Do Kids Still Build Models?

Revell models. With the plastic trees that you twisted every numbered part out of? Rubber glue, Testor paint? If I were to make a reference to this experience as a metaphor, would anyone under the age of 40 know what I was talking about?


Virtualized TaskBar: A Utility I’d Like

Is there any utility that displays on your task bar all the applications running within your Virtual PC / VMWare / Remote Desktop Session? I’d really like such a utility. It ought to be possible, at least if the virtual machine is network-reachable. If I felt that I could sell more than a couple hundred for $30 a throw, I’d probably be willing to spend some time writing it myself, but I don’t think Windows users spend money on utilities. Mac people apparently buy 3rd party software and PDA users and cellphone users are friggin’ ATMs, but you know any utility for Windows is going to end up on P2P before you sell a hundred copies. Whether that actually zeroes out sales, I dunno’.

Coming To The Big Island This Week? The Helicopter Tour Might Be Worth It

imageSince I blogged the pause and restart of Pu’u O’o, for completeness I will report that the eruption on The Big Island of Hawai’i has not only returned, it’s in probably the most visually exciting phase it’s been in in years. After the Father’s Day earthquake swarm, the lava being fed to the surface has apparently moved “downrift” of the Pu’u O’o crater and in the past week has found the surface in what’s called a “fissure eruption.”

 This morning’s update speaks of a 100M-wide flow of lava (the picture is of a flow that was apparently around 10M across). If you want to see lava, you should know:

  • The hundreds-of-feet tall lava fountains in the advertisements happened for a few days twenty-four years ago,
  • From a distance of more than a few dozen yards, during daylight hours, flowing lava doesn’t look spectacular (the surface rock’s heat-related red component is very largely overwhelmed by the ambient light of the tropics). (Hmmm…. if your camcorder / digital camera has an infrared “night-shot” mode … )
  • Within a few dozen yards, it’s about the third-most amazing thing you’ll ever see
  • At night, even from a distance, flowing lava is probably the second-most amazing thing you’ll ever see. The visible red light from the heat is visible from many miles away.
  • Being within a few dozen yards of lava entering the ocean at night is the single most amazing thing you’ll ever see.

Right now, apparently the fissure eruption is throwing up some 2M high fountains. My guess is that this is among the best stuff you’ll ever see from a helicopter.

In summary, as of 7/28/2007:

  • Eruption’s back on and vog has returned (bummer)
  • You probably can’t see any of this from land at the moment, but the lava will very likely eventually find its way off the ridge its on and be visible, at night, from a distance
  • There are no legal hikes with a vantage point of the current eruption
  • A helicopter tour of the fissure eruption might give you a once-in-a-decade view

All of this will probably change within a week or so. If you’re planning on being a lava tourist, absolutely check out the daily eruption report.

BS On Rails

Kurt Schrader wonders if he’s the first person to hit a point in a Rails app where he wonders if he’s “finally hit the point where the cost of maintaining our code in Ruby is higher than the savings by writing it in Ruby in the first place?”

He says that:

  • He misses the refactoring tools of IDEA, and
  • Although it may have taken longer to reach, he feels he’s on “the same old curve to all of the standard problems you run into when programming a webapp in any language.”

Of course, he’s not the first person to see such problems. As I write about in a forthcoming column in SD Times, basically as soon as you start getting into professional-level complexity in Ruby, you start seeing that it’s no silver bullet. A great language, yes, but not a silver bullet.

Rails, too, is a very nice framework / DSL, but has huge shortcomings — contorting it to work with the naming not-quite-conventions of legacy databases is enough to make me consider it a “new projects only” tool.

Of course, refactoring IDEs have not been around for very long and it’s undoubtedly the case that people are striving to build refactoring Ruby IDEs. The challenge is making refactorings bullet-proof in a language with a dynamic type system. You can’t have a “press the button” refactoring that works 95% of the time. This is a mistake that even today’s refactoring IDEs make: the “review these changes” dialog they pop up. They’re about as useful as “Are you sure you want to delete that?” in file dialogs. No one actually considers the question, they just hit “OK” and see if it breaks.

Dr. Dobb’s Goes Flash-Based

Huh. I just received a link in email to “my” August issue of Dr. Dobb’s Journal. I’m not going to post the link I got, since it’s undoubtedly linked to me, but can anyone access

It’s a Flash-based interface, but even when viewed in profile, full-screen (1050 x 1680), it’s annoyingly fuzzy:


Which zooms in as:



There doesn’t appear to be any way to control the antialiasing within the Flash interface. Blech.

Intel Open-Sources Its Excellent Threading Building Blocks Library

The very good Threading Building Blocks library from Intel, released last year around this time as 1.0 and being updated soon, has been open-sourced by Intel.  This is a hardcore C++ template library, but has some great-looking libraries and algorithms (lots of lock-free data structures). I’ve been unable to actually use the library, as my multicore system is AMD Opteron-based (just because I live in the tropics doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate an even warmer room).

With quad-core systems available under $1000 and the Q6600 now at $375 from Newegg, there’s a great temptation, but I’m going to try to resist until I can build an 8-core machine, which to my mind is the inflection point from “multicore” to “manycore.”