Mega Rand: Inspiration, Fails, CeBIT, Unwanted S/W, iOS Safari Image Resizing etc.

Welcome to another “random” post – a collation of bits and pieces of random thought which don’t quite deserve their own posting. Last week, I didn’t get around to making one, so this week’s another “bumper” crop of randomness.


I can’t claim to hold any level of fame, nor can I claim to be inspirational at any level. But people have looked upon my work at this blog and wondered exactly why I even bother.

This week, I came across a web-comic drawing which serves as inspiration and one of the best ways of explaining just why I bother. My words could never do it justice, so I will let the comic speak for itself.

Go on, read it … I’ll wait.

Hopefully now you realize that the “gift” of producing the blog is the blog itself, but is also the hours of enjoyment and self-education that comes with exploring, destroying, reverse-engineering, creating and defining concepts and technologies which surround us everyday. I suppose I am an engineer at heart – although I can’t say it’s not nice to have money, fame, attention or affection. Sometimes I might wish for that too, but I remember that it’s better to do something rewarding in the interim rather than be hung up on wishes.

A Week of Failure

The last week has been a week filled with failures. One thing I didn’t expect was two power failures with a total downtime of about 40 minutes. It just so happened to disrupt a 40 hour x264 encode process which I had running to subjectively evaluate encoding quality and size at different CRFs (Constant Rate-Factors). Part of this was motivated by the new TV and a desire to determine just what bitrates and rate-factors correspond to acceptable quality to me, while minimising storage and allowing for stable wireless streaming (single-band, single-stream, backwards-compatible 802.11n doesn’t give you much). That was annoying.

The second failure was Dropbox. Last Saturday, Dropbox was not behaving at all. I tried to export an image from Procreate into Dropbox only to see it hanging at trying to list my Dropbox contents. I thought it was an issue with the app-linkage, so step 1 of troubleshooting is to unlink and re-link.

dropbox unknown-issue

I unlinked only to find I couldn’t re-link at all – with different error messages!

dropbox internet-lost

What the hell!? My internet connection was good too. I opened Dropbox app, things seemed okay initially but things wouldn’t open. I did something silly – I un-linked the Dropbox app and tried to re-link it.


It twirled for ages, and then, that failed miserably as well! Now I had no access to any Dropbox files on the iPad. Cool.

dropbox re-link failed

It was not until I tried to visit Dropbox via the web-browser that they told me that they had failed. Instead of seeing Dropbox’s normal home-page, I was bounced to Yep. Dropbox is not infallible – and it failed just as I wanted to use it. How convenient.

dropbox has-issues

Interestingly, that persisted into Sunday, and while linking and file access was enabled, uploading from Procreate would stick for hours at 100% and never complete! At least it’s working again now – in case of problems in the future, give a check. You’ll hopefully see something different …

dbx-under-maint dropboxOK

Enough about Dropbox though … even Google has its failures. This week, while using Google Analytics, I came across this rather “nice” explanatory message that a “dependency” had failed.


If that’s not enough, Yahoo Mail gave me another reason to sigh – just when I needed to send an e-mail, it went belly up too.


Maybe it’s the season, or maybe it’s just me. It all just goes to show, even with “cloud services”, it’s not wise to put all your eggs in one basket.

CeBIT Registration Time

Folks, it’s that time of year again – time to register for your free CeBIT Australia exhibition show floor tickets. The exhibition will be held 5-7th May this year, but this year at Sydney Olympic Park instead of the Sydney Exhibition Centre as in prior years.

If you’ve got an interest in technology, are involved in business and want to see what’s the latest and greatest from distributors, suppliers and factories direct – it’s a great place to just take a look around. It’s free – so what have you got to lose? One thing to note is that it’s not quite like the CeBIT of Hannover, Germany, or CES, or Computex – it’s a bit more low key, but the focus is more on the technology if that’s your thing.

When signing up, I overlooked a few must fill fields in my personal information and I got this rather unhelpful message – so if you’re getting “The change you wanted was rejected.”, just ensure you have filled in all fields with asterisks.


Updates – a land of opportunity?

Doesn’t it annoy you to see you have updates for Java or Flash almost every few weeks? While they’re often legitimate releases rushed to patch vulnerabilities and improve stability or functionality, they often serve another purpose – a chance to make some money.


This is an all too familiar sight – bundled offers. Why can’t they understand that we don’t want this? There are many bundled offer programs which allow for companies to make some revenue by being the “vector” which installs a given toolbar, hijacks a search engine, or installs some rather “unpopular” or questionable software of limited utility. Many of them can be easily overlooked during installation, or require meticulous clicking to ensure you don’t have any components of them installed. Experienced users will be familiar, but novice users can accidentally click on Next just a bit too fast and end up with more unpopular software burdening their system.


I think declining the option on the first install is a clear indicator that we don’t want this particular software installed on our machines. We don’t need to be re-presented with the same software every time! Some smarter ones will present several different offers, but we’re probably not interested in them either.

Maybe the only way this practice will stop is when the money stops when software vendors realize that installing software through near-deception “piggybacking” techniques isn’t a valuable way to build a userbase which actually cares about using their programs.

To CloudFlare or not?

This week, I was investigating CDN solutions, and there was an offer almost too good to refuse – CloudFlare. By using their caching solution, they will cache static data from your website at their numerous distributed points-of-presence bringing your content closer to your users and ensuring better load times with lower loading on the origin server. Best of all, you’re not charged for bandwidth, basic service is free and you can upgrade to paid service to improve options for attack mitigation.

It all sounds great, and many similar paid alternatives exist. In fact, if I were ever to serve this website from a home-connection, I will probably need the performance boost from such a solution – we see above 3Gb a day of bandwidth use here!

But ultimately, I decided it’s not the best solution for me at the moment – even if Ziphosting has issues with capacity sometimes.

The reason is that I am trusting a new third party to essentially reverse-proxy my content to my end users. CloudFlare is in a position to intercept all traffic, modify traffic or deny access to content (in fact, this is part of their DDoS protection). If CloudFlare was to have trouble, that could render the website inaccessible. I don’t have inherent trust in third party companies – they could be “in bed” with the wrong people, and introduce additional complexity in troubleshooting and support (e.g. does the issue originate due to DNS problems in CloudFlare, or in your web host, or does it come from issues with rate-limiting connections from CloudFlare?) The fact that big names use it does not provide any comfort if something unusual were to happen.

Without the right access to the server (to install modifications), the server logs which you retain will only contain connections from CloudFlare themselves and not the end users – this data could be important or valuable in some cases.

So while CloudFlare would probably improve my site’s performance for overseas (to Australia) visitors, I don’t find the risk and additional upkeep to be worth my while at this exact moment.

Tagging: It’s awful, but we need it

I’ve always been a bit annoyed at the lack of ease of navigation – there’s a lot of content, but unless you know what you’re searching for, or Related Posts have shoved it in your face, you might not even realize it’s here.

One way around this is to tag your posts – but I’ve found that tagging has many issues of its own. One of which is the consistency and specificity of tagging.

So far, I’m finding it hard to ensure either – for example, parts of certain articles may be tagged with some tags which aren’t shared by other articles in the series, or general tag terms are used initially and more specific terms are used as we go along. Filtering by the tag cloud will leave you with the wrong impression that there was no other articles about a given topic.

I also don’t want to go overboard with tagging and pollute the pool of tag terms – but we have silly instances of plural vs non-plural as well. Regardless of the shortcomings, it’s still a valuable tool, although sub-optimal. I’m hoping that users will use the search some more, and look at related posts.

Lyngsat Updates

This week, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve made my first contribution to Lyngsat, a very often used transponder directory for direct-to-home satellite broadcasts. I’ve provided updates for Optus D2 and Intelsat-19 which was accepted. It took a while – I’m sure the webmaster receives many e-mails about the constant changes, but he’s provided a very valuable service which I’ve benefited from, so I’m ecstatic to have been a part of it and I hope it benefits the rest of the satellite TV community.

Small excerpts below:



Multimeter Firmware Upgrade

Just the other day, I was running something with the Keithley Model 2110 5.5 digit multimeter of mine, which I was awarded thanks to element14’s RoadTest program and while downloading updated software, I came across a firmware update to version 2.00. This is the second update offered for the multimeter and is mainly a bug-fix. It applied with no problems, and was very quick to update from version 1.02.

Apple iOS Safari Image Resizing – What Retina?

As a (hobby) photographer, I often like to upload and enjoy my images at high quality. No doubt, you will have realized the quality of the images featured on this blog have improved since the early days – this is all effort I put in to ensure it remains a high quality resource.

One thing I realized was an inconsistency in the way my iPad first generation running iOS 5.1.1 and iPad third generation running iOS 7.0.4 seem to present data about images. Despite the iPad third-generation featuring the Retina Display, high resolution images loaded in Safari looked decidedly smeared.

Loading my test image, taken with my D3200, measures exactly 6016 x 4000 pixels. Interesting to note is that loading the same image on the iPad first generation results in it displaying a resolution of just 1504 x 1000 pixels.

But this is the stinker – the image looks poor on both Apple devices, and is clearer on the desktop browser and Android 4.4.2 Chrome browser. It is the exact same file. Just see the comparison:

Desktop (approximately the same view, 100% zoom)

Under Firefox

iPad 1st Generation (maximum zoom level)


iPad 3rd Generation (slightly more zoomed in, not maximum zoom level but higher zoom reveals no new detail)


Google Nexus 7 (approximately the same view, 100% zoom)


A quick investigation revealed that the resolution of 1504 x 1000 pixels is all the iPad will decode as it uses JPEG subsampling at 1/16th resolution for all images greater than 2 Megapixels. I think this is a very poor practice – while it may improve performance, it definitely lessens the appeal of the retina screen and possibly limits the ability of websites to present high resolution content correctly.

Quoting the Safari Web Content Guide: Creating Compatible Web Content from Apple:

  • The maximum decoded image size for JPEG is 32 megapixels using subsampling.

    JPEG images can be up to 32 megapixels due to subsampling, which allows JPEG images to decode to a size that has one sixteenth the number of pixels. JPEG images larger than 2 megapixels are subsampled—that is, decoded to a reduced size. JPEG subsampling allows the user to view images from the latest digital cameras.

I’m quite disappointed to be honest, I was expecting to see the detail in the leaves …

Ankle Status

Unfortunately, this week, the prognosis is not good. It was exactly two weeks to the day of my first steroid injection and the cyst has definitely recurred. As a result, I’m back to a no-walk state, at times, with dull pain around the clock that gets markedly worse on rotating or applying pressure to the ankle.

I’ll wait and see if it recovers on its own – and whether the other cyst recurs before contemplating a second (and possibly last injection) prior to organizing to see a specialist and schedule surgical intervention (which will necessitate even longer recovery times, without much guarantee of improved probability against recurrence).

It’s a slow road to recovery – I really miss being outside, talking to people, or even just watching things go by. It’s been literally months since I’ve had some time to myself outside … it gets a little lonely. That being said, keeping this blog going helps keep me going.

Micro SD Adapter and SIM Pictures

To round off a relatively “long” but non-exhaustive random post, here are some items which I’ve had on my desk for a while which deserves a picture or two. The first is a microSD to SD adapter.

microSD Adapter

As you can see, this is an entirely passive adapter. One of the pins is entirely unconnected. I’m sure there are many pictures of this sort lying around – but there’s my rather dusty one from my desk.

Finally, here are pictures of the actual substrate which is contained in mobile phone SIMs. As I had a few lying around that had expired, and the practice of “trimming” SIMs to fit micro or nanoSIM form factors is relatively common, it’s easy to show why this is the case. By carefully bending the plastic carrier away from the contacts (one got damaged), it is clear to see that the contacts and thin PCB substrate forms the smart chip itself.

SIM Chips

The left one is a more modern 6-contact SIM, whereas the right one is an older 8-contact SIM which is based on the smart-card standards. The irony is that the two extra contacts aren’t used, however, due to the way the substrate is made, those 8-contact SIMs are not suitable for trimming to nanoSIM size. They can be trimmed to microSIM, but will cut very close to the edges.

8-contact SIM Rear

When we turn it over, we can see the silicon die for the SIM itself as the tiny “square” in the middle, with bonding pads in a line in the middle (rather than at the edges, which I find strange). The chip is “gob topped” onto the contact substrate with clear adhesive which makes it possible to see the bond wires which are arranged radially. Just five of the six contacts are actually bonded.

6-contact SIM Rear

Technically, the SIM *could* be made even smaller … but I’m not sure we’d want to.

That wraps up another week in Gough’s rather busy head. More posts forthcoming when time, motivation and energy permits!

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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15 Responses to Mega Rand: Inspiration, Fails, CeBIT, Unwanted S/W, iOS Safari Image Resizing etc.

  1. Robbi says:

    Ever been to the CeBIT in Hannover? Was cool 20 years ago but now it is just expensive, boring and mostly cold and windy… 🙁

    • lui_gough says:

      Hi Robbi,

      Never had the chance unfortunately. It’s one of those things I’ll definitely do once in my life at least – that way I get to see what a *real* technology fair is like. The one we have pales in comparison – I know a German friend who’s been to both and ours is barely 1/5th the size.

      – Gough

  2. James says:

    Just wanted to comment and to say that your blog owns. Even the entries that I have no particular understanding of are still interesting and informative. I hope that comments like these and encouragement helps with motivation too! 🙂

    • lui_gough says:

      Thanks a heap James! Indeed it’s great to hear that people are reading – I appreciate that this content is not suited for all, but of course, I hope the readers are getting something from it as you are.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s much appreciated.

      – Gough

  3. sparcie says:

    Hi, great post!

    I agree with you about making things being a reward within itself. I’ve found this in many of the things I do. For me writing my blog has improved my writing, put me in touch with others who have similar interests, and given me an outlet to talk about all my old geeky stuff. I get similar rewards from all the little software/hardware projects I work on as well. I just like tinkering with stuff :-).

    Ah failure, even the cloud can’t avoid downtime. Personally I’d rather run my own equipment, but I understand why others use cloud services. I mostly don’t as some of the license agreements have stuff about the vendor having unfettered access to your data! Not cool!

    Cloudflare sounds interesting, but I’d be reluctant to use it as well. I’d be worried about hackers using it for man in the middle attacks on any SSL stuff on my site, as well as reliability issues you talked about.

    I’ve also had trouble with tagging, sometimes on others sites, sometimes in choosing them on my own. I use the category system to sort out most of my content, so picking a tags that describe it better can be a chore. I’ve also seen some people go nuts and puts like 20 or 30 tags on a post which seems a bit excessive, perhaps they get better view counts this way? I’m not so worried about that so I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

    It’s interesting that Apple have done that with viewing images on iOS, as the Nexus 7 proves, it is certainly possible to display the images in their full awesomeness. Perhaps they didn’t think anyone would zoom to that level, or that people would blame the camera?

    I also bought the Nexus 7 about a year and 3-4 months ago, and it has been great. But I haven’t used much else to build a good comparison with.

    I hope your ankle gets better soon, that sounds like no fun at all. It’s funny how we miss little things like being outside, or for me the sounds of the local wildlife from where I grew up.

    I enjoy reading your posts, sometimes it’s over my head such as the satellite stuff, but I can see your attention to detail. The photos are cetainly a highlight as well. Thanks for all the hard work!


    • lui_gough says:

      Thanks for the in-depth reply – I’ve been looking at some of your posts too. Definitely a good job in getting screen-shots and walk-through opinions on the games and various software you’ve managed to dig up. I’m unfortunately a bit too young to relate to most of the software – I grew up with MDA (and a Monochrome green-on-black monitor) before going straight to VGA, so I never really “experienced” the limited colour palette era of EGA and CGA. I suppose one could always give DOSbox a whirl if they had the software still :).

      I think it’s true that the next big hurdle for the cloud is to ensure and provide adequate data security for data in transit and held at facilities. More and more users are becoming aware of the “no free lunch” issues – offerings can change at any time, and many companies give away too much to try and grab a slice of the pie “hoping for future paying customers”. Increasingly, privacy and security are coming under the spotlight as people get accounts closed for reasons which may be in their Terms of Service, but would not otherwise be considered reasonable requests for what is essentially “private” storage areas (the Microsoft SkyDrive incident comes to mind). I’m much more of a “roll your own” where you can, but likewise, connectivity here is still an issue (and given the FTTP NBN is now essentially “vapourized”, a good piece of the upload bandwidth cannot be guaranteed under alternative connectivity – e.g. VDSL2, HFC).

      Categories work well – although sometimes, it’s a bit of a balancing act between specificity and generality – too many categories will confuse, too few categories will present many “unrelated” articles within the same grouping. It’s a balancing act, but who really has the time? I’d say “create first and foremost” – organization can come later. Or searching will become the prevalent method of access – reminding me of how the Windows 7 Start-Menu is like.

      I know ey? While it is possible, I think iOS decided to do it because otherwise they’d prioritize “solving a potential RAM depletion issue” to improve user “experience” over keeping the fidelity of the content itself. As it is, on their most restricted devices (e.g. iPad 1st Generation), the RAM available to programs is only about 30-60Mb at the most, once depleted, the app “quietly” crashes back to Springboard (i.e. the “desktop”). As it is, even with these techniques, Safari on iOS is hopeless and crashes numerous times a day due to this. Funny how I haven’t had any of this under Android … one has to wonder what “prettyness” for the sake of it can cost. It’s another case of form over function, I’d say.

      I’m glad to have heard from you – thank you very much for your in-depth reply. I’ve had a few good moments looking through your posts as well, although, not being as much of a software person, I can appreciate the same feeling of being a “fish out of water” at times.

      – Gough

  4. sparcie says:

    I’ve collected much of the old software I have from cover disks that were on magazines back in the day, we started out on a VGA machine so most were playable until ones like Doom were too much for our processor. I’ve found many authors from the era have also released some old dos stuff for free.

    I use dosbox for capturing screenshots, mostly for convenience. It works well, although some games are hard to get working.

    Wow thats quite the jump from MDA to VGA! It must have been very exciting to see all the colour.

    I remember many EGA games partly because they were still being made after VGA had become the standard (it came out 1987 I think) I like many of these old games because they are always colourful. CGA not so pretty, but it’s interesting how people coped with the limitations of the card and frequently the machines they ran on.

    I wonder if the cloud services boom will eventually become like the dot com boom (and subsequent bust). It seems to be a popular buzzword used today. Like you say, they need to ensure continuity of services and security to build more confidence in them. Of course there is also the question what do you do when _your_ internet is not working. What worries me are the larger organisations using cloud services now before issues like this are addressed. For personal use the impact of down time is minimal, but commercial use could lead to many companies incurring losses when an outage occurs. I think social media is also a current buzzword we all need to be mindful of.

    Yes create first organise later! That must be why my office is such a mess! I should add some more categories and make it easier to find things in the larger groups. Could be lots of work though.

    It seems that Apple do tend to value experience over many other features, and in a way it works for them. Still it seems a bit odd that a newish iPad with a retina display wouldn’t have enough memory to display the image properly, perhaps it is some legacy code from an older version of iOS?

    Looking at the older Android devices, some of them were quite sub-par, now newer ones are excellent in every way. It seems Android has had greater effort put into improvements over time. Perhaps being at the top for a while made Apple complacent? or are they relying on the legion of fans who would buy a brick from them if it was called the iBrick?

    What has usually made be baulk at buying Apple is the cost premium for their stuff. Although I did get a Macbook pro as the price was good, and they have excellent build quality. My advice for everyone is to buy the Apple care plan to extend the warranty, they are expensive to repair out of warranty. Sometimes more than a new machine, even only a little after the warranty expiration.

    Sparcie 🙂

    • lui_gough says:

      I suppose religious archiving is key – some days I may have been “donated” a box of 5.25″s and 3.5″s mixed which were mostly shedding oxide since they were stored poorly. Some of them still have their relatively-pretty labels, but aside from that, have become rather worthless. It’s a sad story sometimes. There’s a few abandonware sites, although it’s technically still a bit of a grey area and you really need to know what and where to look. I fear that the next big tragedy is that such nice archives “disappear” off the internet without complete archival (e.g.’s Wayback Machine doesn’t really do large files or attachments).

      Eh, the jump to colour was wonderful, but also led to a “feeling” of the text not quite being as sharp as in the monochrome days. I actually didn’t mind the slow draw, text modes with a bit of phosphor persistence. It was definitely less flickery compared to colour. VGA was alright, and then when I ventured to Super VGA, it was the days of “interlaced 43Hz” to improve performance at 1024×768 for the “elderly” 14″ colour tube I had. That was eye strain – no other word to describe it. But it was better than 800×600 or regular 640×480!

      Having not been exposed to much gaming, I managed to get hold of a Shareware CD-ROM, which bought me to Duke Nukem (I, II and III) and Doom (I and II). I also had a little fun with other titles like Terminal Velocity, and I was marveling in the fact that they could do what they could graphic wise on a measily 512k/1Mb ISA card outside of Windows! But that being said, I kept running out of hard disk space – some things never change 🙂

      Agreed – we’re not at a stage of connectivity where I could even contemplate cloud as a reliance factor, although I am aware of computer shops and other businesses which run their whole back-end on cloud-served “Software as a Service” outfits, and when their connection goes down, the shop closes. They have no manual back-up, although they were seen (by me) using an employee’s phone for tethering until the connection gets fixed. It’s just sad and silly honestly. Maybe information security and privacy laws might make it harder for them to outsource to cloud in the future – it’s a bit of a risk giving the information away on your behalf!

      The other thing I always like to be annoyed about, cloud-wise, is the SaaS nature of “vendor lock-in”. If they start offering services on a subscription basis, and they get you hooked, they know you’ll keep paying. Their prices aren’t always cheap, and unfortunately, things are made so it works best for them – you’re unlikely to see one-off customizations for your needs as they’re all centrally hosted on common equipment. Likewise, you’re unlikely to see an easy way to migrate to any other vendor due to a lack of common export options leading to expensive legwork required – another way to limit loss of customers. Finally, there’s no running an old version (you don’t have, own, or run the code yourself), so if anything changes that you don’t like – tough. If the company folds, there’s no way to run the system ever again in the future.

      What does this say about preserving the past for others? I fear we’re entering an “archival dark age” yet again. Or we’re slipping further and further into one as digital technology progresses faster than our ability to archive. I hazard to say that the job of archivists have been made extremely difficult by increasing DRM constraints and a lack of trust from the developers. DRM itself has very little worth commending.

      Maybe the iOS guys could increase it, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Maybe they like to keep it that way so they can have a few background processes doing app refreshes and keeping context rather than dumping you to a cold-start. I really hope they change their minds, as the Retina display itself is 2048×1536 which is 3.14MP – that’s larger than the 2MP Safari JPEG decode subsample barrier, and it’s about the same as the 3.2MP Safari GIF/PNG decoding limit size, which makes the ability to zoom entirely moot!

      I’ve been much more of an Android person to be honest – love the flexibility of Root applications, so many great things to play with, and even chroot into Linux. Yum. I’ve been partial to the Nexus range of products, my 2012 Nexus 7’s (two) are both still going well. Each to their own with their “brand allegiances”, although I must agree to disliking the “Apple tax”. Likewise, the Apple-care insurance they like you to take. I’ve never owned a Mac, and I don’t think that will change for a long while. Likewise, the iPads were all “won” and not bought, I wouldn’t have put my money down on them. But that being said, experiencing a variety of platforms gives you a perspective to comment from, and lots of differences to comment about.

      – Gough

      • sparcie says:

        I’ve always backed up religiously, which is helpful not just for when stuff fails. I sometimes find a copy of an old project and it’s nice to see the progress I’ve made. It also helps that my parents live in the north west of NSW, that keeps the disks dry and hence the mold out. When I did a new archival copy I was pleasantly surprised to find most disks were fine.

        I have heard some people have had success recovering old floppies by washing them (just soapy water). As you would know clogged heads are bad, and cleaning them between every disk is time intensive.

        Wow you must have been using that tube way past its use by date! I remember the old monochrome screens that the school I went to used, and the serial terminal around uni campus that were similar. Whilst not having used them much, I do remember the sharpness, I only wish I could get a serial terminal today!

        I worry about archival for historical value as well. DRM, the cloud, and media issues mean lots of stuff has already been lost both old and new. Funnily enough this parallels the film industry, many early and historical films have been lost forever. In fact a very large number of earlier films have been lost. I’m not sure what happened with film, but people have yet to learn the value of old computer technology in both hardware and software forms. Old technology is discarded as out of date and useless, quite often whilst it is still relevant. Will they learn before we have lost much more? Unfortunately archival sometimes has a bad image what with pirates and all. Maybe the copyright rules need to change to make archival of digital media that’s no longer sold or made available easier.

        They are some more nice reasons to be skeptical of benefits of the cloud. I think companies are using it mostly because manager like the buzzword and it reduces budgets in the short term.

        I’m more an Android person too, not that I’ve had much experience with iOS devices. I decided to go that way after tinkering with the SDK for both, and Apples crazy hoops to jump through just to develop and test let alone distribute an app. Hopefully a software update will bring the retina display equipped devices up to speed. But don’t hold your breath.

        I bought my macbook so I’d have choice as to which mobile platform to develop for. Yes you need to own an Apple machine to develop for iOS. I do like its robust design, and BSD like OS underneath however. I quite like Linux, and have recently run and enjoyed using BSD style system as well. Hardware wise I’m quite fond of the Sun hardware I have, but it’s quite out of date now.


        • lui_gough says:

          I have heard of the soapy water “trick” to get off mould and other debris, but when the binder (the stuff that holds the oxide onto the BoPET film base) fails into a gooey or squeaky mess, anything rubbing on the disk equals immediate oxide shedding. I’ve heard that driving OUT the moisture from the binder can restore its operation for a short period (a quick search of baking reel to reel tape would give you an idea) although for disks, lack of care while baking will destroy the geometry of the film anyway (as will accidentally testing the disk first … and then you have clogged heads to clean too)!

          Speaking of serial terminals – I’ve always wanted one myself too. Those iconic Wyse “dumb terminals” which used to litter every single public library as an OPAC system were marvellously reliable stuff. The keyboards were also capacitive too, and had a deep travel with no click which made them feel different but last almost forever under use. It’s a bit bulky for what it does now, but the green on black persistence screens were kind to the eyes.

          Old films and film base degradation (acetate? nitrate?) is something I’ve been told about too. The disposable society always “purges” itself of what it perceives to be without value, but I think there’s a clarity to operation that is often not present in more complex devices. It’s much more difficult to understand completely how a modern computer works compared to a C64 for example, and it’s not like there are signals worth probing on modern high-speed surface-mounted hardware either.

          While it is true that some archival is problematic from a legal standpoint due to the interests of copyright and patent holders making storage and emulation of some software a grey area, I think it’s clear that many of the projects stem from well-meaning people who see that they’re unlikely to be doing any major harm to a company by distributing “abandoned” software or emulators for out-of-print hardware. I won’t say this makes it legal, but it does have some moral weight. That being said, there is the Software Preservation Society which works to preserve only verifiably mint copies of software for posterity. They will archive into preservation formats covering flux transitions on the disk allowing for copy protection schemes to be understood and emulated, but the BIG difference is that these images are kept for archival and ARE NOT distributed to the general public for use. Where the images will go eventually and who has access to the images is still a little bit of an unknown at this point.

          Cloud usage also has this other “benefit” to business – some think that by using the cloud as offering “computing as a service”, they can reduce budget uncertainty by being able to know just how much it’s going to cost them to operate, all things inclusive (bandwidth, power, cooling, maintenance, etc). It’s like grabbing a taxi to go everywhere – a bit expensive for the average user, but large companies probably won’t mind.

          Understood on the iOS development front. I haven’t developed any mobile apps myself, although there have been many times where I thought it would be handy if I could. Ah well, one day … if time permits. Linux is my new favourite, Windows is my second – ultimately it really depends if I can get the apps I want running on the OS whether I like it or not (aside from the ergonomics – e.g. the inefficient Tiles interface on Windows 8 makes it a complete no-go from my perspective).

          Speaking of Sun hardware – I did notice a few posts about it on your blog. I got donated an old SPARC Ultra 10 tower (433Mhz (I think), 128Mb RAM, CD-ROM, replaced HDD, Elite3D m3 UPA graphics card) along with a flat-screen Sun branded monitor with the matching DB13W3 connector. I can definitely say it works, because I shoved Debian on there (the original hard drive with Solaris died unfortunately, and with dated hardware, I don’t think the downloadable versions of Solaris would run anymore on that anyway). The RTC unit is dead though, meaning I do have to do a heap of commands under the Openboot prompt to get the config sane and allow it to start. I’m keeping it mainly for the uniqueness of it – although I must say SPARC as an architecture is not faring well in the market, and Oracle might not support it for much longer. Oh how times change – I still remember when it was the powerhouse-choice.

          – Gough

          • sparcie says:

            I hope the archival community keeps working and we manage to save some of our history, although it’s probably the more modern stuff that will be truly difficult to archive in a usable form. I think if the software isn’t commercially distributed and isn’t available from the owner/author then it’s fair enough for people to archive it while they can. I think making the data we already have archived available will help build awareness of its importance, and archiving data before it’s lost.

            Android is a nice platform from the developers point of view. Java is the main language, and is well implemented. In fact it’s good enough for openGL rendering, although you can do native code if you like to. Being a Java programmer it was an easy choice.

            I’m quite sad that platforms like SPARC, MIPS and others don’t get the love they deserve. Having diversity is the spice of life. My Sun machines are fantastic examples of machines ahead of their time. My SparcStation 20 is from about 1992, has multiple processors (3) and each one would perform about as well as a Pentium 75Mhz. There were much faster CPU’s made. As you may have seen I’ve got some more modern Sun servers as well. Although I’d love to get one of the smaller lunchbox form factor machines.

            That sounds like quite a nice Sun system to have, it should be possible to get a new RTC unit or fit an external battery to the one inside. Some people have had the same issue with PCs using the same style of chips for the configuration memory. I’ve found both NetBSD and FreeBSD a good choice to install, but they are a lot of work to set up.

            Something that may make other platforms like the SPARC more attractive again may be security. The X86 platform is so pervasive that having something incompatible like a SPARC would mean many hackers would have to learn a new platform from scratch to be able to break in! As you may know, a common way to break into a machine is using a buffer overflow along with some machine code to get in. Incompatible machine code means a failed attempt (and maybe a crashed system). I guess it doesn’t fix other vectors like SQL injection and the like, but is certainly less vulnerable which is nice.

            I’ve also noticed the Sun machines are very reliable, much better than PC servers I’ve had contact with. Upgrading also seems to be easier when adding CPUs. I hope SPARC survives, but unless a better niche is found, I think you’re right, it’s probably a gonner.

            Oh well, if SPARC dies at least ARM is still competing with the Intel architecture in the mobile arena. Some architectures are being revived in the form of microcontrollers. The PIC32 is a MIPS machine for instance. I wonder what ever happened to PowerPC as a contender?

            I meant this to be short…. oops!

          • lui_gough says:

            I always mean for my replies to be short, but alas, they’re not. I did manage to get a few replacement RTC units although the product code differs subtly due to Y2K bug corrections, which may or may not cause them to fail. I won’t know until I actually make the switch (I said that about a year ago, and I still haven’t gotten around to it!). I agree wholeheartedly that Sun was way ahead early on, hence many professionals involved in 3D work or even large database work would almost always be working on a SPARC of some sort. They had lots of quirky proprietary stuff too, although the Ultra 10 I’ve got (and I’ve got half an Ultra 5 “pizza box” style mainly as guts for the Ultra 10 if I ever need it) was more of a value-Sun machine and had IDE hard drives, crappy CMD IDE controller I think, Mitac power supply. It still works, so it’s not that bad, but I remember owners lamenting the poor IDE performance.

            I suppose it’s true about the security – in fact, as we move more towards Linux and “source-available” systems, you really become “architecture agnostic”. It doesn’t matter if it’s ARM, MIPS, SPARC or x86-64 as long as you can compile your code into those formats. Very little code is done in pure ASM nowadays, although for optimization it is sometimes inlined, it makes things very portable.

            ARM does have a big lead in the mobile, tablet and embedded marketspace at the moment as it’s decently powerful, decently power-efficient and not too expensive. Its days may be challenged with recent work on more modern Intel Atom CPUs which match the power envelope of the high performance ARM CPUs while offering x86 compatibility (e.g. Windows 8 Tablets seem to be the first to benefit from it).

            That being said, I’m not sure what the situation is with MIPS licensing, but I know ARM core IP licensing can be quite costly, and that probably gives MIPS a little “crack” to exploit. Of interest is the cheap $22 TP-Link TL-WR740N’s that I’m using on my network are Atheros SoCs which are MIPS based. MIPS is still alive, in an embedded form.

            There are others – I’m sure Atmel would be screaming with joy at Arduino for very much popularizing AVR architecture, and you also have PIC/PIC32 which is still somewhat alive. They’re more microcontroller architectures, but the more the merrier!

            Others have not fared so well – like the SuperH (a type of RISC), or the Motorola 68k series (powered the classic Macintoshes). I’m not sure what really happened to PowerPC either, I think some of it is still used in supercomputing applications but it’s pretty much sunk since Apple moved to Intel.

            – Gough

  5. sparcie says:

    As long as the pin-out is the same and the chip is similar in function I’d imagine it would work. Sun machines are engineered quite well.

    ARM does seem to be dominant in the mobile market, I think Microsoft is the only one that would gain out of Atom acceptance in the market, so no-one else is in a hurry to change. That being said I think some Android devices are based on the Atom chip and some even on MIPS chips. The emulator that comes with the SDK even has images for them for testing. On Android at least, the choice will likely be down to the manufacturer. This can only be a good thing :-).

    I had heard AMD was gearing up to design ARM chips in response to the change in market. I think Intel used to make an ARM chip (Xscale), but they sold that to Marvel. It seems everyone is making ARM chips except Intel.

    I’m guessing the bulk of Android and Apple stuff will likely remain ARM, but Microsoft stuff will eventually all shift to Atom based stuff for compatibility like you said.

    SPARC fortunately isn’t reliant on Oracle for future development and use, although them pulling out would be a major blow. Fujitsu uses the SPARC quite a bit, and a fair few super computers made by them use it. The SPARC is better at multiprocessing architecture wise, so whilst the i7 may be faster in a single thread, there will likely be a niche for the SPARC to fill… hopefully.

    Doing a bit of reading, the PPC chips had a fair bit of use in gaming consoles before this new gen stuff came out with commodity PC chips in. IBM having gotten out of small computers and now focusing on their mainframe stuff might mean few developments from them. Motorola had an interest in them so maybe they are doing something? But you’re right they are pretty sunk in the PC/mobile market. They are around in embedded devices apparently, but I’ve not seen any evidence of that.


    • lui_gough says:

      Well, I don’t see much acceptance of Microsoft’s mobile devices in the near future – it will take some time for them to recover. It’s amazing to think that in the PDA realm, they totally crushed Palm with Windows CE/Mobile and now they’re on the back-foot.

      I’m not sure how well AMD will fare – their performance in x86 is lacklustre, debt is always an issue, profits are low when they target consumer equipment and consumer demand is waning. I did hear something about ARM too, but I don’t think that’s likely going to happen.

      It’s been great having this interesting conversation with you 🙂

      – Gough

      • sparcie says:

        I dunno what they did to their platform to make it full of fail, but it certainly is! I wonder if Microsoft will make any inroads there given recent history?

        I’ve quite liked the AMD stuff I’ve got, and they have normally been good value for money. Like you say, they are in trouble! I think they managed to get their technology into the Xbone and ps4 which may be a small boost. I know the GPU in the Nintendo Wii U is AMD, and wow it has what looks like a powerPC chip!

        Probably not huge money spinners for AMD, but with declining PC sales they have to look elsewhere for income.

        Likewise! I always enjoy having a chat about computer stuff… I could talk underwater for ages about this kinda stuff.


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