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O2 Bandwidth Test 2010

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 22-Sep-2010 by asqui

The results from my annual home broadband speed test this year indicate:

  • An almost linear decline of off-peak downstream bandwidth — ~1Mb/s slower per year.
  • Ping latency has almost halved since last year.
  • Upload speed is stable around 1Mb/s.

The declining download speed is not much concern to me, as it is consistent and more than fast enough for my requirements.

More importantly, I am happy that in the past year we have not had any noticeable degradation or outages, which, alas, means I have nothing further to report on the awesome customer service of O2.

Broadband Speed Test Results 2010
Broadband Speed Test Results 2010

Broadband Speed Test Results 2009
Broadband Speed Test Results 2009

Broadband Speed Test Results 2008
Broadband Speed Test Results 2008

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Book Review: Hackers, by Steven Levy

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 01-Sep-2010 by asqui

Hackers, by Steven Levy Not to be confused with the movie of the same name, this book is a decade older, and presents a view of the MIT hacker culture. Arising from the Technical Model Railroad Club, in the days of the Programmed Data Processor (PDP), where computers were so large and costly that they had to be shared by entire departments. The Technical Model Railroad Club was utterly fascinated by what could be done with this new technology, and spent waking nights hacking on the computers.

Since computer time was scarce you had to book in advance for a specific time slot to run your “Official Sanctioned Programs”. Bookings were taken around the clock, and the enthusiasts chose to hang out at all hours, being ready to jump into any time slot that people didn’t turn up for. (Unsurprisingly these were the late night time slots.)

In these nights they explored the capabilities of this early technology, they wrote games, they wrote the first interactive debuggers. Things were low-level; programs were written in assembly, and the hackers were obsessed by succinctness and efficiency. On one occasion the impromptu “Midnight Computer Wiring Society” actually rewired the mainframe (against all sanctions) to implement a new instruction at the hardware level!

Things were different for computing in those days: Rather than each person having a computer on their desk, and another on their lap, and another in the mobile telephone in their pocket, there was only one terminal. And when you were on the terminal, you often had an audience. (No pressure!)

People would sit at all hours of the night and argue what to an outsider would be bafflingly arcane points. These arguments were the lifeblood of the hacker community. Sometimes people would literally scream at each other, insisting on a certain kind of coding scheme for an assembler, or a specific type of interface, or a particular feature in a computer language. These differences would have hackers banging on the blackboard, or throwing chalk across the room. It wasn't so much a battle of egos as it was an attempt to figure out what The Right Thing was. The term had special meaning to the hackers. The Right Thing implied that to any problem, whether a programming dilemma, a hardware interface mismatch, or a question of software architecture, a solution existed that was just ... it. The perfect algorithm. You'd have hacked right into the sweet spot, and anyone with half a brain would see that the straight line between two points had been drawn, and there was no sense trying to top it. "The Right Thing," Gosper would later explain, "very specifically meant the unique, correct, elegant solution ... the thing that satisfied all the constraints at the same time, which everyone seemed to believe existed for most problems."

From here grew the personal computer revolution. Computers got smaller and more affordable, and entered the mainstream. The classic computer games companies Sierra On-Line, Sirius, and Brøderbund Software (now all sadly defunct) emerged, as well as the very beginnings of companies such as Microsoft, Apple Computer, and Atari.

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When life becomes one giant game

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 03-May-2010 by asqui

Jesse Schell gives a brief walkthrough of what the world would be like if everything was somehow interconnected as part of one giant game, where you get points for waking up on time and for brushing your teeth, and changeable e-ink tattoos that earn you points through the “Tatoogle AdSense” programme, and a new high-score on your daughter’s piano practice earns her points for her Arts Council funded music scholarship...

It’s only 10 minutes long; hang around for the finale, it’s good.

“Anyway, I’m not sure about all that, but I do know this stuff is coming. Man, it’s got to come; what’s going to stop it?”

[Via TED: Best of the Web]

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O2 Bandwidth Test 2009

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 21-Sep-2009 by asqui

It’s been exactly a year since we got the broadband connected here. I ran a speed test at the time and was much impressed with the results:

2008 Speed Test Results

We’re on the O2 Standard Home package, which is rated at "Up to 8 meg" downstream and "Up to 1.3 meg" upstream, so I was quite impressed to be getting rather close to these ideals.

Let’s see how things are a year on:

2009 Speed Test Results

  • The SpeedTest.net test server is allegedly 300 miles closer than it was last year.
  • Which might be why the ping is marginally down, from 39ms to 32ms.
  • Upload speed has decreased by 8% since last year’s value (from 1.11Mb/s to 1.02Mb/s).
  • Download speed has decreased by 12% since last year’s value (from 8.05Mb/s to 7.05Mb/s).

So overall marginally worse than last year, but still quite good when you consider the variability of home broadband connection speeds. And given the level of customer service I received recently, I'm in no hurry to switch broadband providers.

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New Phone: HTC Touch HD

 2 Comments- Add comment Written on 17-Sep-2009 by asqui

HTC Touch HD

I finally decided to upgrade my ageing Orange SmartPhone E650 (which is just a re-branded HTC s710) to something a little modern, namely the HTC Touch HD. It’s kind of like an iPhone, except that it runs Windows Mobile. Also, the screen is larger, and has more than twice the resolution of an iPhone. The built-in camera has a 5 megapixel resolution, which is nice (also more than twice that of the iPhone). The only thing is that it doesn’t support multi-touch, but I’m not too bothered about that. The full-screen video streaming experience is enough to compensate for that. And it comes with a handy little soft carry pouch, to protect the screen from knocks and scratches in your pockets. Very practical!

It’s nice to see that HTC has made a brand name for themselves, and entered the market without re-branding their gear. They even sponsored one of the pro-cycling teams participating in the Tour de France this year, so they must be doing well! (It looks like they made a good choice in team to sponsor too, because Columbia-HTC was the team with that guy who’s a bit good at winning sprints, and breaking British cycling records: Mark Cavendish.)

After last time I negotiated an upgrade with the Orange “disconnections” department I knew that a hard bargain was the route to success. By the end of the conversation they were offering me a free phone upgrade, on a cheap contract, with unlimited minutes and texts, and unlimited mobile internet for free! (This was after the previous guy I spoke to advised me that for ~£7.50 per month I could have up to 250MB of mobile internet browsing per month, but told me there was absolutely no unlimited plan available from Orange.) I really think the “disconnections” (i.e. “customer retention”) department has pretty much free reign to offer you whatever deal is needed to keep you on as a customer.

Alas, Orange discontinued the HTC Touch HD a few months ago; something to do with software problems — perhaps as a result of the branding “customisations” they do on the phones they sell — although I didn’t find out the reason for sure.

Instead I decided to go with O2 as a provider, who have a (publically advertised) unlimited web bundle for £7.50 per month, and very good contract deals available through mobiles.co.uk. My base contract is only £20 per month, with a good chunk of minutes, unlimited texts, and a £5 monthly discount on the O2 Home Broadband which we already have!

So far, so good.

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B&H Photo Video

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 20-May-2009 by asqui

My current digital camera is one I bought in New York City a few years ago, at a spectacular store called B&H Photo Video. I was reminded of B&H by Joel Spolsky's recent article highlighting the fact that Circuit City went out of business yet B&H Photo Video still thrives. The reason for this is that B&H is an awesome place to go shopping for photo and video equipment.


I was visiting the USA and on the look-out for a digital camera. I visited all the usual big-name consumer electronics stores and the technology counters in department stores, but was continually disappointed by the apparent lack of sales expertise in the products. When I ended up in New York and met up with Zack, he recommended B&H to me, he said it was the place to go for a camera. It turned out I had walked past the store earlier that very day, without so much as noticing. I'm observant like that. (Maybe it was because they didn't have a shiny store-front with lots of eye-catching technology right in the window, like all the other over-priced tourist-trap camera stores in New York City.)

Zack was right. This store was huge, and had all sorts of photo/video related stuff inside. I went in and started looking at cameras. The nearest salesperson closed a sale and then asked me if I needed assistance so I started talking to him about the cameras I was considering. He clearly knew what he was talking about when he started talking about comparative CCD sensor sizes between the models, then breifly paused to help another customer change the language on a camera from Japanese — he seemed to know the menu structure on that particular model off by heart, since I'm pretty sure he wasn't fluent in Japanese.

Most of the employees were Jewish and the store ran to military precision. The workflow was like this:

  1. As soon as you go near the cameras some guy starts explaining every feature to you, answers all your questions, and generally knows what he's talking about (most of the people at other places I'd been to didn't know the cameras that intimately)
  2. You eventually decide on a camera, after having the sales assistant explain the intricate details and relative merits of your candidate selections
  3. He scribbles down some product codes for your chosen camera and accessories and tells you to take it to a guy at a computer terminal
  4. The guy at the computer punches in the barcodes and takes some details down, then says "It'll be here in a minute"
  5. Some other guy brings over your order in a green crate, with a receipt
  6. You take the receipt to the payment counter (without the goods) where you pay using the method of your choice and get a receipt
  7. Finally, you take your receipt to the goods counter and pick up your neatly packed order.

I'm not sure why their system is so arcane, but I expect it's to deal with high demand situations. I was there at closing time on a weekday, and people were buying cameras at the rate of one every few minutes. At peak times I expect their system deals admirably. (Joel postulates that the system is an anti-theft measure, by involving multiple staff in each sale, but I doubt that's the reason.)

Each of the "counters" I mentioned above have an airport-check-in-style zig-zag queue cordoned off in front and room for about 5-10 staff members at the counter.

They also have an elaborate roof-mounted transport system for moving orders out of the stock rooms.

If you're looking for a camera and happen to be in or near New York City, go to B&H. Heck, go there even if you're not looking for a camera, just for the cultural experience!

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Adventures in Software Development

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 11-Feb-2009 by asqui

Given that I spend a significant proportion of my waking hours thinking about, working on, and discussing technical programming-related issues I figured it's about time to start blogging some of the interesting things I come across in that sphere.

For the benefit of my 'normal' friends (who prefer that a "delegate" is "a person elected to the United States House of Representatives", rather than "a type that references a method") I've decided to isolate this technical writing to a separate area.

If this prospect sounds appealing, check it out at www.danielfortunov.com/software

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How do aircraft stop after landing?

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 14-Jan-2009 by asqui

How do commercial aircraft stop after landing? Apparently it's a combination of disc brakes, spoilers, and engine thrust reversal.

In extreme circumstances the brakes alone can be used, but this is best avoided. To find out why, take a look at this video of a Boeing 777 performing a "Rejected Take Off" test, stopping from 210mph, fully laden, using the brakes alone:

Result: Carbon brake discs and pads glowing at 3,000ºC, melting the tires, and destroying the wheels. (The success criteria for the test was that the entire plane didn't catch fire!)

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O2 Broadband: Right on the mark

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 18-Sep-2008 by asqui
It took a week but we finally have broadband at the new flat. The O2 package seemed like the best value for money and their connection speeds look to be right on the mark:

The Standard Home package is rated at "Up to 8 meg" downstream and "Up to 1.3 meg" upstream, so I think this is the first time I've seen home broadband actually achieve the advertised speeds! (Though it's not exactly a time of peak-demand.)

Now I just have the dilemma of whether to upgrade to the Premium, or even Ultimate package, for 16 or 20 meg of downstream bandwidth... but that's probably overkill.

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Got Backups?

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 03-Sep-2008 by asqui

The Tragic Incompleteness of Perfect Backup

Found on MakeUseOf.

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Seam Carving for Content-Aware Image Resizing

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 11-Jul-2008 by asqui

Seam Carving is a technique for intelligent image resizing that allows images to be automagically re-sized to fit different spaces (for example, different devices, with different amounts of screen real-estate).

Seam Carved Sample
Seam Carved Image — Magic!

This is the magic of Seam Carving, as presented at the SIGGRAPH 2007 conference by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir.

What's more, is that the algorithm can easily be run in reverse, to artificially widen an image.

Take a look at this short demonstration video:

All the geeky details are available in their academic paper, available from www.seamcarving.com.

I found out about this technique when I came across Mike Swanson's proof-of-concept implementation.

(Sample images for this blog post were taken from here.)

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Microsoft Surface Debut

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 27-Apr-2008 by asqui

Microsoft Surface at AT&TThe Microsoft Surface recently had its commercial debut when AT&T fitted Microsoft Surface units to five concept stores around the country. The Surface lets you browse mobile network coverage on an interactive map, pick up phones and set them down on the Surface to view specifications, browse accessories, or compare with other devices.

Here's a three minute demo of the features:

Here is another video demonstration, detailed article, 30 second AT&T advertisement, and photo gallery.

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Freestyle Uses for the Wiimote

 1 Comment- Add comment Written on 24-Apr-2008 by asqui

Check out Johnny Lee's creative uses of the Nintendo Wiimote, on TED:



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