Detail, detail, everywhere

Sitting and thinking. About raindrop patterns on the window. Crenulated cloud edges, silver where they pass over the sun. Kinda reminded me of fractals, so I googled for “fractal viewer” or something, and downloaded the first one I saw – Fractal Explorer. Wow! Suddenly its 1985 again…

Mandelbrot set image

Mandelbrot set image

Mandelbrot set image

Somewhere, I’ve got a set of 5?” disks containing a lot of Mandelbrot set image files that I generated on one of my school’s  BBC Micros in about 1984-85. I remember staying late after school to write the viewer software in BBC Basic. Even at the low screen resolutions that we had back then, it took ages to run. If you made a mistake in entering the i/j coordinates incorrectly, you’d come back half an hour later to find a blank screen, or something uninteresting.So I hit on the idea of rendering the image using progressively higher levels of detail – calculating z for four evenly-spaced points and drawing four big squares with the appropriate colour, then repeatedly subdividing each square until I got down to pixel-resolution. This at least let you see what was happening, and cancel a bad run, but the program probably ran slower as a result.

I remember I really enjoyed doing that. It all felt fresh and new. Ah, those were the days…

I’m almost tempted to get hold of a 5?” drive, but its extremely unlikely that the disks are still readable after fifteen-plus years.

Rainy Day

Its now five in the afternoon, and its been raining without a break all day. Stayed indoors and worked on a few things. Tidied up the C# code that runs the photo album pages, and added a few tweaks. Surfed a bit. Hate days like this. #

Too Much Screen Time Can Make Computer Users Sick (Reuters). “Mental symptoms such as lethargy, anxiety and “reluctance to go to work,” as well as sleep-related problems including insomnia and fatigue, were most common among workers who spent more than 5 hours a day glued to their computer screen.” Quite. # “If Web Logging (or “‘blogging”) is the New Journalism then scavenging must be the New Cuisine. This format for writing on the web, which some are calling the “Ground Zero of the personal Webcasting revolution”, is drowning in noise because the armchair reporters?for whom the blogging tools were invented?have no idea what to use their ‘blogs for or what direction they should be going in. A representative ‘blog is confused, disorganized and maddeningly tiring to read. Much like a personal web site from 1996…” #

This was slashdotted for a while, but its an interesting read: “When good interfaces go crufty”. Basically, a slow accretion of system limitations and bad design decisions; and UI technology that makes it harder than it should be to change the interface once its implemented. #

An apparent copy of the Public Interest Immunity Certificate presented by the government in the Shayler spy trial. Reading the foreign press over the net is easy, so just how they think they can prevent Shayler’s allegations (whether or not they’re true) from emerging is beyond me. Lost of juicy stuff here and here (and here too, if you believe that kind of thing). The grisly remains of Shayler’s web site are here. #

Memories of Jon Postel. I Remember IANA. #

Switch to the dark side.

Memories of Autumn Nights

Yesterday we had another one of the famous Manchester autumn rainstorms: three years-worth of normal rainfall crammed into three hours. You just don’t go outside. So we stayed in the flat and surfed and read.

In the evening, mainly as a reason to get out, we went to the bonfire night firework display at Platt Fields park. As usual, it was muddy and rainy, but we had a good time. Had a little cone of chips and a toffee apple, and Debra bought some candyfloss (ugh…). The fireworks looked nice against the dark sky (especially the fizzy ones that always make me imagine midges that have somehow been set alight and are frantically flying around trying to put the fire out), but the fire was disappointing – you couldn’t get nearer to it than about a hundred meters, and it was surrounded by two fences and lots of security guards. I like fires (indoors and outdoors), and I like to get up-close so I can feel my skin start to melt. So, while this was nice and safe, it was fairly unauthentic.

As a child, in my memory, bonfire night was a bit different. For a start, we (my sister, my parents, and myself) did it on the 5th – none of this nearest-Saturday-night nonsense. We’d go to my grandparents house with our fireworks, and my cousins would be there with theirs. We’d light them ourselves (always in my memory, though I’m sure our parents did it when we were too young) and we’d have a small bonfire and put our guys on it. Then we’d draw pictures in the air with sparklers, and watch the fireworks coming from other people’s gardens. There always seemed to be huge quantities of burgers and baked potatoes and toffee that my grandmother had made. I’m so glad I had parents and family that were prepared to make the effort to do these things.

I remember those nights as being colder and darker then, back when I was little, and without any rain.

A few links for today

I’m not convinced that this isn’t just another one of those begging sites that were popular way, way back in the Summer. On the other hand, it certainly sounds like a good idea. Shrub might get some things out of his system, and Nintendo probably needs the money now. #

A good introduction to alternative logics. I vaguely remember Non-monotonic logic from the AI course when I did my Master’s degree, but most of this was new to me. I love the idea of Quantum logic. #

I like this: “We will not EXXON-erate Sadam“. And this too. #

I can’t wait for this: Myst Online

.NET and Platforms

I continue to be encouraged about how .NET is developing. Which is nice, because I’m also investing quite a bit of my personal time in learning it. For a while it looked a bit wobbly, but now that the Hailstorm nonsense is receding into the past and MS seems to have slightly reduced its determination to brand every new and existing product with a .NET name, some of the focus is shifting back to the development tools and the platform.

Its looking likely that I’ll spend a quarter of my career with .NET. After years of struggling with MFC, wndprocs, COM threading models, etc. I’m glad we’ve got a platform thats so rich and powerful.

Now just give me generic types and deterministic garbage collection, and I’ll be happy. I can live without multiple inheritance, but support for contracts in the CLR would be nice.

Perhaps because the number of “What exactly is a web service” articles in the press seems to be going down, I’ve noticed more discussion of running .NET on non-Windows platforms. The Register (US) has a fairly speculative article about Borland getting interested in Mono as a way to target Linux. As far as I know, a few current Borland products ship with experimental, command-line compilers that emit assemblies. They do seem serious about the platform, though, and this makes sense. Its got to be easier to target a single API and MSIL, than maintain separate UI designers and backends for each development tool and operating system.

On a similar theme, the Register (UK) is reporting that “PalmSource intended the (sic) make the new OS Microsoft .NET compatible, and will likely partner with others to provide a run time for the platform.” I can’t see how Microsoft would licence the compact framework to Palm, given that they’re such an obvious competitor to the Pocket PC, but it should be possible for a strongarm-based Palm to run a port of the Mono runtime. Presumably it would be similar to the CF, but I don’t know if the Mono people have plans for this. Their focus (understandably) seems to be IA-based desktop systems running Linux. Another option would be thePortable .NET project. As a Palm user, I have mixed feelings about this. I like my Palm because its simple and lightweight – not bogged-down lots of extra features that I don’t need. As a developer, though, having a CLR in the PalmOS would be nice. I hope Palm can hold-out against the PocketPC long enough for this to happen. I’m not hopeful.


Some very naughty person indeed has leaked an alpha build of Longhorn to the net. There’s an interesting summary here of what seems to be in it. After (obviously) the “softer” watercolour UI and animated My Documents icon, the most interesting features for me are the Avalon API and the WinFS file system.

Avalon is described as “an XML-based successor to the Win32 API”. I dunno. Sounds like SOAP or XML-RPC. Maybe there’s just one function with a couple of XMLDOCDocument* parameters, or something.

WinFS apparently allows SQL-Server to take over NTFS’s role as the OS’s base-level storage subsystem. That is, all your files are stored inside a SQL-Server database, and NTFS is just a legacy API into that database. This strange inversion was apparently first reported here, but I remember Jon Honeyball mentioning this idea at least a year before that in DNJ magazine. I can’t find the article, though…

Frankly, my mind boggles at this. Files as objects in a Yukon-type DBMS that’s acting as a sub-system of the OS and hosting the .NET CLR? I guess that’s one way to integrate .NET into the OS, but I’d really appreciate a block-structure diagram of this stuff to understand the dependencies. And what about the ability to write stored procedures in C#, VB.NET, etc? Would that subsume what we currently think of as operating system scripting? Yikes.

Interview with Alan Cooper

Visual Studio Magazine has a very interesting interview with Alan Cooper – the original architect of Viual Basic from way back before Microsoft bought it from his company. Lots of insightful comments on the realtionship between how we build software and the way that users experience it, and a fairly positive verdict on .NET. Good stuff: now I want to go and buy his books.


Some notes an a Presentation on Microsoft’s Palladium DRM system. This is the first description I’ve read with some technical detail and no marketing bollox. The trust-based architecture sound vaguely similar to that of the XBox, which was cracked a while back. It’ll be intersting to see how this plays out over the next few years, especially if general-purpose hardware devices like hard drives start to incorporate DRM technology too.