Thursday, August 30, 2007

A notable web site

If you ever need some random bits, say for a password or other magic number, there's always John Walker's HotBits generator. Nestled somewhere in the hills of Switzerland it uses a (moderately) radioactive source (in a shielded location in the basement) to generate truly random bits.

There are, of course, other ways of getting high-quality random bits, including some that aren't radioactive -- LavaRnd comes to mind. HotBits is one of the older ones on the web and so has a certain charm and hack value to it.

Even if you don't need any random bits today, Walker's fourmilab site is worth visiting on its own merits. Walker was a founder of Autodesk, makers of, among other things, the hugely successful AutoCAD, which Walker co-authored. Some of the other highlights, in no particular order:
  • The Autodesk File, chronicling the early years of a startup from the PC boom (yes, there were booms before the internet boom). This is a personal pick. Autodesk crushed a PC-CAD startup I was involved with very early in my career. Eventually, it even bought out one of the remaining pieces. The Autodesk File helped me understand how this all happened, but it should also be of general interest. The more things change ...
  • Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace's translation and extensive commentary Sketch of the Analytical Engine. That would be Babbage's analytical engine and that would be the Ada they named the programming language after.
  • A bunch of interesting astronomy and space pages, including an earth and moon viewer and an applet for plotting orbits around a black hole or neutron star (in case you ever get the chance to visit).
  • Essays on a variety of topics whether geekly, business-related, some of each or neither.
  • There's even an online diet planner. Bon apetit!

No comments: