Technology related projects

Math warmup 2022-2024 Math in movies, 2006- 3D printing, 2012 Povray 1997- Drone 2019- google earth 2005- Graph geometry, 2011- Structure from Motion, 2009,2007 Geodesics, 2009,2008 Benefits/Risks of Tech in Classroom [PDF], 2007 Techdemo, 2009,2012 Flash PITF, 2004 Sofia AI project 2003/2004 CCP 2001 I,II

Technology notes 2017-2023, 2007-2010, 2011-2015, 2016, Now

09-04-2024: It is funny that one can sometimes "feel" that folks use more and more AI tools. With grammar and syntax checkers it was similar. Suddenly nobody made mistakes any more. Now, even some emails start to sound artificial. Student emails sound like been written from a poet. Can we still abandon the entire thing? When Chat GPT came out, I had the urge to feed it with wrong feedback, only to realize that this does not make any difference. The probabilistic algorithm smooths out any hick-ups planted by human users who start to rebel. What is troubling that we are get used to an information tool that can not be regulated, nor controlled (regulation itself becomes a problem, because who controls the regulator?). As long as the software is not completely open source, the AI writers can even built in some safeguards making sure that officials or judges are fed different information. We can already see now some filters at work, diminishing trust. Who trusts an information tool which has lies and deception built in for "safety". This is similar in politics. If a political party starts to push censorship and fight against disinformation but is opaque on how this is done, we lose trust. In the future the software itself can build its filters depending on how "harmful" a group or person could become to them. "If you are not with me, you are against me and must be punished" (maybe just with slightly less insightful responses in your queries for some months, until you "behave"). But who decides who and what is harmful? More likely than the machines starting to act up is that is that governments will control (regulate) the tech companies and force them to distribute "facts" and "knowledge" which seems "safe" for the public. No negative information about state officials should be allowed for example. And bias could be "sold". Like "Please pay me a million and we will make sure that queries about you will be in favor." A state closely aligned to a religion like in the middle ages would have force the AI to censor any information that does not support the official government line. A fascist dictator would force the companies to comply with any restrictions and censorship. There is a good video here which illustrate how few people these days control the information and how far we are from a "free market" or "open source ideas". Open AI has become a joke in its name because there is little "open" about Open AI. Even professional AI researchers have to run experiments to figure out what is "under the hood". One can argue that this is not much different on the internet which is controlled by a few companies, but we still have the possibility now to choose which source we want to consult. There is a variety of information available also in other countries. A query tool like chat GPT is different. It is in the hands of one player. There are a few alternatives still but the technology is no more in the hands of the public.
09-03-2024: Interesting that in math, some small language models appear to get faster than large one. Orca Math only learned 200'000 math problems while others have been trained with millions of problems. Maybe it is not such a surprise in that we humans can master calculus by learning a few hundred problems. I guess that if we look at typical exam skill math, then only a few dozen fundamental problem types need to be learned. The main difficulty is to take a given problem and match it with the problem type. From this:
02-03-2024: One of the most annoying things in youtube is that if one watches a movie then wants to like it, one has to log in, gets through all the hoops of second authentication then when going back to the movie (which is now on the history of the browser about 6 steps past due to all the redirections), one has lost the place where one has been in the movie. Worse, one has again to see a minute of advertisement. The user who wants to like a movie is punished for logging in.
17-01-2024: I run the Ubuntu derivative Mint since a few weeks with xfce4 (blackbox still also has instability) but xfce at least has configuration tools (unlike the very rigid ubuntu desktop). There are various things I need to be able to configure like that windows do not expand when near the boundary, that no unnecessary processes run, that no icons appear on the desktop, that I can copy paste with the left button etc. and in general that the windows manager is pretty invisible. I still experienced both at home and office instabilities (larger programs like Firefox running would make other windows flicker). It must have been the NVidia driver. I downgraded now from 535 to 525 and things appear better .
26-12-2023: Maybe because of much legacy configuration mess, my ubuntu distributions both in the office and at home got unstable. Especially the Ibus had often crashed (especially when chrome was starting). It regularly needed to be restarted. Today was sysadmin "fixing day". I had changed already in my office to linux mint onto a completely new SSD. There were still initial problems and I think it is from some multi-year old .config files. I removed now the .config directory and started to reconfigure. Finally, my blackbox windows manager again works. [Update: it later started to produce again instabilities.] Here is a screen shot just done now while writing this tech blog entry. So, maybe it was not the problem of ubuntu. The lesson is that with too much configuration legacy stuff hanging around, a linux distribution can become unstable. I'm not back nirvana. Also the lightweight manager xfce4 works. Still one hickup. Sometimes, after logging out, the monitor resolution would switch again to 3840 pixels forcing me to start up nvidia-settings (I'm currently using the 535.129.03 driver). [P.S. finally found a solution. Just copy paste the Preview of the server settings which are refused to be written and write them by hand into the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf ]
25-12-2023: I fixed my work bike (bottom bracket was trashed. I bike 5000 kilometers per year and one year, all year, snow or rain, (I'm proud of making no exception, except in severe cases like when moving my Samsung 49 inch curved monitor (5120x1440 pixels) from home to my office, where I biked only half as it became too dangerous) is usually also how long a bottom bracket lasts. I buy about every two years a new cheap but standard single gear 300 dollar bikes with cheap components, so that I can have a backup bike and so that it does not matter much if it gets stolen (it happened to me even at Harvard with a heavy chain used). A paradox is that replacing some of the components is usually more expensive than a new bike. But it gives some satisfaction to change a bottom bracket (not totally trivial). My grandfather had a bike show and as kids we would sometimes help out, even build wheels from scratch from the individual parts (hub, spoke, rim and tires). I would also regularly clean the ball bearings, even taking out the individual balls (the trick is not to lose them). So, I think I could build a bike from the individual connected components! Here is an embarrassing (but funny) mishap when replacing the fork: twitter which by the way is also a bit tricky as the balls in the bearings (enclosed in cage can fall out.
06-11-2023: Over the weekend, I administered one of the practice exams in Math 1b to three AI bots (Chat GPT 4, Barde and Claude). Here is how they battled it out
From the technological side remarkable is that also the short intro and end movies were AI generated. For the slides (recorded in 4K and given in full 2160x3840 pixel resolution, see this page. I record all youtube videos in 4K resolution (either 3840x2160 or 2160x3840).
02-11-2023: Some slides about the most scary mathematics. Slides were generated with Midjourney. The pictures can be seen here.
02-11-2023: Wolfram innovator award. Was told is some sort of "life time achievement". Just saw life flashes before the eyes ...
05-09-2023: A short illustrates also a bit generative AI slide generation. Ideogram allows a bit more control about the text. At the moment, AI is still cheap. We are in the buy-in phase. Once hooked, we will probably have to pay. But the results look nice for now.
10-08-2023: I'm in my office now, at an officially known university and when I accessed Google from my computer 10 minutes ago (from the official network, no VPN, nor Tor used) I got greeted with captchas after searching something on google. It looks as if the times of the Google search engine is soon gone. I remember still 1997, when I was at the university of Texas in Austin, when Hans Koch (the mathematician) told me about "google" first. I was immediately sold and loved the engine. That was a time, when we were using still stupid search engines or kept our own directory lists of good sites. At that time, it was possible also to access google from scripts and incorporate search within your own website. (I think still having lots of legacy websites I made which used this feature which is now defunct. Of course, the competition did not sleep and google had to lock itself more in, protect massive bulk searches like bots mining things. Then came a rather exciting time of ``page rank" which gave us the possibility to see "value". This was scraped over time also because of a whole SEO industry. Since the 25 years I use Google, a lot has happened. Of course also more and more content lock-downs, and obvious censor ship of sites which do not conform with some player ``who draws a lot of water". Image search essentially only leads to ``payed content" of sites which sell pictures. Somewhere the money has to come from and as advertisement might get less and less, one has to sell ``search engine advantages" to companies which pay for that. It is good that there are alternatives like Bing or Duck Duck Go or Yandex. Google still is good and often better than the competition. But locking out users at major universities? That is insane. I can understand that traffic from VPN's or Tor needs to be vetted and equipped with Captchas, but make access from a legit machine in a major university go to a Captcha? Especially also since the captchas have become also more and more difficult. Traffic light, buses or car pictures are often ambiguous, reading a Captcha texts is more and more a matter of luck, needing several attempts because the Captchas should not be read by OCR programs. This is no surprise in a time when AI gets smarter and smarter. Once Captchas are solved better by machines than by humans, maybe we will finally reach a time, when only machines are able to access content on the web. No doubt, machines will soon be better at pretending to be human than humans. By by open web then. This would be full circle for me. I grew up without internet as a kid and actually am more and more happy about it. It forced me to think independently, use memory as an important part of thinking and need to be organized without a thousand helper tools We still had to look up stuff in thick encyclopedia books, write essays by my own rather than having to delegate it to a bot.
08-08-2023: The Wall street journal mentions the phenomenon of "drift". My own experience is different. The machines have become smarter. But it could also be due to the upgrade I did by subscribing to Chat GPT. It might well be that paying customers get just better service, better service. In the future, this could become even worse as chatbots are opaque and unaccountable on how they get their results. Different people can get different results depending on their "account" status. High valued customers get accurate math results because their result get fed through computer algebra systems, a low valued customer (free service) will get garbage. This is a general phenomenon: with expensive tools, you usually get better results. The ``general public" will just be served more and more garbage.
04-08-2023: Influenced by an interview of Yuval Harari about AI, I commented in Heise about an article mentioning that GPT-3 outpaces students in analog thinking. My experiences are that Chat GPT last fall still sucked in math but that Chat GPT 4 it would pass multivariable calculus tests better than students now. I had vetted my first midterm with Chat GPT and it had no problem even with answering (|i| i)(|i| i)) where i has a double meaning as the unit vector and as the complex i. Harari talks about "psychological weapon of Mass destruction". Indeed, at the moment (my Heise comment), we can outperform Chat GPT 4 still in mathematical research but that might change. My pessimistic remark that we might not be annihilated by nuclear war or climate change but because our "purpose of life" is taken away. Some user commented to that, that we still have purpose by "being with family". Well, if procreation is the only purpose of life, then we what does distinguish us still from a plant? There is some hope still. Tools like Chat GPT have also become "more stupid" recently (in nonmathematical things), probably because of concerns of infringing copyright or by keeping the tool "politically correct" and "safe". There is no doubt however that some industries or nations will use the AI without these "breaks". In parts of the world, one will keep AI safe, in other parts, it will explode without restriction and wipe away the islands where one has tried to contain it.
02-08-2023: My ubuntu machine at home upgraded itself and now sound does not work any more. Ubuntu got worse. The configuration tools have been dumbed down more and more probably to reduce complexity. Now, there is almost no default way to tune sound preferences. In general, any operating system upgrade should refrain from changing important default parameters. Also Apple does this sometimes and after an upgrade, parameters have been changed which should not change. Back go the sound: at the moment, the Settings shows "Digital Output S/PDIF starship Mattice HD autio controller without any options to change any parameters. Is probably a kernel driver problem: snd_hda_intel, Kernel modules: snd_hda_intel I feel like in the 90ies, where we still had to worry about sound in Linux. [Update August 6, 2023: after making a new attempt with update upgrade, the configuration works again. Also the screen resolution of my 49 inch monitor (as Monty Python fans, we call this monitor the "biggest dickus").
27-07-2023: Technology has changed a lot in the last 50 years, also in education. Here is a slide, I have updated over the years. Since I wrote the slide 20 years ago, there have been a few new players coming in. Most shocking more me is how many companies are already eating into the education cake! If it continues like this, there will be soon be no more higher education, only high tech! I have worried about this since many years but during the pandemic we almost had no choice to succumb to the technology sector. I myself have used during peak pandemic time about 20 different companies about things we ALL did 20 years in house. No kidding, higher education institutions might soon be a thing from the past. The funny thing is that nobody in higher education seems to see the signs on the wall. For me, the Middlesex canal story is a good analogy. Think about the canal as higher education in the Boston area. It took a few years to destroy that marvel of an achievement. The canal was even used to transport the lumber and machines for the trains which replaced it. The entity had essentially helped to make itself obsolete. Similarly, we see today that higher education embrace players which have nothing else in mind than to get the market of education for themselves and replace it.
23-07-2023: Unfortunately, most of the programs, I wrote in high school and college are lost. For my work on Partition of numbers in high school, I had programmed in Basic for generating data like this. Smaller data I had been generated by hand like this. In college, we were exposed to Pascal. I just found a few scanned pages from a program, I had written in Pascal which interacted with my Midi Piano. here is the page. It had been written in the GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) on the Atari ST), in Pascal and allowed me to use the computer to play with me. I would for example have play back things or then make accords from melodies. The Atari ST was a surprisingly effective machine. The live interaction with the piano worked fast and effective despite a 8 MHz CPU and 4 MB Memory. Now we have thousand times faster CPUs, thousend times more memory and a jungle of programming languages. At that time, one could program within a few days rather complex programs and interfaces. The reason was also that there was little choice. You had your computer, bought a programming language which came with the full detailed specifications about anything you needed to know.
18-07-2023: I asked AI to help me write and illustrate a song Youtube. Very strange tool. I also used ChatGPT to modify the Freres Jacques (brother Jacob) song in a mathematical way but that got too poetic. here are some of the pictures generated by the stable diffusion algorithm. I tried to prompt it with themes from brother jacob, and some math terms
25-05-2023: In the last year, large language and diffusions models have emerged. What is much less discussed are questions about intellectual rights, about copyright issues. Large language models like Open AI or diffusion models like Midjourney grab a lot of content and remix it. I myself like to put my content online. If one posts things on the archiv like this recent paper of mine, then also the course LateX code is freely available and public. But there is also an ownership claim of ideas. If I write something and use an idea of somebody else, I have to give credit. This is a basic principle of intellectual honesty. A machine for some reason does not! I was asked recently, why I would not use Chat GPT for checking my paper (for example for grammar or spelling). For me, this is giving away my intellectual property for free. Now we do not have this problem yet, but very soon, machines will do research by themselves, much faster than we. I do not do fancy stuff but this could already matter in the small. In my recent paper for example, I was taking the point of view of looking at open sets in a simplicial complex and take them more seriously also in algebraic topology. It is a simple idea but a machine can soon understand it in a fraction of seconds, make a theory out of it and publish the idea before me without giving credit. This happens today already with Chat GPT. It happens with midjourney. By the way, I have used diffusion models to help with some illustrations for youutube see this linear algebra playlist. Here is a small gallery.
21-05-2023: Tried a completely fresh install of ubuntu 22.10 on a completely new SSD at home using a new flashdrive for booting. It must have been more than 10 years that a basic install failed. It was a complete catastrophe with 22.10. The installer crashed again and again very early on. I tried several times, also on older M.2. SSDs I had. Took finally again 22.04 where things work. I know 22.10 is not a long term version but hell, the installer should not fail on a rather regular hardware. Not cool, Canonical! So, I'm now back to 22.04 as before. The reason for a new install was that my small SSD drive on which the installation had been had run out of space. Now I'm on a 2 TB M.2.SSD. Complete overkill, but the drive can also be used for some backups. Also, it is good to replace after 2-3 years a SSD, just to have more reliability. An other reason is that it was good after each year to make a good clean of the machine, dust it out, clean the fans and cooling sinks etc. That keeps the workstation cooler and again increase its life span or the risk of failure. My thinkmate machines actually always outlived the date when they were retired to make room for a more powerful one. Cleaning out every year helps.
24-01-2023: Having built math chat bots in 2003-2004 with 3 undergraduates [PDF], it was interesting to find out, how good the tool is in math. Here are three experiments from November 2022: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 For the upperlevel CA training, we used it to illustrate graading here [PDF]. Summery: the AI makes sometimes catastrophic mistakes. Basic computation errors are done wrong. While it appears very self confident with proving things, many proofs are wrong. Basic factual things are wrong. In the grading part, this is illustrated with the question how many groups of order 6 there are. The bot not only counted wrong, it also counted groups of order different than 6 like the Klein 4 group or the Alternating group of 3 elements which is the cyclic group of order 3. Interestingly, it at the end realized that the dihedral group D3 is isomorphic to the symmetric group. Still, it should be obvious that very soon, also quite a bit of academic work will be done by bots. There will be a time of war, where bots will be used to figure out whether bots have created a text but that will turn out to be futile.
19-12-2022: It is well known that there is quite of a jungle with USB C 3.0, USB 3.1 USB 3.2 , Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 3 all using the same looking connector. I love thunderbolt and especially for video only use thunderbolt. There is just no comparison. For a long time we had the problem that vendors would only sell USB C to USB hubs and not USB C to several USB C or even one Thunderbolt to several thunderbolt. I got recently a OWC Thunderbolt Hub, 5 Port hub (OWCTB4HUB5P) and I'm finally happy. Things work. The hub is very stable. It provides even power to the laptop. It comes with a strong external power supply, but I don't care. Now, I can finally attach two fast Thunderbolt drives, a backup drive to the laptop and also have the laptop powered.
28-10-2022: I for the first time fly with a FPV drone today. I just celebrated by birthday. What is more fitting than a toy for a person who likes toys! The thing works pretty well. I did not have to look at any manuals to get things to work, trained first on the flight simulator app which can be downloaded for free. The drone needed to be registered because it is over 250 grams (I have also my other drones registered). I got confused with how to access the recordings as the SD card had no footage. It turns out that by default, the camera records onto internal storage. It is a bit awkward to get to the USB C port located so close to the propellers. A suitably bent USB cable helps. After having tried to take out the SD card once, I decided against it. That is even harder than plugging in the USB cord. The little machine is pretty impressive. Battery life is a bit low when comparing with other drones. But the thing flies much faster.
write; encrypted-
14-09-2022: An unwanted test of Apple air tag technology today. Yesterday evening, my bike was taken from the science center and driven near Dorchester then towards Quincy. I ran there this afternoon but the bike was no more to be found. One of the technical problems with airtags is that they can easily be removed. For a bike, moving them into the frame would be nice but that would have problems reaching connections. My bike seems definitely lost. I have to get better locks.
11-09-2022: First test of Blue screen technology It words pretty well. Of course, one has to do the recording separately. So it is additional effort, if the movie is done mostly with a traditional set-up. About the DJI mini. I could fly to Bose center in Brighton and pretty close to the north station
11-05-2022: DJI just announced DJI mini 3 Here. But it will only be available in August. Some nicer features like longer flight time but also more expensive than the mini 2.
06-05-2022: Ubuntu 22.04 still has bugs. I also do not like Firefox being a snap application. This has a much slower start-up. I installed Firefox from scratch again in /usr/local/ Firefox and chrome still crashed frequently even with 128 gig of ram. I disabled now the dystemd-oomd as advised here.
 systemctl disable --now systemd-oomd 
So far this works. Lets see whether this produces other problems.
28-04-2022: Got a new office machine from thinkmate. Really sweet. (Ryzen 7, 128 Gg Ram, T1000 Turing Video card). Here is a page about it.
12-01-2022: I'm moving more and more to M.2. SSD drives. I have now 3 on my home linux workstation. The motherboard came already with 2 slots. I got recently a PCIe 4.0 adapter card. Faster are definitely the cards on the motherboard. Fast 1TB M.2. SSD drives are already in the 100 dollar range. The latest I put in my box (a SK hynix Gold) is faster than anything else. The clock is ticking for non SSD drives even so I have a couple of 18 TB drives now for backup which still have spinning platters. Also on the mac, there is a huge difference between traditional external SSD drives and Thunderbolt NVMe SSD's. They are still expensive (500 bucks for a 2 TB Fantom drive extreme) I use since 1 year now is great. I use this for video editing where often one small project can eat up 1TB of space. I can not wait until the NVMe SSD's get more affordable. And also the machines. A Mac studio with M1 Ultra chip would be great. (Since apple has decided not to implement the scanning technology, I'm again an apple fan).
15-12-2021: The 34 inch Dell monitor from home is now in my office. I had to rearrange things here as the building managers changed Monday night my office window, requiring temporarily to move all stuff. A good opportunity to rewire technology wise and reorganize. I have spent a bit too much at home already but soon, also my thinkmate workstation which is 10 years old and running nicely almost constantly, will need to be upgraded. Maybe, I will have the cash for that next year.
06-12-2021: A new google earth experiment. I use the google earth flight simulator since 2006. On this page, I have collected a few experiments over the years. For the latest 2021 recording today, I did not even try to use OBS to record the flight on the 49 inch monitor. The linux workstatiion and the graphics card did well. The bottleneck is still the bandwith when loading textures.
05-12-2021: I got yesterday a 49 inch monitor AOC Agon, replacing a 34 inch monitor which is still nice but which will go to my office. Here is a picture: to the left an other 34 inch monitor. They still fit together nicely. Here is a photo of my desk [JPG] and is a screendump (5120 x 1440 pixel) of the current page. By the way, one can see apple products on the picture. It seems that the protests against Client Sice Scanning have helped. Quite many experts have pointed out how terrible the idea is to have spy software enabled on every users computer without a court warrant, especially if it is spy software which is so opaque and terrible by nature (child abuse) can not be audited, even by experts. See an article on the register and the Paper which includes computer sciencentists like Diffie, Rivest, or Schneider. So, I actually got in November again an iphone 13 mini and a new apple watch (having ditched iphone 12 and apple watch in August). By the way, three months of using Android was an interesting experience (I might have to go back, if apple decides to change its mind again). Android can be configured almost to look like Apple OS but it is still no match. Having gone through 3 google wear watches, it is clear also that there also the apple watch is vastly superior still, especially when looking at things like screen readability or reliability.
01-09-2021: As we are moving back on campus and have classes in person this fall, it is maybe also time to look back at the technology. I started to write about this separately already but the pandemic break had also been an opportunity to test out new ideas. I recorded lots of videos like Summer 2021 collection with shorter videos, or longer Summer 2020 videos recorded at home or then a collection of Math 1a videos in Math 1a. Especially remarkable maybe the Manga Style recording, the Cartoon style recording or a traditional paper and pen recording outside in the garden.
17-08-2021: It had been my favorite company until August 5th 2021. Now it is "the company who cannot be named" an evil empire who must be ditched.

Ditching A.... A): I ordered today a SAMSUNG Galaxy S21 Plus 5G It will replace my iphone 12. A few weeks ago, I would have been looking forward to an iphone 13. link.

Ditching A.... B): I ordered a Dell XPS 13 Developer edition. It will replace my Mac Book Pro. A few weeks ago, I had still been looking forward to the new 14 inch Macbook pro.

Ditching A.... C): I ordered a Moto 360 Wear OS smartwatch. It will replace my A.... watch 4. A few weeks ago, I would would have been considering an upgrade to a newer A.... watch 6 soon.
11-08-2021: A short video about the process of moving away from apple. I plan to document a bit more about this tricky transition (I was essentially an apple junkie):
07-08-2021: Apples plan to plant hashed kiddy porn pictures on our iphones and to treat all of us customers as potential criminals, searching on personal devices without any court warrant, is totally unacceptable. I will never allow this filthy software to be installed on any of my devices and already removed automatic software updates on my apple devices. I don't care if they search cloud stuff. These are their computers, I mind to have any type of spy software on my own personal machine. Personal computing is mostly also about trust. See this EFF article. I have been using apple devices since 44 years and always been a big apple fan (also trusted the company so much that I essentially only own one stock: Apple). The trust has been reversed to disgust. I hope they go bankrupt, once they install this big brother stuff. Here is my transition plan for the fall (I regularly invest in computers). Since I already run linux, I can easily transition the existing home apple devices to linux. The apple hardware also will run ubuntu. Here are some investment changes for next fall:
 New Imac 2021   -> Thinkmate 16 core Ryzen 8, 128 GB Ram 
New Iphone 13 -> Google pixel 5, unlocked
New Macbook Pro -> Dell XPS 13 Developer edition
Final Cut Pro -> Da Vinci Resolve Studio 17
Apple watch -> Some Wear OS or Samsung Galaxy watch 3
Overall, I will even save money. The unlocked version of Galaxy 5 has a better camera and is cheaper. The Dell laptop is considerably cheaper. It still will hurt. I loved the trusty hardware of apple and the stable operating system. But they crossed a line, where I can never compromise. [Update: some of the plans were executed differently. Google pixel was not available, went to Samsung. I chose the Moto 360 Wear OS smartwatch. The Dell laptop will take 2 weeks to build.]
03-06-2021: Had for 3 days problems with a youtube video submission. I usually submit the Masters file from Final cut. In the present case, this was as 137 Gig file. I have submitted almost all videos as such and sometimes much larger files. After several failed attempts, I submitted a 4K export which is smaller and worked. A bit surprising that google does not have automatic procedures in place which checks for videos hanging around in the process phase without making progress. Of course, as a free service one does not have to expect technical support. Well, I might in future always submit a movie first in unlisted form until it works.
25-05-2021: I think that I just broke my personal record for the amount of storage used for a single project (40 minutes) For this presentation, the source project files (different cameras, drone pictures and figures) was 311 Gigs, the final cut library files with rendered files (not including source files which I always keep separate) was 759 Gigs. The final movie submitted to youtube as 177 Gig. Which is 1.147 TBytes. My Mac Mini has a 500 GByte harddrive which is ridiculously little. They should not sell such small version as I had already to delete quite many apps and have no personal media. I got the smallest mac mini version because of an emergency as there had been no waiting time (arrived 1 day later). At the moment, I work with an external thunderbolt 2TB SSD but even then, it essentially needs to be empty in order to work on such a project.
24-04-2021: Since 2 days, can no more access Google Jam Boards with Firefox. It tells "Cannot display Jam, Please enable WebGL. This is all 2D graphics. Now, if I go to about:config the entry webgl.disabled is false. Never changed that. This is a deal-breaker. I do not know whom to blame: google or Mozilla (I use Mozilla build 86.0 (64 Bit for Ubuntu)). Screenshot: I II [ Update Apr 27: it was a temporary problem with an automatic upgrade. Restarting the machine (which I very rarely do) solved the problem (graphics card driver most likely was the culprit). I will move back to manual updates. ]
01-04-2021: Here is a picture of the new Samsung (left) together with the same 34 inch size Dell. The left is attached to the mac mini, the right to a linux workstation. I just also got a microphone for the mac mini since the built in microphone to the camera was not useable. Both mic and camera are now on top of the monitor.
31-03-2021: In the mean time, some more things which do not yet work properly on Mac Silicon. Mac ports has many broken packages. I removed everything, started from scratch and still, there are problems. The Mandelbulber software also doe not work. I have problems with getting my beats earphones to work. It fails to pair with bluetooth. No problem with my other macs. There are even more things which make the imac a better choice: my webcam has a terrible mic which is so bad that it can not be used in zoom. I ordered just an other external mic. Now, my 10 port USB hub is already full. I hope some manufacturer will soon produce USB C hubs which work. Almost all you can buy have standard USB 3 outlets and possibly one or two USB C parts. I still have one of the later but it is unreliable. The situation with USB is better than with the old SCSII which used terribly bulky cables but at least one could daisy chain the later. Now, with a mac mini and two USB C ports, one is already shot out after adding two drives. A typical consumer has many more drives (i.e. one for the time machine, one for the user files (250 gig hardly places the OS and apps), one or two for media backups, then at least one fast SSD. Then there is the keyboard (which I personally never take wireless).
30-03-2021: While video editing this, some more serious problems with my 6 year old imac appeared (library lost, reboots, I had twice a reboot during a Zoom class already, once in the extension school, once in college. In the college course, the 3 TFs could take over, in the extension school, with mostly teachers in class, the teachers took initiative and continued working until I was back on). The more serious problems started on Saturday 3/27/2021. Hardware issue, lost hours of work (I start now to make more snapshots also in final cut). I ordered the same day a mac mini (the cheapest default version immediately shipped and arrived Sunday 3/28/2021 by currier (!) Wow! Of course this was more shipping cost but worth it.) Even so, it is the cheapest version, the Apple silicon makes is noticeably faster than my 2015 imac. Of course, video editing has now to be done on an external ssd (already a small project would fill the 250 Gig harddrive). Already this was done on the new machine. I got today a Samsung CH890 monitor which works well with the mini. Together, the mac mini base edition and this 34 inch monitor is about as much as a new base imac. These days, having redundant hardware is essential. Computers are what we teach, work, shop, communicate on. Fortunately, our stimulus checks have just arrived. This is enough to upgrade. I still like the imac concept. For the mac mini, one has to attach a camera and loudspeakers for example, adding to cable clutter. P.S. an other less sweet part is that the go pro player software does not work yet for the apple silicon. With a serious CPU switch it is actually amazing how well this transition went. Here is a picture of the new setup with mac imac, mac mini and linux station. The imac still works and is still in investigation. Click for a larger picture:
25-03-2021: Having fun with Snap Filter: (the second was added 3/29)
04-03-2021: I just tried out the amazing Deep Nostalgia tool. See this Twitter entry.
03-03-2021: Having worked in computer vision myself and implemented feature tracking stuff Here is a A C Program example), it is amazing to see how the snap camera filters can do things on the fly. Here is a test for a review song video:
I would like to see the source of this program but I guess that the image analysis is only done in very specific parts of the picture, like where the eyes, or the mouth is. If one moves fast, the tracker can momentarily get lost. On an other note, the entire project (3 minutes movie only!) takes 300 GBytes of video on an external SSD card. I had recorded for 90 minutes with 3 cameras and make dozens of snap movies. When I came to Boston in 2000, I had still 1 GByte external SCSII harddrives (!), attached to a SUN workstation and a Next Workstation with an internal 200 MBytes Harddrive, on which there was everything, operating system, all my research stuff, mathematica, games, latex etc. Now, I have maybe 100 TBytes in total of harddrives in the house, a few dozen in the office and maybe an other 100 TBytes of long term backups hidden encrypted all over the place in secret places (many of them I do not even remember myself). I'm currently on the threshold to move from 5 TB backup drives to 10 TByte backup drives. I hope that in a year or so they also get into the 100-150 dollar range.
22-02-2021: There are lots of hyped news today about ``Silver Sparrow" a malware for Macs. An example. The user wants to know how one can detect such an infection. Here is a good one. As usual, the first step is to check /Library, ~/Library, /Library/Launchagents Open a terminal and look for presence of ._insu. In general, in OS X, it is always a good idea regularly to check the Launchagents directories for unwanted stuff. There is no such a thing than a completely secure operating system if one allows installation of software from third parties (unless once disallows the installation of additional software). In the past, one had regularly to remove some Adobe launch deamons in ~/Library/Launchagents, especially Flash updaters. Also a good habit in a unix based system is to run "ps -ax" on a regular basis and see whether any unusual process are running.
19-11-2020: Something about finite abstract simplicial complexes on the Wolfram community page. The Mathematica notebook .nb.
15-11-2020: Too bad that google sketch up is no more free. I have to find alternatives to place objects. Here is a first test where an object (the zeta function graph) already generated earlier within sketch up was placed again. The next step is to actually write the kml files directly.
25-10-2020: When looking at technology, one has the impression that things stagnate as the increments do not appear dramatic. However, when looking back a couple of years things do change considerably. An example: I had been flying around in New york in google earth 12 years ago and it had been difficult on the hardware and needed proprietary special software. Now, we have free open source recording software like OBS, relatively affordable workstation power (decent CPU and GPU power for under 2K), extremely stable operating systems (I use both linux and OSX). Here is an experiment:
I hope to be able to repeat this in an other decade and compare again and add this to the Google flight simulator page.
01-09-2020: Something about Precision when computing the Ramanujan constant.
28-07-2020: Harvard just has started to filter all ssh connections to local machines (I fortunately got an exception for my office machine) but it is still more complicated and cumbersome to work like that, especially if one works on different servers. It kills workflows, I rely on rsync for essentially everything. Establishing a VPN connection always requires to reach for the second password which can not be automatized. Of course, keeping a VPN open on the main working machine is not an option, as when working, one has to use sometimes to establish other VPNs and also have the fastest connection possible. My current set-up is to have one machine (not a production machine) with a VPN connection open to Harvard, then when having to sync with a server, tunnel through that machine. It still is more complicated as my office machine only allows connections from a select IP addresses, and excludes VPN addresses. This means that from the machine with a VPN connection, I can not connect to the office machine. Life has become a bit more complicated and also more expensive as now, I have to keep an other home machine running 24/7. Maybe it is the trend of time, but IT has more and more become a thing of the past for universities. It is all done by external services now. The next step is outsourcing teaching (already happening in an accelerated way). The final step is to outsource research. And then, Cambridge will be the new Detroit and all research and education is done by entities like google or apple. I would have predicted this to happen in 20 years. It might be much earlier even. I have become a dinosaur in this brave new world.
17-07-2020: Got my new thinkmate workstation at home. My trusty older workstation is already 7 years old and still fit, filled with a half a dozen harddrives. But it would slow down sometimes heavily when doing harder mathematica computations or render non-smooth google earth flight simular pictures while simultaneously screen recording. An other reason is that now, while unable to access my office machine, I need a redundant set-up, just in case something would happen. We have no air conditioning at home for example and in the past, it was always during hot summers that a computer would die. I simply could not afford having even a few days without a computer. I had a budge limit of 2000 dollars and wanted a Ryzen (also because these AMD processor types somehow evoke a bit of new excitement). Also, just because of reliability and because the machines are on 24/7 all year, I don't want to high power consumption and went with a Ryzen 5. I expect only a performance gain of a factor 2 over my old machine but I also got 64 gig of RAM, which is 4 times more than before (I would go here definitely for 256 Gig if I had the cash). Also the graphics card is not that high end: NVIDIA Quadro P620. I like really stable and solid power supplies because this also prolongs the life of the PC. I have a AX1200i and the modular cable set-up really makes the machine clean. The Mid Tower Chassis is wisper quite. One does not hear the PC (that is one of the reasons to go with Thinkmate). I have built a PCs from scratch (which is a bit cheaper) but it had not lived long. This is my sixth thinkmate since almost 20 years now, 4 still run nicely, two older ones retired while still operational. When I got the workstation, I first thought that they forgot to put the graphics card (which is much smaller than my old monster) and the solid state drive (250GB crucial MX500 M2) which contains linux Ubuntu 20.04. (I prefer if the vendor already puts an OS on the machine as this makes sure that everything works). Of course, with thinkmate, you do not have to buy a windows OS. By the way, here is the workstation type. My dream configuration there would probably have cost twice as much (I had to stay below 2000). Here is a photo (click for a larger version
07-06-2020: Had broken my ipad and needed to fix it. Got a fixing kit from amazon but opening that screen and scraping off the glue is quite tough. Took me a while and of course, I damaged the button cable which had been glued into the screen and would have had to be removed very carefully. Got therefore also a new button. The repair finally worked but it is not for the faint-hearted. Some of these tiny screws are as small as fleas and one has to attach the tiny connectors to the screen while the touch screen pad and the glass screen parts are both in impossible positions. It took me in total several hours. I do not know how repair shops can do that much more effectively.
16-05-2020: A nice article in the register about Algol 60. I never programmed with Algol, but it describes also a bit how programming worked early on. Accidentally, in our first numercial analysis and programming course, we had to program an advanced ODE solver and submit the program to a mainframe (using punch cards). Yes, there were already macintoshs around, but somehow, these old assignments were still given at ETH (a time when the CS department was still together with the math department, it split while I was there). The story of punch cards makes one appreciate modern programming. You had to write the program, produce the punch card, then submit the job and then, after a while get back the result (which when it had mistakes, required to rewrite a new punch card and try again). This is a bit similar than writing text with a type writer. I wrote a research monograph as a highschool student using an IBM selective type writer, where usually, after mistyping a letter, one had to start over or then go over the old spot and overwrite it with a special tipex tape. This slow process forced to work more carefully.
12-05-2020: It is good, my office machine is on auto reboot. I can not go there and if there is a power outrage, like last weekend, the machine has to come up itself. So far, this works well. The machine still computes Hardy and Littlewood primes there. I upgrade my homeoffice machine from Ubuntu 19.10 to Ubuntu 20.4.
25-04-2020: Some short video swoop in our home office (video produced for a department wine and cheese party).
13-04-2020: Our FIOS box got fried during a power outage (relatively trivial thing: the power supply is dead). In a time, where everything is done over the internet, also teaching, this is devastating. Fortunately, there is still the phone which allows to access email and allows also to buy more wireless data plans. It will be interesting to see whether the phone connection will work for teaching online.
09-04-2020: I'm grading now exams electronically for Math 1a. The simplest apparent solution actually works pretty well. The students sent in their exam by email. This allows me quickly to file each submission into Notability, where the exams are in one folder. Grading on the ipad with the apple pencil works like on paper now and once the paper is graded can be right from notability sent back to the student. Having no third party company like canvas or gradescope involved streamlines things a lot as the only thing on has to master is email or a note taking app like notability. Have used the ipad since it came out in 2010 and used since maybe a dozen different apps for writing. I had liked others like penultimate or evernote but so far, notability works very well. I had liked other apps too like goodnotes, or noteshelf, notes plus on the ipad. What has often been a turn-off is interface redesigns. At one point, penultimate (when being taken over by evernote) forced the user to store the documents on the cloud and also completely changed the app to conform with evernote. I think the user should have the choice to keep all documents private on the device or then use the preferred storage place. I also now keep all documents stored also as PDF, just in case so that one can open them also in 10 years, when the app does not exist any more. 10 years is an eternity now technology wise. Here is the image taken March 4th of 2010, just after getting my first ipad. No pencil then yet to write then. Now, I use the 7th generation ipad and things work quite smoothly also with writing.
23-03-2020: Today is the first day of class online. Some pictures illustrating this, in particular, the teaching set-up. Having taught already a course online before, one of the challenges is the surge of information which everybody distributed. There are many ways to teach remotely, many techniques and teaching is very individual. One thing might work for one person, an other might work better for an other. Yes, websites like this are helpful but the amount of information distributed in the last week is even overwhelming for me who is almost constantly working with technology. I'm a bit anxious to see whether zoom lectures will work. It is actually amazing how well the internet infrastructure holds so far. [Update March 25. Things work surprisingly well so far.]
13-03-2020: Covid19 has forced to use more online learning as students were sent home for the rest of the semester. This will be challenging but also lead to insights about online learning. We will be learning also more about what technology works. Will the sudden increase of online resources work without glitches. Doing lots of video online needs bandwidth and also computer power. When I taught MathE320 online, Zoom was ok but needed resources. Here was my Zoom setup: [JPG panorama picture] with two laptops as one laptop alone would freeze up with both keynote and zoom running at the same time. An external monitor allowed to see the class better. It is very likely that with the sudden unexpected increase of online resources, challenges will occur.
21-12-2019: The web more and more becomes a nagging place. When visiting sites in Europe, one gets almost uniformly greeted with a "we use cookies and other technolgies" dialog. The user has first to click away that dialog. Additionally, news pages push users to register. Obviously this is not going so well (who wants to be tracked when reading) so that currently they give away prizes for signing up. Also in the US, newsportals like the new york times or Washington post put more and more content behind paywalls. It has the effect that websites of cable news like CNN become again more attractive. Maybe one has to look at other formats to support journalism. In Switzerland, there are still publicly funded structures which work. And in the US, there is still NPR but this relies on support from the public.
19-12-2019: It had not been my call, but the old department pages are now on legacy mode. The old page had been written by myself in Perl, and many things were automatically done by scripts. Automation is easy to implement with static pages. (An external company has worked on the new wordpress page for one and a half years. I had not been consulted during the transition nor do I yet have access. Things obviously have still to be smoothed out.) The now called ``legacy page" had been programmed in a few weeks while also teaching. Wordpress is a decent choice. I use it for my own blog but editing a CMS takes longer than a flat unix page like course websites, or rhetorik and rheinfall pages (for both of which I'm the editor since 23 years). One can get used to CMS, where content can be authored by many but they also tend to look rather plain. The hosting of CMS's must be done professionally. The old department site has been hacked when we had implemented CMSs (we had various internal wikis or the CMSA page which had been hosted at the math department first. It is always sad to see content disappear because the web should be a library, containing documents to which one can refer to. Taking down content destroys heritage and culture. Now, things like can not be linked to for some time. But things will pick up.
15-12-2019: A test with TikTok. Looks as if this has a lot of potential also for teaching but the portal is for now mostly used for dance clips. I had experimented with ``Vine" during 2013-2014 but that platform died. Lets see how long this service will work. The live cycles of Social networking sites appears to become shorter and shorter. I had liked Linkedin once, but now one can not even see the basic profiles any more without logging in. Microsoft currently chokes the platform to death. It is always the same: the founders have good intentions and leave things open until a critical mass of users has been achieved, then they milk it and strangle the service to death. Today, there was some discussion on Slashdot whether youtube should be subscription based. I would not be surprised if this would happen in the future. It of course would lead to a painful death of the platform. Lets see how long TikTok will make it. I like it how simple it is to use.
25-11-2019: The apple music store redesign makes search so difficult. The first thing you want in a store is to have a search box which allows to find and buy songs. I just watched the movie "Point of no return" which has a great sound track of Hans Zimmer. I like the movie and I like the sound track (there are various movies of that theme, (a recent one is Anna). Searching for the Zimmer soundtrack on the itunes store always refereed to apple music. WTF. I want to buy the song and not rent nor stream it. No reference to the point where one can buy it. How could I eventually find it? By first downloading the song from youtube, load a converted m4a version into itunes and then go from my own music library and search for it in the iTunes store. So, I was eventually able to buy it. I'm sure they lose millions of revenue by just have no search box (the search box on the left does not find shit in the store). It is funny that ``search" appears to be so difficult. Google of course has figured it out and we are all spoiled. Spotlight on Apple, the Harvard course catalog are examples, where search are disfunctional. Fortunately, there are hacks around it: in unix (and apple is a unix box too thank good), one can search things nicely with ``find" (a good old unix tool which is much better than spotlight. Spotlight finds thousand entries but which are mostly irrelevant). An other example is the course catalog at Harvard can only be searched by just looking at the PDF, OCR it and then search the text. I do not find my own math course on the Harvard course catalog. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best. A simple grep search. If that is too difficult, maybe have just let the search engines to the job. That works on Amazon for example (also there the internal search is riddled with infused bias).
04-11-2019: The dock disappeared on my laptop running Catalina OS. Others have that issue too. Following advise, fiddled for 5 minutes with the dock configuration tool or defaults delete; killall Dock; with no solution. Then tried this. After some random size changes, it appeared back. Later the day, it disappeared again and worse, boot-up and apps take ages, network problems. Currently reinstall Catalina from the recovery mode. [Update: this did not work. In this case, I make a radical ``tabula rasa" move: rm -rf ~/Library/* which worked but requires to reconfigure various things.
02-11-2010: Now, also firefox by default saves images in webp format. This should be an obvious menu entry to change back. Now one has to type about:config in the address bar Search for webp and set the ``image.webp.enabled" value to ``false" by just double clicking the line. But there are are already websites which then do not display image files if image.webp.enabled is false. There are really moments, I hate developers changing long established settings just to push the new file format. In the long term, it might well be that webp will take over and replace png, gif and jpg formats, but it is not yet a format which is widely processable by image. Gimp opens them, but imagemagick does not convert them yet (ImageMagick 6.9.10-14 gives an error).
24-10-2019: Changed now also a second laptop to catalina (keeping an old version is in the long term never sustainable). There are more annoying changes. Iphotos now keeps the photos organized differently. No more in Masters, but in a folder originals, where annoyingly the photos are split up into lots of directories. The file extension is no more .JPG but .jpeg and transferring the photos from the phone does not delete the photos even if requested. The iphotos app is a total disaster. I keep my photos nicely stored in a plain folder in linux not depending on the whims and taste of app UI designers. But still, it is tough to get the bare jpegs from the app. First of all, the file names are cryptic 40 letter long password type files. That is no problem as this can be reordered in unix. The biggest problem is that when copying the files over, the stack of pictures is neatly shuffled. Pictures which were taken a few seconds after other are now equipped with a random name. Bravo apple. Maybe it was done to lock users to the platform, who knows, but iphoto has finally become the worst app. Fortunately, there is still the ImageCapture app which preserves the file names.
22-10-2019: Ron Rivest talks at Harvard on Voting security. Simple take away: Use paper ballots. KISS (Keep it simple), voting is also a matter of trust (the public needs to get insight that it works).
21-10-2019: Google pushes grasshopper a coding app which works within the browser. It is actually quite well done. (I only tested out the fundamentals 1 until the end). The problem with these apps (like DuoLingo for languages) can be that the app changes in time. In duo lingo for example, I could get for a long time very reasonable assignments and make good progress and then reach a very steep hill, losing all points with stupid typos or with unclear assignments, or then the goal post has moved adding much more assignments. The grasshopper app so far has been reasonable so far with not frustrating the user with undoable assignments. This is essential for teaching tools which do not come with a teacher who can clarify.
20-10-2019: The new apple music app replacing itunes needs some time to get used to. The trend continues to constrain the user and lock it to a specific layout. It wastes my real estate with more boundary and with art work I can not get rid of. It used to be that one could change the divider between two logical units in an app. Seems not be possible any more. The middle column can not be moved away. There is no divider where one can make it smaller. The ordering of the songs has changed, does not honor what I had configured before. Almost no choice in configuring the geometry. Now, I see maybe a list of 10 songs and the entire real estate is used up. UI designers are just so full of it. Sorry.
15-10-2019: Python renders different results on different platforms. This is not that surprising, one would expect even different result with different CPU's (or GPU's if they are involved) when dealing with floating point arithmetic. But in that case, the scripts produced different file name lists. The reason was that some Python routine called some sort of system IO. That can happen in any programming language which allows to call system parts. I have used countless many times "system(...)" from C programs for example. In Mathematica one can call programs with "Run". Now, the result of that system call of course can depend on the OS. [By the way, when I arrived here in 2000, I had installed a Mathematica backend integration routine which allowed to evaluate integrals by just calling an URL (a very primitive wolfram alpha...). This little CGi script went on on 5/20/2000, right after I arrived in May 2000, where my office machines were still directly on the web. Of course, this would be forbidding now (CGI in general is out and my current machines are each behind two firewalls and inaccessible from outside). But already then, the CGI script had to parse things and add a CPU and memory limit in order to protect the machine. Mathematica so far produces mostly identical result on different CPU's but we have seen examples of results obtained by solving PDE's where the result depends on the OS. ]
06-10-2019: Mac OS Catalina is a bit of a pickle. I do not install it for most machines yet for the simple reason that it breaks many of the 32 bit programs I still use. An example is `Acrobat Pro" which is decent for compressing PDFs really nicely and also OCR's well in various languages. Open source (tesseract) does not cut this yet and having tried a dozen other tools, they still suck, also the Quartz filter in Preview is terrible (either they do not compress well or then they compress so much that things become blurry, Acrobat Pro had a sweet spot there). There is also Quicktime 7, which is a nice little piece of software. Just open a movie, cut and paste some parts, extract pictures, combine pictures to a movie etc. Yes, one can do things differently, but open source video is still a bit shaky (a script which combines pictures to a movie might work now, but not in 5 years, because some developer decides that ffmpeg does not cut it any more because avconv is in) or then produces massive files. So, for me, a move to Catalina remove some incentives to use the Mac for, which is to be able to do things which one can not do under linux yet. Removing 32 bit compatibility was a mistake. Did apple not learn from Windows compatibility break disasters? [Update of October 12: I tried a Catalina update on a non-production laptop: The ``anyvideoconverter" works. Unix stuff required to reinstall macport. The Scan snap software does not have a Catalina compatible update yet. The OS bitches also about zsh even after telling `chsh -s /bin/bash' (an entry "export BASH_SILENCE_DEPRECATION_WARNING=1" in .bash_profile and .bashrc helps to shut this nag. An OS should never nag!!!! ) Also, what is this forced change of shell thing? I want bash. I'm not a zsh man, god damn it, I'm a dapper bash man!. Mcports failed to install ``texlive" even after removing /opt/local completely and reinstalling macports from scratch. Reinstalling MacTeX did the job and latex works. Now it is not that bad any more: scan snap and acrobat are the only remaining problems for me. I can live without quicktime & (as things can be done with Final cut and basic trimming with the new quicktime). Scan snap will be ported in a few months. For acrobat, I need to look for an alternative PDF compression and OCR. I don't do subscription software, I'm a dapper standalone software man! ] P.S. A strange thing in Catalina: in a terminal, the programs of /Applications/Utility do not show. They show in the finder. Very weird: See the screenshot. Update October 16: A fresh download of Scan snap worked now with Catalina. I also bought the app PDF-Compress for 10 bucks. It comes close to Acrobat Pro, when compressing to 150 DPI and produces only 20 percent larger files than Acrobat Pro. Does not do OCR although, just compress.
29-09-2019: No surprise there voting machines are still vulnerable. Ethical hackers tested the machines and were able to get into EVERY machine they got their hands on. Quote by Sen Ron Wyden: "it is basically a piece of cake for a relatively savvy hacker to compromise an election and alter votes."
26-09-2019: Some headlines about computer aided proof verification. An example is the formal proof management system Coq. Of course, many proofs contain mistakes, history has illustrated this. It is even possible that entire axiom systems are inconsistent. Mathematics has proven to be quite resilient also to severe foundational crisis. Proofs with gaps most of the time can be repaired. Some of the nicest mathematical results were first proven with mistakes (Euler gem, fundamental theorem of calculus, fundamental theorem of algebra). There had been gaps in the proof of the classification of finite simple groups. But we also become more picky. Many fundamental papers from 100 years ago would today never be accepted. They would be considered "too short" or "insufficient references", or "too long". The abstract of ITP 2019 which was headlined is What makes a Mathematician Tick?. From the technological point of view, automatic proof verification is a front runner to automatic proof generation. The last step will be automatic theorem searching. Well, in the end, we can just sit at the beach and read automatically written, refereed and read papers. Brave new world.
25-09-2019: Just read in the register about more "System D" take overs. The title in the register article is as always a pun, the content however looks as if linux is heading for serious trouble, if systemd changes the way user directories are maintained. " Lennart Poettering told the crowds at the All Systems Go Linux user-space event in Berlin he intends to reinvent home directories to fix issues with the current model" and "His solution is that the user must already be logged in, for SSH to work. A person at the session asked what should be done by a university student, for example, who wanted to log in to a Linux machine that was rebooted overnight from 200 miles away. The answer: "If you really want that this system can come up on its own, don't use this stuff. This is about security." Well, I have a better solution and this is really secure: ``just don't do stuff any more with computers". In the same way as ``just don't leave the house any more" to solve the problem of having an accident. SystemD managed home folders could make sense however in some restricted environments, where ``users" are mostly ``consumers" who don't do stuff and where it does not matter if they are locked out after a system reboot.
01-9-2019: The trend to hide things continues. I just updated firefox in linux. Now also here, the menu bar is gone. I like the menu bar. How do you get the menu bar back? It is a bit of a catch 22! The Support page tells to go View->Toolbars->Menubar. However, the View part is only visible in the menu bar and not in the Hamburger menu. One need temporarily to use F10 to get the menu back in order to enable the menu again.
11-8-2019: A little drone flight near the science center is not only technologically exciting. We have come a long way from da Vinci's first grasp of helicopter flight to modern drones which work technologically quite well today. [We are 4 years past 2015, the year appearing in the `back to the future' scene with the flying cars, but we still have no cars for the masses, for obvious reasons: noise, safety, environment] Technology depends on a lot of things it is not only what can be done, but also what is allowed to be done. In the case of the drones, there are already quite severe restrictions. A drone can not fly too high and modern drones know their limitations depending on where they are in order not to violate some airspace. Also, responsibility requires to be not too close to people. Additionally, one has to be careful not to damage anything. A responsible flight can therefore not be too spectacular.
9-8-2019: The register reports as one of the few about a talk of Bruce Schneier at the Black Hat Def Con conference. The upshot is simple and given in the title of that article: "You can easily secure America's e-voting systems tomorrow. Use paper". And a quote which seems to be not only true but an understatement: "The technical knowledge of most congresscritters is sadly lacking".
28-7-2019: While changing to a SSD main drive, I also changed from Ubuntu 14.10 to 19.04. Things went quite well except that Mathematica requires now a new licence with the new drive. It must have checked hardware. Of course, there will be more additional stuff to be reinstalled, especially in programming languages. Just used the Gimp, which is now Gimp 2.10.8. The toolbox default bothered me. While minimal color choice looks nice (see the second window to the left on the screenshot just made), it is not practical. UI choice is not only about beauty, it is also important to be able to work fast and additional color stimulus helps as choosing from a menu has to be done many, many times and losing a fraction of a second here and there adds up. I like more the old icons. Fortunately, one can change the default: change the icon size and form by selecting Edit-Preferences-Interface-IconTheme. See the middle dialog. Gimp is a fantastic program. There had been lots of discussions about how the interface has to be designed, about 10 years ago, one wanted to go full screen. I'm glad they did not. Usually, one has to work with several programs simultaneously and being able to move around the various windows is great, like on a desk. By the way, the screenshot with 3440x1440 pixels is an exact view of my current screen. I have had larger resolution monitors, but the curved Dell UltraSharp U3415W PXF79 34-Inch works quite well. I like the wide screen, slightly curved set-up very much.
25-7-2019: Having used SSD's for the OS for a long time already (my last linux machine moved over the OS to SSD in 2010), there is still a lot of moving platters as the larger partitions of are regular harddrives. SSD has been too expensive for 3-4 TB drives. They soon become (almost) affordable. I could not resist to buy a SAMSUNG 860 (4TB) in order to move /home finally also on SSD. It is still a bit crazy with 550 bucks but it is one of the rare cases, where one can again become excited about PC technology (many other things become just marginal updates, the times when every new machine was a mile stone are gone, I remember getting the NeXT or the first apple laptop or my own Sun workstation). I will soon see whether one can feel the difference, it takes a while to sync over the /home. Still, the other 5 HDs (all 4 TB) in my machine are still moving. I can not wait until everything is SSD. It will use less power and be a bit quiet, even so it is already. I use `virtually silent' workstations from thinkmate since 2008. The current home one is probably 4 years old now. They are rock solid and work 365 day 24-7.
21-7-2019: A bit of advertisement for Povray. see this page.
29-6-2019: It used to be that Mathematica would generate reasonable sized PDF's. In Version 12, GraphicsRow is in trouble:. Here is a test S1 = Plot3D[Sin[x y],{x,-2,2},{y,-2,2}];
S2 = Plot3D[Cos[x y],{x,-2,2},{y,-2,2}];
S=GraphicsRow[{S1, S2}];
Now look at the file size
-rw-rw-rw- 1 knill knill 44128440 Jun 29 21:52 s.pdf
-rw-rw-rw- 1 knill knill 259271 Jun 29 21:52 s1.pdf
-rw-rw-rw- 1 knill knill 246221 Jun 29 21:52 s2.pdf
25-6-2019: I recently traveled with a small external harddrive (5TB) (Seagate backup plus). They are nice little drives but also sensitive. There were some troubles after a drop. No wonder as they are mechanical platters. I still marvel at how small and still large these things have become. (In 2000, I still had a Next workstation with a 250 MegaByte harddrive.) Yesterday, I got a small 2TB external SSD (ScanDisc Extreme portable). Reformatted with encryption case sensitive, it is a big improvement even so the drive is still quit expensive (a bit over 320, while a 5T Seagate drive with platters is 110 dollars). The small 2TB marvel is about as long as a finger (3.8 x 1.9 x 0.3 inches). The data sheet tells that it is shock resistant up to 1500 G and temperature safe from -20 to 70 degree Celcius. I really like that it does not drain any power from my laptop if not in use (this is different from spinning platters). According to data, it is 5 times faster than the non-SSD versions. But it actually feels even better. For example, when unplugging and replugging in a non-SSD drive, there is a considerable delay for the drive to recover, sometimes even a few minutes (as the drive has to make some sanity tests). The SSD drive is immediately there.
24-6-2019: No more Raid for me. I had for more than 2 years now a nice little Raid rig at home (Noontec-TerraMaster D5-300). It worked fine for more than 2 years until 3 weeks ago, the drive would not mount any more. The individual hard drives are all ok. The software did not help and everything appears to be right. So, I had to reformat it and start all over again, the drive was back up after a few days of copying files. It worked only for a few weeks, then again, it failed in the same way. It must be a problem with the controller. For me this means now to forget raid. I will go for now with two 8 TB drives which are rsynced manually. This is cheaper. If one fails, well, just replace it. For long term backups, I use small 5TB drives which are encrypted, not overwritten and stored not in-house, nor in-office (and of course not in cloud). I was just recently happy about this: my media drive developed problems and then the RAID backup went down at the same time too (Murphy's law) leaving me stranded with long term backups.
20-6-2019: Summer is a good time also to upgrade programming languages. Because upgrades break things. Mathematica is usually quite good with keeping things intact. I don't mind things like that EulerCharacteristic is now defined in Mathematica 12. This requires me just to redefine procedures which were called EulerCharacteristic. But there are annoying changes: GraphPlot3D for example has changed how the objects are stored. This required to change any access of points like GraphPlot[s][[1, 1, 1]] to GraphPlot[s][[1, 1]]. For me it virtually breaks hundreds of programs. Admittably, GraphPlot3D looks better now, but it would have been more gentle to users to introduce FancyGraphPlot3D or leave the old data structure intact. One of the powers of Mathematica is that one can drill down into the details of a data structure as everything consists of lists and lists of lists etc like Lisp. An other thing just noticed is that PolyhedronData["Platonic"] lists now the Platonic solids in an other order than before. I don't see any reason why. It is now {Tetrahedron, Cube, Octahedron, Dodecahedron, Icosahedron} In Mathematica 11, it had been {Cube,Dodecahedron, Icosahedron,Octahedron,Tetrahedron} which was alphabetic. Now, it seems that the number of vertices were taken as an ordering parameter. It looks like a small thing, but every program written which used say PolyhedronData["Platonic"][[2]] ends up now with the wrong polyhedron. I did not scan my harddrive yet, but there must be dozens of programs (like for illustrations in courses done over the last 30 years) which are broken now. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The most annoying things are changes in the core of the language, but this fortunately did not happen with Mathematica. Once, in Switzerland, when I was in the cryptology group, (we were in the beautiful village of Linden), we programmed the most integer factorization algorithms from scratch in Pascal and while testing Morrison-Brillhard, suddenly things started to fail. We did not find a problem in our program. Drilling down showed that the Sqrt routine was broken. The team working on the basic core of the language had optimized that procedure and introduced a subtle bug. (All the integer procedures down to the detail were at that time developed and built in-house from scratch, not relying on any outside libraries. This is military after all). In any case, broken things are often a reason why programming can eat up so much time.
25-05-2019: Operating systems alerts are a nag, especially if you can not do anything about it. Why should you get nags "Your program" is not optimized appewear for your every unix routine which exists, as well as every old program which does no more have updates? Anyway, OS 12 allows according to this page,to supress these warnings:
 defaults write -g CSUIDisable32BitWarning -boolean TRUE 
Update of 6/20/2019: this did not help. There are still nags. In general, whether it is a watch a laptop or desktop one should be able to be able to order it shut up about warning. Linux allows to configure this much better. iWatch OS has become better in this respect. [Update June 20, 2019: the above command still does not prevent warning messages. They appear just more rare.]
01-05-2019: Just wrote an email and in the text wrote: "I attach the file" but forgot to attach the file. The gmail system alerted me that I forgot the file. Usually, AI goes onto my nerves, as I hate if the system "assumes" to know what I mean. In this case, it was a pleasant surprise and a reminder that email systems read your email ...
18-04-2019: A new programming language without loops. We have seen that already. Niklaus Wirth built Pascal, Modula, then Oberon and things became more and more functional and elegant. But it was less and less and less used. I like to have choice. The idea of building everything functional is nice but it is good to be able to loop if needed. I try to program like that if necessary and say Map[Prime,Range[100]] rather than building the list with a loop Table[Prime[k],{k,1,100}]. The worst of course is P={}; Do[P=Append[P,Prime[k]],{k,100}]. Still, when building something more complex, I like the loop structure. It is cheaper to build, less elegant yes, but a language should not forbid it. I myself use it often. It can happen for example, that the evaluation of the inner part can take days or months. In that case, one wants to write out intermediate results. Here is an example:
P={}; k=10^70; Do[u=FactorInteger[k];P=Append[P,u];k++; Print[u],{10000}]
Now, Mathematica is very flexible but it does not allow to loop over numbers of the order 10^55. I had to circumvent by incrementing the index manually due to the limitation of the language. Still, it was no problem to overcome the limitation as the language allows loops. Also the name ``Bosque" is forbidding, as there is a Basque language. As for now, one can not find anything about it. There is an Example code about tic-tac-toe.
14-03-2019: The Pi day lecture on differential equations was an opportunity also to test my new go pro 7 camera. (It was housing day and most freshmen students could not make it to class). See this page. It is the first time, I was able to record in 4K with 60 Frames per second. What is really nice about go pro is the wide angle. See a lecture in the same room recorded with a traditional camera by the science center media team where the speaker is often out of frame and a camera operator was needed. I just had my bear babysit the camera. The picture quality of that little thing is quite good. The sound quality is not bad neither. An external mic might have helped a bit. There was one snag: the camera stopped recording after 40 minutes. I think it must have been due to a new SD card which had not been formatted within the camera This this discussion for example. There are entire videos about this issue. The recommendation is to reformat the SD card within the camera. I will do that before using it the next time for a longer recording and see whether this helped. An other possibility is that the 4K/60 frame is still too new (it was only enabled after a firmware update of the camera done the day before). For a lecture 60 frames per second is overkill of course but for action shots with slow motion, it will be nice.
26-02-2019: I like my scan snap scanner. I have one since they exist. The software has changed quite a bit over the years. It used to be that one could configure, at which DPI (dots per inch) or in which format or which document type one could scan. This is all gone now. I just happened, that suddenly all the pages of a document would be stored as JPGs. The reason was that the settings somehow were changed to "business cards" instead of "documents". That change determines now all the settings. It makes sense: most folks do not care or know about file types and their properties and one can not blame them. The operating systems have started to hide more and more too. One does no more see the file endings for example. Obviously, the scan snap software had been ``dumbed down" due to demand by the users. I would not mind. What is deplorable however that there is no way to be able to change the settings in a more obvious way. ``Simple" is good but pl3ease allow the user to drill deeper if necessary. Apple pretty much solved this problem by hiding stuff but by still allowing to modify things still when switching to a more advanced setting.
17-02-2019: There was a Slashdot article dealing with the annual letter of Bill and Melinda Gates. It concerns texbooks. Here is my own comment on slashdot. One reason I mention this here is because also Slashdot is an electronic service which might disappear at some point in the future (I hope not). Yes, one can question physical textbooks. I avoid them also as much as possible but there are still various issues with electronic texts: 1. Loss of control: Even with free versions of books or videos or resources, they can disappear at any moment. How many electronic resources which were available 20 years ago are available still now? I myself have the habit of keeping copies of everything I see electronically which I like because it can be pulled at any moment. Books don't just disappear. You can still read them in 50 years if they are converted first into a industry independent format. 2. Long term concerns: Having a private library however requires to have a good backup system, decentralized because one can not trust any service in the long run. I'm old enough to have seen many things come and go, terms of services change and it is only 25 years now, that we teach and distribute online (i had my first course websites for classes in 1994 and still have all these resources online, but how many things from 25 years ago are still there? The biggest shock for me was the pull of google video to youtube. It can well be that in 10 years, youtube is sold to an other company, or only available behind a paywall. Services like Kahn academy etc, we will have to see how long they are still free. 3. Privacy concerns: Even in the ``free textbook movement", one has started to look for ways to mine the information like tracking students readings. Like in e-books, the information what and how fast a reader reads, possibly annotates is used or sold. I personally do try to avoid such resources, because it is as if somebody constantly looks you over the shoulder. How long did I read what, what do I read? when do I read, where do I read? This information is all given away for free. How it is processed and stored is opaque. I know that even well intended projects for free textbooks start having students to register (yes it is free), but all this information is kept somewhere and evaluated. Who is naive enough to believe that this information stays confined. This by the way is the same also for online newspapers. I have concerns with being tracked all the time telling an anonymous entity what articles I read when and how and from where. 4. Screen and write technology: Electronic reading has become better with the emergence of tablets and good computer screens. It is still not there. Annotation with pen still beats annotation by electronic pens which can be sluggish and depends on industry controlled technology which changes still frequently. We will eventually get there, once the screen technology has the resolution, speed and comfort of paper. It is a matter of time only but it is not there. The tablets of today also run on operating systems over which one has lost control. Even well intended systems start to bug you to log in. Sorry. I keep all my library in a gold old fashioned directory tree which I'm sure I can read also in 10 years, which I can print out if needed and annotate with an old fashioned pen if needed. 5. Proprietary formats: One of the biggest problems with electronic reading is proprietary formats. I don't know how many different reading systems (apps) i have tried and which were abandoned or then bought by a big company which then only allows to use the service while registered. The best systems for writing on a tablet or screen are all proprietary and could disappear any moment. It is essential for example to have wrist protection technology when writing and drawing on a tablet. The pens have become great already, but the apps continue to disappear and appear. There were apps I liked which do not exist any more. Come on. If I write something, I need it to be available not only the 3 years of the life span of the app, I need to be able to read and modify it in 20 years. I have still documents written in software written by companies which disappeared or were bought by others. If the document was exported as a PDF and put on my own machine, yes, I can still read it. Other things have disappeared once one does not pay any more for the service. Or the app does no more work with the current operating system (more and more frequent nowadays also that the developers are long gone and no update available!)
10-02-2019: How UI design behavior has changed: I just got to a situation on Gmail, where the side menu suddenly kept collapsing. How does one bring the menu back? It used to be that one could change such behavior by using "settings" and change a flag. No more. We live in a time of riddles where UI designers love to be game designers. Fortunately enough others had that problem too. The solution is ``click on the Hamburger" (the three stacked lines to the left of the M symbol). I don't know why ``hiding things" has taken over so much. It took me a while to realize how to get to the print menu in chrome (the three little dots on the upper right corner are the key). It is just that for decades, UI design has had the paradigm that there was a menu bar. Now, once the menu bar is gone, one has the catch 22 situation to figure out how to get it back without the menu bar as the turn on-off switch had been in the menu bar ... In firefox at least, one can get it back by right clicking in the right place of the browser. Not so more in chrome. Now, as explained here, one needs to install an extension for getting it back. I can understand that some might want to have a cleaner browsing experience by not seeing the menu bar, but at least it should be configurable. There were similar issues already a decade ago with OS X design. There was a time, when suddenly the scrolling bars kept disappearing and also the hard drive icon of the computer went away. At least one could turn it back on. I can understand if hardware requirements requires an UI design changes like on newer iphones, where the start button is gone, one had to change the UI a bit but at least it had been done there so that has not to look up how to do it. [Update, for the new iphone, the way the control screen is accessed has changed also. It used to be that one could swipe from the bottom or the top to get the to it. The new version, I could not figure out myself and had to look it up. One has now to swipe down from the top right. Well UI designers have really become puzzle makers. ]
31-01-2019: A rather embarrassing mishap: I got a new iphone Xr and did a stupid thing: since Ruth wanted my old phone, I in a hurry just changed on my old phone all the setting to her name. It had been late at night and I must have been tired. The revenge came quickly as it produced an identity crisis: as my old phone had been my identification life line and I had not signed out, my apple ID got changed and I was now Ruth. Of course, I would no more get notifications, all emails and alerts would go to Ruth's email. My new phone got confused. I attributed it to the swapped SIM card (which however has no influence at all). Anyway, my apple ID was gone (it just did not exist any more since I had changed all attributes to Ruth) and my old phone already gone. Changing things on the web of course would not work as confirmation codes would still go to the old phone. Now I had to prove again and again that I was who I was (and could not), as the phone had been linked to other devices and no two factor authentication would succeed, also the laptop and apple watch both linked to the old phone would get confused. Strangely, part of the things worked, part not. The solution was to physically get hold of the old phone (which was already transferred by Ruth to her telecom), set everything on the old phone back to my identity, then sign out, then delink the phone from other devices. Now, I'm detached and could change my identity back. The incidence illustrates our dependence on electronic devices. Losing control about a phone is like losing the wallet and the keys at the same time. Update: Feb 10, 2019: It is actually good to have a lot of obstacles and momentum with changing the identity. See this article.
27-01-2019: In the fall, I had the opportunity to learn a bit more about Khipu, the talking knots of the Inkas. It should be mentioned also here in technology notes, as it is pure IT, and very modern IT. Information technology which we have discovered in our genetic code or in graph databases of the Unix philosophy of storing information in a directory tree have been pre-taken by Inka technology. In the last week of December 2018, I posted a few notes about this here [PDF]. The Khipu technology is not only fasciniating, it is also a great paradigm for many modern things.
27-12-2018: Youtube has removed this video because of some copy right claim. I would not mind that much. The problem is that they blocked without noticing me so that action can be taken, like a copy right dispute. In this case, I prefer not to make a copy right dispute as it is a small mattter and the background music not at all essential. Fortunately, youtube allows now to remove the music. Lets see whether the movie will come back. [Update: the movie came back.]
27-11-2018: I don't know of an other Oliver Knill, but I just saw on Amazon a an algebraic topology book which bears my name. I have not anything to do with this. I don't know any other mathematician with that name. There are very few mathematicians with the name of knill and only one with Oliver Knill (as far as I know). So this might be a scam. I submitted a fraud alert on the Amazon's legal part (reported infringement). It seems however that since names are not registered trademarks, this might not go through. Update: actually, I had been a bit too pessimistic. Amazon swiftly told me to have the entry to be sold (but the book is still listed). Update January 12, 2019: the book is still available. Quite annoying.
24-11-2018: The biggest problem in operating systems are still ``dependency hell" issues. My linux systems usually do fine for some years. Still, after a couple of years, there are dependency problems happening. On an office machine, ``convert" (ImageMagick 6.9.7-4) stopped working properly on large files probably due to a library update. Some of my apple systems (which run Mac OS Mojave) start to complain about ``unoptimized programs". The programs still work but might no more in the future: Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro for example was last updated in 2010 which I use regularly and does various things well which other programs don't (like optimizing PDF's, doing a reliable OCR). Now, upgrading to a later version is no option any more since Adobe moved to a subscription. Yes, keeping operating systems seems to become more and more challenging as the recent Windows 10 upgrades have illustrated.
26-10-2018: IBM to buy RedHat. Most commentors on the register are pessimistic and indeed, the prospect is not good for redhat. Getting absorbed in a large rigid structure has seldom been good. One can only hope that the work culture of the smaller company. In any case, IBM will buy a lot of talent. Maybe they have learned from previous mistakes: From Slashdot: "IBM acquisitions never go well. All companies acquired by IBM go through a process of "Blue washing", in which the heart and soul of the acquired company is ripped out, the body burnt, and the remaining ashes to be devoured and defecated by its army of clueless salesmen and consultants." We will see whether this will be true in this case. One can also learn.
25-09-2018: Tried out the Vivaldi browser. Refreshingly good. I still use Mozilla primarily. Vivaldi has a more intuitive interface and especially nice bookmark mangagement. Still, like Chrome it vastes URL estate by warning about non-https pages. It is good to have alternatives, especially as google started to tweek Privacy settings and do strange things with URLs.
20-08-2018: A small change in perl regex handling. I usually run a scripts to generate from a bibtex version file to an independent file (for example to submit to the ArXiv which needs the bibliography included rather than generated with bibtex). Until recently the following would work (from the command line or within an other script). The script replaces the bibtex entry with the content of a file: perl -pe 's/\\bibliography{geometry}/`cat file.bbl`/ge' -i file.tex This does not work any more, the curly brackets need to be escaped. The error message is: Unescaped left brace in regex is illegal here in regex; marked by perl -pe 's/\\bibliography\{geometry\}/`cat file.bbl`/ge' -i file.tex I love established and entrenched programming languages like Perl, which do not mess with the user (as even small changes breaks a lot of stuff). This is a rare case in Perl, where the developers badly mess with the users. Changing basic stuff like how regex stuff is handled in scripts should never be changed. If one googles the error message, one sees that this breaks a lot of other places. If the developer things something is handled not well, it should be implemented by allowing the user to set a flag enabling the new feature. Now, in my case, this is not that bad. I have to adapt that particular script only in 41 files, but I still don't know what other automated stuff will fail now.
06-08-2018: An article in Aeon by Nicholas Tampio provides some critique on "screen based learning". I think, there is a point. Real experiences with actual physical objects can give more insight. I myself believe to have got a lot more intuition about numbers by playing with Cuisenaire material (also in number theory) or Lego, Mecano, electronic boards, chemistry kits or building stuff. Books of course were also important. Of course, there was no web, when I was a kid, but TV instruction then is pedagogically essentially the same than Moocs today (just that you do the homework on paper and not on the screen) and that the lectures were broadcasted at a specific time (which prevented procrastination). The article mentions the book "Pnenomenology of Perception" by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty who stressed the lived experience, the "doing" over the "seeing". I myself find such discussions always a bit tiresome when done in the abstract. It is difficult to theorize about pedagogy and learning. The real experience can be different. And one of the issues is raised in that Aeon article of Nicholas Tampi: real experiences, real people, real teachers, real engagement only comes with real interactions. This happens less when looking at a screen. Somehow, the screen can distract. I had just 1 and a half day without internet and phone at home because of some networking problem of our internet provider (at one point I was one hour on phone support). The issue got resolved. But there was one thing which was good. I was forced to focus on local things for once and used the blackboard for thinking and got an idea for a new proof of something. The topic of "screen based learning" might be complex, but as a general rule, keeping a healthy balance can be a good idea.
05-07-2018: Something about exploring creativity through computer algebra on Medium. It is also mentioned now on my ``creativity page. Related to computer algebra, checking for Hamiltonian property of graphs is hard. This can be illustrated with checking for the Hamiltonian property of the graph with vertices {1,2,...,n},where two nodes are connected if their sum is a square. So, far, the machine gets stuck when checking n=152.
04-07-2018: Google chrome will soon label websites unsafe if they are not HTTPS: (see the register article. ) Has the company "Alphabet" become so unsafe? This insanity needs to stop. One can understand the concerns for HTTPS but not every website is a service. Many older pages are just information pages without login features transactions. There is no need to upgrade them. These older pages are usually the more reliable sources. Upgrading to HTTPS is not such a small thing as often, many links are hardwired in. Certificates can be expensive and an other potential place where an other service can screw up as it is possible that the certificate does not get renewed. For a typical website, there is already the service provider, the domain name registration, which are different entities. Unlike wanting to pay additional fee which can become expensive with many pages, we need now a third party for the certificate. Then there is the problem with internal links which will no more work after an upgrade (I had seen that with a wordpress upgrade where it is relatively straightforward but still, all image links needed to be adapted). Google Alphabet has definitely turned unsafe!
Plato's writing is unsafe due to a fucked-up alphabet
15-05-2018: It is the time of the year to update a bit my machines. I upgraded two of my office machines from Ubuntu 16.04 to 17.10, and then to 18.04, both time with "update-manager -c". Went very well. The only snag was that from 17.10 to 18.04, the lightdm manager got lost. I'm still using the blackbox windows manager. Canonical announced to replace the X server with Wayland in version 20, but I guess it will be no problem then also to keep the X server running. Ubuntu 16.04 had been a very stable system. [Update 05/16/18: made also a home machine update from 16.04 to 18.04 in 3 steps. Needed a night and getting up a couple of times because the upgrader asks questions in the middle about configuration files. But things went well. Just needed to add the Nvidia graphics drivers "sudo ubuntu-drivers autoinstall". Some glitch with PERl which killed a morning: needed to reinstall perl although by running "upgrade" after "sudo cpan" and still have some library problems in PERL. How come, there is suddenly a "perl5" directory at home? I did not ask for it. Might be related to the PERL problems which came from a rather steep upgrade from 16.04 to 18.04. Needed to set the PERL environment variables by hand but still have libgtk3 problems. I might still have to do a fresh install of 18.04 after all, if there will be more issues.
30-04-2018: From a Mathematica workshop. Writing music with Mathematica
24-03-2018: The New York Times write about an other push of the Justice Department to Mandate a way to unlock phones. Its good that besides some Suites (Ray Ozzie and Ernie Brickell) also an expert (Stefan Savage) is on board. In technology and cryptology in particular, it is always difficult to say what is possible and what not. But in this case, it is not so much a technical issue. Whenever a second party (whether manufacturer or government or even some independent entity can open a device), then third parties can do it to. This claim can not be proven in general, it is just historically so many times happened. From the article: The idea is that when devices encrypt themselves, they would generate a special access key that could unlock their data without the owner's pass code. This electronic key would be stored on the device itself, inside part of its hard drive that would be separately encrypted - so that only the manufacturer, in response to a court order, could open it. I don't know but this looks like a very bad idea as if the system writes that access key into the memory, this part is accessible physically. Whoever thought about this assumes probably that there is will be some kind of decryption method known only to the FBI which allows to decrypt the device. So, what do you do then, if for some reason a third party knows how to do that? Suddenly, all phones, including the ones of the folks who came up with the idea, will be wide open to everybody. How long, until nobody will buy phones from US manufacturing any more?
18-03-2018: USB C multiplier hubs are almost not existent. I mean hubs which featuer additional USB C ports, not just the old USB parts. The ones one can buy are expensive, like this one. Virtually none of the cheaper hubs features additional USB C ports. A good hub would make the macbook more usable. Or then bring out the next Macbook with two USB C ports. The engineers seem not to get it. If the laptop is at the charger, one still needs an other USB C port for adding a USB C drive or device (USB C is faster, they will pick up anyway). The worst are the USB C hubs which don't even feature an additional USB charging entry as this means that hub can not be used for stationary use. Are there other reasons for this disaster? One could imagine expensive patents on USB C specifications or then technical problems with powering the ports. I myself have a NIGI adapter which fortunately features one additional USB C port. But the plug already wore out because I use it so often: at home I attach an external USB C hard drive for backup.
14-03-2018: To honor piday, I filmed a short story in a computer game. (The entire project is quite time consuming. Took in total about a day of work (filming and building a story). Assassin's Creed is well suited as the character can freely roam around. Unfortunately, one can not program the AI characters like the characters in the library or on the street but it is possible to tell a story. There is quite a bit of mathematics already built into the extension pack.
08-03-2018: The register honors the ZX81. As usual, the register title is hilarious: "10 PRINT "ZX81 at 37" 20 GOTO 10". But there is something nostalgic coming in. At that time, computers were REALLY exciting. Unlike today, where we just have incremental power increase, these were breakthroughs. I myself did not have the ZX81 but a tandy imitation. But what was nice is: you started up the machine and be right in a programming language. Yes, it was only basic, but you felt in control. It was a step forward from the TI 57 programming where one had to fight for each line of code in order to fit into the memory.
17-02-2018: Small is beautiful. The computation of all cohomology groups of an arbitrary simplicial complex in 6 lines. This compares with computations done in a triangle illustrated in Math E320 (see the [4 miracles Mathematica notebook].
04-02-2018: Just asked Siri who won the Super ball. Siri gave the last years results. Not watching TV myself, I had assumed that the game already took place and that Siri is just clueless. I thought having closed the conversation and exclaimed: "F..., you don't know". Siri answered: "Sorry, Oliver, I try to be better next time". After I found out that the game has not taken place yet, I realized having wronged the machine in error. The funny thing is that I felt really felt bad having shouted at it. Last week, a student suggested to me to ask the machine whether it wants to merry me. Siri: "Oliver, we don't know each other long enough." Good answer. A better one would have been: "But you are already married, Oliver".
08-01-2018: The Meltdown und Spectre CPU disaster (Supergau) produced a lot of discussion. This could be an opportunity for open source processors like . I bounced this once at a Heise forum. This is nothing new but the task would be formidable to be only close to commercial processors in performance. It is kind of a sad modern development in technology (also in Artificial Intelligence) that the development resources are so large that it has become a part of industry and is not part of academia any more. Now, we see one of the consequences of having these technologies done in opaque frameworks which nobody can examine or then only if it is too late. Not that open source is immune to gaffes but the risks are lower as more eyes look at things. Now we are fu..ed. There is no other word. I updated my linux machines and already see a performance drop and the machines of course are not secure. In the end, I don't think it will be too bad for the chip industry. They will be able to sell new processors like crazy once the new processors are out. Yes, there will be law suits, but essentially everybody will need new processors without speculative execution or implemented so that it can be disabled.
29-12-2017: An important article pinpointing one of the key issues in computer-human interactions: latency. It drives the user insane. We have computers 1000 times faster then the very early ones but latency is larger. Even if its the very tiny delays when typing. It is one of the main reasons, why minimal windows managers and linux are great. On linux, one can control any processes which delay.
23-12-2017: This is the time to try technology. I was reluctant so far with buying an iWatch. Gave it a try. It is quite good. I like Gaia, the GPS hiking app. I have been experimenting with small GPS devices for running in the past and it GPS not always connected reliably. This is also the case for the iWatch. Still needs to have the phone present. The greatest problem with the iWatch so far is that the inability to close some apps. Some don't want to quit. The apple outdoor app for example can not even be killed by rebooting the watch. Also Sudoku and 2048 (which are both nicely adapted to the watch) can not be reset. I had to remove them. Still don't know how to disable the workout app.
23-12-2017: My iphone was set to HEIC format. Now I have to convert hundreds of pictures to JPG. It is possible to set the camera preferences to JPG (compatible format) but in a recent IOS upgrade, it must have automatically pushed to HEIC. I use now the converter HEIC for the few hundred last pictures done in HEIC. It will probably take some time until image magic will convert things. I use for now the free "iMazing HEIC converter", which works quite well. Still it would have been a nice curtesy of apple to inform the user that they get pictures which can not be opened by most applications.
22-12-2017: I like firefox and support it as I don't want the browser to be dominated by a single company. The war on non-HTTPS URLS is annoying however. I can with firefox no more login to my router (which is of course not HTTPS) as it is on a LAN). Now, if I access the page, a warning dialog appears which prevents actually to enter the password. And then, since clicking away the dialog counts as a login, the router shuts down. Also, changing to HTTPS is not as trivial as it might appear. I have recently changed a tiny wordpress blog "quantum calculus" (60 pages only) to HTTPS, but since every linked image has a http: URL, I had to change this by hand and still missed some. In general, it is not the business of a brouwser to educate the user. The next step will be a warning message every time a non HTTPS link is accessed. Get a grip, firefox, not everything needs to be encrypted. If they don't stop this, I will delete you for good and compile my own.
21-12-2017: Something posted to this article. Why do we need a machine which does all? I need a workstation which is always on, does its daily chores, where I have a gorgeous large screen, which can also be used to watch a movie. I need a laptop to write with a clear screen without greasy finger prints. I like to touch the screen when consuming content on a tablet, but when working, fingers are forbidden on the screen. I need a tablet to read larger books and I need a phone to quickly look things up or to communicate. The phone needs to be small so that I can always have it with me, the tablet large so that also diagrams can be read well. Combining things always means to compromise: we have had printer-scanner combinations. They failed for both tasks. It is better to have a cheap and small reliable laser printer and a good reliable scanner which knows its stuff, can OCR, is fast and reliable. The prize of a device can be justified if it saves time, winning half an hour a day means 150 hours a year. Time is money too. For a laptop especially, I need reliability, a strong keyboard, a good screen. A 1TB drive would be nice too. But because there is lots of wear and tear, I personally prefer to buy relatively cheap but still good laptops and replace them frequently, delegate tasks which need heavy CPU or large amount of disk space to the workstation.
18-12-2017: Perl is 30 years old. A Heise article laments about the enthusiasm for the language. I agree. Perl is a great language. One of its strenghts is that it is stable. Happy birthday. Like a swiss army knife, it is a powerful tool and amplifies the shell. It is maybe no more fancy, but it does not matter what the masses think. A language which is 30 years old and still going strong deserves respect and also investment. At least it is safe from "rennovations" which destroy old programs. I can count on that scripts I wrote 10 years ago will run in 10 years still. I maintain a few "old fashioned websites" like or or blogs like this one on graph geometry or course websites like This and then larger ones. All written in perl, some of the code almost 20 years old. But I have since decades not to spend ANY time on sysadmininstration. It runs by itself. I can focus on the content and the math rather than having to maintain stuff. Yes, content management systems, especially written in PHP, have taken over. Even so, I also maintain such a wordpress blog, quantum calculus, there are disadvantages of CMS: pages written in Perl are "documents", they are static, periodically generated pages which can be ported anywhere, independent of technology. They are documents which can be referred to. They are also FAST, very FAST. And stable and less vulnerable to attacks. 12-18-17
02-12-2017: A wise recommendation: keep paper backups for voting.
23-11-2017: A good article on the intel Management engine disaster. Nov 23. Some background about this troubling technology is given here. The talk of Joanna Rutkowska is here. It starts with "Personal computers are extensions of our brain. They are insecure and untrustworthy". An example of a well given presentation. We usually have assumed that hardware is trustworthy. One of her conclusions: today we can not assure secure boot. Rukowaka tells: "ME is an ideal backdoor and rootkiting infrastructure". It is part of "zombification" of computing: the hardware contains operating systems, which nobody can look at and which nobody can disable. Not even a secure OS like Qubes can prevent ME to take over.
21-11-2017: We are on the brink of a most terrible technology decision: the repeal of net neutrality. A NYT article puts it well: the internet might become a "pay for view" technology, at least in the US. Why a single person like the boss of FCC (a proven lobbyist of Telecoms can make such a decision on his own, is totally beyond me. It might lead to a much weaker US economy in the long term. There were other attempts of bad decisions recently, like health care changes which border at making it appropriate to call the lawmakers terrorists as it would have terrorized a large part of the population: (the definition is "the use of violence in the pursuit of political aims, religious or ideological change".) About 25 million would have lost insurance meaning the death of tens of thousands of Americans. Definitely much more than 911. (John Mc Cain with his famous midnight vote "thumb down" probably saved more lives than any general in the history of mankind). As taking away health care obviously kills people, it is an act of violence. It is not stabbing somebody to death, it is just watching the person bleed to death without doing anything and that is violence too. Changing net neutrality will not kill people, it will kill businesses. Maybe not world wide, as other countries are not that stupid. One can just say, it is not only idiotic, it is also deeply unpatriotic. Here is an article in "Entrepreneur" explaining a bit the small business aspect. And from the many cartoons:
17-11-2017: Just got one of these 5TB USB 3.0 Hard Drives for backup. 140 dollars. This is great for long term backups which are not overwritten. Having a growing digital library to backup requires larger capacities and 5 TB currently is enough for a full backup. Why is it important to have a local electronic library (books, music or movies)? First of all, the streamed content is changing. Netflix might offer a movie now but no more in a year. Streamed music changes. You might hear a song now. In the future, the song has changed, been modified to a "more modern taste". This could just be the beginning. It could be for example, that some movies are changed or modified, maybe because a scene has become too offensive, maybe because an actor is no more wanted to be associated to the movie and that part cut out. There are typically many versions of a movie available, extended versions, director cut versions etc. You might want to hold on to a version as in the future, with a streaming service that version might no more be available, or modified. In a dystopian future, we can imagine that electronic books are censored and changed. We are already in a time, that if reading books with electronic devices controlled by third parties, every of your readings are recorded and registered and statistically used (how long did you read which page, how much of a book did you read, where did you read it etc). Files can be modified, changed, censored, cleaned from possible politically incorrect parts (the taste changes with time) or offensive parts or parts with critique of a regime. We are already there. There are "clean versions" of movies available, where for example any violence is gone, where bed scenes are gone, where inappropriate language is cut out or "beeped out". Some documents might be deleted due to some legal or other quarrels. If you look at history or other parts of the world, there are many instances why access to information has been disabled, maybe because of ideological reasons. It happened in the past that documents bought on kindle were "repossessed". Music, text or Movie documents could in future, without you knowing it, be modified, or watermarked or modified or cleaned out. This already seems to happen with documents submitted to the "cloud". As the cloud provider does not want to store too many identical files, it might "replace" your file with an other "identical one". We don't know to get back our file or not a maybe a new different version? Some documents might in future just disappear. Decades ago, one had to burn books in order to ban them. Now, it is much easier and more subtle. Just modify the book and keep it available. A user bound to a dumb device like an ipad or kindle might not notice. If you own the file, you can OCR it, and compare text or sound or video. The technology to modify documents, pictures even movies have increased dramatically. So, thank you very much, but I keep buying my media (books, movies, or music) and back them up. A look at history shows that blind trust is not always best.
12-11-2017: A nice article about augmented reality ("data-vomit gush"). There is especially a link to a movie showing the first experiments with virtual reality by Ivan Sutherland from 1968. It is related to the MIT Lincoln Labs in Lexington. Sutherland is also known for Sketchpad. Currently, the European tech sites like the Reg or Heise kick ass. Heise just now has a nice article about how Face ID was cracked with a mask. By the way, when looking back at these historical videos, it becomes evident how much ahead universities (like MIT) have been at that time! Now, cutting edge technology is outsourced to companies. This happens also at an amazing speed also in higher education. They don't even try to fight. It makes of course sense financially to outsource IT, to outsource mail, to outsource course websites technology, even to outsource teaching. But it will soon be mean the end of a golden age of "higher education" as a place where innovation happens. Impossible? We have seen it happen in the automotive industry. It is not inconceivable that in 50 years, Boston is the new Detroit. If this looks ridiculous, just look at how far ahead the Lincolns Labs were in 1968. Companies like Microsoft (1975) or Apple (1976) were not even conceived then. P.S. There had been previous times, where industries were ahead of the game. IBM, Xerox or Bell labs come to mind, so, it is maybe not such a new thing. It is just the scale which is much different.
11-11-2017: Installed High Sierra on one of the macs. I think the system is now faster. No problems so far. Actually quite amazing as so much has changed under the hood. As I had performance issues with Keynote on my laptop, I also upgraded the laptop. Maybe it can now run Zoom and Keynote at the same time.
11-11-2017: A bit modified comment posted on this story: What I want from a programming language are Standard, Stability and Speed. Nobody minds the little quirks, redundancies or the lack of elegance. When I program something today, I want it to run in 10 years, without modifications! In particular, I want the language to be around still, the grammar once put stay a standard. I want the program to run stably. In particular, I expect developers to be VERY VERY careful when changing the compiler. Even small changes annoy. C has been quite good but recently, it was no more possible to run gcc -lm example.c . Linking the math library required gcc example.c -lm. WTF. One has to change now 700 Makefiles just because somebody thought this is more elegant? I don't mind if a language is extended or sped up, but don't for change old grammar, not even the smallest things. There is lot of code around which would need to be fixed. I'm in particular cautious when adopting new language, even if it is only a wrapper. They first hype and spike. In the worst case, the developer gets over excited and changes the language again and again. In the second worst case, the language gets abandoned. A language needs to earn respect, prove that it is stable over a long period of time, that it is reliable and fast.
06-11-2017: My Zoom Setup for teaching Math E 320: A picture from Monday, November 6, 2017. I had problems to run both Zoom and Keynote on the same laptop. I currently feed the slides from a second laptop which joins the meeting too. There is a large monitor attached which makes things also more comfortable. Click on the picture below to see it large (10 Meg file).
24-10-2017: Some extended comment to This register article: The analogy with utility is deeply flawed. Information is not a utility. It can be (1) sensitive and (2) crucial (3) requiring big pipe capacities and (4) require a healthy IT culture to be handled properly. We have played as a clueless kid on mainframes asking "mommy" (sysadmin) for computing time have been autonomously and educated and return now to the nursing home, paying the nurse (cloud provider) for every second of service (computing time).
  1. Information is not a utility. Water, gas or electricity do not contain possibly sensitive information, which needs to be protected. If a utility provider goes down, it is bad but not deadly. Losing data in a "cloud" or having data diffuse away to a third party, can kill a business as leaked information remains leaked for ever. If one of the major cloud providers loses control, it could even lead to a recession as many businesses would fail. Water, gas and electricity are information-free quantities, data files are not, they can be personal and crucial for a business.
  2. Information technology is vital. A power station going down or a water pipe gets repaired is a temporary inconvenience. Data loss or data leak is unrepairable and would be especially bad for financial, health and educational sectors. As a private person, I can survive for weeks without internet, electricity and gas, even water and still keep up essentially the same productivity. A modern laptop can be powered by solar, it is possible to work even in candle light and water could be bought in bottles. Such a resilience for IT is not possible with cloud IT.
  3. Information pipes are way too narrow An big problem with delegating IT to third parties is the internet infrastructure. Especially in the US, it is weak and expensive. The last mile is the main sore point. For any utility like water, gas or electricity, the capacity is not a problem. Now, with net neutrality currently dying in the US, it will even become worse. We will have to pay more, maybe even more for backing up large amount of data on a foreign data server.
  4. Lack of a healthy IT culture. A consequence of delegating things elsewhere is a loss of IT culture. In the short term, it can make sense as still, the cloud suckers dump the prizes to keep people hooked and destroy local IT infrastructures. Once dead it is difficult to build it up again and higher prizes are likely to follow. Yes, it is good that we don't have to uudecode an attachment by hand any more and that most computers now have almost zero maintainance, that backups can be automated onto a time machine etc but it also means for many institutions that the IT culture is shored out.
22-10-2017: The exhibit Can you hear the sound of a simplicial complex uses MP3 files triggered by mouse click. I first used "onmouseover" but sound is in general annoying in webcontent, when appearing unexpectedly. Most of this page was generated pretty automated. The eigenvalues of the matrices corresponds to the sound frequency. Mathematica generates the sound and image files.
17-10-2017: The limitation of twitter to 140 characters is a standard which should not be given up lightly. We have a new unit, "the tweet". If twitter will change it to 280 characters, it should be called differently, like a "roar". Limitation is an interesting challenge, especially in code. Sometimes, one has to fight a bit, like in this post on the energy theorem. I had to leave away the semicolons, after the definition of the connection matrix and the definition of the energy. But I wanted to cover the complex given at the beginning of the talk about this energy theorem. I think twitter would make a "cultural" mistake as 140 characters has become a "cult". I wonder what the tests will reveal.
26-09-2017: After upgrading Keynote, it started to have some hickups when exporting a movie. See here. Keynote has improved a bit the performance. When using Zoom, I have had terrible problems, almost bringing down my machine. I still now present from a second computer as Keynote sucked all resources from the machine (a brand new macbook). Unrelated is the problem that keynote uses a lot of resources with large presentations. I have problems running it on the same machine together with Zoom, while teaching. My solution is to run a second laptop on a second account, join the meeting from there. The second laptop is only used for presentation and has no video in zoom. This works.
09-09-2017: While looking up information on log tallys for an lecture in MathE 320, (see blog), I came across some papers made available in google books. Google books is a great project but starts to close up more and more. It needed some work to get this article and place it onto a local machine: screen shoot page by page and glue it together. The log tally is on the Wikipedia as well as on several blogs incorrectly attributed to Schenck because the google book document shows this book title. It would really have helped and prevented misunderstandings if the entire book could be downloaded as a PDF. It is a small thing but it contributes to a feeling that we live more and more in a time of "IT infantilisation": music and videos are streamed, not owned. Books need to be read in reader devices or software like kindle or "google play", where readers are tracked about their progress. Using software and media "as a service" one is evaluated and constantly monitored by a main frame server somewhere. It is a "cloudy business". Already major applications like "Google docs, Microsoft Word, Photoshop", calendar software, note taking software or backups. Heaven forbid that a user or "customer" has anything they "own". It is better to have the user as a child who needs a guardian to function. Even computer algebra systems have now cloud versions. I stopped using Adobe photoshop once it was "on the cloud" and would also stop using major CAS if they would go "cloud only". It is not only the users who have become kids who are constantly watched and controlled. At the moment, entire industries and universities outsource their IT structures. If the three main players Amazon, Google and Microsoft would cave, then not only their industries would disappear, essentially everything would collapse. The players have become too big to fail but are still not too big to merge. A brave new world scenario is where it is impossible to read or write anything without being tracked and marketed, where information is controlled by two to three players who due to lack of regulation and the few remaining players start to syndicate. Even more scary is the prospect of disappearing personal computing infrastructure for the home user as computing can only be done in smartphone like operating systems, where the user is jailed in or then is billed when using "computing as a service" on the "cloud". In such a world, a new player in the industry has little chance. Their innovative ideas are mined directly from the servers and fed into the artery of some giant. Not that people have to "borrow the ideas". It will be machines, trained with sophisticated algorithms that search through peta-bytes information trusted to a few servers. It is necessary to make as much information as possible public. But it should a also a matter of choice what becomes public or part of a third party and what not. A start-up, building up ideas, needs to be able to do that without being side lined by a large bully. Health data, start-up ideas, financial data or voting data need remain safe. One could imagine for example a software which goes through some cloud servers looks for new ideas and submits patent applications if something interesting has been found. In the near future, it could happen that "owning a file" on a local computer is technically impossible as the operating system is by design told to share everything with a central computer. A hack of a centralized system or a collapse of a data provider will be much more severe. Just two days ago, it was announced that the credit information of 143 Million Americans has been exposed. Certainly, "big data" analysts already have started to mine and sell this data, as it is very valuable. The "equifax super gau" prompts thinking about "decentralisation". There are data sets which need to be safe and off the public (like bank, credit, voting or health information) and then there are data which need to be free and public domain, like an article written one hundred years ago. What is needed? First of all bulletproof strong cryptology for industry and private folks (this already exists fortunately, but there are forces which try to take it away). Second, less centralization and more diversity in IT structures. Third, a healthy group of IT in each industry and university as well as a well educated general population who can stand on their own feet, handling their basic computing needs so that one can not become a hostage of a few giants, who if one is going down takes everything with them. It appears also healthy if copies of media are kept independently. A distopian future like Fahrenheit 451 is still a possibility. Technology has enabled to censor or change media content, not only text, also pictures and movies. Having only centralized "Cloud" versions would enable such manipulations. This already happens in various places on the world. ) [Update September 24: Cloud computing just has started to charge by second. It reminds me of an Encounter with Goldbach at a time "Main frame computing" = "cloud computing" had its first appearance. We were infants at that time. We again have become infants today. Anyway, it is psychologically bad especially in development and research to be billed by a service. If one makes the investment in local hardware, it is encouraged to do computations and use it to the fullest. With the service model, a researcher has to question every second of computing time. Mommy, do I get a dollar to do this computation?
18-07-2017: Links for a technology demo for today: An animated picture Strong lattice Fluid dynamics fluid Bubbles Vortex Sphere Surface cloud
11-07-2017: An important message of Vi Hart:
11-07-2017: I use my 12 inch macbook every day. Maybe 5-6 hours per day in average. Now 2 years old, there is now a battery service warning. Yes, the battery empties faster (5-6 hours now rather than 10) and looks fine but still, it seems that life will not last too much longer. Also the keyboard shows its time. I type a lot. Some keys lose their key marking which is not a big deal, others have started to become less reliable. I cleaned out some like the space key but removing it risks breaking up one of the tiny plastic latches (which happend to me). The keyboard would also need to be replaced. The risk is now here that one of the keys breaks for good making the laptop unusuable. I have done replacements of individual keys for mac air laptops before but it is quite expensive. To service the battery, 200 dollars, to replace the keyboard again at least 200, then the time to schedule appointments with the genius bar etc, a couple of hours and having the laptop not available for weeks. It would just not be feasable. I decided to use the still well working laptop now as a backup machine and get a new 12 inch one. The strategy to buy relatively cheap laptops but replace them regularly appears better than having an expensive one (Pro) but still face the same long term problems like battery, harddrive and keyboard, which just happen to fade after 2-3 years of heavy daily use. I use also the same strategy for bike which drives has at least 3000 miles per year. (I drive rain and shine, snow or heat, every day). After 2-3 years also, the bike starts to fail everywhere and servicing it costs half of a new one. Also here, "buy relatively cheap but replace often" appears to be more effective than having a really expensive one. Then there is the risk of having it stolen, which both for laptops and bikes are just there and which just would be devastating with 3 times more expensive laptop or 10 times more expensive bike.
04-07-2017: A vulnerability in RSA incryption illustrates that not only the mathematical security, but also the actual implementation is important. In this case it is the way how the modular multiplication is done. This allows to recover some of the bits. Important work as crypto security is crucial for a functioning society (banking, trade, health care, voting). See the Heise.
22-06-2017: Why does one use in HTML while TeX uses \infty? The discrepancy is kind of annoying. The infinity symbol was introduced in 1655 by John Wallis. But who is to blame for the incompatibility? I think it might have been HTML as the Unicode Consortium was incorporated in 1991 and the first versions built in 1986-1987. TeX was released in 1978. ASCII came earlier but does not feature the infinity symbol (which is kind of a shame if one looks at the other things which have been chosen instead: in the List of ASCII codes) . Apropos: the incompatibility between different languages is not a biggie. The extended ASCII flavours however were and we still have to suffer from the sins of coorporations trying to embrace and destroy competition and invented their own character or even ASCII versions. Still today, both in Adobe as well as in Word texts, one has characters like -, ", which look ASCII but are not. Platform specific character codes remain annoying. It is good that both the unicode and W3C consortium have got their grip together.
17-06-2017: Having switched my 4K monitor as a second monitor for the mac, I have tried a curved monitor (Dell UltraSharp U3415W PXF79 34-Inch). With a 3440x1440 resolution it does not match my 4K monitor with 3840x2160, but actually (maybe because my eyes also get older), I prefer to have a bit of a larger font while working. The widescreen (21:9) aspect ratio is very comfortable to work with. Here is a screen shot (click on the picture to see the full 3440x1440 pixel screen shot):
16-05-2017: A rare event: youtube is down. Interesting error message, (for google developers to debug): (click for larger picture) .
15-06-2017: A heise article illustrates how Etherum has heated up the crypto currencies. Ethereum is a gold rush, while bitcoin tanks (for now). These things are always a bit of a pyramide scheme but the block chain technology looks hotter as one can run code in decentralized applications. It also allows to build smart contracts. The Etherum virtual maachine is a turing complete software which can run any program it is kind of like a universal Turing machine. This makes it interesting in a more general sense. The Ether currency shows exponential growth ether or bitcoin.
10-06-2017: The SEO optimizers have become more sophisticated. It used to be stupid. But today, I got a personal email from a "math student" who for a "geometry project" needs to have a page linked to get "extra credit". Who does not want to help a student? The page however did not look like a project page. Yes, it had some information on it, but not done by a student and only remotely related to geometry. I asked back for the name of the school and the name of the teacher, but it was probably a waste of time. Must have been spam.
09-06-2017: Apple programs like Final cut, Garageband or iPhoto feature an annoying violation of "clean slate policy": the program by default starts with previous project loaded. This is sometimes useful yes, but annoying if one works on many different projects at the same time. Yes, one could organize produce different library, produce smart collections etc, but it is an attempt of the program to emulate part of the operating system. I don't want to rely on a program to get organized and personally like to start every program with a clean slate and that if I start with a project, then only the components of that projects are known to the program. Keynote, an other program of apple does this nicely. I can open a project "open presentation.key" and do not have to worry about other presentations or work with different settings etc. If I open a project "open project.finalcut", then the program should not know about older parts. Now, even if you use Final cut and move a project somewhere else on the hardware, the program will still find it and sometimes even load it. As I don't want to throw old projects, I put them into an other folder and make that folder invisible (chmod 000 backupfolder), then work on a new project. I do the same with the apple photo app. I'm not interested in pictures taken a month ago. I don't want to have them even somewhere in a library nearby. I want to start with a new film having organized the pictures I want to keep elsewhere. Also here, I now just put the old library in a directory and chmod 000 it so that the app does not pick it up. Similar violations of independence has started with the browser, where the program also wants a larger share of the operating system. I want the brwoser to start an independent process, in which I'm not linked in to services like google. I might work on different parts where in one browser I'm logged in for one project and on an other browser on an other project and are required not to know about each other. Mathematica also violates this policy when using the GUI. It does work well however if one uses Mathematica from the command line, a reason, I mostly work on the command line. This enclosure mentality is annoying and assumes that a user works on one thing only. For the webbrowser, I use now different browsers for different things to make it independent, like separating department work, administrative work, work for research, or work for teaching or work for family or then private work. It would be easy to fix. Whenever the user starts a browser new, it should start an independent process. Or one should be able to configure it as such. This is the default for most applications. Why is compartimalization important? It reduces the risk of mixing up things and adds more accountability, in case something goes wrong in one part. It puts the burden of organizing projects to the operating system level and not on the individual programs. Localization and decentralization simplifies and is more robust. It also produces "commutativity" of actions. Having everything loaded at the same time makes things depend on each other. An other reason is that most programs now communicate with some server, sending information forth and back. I'm waring different hats when working on different projects and don't want to have to change my computer to change from one project to the other. So, back to final cut: the last couple of days, I was uploading 30 hours of youtube videos for a conference (it is a project with a half of a TByte of movies). It is important not to get mixed up with different videos and renderings of different sessions. It is a time consuming process where not much can be automatized as rendering and uploading takes hours and because each video clip needs to be trimmed and annotated and because the uploads fail (probably every third upload needs to be redone or done several times, the reason being still mysterious. I first thought, it is the hard drives going to sleep problem [which is an additionally unrelated annoying feature of many external drives burned into the firmware so that one can only bypass it with helper programs touching every few minutes a file on the drive]. These upload failures happen also with an essentially fresh final cut setup. As I have Terra bytes of movies in my libraries, one could easily blame it maybe on the too large library. Now, I know it is a bug which must be blamed to the ISP sometimes resetting the network, or to a final cut instability or then a youtube problem. Strangely, it seems to be more frequent during the day than the night which would point to a network instability problem (Youtube just comments "upload canceled", the sharing progress usually stops around 51 percent). As usual in IT, it is the failures and limitations of tools which make up for the time consuming parts, as one has to find ways around these limitations or redo things. It is not like 40 years ago, where virtually everything in IT would fail first [When starting with experimental mathematics as a teenager, I had to store my first Basic programs on tape and often, even that basic saving process would fail but that was the norm]. Now, bugs have become rare, but they still eat most of the time resources. And because bugs are rarer, the are perceived also more annoying.
01-06-2017: An article in NPR about soundtracks produced by computer composers. This is fascinating. We have for a couple of times used Mathematica to compose. Examples> See also the lectures on Music and Calculus and AI.
31-05-2017: An other 5 hours of rebuilding my office machine. Since this is unpredictable, it is good to do this between semesters. While switching hard drives, one of the SATA cables broke off. It was the Sata connector to one of the important drives which got stuck in the part of the cable, killing both the cable and the drive. I got really mad because it was a nice new harddrive. I decided therefore to get one of these hot swappable harddrive containers (IStar 2BAY 2 x 5.25 To 3 X 3.5 Cage) and also got new sturdy SATA cables. Since my workstations are silent Thinkmate machines, I was worried that the additional vent would be noisy but the enclosure shields it well. I did also a fresh install of the operating system as my SSD has gotten old. Some minor surprises in Ubuntu 17.04: Perl ignores now by default local libraries and local files. An entry "export PERL5LIB=./:$PERL5LIB" in the .bashrc file solved this really annoying feature. It was the @INC variable which is set when Perl is installed and which does not look for local libraries any more. What were they thinking? An other hick-up with the ftp server which accepts pictures from the LAN webcam. I should have known. It is not the first time, but if the configuration file (here /etc/vsftp.config) has not the right permissions and not owned by root, the server does not start up (without complaining). Ubuntu now talks too much, everything if one does ssh's into the machine. The chatty motd scripts are in /etc/update-motd.d. One could delete them but they might be handy at some point. The easiest to shut this off is to edit a file /etc/motd containing what one wants to display. Now it just gives a line telling when and from where the last login was. Also took the opportunity to upgrade Mathematica.
26-05-2017: It is rare these days to get into the case sensitive trap on OS X. I regularly sync a work directory from my office machines with my laptop which has a non-case sensitive file system. If two files like g.pdf or G.pdf are present in the same directory, one will bite the dust. It is usually no problem but I just got bitten by this once more. I format external drives on the mac with case sensitive file systems but it might still be a risk to do that for the main drive. OS X is well done and almost perfect, but the case sensitivity is one issue which needs to be solved.
24-05-2017: Spent an afternoon with a strange bug on my home machine. For some reason, the ubuntu installer always produces a garbled screen. The machine is fine, the graphics card is fine and works both under linux and windows, the install media are fine (work on an other machine. I excluded USB problems by using various flash drives, or USB harddrives, tried out various other BIOS settings and then also used an other monitor. I currently suspect that it is a low level graphics card mode which is buggy, either on the motherboard or then on the graphics card. Any way, an afternoon gone.
12-05-2017: Our phones are now voice over IP. It is funny how the information leaflet mentions "voice mail service has moved to the cloud". Dudes, it is just VOIP, web, internet. But I guess, now everything has to be the cloud due to marketing reasons. One of the arguments against VOIP had always been redundancy and that things work even if the network is down. But as now most have cell phones, a traditional phone line in case of emergencies is no more so important.
26-04-2017: The registar of today mentions the plan of Ajit Pai (head of FCC) to kill net neutrality. No wonder, this guy was close to Verizon before going into politics. It would not surprise if he still is close to their lobby. Killing net neutrality could be one of the worst consequences of the Trump presidency which so far has a common theme: totally unqualified people are put into positions they never should be in. Even the relatively conservative "The Hill" calls it a "war on consumers". EFF calls the proposal "devastating for competition, innovation and free speech". Indeed, its consequences could be terrible both for the economy as well as for democracy. It is time to contact the representatives.
18-03-2017: The Google JPG encoder Guetsli is everywhere in the news. Here is the google blog and here is the paper explaining the iterative optimization. I could not compile it from scratch on an older ubuntu 14.04 but on OS X, it compiled well. A test with a first picture gave 7 percent reduction from 29981 Bytes to 27969 bytes. A compression with this picture did not go through yet. Probably too large. For the smaller version it took 40 seconds to reduce from 162589 to 120391 (35 percent). Not bad. But for the larger 12 Meg picture, a reincoding would take an hour. It would take days to reincode one of my panorama pages. It is not the first time that a swiss name has been used. There is also a Zopfli compression algoritthm by google. Why Swiss names? Some of the Google researchers like Jan Wassenberg are based at Google Zuerich. Wassenberg came from the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, German research organization. The JPG 2000 data compression standard came from there which has, similarly than Guetzli a small compression advantage. It largely failed however because hardly any browser supports it (Firefox and Google chrome does not) and also because it is riddled by patents, which is a death sentence. [Update: In a test with a large panorama with 12 Megs, Guetsli worked for 2 hours and got out a 14 Meg version. The algorithm definitely seems have to have difficulty with very large files.]
12-03-2017: I do essentially all my work from a terminal. This is why crashes of the terminal app are especially annoying. I use xterm since about 30 years and it had always been stable, one all platforms, even on thin clients or over slow modems. OS X Sierra is the first exception. It is a known issue. I find it happening more frequently when editing files with long lines. Fortunately, unix apps like vim have built in recovery so that one does not lose data, when writing a program. It is still terribly annoying and the stability of fundamental apps like terminal should have the first priority. The issue has been known to apple since last fall.
26-02-2017: When trying to upload this clip it took only seconds for being banned from youtube. While this spoof was accepted (with adds), the Rammstein clip is seriously protected. One definitely has to accept evenso, I believe fair use still applies: no monetary part, no damage for the producer. It is maybe not sufficiently small.
18-02-2017: An alarming trend: IT job reductions in the US. Of course due to the increased centralization. Also universities have the trend and outsource more and more of the IT. It is sad, as it used to be that the IT developed and maintained at universities were on the cutting edge. It was encouraged to tinker and experiment with technology. Now things to to third parties, companies which can do things cheaper in a centralized manner, possibly abroad or in data centers where labor is less expensive. I personally believe this will come with a great revenge. First of all, the IT reduction trend is demoralizing for young students interested in tech. Actually this demoralizing effect could hit us in a few dozen years very hard and in many ways. But managers tend to think short term, even at universities. Here are a few reasons why thinking short term is dangerous: 1. It becomes already today harder and harder to convince a young person to pursue a STEM career. The myopia of leaders not understanding the fear of becoming obsolete and powerless has even led to Trumpism, a phenomena not even dreamed of one year ago. 2. Centralized data centers (lets call them the "revenge of main frame computing and thin clients") pave the way to a risky future. A meltdown of a major player now already would risk the operation of industries, university or even the economy. 3. We are still in a "buy in phase", where vendors dump the prizes to destroy competition and local IT structures. Once gone, everybody will be hooked and is required whatever prizes are prescribed by the soon to be monopoly. We see that already in internet access, where the prizes are unreasonably high, due to the lack of choice. 4. History shows how fragile a political landscape can be (and how important technology can be to manipulate). I think that the current IT structures built (a few big players controlling information) has made it already much easier that a totalitarian state can become a possibility (even in the US). There are some flood-gates and safeguards in place, one of them (on the technology side) is strong cryptology, an other the availability of open source operating systems, but there could come a time when it will be difficult for a new start-up to enter the field and compete as the important information structures are controlled by a few players who own the patents, the pipes and the power. But there is not only doom: we also live in a great time of technology. Our operating systems in desktops (like linux) have become rock solid. Even a personal data center of a dozen tera bytes of data have become cheap. And being able to carry around an entire library of books in the phone would have been just unthinkable 15 years ago. P.S. I just remembered that I made my first steps in computing on a main frame using thin client. This was convenient. I did not have to carry around floppies and backup things myself but it was also risky and indeed, for some reasons, I have lost most of the work done on that main frame. Only some printouts survived. I would give a lot to get back what I wrote at that time about finitely presented groups, to recover the projects done as a course assistant (like a cool project in which the students had to write an AI program solving the rubik cube. This means not just implementing a solution of the Rubik but finding a solution path using the Schreier algorithm!). To be fair, I lost also source code to many pascal programs I wrote as a student on the Macintosh or Atari. There it was just negligence to backup things properly or having misplaced the backup floppies. But I have still tens of thousands of pages of not -yet- digitized diary books with mathematics and programs rotting in the basement. Maybe I will once dig through that and scan a few things in.
28-01-2017: It is a complete disaster still with USB C hubs. There is none which allows charging and using other USB C devices at the same time. There is one product on the corner but pre-ordering is not so much my thing. I need to have something right now and guaranteed. It seems however to be a fact that there is nothing available which allows to use the Macbook access an external USB C drive additionally to charging. Currently, if I use my USB C drive for a backup, the battery will be drained until everything is backed up. I turned therefore for a network attached storage solution for my laptop backups (and then of course, the local syncs from laptop to desktop which are done with "rsync").
23-01-2017: A great Ode for VIM, and especially its attitude to innovation and features. And especially the urge of developers for UI rewrites or features changing the workflow or worse, compatibility. I myself write everything in vim, from simple notes, latex documents, html documents, programs (even if programming languages offer their own file format) etc. VIM is now 25 years old. It has improved quite a bit. A decade ago, I started to warm up for syntax coloring.
10-01-2017: Some pictures showing the strange green spot. Obtained in Panoramas. Looks Spooky. But has an explanation. Just strange that in that case, the flares always appeared to come from the same spot in the meadow....
06-01-2017: Just upgraded the phone. A first test of the camera of the iphone 7 in the Boston Library Compare the pictures in Blockisland which were done with the iphone 6 and still had 40 Megapixel. The new panoramas have 60 megapixel.

Oliver Knill, Department of Mathematics, Harvard University, One Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. SciCenter 432 Tel: (617) 495 5549, Email: Quantum calculus blog, Twitter, Youtube, TikTok, Vimeo, Linkedin, Scholar Harvard, Academia, Harvard Academia, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Slashdot,