Computers, Entertainment, Games, Google, Javascript, Programming, Technology, Web Programming

3D gaming in Firefox and Safari

<![CDATA[Using the canvas element with some clever JavaScript, someone has written a basic ray-traced 3D graphics engine that runs in Safari and Firefox.

Okay so “3D gaming” if overstating it slightly, but it’s clever.

What’s double clever is that you can get a pure JavaScript implementation of canvas for Internet Explorer from Google Code. Which means technically you can now do 3D graphics using JavaScript and a browser…

canvas, IE]]>

Computers, Macs, Technology

PCs are the new UFOs

<![CDATA[What does UFO mean? In theory it's "unidentified flying object". Of course it doesn't really mean that; at least when people say it they tend not to mean that. People say UFO and mean "alien ship". This really annoys me. There are shows with quotes from people along the lines of, "Oh I definitely believe in UFOs". You believe in UFOs? UFOs by the very nature of the definition exist. What they really mean is they believe in alien spaceships.

This sort of thing happens a lot: a general definition becomes implicitly more specific just from being used just to mean one thing. For example PC. Originally PC meant "personal computer". This referred to many devices like BBC Micros, Amstrad CPCs, even Commodore 64s to some extent. But then one architecture took off and PC slowly got more specific. There was a transitional time when the phrase "IBM compatible PC" was popular but eventually they were all IBM compatible. So now PC means something based on x86. The most common use for PC now therefore (as opposed to computer) is just to differentiate an x86 machine from a Mac.

Which is a problem for one and a half reasons. Mac OS can now run on x86 computers and "PC software" can now run on x64 computers (only half a reason since x64 is designed to be compatible with x86). So what does PC mean now, a computer running Windows? Generally it does I suppose but you can a PC with Linux on it. Would you say you had a PC with Mac OS on it? No, you'd say you have a Mac. So apparently a PC is a desktop* computer that isn't a Mac.

* Or maybe laptop. But probably not a server. So at least the "personal" part of "personal computer" still makes sense

Apple, Microsoft, IBM, PCs, x86, x64]]>

Computers, Google, Technology

Manhattan is messed up

<![CDATA[The satellite view in Google Maps is obviously made up of many different images. Not all of these images were taken at the same time and not all from the same position. Sometimes this leads to slight inconsistencies. These inconsistencies are most apparent with tall buildings – which is why Manhattan looks so funky 😛

Google Maps, Manhattan, New York]]>

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

WinTV TV tuner despatched

<![CDATA[I'll be able to extend my short Media Center review into something a little longer and more useful when my TV tuner arrives 🙂

I ordered the Hauppuage WinTV HVR 1300 MCE Kit from Overclockers (the place I got the second video card from).

HVR stands for “Hybrid Video Recorder” – it has an analogue and a digital tuner (although it can only use at once I’m assuming). This means I can watch Freeview until I get Sky plugged into it.

A few notes about buying TV tuners for MCE. First, get one that is MCE compatible – a lot aren’t. Second, decide whether you want a “kit” or not. The kit versions come with a remote, an IR receiver and an IR transmitter (to allow the computer to control a set-top box). To get the full benefit from MCE you should really get the kit versions. Finally do you want internal or external. The internal (PCI) ones tend to have more connections than the external (USB) ones. But if you just want to plug an aerial in (or you using them in a laptop), the external ones are fine (and obviously don’t require fitting).

Windows, Media Center, PVR, DVR]]>

Computers, Technology

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 review

<![CDATA[Well since I tend to use Firefox here at work I figured I could install IE7 without too much risk. And I must say it’s actually quite good.

Initial impressions

The most obvious feature is thye really minimalist chrome. The back and forward buttons are a little smaller and now to the left of the address bar; refresh and stop are to the right and then underneath that are tabs. By default there is no application menu (File, Edit, View etc). which strikes me as odd. But to the right of the tabs are other buttons to do common things that you’d normally use the menu for. Speaking of opening new tabs, there is a special thin blank tab to the right of the others that you click to open a new one.

Conditional tags

IE has a special feature called conditional tags that let you specif markup just for IE that other browsers ignore. This doesn’t seem to work in IE7. Unfortuantely this means a 1px rendering error is present on my blog. The irony being I’m assuming it’s been taken out because they think they don’t need it anymore…


The zoom feature is snazzy and most of all, actually works. It scales everything properly and still renders text as vectors. Even better is that the tab preview (thumbnails of all the tabs) just use zoomed out versions of the page. This means the thumbnails are completely live. Well almost. It seems you get snapshots of plugins (although they work fine when viewing a normal zoomed page, not the overview thingy).

It also works with the dev bar add on I installed.

Tabbed browsing

New to IE and probably the most requested feature (beyond standards compliance :P). And it works. There are some subtle differences between it and Firefox which will take a little geting used to. For example IE puts the cross to close a tab on the tab itself instead of on the right. And newly opened tab appears immediately to the right of the currently opened one instead of at the end of the list.


The acid test was invented to test a web browsers CSS standards compliance. Acid2 is it’s sequel. Well IE7 fails the Acid2 test miserably. I mean it’s truly awful. In Firefox and Opera you can at lest tell what you’re supposed to be looking at.

Opera, browsers, Microsoft]]>

Computers, Technology

Rewriting binary prefixes

<![CDATA[Computers work in powers of two. This is because everything in a computer (well possibly not quite everything) is stored as 1s and 0s. As a result, any large numbers used in computers were generally expressed as powers of 2, the most notable is 210 = 1,024. This was close to 1,000 so it gained the metric prefix for 1000, kilo. This allowed people to think of 1 kilobyte as “about 1000 bytes” – The difference was only 2.4% Of course as the prefixes got bigger, the differences got bigger. 1 megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes, off by 4.9%. Go all the way to a terabyte and you’re off by almost 10%.

10% is noticeable. The place you’ll notice is when you buy a hard drive. Hard drive manufacturers advertising using true metric prefixes (so 1 megabyte is 1,000,000 bytes). Windows on the other hand still reports in binary meaning the number on the box is smaller than the number you get. In fact Iomega used to put a warning saying so on their Zip drives: “1 megabyte = 1,000,000 bytes. The amount reported by your operating system may differ”.

A solution was found, although it has own problems. Amendment 2 to IEC 60027-2 was published that standardised the metric prefixes to have whole metric meanings when referring to computer data. The binary versions would be given new names with “bi” in the middle for “binary”.

This meant 1024 bytes would become a kibibyte – kilo binary byte. Well my first reaction is they sound awful. There is another problem that 1024 bits is a kibibit – kilo binary bit. This is ridiculous since a bit is binary digit (kilo binary binary digit?). Aesthetics aside they would solve the problems and I think would be a good thing for the average consumer since k not meaning 1000 is just confusing. Except of course their use is wildly inconsistent – so much so to render the exercise pointless.

Windows doesn’t not use the new notation for binary prefixes, memory manufacturers (RAM) don’t use it. Storage manufacturers use the new notation for metric prefixes. Random people on the internet occasionally use the new notation for binary but most don’t.

There are other issues with the system overall that add to the confusion. Metric prefixes are in lower cases for small magnitudes and capitals for large magnitudes. Except for k* which has mysteriously stayed lowercase. You should use kg, not Kg for kilogram for instance. Except they’ve decided the symbol for kibibyte should be KiB.

And then there are floppy disks. How much data can a floppy disk hold? 1.44Mb of course. But what kind of megabytes? If you said a binary one thinking that they’re old, you’d be wrong. If you said a metric one thinking they want to overquote their size, you’d also mysteriously be wrong. The truth is the 1.44Mb on a floppy disk is to prefixes what “television” is to classicists.** The actual capacity of a HD floppy is 1,474,560 bytes. Using “official” notation this is 1.474560 MB or 1.40625 MiB. So where did they get 1.44 from? Well 1,474,560 is actually equal to 1440 KiB (1,440 old kilobytes). In case that confuses you too much that means they used both style of prefixes, at once.** It almost makes sense. You could use the odd notation of 1.44 kKiB (1.44 * 1000 * 1024 bytes) but they just figured that two ks make an M. Well they do, but a k and a Ki don’t.

* Okay, technically hecto (h) and deca (da) are also in lower case but don’t think of using them in computers. daB = 8 bytes? hB = 128 bytes?

** A classicist is someone who studies “the classics”. That would be ancient Greece and Rome (and therefore ancient Greek and Latin). Television is made of two words, “tele” meaning “far” and “visus” meaning “vision”. The problem is that “tele” is Greek and “visus” is Latin. Incidentally, a pure Greek for “far seeing” could be “telescope” and “ultravision” is fairly close for Latin.

SI, MiB, KiB, MB, kB, prefixes, binary, metric]]>

Computers, Entertainment, Games, Technology, Video Games

Lots of people in Civilization IV

<![CDATA[ Since my new computer is working again (and is quite a lot better now), I figured I’d start playing Civilization IV again.

I also decided to give CivFanatics a quick browse to see if there were any cool mods. The one that caught my eye is called Regiments. It changes the graphics (and the graphics only) to include more people (so you’re infantry for example consists of 11 people) as well as rescaling them appropriately. Since it only changes graphics you don’t risk starting an unbalanced game and you should even be able to load an existing game without a problem.

So if you have Civ IV, go get it now :P]]>