Posts Tagged ‘Two-bit Column’

  • Two-bit Column: A graphic(s) article

    Aug 31, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell It has been over a decade since computers have become fast enough for general-purpose work. Even the cheapest available laptop can load dynamic websites littered with HD video ads and decode and scroll them without a hiccup. There once was a time when processor speed was the major metric people were concerned with. A computer going from 40 megahertz to 100 megahertz was a noticeable, notable jump. Given that, it’s of great interest to see that the new kid on the block, virtual reality, is finally mixing things up after what seems like quite a few years of stagnation in the industry. Our processors and GPUs can no longer go up in speed, so now they’re going sideways with multiple cores. This change breaks the way systems once functioned, and the solution for developing in this new way is Vulkan. Vulkan is an API (application programming interface) created and maintained by Khronos Group that pioneers modern application development as we know it. OpenGL has long been the cross-platform graphics development standard of choice. Any operating system worth its salt supports it, including OSX, Windows, Debian, RedHat, and even Solaris. It has evolved from a fixed number of supported visual effects to using a complete language to define its own graphics. The major flaw with OpenGL is that it’s always been built around the idea of a single

  • Two-bit Column: Simply writing

    Aug 3, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell My interest was piqued when I heard the word “DOS.” I was told that George R. R. Martin had used an old DOS program to write his entire “A Song of Ice and Fire” (commonly referred to as the Game of Thrones) series. I had to verify the information and, sure enough, he used Wordstar 4.0 running on some ancient computer with DOS to create his masterpiece. Apparently he prefers no help with his writing. No distracting spelling or grammar checks, no pop-ups or messages for licensing or updates. This lead me to the discovery of no-distraction writing tools. Apparently Martin is not the only author who just wants to be left alone while writing. Authors of all kinds use, and have crafted, tools for creative writing that protect their concentration from being broken. So far, I have tried the honest-to-goodness Wordstar 4 on DOS, Wordgrinder on Linux, and Vim and Focuswriter available on all major platforms. It actually surprised me that Wordstar was free and readily available. I installed DosBox first (a free DOS emulator). Then I searched the net and with no trouble at all I had found and downloaded the now-famous editor. The setup was a bit tricky, having to mount multiple drives and such, but the effort was well worth it. The program is simple, learning all the available options was quick, and

  • Two-bit Column: A better shell game

    Jun 29, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Once upon a time there was RUNCOM. In 1964 Louis Pouzin developed a system that allowed computers to run commands from a script instead of having to type them all out one at a time. The term “shell” was coined for this breakthrough in productivity — a metaphorical description of its encapsulation capability. This nascent shell slowly evolved from Multics to Unix and eventually became part of every major operating system in existence. The first major adopter of the Unix shell was actually a clone called GNU Linux. Frowning upon the restrictive pricing of Unix tools, Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman started a movement to create a free Unix. Because of them — and people who started similar projects — today there’s now a Unix shell on the majority of servers running the internet and a few billion mobile devices like cellphones and tablets worldwide. By the late 1990s, Apple was desperately trying to gain market share. To entice developers, they switched to a Unix-based operating system and by 2001 OS X 10.0, “Cheetah,” was released. It had a true command line interface app called Terminal which ran the tools many had already been using for more than 20 years. Now, when an application is created, it’s easily translated into Unix, Linux, and OS X, which all function similarly. Microsoft took a little longer to accept that

  • Two-bit Column: Not-so-crypto-logic, cryptocurrency, & you

    Jun 1, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell It’s hard to ignore the presence of cryptocurrency these days. About 30 years ago, cryptocurrency was really only discussed in cryptography circles and by those working on the conundrum of taking payments over the internet. Now it’s everywhere. People with little to no knowledge of technology are getting involved simply as a means of investment. So what does this mean for you? Cryptocurrency is simply a modern evolution of money. From seashells to rare metals, money has always taken effort to collect and distribute. The most important aspect of money, however, is faith. For any object to be considered a currency, it takes the belief of a community that the object is actually reliably traded for goods and services. This is especially true with our modern fiat currencies which have evolved from notes that were backed by resources such as gold. This fiat system has worked for some time without any issue simply because of our faith. Cryptocurrency further evolves money by using advanced technology to verify its transactions and distribution, removing the need for banks and reserves for management and decreasing the abuses of market manipulation. The currency not being tied to any singular government or country helps keep taxation and regulation away. This makes cryptocurrency attractive to many — including those who enjoy equal trade across all borders, and criminals trying to remain anonymous. There

  • Two-bit Column: The reality of virtual reality

    May 4, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell For well over a year, the Prescott PC Gamers Group has hosted gaming events that feature virtual reality devices. The most popular is the HTC Vive. I’ve had many experiences that solidified my belief in the future of virtual reality, but one definitely stands out in particular. Several regular members had decided to join a game called “Eleven Assassins” where we each played a bow-wielding elf defending a castle against various fantastic beasts. Our play extended for well over an hour and by the end of our session we were bemoaning our sore arm and leg muscles. We were physically exhausted. The best part of the experience is that we were completely unaware of the intense workout we were getting at the time. Sure, we could feel tiredness and pain in our limbs, but apparently muscle damage is of lower priority than an axe rapidly approaching your face. You dodge the attack without hesitation out of sheer instinct. It was the best leg workout I’ve ever had. When all was said and done, I must’ve done at least 24 quick squats not to mention the other leans and arm lifting performed to function my virtual bow and to avoid dragon’s breath. Incredibly, I now look forward to exercise instead of considering it a chore necessary for my health. When we show off our VR equipment at our

  • Two-bit Column: Cut to the quick: Considering the cable cabal

    Mar 30, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell We were stunned. How long had it been? Four years? At least three, to be sure. We were over at my wife’s family’s house and had just settled in to watch a program. Suddenly, the show stopped and commercials started to play (and play (and play)). We must’ve spent at least five minutes staring at advertisements until we finally just left the room. Was this really the norm that everyone dealt with for so many years? Yes, for many of us, it is clear that cable television is dead. Technology will always evolve and moving pictures are no exception. From silent films to drive-in movies to large air-conditioned theaters, we’ve witnessed a steady change in how we consume video. First, we were forced to go to theaters. Eventually, we took in video at home. Television grew more advanced as we demanded more channels and bigger screens. We fought ads and annoying antenna alignments by adopting a shiny new technology called cable. The cable companies promised an advertisement-free experience without the need for antennas via cable boxes and monthly payments. Later, a technology war ensued and we watched a to-the-death struggle between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS portable video tape standards and we bought movies to watch at home. By then, cable had somehow snuck commercials back in to the viewing experience. By the time DVDs became popular,

  • Two-bit Column: Clickety-clack

    Mar 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell I remember how happy my friend was showing off the latest addition to his collection: a real life, honest-to-goodness, IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M is a rare keyboard in that it uses a spring that buckles outwardly creating a nice loud “thwack” on the inside of the key whenever it’s depressed. These types of mechanisms have become rare; modern keyboards simply use rubber and plastic to save money. Many computer industry veterans prefer the old loud actuation because it makes clear that the computer had received your input before the key bottomed out, giving you a slight speed advantage over those using the now-standard plastic- and rubber-backed keyboard. To say nothing of the classic clickety-clack sound that many relate to retro computing. It’s easy to get into the habit of buying and using whatever models are readily available or on sale, but there are definitely times when researching your options and selecting something more in line with your preferences will make you happier. In fact, I believe a certain coffee shop chain has based its entire business model around that very idea. It pains me to know that there are many of you out there who have only typed an email on your phone’s touch screen. You have options; you have colors and switch types; you have the entire skill of touch-typing right at your

  • Two-bit Column: By a particular measure

    Feb 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell Metrics are salient in plenty of fields, but especially computers. But when you stop and consider metrics, at large — whether that be an idea or a physical object or process — they don’t always add up. When you take the time to see which ones measure up, you’ll find you might be obsessing over the wrong ideas. Take, for instance, the Megahertz Myth. For a long time, Intel pushed clock-rate (i.e., how many times per second a processor can process an instruction) as the supreme unit of computing power. They had (mostly) convinced their customers that the faster the clock, the better the computer was as a whole. However, in the vast majority of cases, this metric is useless when comparing cutting-edge processors. But explaining the intricacies of how computer processors function proved too complicated to put into advertising, so Intel’s plan worked out for them. Consumers were baffled by the overload of benchmark comparisons explaining how the competition was better and, in the end, most people simply preferred the simpler metric. Clock-rate, memory, storage capacity, number of ports, weight, and size are the most common measures of a computer. Every processor being sold for general purpose computing now clocks in at billions of hertz and it has been proven that, given efficient enough software, we have surpassed the power required for day-to-day tasks. Memory and

  • Two-bit Column: Pelcgbtencul

    Dec 29, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell I was at Prescott’s 2600 Hacker Quarterly meet up when I first got to see a man-in-the-middle attack in real life. A malicious network was made using two wireless antennas attached to a laptop. The first antenna was used to connect to the cafe’s real Wifi and the second to create a spoof wireless network. When someone connects to the fake network all of the traffic can be analyzed. I was the guinea pig. I simply needed to connect and use the internet as usual to see what could be discovered. I connected and was able to watch all of the traffic my computer generated communicating to the internet on the host the laptop. Credentials used to log on to popular websites were safe, protected by the HTTPS protocol, my email accounts were also safe as they were protected by TLS encryption, but my file server had no encryption and as soon as I logged in everything showed up in the stream of data. My username and password were both in plain text and clearly readable. Everyone watching saw my password and could now use it to access my file server. It’s demonstrations like these that really display the importance of encryption and how it protects us and our information. Being able to communicate securely has been important for thousands of years. One of the earliest known

  • ‘That’s not real art’: Considering game theory, art, art theory, and video games

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo CommentsRead More »

    By Justin Agrell The first game that blew my mind was “Doom.” If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it was one of the first 3-D computer games available for later DOS computer systems. (It also featured quite a lot of pixelated violence; it was the mid-’90s and I was a young boy, after all.) When I discovered “Doom,” my mind was transported there, to Mars, fighting Hell-demons. The visuals and speed of interaction were ground-breaking. Thinking back, it wasn’t books or music or paintings or film that gripped my interest so firmly. It was video games. You may dismiss or reject them as works of art, but stop and think about that for a second. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, some context. My first passion was drawing. In elementary school I sketched throughout the day. At first my sloppy doodles littered whatever spare surface was available to me, hardly representing the nonsensical images in my mind. They were purely for my entertainment and to pass the time. As time progressed so did my skill, and by the end of the 5th grade I had reached the point of classmates paying me for sketches with their lunch money. When I think about art, I remember this time in my life. OK, back to video games and art. When I first went to college, I wanted to create games but

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