Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Computer Musings

Last week I realized that I've had my laptop for a little over four years. Apart from a few mechanical hiccups in its first year (thankfully covered under warranty) it's been going strong the entire time. I had some certain things in mind when I bought it, namely, “you get what you pay for” and “don't skimp on quality” which led me to get a powerful (if slightly more expensive) computer that would be relatively future-proof and wouldn't be obsolete in two years.

Four years later, I can say that my strategy appears to have paid off. My computer is still running strong, still quite able to run some of the more demanding games and other programs I've thrown at it, and barring accident I expect it will be running well for several years yet.

Of course, that hasn't stopped me from looking ahead to when I will eventually need a new computer. And with that comes the choice of what operating system to use. A few years ago I wouldn't have hesitated to choose Windows, because that's what I grew up with. I remember using Windows 98 for a little while as a kid, then Windows XP for a couple of years. After some experience with Windows Vista I knew I didn't want that, and bought my laptop with Windows 7, which I've been quite happy with since.

However...many of the reports I've heard of Windows 8 fill me with trepidation. I have yet to actually use it, but I've heard enough to at least give me pause before blindly upgrading. Of course, Windows 9 may be out by the time I'm actually ready to buy a new computer, and there's a bit of common wisdom that says that Windows version run on a good-bad-good-bad schedule, so perhaps Windows 9 will be fine like Windows 7 was.

Even if that's the case (and that's an unknown “if” at this point), I've found myself leaning more and more towards using Linux on my next computer. I now spend more time at my computer at work (which runs a flavor of Linux) than I do my personal computer, and I'm becoming more and more accustomed to it. I wrote about my experience running Ubuntu (a flavor of Linux) as a dual-boot on my computer almost four years ago now. At the time it was a novelty to me, and while I don't come out and say it in the post, I couldn't really see myself ever using it principally over Windows.

A few years and a lot of experience later, and I know a lot more about Linux than I did then. For instance, Ubuntu is simply one flavor (or kind) of Linux; there are many different flavors out there catering to many different kinds of people. Many of the underlying (and most important) features are the same across them, though. I've run across some flavors of Linux that look quite nice, and which I could definitely see myself choosing as my next main operating system (I sometimes find myself wishing for certain conveniences of Linux while using Windows.). In some ways Linux is actually easier to use than Windows (while simultaneously offering more power to power users), but it's just different enough to feel uncomfortable while making the switch.

One thing that has given me pause in my consideration of Linux has to do with games. It has long been true that nearly all computer games are targeted at Windows because it has the largest market share. Sometimes an occasional game will get ported to Mac as well, but that's not exactly common. And Linux? Forget about it. It's only been within the last few years that a small but hopefully significant number of game developers are starting to release games for all three platforms. There are doubtless many reasons for this (including one of the currently-more-popular game-engines making it very easy to make releases for multiple platforms), but whatever the reason it's an encouraging trend, and it will be interesting to see what the game landscape looks like another twenty-four months down the line. I've taken to actively trying to support games that run on Linux, and preferring to buy ones that do in order to future-proof my game library (pretty much any game of any note that runs on Linux also runs on Windows and Mac at the moment, so it's an all-around good way to hedge my bets).

It's an interesting time to be living in, to be sure. People have been predicting the rise of Linux as a serious contender with Windows and Mac for market share for years now, but with the way things are going with Windows recently, who know? It just might finally happen. Or not, and people will continue to predict it. We'll see! Exciting times, to be sure. A hui hou!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hilo Rodeo

This past Sunday afternoon I headed up to the local rodeo, the Panaewa Stampede, for a couple hours with some friends from work. I forgot to bring my camera, but I was able to get a few pictures with my phone. I sat through several events over the time I was there, including variations on solo and team roping, bronco riding, that sort of thing.

One interesting (and highly entertaining) event, called “double mugging,” was billed by the program as unique to Hawai‘i. This event involves one cowboy on horseback, one on foot, and one steer. The guy on horseback has to rope the steer, then the guy on the ground has to run up and tackle him.

Then the guy on the horse has to jump off and together they have to wrestle the steer to the ground and tie three of his legs together with a knot that holds for six seconds.

As someone who's had a lot of dealings with steers I found the entire thing absolutely hilarious.

The steers themselves often looked like they were enjoying themselves; usually right after they found themselves tied and unable to get up they would give up trying and simply look around with a bemused expression until the cowboys let them up.

I also saw the woman's barrel racing during the time I was there, I believe the lady in the video below ended up being the champion with the lowest time.

All in all it was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I went. It was good weather for the event, cloudy and cool but not raining. It was also a fairly good-sized event in terms of number of competitors. I was aware beforehand that there are quite a few cowboys (and girls) up on the cattle ranches by Waimea on the north slopes of Mauna Kea, but I was a little surprised that an event in Hilo would be so well attended. A fun experience overall. A hui hou!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Action

I've talked fairly often about working at the Joint Astronomy Center, specifically supporting the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, but I haven't been able to get a good picture of it since I started working there. Luckily I have a friend from college, William Montgomerie, who graduated before I did and got a job at the JCMT as a telescope operator about three years ago. Will's into photography like I am, and being up on the mountain all night so frequently gives him some great opportunities. He graciously provided this wonderful panorama of the JCMT:

If you weren't familiar with it previously, this may not be what you were expecting from an observatory. This is because the JCMT isn't an optical telescope. The large white sheet you see in the center is the world's largest piece of Gore-Tex (technically one of two, we have a spare). Behind that sits the telescope dish, because Gore-Tex is basically transparent to sub-millimeter light. There's a roof that rolls out along the top, and two doors that roll in from around the sides to close it up.

Also, note the vehicle in the garage at lower-left for scale. The JCMT has the second-largest dish on the mountain (after the Very Long Baseline Array dish), and a large building to house it.