Posts Tagged 'computers'

Childhood Dream – Video

I was feeling a bit nostalgic today, remembering such classic cartoons as “Darkwing Duck,” “Talespin,” and others with some of my peers. Perhaps that’s why I was taken back to my catalog junkie days.

That’s right, I was a catalog junkie. I used to regularly receive catalogs from several computer and software companies (junk-mail in my parents’ eyes), in addition to flipping through the big Sears catalog my mother would get. Those technology catalogs were my favorite though, and I learned a lot from them. For example, I knew all the fastest CPU speeds, how much RAM was being put in the high-end machines, and how big one could possibly get a hard drive. I noticed when the first floppy-drive-less computers began shipping, and realized that the minuscule storage on those things would prevent them from being missed.

Perhaps my favorite pastime from the catalog days was clipping or highlighting all of the components of my dream setup. I would find the most powerful graphics computer, clip it out and put it in a box or a folder. Then I would go find software that looked interesting for doing what I wanted to do, or supplemental hardware. I was in love with the 3D animations that had begun to get big and was convinced that I would become a 3D animator for movies and special effects. I found out about programs like Lightwave and 3D Studio Max. I learned that Photoshop was used to create textures and backdrops. I began learning which programs were low-end and which ones were being used to create professional work.

Eventually I had quite a collection. My collection of clippings evolved from technology alone to everything I wanted in life. There was this really cool computer desk that I wanted from the Sears catalog, as well as an entertainment center with doors that hid the TV. I even fell in love for one of the first times going through a catalog.

It was the Sears catalog, and I found her in the teen clothing section. I remember at the time I had a little crush on Anna Chlumsky from the movie My Girl. Her beauty was by far outshone by the mystery girl I found in the catalog. I am embarrassed to add that she was modeling underwear. Honestly, I don’t remember caring about the underwear (it wasn’t lingerie, it was like a sports bra or a trainer bra or something). I stared at her warm face and immaculate hair for hours on end, barely noticing the rest of her. I thought she had the most perfect eyes, the most beautiful smile… I was truly in love. I gazed so deeply into the image that I became irritated with how poorly images were reproduced in print products. I wanted a larger, clearer view of her gorgeous face (the whole clipping was only a few inches across). I often returned to the children’s section of the Sears catalog to see if she would come back, but alas I never saw her again. Several years later, just at the very beginning of my college adventures, I went to the Sears website and the rest of the web doing extensive searches in an attempt to find out who that girl might have been. I had a time frame, I knew the catalog month (but have since forgotten), I searched for several days. My efforts were to no avail. She was lost forever. Even my beloved clipping had disappeared and all I was left with was a memory. Luckily, I met my wife shortly thereafter.

That’s not why I wrote though. I am writing because I have been realizing over the last few months that one of my childhood dreams has remained alive within me (among others – they must have set up some kind of a refugee camp or something though, because the majority of my childhood dreams have long since been CRUSHED). In those catalog days, crouching over several copies of “PC Warehouse” at once, pondering the possibilities, I used to dream that one day I would have a family of my own (check, that one came true) and produce periodic family videos (using the cool stuff in the catalogs) that would have subtle, sporadic special effects sprinkled in (just to make them a little more fun). I had seen many home videos that were boring. If my family was going to make video of itself, it would need a little extra something.

Some of the ideas for CG (computer generated) additions to my home movies were things like a video of the children playing in the front yard, and in the background something crashes down from space into the house, causing an explosion (which the kids would ignore, of course, seeing as how they’re playing) and a giant robot or monster would come out of the rubble and crash around. I even thought it would be fun to have the kids participate, with me telling them to freak out and run at a certain time. Another idea was to have a video of one of the children’s rooms and have a doll or toy of his come to life in the background, dancing around and playing until the kid looks back at it.

At the time such ideas were the stuff Hollywood special effects artists were only beginning to get good at. Now, the tools exist for all of us; and anyone with the money to spare, the time to invest, and the skill to learn can do it. I’ve got the skills, I only lack the time and money (for now). Eventually, if I ever get that time and money, I still want to produce my own video. Home videos, perhaps a podcast/internet show, maybe some short films… I don’t know. The possibilities are endless. I wouldn’t want to make it a career, but as a hobby I could have a lot of fun with it. I even think my wife would love participating both in front of and behind the camera.

So, in advanced preparation for such a day, I am going to assemble and maintain a list of items to buy. I will assemble that list here and when I have a specific product, I will link to it and include it in a special list at metawishlist.com, so if you want to donate thousands of dollars to my cause, feel free.  The metawishlist keeps a running total of how much everything in the list would cost together (as of right now, over $12,000 not including the computer).

* I probably won’t link to one specific system because the “best” system specifications change almost daily.  If we ever really do this, I would simply look for the most powerful computer system available in the $2,000 – $6,000 range from a hardware manufacturer I trust.

** Adobe has ONE package called Creative Suite 3 Production Premium which contains all of the (starred**) items plus a few extras for a really great price.

That just about does it for now. If you have any suggestions for items on the list that are missing, better products than the ones I link to, or product suggestions for items I don’t have product for, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!

Call to Arms

I propose that the whole idea of an operating system that needs to restart in order to update or fix errors is fundamentally flawed and has its roots in the days when processor time and memory use were drastically more limited and more carefully budgeted in programming than they need to be now. If we continue to hold on to programming habits and traditions formed in those early days, future progress may slow or even halt when our technology begins demanding more efficient, dynamic infrastructures on which to think and perform calculations. When such a day comes, we might be left scratching our heads wondering what the big holdup is – unless we are ready.

For what reason do we have files in our systems that the operating system needs to protect from change while running? I believe that this may have originated in the days when the first two digits of the year were dropped to save space in the memory. The programmers didn’t consider that eventually the year wouldn’t start with a nineteen, or that such savings in memory would be trivial in just a few short years. I think that in order to keep the processor free to run programs in the operating system, programmers avoided having to reference certain system files more than once while the operating system is running. By reading them once at startup, then deeming them “untouchable” during operation, they avoided having to read the same information several times while running. Whether I have this particular detail correct or not, I think the basics of the idea are based in processor usage or memory management somehow. Either way, programmers did not realize that one day computer processors would be capable of performing calculations several times faster than most users would require of them and memory would be measured in terabytes rather than kilobytes.

In order to clearly see a need for change, we can travel into the future. Imagine a robotic surgeon performing an emergency surgery in a remote area of the world. This robot may be completely autonomous, or it may be remotely guided in some capacity by a human surgeon. The operation begins, the first slice cleanly revealing the innards of our poor, doomed example subject. A few cuts later and a major organ will be in jeopardy. There will be a thirty second window to take needed precautions to prevent this patient from being seriously injured or even killed. Our multi-limbed machine is fully capable of performing this task in under ten seconds, but suddenly, as the thirty second window opens, a fatal error occurs in the operating system code. A blue screen of death shines in the background while our patient is beginning to die in the foreground. A redundant system realizes the problem and restarts the main computer. Backup processes would have been able to carry out the instructions necessary to save this man’s life, but the data has been corrupted and needs to be restored. Luckily, this is the future, and our system restarts in just under ten seconds. The local data is restored by logging into the robot’s online data cloud and reconstructing the damaged areas. Finally, nearly fifteen seconds in to this critical countdown the surgeon begins saving the dying organ. Unfortunately, the process takes twenty seconds, and fatal damage has already been done. The patient dies.

Admittedly, even more redundant systems would probably exist on such an important machine, several of which redundancies would be fully capable of accessing uncorrupted, collectively managed data and completing the surgery without incident. My point wouldn’t be made quite so clearly though if redundant systems had saved the patient. The question is, why should our systems need to restart when an error is encountered? Shouldn’t proper, modular programming techniques be able to circumvent the need to completely reboot the whole operating system? It is both expensive and impractical to simply give every important computer system several redundant iterations of itself.

With processor speed so high and memory so freely available, I don’t see why we can’t have a certain amount of built-in redundancy for every individual computer without having to install physical clones of the computer. Systems exist that will add redundancy to data storage (like the Drobo), but even these techniques cannot prevent your system from needing to restart after certain errors. In a modular operating system, a fatal error should only require the affected module to restart, not the entire system. If the module that encounters the error is a critical system module that would cripple the entire operating system while disabled, then a redundant module should exist to prevent the user from being affected by the error.

For another silly example from the future, let’s visit the computer system that handles traffic movements. This system monitors traffic needs and controls traffic flow in an entire city. It networks with traffic computers in other cities to gather data about movements between the two cities. It connects with individuals’ calendars to help them get to appointments on time. This computer is a very busy system. Once a week, though, at three am (on Wednesday), it logs in to its manufacturer’s website to check for updates. If it finds any updates, it stops traffic for ten seconds while it reboots.

Ridiculous? Yes. If a computer is controlling traffic, the vehicles may be moving at amazing speeds. Ten seconds holding still, rather than moving at five hundred miles per hour, could mean big financial loss for businesses that rely on the quick movements of goods or people. Ten seconds not moving might seem like an eternity to a mother in labor on the way to the hospital, or a young man who has swallowed his iPhone and can’t breathe.

The traffic computer should be able to make changes to its system files without needing to shut down and restart. A modular system that isn’t afraid to reference itself dynamically should be able to make changes on the fly without exhibiting the archaic behavior of our current computers.

Why should we wait for such changes in operating system philosophy to become necessary? We are ready now, we have the processing power now, let’s do this – now. I call on operating system programmers everywhere (and anyone else who wants to help) to organize and begin redesigning the operating system from the ground up to be modular, redundant, resilient to errors and dynamically capable of updating without ever needing to restart, reboot or shut down.


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