A Supercomputer On A Chip For Everyone

Every now and then, an exciting Kickstarter project comes along that I want to support. Some succeed, some fail. The newest entry is developing an open source supercomputer-on-a-chip that is smaller than a credit card and suitable for parallel programming applications. For a $99 USD pledge, you can get a developer board and the open source software to play around with when it comes out.

The closest I ever got to parallel programming was running multiple threads concurrently in Java (i.e., one thread for main loop, one thread for user interface, and different threads for processing data) on a single-core CPU while taking programming courses at San Jose City College. Parallel programming is breaking the data into identical pieces that can be processed on multiple  CPUs or computers in a network from a master program.

For years I wanted to build a micro beowulf cluster that consisted of five micro-ATX boards in a stacked 16″ cube. Although the price for hardware has gotten lower over the years, it’s still expensive to get identical hardware to build it out at the same time. Even as a 16″ cube, a micro beowulf cluster still takes up space and produce heat. A supercomputer-on-a-chip doesn’t have to take up more space than a small form factor (SFF) computer. At $99 USD each, that’s a steal.

The iPod Nano May Replace My iPod Touch

My first-generation iPod Touch that I got in 2008 has grown long in the tooth over the last few years. After I got my iPad 2 earlier this year, the only thing I use the Touch for is listening to audiobooks when I’m doing something boring and I need to keep my mind preoccupied. I’ve been wanting it to replace it with something new. With Apple’s recent announcement for the iPhone 5, iPods and iOS 6, I may have found the ideal replacement for my Touch. Surprisingly, it might be the Touch’s smaller cousin, the iPod Nano.

During my lunch break at work on Wednesday, I scanned through the various Mac news websites to learn what Apple had announced. The biggest disappointment was the iPod Touch family being split into two generations. The current fourth-generation Touch will be the low-end model at $199 USD, a thinner and much updated version of my first-generation Touch. The new fifth-generation Touch has the larger screen, 1080p HD camera and a dual-core A5 processor, starting at $299 USD.

If I wanted a fourth-generation Touch, I would have gotten it by now. While the fifth-generation Touch has a fantastic design, the price wasn’t so fantastic. If I’m going to spend $300 USD, I would wait to see if Apple introduces the iPad Mini—a smaller version of the current iPad—next month. If the fifth-generation Touch was available at $199, I might go for it. An updated Touch seems unlikely.

That leaves the iPod Nano. With the square video screen and limited functionality of the previous generation, I never considered this particular iPod to be useful for anything. The seventh-generaton Nano has a new 2.5″ video screen that can play videos in widescreen format. The built-in pedometer and FM radio receiver are nice features for the gym. Checking the compatibility list for Audible, my collection of audiobooks should work. At $149 USD, it’s priced just right.

Will I rush out to pre-order the new Nano? Not yet. A repair bill for a coolant leak and a possible head gasket failure lurking in the background on my car has cooled down my enthusiasm for a new tech toy at this time.

If I do get a new Nano, the hard part will be picking the color. I could go for black to match my black MacBook and black iPad. Green is a strong possibility. The other pastel colors don’t appeal that much to me. Something I won’t decide until I’m in an Apple store to look at it person—and my wallet has plenty of cash to spare.

DeLorean Hovercraft Spotted In McCovey Cove

You can never tell what you can find floating around in McCovey Cove outside of AT&T Park during a San Francisco Giants game. Last week it was a DeLorean hovercraft that looked like the famous car from “The Back to The Future” movies, amusing the sports announcers during a lull in the game.

The owner, Matthew Riese, raised $5,600 from a Kickstarter project in 2010 to modify an existing hovercraft kit. Although it can travel on land, it’s not street legal and registered with the DMV as a boat. From the way it fishtailed through the water, the hovercraft probably doesn’t have powered steering. Something that the original DeLorean DMC-12 lacked among other modern car features.

Micro Center Store Closing At The Mercado

A late Monday morning email announced the immediate closing of the Micro Center store at the Mercado in Santa Clara, CA, as a new lease couldn’t be negotiated. The sudden and surprised closing of Micro Center’s only store in Northern California—the other store is in Southern California—leaves only Fry’s Electronics and Central Computers as the biggest computer stores still left in Silicon Valley for building your own computer system from scratch. No word on if and when Micro Center will re-open their store in a new location in Silicon Valley.

As for building a computer system from scratch, I won’t need to do that again for a long time. Computer power is so cheap and plentiful that programmers are struggling to write software to absorb all that excess. The race to upgrade hardware to make the software—*cough* Windows *cough*—run faster is long over. The hardware is good enough to run current and future software for years to come.

The only hardware that might require frequent upgrading is the video card. Something I found out after updating the Blu-Ray player software that refused to work with my legacy Sapphire ATI 3870 video card. Micro Center had an XFX ATI 6790 on sale for $127 USD with a $20 USD mail-in rebate. Since the new video card had HDMI out and my 19″ Samsung monitor was long in the tooth, I also picked up an Acer 23″ monitor with HDMI in for $159 USD. Now my Blu-Ray discs play at 1080p in full detailed High Definition. (Too much detail since I can tell which male actors have too much makeup on.) If I need to order parts, I’ll go online through either Newegg or Micro Center for the best deals.

Losing Micro Center will be a big blow to Mercado. The biggest draw for that shopping center is the AMC Mercado 20 Theater. The only place to kill time before or after the movies if you’re weren’t hungry enough to visit the surrounding restaurants was Micro Center, which had a large selection of computer parts, consumer electronics, books and magazines, and everything else in between. When Borders went bankrupt and closed the stores at Santana Row and Oakridge Mall, my friend and I stopped going to the Century theaters at those location. Without a favorite hangout spot, I’ll be less inclined to visit the AMC Mercado. (The saving grace may be AMC’s discount card that returns $10USD for every $100USD spent.) As Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, there is no there there.

Obsessive Lego Behavior In Silicon Valley

Some of the most obsessive people in Silicon Valley are the toy collectors who stock their cubes with hundreds of Star Trek or Star Wars action figures that cover every square inch of counter space. These people appear normal if they were away from their cubes, often holding important positions within a company. But once they sit down in their cubicles to be surrounded by hundreds of adoring action figures like a messianic cult leader, they are no longer normal people.

One Silicon Valley executive took this obsession too far by slapping fake bar codes on Lego toys to buy them at a steep discount from Target stores to sell on eBay, making $30,000 USD in the last year.

Thomas Langenbach, a vice president at the software company SAP Labs in Palo Alto, crafted fake bar codes and pasted them over the real thing on Lego packages in Target stores, Santa Clara County prosecutors said. The fakes gave Langenbach a steep discount, prosecutors said.

After purchasing the Legos, Langenbach allegedly sold them for a profit on eBay. At least some of the Legos were valuable collectors items featuring “Star Wars” characters, prosecutors said.

Hundreds of unopened Lego boxes were found in Langenbach’s San Carlos home, authorities said.

If this schmuck was any smarter, he would be hustling company equipment out the back door to sell on eBay. Less likely to be caught that way as most Silicon Valley companies are more concern about intellectual property being stolen by their workers.

When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), an action figure disappeared from the desk of a PR flack. An angry email was sent out to everyone that challenged the thief to steal the red cape that went along with that particular action figure. A few hours later, the red cape was gone. The PR flack went so far as to install motion-controlled cameras inside his cube. The thief was never caught. Naturally, the testers were blamed for this. When the PR department moved down to Southern California, so did the thief as the action figures kept disappearing.

On a related note, the Shaun of The Dead pub set got the 10,000 votes to be considered by Lego (good news), but Lego shot down the proposal because the content wasn’t age appropriate for young children (bad news). Lego obviously doesn’t understand the obsession nature of the adults who buy Legos for their children—and themselves.


Vote For The Shaun Of The Dead Lego Set!

If you weren’t watching the Conan O’Brien show with guest Simon Pegg last night, you missed the announcement about the petition to turn the Shaun of The Dead pub into a Lego set. Our favorite romantic zombie fest may become a Lego set if there are 10,000+ votes to prompt a review by Lego as they have a corporate policy not to use R-rated properties for their toy sets.

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I can’t think of a cooler Lego toy to have at a Silicon Valley cube farm. Much cooler than those massive Star Wars Star Destroyers hanging from the ceiling and collecting dust above the cubes. Get the vote out!

NOTE: Voting Page – http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/7451

UPDATE 04/02/2012 – The project had received the 10,000+ votes needed for Lego to do a review. Keep your fingers crossed that this will be turned into an official Lego set.

MacWorld Expo 2007

My New Year didn’t begin until I went on my second pilgrimage to the MacWorld Expo 2007 in San Francisco. One of the few places I don’t feel weird for having a chest-length beard without the mustache. I’m often told that I look Amish—or an Islamic terrorist. (When people ask if I’m planning to blow something up, I always say no but they would be the first to find out and sometimes they run away screaming.) I’ve never been mistaken for a graybeard geek. Not yet, anyway.

With the keynote in Moscone West Hall, the expo got spread out over the North and South Halls. While there was more stuff to look at, the expo was smaller in comparison to last year. This was noticeable at the book tables of O’ReillyPeachpit Press, and Wiley, where the selection was very limited. The gaming area barely existed with three vendors, including EA showing off some iPod games. Perhaps I lost some of that wide-eyed excitement from last year before I got a Mac mini and a MacBook. There wasn’t anything exciting to look forward to.

The highlights for the day was seeing the new iPhone with the killer user interface f0r a smart phone, my friend getting books signed by Andy Hertzfield (Mac designer) and Bob Weir (Grateful Dead guitarist), and the Berkelee College of Music demonstrating how to assemble a Journey soundtrack on the Mac. I picked up a MacAlley Bluetooth wireless mouse with a recharging dock for my MacBook. It’s weird having a tailless mouse, but it’s a very sweet tailless mouse.

Outlander Gaming PC Case Upgrade

More Pictures

You can’t play a scary game like F.E.A.R. without screaming like a little girl and kicking the computer. It doesn’t help that kicking the computer causes it to reboot and you’re swearing like a little girl as the unsaved game disappears into the bit bucket. For several months, I put up with system reboots after bumping the case or plugging a memory stick into the front USB connector, or holding down the power and reset buttons to turn the system on. There’s an electrical short somewhere that I haven’t located. It was time to get a new case for the gaming computer nicknamed Outlander.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I put in an order with Newegg for the Cooler Master Centurion 5 full tower case. I wanted to get this particular case for about six months but haven’t had a good enough reason to buy it. But F.E.A.R. helped me overcome my fear of a thinner wallet, as I wanted to finish playing the game.

When I put the system together in the old case three or four years ago, multiple hard drives and CD/DVD drives required multiple 80mm fans (two in front, two in back, and one on the side panel) to cool the system. The drawback with all those fans was too much noise, especially since the CPU and graphic card had their own loud fans.

The new case has a 120mm fan in the back, an 80mm fan in the front, and a ventilated top-to-bottom front to keep the system cooler and quieter. My gaming rig is a lot simpler today since I have one hard drive, one CD/DVD drive, a passively cooled video card, and a low-noise CPU fan.

As with my recent file server case upgrade, I left the floppy drive out as I rarely used one and can always use the USB floppy drive.

DSL Modem Gives Up The Ghost

My DSL modem decided to give up the ghost while I was working at home today. It took a few hours to figure out that I wasn’t having a temporary line drop out since the front panel lights and the back hub lights were flashing with the network cables unplugged. A phone call to tech support declared the modem R.I.P. after I plugged the power brick directly into the wall instead of the power strip and the lights stopped flashing. Maybe the power brown out from this summer shortened its life cycle.

That’s a bad situation when working from home without a fast Internet connection. Running four or five help desk applications over a slow dial-up connection wasn’t an option. So I hiked over to the library at San Jose City College to plug my laptop into their network and continued working for the rest of the day.

I ordered the business class DSL modem from AT&T since it had the same price as my deceased consumer class DSL modem and looked sturdier. The website required Internet Explorer since AT&T hadn’t caught on that there are other web browsers, forcing me to boot into Windows on my MacBook. The joys of being a telecommuter in Silicon Valley.