to come up with the hardware to do the job(s) you need. With a little luck and good timing you can save money to that end by repurposing old hardware. I picked up a Core i5 3570K – the hottest gaming CPU from around six years ago – along with a motherboard and assorted goodies from a friend for a fair price. After getting it home and putting the kids to bed, I set to assembling a server. And for a brief few seconds, all was well… until it suddenly wasn’t.

Continue reading “Server Mark One, and Mark Zero too.”

The Filthiest House

I can’t recall whether it was late 2002 or early 2003, but the Texas air was still chilly and the days were short.

In those Web 1.0 days PC messaging apps were in diverse bloom. When my ICQ client chimed its “uh oh!” notification one day, I was surprised to see a message from… we’ll call her Amanda. She was a friend from high school who dated one of my droogs in those far gone days, and wondered if I’d be around Houston any time soon. After some chatter I agreed to dart down there in a few weeks, and I began sketching the outlines of a fun trip. I really should have known better…

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On Apple, and OpenGL

I’d planned on a big post for this. I’ve even got a mostly finished draft in a separate browser window – all lamentations and shame, shame, Apple, both for neglecting OpenGL so badly to this point and for closing the door on cross-platform 3D (well, outside of WebGPU, anyway). Let’s be clear, neglecting the implementation of a standard for a half decade when you’re on its advisory board was already sending a message. It’s been functionally deprecated for ages. And they’re eager for people to adopt their own API, Metal. But the truth is that this turning away from a widely supported spec is hardly new – Apple’s tuning out of the broader computing landscape.

Continue reading “On Apple, and OpenGL”

There’s No Mystique in Navel Gazing

Because I’m approaching middle age and nostalgia’s a sticky thing, I was pondering the Matrox Mystique again a few weeks back. Old computers are easy to find in America, and my neighbor has a system sitting in his garage that would easily accommodate the video card, and other period-appropriate hardware. A little fixing up, and I could be humming along in high late ’90s fashion again… and I flatly refuse.

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Brief Memory of a Novelty Musical Act

His dim star fading even then, William Hung performed for the grand opening of a Planet Tan in late 2004. I know this happened because I was there. Though my nose subconsciously wrinkles remembering it, I regret nothing.

There’s no good justification for why someone goes to something like this. It’s like a pioneer family going to watch a stagecoach fire, or finding out someone who had a toilet mishap on national TV is going to willfully shit themselves in front of a brand new tanning salon. Sometimes you give in to the screeching primate side of you that wants to eat bad food and watch traffic collisions. And it was free when I was in college, and barely had rent money. Don’t imagine that was lost on me.

But even larded with rationalizations, it was a pretty sad way to spend a Saturday morning. Hung’s public persona, his very raison d’etre, was his ability to suck the air out of a room through the power of horrible singing. Seething black hole of talent that he was, the act of singing for hundreds of hours and projecting that voice to crowds started shaving off his voice’s worst and most feeble qualities. By the time Hung appeared before the crowd in Addison, Texas, he’d gone from Herald of the Apocalypse to Well-Fed Karaoke Guy. He wobbled around onstage to scattered applause, flanked by unpaid volunteer dancers, and sang under an overcast sky. After a few minutes the energy of the crowd was subdued. People shifted, and started to disperse or look for bathrooms. I left to get breakfast with my girlfriend. Hung released a Christmas album, then scampered back into oblivion. I hear he’s offering his services as an inspirational speaker, and wonder what kind of crowd that would draw these days.

Update: In an example asserting that there is neither mercy nor pity for past memories, this news struck today: at least for a few perilous minutes, he’s back.

Why Migrating to HEVC May Be Premature in 2018

 Why Migrating to HEVC in 2018 May Be Premature

There’s been a lot of discussion in media circles about the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC, or H.265 to its friends). As the latest video encoding standard from the MPEG consortium, it offers a dramatic improvement in encoding efficiency over H.264/AVC – on the order of 100%. It’s the sole supported means of encoding video for Blu-ray 4K, playback is supported on new graphics chips and computing devices, and it’s got widespread industry support. Despite all that, HEVC hasn’t enjoyed the swift adoption H.264 did more than a decade ago. As it turns out, there are good reasons it hasn’t gotten traction yet.

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