Archive for May, 2011

Odd travel notes on MIA to LHR to ABZ and back

May 27, 2011

My trip to Aberdeen (ABZ) and back on British Airways went as well as it could. Sitting in a little economy seat for an eight hour trans-Atlantic flight is not enjoyable, but economy seats are company policy. It did give me time to write this and my belated Tron Legacy review. The planes seem to get a bit warm inside during boarding, but I wore convertible pants. That was originally more for the drive in hot southern Florida; British Airways took me from and to Miami (MIA). The next stop was Heathrow (LHR). Customs there is a lot like going through airport security. In Miami, it is total chaos with seas of people instead of lines, and unlike Heathrow, travelers must claim checked luggage even if they have a connecting flight next.

Heathrow is a huge airport that looks like it is in a perpetual state of construction. I saw a lot of cranes on site with their booms raised in construction areas, but they all appeared idle. At least the newer terminal buildings are aesthetically quite nice both inside and out. On the way to Aberdeen, I went past some very clean glass giving a wonderful view of a couple Boeing 747’s. However, I was delayed both times landing at Heathrow because they were too busy. I was the last person to board the plane to Aberdeen because of the delay, but at least they held the plane for me. The only pictures I took at Heathrow were on the return trip, and I did not find glass quite so clean with as good a view, but I did have time to look. There was more time between the flights to London and Miami on the return trip, so the delay caused no trouble there; I’m sure they wouldn’t have delayed a 747 for me.

Once on the delayed flight to Aberdeen, I played an extrovert and had a nice conversation with a retired British woman who sat next to me. I later did the same with a hotel receptionist and a taxi driver. I’ve got a better idea now of how to play a tourist the next time I’m in Aberdeen for work. Also, the taxi drivers are much nicer in Aberdeen than their counterparts in Los Vegas. I have walked miles in Vegas just to avoid dealing with taxi drivers.

Aberdeen was so very windy when I arrived, it took two attempts to land; I had not experienced an aborted landing attempt before. The Airbus planes used make a sound like something is sawing through the plane when they arrive at the gate. More interesting to me, though, were the plane position graphics shown on the flights to and from Aberdeen. The system went through a loop with several variations on how to present the information, such as a Mercator map projection and a 3D view rotating around the plane.

Close-up Mercator with useless context map

Close-up Mercator with useless context map

One view tried to add something useful to a very close-up Mercator map. It shows a small area of the geography around the plane that isn’t large enough to show London and Norwich at the same time. Only people very familiar with the geography of the UK, or with their own map and the context of where the plane was going, would be able to point out the location on a world mp. Considering it is British Airways and the loop of views includes maps covering a larger area, this isn’t a problem. Someone must have thought it was, so after a short while a context map appears superimposed on the close up map. The context map is a very small Mercator projection of the whole world. The plane icon on the context map covers up all of Europe. That isn’t particularly useful unless the airline is expecting to occasionally have passengers that have been traveling the world for days while seriously drugged. The context map should not include the whole world. Switching it between a map of the UK and Europe will work better. Changing the size of the map to make one after another zoom in or out also works well and is in the loop of position graphics already.

A plane falls from space

A plane falls from space

Another view is just wrong. It shows the Earth with a 3D projection from well beyond low Earth orbit and does an animated zoom until the view is fairly close to the ground. The whole time, a plane is a fixed distance away from the origin of the view (people making 3D graphics call it the camera). This made it look like a plane was plummeting to Earth from thousands of miles past the atmosphere at some incredible velocity to a spot very near where I was, but I couldn’t see a meteor out of the windows. Anyone taking that view literally should have been panicking, but everyone was calm. I wonder how long it will be until kids, who are quite good at understanding what such 3D graphics actually depict, will point out the discrepancy while trusting that the information is correct, but figure it is not showing the plane they are in because they can tell they aren’t that far from the Earth. That should be fun.

I got to see a few interesting things through the windows of the planes, besides the countryside. On the first flight, I got to see a sunset over the Atlantic from cruising altitude. The sky was a deep blue with a thin orangey band on the horizon. I’m not going to be able to write any better description about it or do it any justice. Nor could a camera behind a scratched and messy window. On the same flight, I saw what looked like three large metal grids bent into a cylinder standing upright. It was like the stuff in gardens used to help support some plants, like tomatoes, but must have been several stories high with a diameter large enough to fit many single-family homes. Are they going to grow huge mutant tomatoes in London in a bid to end world hunger? Probably nothing so wonderful. While circling and waiting to land, I noticed that the visibility (fog for people who write 3D graphics code) took a significant drop along some curve, almost a segment of a circle with the plane at the center, but I couldn’t see anything about the land where this occurred to explain it.

Arriving in Aberdeen was like going back to winter. That isn’t horrible; the last time I was in Aberdeen was a December. That was more like visiting a place in an ice age for someone who’s lived in Florida for a couple decades.

A belated Tron Legacy review featuring mass

May 23, 2011

I finally got around to watching the new Tron movie. I enjoyed it overall, but there were a few flaws. Other people have already pointed out the hyper-sexuality used in their portrayal of female programs. Then there are the details that programs have gender, time away from work to go clubbing, relationships that go beyond interprocess communication, and a thirst for blood in entertainment that would have worked well in ancient Rome. They are still using end-of-line where they should be using end-of-file. Further, they are mixing programs and processes together suggesting a system that only uses self-modifying code, but no system has ever made that requirement, few developers even try to use it, and some systems don’t allow it, all with good reason.

But that isn’t what really bothered me while watching. Instead, getting a whole army out of the computer bugged me, even after accepting that people, and perhaps even program/processes, could go into and out of the system. Were they going to send one through at a time? Would someone notice before many got through? Maybe a few technicians would be sent out at first to setup something better? It looked like they meant to send a whole bunch all at once. Would they be toy-sized?

The biggest problem of all was what this army would be made from. The device that allowed both Flynns to be inside the computer had only collected mass from them. A whole army of adult-sized conscripts cannot be made from the mass of two adults. Maybe a toy-sized army could, but that would make it impossible for each conscript to have a complex brain. While this could be seen as a benefit, the small size alone might make it difficult for a toy-sized army to be effective against many regular sized people without an absurd number of conscripts orders of magnitude greater than what the movie depicted. Two technicians would have quite a difficult task of solving the mass problem by attempting to create matter from energy. The enormous amount of energy would ensure the attempt would get a lot of attention before it could be successful.

I suppose the only way would be to send two conscripts out to abduct two people, then use the mass for another two conscripts, and keep repeating the procedure. Eventually, people would take notice of what was going on, but would it be soon enough? Cutting power likely would not be realized as a possible solution, and considering that the system seemed to run for twenty years straight without maintenance, it probably wouldn’t have helped. The rate of abductions could increase exponentially at first, but soon would become limited by the device’s placement and the physical constraints of moving to and from it.

On the positive side, I did like the black and white film look used on the closeup of one of the conscripts.

False Steps

The Space Race as it might have been

You Control The Action!

High Frontier

the space colony simulation game

Simple Climate

Straightforwardly explaining climate change, so you can read, react and then get on with your life.