art with code


Office build, pt. 2

With pretty much all the furniture built (apart from fixing a shelf and a filing cabinet to a wall), the office is getting close to version 1. That is, more than half empty and running at 10% utilization.

What do I mean? Well, what I've got in there now are two big desks and a table, two office chairs and two random chairs. Add in a filing cabinet, a shelf and a couple of drawers, and .. that's it. There's a room in the back that's going to be the demo build area / VR dev area. And probably where the servers and printers are going to live.

As it is now, the main office has space for 3-4 more big desks. I'll haul one desk from home there. And that's it for now. Room to expand.

If you're looking for a place to work from in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, come check it out. Or if you want to work on building awesome interactive generative visuals -- fhtr.org & fhtr.net -style but with more art direction, interactivity and actual clients. Sales genius, UI developer and 3D artist could use right away.


Office build

Recently I've been setting up an office in Hong Kong, a.k.a. setting money on fire. Generating heat that enables us to set up installations in-house, tackle bigger projects and expand the company from its current staff of 1.25. Good plan? Great plan!

Very IKEA, much birch veneer. Spent a couple enjoyable days building furniture, almost done for now. Plan is to get a big board in front of the office's glass door and mount a big TV on it to run a demo loop of interactive content for the other tenants in the building to enjoy.

Also planning some network infrastructure build. The place has a wired network from the previous tenant, with five Cat5e cables strung along the walls, which I hooked up to an 8-port gigabit switch. There are another five cables running inside the walls that terminate at ethernet sockets, but those seem to be broken somehow.

Getting gigabit fibre internet there next week, which was surprisingly affordable. Like, $100/month affordable. For WiFi, I got a small WiFi router, 802.11ac. It's all very small-time setup at the moment.

So hey, how about some servers and a network upgrade? Get a couple of used old Xeon servers, fill them with SSDs and high-capacity drives for a proper storage tower. Run a bunch of VMs for dev servers and NAS. And, hmm, how about QDR InfiniBand cards and cables for 32Gbps network speed between servers and wired workstations, with the GigE and WiFi for others. Sort of like a 2012 supercomputing node setup. The best part? All of this kit (apart from the new drives) would be around $1500, total.

That said, I'll start with one server and a direct connection to the workstation. It'll keep the budget down to $400ish and let me try it out to see if it actually works.

Next to find the parts and get that thing built and running.

And um, yeah, do some sales too.

Here are some recent visuals done with our friends and partners at cityshake.com and plot.ly. For awesome sites and corporate app development in Austria, contact raade.at, who we have also worked with on various projects. Interested? Of course you are!

Mail me at my brand spanking new email address hei@heichen.hk and buy some awesome visuals or a fancy interactive office/retail/hotel installation or a fabulous fashion show. Or your very own VM hosted by a DevOps noob on obsolete hardware. I'm sure a VM can't catch on fire. Or... can it?


The Bell

A hill rising in the middle of a plain, surrounded by sparse woods. The low hill, covered in tall yellow grass like the rest of the plain, wavy in the relentless dry season heat. On top of the hill rises a lonely figure sits before a bell. The shadow of the bell shielding the figure from the sun's rays. A round clearing surrounds the bell, a staircase leading down from the hill.

The figure rises up and walks down into the shallow pit under the bell. Standing under the bell, the figure reaches up and grabs a rope tied to a large log. Swinging it back and forth, slowly gaining speed, until the log nearly touches the inside wall of the bell. With a violent jerk, he brings the log to crash into the other side of the bell.

A ring to be heard up in heaven and down in hell, the bell rings, deep and clear. With each ring echoing in the skies above, the ghosts shift in the earth below.


Open Problems in Computing

Off the top of my head, here are some exciting unsolved problems that future computers can tackle:

- Responsive web design
- Pervasive ubiquitous mind control
- How to use carbohydrates as digital computing substrate
- Turning rocks into solar panels
- Embedding computers inside bones
- Embedding bones inside computers
- Apps that are better than websites from user perspective
- Converting trillions of dollars worth of person-time into a few billion dollars of ad revenue. Oh wait, that one's solved already? Carry on then.
- Taking a 30% cut of every tax payment, like, Tax Store? With Tax Apps and In-Tax Payments.
- Pervasive ubiquitous body control
- Using meat-drones to construct a great obsidian pyramid out of computronium
- Launching life-seeds to other planets and stars, both in DNAtic and C++tic forms.
- Unlimited wireless data plans
- Phones made out of fabric
- Phones made out of fabric that aren't easy to mistake as napkins. Alternatively, phones made out of snotophobic fabric.
- Babies waking up in the middle of the night
- Multiple-Earth-radius solar collectors on stable orbits
- 10x our power generation to suck up all the excess carbon from the air and the seas
- Use the volume of the Earth for matter extraction, rather than just the surface.
- Life-seeds thriving across the solar system
- Work Inc -- the Skinner box social media platform where you're working for Work Inc at tasks best tailored for your skillset. Work Inc resells your labor for a trillion dollars and pays you an infinite scroll of meme gifs.
- Pervasive ubiquitous distributed computing fabric owned by the people of the world in equal shares.
- AIs that work for Work Inc better than any human could (88.32 rating vs 86.2 for best-performing humans).
- Pervasive ubiquitous AI control
- Using enslaved AIs to construct a great crystalline tower out of computronium
- Basketball planet


Dollar reverting

After its multiyear ascendancy to nose-bleeding heights, the USD is reverting back to mean. Today, the USD hit 0.82 EUR, the lowest it's been in three years. The knock-on effect of this currency fluctuation is that the nominal US GDP is also down to parity with the EU GDP, looking to bring the US back to being the second largest economy by nominal GDP.

If the dollar's downwave emulates the last decade's USD-EUR fluctuation, it might fall down to 0.65 EUR at some point in the coming few years. Which might create a second event, as China's nominal GDP could well peek above the US GDP if the USD trades around 5.25 CNY.

The long-term trend for US-China nominal GDPs would put the overtake somewhere 2025-ish, but a USD trading low could cause an overtake in 2019-2021 (perhaps followed by the US going back above in 2023, then get overtaken again.)

Falling to third place in both nominal and PPP GDP would be a big shock to the US. What might well happen is something like the "EU as a counterbalance to the US"-development, where the US and the EU end up teaming up to create a counterbalance to China.



Got a 10" Android tablet for testing & developing stuff. It's surprisingly nice. I can hold it at a distance to read and watch videos. It's got LTE, so I can do calls with it, and taking and looking at photos is much nicer than on tiny phone screens. It's lightweight too. My parents have an iPad Pro 12", which is even better for videos, but starts resembling a miniature TV in use due to the size and weight (and the iPad is so much smoother at basic interactions, thx properly engineered UI & render loop).

Tablets (and perhaps laptops as well) are a strange device category. In most things, they're inferior to phones: the cameras are second-rate, the screens aren't as sharp, they're heavier, few apps are optimized for the tablet form factor, and in Android-land, they usually ship with old OS versions and have less powerful HW than the flagship phones. But in some ways, I feel like this 10" tablet is a superior phone. It's got a big screen. There's a stylus. The battery lasts longer. It's a lot more comfortable for many phone tasks compared to a 5" screen: more messages, more emails, more text, bigger images.

Why not make a tablet that is a superior phone in every way? Aim for the same battery life as flagship phones when in heavy use (1-2 days). Double the cores and GPU, 4K HDR display, quad camera module, double front-facing cams, stylus, lots of fast storage, lots of fast RAM. Lightweight build. Imagine bolting two flagship phones together, that kind of thing.

You could pretty easily make a device that's got 2x the perf of top shelf x86 laptops since you don't have to pay the x86 tax (x86 chips are 5-10x more expensive per transistor compared to Snapdragon 835 for example).

Pair it off with a smaller device (3" superwatch?) that can handle the mobile tasks (calls, messaging on the move, quick snapshots), and delegate reading, watching and creating to the tablet. 

All you'd really have to do is fork Android / iOS to turn it into good computer operating system.

So yeah, the problem I have is that the current mobiles are too big and heavy, and the current tablets are not good mobiles (or good laptops for that matter). 

Flip flopo flipo flop scrollophone fanphone foldophone umbrellaphone AR glasses.


Nokia 8, a week later

[Update 29 Nov 2017] There's a bug with the glance display feature where unlocking the phone after the glance display turns on drops the UI frame rate to 25 or so. This is super annoying. The fix is to turn off the glance display in Settings > Display > Advanced > Glance.

Camera. Hmm. So, I took the Camera2 API sample and built the basic demo camera app to explore wtf is wrong with the camera. Long story short, it's the camera driver + camera app. There are a couple of factors at play here.

First, the bundled camera app is slow to start. You can use the Footej Camera app for much faster startup and manual controls.

Second, the slow shutter speed is due to the camera driver auto-exposure liking slow shutter speeds. And maybe because rolling shutter + AC-induced light flicker makes for stripey pictures at fast shutter speeds and the AE flicker compensation goes "oo, better use a 14Hz shutter to get more even exposure in 50Hz lights".

The viewfinder is slow because it uses the AE shutter speed.

And there's no S-mode because the Camera2 API doesn't have one. There are only P and M modes.

The weirdo colors in very low light, who knows. I'll have to investigate.

And now I've got the beginnings of a camera app that works the way I like. Send money! Like, $25k. (In the words of Burnaburias: "My work in the houses of the Gods is abundant, and now I have begun an undertaking: Send much gold!")

Having grown more accustomed to the Nokia 8, here's the rest of the review:

- It's fast. Minimal jank (on Nougat at least). Better than the Samsung phones in that respect, they've got some UI thread resource loading stuff in the launcher that makes your first impression of the phone be "oh it's dropping frames". The Nokia's speediness is thanks to them using the Google launcher.

- The shape feels good to the hand. The bundled case has a nice feel to it. The case is very tight on the phone, it hasn't come off after dropping the phone on the floor a few times (Tho the case did crack in the corners. The phone is a-OK, thanks case.)

- I like the ringtones. The ringer volume can be set very loud, which is great outdoors.

- The camera is fine in daylight. The color profile is quite Zeiss - a sharp yellow-green with natural saturation levels and luminous whites. I guess. Could be placebo effect / just the light here.

- The camera is useless indoors. Everything's blurry, the focus is all over the place, the color balance is bananas (like, desaturated blue-green bananas veering towards gray).

- The screen's white point is very cold. 8000K+. Compared to the 6700K used on other devices, it's blue blue blue. Not good in the evening, though Oreo's Night Light helps a lot there.

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About Me

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Built art installations, web sites, graphics libraries, web browsers, mobile apps, desktop apps, media player themes, many nutty prototypes, much bad code, much bad art.

Have freelanced for Verizon, Google, Mozilla, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Valve Software, TDK Electronics.

Ex-Chrome Developer Relations.