Saturday, April 18, 2009

General: The future of Second Life

I have just read an interesting post by ArminasX Saiman on the latest departures of staff from Second Life.
While it is possible that these are due to the company transitioning from small start-up to large-scale operation, my skeptical mind has another opinion.

The thing about SL (Second Life) is that it is its own showcase, in other words 'what you see is what you get' a world where the user is free to create content to bend the virtual world to their own ends.
Given this, it makes sense that it is in their own best interest to make SL as high-performing a platform as possible. What we see however is a platform crippled whenever serious numbers of people are present in the whole system, and downright unusable if any significant number are gathered in one place for an event. This latter limitation is critical if SL is ever to become a virtual world to be used by business for large-scale events.
ArminasX makes note of the ability of the platform to now support 88,000+ concurrent users, but I see this advance as nothing more than the expected improvement due to the progression of hardware performance.
In short, the lack of real satisfactory performance on a platform which is its own major sales tool strongly implies to me that this implementation has hit a wall, that is there is some inescapable, insurmountable problem.
I, personally, suspect that the problem is the huge asset database rather than a network bandwidth problem and I was therefore less than surprised to see that the impending Blue Mars VR intends that 'many thousands of users will be able to simultaneously log into a single “city.”' (where a 'city' seems equivalent to an SL 'sim') but does not support user-created content, thus limiting the assets database whilst presumably requiring considerable bandwidth.
Blue Mars also does not have contiguous sims (cities) with seamless travel over boundaries, each one is discrete, which I assume means that a sims servers asset cache (I think that this exists from personal experience) will not need to import a users assets as they enter it.

Still, whatever the technical limit, back to the reasonable supposition that there must be one since the main sellling tool, the actual experience, is clearly limited.
The shareholders would obviously like a return on their investment and a big IPO would be their best bet. In order to do this they would need it to be seen by both businesses and Joe Public as a viable platform with room for growth in size, performance and stability.
If one knew that the platform as is wouldn't deliver and the shareholders want those who profess belief otherwise while they get an IPO together then, ethically, one might have to think about leaving.

Of course, they could easily prove me wrong, just fix the performance issues to prove it can be done.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

General: The passing of a friend

Peter Hemsley was a good friend of mine who lived in the UK.
I had known him for about thirty-eight years when we both became 'Telecoms Technician Apprentices' in British Telecom (then known as the Post Office as the same company was the national mail carrier)

During this time we both enrolled in an early computing night-class at South-East Derbyshire College of Further Education and rapidly gained skills in BASIC and PDP-8 assembler, both memory-constrained so we learnt to code lean and mean!

Later we both worked at S.E Labs in Sandiacre, Nottingham (which became a branch of Thorn EMI Datatech) in the field of instrument repair specialising in microprocessor-based instruments and analogue and digital multi-channel tape decks.

During this time and subsequently, we formed a business partnership, 'Amber Microsystems' specialising in the development of custom hardware and software. Much of our development work was carried out on Apple ][ machines which were our first (and much loved!) personal computers. I left my half of the company to Pete' when I emigrated to Australia in late 1987.

I didn't normally get a lot of email from this friend although I included him on all the techo' newsletters and occasionally sent him an update on happenings in my life.
For a couple of weeks I had email delivery failure notices from his mailbox provider and on further investigation, his domain seemed to be gone from the internet.
On last Monday (the 23rd Feb') my unease and foreboding prompted me to seek more information on his curent status.

Knowing that he was keen on Amateur Radio, I 'Googled' his name with 'RSGB', that being the body (Radio Society of Great Britain) that 'Ham' clubs are affiliated with in the UK.
Sadly, I found an obituary notice on the site of SNADARC, a club in South Normanton, a village close by his home and one of our old haunts. -

Peter Hemsley
It is with sadness we report that Peter Hemsley has passed away
recently after his brave five month battle with cancer.
A floral tribute was sent on behalf of the club and members were also in attendance at the funeral service at Mansfield Crematorium.

Searching the site for confirmation that this was the same person I found some pictures that indeed seemed to be of my friend and I sent off an email with a picture I took of Peter in April for them to confirm my conclusion.

Sadly, it was indeed my friend Peter that had passed away just before Christmas after a five month battle with cancer.
When I saw him in April he was pretty ill and said that he had Emphysema (bad enough in itself) but perhaps he got re-diagnosed afterwards.
I suppose that his preference for hand-rolled filterless cigarettes may well have caught up with him finally.

He was an elegant coder with a preference for assembly language and had a particular skill with numerical methods and an intuitive grasp of manipulating numbers in binary representation.
There are still several places on the internet archiving his fast and compact PIC microcontroller routines for Square roots and Decimal Input/Output that he originally presented in Everyday and Practical Electronics magazine.
A bit of competitive fun that we both enjoyed was each taking turns trying to improve the speed or reduce the size of a piece of code until no further improvements could be made. I think the score was about even (well, that's my story and I'm sticking with it!).
He was similarly economical when it came to hardware design and contrived some very nifty microprocessor-based designs and single-sided PCB layouts with minimal interconnects.

I will miss him a lot for his sense of humour and steady friendship.

This is the last photograph I took of him as we wandered around Anchor Surplus in Nottingham in April 2008 chatting about how we used to actually work on half the old stuff there in our younger days!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

General: It's Prediction-Time!

It occurred to me today that now I don't do an email newsletter, I haven't made my New Year prediction this year.

Since we are already in February, I think it is appropriate to make a somewhat further-looking prediction than usual.

As you may know Copper is in seriously short supply world-wide. This has led to a lot of thefts of copper cable recently, sometimes attempted thefts of live cables worthy of Darwin Awards.

Simultaneously, our oil reserves are now on the downward side of 'peak-oil' and in any case we can't afford to burn carbon compounds and exacerbate Global Warming.

This inevitably means an ever more serious attempt to replace Internal Combustion Engines in vehicles with Electric Motors and some kind of electrical power storage.

Since putting new batteries in your vehicle every day is right out, a rechargeable power storage system is necessary and recharge-time is clearly a limiting factor if it can't be recharged in a reasonable time.

Eight hours is, in my opinion, the longest duration acceptable for recharging where a vehicle is used to it's maximum range/performance.
A vehicle that can be recharged in eight hours, adopted throughout a country clearly represents a massive load that cannot be easily distributed throughout the working day barring differences in time-zones.
The best that might be achieved is partial recharging whilst at work, but this is during the part of the day that industry makes it's heaviest demands of the power generating and distribution grid already.

With the current generation of electric vehicles, eight hours does indeed seem to be the best achievable recharge time BUT, this is on 110 Volt distribution outlets due to the limitations on maximum current. On 240 Volt outlets, this can be reduced strikingly to two and a half hours!

Once you can achieve a recharge in two and a half hours, you can also have a managed, phased recharge period in three or more 'shifts' to lighten the load on the power grid which saves building extra generating capacity just to recharge Electric Vehicles.

Given that copper house wiring may soon be impractical due to scarcity of copper, we can expect to see other materials used in this role. To achieve the same deliverable currents will require a moderate increase in wire size but to achieve a high enough current delivery for an electric vehicle revolution at 110 Volts would require a much larger diameter of wire and also present additional difficulties over those already present in working with conductors such as Aluminium.

An alternative would be to make ALL domestic 110 Volt mains three-phase, but this would have it's own complications of expensive re-work and materials as well as overcoming perceived safety issues with the higher phase to phase voltages.

For these reasons (Here comes the actual prediction!), I think it is extremely likely that within five years we will be hearing about the necessity of the USA adopting the 240 Volt standard to enable the Electric Vehicle solution to Oil shortages and Greenhouse Gases.

It is possible that in order to handle the recharging loads an even higher voltage could be chosen to reduce the cost of thicker conductors or to try and carry on with Copper conductors but of a lighter gauge. This would cost more in higher performance insulation and there would undoubtedly be a big panic about the safety aspects of voltages that are higher than any currently used. For these reasons I don't think a voltage greater than 240 Volts would be adopted.

Given the irresolute prevarication about switching to Digital TV (as if they will be any more ready in 4 months time), I can only guess what a mess the changeover to 240 Volts will be.

A sample Electric Vehicle (and a rather tasty one at that) with the recharging times documented.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

General: My Australia Day

First a bit of sillyness and a dance at Eloquence -

Then off to the local club to listen to the band and watch others dance -


Monday, January 12, 2009

General: My 2009 so far...

So far, 2009 has been a very busy year from day 1 for my wife and I.

We have been busy (but unpaid) getting to grips with multiple roles and functions at a local venue in order to re-allocate them in a more flexible distributed manner to facilitate easier management by the elected officials in the future.

I have also spent my weekends thus far assisting in the replacement of a commercial kitchen floor, which entailed dismantling and removing a lot of built-in steelwork and heavy-duty appliances, floor preparation for professionals to lay a sealed vinyl floor on a new level base, re-tiling walls, electrical and plumbing work and restoring/rebuilding all appliances and shelving.

In my 'free' time I have been seeking full-time employment as my wife is now unemployed after 33 years and I must put a steady income at the top of my priority list. Hopefully a decent income for me will allow my wife to find local low-stress employment, I know she has more than earned that lately.

I hope that your 2009 has been less hectic so far and that you prosper, despite the state of the world-wide economy.

Here's to us, Cheers!