by James Classen

The Mandelbrot set. Computer visualizations are often beautiful. The deceptively simple equation that produces these gorgeous images, z_{n+1}=z_n^2+c , winds up taxing standard calculations rather quickly. A double-precision float has a precision of just 4.44089209850062616169452667236328125e-16. That may sound like a small number, but it isn’t nearly small enough. Utilizing the GMP Bignum Library, it’s dead simple to get resolutions of approx. 1e-53. And this is as deep as Fractint ever went, so far as I could tell, and also appears to be the limitation of most free Mandelbrot programs. Obviously, this frustrates me. I’d like to be able to keep going, and going, and going…

But in creating a dynamic, browseable Mandelbrot visualization, concern number one is raw speed. And the only way I know how to present an image is pixel-by-pixel, whether it’s by generating a bitmap or plotting on an SDL canvas. Neither of these are particularly fast. As a matter of fact, they’re both slower than molasses in midwinter (for a computer program, anyway). Is there a quicker way? Because I’d love to know what that method is…

Wednesday, I spent $263.90. $20.71 of that was tax (I am aware that the number doesn’t come out to 7.3%: gasoline has a state tax rate of 43.4¢/gallon, or 13.5% at today’s price). Anyway, $138.42 of that was for the ability to post this. My Terayon TJ715x cable modem was dead. The company, as it turns out, hasn’t existed for more than 5 years. Anyway, this new modem is DOCSIS 3.0 (finally). How much this affects my speed I’m not entirely sure, because although my theoretical (downstream) limit is apparently 304Mbps, I pay for 22Mbps, and get 20 according to And if I base my analysis on theory, DOCSIS 3.0 should therefore have no effect unless I bump my service to the “Ultimate” package. I find it suspicious that, when I test my speed using the tools on my ISP’s website, the results it gives are slightly better than what they claim I should be getting, yet somehow significantly different than the aforementioned “independent” website. I also wonder if such testing websites/servers are “whitelisted” by the ISP somehow, so traffic to those IP addresses is not filtered, logged, or throttled, to give the impression of better speed. All in all, I wonder if my DOCSIS 3.0 modem is more gadgetry for the sake of the latest and greatest rather than practicality. There’s another downside: my Cisco/Linksys/DD-WRT router is currently useless, as the cable modem is also a router. But because it’s Netgear, and so new or so specialized that even they don’t have the product listed on their website, I can’t install DD-WRT. So I can’t (as far as I know) change the router administrator username, and the associated password is restricted to a paltry 15 characters (with a default of “password”—I changed that one in a hurry).

Another $53.64 of my hard-earned money went to an over-the-air TV antenna. I pick up a whopping 16 channels, and I hope that the $20 premium I spent on the “better” antenna was worth it, if I ditch cable as I intend. The other obstacle to doing so, even though I now have an Internet-connected Blu-Ray player, is the lack of certain channels and shows. The entire Discovery network is unavailable through that device. No A&E networks. No documentaries to discover by chance, like the backstory to the upcoming movie Argo that was on the Military channel earlier this evening. How much, then, does Hulu Plus actually give me over Netflix Streaming? Since Discovery Networks will only let me watch their shows on my computer until they are released on DVD, A&E apparently won’t even let me watch them there unless/until the DVD release. Hulu Plus gives me the option of watching some TV shows the day after they air. Is it worth $7.99 a month? Will Netflix be worth $7.99 a month to me? I’m still undecided on both those issues. I have 5 more days of Hulu Plus for free, and 28 more days of Netflix Streaming for free. But if I dump cable, $85.98 of that bill goes away each month, and it’s then unlikely that I’ll miss the happenstance documentaries that make The Science Channel and The History Channel so unbelievably addicting, because the temptation won’t be there.

I do find it somewhat interesting the omissions from Hulu Plus, iTunes, and Netflix: Castle Season 1 (Hulu Plus), Top Gear Series 1 (Netflix), and Top Gear Series 5 (iTunes). All rather good, and available on one or more of the other services. But iTunes would require hooking up a computer to the television, which means VGA or HDMI, rather than the more convenient DVI.

Which brings me to my next point: I need to run two network cables (and therefore network jacks) to my front room, right where the entertainment center currently sits, one for the Blu-Ray player and one for a computer to be added at some unspecified future date. My low-voltage wiring in this house is…rather strange, because I did it myself, I had little time to think about where the furniture was going to end up, and subsequently a few outlets for low voltage are rather out of place. And one standard voltage dual outlet is on the wrong wall in one room, causing some cable confusion. My last order to Monoprice should have included the keystone plate and jacks, but I was too shortsighted to add that to my shopping cart. Then again, I don’t even have the CAT-6 cable, so it wouldn’t have done much good unless I bought that as well.

For some reason this seems rather more rambly than usual, and yet I’m sticking to a single topic longer than usual. Odd…