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Preview: Charles Petzold

Charles Petzold

Books and other writings by Charles Petzold

Last Build Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:33:50 GMT

Copyright: (c) 2017 by Charles Petzold

“Computer of the Tides” Chapter 1 (Draft Preview)

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:00:00 GMT

For over a decade, I’ve been poking away at a book I call Computer of the Tides: Lord Kelvin’s Machine to Disprove Evolution, an extended history of an early analog computer invented by Scottish scientist William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and its role in the 19th century Darwin Wars.

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Reading Steve Pincus’s “The Heart of the Declaration”

Sun, 30 Oct 2016 16:03:29 GMT

I loved Yale historian Steve Pincus’s monumental book 1688: The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2011). It’s not exactly a primer on the Glorious Revolution; for that purpose, I think a more conventional narrative account such as Tim Harris’s Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720 might be better. But reading Pincus is essential when you think you know the Glorious Revolution and want a fresh look that goes much deeper.

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Reading Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures”

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 18:05:29 GMT

For a few optimistic years at the beginning of the 20th century, some people believed that the invention of the airplane had effectively ended war. Air warfare was potentially so horrible and so destructive that no country would dare start a war that might make use of airplanes to invade and bomb from the sky.

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The Metric System for Angles and Time

Sun, 05 Jun 2016 17:27:25 GMT

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.” — William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), 1883.

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The Worst Dental Clinic in New York City?

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 21:41:05 GMT

When a dental clinic caters to people with little or no dental insurance, it’s bound to be a mess. But exactly how bad of a mess can it be?

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Writing Xamarin.Forms Apps in F#

Wed, 04 Nov 2015 17:00:00 GMT

Judging by the copyright date on some older F# books on my shelf, I think I first started looking at this exciting functional programming language about seven years ago. F# seemed to me to be primarily what I think of as a "crunching" language most suitable for heavy math and database work. For that reason, many of the code examples in these books are console programs. In one of the books, the author needed to draw some graphics, so the F# program creating a Windows Forms window, and used that.

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More Bogus Gun Stats

Sat, 10 Oct 2015 15:38:41 GMT

If America truly doesn’t have a gun problem, then why do gun advocates feel compelled to distort gun statistics and even fabricate them? Soon after the recent shootings at Umpqua Community College, one of my Facebook friends demonstrated on which side of the barrel he stands by posting the following graphic:

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De-Obfuscating the Statistics of Mass Shootings

Sun, 05 Jul 2015 14:57:51 GMT

After the horrifying killings at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama once more had to speak publicly about a mass shooting. "Let’s be clear," he said. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

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Music Streaming for the Rest of Us

Thu, 18 Jun 2015 19:45:43 GMT

Only a company with aspirations to cultural hegemony like Apple could show a video at last week's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote they called “The History of Music” but which contained not a single reference or even allusion to Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms, Chopin, Verdi, Wagner, Dvorak, Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Copland, and so forth and et cetera.

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Reading “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage”

Mon, 25 May 2015 21:05:02 GMT

Charles Babbage is easily the most annoying person in the history of computing. After conceiving a Difference Engine to compute mathematical tables and create strereotype plates for printing them, and actually getting government funding for the machine, he abandoned that project to design an Analytical Engine that would have been the first general-purpose mechanical computer. Yet, neither project was finished, largely as a result of his failure to finalize design. His eccentric and often irascible personality didn't help matters. His most extensive writings about the Analytical Engine uses it to justify the existence of biblical miracles, and his autobiography devotes a chapter to reprinting a cranky pamphlet he wrote about the evils of street music.

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Drones on Screen and Stage

Thu, 21 May 2015 23:30:07 GMT

The ability to carry out targeted assassinations using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (known better as drones) seems like an ideal solution to the problem of combatting terrorism. If a terrorist in a desert of Afghanistan can be identified from the sky, and his body blasted apart with the simple press of a button from a trailer on an Air Force base in the desert of Nevada, then potentially many lives can be saved with the elimination of just one. There is no danger at all to the soldier pushing the button, who can finish off a daily shift and immediately go back home to a loving spouse and kids, with a warm meal around the family table and a comfortable bed.

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Pushback on “The Imitation Game”

Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:11:35 GMT

The current issue of The New York Review of Books includes a review of The Imitation Game by Christian Caryl that pretty much sums up my reservations about the many historical inaccuracies of this movie. Unfortunately, the online version of the review “Saving Alan Turing From His Friends” is restricted to subscribers but an abridgement posted a couple weeks ago, “A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing”, is still available. My recent blog entry “The Imitation Game” and Alan Turing's Real Contribution to Computing discusses the mangling of the mathematics in the movie.

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“The Imitation Game” and Alan Turing’s Real Contribution to Computing

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 11:58:02 GMT

As Alan Turing (portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) races against the clock to build a machine to crack the Nazi Enigma code in the recent movie The Imitation Game, only Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) understands the underlying quest of this tortured genius.

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The Infamous Windows “Hello World” Program

Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:00:00 GMT

A recent blog post by consultant John Cook reminded everybody about the infamous "Hello World" programs in the early chapters of the first five editions of Programming Windows:

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My Week at Xamarin Evolve 2014

Wed, 29 Oct 2014 15:47:14 GMT

I've been to a lot of developers conferences over the decades, but never before had I been an employee of the company that staged the event. Consequently, it was fascinating getting an inside view of the massive amount of preparation required for Xamarin Evolve 2014, the largest cross-platform mobile developers conference in the world, and just as exciting spending the week at Evolve in Atlanta earlier this month.

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Stop Disseminating Bullshit!

Sun, 26 Oct 2014 20:23:11 GMT

If you were browsing periodicals on a newsstand looking for some good informative articles on science issues, is this the newspaper you would select?

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A Computer to Disprove Evolution?

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 11:30:00 GMT

If there is an annus mirabilis in the history of digital computing, it is the year 1936 (plus or minus a year or so, and hence technically anni mirabiles). It was in 1936 that Turing published his paper on computability, 1935 that Claude Elwood Shannon wrote his master's thesis that showed the equivalency between switching circuits and Boolean algebra, 1935–38 that Konrad Zuse built his first computer in his parent's apartment in Berlin, 1937 that Howard Aiken presented a concept to IBM that was to become the Harvard Mark I, and also in 1937 that George Stibitz wired up some relays on his kitchen table that added binary numbers and led to the Bell Labs Model 1 Complex Calculator.

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New Book — New Chapter in Life

Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:54:53 GMT

Six months ago I started doing some contracting work for the documentation team at Xamarin — the company that provides tools for developers to write Mac, iOS, and Android apps using C# and .NET. It was a good fit for me. The work experience was so enjoyable that when Xamarin offered me full-time employment, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction”

Sat, 02 Aug 2014 17:56:39 GMT

On one level, this book is a joyous celebration of science. Elizabeth Kolbert is the type of science writer who doesn’t hesitate to travel to exotic and dangerous places where she gets her hands dirty and her feet wet. Readers of this book tag along as the author goes to Panama to look for frogs, hikes through the treacherous terrain in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, swims through the cold waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, explores a bat cave in the Adirondacks, trudges through the mountain ranges of Peru, snorkels off the coast of One Tree Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and even walks the “pie crust” of the Reef itself.

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Seeing Mieczysław Weinberg’s “The Passenger”

Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:23:08 GMT

The opera begins rather innocently: It is 1960, and we’re on the deck of an English cruise ship. A German couple are sailing to South America. He is a diplomat taking up a new post. She is his loving wife, though somewhat prone to brooding.

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Reading Amir Alexander’s “Infinitesimal”

Sat, 28 Jun 2014 20:56:09 GMT

For as long as I can remember, I have been skeptical about the existence of infinity. I just don’t see any evidence of infinity in the real world. The Big Bang caused only a finite amount of matter and energy to come into being, and the amount can actually be estimated. The number of atoms in the universe is about 1080, and while that’s certainly quite a lot, it’s still short of infinite. Since space is defined by these particles, there is no infinite space either.

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Cut the Mic

Sun, 04 May 2014 17:26:14 GMT

I see a lot of live music, and by “live” I mean I’m in the same room as the musicians, and some of the light rebounding off the musicians and their instruments goes directly into my eyes. The musicians aren’t shot by video cameras and then projected onto TV screens, for example. That would be pointless.

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I Have Cracked the 3D Pedagogical Nut!

Tue, 04 Feb 2014 21:21:14 GMT

There is nothing quite so immediately gratifying as graphics programming. Specify a few coordinates in a program, and you can draw a line right on the screen. From there you can build it up, add curves, enclose and fill areas, and experiment with different types of brushes. Start animating the coordinates and colors, and you're off.

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Character Formatting Extensions with DirectWrite

Tue, 28 Jan 2014 12:00:00 GMT

Yes, it's true. I suffered from glyphophobia — the irrational fear of glyphs and glyph runs. My glyphophobia began over 10 years ago when I started exploring the Windows Presentation Foundatation. I managed to suppress this fear sufficiently when called upon to do some work involving parsing and rendering XPS documents, but still the fear persisted, causing distinct shivers of anxiety whenever I encountered something involving glyphs.

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Chatting with Shawn Wildermuth

Mon, 20 Jan 2014 12:00:00 GMT

I had a nice chat with Shawn Wildermuth a week ago via Skype about my early experiences with computers, and it became one of his Hello World podcasts:

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Christmas Puddings Tossed into the Fire

Wed, 25 Dec 2013 15:36:37 GMT

Everybody knows that the English traditionally soak their Christmas puddings in brandy and then light them on fire, but there also seems to be an English tradition of revulsion with the whole concept of Christmas, and hence also Christmas puddings, and tossing them into the fire.

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I, Health Insurer

Sun, 15 Dec 2013 17:03:51 GMT

“So you’re the people who won’t sell us health insurance.”

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An Appeal for Clemency

Mon, 09 Dec 2013 17:08:27 GMT

Last year, Deirdre and I were invited by a friend of ours to a unique theatrical event. This friend had been working with some men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s in rehearsing and performing scenes from classic American plays. None of these men had ever acted professionally. They were now ready for an audience, and we were to be part of it.

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“with his back to the fire” (Anthony Trollope's Tic)

Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:33:18 GMT

The following passages from Anthony Trollope's 47 novels (in chronological order as listed in Wikipedia) were generated from an analysis of texts available from Project Gutenberg.

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When J&R Contracts, Classical Music Suffers

Sat, 30 Nov 2013 17:26:28 GMT

J&R Music World has long been New Yorkers' first choice for computers, for televisions and audio equipment, for DVDs and CDs. Family owned and staffed with informative and helpful employees, J&R is the epitome of a local retail store large enough to maintain a good inventory and showroom, but not too large to lose focus. It has survived the rise and fall of competitive chain stores — remember The Wiz? remember Circuit City? — and in its location almost due east from the World Trade Center, it managed to survive the 9/11 attacks despite millions of dollars of damage from dust.

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Exquisitely Slow Music

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 17:00:00 GMT

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of Aldous Huxley, an English novelist and essayist who died 50 years ago today. One of my favorite novels of his was Point Counter Point, published in 1928. As the title suggests, the themes and characters seem to interact in “musical” ways, and the whole novel is framed by two extended descriptions of music that combine the aesthetic with the scientific.

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I was at school that day

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 12:00:00 GMT

I was at school that day, in the fifth grade. It was a Friday afternoon and we were about to get report cards and go home. Suddenly a radio began playing over the public address system. The Principal had hooked a radio into the system, or perhaps just sat a small radio in front of the microphone in his office. The newscaster on the radio said that two priests had just emerged from the operating room at the hospital and told reporters that President Kennedy was dead.

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On Seeing "12 Years a Slave"

Sun, 17 Nov 2013 13:28:53 GMT

Here is some basic American history:

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VirtualSurfaceImageSource and DPI Resolution

Wed, 23 Oct 2013 12:00:00 GMT

Sometimes you get some software working just fine, but the visuals don't look quite right. "Maybe it's just me," you might think. "Maybe I'm just hypercritical. Maybe nobody else will notice."

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Pagination with DirectWrite

Fri, 11 Oct 2013 12:00:00 GMT

Beginning in the August 2013 issue of MSDN Magazine, I've turned the focus of my DirectX Factor column away from XAudio2 and towards Direct2D and DirectWrite. The August installment shows how to implement a simple finger-painting program with Direct2D geometries, and the September column explored various geometry manipulations.

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Sharing XAudio2 Code Between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 Apps

Wed, 02 Oct 2013 16:47:25 GMT

Often as I'm writing about particular software technologies, I'm so immersed that I need to deliberately ignore other technologies that might be percolating. I don't fret too much because I figure I can catch up at a later time. Such is the case with Windows Phone 8.

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The (Immersive and Transcendent) Forty Part Motet

Mon, 23 Sep 2013 23:12:55 GMT

It's the ultimate surround sound experience: 40 loudspeakers in an oval playing the 40 individual parts of one of the most ambitious vocal compositions of all time, even if it was written over 400 years ago.

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Conversion of September 2013 DirectX Factor to Windows 8.1

Wed, 04 Sep 2013 11:00:00 GMT

The September installment of my DirectX Factor column for MSDN Magazine has just gone on line. The column focuses on using DirectX geometries in the context of a Windows 8 application, including building them, rendering them, widening them, and outlining them.

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August DirectX Factor Converted to Windows 8.1

Mon, 05 Aug 2013 12:00:00 GMT

I hope Windows 8 developers have been enjoying my DirectX Factor column for MSDN Magazine. This column has been one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. DirectX is big and complex, and very often I feel like I’m wrestling an enormous multi-headed monster in a futile attempt to slice out a little meat that I can assemble into a coherent 2000-word sandwich suitable for public consumption.

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Trying Out the New Windows 8.1 DirectX Project Templates

Mon, 29 Jul 2013 12:00:00 GMT

As you probably know, preview versions of Windows 8.1 and Visual Studio Express 2013 were released about a month ago and are available for downloading here. One good way to learn about the new API features of Windows 8.1 is to watch video sessions from Build 2013.

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Speaking at North Dallas .NET User Group on August 7

Fri, 26 Jul 2013 14:52:01 GMT

I am thrilled to announce that I will be speaking at the North Dallas .NET User Group (NDDNUG) during its regular 6:00 to 8:30 meeting on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 in Plano, Texas. Here are the details:

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Multicolor Font Characters in Windows 8.1

Fri, 28 Jun 2013 12:37:52 GMT

I've been attending the Microsoft Build Conference this week learning about the new features in Windows 8.1. In a session entitled Innovations in High Performance 2D Graphics with Direct X, Dan McLachlan revealed that two new tables have been defined in the OpenType font specification that allow multi-color glyph rendering. The impetus for this enhancement was primarily for rendering multicolor emoji — that collection of often whimsical ideograms that originated in Japan and have become increasingly popular in electronic messaging, and sometimes user interface icons.

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An Easy Grid Splitter for Windows 8

Mon, 03 Jun 2013 16:20:40 GMT

Windows 8 doesn't have a GridSplitter control, most likely because the concept doesn't quite fit in with the Windows Store design paradigm. But sometimes you'd like to allow the user the freedom to change the relative sizes of two columns or rows in a Grid.

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Coding for Multi-Touch for Silverlight 3

Tue, 01 Dec 2009 18:41:22 GMT

Two weeks ago, at the second-day keynote at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC), Windows and Windows Live Division President Steven Sinofsky told us that Microsoft would be giving everyone there a new Acer notebook computer. He got a big round of applause. Nothing quite excites a roomful of programmers more than free hardware.

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