Saturday, April 23, 2011

Whatever happened to GEOS by Berkley Softworks? LOTS of things...

Here is a trip down memory lane for Commodore 64 users who used GEOS software:

GEOS: The Graphical Environment Operating System
[...] The Graphical Environment Operating System was released in 1986, created by Berkeley Softworks: a small company start-up by serial entrepreneur Brian Dougherty. GEOS is a classic Mac like GUI running on Commodore 64 / 128 hardware, then later the Apple II, and PC.


Even though Berkeley Softworks started out small, with only two salespeople, the new software proved very popular because of low price for the necessary hardware (and of course the capability of the OS). This was due in part to the aggressive pricing of the Commodore 64 as a games machine and home computer (With rebates, the C64 was going for as little as $100 at the time). This was in comparison to an atypical PC for $2000 (which required MS-DOS, and another $99 for Windows 1.0) or the venerable Mac 512K Enhanced also $2000.

In 1986, Commodore Business Machines announced the C-Model revision of the Commodore 64 in a new Amiga-like case (dropping the 'breadbox' look), and bundling GEOS in the US.

At its peak, GEOS was the second most widely used GUI, next to Mac OS, and the third most popular operating system (by units shipped) next to MS-DOS and Mac OS.


GEOS came at a time before the world wide web, before home computers were PCs, before mass storage that you could afford, and long before Bill Gates and Windows were No.1.

GEOS did not pioneer the GUI; most of its features were already present in the larger OSes of the day, like the classic Mac (albeit, not Windows). What GEOS did show is that cheap, low-power, commodity hardware and simple office productivity software worked. You did not need a $2000 machine to type a simple letter and print it. This gave some sense of perspective in the heady 'Golden Age of Computing' of the 80s and even now, as some alternative OSes struggle to port bloated software from other platforms.

Many OSes can claim all sorts of things, and in-fight over who invented what- first. GEOS helped drive the proliferation of the newfangled GUI concept to regular users without the need for the famous Apple Hype Machine (likely one reason why GEOS is now all but forgotten).

GEOS was able to introduce home users to Point & Click, Cut / Copy / Paste, WYSIWYG Word Processing and what you expect from a GUI without having to afford an expensive Mac or PC with Windows. Before GEOS, the home user had to go to work to even see a GUI.

Then there was GEOS on the PC (more about this at the end of the article), which had the Start Menu concept two and a half years before Windows, and a PDF-like UI model 10 years before Mac OS X ;) [...]

It's a long article, and it goes on about the history, what happened, to both the software and company. There are still people using GEOS on old C64's, and the old GEOS even kept evolving on the C64, even having a web browser called "Wave". It was supported by a company called CMD, right up until 2009. The article contains details and links all about it.

One can even download and use the old GEOS sofware on a modern PC, using C64 emulator software:

The article is full of screen shots. Gosh, the memories it all brings back!

It goes on to tell how GEOS evolved into GeoWorks for the PC, and how they resisted being assimilated by Microsoft, only to be crushed by them later. The software rights were bought and sold several times, it seems. A small version of GEOS still lives today, on cellphones and handheld devices. The article continues:

[...] Anybody can wax lyrical about 'what could have been', at the end of the day GEOS, both Commodore and PC versions, were genuine technical masterpieces in their own right - involving great skill. They stood true to being an affordable OS, that got the most power out of the least hardware. GEOS might not be an Open Source system but just because it's commercial, that does not negate the clear love for engineering that went into it.

Sure GEOS is all but forgotten now, but that doesn't mean it didn't contribute to what helped shape computer usage in the 80s and 90s. Considering that even an OS as popular as GEOS was can fade away, then there is no accuracy or inaccuracy in waxing lyrical that even Microsoft could be entirely forgotten one day in the far future. These things happen.

I love Commodore/GEOS because it represents something that no longer exists in the computer industry anymore. The Commodore 64's hardware is (programatically) beautifully designed. It is possible for one person to know the entirety of the machine, every function, every chip, every quirk. This gave the individual the power to create almost without limits, as shown by the continual modern day upgrades of the C64 and the popular demo and music scene. Today's hardware is just too complex to fully understand the whole system. Only a small percentage of the PC's actual power is ever used because of a rapidly moving platform that solves problems by throwing more hardware in. [...]

Yes, it came at a unique time in history. It made computing affordable for many people who otherwise would have never had the opportunity to own and use their own personal computer, until many years latter. And it really showed the world how much could be done, with so little.

I posted earlier about how the Commodore Brand is attempting to make a comeback: "The Commodore 64 goes Back to the Future".

The new company plans on using a new Commodore OS, based on the Linux operating system. I'm all for it, and hope it goes well. It will be fun to see how it works out, and even more fun if it succeeds. Yet I will still miss the old days of computing, when it was a new frontier. It was a unique time, and won't ever be quite that way again.

The importance of Magnesium in your diet

A recent doctor's visit showed that I have a vitiman D defeciency, and that I have kidney stones. What do those two things have in common? Magnesium.

Preventing Kidney Stones
Just Takes Understanding the Cause

While doctors seem to think that Preventing Kidney Stones is a big mystery and they just simply don't counsel patients how to prevent kidney stones at all except to tell them to drink more water. But it's really not that mysterious at all when you understand what causes kidney stones in the first place and many clinical studies clearly show how to prevent kidney stones. But the fact that most people don't know how to prevent kidney stones is simply a lack of understanding of the Signs of Magnesium Deficiency by their doctor. [...]

While it does focus a lot on the magnesium factor, there are other factors too that people with stones should be aware of. For example, drinking citrus juices is valuable in dissolving stones. Read the whole thing. But there are also other things about Magnesium worth knowing:

Take Magnesium AND Vitamin D
To Avoid Vitamin D Side Effects

Vit D needs magnesium to convert D into a form that can be absorbed by the body. Some people who take D have symptoms they think are caused by D, but if they are deficient in magnesium when they start taking D, they may actually be experiencing symptoms of magnesium deficiency, exacerbated by using D.

Magnesium in the body is also used up by many drugs, and a deficiency of magnesium can cause many so-called drug "side effects":

Surprising Magnesium Facts
Read some Amazing Magnesium Research

[...] As well as interfering with the absorption of nutrients, low Magnesium Levels also interfer with the absorption of some drugs.

One drug in particular, a heart drug called digoxin, is used to treat an abnormal heart condition called atrial fibrillation. In one study, patients with this fast heart rhythm required twice as much of the drug digoxin to slow their heart rate when the patients had low magnesium levels.

In some studies, the atrial fibrillation actually changed into the correct heart rhythm using ONLY magnesium and NO DRUGS- which are usually required for this heart problem. [...]

It all makes for interesting reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Facebook and A.I. = Brave New World

So what does the Face of the future look like?
[...] But the trend Facebook is looking to capitalise on is the gradual move away from computers to mobile devices and the development of Artificial Intelligence.

"Mobile-driven applications will be the way people will interact," says Billy Mahon, CEO of Superior Internet Marketing.

"So in the future it won't be about PCs or laptops. More people have smart phones even now than laptops, so it seems obvious that this will be the future of social media."

While new media guru Dr Mohanbir Sawhney says he can't even begin to visualise what a mobile device will look like in 2015, he is sure of one thing: "You will have your lifestyle at your fingertips."

This will help customise the information you receive, inform the decisions you make and even influence the products you buy.

"For instance, I will be able to download all of my preferences, my personality and details of my likes and dislikes," says Sawhney.

"Then I may provide this information to a 'shopping bot' (robot or automated application) that I will then delegate the task of negotiating and transacting on my behalf. You will see the evolution of "D2D" commerce (Device-to-Device) without human intervention."

Other heavyweights agree that this type of Artificial Intelligence could be the future of social networking and help transform the likes of Facebook over the next decade or so.

"I think that in 10 years, if you ask a question on a social network and you get an answer, you will not know if a computer or a person has answered you," says Yury Milner, chief executive of DST Global, the Russian firm that invested $50 million in Facebook alongside Goldman Sachs.

"On the other hand, when you receive a question, you will not know if it has been asked by a person or an artificial intelligence."

Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are being used as a platform on which to test AI due to their vast wealth of conversational data. The volume of information generated by Facebook alone is daunting with 10.2 million comments and 2.7m photos uploaded every 20 minutes.

"There was as much information generated in the last two days as there was in the history of civilisation up to 2003," noted Milner earlier this week. So AI applications and devices could become key as the stream of information we encounter on a daily basis continues to expand.

There is already an application available on Facebook called Ultra Hal (inspired by the computer in 2001) that is an artificially intelligent chat interface. It allows Facebook users chat to it and it actively learns to improve its intelligence during the discussions.

The firm behind the Ultra Hal software Zabaware sells a commercial version that is clever enough to be "used as a companion or entertainment product" and "can discuss any topic" or "be used as a personal assistant."

In November Spanish Scientists helped AI take another leap forward by creating a computer programme that can recognise emotions in a human voice. [...]

The excerpt is from the 2nd half of the article. The first half is about the growth and power of Facebook, and all the things it's expanding into. Brave New World, here we come...

Also See:

Artificial Intelligence Interacts with and Learns from People on Social Networks

Ultra Hal: His "Second Life" is really his first one

Monday, April 18, 2011

What does it mean to be "vitamin D deficient"?

My doctor recently told me that I'm not getting enough vitamin D, and that I need to take a supplement. Vitamin D is one of the ones that it's possible to overdose on, so I looked it up. Overdosing on D, while possible, isn't that easy to do. And in fact, many people actually have a deficiency.

This website can tell you just about anything you want to know about vitamin D:

Learn the Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency Before It’s Too Late!

It has lots of links. One of them was this one:

Which kind of vitamin D should I take?

It says, among other things, that recent studies have show that the maximum vitamin D levels that have previously been recommended as normal can and should be considerably higher.

This other site was also very informative too:

vitamin d deficiency symptoms guide

"Peak Oil" and/or "Increased Demand"?

The Peak Production theory:

Peak oil
Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. This concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells. The aggregate production rate from an oil field over time usually grows exponentially until the rate peaks and then declines—sometimes rapidly—until the field is depleted. This concept is derived from the Hubbert curve, and has been shown to be applicable to the sum of a nation’s domestic production rate, and is similarly applied to the global rate of petroleum production. Peak oil is often confused with oil depletion; peak oil is the point of maximum production while depletion refers to a period of falling reserves and supply.


Some observers, such as petroleum industry experts Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Matthew Simmons, believe the high dependence of most modern industrial transport, agricultural, and industrial systems on the relative low cost and high availability of oil will cause the post-peak production decline and possible severe increases in the price of oil to have negative implications for the global economy. Predictions vary greatly as to what exactly these negative effects would be. If political and economic changes only occur in reaction to high prices and shortages rather than in reaction to the threat of a peak, then the degree of economic damage to importing countries will largely depend on how rapidly oil imports decline post-peak.

Optimistic estimations of peak production forecast the global decline will begin by 2020 or later, and assume major investments in alternatives will occur before a crisis, without requiring major changes in the lifestyle of heavily oil-consuming nations. These models show the price of oil at first escalating and then retreating as other types of fuel and energy sources are used.[3] Pessimistic predictions of future oil production operate on the thesis that either the peak has already occurred,[4][5][6][7] that oil production is on the cusp of the peak, or that it will occur shortly.[8][9] The International Energy Agency (IEA) says production of conventional crude oil peaked in 2006.[10][11] Throughout the first two quarters of 2008, there were signs that a global recession was being made worse by a series of record oil prices.[12] [...]

A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand
Many top corporate and political figures gathered in Houston on Tuesday for the annual CeraWeek conference on the outlook for energy, and they got an earful from John B. Hess, chairman and chief executive of the Hess Corporation.

“An energy crisis is coming, likely to be triggered by oil,” he predicted. “Demand is expected to grow on an annual basis by at least one million barrels per day, driven by the developing economies of the world and by a growth in transportation as we go from one billion cars today to two billion cars in 2050.”

The problem, he said, is not that the world is running out of oil. He estimated that while the world has produced one trillion barrels of oil, two trillion more remain in the ground. Meanwhile surplus oil production capacity is three billion to four million barrels a day.

But watch out for the future. “As demand grows in the next decade, we will not have the oil production capacity we will need to meet demand,” Mr. Hess said. “Supply will then have to ration demand, and prices will skyrocket – with the likely outcome of bringing the world’s economy to its knees.”

So where are oil prices going? “The $140-per-barrel oil price of three years ago was not an aberration,” he said. “It was a warning.”

Mr. Hess’s policy prescription was not surprising: he wants more drilling, including in the Gulf of Mexico, and more natural gas used in the generation of electricity, among other proposals. His stark vision of the global energy future stood out nonetheless.

Either way, Peak Oil or Increased Demand, the same end result: rationing? Are the days of abundant cheap energy about to become a thing of the past? At least in the way that we knew it be. As more energy producing sources are developed, and more efficient ways of using energy are implemented... well. I can't say exactly how it's going to turn out. But it's likely going to be different from what we have known. Another unfolding aspect of Our Brave New World.


Confidence is slipping as debt grows...

Last month it was US bonds. Now, this:

S&P cuts long-term outlook for US debt to negative
WASHINGTON – Standard & Poor's Ratings Service downgraded its outlook Monday on U.S. government debt, expressing unprecedented doubts over the ability of Washington to bring the massive federal budget deficits under control.

The agency lowered the long-term outlook to "Negative" from "Stable," saying there is a one in three chance the United States could lose its top investment rating on its debt in the next two years.

S&P said it has little confidence that the White House and Congress will agree on a deficit-reduction plan before the fall 2012 elections and doubts any plan would be in place until after 2014.

The government is on pace to run a record $1.5 trillion deficit this year, the third consecutive deficit exceeding $1 trillion. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are sparring over how to reduce the nation's red ink. Their differences over where to cut have put a crucial decision over raising the nation's debt limit in jeopardy.

"We see the path to agreement as challenging because the gap between the parties remains wide," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Nikola G. Swann.

Stocks plunged after the rating agency lowered its outlook The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 200 points in afternoon trading.

S&P reaffirmed its investment-grade credit ratings on the U.S. long- and short-term debt itself. But it said the U.S. government is in danger of losing the top ranking if it doesn't come up with a credible plan for reducing its debt. [...]

Time is running out. It never should have been allowed to get this bad.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Commodore 64 goes Back to the Future

Add this to the "Everything old is new again" file. The old C64, which was an 8-bit machine with 64 kilobyts of memory, is back as a modern PC with a 64-bit processor and up to 4 gigabytes of memory:

New Commodore 64 is Finally Here--For Real!
[...] The new Commodore 64 is, like the old 64, an entire system inside a (rather thick) keyboard. The old Commodore 64 originally cost $595 and featured an MOS Technology 6510 microprocessor, an impressive 64KB of RAM, and VIC-II graphics that supported a screen resolution of 320 by 200 pixels.

The new system, which also starts at $595, is a little more modern: it's got a Dual Core 525 Atom processor, an Nvidia Ion2 graphics chipset, 2GB of RAM (upgradeable to 4GB), a 160GB hard drive, and built-in Wi-Fi. On the left side of the keyboard there's a slot or tray-load DVD (upgradeable to Blu-ray), and on the right side there's a multi-format card reader, along with a USB 2.0 port. The rear features four additional USB 2.0 ports; mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports; DVI, VGA, and HDMI ports; Ethernet; and support for 6-channel HD audio. It runs Linux, but you can install Windows if you like. [...]

Neat! Way cool! You can see more about it here.

I have previously posted about the old C64, which I had used extensively in the 80's and 90's. I'm a sucker for nostalgia, so I suspect this new version with the old look is aimed at people like me.

The thing is though, that for the specs that it has, it's kinda pricey. For $595.00, you can buy a conventional laptop or desktop pc with more computing power than this has. But then, there is more to the new commodore than just hardware:

[...] Commodore USA, LLC was founded by Barry Altman in April of 2010, with the express purpose of reviving and re-establishing the famous Commodore computer brand. We are Commodore and AMIGA fanatics, just like many of you. We ask ourselves what could have been, and we are appalled by Apple revisionism. Commodore is back, and we're determined to bring the much loved brand back to the mainstream and restore its prominence in the tech industry to that which it richly deserves. It ain't over 'till we say so.

When Commodore went out of business, due to some bad management decisions, I often thought "What could have been?". They were way ahead of their competitors in some ways; the C64 computer was a multi-media computer before anyone even used the word multi-media. When Commodore closed it's doors, for me, a lot of the "magic" of computing went away with them:

[...] Commodore played a major role in the micro-computer era, which was a hot-bed of activity and innovation in technology. It was an era of distinctive platforms each with different capabilities and focus. Commodore's influence on the computing landscape was unparalleled, arguably even by the likes of Apple, Atari and IBM, their traditional rivals. When Commodore met its premature demise in the mid-nineties, we believe something of great value was lost in the tech world. Many Commodore fans and users were devastated, feeling that the magic had gone. Almost twenty years later there continues to be a huge cult following for the various generations of Commodore computers produced, with countless websites devoted to them, and thousands of enthusiasts who regularly meet at annual events all around the world. At Commodore USA, LLC we are striving to rekindle that magic that had left the world, to renew the fanbase, and to take the brand to new heights. To fight back against Apple revisionism. To start a new revolution. [...]

It seems as if they aren't just making a pc with a nostalgiac look. They want to bring Commodore back into the game as a major player. And part of their game plan is to offer a new Commodore OS. From their FAQ page:

10. What is Commodore OS?
Our new Commodore operating system, will be a unique Commodore and AMIGA centric Linux distribution, that will grow over time into something far greater. Commodore OS will not be your run of the mill Linux distribution. Every consideration will be given to retaining the look and feel of the classic Workbench environment, however there are limits to what is possible at this time, and we do not seek to re-invent the wheel. Our sights are set on creating an operating system environment competitive with the likes of those offered by Microsoft and Apple. An operating system that is inviting and accessible to new and old Commodore owners featuring modern day paradigms. With the inclusion of a plethora of the best open source games and applications, we intend to champion the open source movement and show the world what open source is capable of.

Yay! I'm enthused about that! I started tinkering with Linux around 1997, looking for some of that "magic", the fun, that got lost when switching over to PC's using Windows. I've found some of it, even more as Linux has continued to evolve. But now, we are going to have a new PC compatible Commodore brand that can run any operating system that can run on a conventional PC, AND have it's own branded Linux that it will be promoting. How good is that?

Pretty good, I'd say. BUT, one could still buy a laptop with better hardware specs, and install Linux on it oneself. So the reasons for going with the Commodore might be part nostalgia, and part wanting to support their effort to get back in the game with their own Linux OS. And if they start selling a lot of them, the price might come down, more in line with other hardware.

As of today, they are shipping the computer with Ubuntu Linux, because the Commodore OS isn't quite ready yet. People who buy the C64 now are promised they will be sent a disk with the new OS as soon as it is ready. Hmmm.

It will be interesting to see if they succeed. I've got this computer on my Wish List, but I'm not ready to press the "buy" button just yet. I think I may wait and see what happens with other people first. But I hope they succeed.

They also have a line of other computers as well, new Amiga's and computers like this new VIC-Pro:

It has higher specs than the C64. It looks like the kind of machine I expect the old Commodore company would have been offering now, if they had stayed in business. It's almost like, what could have been... now is.

They are offer a whole line of computers, which they will be expanding, too.

I will be watching with great interest, poised to push the "buy" button.

Also see:

The Commodore 64 is back, and it leaves the 1982 version in the dust

About Commodore USA, LLC


Food, Blood Types, Science and Beliefs

The Eat Right for Your Type diet, based on blood types, has been around for years, and surrounded by a lot of controversy. It's been called "unscientific" and "blood astrology" by it's detractors. Yet it has many supporters.

It's detractors claim that people get good results from the diet, because anyone who stops eating junk food and starts to eat healthy, whole foods instead (as the blood type diet instructs) is going to feel better; however, that doesn't justify ALL the ideas advocated in the BT diet.

That makes sense to me. Yet there are some scientific rebuttles to some of the criticisms of the BT diet, that also make sense to me. So what is the truth? How much of it is science, and how much is it just people's beliefs? If some of it is junk science, is ALL of it junk science?

With so many things in life, there isn't always a black and white, yes or no answer. Sometimes the true parts are mixed in with lies or errors, and you have to sort it out. I expect some of the claims of the BT diet may have merit.

I've read advice by some people who have had success with the diet, yet who also agree with some of the criticisms about it. They say, use the diet as a GENERAL guide, but don't follow it religiously; that you must also listen to your body, and what it tells you about how certain foods make you feel.

They point out that even the author of the BT diet, has moderated his opinions, and now claims that one need only follow 70-80% of the advice for one's blood type, to achieve good results.

I can only wonder if at least some of the guidelines for the BT diet are worth considering. This website had some interesting explanations:

What is the blood type diet®?

[...] Fetus germ layer development is the sole important reason that we have blood type.

The five major ways people died in the 20th century were blood type specific.

Different blood types make different enzymes in the liver and pancreas.

It’s been known since the 1950’s that blood type O is more prone to ulcers.

It’s been known since the 1960’s that blood type A is more prone to heart disease.

PubMed contains over 6,000 MEDLINE articles about blood type that are not related to blood transfusions [...]

At the source page, each of those sentences is a hyperlink to the source article making the claim. At the bottom of the page, are three links to a brief tutorial that explains the blood type diet, along with extensive footnotes to back up the claims that are made. It makes for interesting reading.

I've been reading up on the BT diet lately, because of all the trouble I've been having with Uric Acid (Gout, kidney stones). My uric acid levels are on the high side of normal, and my doctor wants me to consider taking Allopurinol for it. I don't want to.

Uric acid is produced from eating meat. Interestingly enough, the BT diet says my blood type should be a vegetarian. I resisted that idea at first, but then I remember for several years, up until 2004, I ate a mostly-vegetarian diet, and I felt pretty good (but of course, I was also YOUNGER back then!). Anyhow, I'm wondering if I should "play" with the BT diet, and see if I get any worthy results? I may do that. Good old fashioned trial and error.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Photos of Mercury from the Messenger Probe

Apparently it took years to arrive there, because it had to follow a convoluted path to avoid being destroyed by the sun's gravitational pull.

First photos of Mercury from orbit

There are 19 pics. Some in color, but not a lot of color to see. Some purple, blue and beige tinges. Mostly grey, looks a lot like the moon at first, but there are significant differences. The photo quality is MUCH better than the old photos from the Mariner mission. And it has a lot more than just cameras, measuring all kinds of new data. Did you know Mercury has an atmosphere?

It's a planet with plenty of mysteries yet to be revealed.

Secrets of Mercury
The closest planet to our sun, and the smallest in the solar system, is also one of the least understood. Compared to more glamorous planets like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Mercury has received much less attention from scientific study missions. But NASA's Messenger probe is set to reveal the secrets behind the odd planet. The probe has flown by Mercury three times and will enter orbit around the planet in March — the first spacecraft ever to do so.

Here's a look at some of Mercury's most enduring mysteries. In the words of Messenger science team member Robert Strom, "The best is yet to come. What you're seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg." [...]

I find it all fascinating, and will continue to follow it with great interest.