Off-Topic: Colder Weather and (Consumer) Electronics

The colder season is coming fast here in Uppsala, and it is time to bring out gloves and warmer jackets. Even if we have had some nice sunny pretty warm days (up to 15 degrees Celsius!), we are getting into October soon, a month where there is usually some day of freak snow fall.

Another sign that it is getting colder is the reaction of consumer electronics.

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Virtual Platforms for Late Hardware and the Winds of History

As might be evident from this blog, I do have a certain interest in history and the history of computing in particular. One aspect where computing and history collide in a not-so-nice way today is in the archiving of digital data for the long term. I just read an article at Forskning och Framsteg where they discuss some of the issues that use of digital computer systems and digital non-physical documents have on the long-term archival of our intellectual world of today. Basically, digital archives tend to rot in a variety of ways. I think virtual platform technology could play a role in preserving our digital heritage for the future.

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Off-topic: The Train to Furuvik

This is a short travel tip for the Uppsala-Stockholm area. Yesterday, I used the UL train to get to the Furuvik zoo/amusement park close to Gävle. Compared to the visit we did last year using a car, taking the train was generally a superior experience. And cheap. For 200 SEK, you get two adults + three children, with all rides included. Much cheaper than going there by car and then buying the rides. Not having to spend an hour driving with children is also a clear advantage in my mind, rather you can relax on the train and have fun with the kids. Being tired at the end of the day, I was very happy not to have to drive home.

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Freescale QorIQ P4080 Hybrid Simulation on YouTube(!)

YouTube – Freescale QorIQ P4080 Hybrid Simulation is a video of a demo of the QorIQ P4080 hybrid simulation. Cool of Freescale to be publishing it like this, I think it is a very smart move!

Updated: Here is the video inline, let’s see if this works.

Freescale QorIQ P4080 is out — with Simics support

Only half an hour ago, the embargoes lifted. Freescale announced its new QorIQ series of multicore (and some single- and dual-core) processors. For the top-end of that line, the P4080, Freescale and Virtutech (where I work, remember) have developed a virtual platform solution to help Freescale customers get to working products faster. The virtual platform is available now, and is already running several operating systems including VxWorks, QNX, and a variety of Linuxes. Apart from the fairly large scale of this SoC, the really new part of the virtual platform is the so-called Hybrid solution, where the fast models are combined with detailed models from Freescale themselves. This creates a cycle-level detailed model with validated timing, “from the source” — but without the performance issues of having to run everything at great level of detail. Rather, you use the fast model to steer the simulation of a workload to an interesting spot, and then turn up the level of detail then and there. You can also select which components of the chip are actually detailed and which parts are modeled with the fast functional models, avoiding the incredible slow-down of running and entire virtual platform at a great level of detail.

If you happen to be at the FTF in Orlando, do come by and look at the demos!

I have been involved in this work for the past year, and it is wonderful to finally see it coming out and be able to talk about it.

System Companies leaving the ASIC Business

As a follow-up to my previous post on the scope of ESL, I found a nice tidbit in an EETimes article… basically saying that hardware design is declining inside the typical system houses.

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BBC Documentary: On the Trail of Spammers

If you are looking for a good popular introduction to what spam is and how it works, the BBC World Service Documentary Podcast has a very good documentary up right now. I cannot find a direct link, but go to the overview page and then download “Doc: Assignment – On the trail of spammers 17 Jan 2007”. Enjoy!

Fastscale minimal virtual machines — beautiful simple idea

A company called Fastscale Technologies has a product that is simple in concept and yet very powerful. Instead of using complete installs of heavy operating systems like Linux or Windows to run applications on virtual machines, they offer tools that provide minimal operating system configurations that are tailored to the needs of a particular application. Since only that application is going to be run on the virtual machine, this is sufficient. According to press reports, this means that you can run several times more virtual machines on a given host, compared to default OS installs. And boot an order of a magnitude faster.

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Solaris to IBM, x86 to Apple, Power to Microsoft, and other flying pig events

The register report “IBM embraces – wtf – Sun’s Solaris across x86 server line” is a very appropriate headline for something quite surprising. The day before this happened, we discussed the announced announcement and said “nah, it can’t be about operating systems”. The idea of IBM in-sourcing Solaris for x86 just felt like the kind of thing that was in the same realm as flying pigs, freezing hells, and similar unlikely events.

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Matts Today in History: The Vasa Sinks, August 10, 1628

Matts Today in History: The Vasa Sinks, August 10, 1628
is the latest installment in the very good and long-running PodCast called “Matt’s Today in History”. I really appreciate the effort going into the production of it, and the perserverance of Matt in keeping it up for more than two years.

This particular issue was interesting in two regards.

First, I suggested the topic.

Second, it featured what at least seemed like real paid advertising at the start. This is thanks to PodShow, the “media network” used to distribute this podcast. The deal behind PodShow is quite simple fo the podcaster: you get bandwitdh for free, in return for the possibility of there being advertising inserted into the audio.

The reasoning behind PodShow is nicely explained in a podcast from the Stanford Technology Ventures Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series. Here, Ron Bloom and Ray Lane of PodShow describe the way PodShow got started and just what it is. Basically, they are building a new media company, to compete with radio and television. It is not just a nice place to find podcasts. Recommended listen for anyone interested in just how podcasting can be monetized. They describe how their staff constantly monitors the various shows that they carry, and find those popular and targeted enough to carry some paid advertising. Other shows carry intros and pointers to various other PodShow shows, to drive audience to more popular properties.

Thus, the conclusion must be that Matt’s Today in History has reached some threshold of audience that makes it valuable enough to carry advertising. Great job, and a sure sign of popularity of the podcast.

The Customer is not always Right

I just listened to Episode 103 of the Security Now podcast, where Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson talk to the head of security at PayPal. PayPal is doing the right thing right now, issuing their customers with RSA security keys. Which gives them two-factor authentication (password and security key passnumber).

But for some reason, they do not enforce the use of security keys on their customers. Even when you have obtained a security key (which is optional, weirdly enough) and said you are using it, you can still login without it doing some additional security questions. For the reason of convenience! Which basically reduces the security added to nothing, since you can still login in a traditional fashion.

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Off-Topic: Tallink Customer Service to Pärnu

I just had a nice vacation in the Estonian town of Pärnu. Pärnu is a really nice little town full of summer visitors and still with lots of local character.

Getting there, however, was less pleasant than it could have been, thanks to Tallink where we booked the trip and the hotel nights in Pärnu.

When we booked the trip, they told us that there were convenient buses from Tallinn to Pärnu, and that we did not need to bring a car. They also booked us on a nice brand-new integrated hotel containing a “water land” and spa services, and being located very close to the beach. Sounded perfect.

As it turned out, some of these things fell through:

  • The buses to Pärnu left from the central bus station in Tallinn, which is not close to the docks where the ferries arrive, but rather some kilometers away. It would have been nice if this had been clear from the start. Instead, Tallink representatives and information made sound as if the buses left directly from the docks, or at least in some place very close by.
  • The staff on the ferry to Tallinn did not know about the direct local buses from the docks to the central bus station (a tip: it is bus number 2, which stops right outside of terminal D. Or walk some more and take tram number 2). They gave us confused and incorrect information as how to get to the bus station. At least they told us where the bus station was…
  • At the last minute (one day before departure) it turned out that our main hotel was overbooked and that we would be given a different hotel. After some discussions they also promised us entrance tickets to the water land in our booked hotel. However, it was not clear how this was to work out in practice. Or if our new hotel was any better or worse than the one we were booked on initially. Customer service gave the impression that all would be handled at check-in in their terminal in Stockholm.
  • When we checked in in Stockholm, we did get hotel vouchers for the replacement hotel. But for a double room, not the suite that was what they had said initially. And the check-in personell had no idea about the entrance tickets to the water land. “there is no note of that in the computer system”. We got to talk to a supervisor who told us that things should work out, wrote a note to the hotel on a copy of our booking, and had the good sense to give us a name and phone number to call would they not.
  • Once we arrive in Pärnu, the hotel that we were staying at did provide an envelope containing the tickets to the water land that we needed. The hotel was also recently renovated and very fresh (it was the St. Petersburg hotel, in a carefully renovated 16th-17th-century building in downtown Pärnu). The location was more convenient for eating out and shopping, if a bit more removed from the beach (20 minutes walk rather than five).

Thus, in the end, things worked out and we got decent value for our money. Even so, it is still annoying how Tallink handled things, especially since the fixes are mostly in precision of communication and should actually be cheaper for them to do right.

So how could Tallink have done better in our case (and quite probably in general):

  • Run their own bus shuttle from Tallink to Pärnu and other interesting destinations. They do that in Sweden, so why not in Estonia? We would have been happy to pay some extra for a bus conveniently arriving at the docks to take us straight to the destination.
  • Present correct and complete facts about each destination on the phone and on their homepage. If they refer people to the bus service to Pärnu, do provide a time-table, a map on how to get to the main bus station, and a map of the end location to help you find your hotel. After all, Tallink have local staff in Tallinn that can easily find out for you.
  • Have their customer service staff be precise and clear. In the end, things did work out and we were not cheated of our vacation. But the details like the standard of our replacement hotel, how the water land tickets would work, and similar simple things could have been clearly communicated from the start. That would have saved them lots of phone service time, and us a bunch of unnecessary annoyment and anxiety.

Finally, the main drawback of a trip of this type where you spend a night on the ferry each way is that the ferry trip takes a lot of time from the vacation. This would not be so bad if it was enjoyable time, and they are trying to give off the impression that it is kind of a luxurious experience to travel on their modern ferries to Tallinn. And mostly it is nice. Going on a ship where you can walk around and have lots of space is vastly superior to inhuman modes of transport like long-distance air travel or car trips. For the kids, having a dedicated playroom is great.

But since the length of the trip makes it necessary to eat dinner and breakfast onboard, the food is quite a important component. And here Tallink and most other Baltic ferries I have tried fall down by simply providing fairly taste-less and disappointing fare. The tradition of a grand buffet is great in principle, but something makes it so that each course is cheapened down to its simplest least tasty version. Creating a rather disappointing experience overall. And there is no indication that the a la carte restaurants are any better. So for now, you eat because you have to and not as much because you enjoy it.

Why this is the case, I don’t know. Either they think their customers do not care or cannot tell a good meal from a poor one, or they lack pride in the kitchen, or they are saving money by using the cheapest stuff they can get away with, or something else.