Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Paradise ponders, koa cat and bad Mercedes edition...

Paradise ponders, koa cat and bad Mercedes edition...  While we were in Hawai'i last week, we stopped a couple of times at an interesting shop that we really enjoyed: The Gallery of Great Things.  It's a bit of a challenge to characterize this place, as you'll see if you wander around their web site.  The employees who helped us were a delight: the polar opposite of the pushy salespeople – they seemed a bit unhappy that some of the items they carry were departing.  The store serves as a retail outlet for quite a large number of Hawai'ian artists of many types: painters, sculptors, tapa makers, bead artists, and many more.

There were quite a few things there that we enjoyed looking at, and some wooden items in particular that we wanted to buy.  On our past visits, we never had enough money to even consider buying some of the larger wooden items that we liked.  This time we could, though, and we bought two of them.

The first thing we got was a cat carved from a koa log (three view below).  It stands about 3' tall and weighs about 35 pounds.  I'm not quite sure what to call this style.  “Abstract” doesn't seem quite right.  The engineer in me wants to call this “low resolution”, since it's a bit like an image rendered in low resolution.  Whatever you want to call it, we liked it a lot.  The carving is nicely done, and the finish is beautifully done – smooth and pettable. :)

The carved koa bowl at right is the second piece we got.  It, too, is carved from a koa log.  On the right hand side the blue “streak” is a crack that was filled with crushed turquoise and epoxy.  The rest of it is flawless and carved down to roughly 3/8" (10 mm) thickness.  It's now the centerpiece of our dining room table.

We selected both of these while in Hawai'i, letting the gallery ship them back to us in Utah.  The folks at the gallery assured us that the owner was the world's leading expert in packing fragile items for shipment to the U.S., and that they do this pretty much literally every day, so I wasn't too worried about it.  We got the packages a few days ago, and I can attest to the quality of the packing job – both pieces were swaddled in so many layers of waterproofing, shock-absorbing, and protective materials that it's really hard to imagine how anything could have hurt them!  And nothing had: both pieces arrived in perfect condition.  They were shipped UPS Ground from Hawai'i, which, one presumes, isn't really how they were shipped. :)  Each piece took just 3 business days to get here, which really seems kind of astonishing to me.  The cost for shipping each piece was well under $100.  The world seems to get smaller all the time...

The bad Mercedes?  Well, that's got nothing to do with Hawai'i! :)  This morning we drove our Tesla Model X down to Salt Lake City for the technicians to try again (second time) to repair our reluctant spoiler.  It's supposed to extend and retract automatically as you drive; ours was stuck in the fully extended position.  The techs couldn't estimate the time, so they arranged for a (free) loaner car.  They didn't have a spare Tesla to lend us, so they rented a Mercedes CLA 250 instead.  We drove that back home.  We hated it.  It's tiny, we feel like we're riding in a go kart, every little bump feels like someone is hammering our butts, it's noisy, and the way the engine stops and restarts every time you pause at a traffic signal is very distracting.  The worst sin of all, though, is that the damned thing doesn't even have a backup camera!  We had a hell of a time figuring out how to use some basic things, too, such as the radio.  We were both thoroughly underwhelmed.  We want our Tesla back! :)  The plan is to drive back down to SLC tomorrow to get it...

Lossless compression ain't quite what it used to be!

Lossless compression ain't quite what it used to be!  Way back in the dark ages of computing (I speak of the early '90s), I worked for a company that made quite a bit of money from lossless compression software (and even a little from hardware!): Stac Electronics.  I wasn't one of the subject matter experts there, but I worked with them every day, and a little bit rubbed off.  I've had an interest in it ever since.

So when a blog post raved about a lossless compression library I'd never heard of before (Zstandard), I went and read about it in a blog post, then off to the GitHub repository to take a look at their docs and at the API.

It's really kind of amazing what's happened in the 25 years since I was at Stac.  The core LZS code at Stac had a trivial API by comparison, and the code base was vastly smaller.  As with almost every kind of software, the newer things are far more complex, more sophisticated, and more capable.  Even just looking at the statistical graphs is kind of mind-boggling; we didn't have nearly as complete an analysis – mostly we had “point” tests with results under just a few sets of conditions.  Of course the CPUs are vastly more powerful these days, and that enables all sorts of interesting things, some of which Zstandard leverages some of those.

Sometimes I wonder if there's any such thing as simple software anymore... :)