Alson Kemp

Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Category

A Bit of A Continuation for Moore’s Law?

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Note: CPU references in this post are all to Intel CPU. Other CPU families took similar paths but did so with different timelines and trade-offs (e.g. the inclusion of FPU and/or MMU functionality in the CPU).

First, a historical ramble…

What follows is accurate enough for what follows…

Much as with so much on the web, Moore’s Law had a specific origin but has been through a number of updates/revisions/extensions to remain relevant to those who want it to remain relevant. Originally, it was about the number of transistors that could be built into a single semiconductor product. Presumably that number got awfully large and was meaningless to most people (transistor?), so Moore’s Law was sort of retooled to refer to compute capability (MIPS, FLOPS) or application performance (frames per second (in a 3D video game), TPC-* (for databases), etc. If your widget was getting faster, then there was “an [Moore’s Law] for that” (to paraphrase Apple). And Moore saw and he was pleased.

But really all the faster-being was, of course, under pinned by the various dimensions of scaling for semiconductors. Processors (the things most people care about the most) are made using MOSFETs (a very common type of transistor used to build processors/logic, but a bit different those in the original Moore’s Law) and Robert Dennard wrote a paper noting that MOSFETs have particular scaling properties. See Dennard Scaling: “[if] transistor dimensions could be scaled by 30% (0.7x) every technology generation, thus reducing their area by 50%. This would reduce circuit delays by 30% (0.7x) and therefore increase operating frequency by about 40% (1.4x). Finally, to keep the electric field constant, voltage is reduced by 30%, reducing energy by 65% and power (at 1.4x frequency) by 50%”. This was also known as “triple scaling” as it implied that three scaling factors would simultaneously improve: geometry decrease (density), frequency increase and power decrease (for equivalent functionality).

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Written by alson

December 31st, 2019 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Geekery

Science Fiction: The Economics of Star Travel

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While I’m a fan of Alastair Raynold‘s science fiction and recently finished Poseidon’s Wake, I’m rather unsure of his treatment of interstellar travel. Within reasonable bounds, making allowances for the fact that it’s science fiction (hey, Conjoiner drives) and recognizing that he, not I, is a bona fide rocket scientist, his treatment of how to conduct interstellar travel seems realistic and sobering, though perhaps not sobering enough…

So let’s talk about money now and then…

Economics/Finance Backgrounder

The problem of how much money to spend now in order to reap a future gain is well studied in economics and/or finance. A discount rate is used to forward or backward project financial amounts, recognizing that $1 gained or spent at a future date is not valued at $1 now. For example, assume you had $10 and could invest it at a 5% rate in a completely instrument (say a bank bond) (you can’t right now, hey thanks Fed, but let’s assume that you could…). After 1 year, you’d have $10.50. Likewise, if I needed $10 now, you could lend me the $10 but you’d want me to promise to return you more than a total of $10.50 after one year. You wouldn’t lend it to me for less than $10.50 because you could just lend it to a bank or government via a bond and get back $10.50. I’m riskier than a bank or a government so you’d want more from me than from a government or bank. Simple.

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Written by alson

July 3rd, 2019 at 2:40 am

Posted in Geekery

Simple Decoders for Kids

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My wife created simple symbol-letter decoders for my son.  He thought they were a lot of fun and wanted to share them with friends, so I productized them.  Screenshot here:

Screenshot from 2014-02-27 12:12:45

Simple, straightforward way to build fun little puzzles for kids.   Play with it here.  Besides changing the phrase, you can add additional confounding codes or remove codes to force kids to guess at the phrase.  Then click the Print button and you’ll have a nice printout with the control panel hidden.

I’m building a 2-D version for the codes, too, so that will be along later this week.

Written by alson

February 25th, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Geekery

WebGL Fractals

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Years ago, I wrote a fractal generator/explorer for OpenGL.  Crazily enough, after nearly 10 years,  it still compiles without complaint on Linux.  But the web is the future [er… or, rather, the present], so…

So I ported the the C version to Coffeescript, AngularJS, LESS, Jade and [insert buzzword].  The port was actually very straightforward with the majority of time spent on building the UI, fiddling with AngularJS, adding fractals, refactoring, etc.  Nothing in the code is too surprising.  One controller handles the UI, two services manage application state and one service renders the fractal.

The app is here.  The code is on GitHub here.  To “compile” the code, you’ll need the NodeJS compilers for Coffeescript, LESS and Jade.  Then run ./scripts/run_compilers.sh.  (Yes, I could have used Grunt or Gulp, but the simple bash script is really simple.)




Interesting links:

  1. Link
  2. Link
  3. Link
  4. Link
  5. Link
  6. Link

Pull requests, comments, suggestions, etc always welcome.  In particular, are there other fractals that you’d suggest?

Written by alson

December 28th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Geekery

My Apache process is only using one core!

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I was recently working on a client site (a good-sized one) and was checking on the health of their application servers.  I noticed that each of their app servers was running a few of the cores much harder than the other cores.  This was in the evening and they get most of their traffic during the day; it runs Django under mod_wsgi in daemon mode with 8 processes and 25 threads per process.  Further, the boxes were not VPSs/VMs, but were dedicated, multicore boxes.  So they had multicore hardware and the web server was running in a multicore friendly way.

At the time, the load for each box was around 0.5.  And various process IDs rotated as the top CPU users, so process IDs weren’t bound to a core.  The ratio of traffic between the cores (ignoring actual core number and focusing on the utilization of each core, since each box was different) was something like:

Core # : Core Utilization

1      : 15%

2      : 2%

3      : 1%

*      : 0%

So why would one processor bear most of the load?  I googled and googled, and found little useful information.   I banged on one server with Apache’s benching tool (“ab”) while watching core utilization and, sure enough, all cores shared the load equally.  So what was going on?

I’m not sure if it’s the Linux kernel or a natural outcome of CPU caches, but the simplest explanation is that in low load situations processes are similar, due to cache coherence, will flock to the same core.  Rather than spreading a set of processes across a set of cores that don’t necessarily share the same cache, processes naturally gravitate to the cores that experience the lowest cache misses.

Upshot: it’s rational for the system to schedule most operations of a process or group of similar processes on one core when a system is relatively lightly loaded.  This is especially true if the cores are “Hyperthreading” and are sharing resources (read: their caches)!

Written by alson

January 4th, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Geekery

ExtJS 4 Models + node.js

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Finally starting to play with node.js.   Also, getting back into developing with the lovely ExtJS.  ExtJS 4 added strong support for client side models.

I was thinking that it’d be nice to share a lot of code for models between the client and server.   Turns out that it’s not that difficult.   Super quick-n-dirty code below.  Now the question is: how much duplication can be removed from client and server models? I don’t want to include all server-side code in client-side code, so might do something like:

  • /common/models/user.js – ExtJS model;
  • /client/models/user.js – tune the model for client side (e.g. add a REST connection to the server);
  • /server/models/user.js – includes client/models/user.js;  overrides critical bits (e.g. the Proxy); adds a bunch of server specific code.

If all of my models are in model.*, then I can probably iterate through them and auto-generate Mongoose models when the server boots…  Fun.

This is definitely a hack, but isn’t as frighteningly ugly as I expected:

fs = require('fs');

// stub out a fake browser for ext-core-debug.js
navigator = {};
window = {
  navigator : 'Linux',
  attachEvent: function() {return false;}
navigator = {'userAgent' : 'node'};
document = {
  getElementsByTagName : function () {return false;}};

// Helper function 
function injectJS(f) {
  eval(fs.readFileSync(f, encoding="ascii"));

//Pull in ExtJS components

// Register the model
Ext.regModel('models.User', {
      fields: [
          {name: 'name',  type: 'string'},
          {name: 'age',   type: 'int'},
          {name: 'phone', type: 'string'},
          {name: 'alive', type: 'boolean', defaultValue: true}
    validations: [
        {type: 'presence',  field: 'age'},
        {type: 'length',    field: 'name',     min: 2}
    changeName: function() {
        var oldName = this.get('name'),
        newName = oldName + " The Barbarian";
        this.set('name', newName);

// Create an instance
var user = Ext.ModelMgr.create({
      name : 'Conan',
        age  : 24,
        phone: '555-555-5555'
}, 'models.User');

// Use the instance
user.get('name'); //returns "Conan The Barbarian"
user.fireEvent('changed', 'my hair');

repl = require("repl");
repl.start('ExtJS> ');

Written by alson

February 22nd, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Geekery

KickLabs (SF Incubator)

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Great incubator just opened in downtown San Francisco: KickLabs.  Ridiculously great space, a great team and a list of exciting events.  Definitely a place to get to know.

And they welcome entrepreneurs of all ages!

Written by alson

July 16th, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Geekery

HighCharts, Bluff, gRaphael – Javascript charting libraries

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Bumped into HighCharts today.  See here: http://highcharts.com Very nice library for embedding charts into your HTML.  Nice to see that browsers are finally getting to the point that HighCharts can be written.   Also, it’s nice to think about being able to dump Flash charting solutions in favor of a simple Javascript library.  Worth the $80 for commercial use (I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent well more than $80 of my time wrestling with an open source Flash charting library).


[Updating post to add more libs.]

Okay.  I got called out for not poking around a bit more.  There are nice open-source, liberally licensed JS chart libs.

Open Source

Bluff : Ruby’s Gruff ported to JS.  Looks pretty straightforward.

gRaphael : built on the awesome Raphael JS vector graphics library.  Limited functionality, but that’ll change.

Canvas3D : super cool, but not sure if it’s ready for a production site…

jqPlot : charting for jQuery.  I’m neither pro- nor con-jQuery, so I’m not sure that I’d pick a jQuery-centric library.

PlotKit : dependent on MochiKit.

Flot : charting for jQuery.  Again, since I use different JS libraries in different circumstances/apps, I’m not excited about having to pull in jQuery, but Flot looks nice.

Commercial License

JSCharts : HighCharts looks prettier…  $129 for a license for all of your sites (vs. $360 for HighCharts)

Emprise Charts : Very nice.  Pricing is inline with JSCharts and HighCharts.


Written by alson

December 2nd, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Posted in Geekery,Tools

PS3 + Linux Media Serving (MythTV? GMediaServer? MediaTomb?)

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I recently got a PS3 (which is a lovely piece of hardware and software) and, given our collections of MP3s, WMAs and AVIs (a bunch of ripped children’s DVDs so that my son is free to physically shred up the actual DVDs), have been trying to figure out how to serve media to it over the network.

Serving from Windows is ludicrously simple using Windows Media Player 11 or TVersity, but I have a small, super-old-school Linux file server used for backups-and-such and I wanted to use it to serve media.  Turns out to be very simple to do so.

MythTV is the big guy in this space, but it had a number of issues for me:

  • Not particularly straightforward to set up (considering the very simple use case I had for it).
  • Tons of functionality that I didn’t need, including a heavy front-end app (though there is a lighter weight web app I could have installed).
  • I couldn’t figure out how to get it to serve WMAs and, since I’ve ripped a bunch of CDs to WMA, this was a killer.

None of this is to say that MythTV is not a great piece of software; it was just way more than I needed.

GMediaServer is a GNU uPNP media server and it looked pretty good, but I wasn’t sure that it would serve video.  Documentation is a also bit lacking.

Enter MediaTomb.  Simple, lightweight, basic media serving.  “apt-get install mediatomb” and I was pretty much there.  A slight, very well documented modification to the configuration file and I popped open a web browser, browsed to the built-in web interface and told MediaTomb to server my /share/media directory.  Walked over to my PS3 (on which the MediaTomb server was already listed) and started browsing my media files.

The only issue I had was when I updated the media files on the server.  Sometimes MediaTomb wouldn’t see the modifications and would send to the PS3 out-of-date data, probably because I was using inotify rather than just time-based refresh.  I switched to the time-based refresh and deleted the MediaTomb SQLite database and all was right with the world.

Useful links:

  • http://www.mediatomb.cc
  • http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=650020
  • http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/columns/upnp_mediatomb_ps3_and_me

Written by alson

March 9th, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Geekery

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Turbinado update

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Turbinado Logo For those of you interested in Turbinado, here’s a quick status update:

  • I separated the code for the turbinado.org website from the code for the framework.  The framework is here and the website code is here.
  • I’m going to finish up implementing HAML templating for Turbinado in the next few days.
  • After HAML templates are in, I’ll provide a tutorial on implementing a mini-CMS/wiki in Turbinado (the code is already in the website.  The standard-Rails-ish “look, Mom!  No code!” type of tutorial.  Just enough to convince you to download it, but not enough to get you to be significantly productive.  😉
  • Adam Stark is providing some greatly needed polish here as he attempts to get this beastie to build.  Turbinado really needs to be easier to build…
  • Diego Echeverri is doing some work to get Turbinado to work with GHC 6.10 here. I had a difficult time getting my HSP-ish View templates working with 6.10, so I hope Diego can do it. I’d greatly prefer to be working with 6.10, but I couldn’t get there…

Writing a little web framework turns out to be a lot of work (it’s all the little stuff (documentation!!) that really gets ya).  I’ve greatly appreciated the ability to build on the work of others (especially Niklas Broberg, Don Stewart, Bjorn Bringert and John Goerzen) and am grateful that others are providing help to this fledgling project.

Written by alson

December 18th, 2008 at 2:13 pm