Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Innovation in harddrive technology

I decided to do a little research on the current hard drive technology after my previous article, and guess what I found. It turns out that Fujitsu has already promised better storage technology. Though the basics of recording upon a spinning disk through magnetism hasn't changed, Fujitsu has promised a hard drive with much greater density than previous models. The process used, "patterned media", enables the storage of data upon more densely packed tracks. In the future, Fujitsu is aiming to create 13mm nanoholes which would allow up to 4TB per square inch of data storage.

At the same time, another issue that arises with the increase in storage - retrieval. Yet again, Fujitsu has made innovations in the field. The main improvement in data transfer speed is the revolution per minute (rpm) of the disk. Fujitsu boasts about their new hard drive - the MHW2 BJ series - which is capable of 7,200 rpm whereas Toshiba's, the current leader, only runs at a mere 4,200 rpm. Transmission speed is said to be boosted up to 300 Mbps.

With greater storing capacity in smaller physical unit combined with faster retrieval speed, there is great hope for the future. I myself would like to see some truly innovative technology advances, such as new method of storage or a new storage unit.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The information age

IDC estimated that last year the world generated 161 exabytes, or 161 billion Gigabytes of data. This is including both originally produced data as well as replicated data. Regardless of the data type, this poses the question - how are we going to store all this data? It is estimated that by the year 2010, we will be incapable of producing sufficient storage to keep all the data that will have been generated by then.

The year 2010 does not seem nearly so far away. That is a mere 3 years ahead in our future. Compared to the energy crises and oil crises that are estimated to climax around 2050 or so, 2010 seems just a blink away. Well, what are we going to do about this upcoming issue?

Several possible solutions:
1. Better storage units - innovation from the traditional hard drives
2. Master copy of data - maintaining only one master copy of data allows replications to be deleted when not needed
3. Deletion of old data

Personally, I am hoping for the first of the three. I feel that when the need arises, companies will naturally seek out new and better ways of storing data. With ever improving nanotechnology as well as miniaturization of computer components such as CPU's, I believe that we will be able to find more efficient methods of storage for data as well.

wikipedia trends

This wikipedia chart shows what the most popular articles on wikipedia for certain time periods. Aside from the huge number of sex-related topics, the chart shows very interesting trends in what is popular for a given period of time. Looking at past months, we can almost track what happened just by looking at the most popular pages. For example in the February 2007 list, Anna Nicole Smith spiked in popularity as an article after her shocking death. The Battle of Thermopylae is also popular due to the movie 300 coming out.

At some point we have studied things like Carbon-14 dating, but with things like this, we can almost create a timeline of culture. It'd be interesting to look back and say 50 years and look at things like this and have a record to popular interest of people at any given time. Combining information like this along with TV ratings and other charts of public viewing would allow us to remember the past better than ever before. Yet just how much would the internet let us see?

Privacy has always been a concern on the internet. Who knows who is watching what you type or surf while you are on? Many companies are monitoring for harmless purposes, like wikipedia is. However, many more are monitoring to advertise or other purposes. The question is what information should be availiable or what should be kept secret-and how.

Until then, I wholehearted support keeping information like wikipedia is keeping-not individual specfics, but a broad overview. Sites like google of course have been and will continue to do so.

Imagining the Universe

I've always wondered what would happen aliens suddenly came to Earth, and then, as an ultimatum, declared that humanity would be spared if and only if one human was taken and put in some kind of stasis field for eternity -- literally forever. What that one person would see would be an endless white expanse, so he/she would have nothing to but to sit and think. Forever. And I always imagined what would happen if that person was me.

That's kind of a disturbing thought, to be trapped like that, with nothing to do. It's sort of a childish flight of fancy (but quite intriguing to think about, I have to admit), but these days I've been sort of using this as the foundation for a thought experiment.

Recently, I've come across several articles aluding to the possibility that mathematics, the traditional abstract, ideal, removed-from-the-universe branch of science, was actually just another observational science, like astronomy or biology. Now that's preposterous, you say. Mathematics is one of those lofty pillars of human thought that transcend observation and experimentation -- a truth of mathematics is immortal and can be derived independently of any physical observation, right?

This brings up the question of "What is derivation?" Plato believed that mathematical objects already "exist" (in that realm of universals), and we are merely observing "instances" of these ideal objects. So are we truly discovering mathematical truths when we prove something? Or are we simply observing what is already there in the universe?

Mathematicians like to believe that there is some special, unique faculty of humans that allows for that jump of insight, that flash of intuition that leads them to epiphanies about the mathematical universe. Most junior-high students taking plane geometry will tell you it's damn hard to figure out proofs. Indeed, to come up with a logical pathway to some truth in question seems like the act of creativity, which we believe to be a quality unique to humans. It's that feeling that humans are being creative that leads to the conclusion that, indeed, humans are creating mathematics. Proving a conjecture is as much a process of creation as painting.

My thought experiment: would this man, stuck in eternity with nothing but his logical faculties intact, be able to derive -- no, create -- all of mathematics? And from there would he be able to formulate the laws of physics exactly as they are in our universe? He would become a God, in a sense, creating the universe in his mind.

The idealist in me says "yes." I (wish to) believe this because I like the idea of the universe's existence being contingent only on the rules of physics, those being contigent on the rules of mathematics, and those being contingent on the irrevocable laws of logic. In other words, the universe is ideally perfect.

But it is hard to believe that this is so. Much of our mathematics comes from physical observations. We hear of Greek mathematicians (such as Pythagoras) verifying the now-irrefutable laws of triangles and geometry by scratching very precise diagrams in sand. Newton invented a branch of mathematics dealing with infinitesimal sums and limits to explain the cosmos. It seems that for most of history, mathematics has been tailored to the beck and call of physics.

(Slight digression: I wrote Newton "invented" calculus. The subtle question here is: did he really? Or did he merely "observe" the process of calculus taking place in the universe, and put it together in a conceptual framework that humans can understand?)

It is only a recent development of mathematics (past 2-3 centuries), it seems, to deal with the incredibly abstract that have no direct connection to physical reality, such as number theory. Number theory is a sort of a "meta-mathematics" - a formalized logic system to verify the validity of mathematics itself. Can you really call it mathematics? Perhaps we should really divide mathematics into two camps: mathematics used to describe and model physical reality, and the mathematics used to describe the first. It seems that one is yet another framework attempting to model the previous one.

So here we have sort of a hierarchy (top-down):

  1. Physical reality (as is), which leads to:
  2. Physics, man's capacity to model physical reality using:
  3. (Physical) Mathematics, which is described by:
  4. (Logical) Mathematics, which is based on the pillars of:
  5. Logic, which is __________
Thus far in history, the cause-and-effect of the development of the branches of science and mathematics has been top-down: observing the cosmos led to physics which led to development of physical mathematics which inspired mathematicians to create logical mathematics which is inspiring computer scientists and mathematicians alike to-day to ponder the foundations of logic.

My question is: in the universe, is the hierarchy reversed? In other words, does simply having the foundations of logic give growth to everything else?

More to come in Imagining the Universe, Part 2

Monday, March 5, 2007

Microsoft not up to par on anti-virus software

It is truly surprising that one of the biggest names in the computer industry, Microsoft, fails time after time to improve the security of its software. Microsoft's OneCare Program finishes last in a test done by AV-Comparatives. OneCare failed to live up to the standards of other anti-virus programs in the categories - viruses, macros, worms and scripts; backdoors, trojans, and other malware. OneCare received the worst score of 17 other tested softwares.

Launched in May 2006 with the intention of beefing up Win XP's security, the software has been trailing behind other commercial softwares and quite frankly has not been able to catch up. The program was launched in numerous countries following the release of Vista, aiming to tighten up the security holes of Vista. Despite Microsoft's advertisement of much improved security in Vista, there are apparently still flaws. With OneCare's poor test results, it would be wise to think twice before deciding upon yet another Microsoft product.


Although there is no lack of new games coming out, i find myself coming back to playing the same games. Lately, I've started to play starcraft and counterstrike again. Despite supposedly "better" RTS (real time strategy) and FPS (first person shooter) games out there, I still prefer playing those two. Yes I have tried Warcraft 3 and CS:Source, but for some reason, they aren't as enjoyable. Maybe I'm just experiencing nostalgia?

Then again, most of the games I see coming out seem to be re-hashes of the same type of game. I'm not only talking about the series such as the Final Fantasy games, but almost all games that are coming out today in general. So many games are just a newer, better looking FPS, or a generic RPG with a battle system similar to what has been seen for 15 years. Looking at the games coming out in the near future (IGN), a lot either seem to be sequels, look alikes, or a game based on the lastest movie. There are some new innovative games coming out, such as Spore, but like I touched on in a previous post, many companies don't want to take the risk of trying to do something unsuccessful. But just by looking at the list of games coming out, so many just seem to advertise as being a next flight sim, RPG, RTS, FPS or whatever gets them a secured profit. Maybe that is why I don't have an interest in many new games anymore.

Maybe I'll just have to wait for Duke Nukem Forever to come out. Guess I'll just play starcraft and CS until then. Time to construct some additional pylons.

China launches first spacewalk

China is setting the launch date for her first spacewalk flight in 2008.

The shuttle Shenzhou VII is set to launch in 2008, but with no specific date. However, promise has been made that the safety of the astronauts will be placed first. Scientists deny the claim that the launch will coincide with the 2008 Olympics.

China's space program has seen the launch of several unmanned flights as well as the first manned flight in 2003. China is one of three nations to develop manned spaceflight independently, after USA and Russia. The three astronauts aboard Shenzhou VII are scheduled to orbit Earth for up to 5 days and perform extra-vehicle (EV) activities. This will be the third manned spaceflight and another notch on the belt for the Chinese space program.

Changing Default Font and more in MS Office 2007

Microsoft recently released their newest, slickest, Vista-ready version of their office productivity suite, imaginatively dubbed "Office 2007." I got my hands on a copy recently, and I must say, it is very slick. Most of you have probably heard about this wonderful new ribbon menu system, so I won't belabor it here. But kudos to Microsoft for this cool idea. Time will tell if it's a useful cool idea.

But I do have some minor gripes with the new MS Word: the default font was set at 11 pt Calibri. Calibri is one of several of Microsoft's very pretty-looking "Longhorn Fonts" (which I had acquired two years ago). But Calibri is not a suitable font for essays... or any serious document for that matter. It's like Arial - it burns the eyes to read.

Another gripe I had with it was the paragraph spacing. For some reason, the default is set to add 10 points spacing between your paragraphs. I suppose that's fine for some types of documents, but I don't appreciate it as a default. So finally I moved my lazy ass to find out how to change it. It's very simple:

Just click on the icons that I circled, and up will pop a dialog box that will allow you to change the default font, etc. Hope that helps.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the shortcuts that I use all the time in Firefox is the "wp" feature. I type in "wp" (without the quotes) in the address bar followed by a space, and then followed by whatever query I want, and it automatically takes me to the Wikipedia page for the query (or a search page, if the query yielded no results).

But it turns out that there are a lot of these shortcuts -- and you can even configure your own! This website shows you the ones that are built in (such as dictionary, wikipedia, google, urban slang dictionary), and shows you how to add your own. My favorite is the ability to right click on any search engine text box and select "Add keyword for this search". You can go bonkers with it.

I just learn new things about firefox everyday.