Name That Ware April 2011

May 8th, 2011

The Ware for April 2011 is shown below, click on the image for a much larger version:


Winner, Name that Ware March 2011

May 8th, 2011

I’ve had some good fun with FPGAs over the past month and I was curious to see what was inside the JTAG programming box; thus, the Ware for March 2011 is the Xilinx platform cable USB II. Here’s a full image without the part number redactions. The winner of last month’s competition is Fiach Antaw, please email me to claim your prize.

Incidentally, the Xilinx ISE tools have come a loooong way since I started using them back in the mid-90’s while I was an undergrad at MIT (and fwiw, Xilinx’s university sponsorship program worked on me hook, line and sinker: to this day I remember their donations of parts & tools, and I still exclusively use Xilinx FPGAs). The most recent addition to the design tools suite is Chipscope, which enables you to instantiate a virtual logic analyzer inside the FPGA to analyze your design in-situ. It’s very powerful and makes short work of debugging some difficult problems, particularly ones involving timing conditions that are hard to replicate in simulation.

On Earthquakes in Tokyo

April 17th, 2011

These days, Tokyo experiences about four or five earthquakes a day. Before going to Tokyo, I had never really felt an earthquake — or rather, the ones in California were so brief and so small that usually I doubted my senses until I saw the news reports after the fact. In Tokyo, particularly in the very tall buildings, you are left with no doubt that the earth moved; your drink sloshes about, fixtures sway, and the wall panels squeak.

For those who are curious as to what an earthquake feels like, I have a bit of serendipity to share with you. The turbulence in a large plane like a 767 is a decent earthquake simulator. I happen to be sitting in such an airplane right now, flying from Tokyo to Singapore, and due to weather conditions there’s plenty of turbulence. I’d say a shallow magnitude 6.2 at a close range feels like strong turbulence, the kind that makes even a seasoned traveler a little bit disconcerted (and to think a 9.0 is almost a thousand times more powerful!); a magnitude 5.1 or so feels like the tiny shakes you get all the time at cruising altitude — the types you get annoyed at because it means your movie is about to be disrupted by a fasten-your-seatbelt announcement.

Aside from the physical experience of an earthquake, there is a definite sociological phenomenon that goes with it as well. Personal earthquake alarms are quite popular in Tokyo. Just as lightning precedes thunder, these alarms give you a few seconds warning to an incoming tremor. The alarm has a distinct sound, and this leads to a kind of pavlovian conditioning. All conversation stops, and everyone just waits in a state of heightened awareness, since the alarm can’t tell you how big it is — it just tells you one is coming. You can see the fight or flight gears turning in everyone’s heads. Some people cry; some people laugh; some people start texting furiously; others just sit and wait. Once the tremors die down, life resumes, usually with a joke and a bit of a laugh to shrug off the tension.

Tokyo, one month after

April 11th, 2011

I just arrived this morning in Tokyo. I’m here this week for business, and for the Digital Garage New Context Conference. I’m also participating in the project to help deploy a network of connected radiation sensors around Japan.

It’s been almost exactly one month since the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The flight here was almost deserted, as many countries still have travel warnings about going to Tokyo (apparently, Singaporeans are actually disallowed travel to Tokyo at the moment). However, as I see it, the amount of radiation I get on the flight to Tokyo is about as much as I’ll get staying here for the week. The flight from Tokyo to Singapore (8 hours length) exposes you to ~33 uSv radiation (taking the measurement of LA-Tokyo as a proxy, which is also 8 hours length). Currently, the level of radiation in Tokyo is around 0.2 uSv/hr. Thus, I would have to spend over 300 hours in Tokyo (over 10 days) to get the same amount of radiation as I would get just getting there and back from Singapore.

We forget that ultimately, we are all nuclear powered. There is this massive, uncontrolled thermonuclear explosion going on right over our heads — we call it the Sun. Going closer to it and clearing earth’s protective atmospheric shield is 100x riskier than going within a hundred miles of the distressed Fukushima reactors. Personally, I’m more concerned about the X-ray machine at the airport — I find myself staring into the guts of the baggage X-ray machine with the red light on more often than I’d like, usually due to some bag stuck on the belt holding up the protective lead flaps that are supposed to shield me from that radiation. I get exposed to that about four or five times per trip.

Of course, the atmospheric readings don’t tell the whole story, there are long-lived isotopes that find their way into the water and food that are hazardous to health. Few people remember this, but Chernobyl covered the EU with Caesium-137, which with a half-life of 30 years, is still very much there; yet I don’t hesitate to go to the regions in the EU that have been covered with the very hazardous, and very much still in existence, isotope.

So all things tallied together, probably the biggest risk I have to my health here is second hand smoke and aftershocks. At the moment, it’s actually safer from the second hand smoke perspective, because there is an epic shortage of cigarettes in Tokyo. Who would have thought that the Fukushima disaster might have in net, a positive impact on the cancer risk of the average Tokyo citizen?

On the other hand, the earthquakes are a very real danger. As a former California resident for a decade, one would think I’ve felt my shakes. However, within a minute of deplaning in Narita, a 6.2 earthquake rocks Japan. That was the most earth-shaking Yokoso I’ve ever received! It definitely woke me up after my red-eye flight — the quake lasted about ten seconds or so, alarms going off, window panels rattling and my legs wobbling beneath me as they negotiate the shaking travellator. The quake triggered an automatic shutdown of the Shinkansen, so I had to take a bus to Shinjuku.

First thing I did when arriving in Shinjuku was buy some bottled water — imported from another country, since in my assessment there is a real risk of tapwater contamination. The shelves at the Family Mart were about half-bare at around 10AM. Certainly, goods are making their way in, but I can tell demand is high and the supply chain is drawn thin. Still, Tokyo people are scrappy and resilient, it’s business as usual here, and everyone is getting along with life.

Name that Ware March 2011

April 3rd, 2011

The ware for March 2011 is shown below. Click on the image for a much larger version.

Despite the cropping and sanitizing of this image, I suspect this will still be guessed very quickly…