Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Why Blog?

A friend of mine holds a dim view of blogs. In fact, he says so right on his blog...

So I thought I'd link to him so we can see if we can pull him into the conversation. My take? Community, communication, conversation, with a healthy dose of connection. Oops, that sounded a bit like marketing.

Darwin: Why blog?

Powerbook Text Rendering Oddness

This weekend has been a busy one, first Nabila disappears with our neighbour Anna and reappears four hours later with an early Father's Day present - a new Webber gas grill. Cool, I've been wanting one for ages, and I've been grilling all weekend. I don't know how we've managed to survive in the States for eight years without one... and then the new patio set arrives.

We are now set on the summer entertainment front thanks to my lovely wife.

The other thing I did this weekend was to pick up a Powerbook. I haven't used a Mac in ages and being an ex-Unix head have wanted to try out OSX.

I also wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I must say, the hardware is excellent. All the requisite connections are there, the startup welcome thingy is very cool in a spinning cube kind of way. But what the hell happened to the text rendering?

Text on the Powerbook really does look like poo. In an "I might have to return this thing" kind of way. There really is no comparison between the text rendering on my Windows laptop and the text rendering on the Powerbook. How could Apple get that so wrong?

Maybe it's just me. If anyone has any tips let me know quick.

Sad News

I just received a call from my sister in the UK that my Grandmother, Jessica Wickham, just passed away. She had been in failing health of the last few years, and has been hospitalised for the past few weeks, so her passing was not a big shock to us. She will be missed.

I'm so glad we took Julian to the UK to meet her. Even though he probably won't remember - we have the photos and the memories.

Julian and Nan

Xbox 360, PS3 And Software Development

Disclaimer: I don't work for the Xbox group, I just write games. We didn't even get to find out the real name before the MTV show...

When Sony came out with it's comparison slides at E3 early this week it seemed that the PS3 had much greater performance, but when you start thinking about the one cell chip on the PS3 versus three PowerPC chips (with two hardware threads, plus all the one dot product per cycle stuff), the numbers really start to look suspect.

I'd planned on sitting down and doing the math myself to come up with some real numbers, but Major Nelson over in Xbox land has already collated some real comparison data in a four part series over on his blog.

Now we have sensible numbers. But there's another angle. Writing multi-threaded code is hard. It's especially hard when the components you're targeting don't look the same. The PS3 reminds me somewhat of the Sega Saturn - ask any game developer who has been around for a while what writing code for that was like...

Simulations (read: games) are going parallel which is hard, but worthwhile. But it's a lot easier if you're running on hardware threads with the same architecture - and you'll effectively have six of them on Xbox 360 (three CPUs with two hardware threads each).

But try doing that when you have one CPU and seven DSPs to offload the math.

Not to mention the memory bandwidth. Memory bandwidth is often missed when consumers or the press try to compare platforms. The fact is that the speed of the game (and therefore the amount of cool visuals and audio you can present to the end user) is gated by the amount of data you can move around on the system. Especially between the CPUs and the GPU and the GPU to the frame buffer, not the mention the Hi Def frame buffer.

From a software development standpoint this generation is going to be an interesting one as the simulations go more parallel. Typically it takes a few generations of titles for a particular platform for developers to figure out how to eek out maximum performance and find all the tricks they can play. In order to accelerate that process, it comes down to tools, education and developer support. For that, the Xbox guys win hands-down. Xbox and now the Xbox 360 proves that Microsoft knows how to put the best tools and developer support in the hands of the developer.

From my software developer centric point of view, the XBox 360 is a more symmetric, balanced and capable platform.

But don't just take my word for it. Go and read the Major's comparison.

A Great Gig

Last night was our CD Release Party in downtown Kirkland, and what a fine night it was. We got there at around 7.30pm to setup, have a few pre-gig beers and eat pizza.

Setting up for the gig.

Shortly after 9pm, we got going and then proceeded to play three sets of original music until midnight. After that we played a fourth set of covers and the people kept wanting more.

The People

We finally finished up at around 1am. We sold a few CDs, had a great night, and the bar want us back for more. CJ talks some more about the evening over on the band's website.

I love music.


I'm a big fan of the Wiki, we use an asp implementation internally (FlexWiki) for dev discussions, and have recently have been checking out TiddlyWiki. This thing is an astounding feat of engineering. A self-modifiable wiki contained entirely in a single html page, with no server-side requirements. Check it out.

Also, via John Ludwig's blog (ex-Microsoft, now at Ignition Partners) I find mention of GTDTiddlyWiki, a TiddlyWiki customized for Dave Allen's Getting Things Done system. Maybe Scoble should check it out as he's trying to get back on the GTD waggon.

Recommended. Content on the micro scale.

A Brit Abroad - Saturday May 14, 2005

Today I have a special edition of A Brit Abroad for you. On Thursday night I recorded a Skype call with two friends in the UK, Ian Dixon from The Media Center Show, and Phil from Clanlife.

With no real plan we basically geeked out and got all Engagety. I hope you enjoy it! We plan on making this a regular occurence.

At 35 minutes and forty seconds and weighing in at 16.4MB, It's A Brit Abroad and Friends!

Show Notes

00:00 Name and date check.
00:05 Intro sweeper and music.
00:38 Introduction to the show.
03:38 Skype call starts with introductions and banter.
04:11 The XBox 360 announcements.
05:06 Phil talks about his work at Clanlife and the game hosting business.
09:08 3G mobile networks, GPRS and comparisions between mobile in the US and UK. UK wins.
13:15 Bandwidth cost differences between US and UK. US wins.
13:45 Digital broadcast media lagging in the US.
14:30 We all started on ZX Spectrums and Amigas...
15:30 Perfect Dark Zero on XBox 360.
16:00 The MTV show.
16:30 Watch the Colony video.
16:50 A nice cup of tea.
18:05 Phil wants to move to the states and a potential job for his girlfriend.
18:45 Aluminum or Aluminium?
19:50 Trillian's use of Wikipedia.
20:28 Agile Messenger on Symbian.
20:50 Ian talks about his work.
21:25 Ian's Media Center Show podcast on The Podcast Network.
23:40 How I record the show.
24:50 Katana, my RSS aggregator and podcatcher. Ways of listening to podcasts.
33:20 Call wrap up, plans for more shows and goodbyes.
34:48 Conclusion.
35:20 Outro music.


Tracks From The CD Now Online

I've just uploaded the tracks from the CD - you can find them over on the band's website.

If you would like to support the band and purchase the CD, please contact us at info@spank-band.com (as we don't yet have an online ordering system) and we'll sort you out via PayPal.

Alternatively, please come to the CD Release Party on Wednesday and pick one up there!

Gaping Void T-Shirts

The T-Shirts I ordered from Gaping Void arrived today. Very good quality, and I love the little certificates. I have No. 22 of 'Mistakenly', No. 25 of 'Was It Good For You' and No. 36 of 'Hughtrain'.


Hugh must be loving the "customer's are your best salespeople" angle here. But hey, when the product is this good it is justified.

I'm looking forward to wearing 'Mistakenly' to work next week. Cackle.

Upcoming Podcast

I just finished up a Skype call with a couple of guys in the UK - Ian Dixon and Phil from Clanlife. After a couple of initial Skype hiccups, we chatted for around 40 minutes about all sorts, including XBox 360, game server hosting, audio players, Pocket PCs, mobile phones and tea.

The audio is a bit clippy, running Skype and Cubase at the same time recording a three-way conference call must be taxing some part of the system, but it ain't too bad.

After a bit of editting, expect the show to, ahem, show up in a couple of days.

So as they start their day in the UK, I'm off to bed.

XBox 360

If you were at all disappointed by the MTV special, or you just want to see a great video with much more information about the new console, check out this video.

Earlier today, we got a sneak peak of the MTV special and this video was shown also. I really liked the Colony video - very well done.

Classy and geeky.

The Real ID Act

So the Republican Congress attached an amendment to the latest military appropriations bill that basically mandates the implementation of a National ID system. This, although disgusting, is not news. Wil Wheaton has a good write up over on his site.

What is news is the details within it prevents the possibility of judicial review in certain provisions.

Section 102 of H.R. 418 would amend the current provision to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive any law upon determining that a waiver is necessary for the expeditious construction of the border barriers. Additionally, it would prohibit judicial review of a waiver decision or action by the Secretary and bar judicially ordered compensation or injunction or other remedy for damages alleged to result from any such decision or action.

Go and read a great analysis over on Ars Technica.

Slippery, slidy slope anyone?

One Week Until The CD Release Party

Blatant plug:

Next Wednesday, May 18th, our band will be having it's CD release party at The Central Tavern in downtown Kirkland.

The music starts around 9pm and goes until about 12.30am. We'll be playing the CD Snapshot as the second set so make sure you're there by then. Not something you want to miss, right? The CD will be available for sale... The Central is a smoking establishment (both literally and figuratively) and charges no cover. The Central is renowned for their satisfying drinks and service... So come out and support the band.

Musical style? Alt-rock with a dash of blues, jazz and a smidgen of punk... fair warning...

Hope to see you there. In fact, if you're coming along, leave a comment...

Happy Mother's Day Mum

Happy Mother's Day Mum

Uploaded to flikr by Steve Lacey at 9 May '05, 12.33am PST.

Here's picture of my mum and my son. I'm sorry mum that I don't tell you this as much as I should, but I love you.

Your son, Steve.

Jack Not jack

Via Charles Bloom, I find my new amusement in Modern Drunkard. I enjoy the odd tipple, but it was interesting to find that the Jack Daniel's company is not exactly being truthful with their "original recipe" story. Lo and behold if I don't just check the cabinet and find that it is just 80% proof...

I'm sorry guys, but blatantly deceiving your loyal customers, even when they didn't notice, is just wrong.

A Brit Abroad - May 7, 2005

It's time for another edition of A Brit Abroad!

At just over 22 and a half minutes and weighing in at 10.4MB, we listen to some music, play some Gnomedex promos and an audio comment and find out what I've been up to for the past month.

Links To Some Of The Things Talked About


New Tivo Update Coming

But not for me obviously.

I have an early DirecTivo (Sony SAT-T60) and a new HD Tivo and have always been envious of all the goodness that has been available for the Series 2 standard Tivo's (folder's, Tivo To Go, etc...) and when I saw this post over on PVRBlog I was fairly excited. Of course, thought my inner pessimist, I'm bound to be excluded somehow.

Of course I am.

Are all DIRECTV DVRs receiving this upgrade?

No. DIRECTV DVR models SONY SAT-T60, PHILIPS DSR6000R, HUGHES GXCEBOT and HR10-250 will not receive the 6.2 software upgrade at this time.

Gotta love being an early adopter.

Meeting Tom Reynolds

As I mentioned previously, Tom Reynolds, the EMT from Random Acts of Reality is visiting Seattle at the moment. When he posted about him impending trip I dropped a comment on his blog which he followed up on. So yesterday I picked him up from the Transit Center near Microsoft's main campus and went on a little tour of the campus and then off to the Microsoft Museum.

Unfortunately the museum was closed for a private function so we headed to my home in Kirkland where we had dinner with Nabila, Julian, Dave, our friends Andy and Raina and the dog. Much geeky discussions occured around blogging, Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, RSS feeds, etc... generally boring the ladies to near coma status.

Shortly after eight, Tom, Andy and I headed downtown to the Central where we met up with a few other friends, including CJ. Much hillarity ensued, including the ritual FBUA discussions.

Myself and Tom.  Picture stolen from Tom's blog.

A good evening. Tom writes much better than I about the evening over on his blog.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.