Floating Point Precision

IBM 360/44:

One unusual feature of the Model 44's console was a rotary knob to select floating point precision; reducing the precision increased speed.

Funny story: this is actually how it's implemented in Javascript to this day.


Bizarrely, the units on the knob are bits in the significand, divided by 4. For comparison, modern floating point would be a setting of 6 for single precision and 13.25 for double precision.

The second console function was "operator intervention":

program debugging tasks such as examining and modifying memory or registers and setting breakpoints. The Model 30 console controls below were used for operator intervention. To display memory contents, the operator selected an address with the four hexadecimal dials on the left and pushed the Display button, displaying data on the lights above the dials. To modify memory, the operator entered a byte using the two hex dials on the far right and pushed the Store button. (Although the Model 30 had a 32-bit architecture, it operated on one byte at a time, trading off speed for lower cost.) The Address Compare knob in the upper right set a breakpoint.

If IDE developers were as obsessed with skeuomorphism as music software developers, this is what Xcode would look like:

Maybe that's not such a bad idea, actually. Xcode should have Winamp skins.

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SOMA Nature Walk: Cistern Edition

I thought this was cool: as a part of the interminable Central Subway construction, they have re-paved the intersection of 4th and Bryant, but that was more complicated than usual, because there's a cistern there. It's 75,000 gallons, built in 1908, and even though it's probably concrete rather than brick by now, it is still traditional for them to be marked with a ring of bricks. That meant framing it out with two different circular molds and two or more concrete pours over a couple of days.

You see a lot of sloppy road-work in this town, but not when it comes to pouring curbs and bulb-outs. That's when they do the work to get their cosines and Béziers right.

On the other hand, the pour for the new curb you can see across the street has been half-done for so long that grass has begun to grow in the exposed dirt.

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Facial recognition is the plutonium of AI

Luke Stark:

By analogizing facial recognition to plutonium, I want to add two broad points to an increasingly lively debate about the risks of facial recognition technologies. First, facial recognition technologies, by virtue of the way they work at a technical level, have insurmountable flaws connected to the way they schematize human faces. These flaws both create and reinforce discredited categorizations around gender and race, with socially toxic effects. The second is, in light of these core flaws, the risks of these technologies vastly outweigh the benefits, in a way that's reminiscent of hazardous nuclear technologies. That is why the metaphor of plutonium is apt. Facial recognition, simply by being designed and built, is intrinsically socially toxic, regardless of the intentions of its makers; it needs controls so strict that it should be banned for almost all practical purposes.

It's a good analogy, and one that I agree with, but if he made a stronger case for it than in that single paragraph, none of us will ever get to know, because he paywalled his paper. Sorry, buddy. The rest of your argument has been consigned to oblivion.

Update: Non-paywalled version here.

In the case of facial recognition, the schematization of human facial features is driven by a conceptual logic that these theorists and others [...] have identified as fundamentally racist because it is concerned with using statistical methods to arbitrarily divide human populations.

This process of biopolitical management is grounded in finding numerical reasons for construing some groups as subordinate, and then reifying that subordination by wielding the “charisma of numbers” to claim subordination is a “natural” fact. As such, racism’s function, as Foucault describes it, is “a way of introducing a break into the domain of life [...] of fragmenting the field of the biological that power controls”. Race and racism are “the preconditions that make killing acceptable” in societies focused on making discriminations based on technical norms and standards -- the justification in turning authority’s custodianship of life and living into that of death and dying.

Transuranic phrenology!

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Adverising Shits In Your Head

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Alien: Ore

I am loving all of these so much! Not only are they all fitting the mythology perfectly, but being constrained to 10 minutes, they are obeying one of my favorite writing rules: "start later, end earlier". They get in, they get out, you understand the characters, no filler. Boom.

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Core Memory

Core Memory Shield for Arduino

This is a DIY kit for building a 32-bit ferrite core memory. Magnetic-core memories were the predominant form of computer memory from the mid-50s until the mid-70s. They work by storing information into the magnetic field of a ferrite core. It is non-volatile, meaning that it preserves its contents even when power is turned off. However, this type of memory is power-hungry, requires a lot of space and needs to be protected from strong magnetic fields. Also the process of reading the memory destroys its contents so that every read must be followed with a write. To make a long story short, this is a hilariously impractical memory extension shield for your 3.3V / 5V Arduino. When you have completed building this kit you have your very own piece of computing history in your hands.

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Finally got my Emacs setup just how I like it

Erik Jensen:

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"Uh, Mr. The Plague, I think we've got a hacker"

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Movie Yelling with jwz and Kingfish:
A while back:

Dude you're gonna say who are you and when did you steal Jamie's phone, but Bumblebee is pretty good!
When you return to your planet, please send Jamie back to us.
It is cute and funny and not a mean self loathing disaster like the other transformer movies.
Her robot car is a big dumb dog.
I'm going to watch it, but only while drunk
Oh definitely
What if Herbie The Love Bug but space robots
Okay, I can get down with that.
I have so many questions about Autobot physiology but these are actually the same questions I have about "Cars"
My problem with Cars: everyone knows headlights are car eyes, not windshields. That's just wrong.
Definitely a strange take.
Ok so transformers can reshape and whatnot. Dents can just buff right out? Right? So when they fight what does all the percussive maintenance accomplish? By which I mean the punching.
It's just satisfying to them
Mating ritual.
Like I said. So many questions.
Are some only cars or can they all do planes? Is it like Unicorn versus Pegasus in My Little Pony?
Inventing intricate rituals that allow you touch the metal flesh of other robots
So it's set in 87 and features many appropriate songs - the soundtrack is legit for a Hughes movie and there are actually multiple Smiths-related gags in the script - and I just don't understand how does this play with Da Yoot? Is this like when I was a kid and wondering "why does every teen movie have Wooly Bully in it?"
Also here's something that bugged me. They do a gag where Sammy Hagar "I can't drive 55" is playing but I'm pretty sure it was the "65" re-edit that was released in the 90s when the federal speed limit was raised but then the credits said "55" so I don't even know and OMFG why is there Sammy Hagar trivia in my head DELETE DELETE DELETE DELETE

One month later:

Based on your recommendation I am watching "Bumblebee." I am trusting you so much right now.
Oooh I was super drunk watching that
Funny you should say that. I literally just thought I am going to need a drink for this.
You are.
FTR, I was a huge Herbie fan
I realize I'm way out of line here, but... the girl character has a job at Hot Dog on a Stick at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk, to which she commutes, by moped, from her moms house in Marin. As someone who was a teenager in Marin in the 1980's, I can tell you that while mopeds were definitely a thing, 180 mile round trips on one of them, to work at Hot Dog on a Stick, was not commonplace
I'll give them this though... somebody in production of this movie definitely grew up around here in the 80's. Everything is very accurate.
I was too drunk to be picky but that's good to know
Like the mean girl drives a BMW.
And all the people look right.
I definitely paused and judged her Ferris-esque wall of posters
Okay first inaccuracy. No mom in 87 Marin would say a Volkswagen Beetle was "unsafe."
Every Marin mom wished their kid wanted a used Beetle in 1987.
Well sure but...
Volkswagen was practically the official carmaker of Marin in the 70's. By 87, all the kids wanted Beemers.
I like when they liquified the hillbilly at the diner.
I think we all remember where we were the day Optimus Prime died.
Did you get to my favorite line yet?
I dunno. She just installed his tape deck and he rejected The Smiths
"They're called Decepticons. Did that not raise any red flags?"
Diving into the ocean from the Marin headlands. That water's like 45 degrees.
Not to mention getting sucked out the Golden Gate and pulled under
Everyone knows that in Crime World, the Bay is like 1000' deep.
Crime World is also where Godzilla can walk down Battery and like? There's room? And it's not all mushy landfill?
Makes sense.
Autobots and Decepticons have seats and steering wheels and what not. This seems wrong.
Also, why can't we see their fabric covered seats when they're robots.
Like I said before, I have so many questions. And they are the same questions I have about "Cars".
Did we already talk about the fact that the guys who made Cars confirmed that yes, that is post apocalyptic earth?
That intelligent car society exists on the aftermath of the extinction of humans.
Can they all fly if they SQUEEEZE hard enough? Or can only some of them fly? Is flight more like melanin, or sex, or gender? I also have these questions about My Little Pony.
So many theological mysteries
I think the real issue is that being intelligent cars is a clear sign of the limitations of their original human-made programming, and their inability to evolve.
Like, you're a robot. You can be anything. But you can't, because it wasn't in your original programming. Now you can't even walk up a flight of stairs.
Charlie Stross has a book about robots after the humans are gone, and one of them is a weird tall, small-eyed robot because it was a sex doll, but most of the robots are small and anime chibi-eyed, so the one that looks like an actual human is a freak
That's awesome
Are the cars self replicating, or just self repairing? Can they make new cars? New designs? Offspring? I say no. They're trapped
In fact, I'm going to go there: no free will. They're just endlessly repeating their programming
I made too much popcorn so tonight I am having two bowls of popcorn. This is a thing that grownups can do.
Mmm... popcorn
So are the cars all a thousand years old? Do their personalities reset? Do they remember humans?
Yeah. That's what I'm thinking. They don't remember humans and they're all 1000 years old.
Is this a story about role playing Meths?
So, basically, Cars is a dark dystopian saga about futility
I mean you're a thousand years old and you still want to race or whatever?
Exactly. And you haven't even tried to make feet.
Goddamn, girls house is exactly right for time and place.
Ha! Her hometown is listed on the Big War Map as Brighton Falls. I wiki'd it. Leaving aside the questionable "Falls" in any location in the Bay Area, it is listed as basically a mythical place near San Francisco that is at once Marin County and Santa Cruz. So, she wasn't commuting to the SC beach boardwalk by moped. In this reality, Brighton Falls is a town just north of SF that has its own beach boardwalk
Oh ok I figured she just lived in some fictional inland of Santa Carla
Essentially yes.
So you think the boardwalk is in Marin?
According to the movie, yes.
I find this troubling
They don't say Marin, but the show on the war map where Brighton Falls is.
Can the Northern California economy support two boardwalks? That's like a world that includes all of Metropolis, Gotham, New York and Chicago
Well, there was Playland at The Beach, once upon a time.
Destroyed by Decepticons in ought nine as you well know
Oh yes. It was horrible
Laughing Sal, on fire, laughing.
Furby, When The Walls Burned
Mare Island naval base just made its appearance
Only one thing can save bumblebee now! Diving!
Damn You Chekhov
Haha! Yes!
Use your powers of diving, Charlie!
Literally did nothing.
Like, diving made no difference.
By the way, I call bullshit on robots that can turn into cars _and_ jets or helicopters or whatever. No, no, completely no. You get one and that's it. Just because we can see car stuff and airplane stuff on your robot body, there's just not enough volume in your robot body for all that.
Did you notice that in the opening scene on robot world he had different tires
But still tires
Also, wth, leaving Charlie standing there in the Marin headlands
I did like that Camaro Bumblebee clearly meets up with Optimus Prime on the GG Bridge.
"You could have been a Camaro the whole time?"
Yeah that was a cute movie. Good reboot of a terrible franchise
Unlike the other movies, not made 100% of assholes
Hat full of assholes!

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DNA Lounge: Wherein it's time to prep for the Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge, and also I talk about The Gong Show for some reason.

The date for the sixth annual Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge has been announced: Sunday, July 21!

Do you like ROBOTS? And DRINKING? Experience incredible robot bartenders serving you drinks, lovingly crafted with MAD SCIENCE by the finest competitors in the art of robotics and bartending.

If you're thinking about building a robot, that's closer than you think! As always, please reduce my anxiety by signing up with your robot early instead of the week before. Please?

Oh yeah, also I got Tempest working, and there was much rejoicing.

It's been a little while since I did a photo dump, so here are a few recent photo galleries.

Let me particularly draw your attention to our Fyre Festival party, which was hilarious. I hope you visited the FEMA tent, and managed to snap up one of the sandwiches before they were gone! So many influencers. So many influencers.

Also, the Little Big show from last week deserves some mention for being awesome. For not having a lot of, uh, "instrumentation", they really knew how to work a room. And the room was here for it. They even got most of the crowd doing that ridiculous dance.

You may notice that there haven't been many photos lately. That's because it's damned near impossible for us to find photographers who will actually show up. It's even a paid gig! Finding consistent photographers has never been easy, but I feel like it used to be easier. Perhaps "I blew $4k on a DSLR" is no longer the status signifier that it once was?

Little Big
Jungle Juice

Bootie Disney
Space Station: 1999
St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Undersea Burlesque
If you've seen the kind of events we've put on our calendar over the years, it probably shouldn't surprise you to know that The Gong Show has long been one of my favorite things. And so it makes me ridiculously happy to report my recent discovery that we had our second set of DNA Lounge alumni make an appearance: Peelander-Z (last seen at DNA Lounge last April, it's been far too long) appeared on episode 9 of the 2017 Gong Show revival! (I'm a bit behind.)

They got a respectable 27 points, but they lost out to a couple of kids doing a terrible Trump and Pence impression. (I'm sure their parents will look back fondly on that when those kids are in the camps.)

Our previous Gong Show alumni were The Fuxedos, who performed here in 2009 and 2010 and appeared on the 2009 Gong Show revival:

They did not get gonged! That's quality content, my friends.


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