Russell's Blog

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Posted by Russell on May 31, 2007 at 3:02 a.m.


A Surge in Global Stupidity

Posted by Russell on May 22, 2007 at 5:01 p.m.
It looks like CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2004 have increased, which probably isn't a surprise, but the reason why emission have increased actually is surprising. New Scientist reports :
The team then examined the changes between 1980 and 2004 in factors such as population, economic growth, energy efficiency and carbon efficiency (the amount used per unit of GDP). From this, they were able to determine why CO2 emissions accelerated after 2000.

They concluded that the rise in CO2 emissions is not due to a growth in global population, but a reduction in global efficiency. "We are not getting more efficient at using CO2 in the way we projected," explains co-author Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

The predictions used to estimate how much CO2 we will spew are based on the assumption that we will pursue more efficient technology. This is a reasonable assumption to make, even if there were no environmental impacts to consider -- more efficient generating technology is more profitable to operate. Inefficiency is, after all, wasted money. No one thought that people would be so idiotic as to harm the environment and waste money.

Evidently, up until the year 2000, we were doing OK. Then, suddenly, there was a surge in CO2 production and a sag in efficiency. One might characterize it as a surge in stupidity.

Let's see... what happened in 2000 that might have caused a surge in net global stupidity?

On the Importance of Cleanliness

Posted by Russell on May 20, 2007 at 6:15 p.m.
As we all know, dust kills computers. It clogs up the fans and mucks up their bearings. Eventually they begin to emit an annoying grinding or mooing noise. Even if the racket is tolerated, eventually the computer will stop working.

But even a relatively clean computer suffers from dust. You don't need giant dust bunnies clogging your CPU fan to see a significant impact on its cooling effectiveness. The thin, translucent coating of dust that settles onto anything after a few weeks is actually a pretty good insulator. It's like wrapping your heat sync in thermal underwear.

Here is what happens when you clean off that thin little layer of dust:

I have the polling rate for the temperature set at 1/20 Hz, so this is actually a significant length of time. I mention this to demonstrate that the temperature drop wasn't caused by the compressed air.

It's also worth noting that the hotter a semiconductor (or, in most cases, an ordinary conductor) gets, the higher its resistance. The increased overall resistance will cause larger voltage drops within the gate logic. Semiconductors require a minimum voltage to work reliably. So, you have two options; raise the supply voltage, thus dissipating more power, or run the risk of the voltage dropping too low somewhere in the gate logic, thus causing a logic fault. Either way, it's bad.

If the machine adjusts the supply voltage to avoid a logic fault, the part will get hotter, causing its resistance to go up even more, which requires another increase in supply voltage. One hopes that the cycle damps out before it runs away and the part explodes. So, even a relatively small improvement in heat dissipation can lower the temperature significantly due to this compounding effect.

So, boys and girls, remember to keep your computer clean. It will run cooler, last longer, and use less electricity.

Another basket full of Awesomeness

Posted by Russell on May 19, 2007 at 1:40 a.m.
As it happens, I was wondering whether or not I should buy the latest version of Mathematica when I discovered a fantastic free tool tool that does most of the things I want from Mathematica. Maxima and it's predecessors have been around longer than I've been alive, but I had no idea that there were usable GUIs for it. I find it damn near impossible to see what's going on in a mathematical expression unless it's typeset properly.

So, I've always avoided Maxima because it doesn't have an interface, or so I thought.

There is a fantastic little emacs lisp module called Imaxima that renders Maxima output in LaTeX and embeds it into an interactive emacs mode. So far, I like it much more than Mathematica 5's bizarre, ugly and schizophrenic Motief interface. Admittedly, I haven't yet tried Mathematica's new QT interface, but I suspect it will probably be nicer-looking but more complicated. I prefer simple and direct, and Imaxima is just that.

And yes, after doing a bunch of machine-assisted algebra, you can make interactive 3d color plots directly from emacs. Yes, emacs really does do everything.


Posted by Russell on May 16, 2007 at 6:05 a.m.
I've been puzzling over how to go about manipulating the NEF RAW images my camera produces. Obviously, it is better in principle to shoot in RAW than in JPEG, but the tools for editing RAW files under Linux do not seem to be very far along. For example, The Gimp doesn't natively support them. But that isn't to say there are no tools. Rawstudio provides pretty solid toolbox of basic manipulations. I can finally fix up the colors in some of my favorite shots.

Now, if only I had some good way of doing demosaicing, I'd be all set.

Second-guessing and Micromanagement

Posted by Russell on May 07, 2007 at 11:12 p.m.
Here is a curious thought regarding "controversy" over whether or not Congress should force Mr. Bush to withdraw the troops from Iraq. For months, the Republican mantra has been that Congress (and the general public) shouldn't try to second-guess the commanders in the field. It sounds reasonable, except for one thing. The military reports to a civilian government. The civilian government, of which Congress is a coequal part, is supposed to tell the commanders what to do.

Obviously, if the civilian authorities give the Military bad instructions, that is a bad thing. So, it stands to reason that when Congress (or the president) gives instructions to the Military, the instructions should be of a nature that recognizes, respects and utilizes the planning and logistics capabilities of the Military. The timetable in the supplemental spending bill did just that; it gave no instructions regarding the operational details of the pullout, and instead would have instructed the Military to put into play its own policies and procedures regarding how to conduct the pullout. The language was crafted explicitly to avoid micromanaging the commanders in the field.

I know it's a rather tired refrain, but the accusations regarding "micromanagement" of the Military is rather hypocritical of this administration. Remember how the US Army War College said the invasion was a bad idea? Yeah...

Ubuntu frustrations

Posted by Russell on May 04, 2007 at 11:20 p.m.
To those of you who may be struggling to get your non 4:3 aspect ratio monitor working under the new Ubuntu release (Feisty), here is the magical incantation that will make it happy:
russell@riouj:~$ gtf 1440 900 60

  # 1440x900 @ 60.00 Hz (GTF) hsync: 55.92 kHz; pclk: 106.47 MHz
  Modeline "1440x900_60.00"  106.47  1440 1520 1672 1904  900 901 904 932  -HSync +Vsync
Place the output into the "Monitor" section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf, and restart X. Obviously, choose the resolution and frequency that is suitable for your monitor. The one above is appropriate for an iMac G5.