No Starch Press is on a roll with its series of Lego themed books. While most of them are about model ideas or construction techniques, Beautiful Lego is different. This is a Lego art book. In classic coffee table style it is filled with gorgeous photos to thrill the reader. Beautiful Lego does not seek to discuss 'can Lego be art', but takes it as fact. These are works by artists, just artists using the medium of Lego instead of paint or clay, and the results speak for themselves. Stunning.

Beautiful Lego is written and photographed by Mike Doyle, a lego artist himself as well as an excellent graphic designer, but features the work of over 70 different artists. The book is organized by topic -- spaceships, people, architecture, robots -- with interviews of artists interspersed. Each artist is asked the single question: "Why Lego?"; with an immense variety of answers. There is a common theme, though: the desire to create using an incredibly malleable medium.

Some models are beautiful and some are terrifying, such as "The Doll" (pg 5) and "Disscected Frog" (pg 79). The architectural models really shine; good use of the few curvy pieces in Lego can make amazing results. There is even political art: The Power of Freedom (page 124).

Beautiful Lego surprised me by the diversity of styles within the medium of Lego. Some are hyper detailed, some expressive, some minimalist. Angus MacLane has a cute style known in the book as CubeDudes, which are head on caricatures of famous figures like President Lincoln, Kirk and Spock, and the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man. (page 36)

You will appreciate the book on two levels. First, the beauty or expression of the piece, then a second time as you pour over the photos trying to figure out "How did they do that with Lego?" Mike Doyle's victorian house series in particular will amaze you with the flexibility of Lego. (And make you wonder how big his Lego collection is:) While re-reading the book for this review, I'm struck by how much good photography makes a difference when experiencing a model.

I heartily recommend Beautiful Lego to the adult Lego fan in your life. It just might make you pull out the bin from the garage and build a few orignal models yourself. And yes, there is a Freddy Mercury model called Fried Chicken.

Beautiful Lego can be purchased from No Starch Press, Amazon, or Barnes and Nobel.

Almost since it was first released, fans of the Raspberry Pi have asked when it the hardware will be updated with better components. A faster CPU perhaps? Double the RAM? Built in wifi? The list of components you could upgrade is long. This request was brought up again when the Raspberry Pi foundation announced the sale of the two millionth Pi.

First I think we should step back for a moment and consider the magnitude of this achievement. 2,000,000. Two meeealion. That’s a whole lot of tiny computers. Not only has this sales volume let the foundation move production back to the UK, these Pis have been used to build computer labs in Africa, teach children Scratch programming, photograph endangered species in infra-red and countless micro-servers where a Pi is strapped to the back of a Costco hard drive. In short, the Raspberry Pi has become an engine for innovation.

At first, I too wanted a new Raspberry Pi with a spec update. True, the specs are anemic. It’s fine and well to say ‘what do you expect for 35$’ but that doesn’t make my code run any faster. Upon further reflection, however, I’ve realized that not updating brings some benefits as well.

Keeping the specs identical means a stable platform. If I buy a Pi three years from now it will run software exactly as my first Pi from a year ago did. Stability is very important; especially when we are talking about software often used in poor conditions without IT staff. The same goes for accessories. Every camera module and GPIO extender is built for this specific device. They will continue to work perfectly in the future.

Keeping the specs identical means our code has to get faster instead. Modern software is blazingly inefficient and it tends to not age well. X Windows on the Raspberry Pi is extremely slow, even though it ran fine on my 486 in college at one tenth the speed. I could only dream of owning a 700mhz computer in 1995. Instead of throwing faster hardware at our problems we need to improve our code. I’m currently building a GPU accelerated graphics API, targeting the Raspberry Pi first. If it can run at 60 fps on the Pi then it can run anywhere.

Keeping the specs identical means we explore and document everything. While slow, the Raspberry Pi has some very interesting hardware that can do amazing things when used properly. Only devices with a long life span get fully explored. Just look at the things people have done with the NES and C64s. Because these devices were so popular they were documented (i.e.: reverse engineered) in exhaustive detail. Today I could build a simple NES emulator over a (long) weekend if I chose, thanks to the hard work done by the community over the years. If we keep the specs the same then the Raspberry Pi will be similarly dissected and documented.

I do not long for a new Raspberry Pi. I long for better software that lets me do more with what we already have. Here’s to another two million identical Pis; each a spark for a new idea, not new hardware.

Now that Apple has given us final specs and cost for the redesigned Mac Pro I’ve heard complaints that it is underpowered and non-expandable, especially for the price. The Pro comes with reasonably beefy CPUs but they will be out of date in a few years. The buyer can only expand the ram and disk, and not so much on the disk side given the lack of available space. So how can this be worth the $3000 entry price Apple is charging?

First we must realize that the Mac Pro isn’t for everyone. It really is for creative professionals who spend a lot of time in Logic, Aperture, Final Cut Pro, Maya, and other pro apps. These people need the maximum ram and processing power possible, and will pay for it. Expandability of storage isn’t a problem because they don’t care about internal storage anyway. Anyone who buys one of these will be using a stack of external drives or NAS. I can buy a 3TB drive at Costco for under 200 bucks! Thus the nice collection of Thunderbolt and USB ports on MacPro’s backside.

More importantly, however, the CPUs aren’t the real focus of the new Mac Pro. Apple is betting that the future of high speed computation is GPU computing. Apple is right.

I recently went to the International Super Computing conference when it was held here in Oregon. At least 50% of the talks were about how to restructure computing tasks to take advantage of GPUs. GPUs are the future of almost all high performance computing. GPUs are not as general purpose as a modern CPU, but if you can structure your problem in a way that a GPU can compute, then you can get a 5x to 10x performance boost for the same watt (or dollar). Intel and Nvidia are happy to sell you a stack of GPUs without video connectors. These cards exist purely for GPU computation. Daisy chained together a stack of GPUs will beat any traditional super computer.

Of course, with the GPUs doing the heavy lifting the challenge becomes how to get your data *to* the GPU quickly. That’s why Apple’s MacPro site spends so much time talking about the IO bus and memory bandwidth. Internal storage? CPU upgrades? Who cares! The MacPro is all about moving data in and out of beefy GPUs as fast as possible.

Apple has been working on this for a while. Initially they started shifting graphics work to the GPU with Quartz Extreme. This enabled the OSX compositing window manager to run smoothly on older hardware. Later Apple introduced full Mac support for OpenCL, a computation companion API to OpenGL. When you write some code in OpenCL the Mac can shift the computation dynamically between the CPU and the GPU. Powerful GPUs can make up for weak CPUs.

And this brings me to the Raspberry Pi, my favorite cheap ARM based mini-computer -- so cheap I’ve seen hard drives with Pi’s glued to the side of them as files servers. At 700mhz the Raspberry Pi’s CPU is anemic but the GPU is surprisingly powerful. Broadcom’s VideoCore IV not only supports OpenGL 2.0, meaning real shader support, it also has H264 video encoding and decoding in hardware. It can decode a 1080p video in real time on this 35$ computer. The CPU just has to stream the compressed video file to memory; the GPU will care of the rest.

The Pi’s GPU also has an interesting API called dispmanx. While it is extremely undocumented, I’ve learned that this API lets you set up an almost unlimited number of hardware layers in the GPU. You can have one layer with 3D content from OpenGL while a second layer plays video and a third shows images. Most importantly each of these layers can be resized and alpha blended entirely by the GPU. This means we can create a full compositing window manager like OSX and Window 7 have, all on our tiny 700mhz computer. These guys are already working on a port of the composited Wayland/Weston library to the RaspberryPI.

While the Raspberry Pi does not support OpenCL it is possible to use the GPU for accelerated JPG decompression and there is ongoing efforts to directly target the VideoCore’s internal APIs for SIMD processing.

All of this power comes from shifting computation from the general purpose CPU to the custom purpose GPU. This is a long term trend. Over time more and more work will be shifted. GPUs can’t do all computational tasks of course; but if you can transform your problem in to something the GPU can handle (preferably something highly parallel), then you’re golden. He who controls the GPU... controls the world! Now let’s get some cheese, Pinky.

Installing Node on a Raspberry PI used to be a whole lot of pain. Compiling an codebase that big on the Pi really taxes the system, plus the usual dependency challenges of native C code. Fortunately, the good chaps at nodejs.org have started automatically building Node for Linux arm Raspberry Pi. This makes life so much easier. Now we can install node in less that five minutes. Here’s how.

First, make sure you have the latest raspbian on your Pi. If you need to update it run.

sudo apt-get upgrade; 
sudo apt-get update

Node and NPM

Now install Node itself

wget http://nodejs.org/dist/v0.10.2/node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi.tar.gz
tar -xvzf node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi.tar.gz
node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi/bin/node --version

You should see:

v0.10.2

Now set the NODE_JS_HOME variable to the directory where you un-tarred Node, and add the bin dir to your PATH using whatever system you prefer (bash profile script, command line vars, etc); In my .bash_profile I have:

NODE_JS_HOME=/home/pi/node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi 
PATH=$PATH:$NODE_JS_HOME/bin 

Now you should be able to run node from any directory. NPM, the node package manager, comes bundled with Node now, so you already have it:

npm —version

prints

1.2.15

Native code

If you are just working with pure javascript modules then you are done. If you need to use or develop native modules then you need a compiler and node’s native build tool, node-gyp. The compilers should already be installed with Raspbian. Check using:

gcc —version

Install node-gyp with:

npm install -g node-gyp

Now any native module should be compilable.

That’s it. Node in 5 minutes.

The webOS auction has ended successfully. Every item sold, some for far more than I thought they would. Combined with some anonymous donations we raised over 6000$ for the Hill Family. I am overwhelmed and incredibly grateful. I knew the webOS community was passionate but I had no idea. We couldn’t have done this without your support. Thank you so much!

Now, on to the details. I’ll be shipping all items out this week. If you won something and haven’t paid yet, please do so. You should have received an email from the 32auctions.com site. I’m going to send all domestic items USPS unless you request otherwise. If you are international buyer please let me know if you have any special shipping requests.

My wife and I are traveling to Atlanta with our little one in a week to spend some time with my family and present them with the check. Again, I cannot thank you enough. I am truly amazed by the webOS community. Thank you.

 Josh