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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

This blog has been superseded by the mrontemp blog
Location: Ontario, California, United States

Sometime audio artist. Email comments on this blog to the gmail account mrontemp.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

You'd think that a Bill Gates application would be able to handle large numbers

Some people can wiggle their ears. I can recite powers of 2 up to about 8,192 or so. I can't necessarily tell you that 4,096 is 2 to the twelfth power, but I can multiply the numbers. (I used to be able to go up to 65,536, but I can't do that any more. Age, I guess.)

As a result of a drunken bet with Catherine Zeta-Jones on the deck of the Edmund Fitzgerald -

Strike that. It's not true, but it sounds better that way.

As a result of an inane conversation with co-workers, I was going to multiply powers of two all the way up to two to the 8,192nd power. Using Microsoft Excel, I got all the way to two to the 49th power:


But then I looked at the number for two to the 50th power:


As Devo would say, It's Not Right. But Excel was not meant to be a high-powered scientific calculator:

Numeric Precision
Microsoft Excel [was] developed to compete in the business software market where precision is probably not important for simple calculations. However many of the real-world calculations used in computational science require many digits of precision to the right of the decimal point.

Excel's maintains an internal numeric precision of 15 digits. By comparison a typical scientific calculator displays 10 digits but probably stores 12 digits while a CRAY 1 supercomputer has 15 digits in single-precision, floating point number. Excel stores 15 digits internally, but rounds the value for the screen display according to the format of the cell.

Numeric Range

Numeric range determines the sensitivity of the spreadsheet to overflow and underflow errors. Excel stores numbers between -1.798 x10 +308 and 1.798 x 10+308 for a numeric range of ±10+308. A scientific calculator handles a range of 10±99 and the CRAY 1 has a range of 10±2500. Although the largest number that Excel can store is 1.798 x 10+308, the largest number that you can type is 9.999 x 10+307. If you type in a larger number, Excel will treat it as a character string.

Most computational science calculations have reasonable results somewhere in the range of 10-40 to 10+40. When these numbers are used in an equation, the intermediate results are often quite large. If the intermediate results exceed the range of the computer then an overflow condition will return an error.

Returning to the title of this post, the precision in Excel is good enough for Bill and Melinda to maintain their household budget. I don't think they'll become quadrillionaires any time soon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Google Acquires More Than It Can Handle?

Here's how Google announced their acquisition of Neven Vision:

It's not always easy to search through your personal photos, and it's certainly a lot harder than searching the web. Unless you take the time to label and organize all your pictures (and I'll freely admit that I don't), chances are it can be pretty hard to find that photo you just know is hidden somewhere deep inside your computer.

We've been working to make Picasa (Google's free photo-organizing software) even better when it comes to searching for your own photos—to make finding them be as easy as finding stuff on the web. Luckily we've found some people who share this goal, and are excited that the Neven Vision team is now part of Google.

Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo. It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects. This technology just may make it a lot easier for you to organize and find the photos you care about. We don't have any specific features to show off today, but we're looking forward to having more to share with you soon.

Liz Gannes provides, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story (emphasis mine):

Google announced today on its blog it had acquired Neven Vision, a photo recognition firm whose background is in biometrics, for an undisclosed sum....The company has a strong mobile bent that Google neglects to mention in its post.

Santa Monica-based Neven Vision was founded...in 2003 by a group of people who had worked together on a biometrics company, but in the last few years changed...their focus to applying that technology to mobile visual search. Customers include NTT DoCoMo (for authenticating transactions), the U.S. government (including the LAPD for identifying gang members), and Coca-Cola (for mobile marketing campaigns).

So if you want to find out about all of Neven Vision's businesses, just go here:

Thank you for your interest. Neven Vision was recently acquired by Google Inc. and Neven Vision product information is no longer available on this site.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dell laptop battery recall

Our planes are safer now, according to this story:

Dell Inc. said Monday it will recall 4.1 million notebook computer batteries because they can overheat and catch fire. Dell negotiated conditions of the recall with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which called it the largest electronics-related recall ever conducted by the agency.

A Dell spokesman said the batteries were made by Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). and placed in notebooks that were shipped between April 1, 2004, and July 18 of this year.

"In rare cases, a short-circuit could cause the battery to overheat, causing a risk of smoke and/or fire," said the spokesman, Ira Williams. "It happens in rare cases, but we opted to take this broad action immediately."

The battery packs were included in some models of Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XTS and precision mobile workstation notebooks. Dell planned to launch a Web site overnight that would describe the affected models. Williams said the Web site would tell how consumers to get free replacement batteries from Dell.

There have been numerous recent news reports about Dell laptops bursting into flames, and pictures of some of the charred machines have circulated on the Internet.

Dell, the world's largest maker of personal computers, confirmed that two weeks ago, one of its laptops caught fire in Illinois, and the owner dunked it in water to douse the flames. Other reports have surfaced from as far away as Japan and Singapore.

The proximity between the laptop carry-on ban and this action is, of course, mere coincidence.

Carmi Levy was the first to discuss exploding laptops on planes, by the way. See here and here (latter link still works as of August 14, 2006).

Press Release Source: Info-Tech Research Group

Exploding Laptops Pose Potential Hazard for Air Travel and Personal Safety says Info-Tech Research Group
Wednesday June 28, 3:46 pm ET
Personal Computing Industry must Address the Issues

LONDON, ON, June 28 /PRNewswire/ - Incidents of computer batteries erupting in smoke, fire and even explosions have caused numerous laptop recalls within the last year and pose a threat to personal safety by users especially during air travel, Info-Tech Research Group stated today.

"The most recent event we're aware of involved a Dell laptop exploding and bursting into flames at a business meeting in Osaka, Japan," said Info-Tech's Senior Analyst Carmi Levy. "The potential for an in-flight incident of this nature when travelers are using battery power for portable PCs certainly exists. Everyone worries about covert explosives being taken on board planes, but what about the average laptop that could be just as dangerous?"

Recalls related to computer batteries overheating have been issued by at least three computer equipment manufacturers within the last year. Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced a recall of some 15,700 HP and Compaq notebook computer batteries in April this year after 20 reports of batteries overheating. Dell announced a recall of about 22,000 of its notebook computer batteries in December, 2005. And Apple Computer recalled 128,000 batteries shipped in its PowerBook G4 and iBook G4 laptops in the spring of 2005.

"The propensity for these devices to explode has been known for some time, and regulatory bodies and manufacturers need to turn up the heat on solving these issues rather than using recalls as a band-aid solution," said Levy.

Info-Tech is urging vendors to be more proactive in their approach to the issue of overheating laptops to avoid a future catastrophe.

"Computer vendors need to ensure more rigorous testing of batteries before deploying them in their computers and should be working closely with safety organizations to raise the bar on regulations for the industry," said Info-Tech's Levy.

About Info-Tech Research Group

With a paid membership of over 20,000 worldwide, Info-Tech Research Group (www.infotech.com) is the global leader in providing information technology research and analysis to the mid-sized enterprise market. It is North America's fastest growing full-service IT analyst firm.

Source: Info-Tech Research Group

Implementation gone awry

So many technical implementations are dependent upon the people and processes used to implement them. Listen to this:

Two weeks after district officials said they were correcting problems associated with a switch to a new software program, some employees have yet to receive a paycheck for work over the summer.

When the district switched to a new software program called PeopleSoft in early July, employees complained about glitches, incorrect or confusing training manuals and fouled up or missing paychecks.

So many angered employees showed up to the district's payroll department to complain that school police were called in. This week, the district's payroll manager, Alvin Dunn, resigned....

The district spent $4 million on the software program and $14 million on consultants to implement it in 164 schools and district headquarters.

It replaced an antiquated program with a point-and-click program that allows databases in different departments to talk to one another. Hundreds of employees were trained over several months on the new program. Payroll dry runs went well.

In January, however, the director of the project, consultant Erick Sherman, resigned. Moore said the district hired the consulting company and had no say in how the company moved employees. He said the district had no complaints about their work. Sherman could not be reached for comment.

But COO Joe Moore figured out what the problem was.

Moore said in hindsight the district should have hired experts to teach employes how to use the system. Instead, it relied on a train-the-trainer model where employees got training and passed it on to colleagues.

And, of course, a committee has been formed:

Superintendent Art Johnson has expanded a standing committee on the project to include principals, secretaries and bookkeepers.

What about parents and students? We need the required amount of inclusiveness so that the blame can be distributed.

I just hope the new committee members weren't trained by the old members. We all know that train the trainer doesn't work.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Sydney Morning Players - Fire (ouch!)

This is probably more a Carmi Levy thing, but I'll note it anyway.

InfoWorld links to a Sydney Morning Herald article:

A reader in Singapore, who has requested that he not be identified, told us his Dell laptop supplied to him by his company had been involved in a similar act of self-immolation.

The incident took place one evening in early November. The man was working late in the office when the computer, which was running on battery power, suddenly began to make "popping noises".

"It wasn't quite an explosion, but white smoke began to pour out of the machine, completely filling up the room, and there were flames coming up the sides of the laptop," he said.

Carmi hasn't covered this story yet, but he's talked about the issue before.