Wednesday 28 February 2007

We apologize for the interruption in Service

Don't know if it is a Google\Blogger issue, an NTL (my ISP) issue or something else but I can't access the blog from home.

Add this to the repeated IE6 compatibility issues reported by Jim and Eddie and I'm might have to consider finding a different place to host this.

The compatibility issues are all triggered when I include any link rel='Search' or link rel='OpenID.*' tags in the header definition for the blog. Such things should be ignored by the browser if not understood but clearly some IE6 configurations just can't cope. If anyone knows a way to tell blogger to suppress such header elements if (and only if) the browser is IE6 then I would very much appreciate it.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Black Markets

This excellent article by Jeremiah Marquez at the Caspar Star Tribune on the effects of California's total ban on tobacco in prisons throws up some really interesting facts:
California's ban on tobacco in prisons has produced a burgeoning black market behind bars, where a pack of smokes can fetch up to $125.
Right off the bat I'm sensing that this may be providing a non trivial incentive for some minimum wage folks to cash in some quick profits. However while we wait for that punchline lets see why this was done:
The ban was put in place in July 2005 to improve work conditions and cut rising health care costs among inmates.
Personally I'd just have kept the smokes legit and jacked the price in the prison store up to $60 a pack if funding health care was the real reason here as opposed to (say) yet another insane puritanical anti-smoking jihad.

Anyway towards the end article we unsurprisingly find out that this sort of situation does turn out to be an irresistible gateway that drags normal folk down into the dark world of blackmarket smuggling.
At Folsom State Prison, a cook quit last year after he was caught walking onto prison grounds with several plastic bags filled with rolling tobacco in his jacket. He told authorities he was earning more smuggling tobacco -- upwards of $1,000 a week -- than he did in his day job.
So, in my cynicism, I wonder did the folks who thought up this policy ever consider whether this type of thing would would happen (and it happens a lot, it's not just one Folsom cook) and if so then precisely what aspect of "improving working conditions" is achieved by fostering an environment that encourages normal employees to turn to crime and get fired?

The best bit though is the fact that the profit potential in this newly created black market is so good that at least one inmate attempted to break back into prison after being released in order to get some (more) of that sweet 'baccy action.
At the fortress-like Pelican Bay State Prison, a felon sneaked back on to prison grounds hours after being paroled. He was found with a pillowcase of almost 50 ounces of rolling tobacco -- worth thousands of dollars on the black market. The plan was to throw it over the facility's fence.
OK so maybe he wasn't exactly trying to break all the way back in to prison but its still quite astonishing.

And the geniuses behind this are the same people who will tell you that even considering legalising Drugs is stupid?

Monday 19 February 2007

Sony's new 6 Megapixel CMOS Video Sensor

Sony’s new CMOS imaging sensor seems to be attracting lots of ooh ahh comments on the Internets, this is Engadget's take for example

This is an incredible sensor but something smells wrong to me. It's not that this isn't a totally cool piece of tech hardware but it didn't seem to add up for me.

Anyway - taking a look at the PDF.

On the surface it’s definitely a 60fps 6.4 Megapixel sensor. That’s 384 Megapixels per sec. We could do some digging but lets just run with 24bit RGB for now for how much data we need per pixel. If this sensor is able to output 6.4Megapixel full colour video at 60fps it needs to be able to output 9.2 Gigabits per second. That’s a lot of bandwidth – it’s pushing out a DVD in 4 seconds for example - and it's almost triple the theoretical maximum capability of the best commercial hard drive interface on the market today (3Gbps SATA).

Anyway ploughing on with the PDF and you find that what they actually say is that the 6.4Megapixel 60fps gets ouptut at “10 bit data at a pixel level”. That would then be 6.4Meg*10bits per pixel * 60 frames per sec == 3.8Gbps. They also say that the interface uses a 10bit LVDS interface @ 432Mhz which would provide just slightly more bandwidth than is strictly necessary. It's still an astonishingly fast interface but now at least it all adds up from that point of view.

However that’s all still only at 10 bits per pixel which is nowhere near good enough for colour unless you are talking about GIF\PNG (10-11bpp typically) or JPEG (<10bpp)>

Assuming that the intention is to use a Bayer array or something like that and some fancy demosaicing then they will be interpolating this into a 3.6Megapixel full colour data stream albeit with some loss of precision buried in there.

The sensor size (2.5micron) also seemed awfully tiny to me and I suspected that it might be pushing the edge in terms of diffraction limits. It is quite interesting to look at the Airy disk size for this sensor: go to http://www.hdrsoft.com/resources/dri.html , plug in the base values and this shows that the sensor could be noticeably diffraction limited even at f/stops as wide as F4. Adjusting for the Bayer array and basing it on 3.6Megapixel sensor that still kicks in at F8 which still isn’t very good for a still camera but is probably not an issue for video unless the viewers intend to have their noses glued to the screen or plan to watch ultra slow motion on your brand new 50" 1080p flat screen.

Anyway so the fairly high resolution "on the fly" still capability is interesting and not totally shabby but the key capabilities start to become obvious when you look into the additional output formats listed in the final table as these quite obviously pitch this (quite sensibly) as a sensor for proper HD (ie 1080p & 720p) Digital Camcorders; the 2x2 binned 1GBps 10bpp 1440x1080 60fps output format and a 3x3 10bpp 960x720 60fps mode are for shooting widescreens (1.3333:1 ) onto a square sensor array so that they can be scaled back to full 1080p (1920x1080 with square HD pixels) or 720p (1280x720 square pixels) formats respectively.

The 2x2 binning mode then supports the highly desirable "Full HD" 1080p video (2Megapixel) at 60fps. And yes I suppose it is obvious that that is what they need to be making these days but the PR pitch about 6 Megapixel video is a bit of a red herring, don't you think?

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Tolls and Roads

I keep hearing people complain about Tolls Roads and it's often struck me that folks don't have a good handle on just how much they cost vs their carrying capacity.

Cost. An average motorway costs €15-€20M/km if you are lucky enough to have options as to route and design. The cost in constrained environments can be double or more than that.

Carrying Capacity. A highly efficient 2 lane motorway has a safe saturation carrying capacity of around 5.7K vehicles/hr (2 lanes both directions 2.5 seconds separation). If it is outstandingly busy and has a 50% loading on average over a 24 hour period then it has a carrying capacity of around 70K cars per day or 25M cars per annum. The Fermoy bypass currently carries 11k vehicles per day with a planned capacity of 25K per day. As a (somewhat shocking) comparison the M50 is probably carrying over 90K cars per day.

Economic Cost. Assuming a replacement lifetime of 20 years, a competitive initial construction cost of €15m/kilometer and a cost of capital of just 3% since the economy is doing so well. Then each kilometer actually costs €19.5million in todays money so you have to charge 0.04c per kilometer in a toll to break even over 20 years. For the Fermoy bypass (and accounting for the planned capacity vs its carrying capacity) the break even toll is €1.88 per vehicle.

Damage - road damage is traditionally accepted as being roughly proportional to the 4th power of the per axle vehicle weight. That was based on AASHO studies from 1960. More recent rework of that has tended to drop that number down closer to somewhere between a 2nd and 3rd order effect. Let's be very kind and estimate that it is just proportional to the 2nd power.
That's still quite nasty because it means that large commercial trucks hauling 20 to 30 tons on 5 axles 60 - 150 times as much damage to roads than a typical 1 ton private car.
Commercial trucks are actually only charged 2-3 times what cars are charged so they are in fact heavily subsidized when you look at it that way.

Congestion - Arguably a better reason to charge tolls on roads is to effect a pricing for the use of the service as that is the smartest way to manage congestion. From that point of view commercial HGV's probably should be given a pass or at least some subsidy but that also means that we really should charge variable tolls depending on the cost of congestion at the time the toll is being imposed as Edward L. Glaeser explains here.


Some numbers:
The new Fermoy bypass:
Cost €290M ( €16M/km)
No of Vehicles per day
Current: ~16000
Planned: ~25000
Ratio of HGV's 20%.

* 6000 of those are "temporarily" going through Watergrasshill

With current tolls (€ 1.60 for cars € 4.10 for trucks) daily revenue is between €35K and €50K so the payback period is somewhere between 15 and 22 years.

Firewall Fun

MS07-010
"A remote code execution vulnerability exists in the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine because of the way that it parses Portable Document Format (PDF) files. An attacker could exploit the vulnerability by constructing a specially crafted PDF File that could potentially allow remote code execution when the target computer system receives, and the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine scans, the PDF file."

In English: We would like to inform you that you have just been shot by the shield we sold you to protect you from being shot.

Not as bad as the Witty Worm but it's not one I'd want on my track record.

Sunday 11 February 2007

Free Phone Calls

This looks like it is worth checking out - (effectively) free phone calls from standard land line phones in Ireland to a host of countries provided you have a reasonably complete base plan from your current service provider - specifically Italy, USA, UK and most of the rest of the EU.

Interestingly it also includes a pretty attractive mobile service for O2 customers - e.g. Italy, UK and USA 35 minutes for Euro 1.75.

Anyway here's the link - go mad, AllFreeCalls.ie

Thursday 1 February 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force are Teh Bomb

The whole cartoon network street art stunt shuts down Boston thing is just too funny for words. Bruce Schneier has the best commentary so far - personally I hope the Boston authorities realize that they need to sue themselves not any body else for this monumental example of stupidity.
















I'm delighted though as it led me to find this ATHF Flash gizmo that lets you sample some "dialog" from the show. Err is definitely a terrorist I must say. Anyway go give it a whirl, it's a laugh.

Anyone know where I can get this on a T-Shirt?