Monday, July 22, 2019

"The Real Story Behind the Apollo 11 Computer Error"; WSJ short film is pertinent now, 50 years later

I’ve presented some New York Times short films (including Oculus made with the help of Annapurna) but here is a short film from the Wall Street Journal today, “The Real Story Behind the Apollo 11 Computer Error”.

The narration concerns computer programmer Don Eyles, my age, who walked into an MIT lab in 1966 (at the same time I had started graduate school at KU) and asked for a job with no coding experience.
He wound up writing the memory-efficient “lapidary” assembler or machine code that the lunar module would use.  It was fit into six sequential pieces of “core rope”, each 36K, presumably each with its own register (rather like base register concepts in IBM mainframe assembler code which I worked on in the 1980s and 1990s and which the IRS still uses a lot of today – I know that from oral job interviews in the 2000s;  coding “out of addressability” was a good trick).  I actually wrote some similar shipboard code for NAVCOSSACT (Washington Navy Yard) in 1972, but never implemented it, as I took a job with Univac, and office mates went down to Charleston SC and boarded a ship later to implement it.  I had actually learned FORTRAN code in summer jobs at the David Taylor Model Basin (Maryland, on the DC Beltway) in three summers starting in 1965 and small computers existed then.
He says he almost became a life insurance salesman (like an agent?)  That’s ironic.

The core ropes were among the first use of integrated circuits in computers.  Up to that time, IBM (and to some extent Sperry Univac and Burroughs) had dominated the mainframe business market with systems that filled whole computer rooms (like the 1110 benchmark I worked on in St Paul MN in the spring of 1974).

The failure was caused by signals from nearby hardware with a switch that malfunctioned.
Eyles says this was a sickening moment, just three years after starting work. But Mission Control in Houston figured out that his code still worked and the problem was external and that the astronauts would be able to land.  The rest is history.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Bag": gay short film from the Philippines

Insight 360 and McFilms present a film by Chris Calahig, “Bag”, set in the Philippines.

A young man, coming out, has do separate romantic interest from straight friendship.  I know this one.  His best friend has to sort this out. 

The surroundings seem lush and modern, in a city with a lot of poor people. 
The film, under four minutes, has been in many LGBT film festivals.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Recalling "The Matrix" from twenty years ago

Gamespot and David Klein give a half-hour explanation of the three-film “The Matrix” franchise from Warner Brothers, the three films appearing in rather quick succession starting in 1999, so this is the 20th anniversary.

Gamespot gives a pretty good rundown of pre-history, of how the robots won a world war, and created a layered universe where humans were just class instances in one massive OOP reality simulation, which went through various releases.

I remember Neo pretty well (Keanu Reeves), as well as the California freeway pileup in film 2.

I also remember the broken and burned up “real world” surface near the end of film 3.  I think I saw these in the General Cinema (now AMC) auditoriums in the Mall of America upper level.

The “Mobil” – the subway train that connects reality to the simulation, is indeed an interesting concept. The “Mobil” makes little loops and keeps returning to its starting point in Film 2.  I think it was based on the Toronto subway.

Friday, July 19, 2019

"Arrangement": two straight men need help from each other to have girl friends (UK, short)

Arrangement” (Kinoburo), a film by Chadlee Shriker (UK, 6 min), is indeed a bit of a tease. 

Two supposedly straight men need an arrangement meeting in a stall to “initiate” each other before they will be ready for girlfriends.

This is indeed a rather odd concept.  That’s what fraternity hazing (or just college hazing, even “tribinals”) used to be for. Matthew Barrett and Laurent de Frontville star as the accidental couple.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Klassikko": a Finnish satire where an author becomes the man he wants to be by writing a fictional diary

Since I visited two Finnish museums in Ohio last weekend, I thought I would resurrect the satire movie “Klassikko” (“The Classic”, 2001), directed by Kari Vaananen (Sputnik films), which seems to be an applicable satire about making self-published books sell.  I saw it in a film festival in Minneapolis in the Bell Audtorium at the U in 2002.
A writer, Kari Hotakainen (Martti Suasolo) gets pestered by his publisher when his novels don’t sell well, and he sinks to a midlist author status.  But personal accounts in the form of diaries (like English letters novels) do sell, so he is urged to write a fictional autobiography.  It all sounds pretty self-indulgent.
The writer considers buying a used sports car and dickers around with another woman chasing chum who provides the role model for woman chasing he wants to become.  The term MGTOW probably wasn’t in much use in 2001.  He starts becoming the character has has constructed himself to be, almost like he was an actor.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Counting from Infinity": can a documentary about number theory be entertaining? Yes, if the professors are

Monday July 15, Maryland Public Television presented the film “Counting from Infinity: Yitang Zhang and the Twin Prime Conjecture” (2015) from Zalafilms, directed by George Paul Csicsery.

The controversy started with a lecture and paper from the University of New Hampshire in 2013 by the protagonist.

This refers to the existence of a minimum number for which there are infinite prime numbers less than that difference between them. The mathematical proofs (on computers) keep shrinking that minimum to a few hundred now.  The concept is counterintuitive;  you would expect this number to diverge but it does not.

This led to the involvement of the Polymath group at Berkeley, and some papers by young Oxford professor James Maynard from England.
I took number theory in my first semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas in 1966.  I can recall the (India-born) professor saying “Is it not?” all the time, not quite used to idiomatic English. I can remember hour examinations in grad school; you can’t solve four problems you haven’t seen before in that amount of time.  Final exams were much easier than hour tests.  (Some of the videos on Harvard student John Fish’s channel get into problem solving on exams.)

Monday, July 15, 2019

"Berlin in 1945": Silent film of WWII destruction of civilian lives

The Berlin Channel presents “Berlin in 1945” in color and HD, silent film, about 7 minutes, from Chronos.

Early in the film, you see people drawing water from wells and passing pails of water in assembly lines. You see a woman still keeping house in an upstairs apartment of a building with a wall blown away, like looking at a dollhouse.

You see the transition from the British to the Soviet Union zone with a picture of Stalin.

Then there is an aerial shot of the destruction near the Brandenburg Gate.

I visited Berlin in May 1999, and went to the Connection Disco, which had a rather sickening concentration camp display downstairs.
I would take a night train from Berlin to Cracow and visit Auschwitz-Birkenau the next morning, by cab.

By KK nationsonline - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link