Showing posts from December, 2007

Hot Chips Conference archives

Curious about the internal designs of GPUs, CPUs, and game consoles? Tired of lame articles full of uninformed speculation and fanboy rants? Then check out the archives of the "Hot Chips" conference, an annual conference where computer chip designers get together to brag about their latest chips. The conference presentation slides are all online, and they're full of good technical information on GPUs, CPUs. and even game consoles. Of course, presenters often gloss over any technical problems with their chips, so you won't get the full picture. But these presentations offer a detailed technical look inside otherwise secret system architectures.

(For what it's worth the web site is poorly organized, and many links are broken -- you sometimes have to edit the URLs slightly to find the correct links.)

Some highlights:

Reality Co-Processor, Ken Hayes (Silicon Graphics, Inc.) - All about the Nintendo 64.

Gekko: A PowerPC compatible processor supporting high-performance 3D …

Nintendo Wii security defeated by the Tweezer Attack

According to a presentation at the 24th Chaos Communication Congress, hackers have apparently been able to defeat the Nintendo Wii game console's security system using tweezers to bypass the hardware memory protection.

The way it works is that the Wii runs in two modes: a GameCube emulation mode, which has access to just 1/8th of the total memory, and Wii mode, that has access to all the memory.

Hackers had already figured out how to run their own code in GameCube mode. So the trick was to run their code in GameCube mode, then use the tweezers to short out the address lines to allow the hacker's code to access parts of rest of the memory. By shorting different address lines different portions of memory were made available. By collecting enough shards they eventually mapped all of memory.

Apparently the Wii operating system keeps its digital signature keys in this protected memory, and once the digital signatures were found it was possible to sign and run homebrew code on the Wii.

Searching for old web pages: The Wayback machine is cool!

I was searching for information on LINJ, a Lisp language that compiles into human-readable Java code. Unfortunately, the LINJ web site, is currently offline.

Luckily, it turned out that the Internet Archive Wayback machine had cached both that page, and the download files that that page had pointed to. Very cool!

Similarly, I was looking for the source to the Windows CE port of Quake 3, and found that the project's web site had been abandoned and taken over by spammers. Luckily the Wayback machine had cached both the original web page and the downloads.

Let this be a lesson to you aspiring open source developers out there: It's better to store small open-source projects in a large "won't-ever-go-away" source repository like SourceForge or Google Code than to use your own vanity domain hosting. Of course, even using a large popular repository is not failure-proof. Some large code repositories from …

Why the Farmers won

I've been thinking about Lisp lately. A powerful language, with many excellent features, but not hugely successful. And I thought of one reason why:

The excellent book Guns, Germs and Steel hypothesizes that agriculture displaced hunting and gathering because people who practiced agriculture stayed in one place, and were able to have one child per year, as opposed to the hunter-gatherers, who had to wait until their children were old enough to walk before having another child. This reproductive rate difference was amplified by the ability for a given unit of land to support more farmers than hunters. As a result, agriculture displaced hunting even though individual hunters were far healthier (as seen by their skeleton height) than the farmers that displaced them.

So it is possible for a poorer technology to displace a better one, if it has compensating advantages. And I think that's what's hit Lisp. C and Java, which are each less powerful and more wordy than Lisp, are m…

Back to Mac

This week I converted my family's main computer from Vista to OS X. (It's a Mac Mini).

We pretty much use it for web surfing, web email, really old DOS children's games, and photo editing. Macs do that pretty well.

I still have a Vista machine that I use for the excellent Windows Media Center -- love the record-by-keyword feature and the free programming guide.

But for day-to-day use we're back to the Mac.

Alternative language blues

I've spent roughly 4 years of midnight-engineering time looking into the cool languages to see if they would make game programming easier or more fun. Haskell, Ocaml, F#, Erlang, Scheme, Lisp, D, Factor, Scala, Python, I've looked at them all.

F# held my attention for quite a while, but now my platform-of-choice has moved away from F#'s design center. (I'm into Linux-based mobile platforms now.) And to be honest, I'm still happier in a C-like language.

I'm depressed. Sure, I learned a lot about fancy language features, but I could have written quite a few games in plain-old-C++ (or C#, or Java or Flash or Basic) in the same time.

P.S. Someone else has done this more impressively than I have. Do a Google Groups search for Brandon van Every, who has had a five year odyssey to find the perfect non-C++ game programming language. I corresponded with him back when we were both interested in O'Caml. Since then he's managed to annoy pretty much everyone by harping…

Lisp Hacking and Science Fiction

I've been poking around with Lisp and Scheme again, and am reminded of some of my favorite science fiction books (warning, plot spoilers follow):

Verner Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" begins with a group of scientists mining an ancient civilization's web archives. They need to build interpreters for the ancient civilization's programs. All goes well until they reconstitute a malevolent AI that they spend the rest of the book fighting.Piers Anthony's Macroscope involves a group of people trying to decode an Extra-Terestrial message, that other ETs are trying to jam. Over the course of the book your opinion as to which group of ETs has humanity's best interests at heart changes back and forth several times.Any number of SF stories are set in the far future where people poke around in the ruins of a once-great civilization. (See Gene Wolfe, Cordwainer Smith.)

Working with Lisp reminds me of these books. Lisp's a seductive, ancient, powerful language t…

More evidence that garbage collection is expensive

As seen on Lambda the

Quantifying the Performance of Garbage Collection vs. Explicit Memory Management

We compare explicit memory management to both copying and non-copying garbage collectors across a range of benchmarks, and include real (non-simulated) runs that validate our results. These results quantify the time-space tradeoff of garbage collection: with five times as much memory, an Appel-style generational garbage collector with a non-copying mature space matches the performance of explicit memory management. With only three times as much memory, it runs on average 17% slower than explicit memory management. However, with only twice as much memory, garbage collection degrades performance by nearly 70%. When physical memory is scarce, paging causes garbage collection to run an order of magnitude slower than explicit memory management.

The Economics of Selling a MacBook on Craig's List vs. Ebay

I just sold my MacBook over the web. I sold it on Craig's List. I also considered using eBay, but Craig's List turned out to be a better deal, for both buyer and seller.

The reason is that listing and selling on Craig's List is free, while selling on eBay is expensive, especially for items priced higher than $500. First, there's the listing fee of $0.20, then the Final Value fee of $0.50 + 3.25% * price. But wait, there's more: EBay all-but-requires you to use their PayPal service to settle transactions, and PayPal in turn requires you to use a "Premier" account if you receive more than $500 in eBay payments in one month, which you automatically would if the item you're selling is more than $500. Using a "Premier" account requires that you pay PayPal 2.9%+$0.30 per transaction, even for cash transactions. (The processing fee is less if you are doing a high volume of business through them.)

So the total eBay selling cost is in the range of 6.15…