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Category: Interesting or Cool

Peak Fall Foliage Tool

Peak Fall Foliage Tool

My favorite season is fall. The air turns cool, there are hay rides and pumpkin patches, one curls up with a good book in front of a fire, reading scary tales, and, of course, watching the leaves change.

Japan has some very good, live updating of fall colors on a few websites.

The folks over at this website have a nifty little tool that predicts when fall colors will change this year. How do they predict the trends this year? With a little bit of data (and possibly a touch of pretentiousness):

The company uses a model that ingests a multitude of data sources including historical precipitation, NOAA precipitation forecasts, elevation, actual temperatures, temperature forecasts, and average daylight exposure to develop a baseline fall date for each county in the continental United States. Next, the model consumes hundreds-of-thousands of additional data points from a variety of government and non-government sources and layers this data over its own historical data from past years and, finally, with a high degree of accuracy, the algorithm produces nearly 50,000 date outputs indicating the progression of fall for every county in a graphical presentation that is easy to digest.

Split-flap displays

Split-flap displays

Some of my fondest early foreign traveling memories were going to places in Europe and traveling from city to city where the train and airport arrivals/departures boards used these amazing electro-mechanical split-flap display boards. The last place I saw one still in use was at Frankfurt airport in Germany a year or so before covid (and I believe it’s still there):

Scottbez1 walks us through how they work with a demonstration of his single-digit Arduino-controlled display.

Even better, all the parts, software, 3D print resources, and information you need to make your own can be found on his github page:

But be forewarned, his estimates run around $200 to make only 4 of these wonderful digits.

Also, there are now companies around that will make these displays for you:

But be ready to pay $2800 for even a basic model. This guy does a decent job summarizing the current offerings.

The Difficult World of Relays

The Difficult World of Relays

Before transistors were created in 1947 by American physicists John Bardeen and Walter Brattain and vacuum tubes in 1908, electric circuit switching between on and off was a purely physical, mechanical process done via relays (invented in 1809). Some people have made whole computers from relays. But as ElectroBOOM comedically describes, there are a lot of difficult problems that relays had to be overcome which leads to an amazing number of trade-offs of speed, heat, longevity, safety, etc.

While we consider flipping circuits on/off in the GHz range (1,000,000,000 times per second) common on today’s modern transistor-based circuits, many of the same problems he describes here exist in some form in transistors (switching time, etc). Instead of the more mechanical issues/solutions relays use, transistors solve related problems with the types of substraits, power properties, etc.

At any rate, it’s a great trip back in time and a reminder that engineers know that while a concept looks very simple on paper, the devil is in the details – and sometimes those devils take decades to work out (if ever).

Magnetically Levitating Power Generation

Magnetically Levitating Power Generation

Tom Stanton, maybe unintentionally, walks us through the entire industrial revolution’s worth of power generation technology in under 15 minutes as he demonstrates his desktop toy sized magnetically levitated flywheel. He then uses it to generate AC power for some LED’s and motors. Again, maybe unintentionally, he educates people on how power is generated today from turbines. The technology is the same whether it is a hand crank, steam from a nuclear reactor, or a spinning windmill.

Bonus points for the most clear explaination of a full bridge rectifier I have ever seen.

8GB vs 16gb Mac M1

8GB vs 16gb Mac M1

I dabble around in Mac development semi-regularly, and was recently looking to update my Mac Mini to an M1 mac. Finding real data on whether you should buy the 8gb or 16gb version has been difficult. Despite many articles, very few do this kind of excellent side-by-side comparison.

I will say that some of the comparisons done early in this side-by-side video aren’t quite representative. Just opening an app and switching tabs isn’t super representative of performance since a good stack will just cache the image. To do a real test requires you make the app render something: scroll, select a dialog, or do a minimal interaction with the app to see if it snaps back to life or is just showing a static cached image (like the iPhone often does).

Things you should never do #42

Things you should never do #42

#42 – Never re-write your software from scratch.

I have referred this article to many a developer – especially young developers – that become enamored with the idea of ‘scrapping it all and re-writing from scratch’. It’s a phase that almost every young developer goes through when they come into an existing codebase. Senior engineers have a duty to explain why re-writing isn’t always an option and how to make that choice. Refactoring, however, is almost always the answer.

As Joel tells us, re-writing from scratch is one of the worst strategic mistakes, and likely one of the larger technical ones, you can make. He wrote this in the first dot-com boom in 2000, but it’s even MORE relevant today in the fast paced entrepreneurial world where time to market is one of the critical factors to the success of your idea. Even to the point that speed is the ONLY critical factor and the only requirement is that you just need to get it working once.

Joel Spolsky knows his stuff. He’s a chairman, founder, developer and entrepreneur that created Trello, Glitch, FogBugz, worked at Stack Overflow, Microsoft on Excel, and numerous other accolades.

Give his excellent article a read.

Further musings

Are there legitimate times you need to re-write from scratch? Possibly, but I think they are rare and getting rarer – refactoring is almost always a better solution unless you are radically changing the direction of a product. A good lead should take a step back from the desire for the cleanest code and ask what’s the right decision given the entirety of my engineering and business constraints.

Legitimate cases I can think of: radical change of direction in your product, dependent hardware/OS goes end of life, security issue in component you can’t update, or due to licensing issues. Then you are likely facing a legitimate re-write – MAYBE. And that maybe gets bigger each year.

In the case of end-of-life hardware, one notices that compute overhead is increasing every year. People now realize that simply emulating old hardware is MUCH better, faster, and cheaper than re-writing/porting. Apple is demonstrating this with Rosetta 2 on their new M1 chips. Intel did this with it’s mobile emulator. There’s literally hundreds of game console emulators. Why re-write when you can simply write one emulator and statistically end up with far few bugs, far better scaling, and hugely faster time to market for a whole product line?

Virtualization has also become a first class solution for OS/software stacks that no longer have support. One should ask if they can simply slap the component into a virtual machine. This might work if the system has an issue like an un-patchable security hole or you need new functionality on a system with no more support. You might be able to wrap the component in a virtual machine and solve the security or feature issue in the host and pass through existing behavior. This keeps production going and you can replace the system at your leisure.

For licensing issues can be the one real killer. This is why it’s so critical to evaluate usage licenses strategically before you first pick up a SDK/piece of software and use it. Properly evaluating the IP and licensing of your core packages is a critical first architecture task. There is no greater disaster than finding out a critical package has a business model breaking licensing requirement right before you ship – and this is one case in which you almost guarantee a painful re-write/replacement of key functionality.

If you find out you have to do the re-write, his points about re-writing are true for these forced cases too. You’re going to spending a TON of time and money to get back to where you already are today. Strategically, this is going to crater all forward momentum of your business and opens you to now being in a race with any competitor also starting from scratch. Even worse, once you have your re-written solution, you’re also going to have to fix bugs and edge cases you had already solved, or never even knew about since they were covered by the old architecture’s inherent properties (this is another reason why people that argue “the code is the documentation” are patently wrong).

So, to add to his article, I’d add emulation and virtualization as further solutions when facing a re-write.

Anime Star Wars: Visions

Anime Star Wars: Visions

Check out this beautiful and eye-popping footage from the upcoming Star Wars animated series. It features seven original stories as told through the eyes of some of Japan’s greatest anime studios. The series premieres on Disney+ on 9.22.2021

A little background on the project:

Olympic Kimonos for every country

Olympic Kimonos for every country

The Kimono Project was launched in August 2014 by a Japanese organization called Imagine One World. It took six years to complete over 200 custom kimono that drew inspiration from each country’s culture, history, or architectural beauty.

The 213 kimonos and obis include countries that Japan has diplomatic relations with, including Niue and Vatican City.

The kimonos and obis are not on public display, as was initially planned, due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, it is hoped that they will be shown during Expo 2025, which is due to be held in Osaka, Japan.

A full outfit for one country cost around ¥2 million ($18,300), consisting of the kimono, obi, and smaller accessories. They have all been handmade with traditional methods, each taking between one and two years to craft.

Below is the Kimono for the United States created by Yu Naruse who describes it below:

“The image of a country consisting of 50 states called “United States” is expressed by “state flowers”. Designed with the national symbol “President” as “American Eagle”. Baseball, American football, Hollywood movies, and the goddess of freedom, which Americans love, are studded in the flowers of the state, and the great presidents Lincoln and Kennedy are represented by statues and Apollo programs.”

Molly Bloom’s Game

Molly Bloom’s Game

Molly’s Game was a really interesting, though somewhat quietly splashed movie. One might attribute it’s quiet success to the fact it was a real-life crime drama released Christmas 2017 and only saw expanded releases in early 2018. Conspiracy folks might think it was kept sedate since it involves a number of very famous Hollywood actors, Wall Street figures, and politicians (that are never officially named).

The movie does an excellent job telling the dramatic and real-life events of a high stakes poker game run for several years by Molly Bloom. The most interesting facts were that very famous and powerful Hollywood actors, professional poker players, politicians, and Wall Street execs attended the games this former olympic athlete stole away from a rather unsavory Hollywood star. Told through Molly’s eyes, it shows how she uses her smarts, insight, and decisiveness to keep the game going, the toll it took, and how it ultimately ended.

While the movie itself is excellent on its own, this follow-up interview with Molly Bloom, in my opinion, is even more interesting. Give the whole interview a read for sure – because it’s something I think everyone should read about the promises of power, money, and fame.

I particularly appreciated this set of quotes:

I was absolutely addicted to the lifestyle and to the role that I played in it – being the owner, operator and bank. 

I had come to the realisation, at some point in my career, that what I was doing wasn’t exactly good and that I was using creativity and intelligence to lure people into these gambling events in which a high percentage of them were gambling addicts. It started to weigh heavy on my heart but I didn’t know how to leave because I was really consumed by the money I was making and the power that I had. So I stayed, even until I saw that it wasn’t aligned with my moral code. Ultimately, that made me really spiritually sick.

Now I think that true power is being solid no matter what and not having to rely on some ‘thing’ to make you somebody.

My two brothers are extremely successful human beings. Jordan is a Harvard-educated, cardiothoracic surgeon and Jeremy is a two-time Olympian who played in the NFL and now is a CEO of a very successful tech company. It’s exciting to allocate my time and resources and skills to something that makes the world a better place. I think you can build empires doing good in the world once you’re willing to make the purpose outweigh the financial return.

Also, the sound track for the movie was really good. Here’s on of my favorites by Daniel Pemberton that plays at the end as she pleads guilty and finally turns the corner. Give it a listen when you feel like you need to start again…