Saturday, October 15, 2011

A crappy month, Dennis Ritchie powers down.

Dennis M. Ritchie 1941 - 2011

"...the number of UNIX installations has grown to 10, with more expected..."  
 - Dennis M. Ritchie 1972

Devices, from phones, to Televisions, Microwave Ovens to personal computers that use Unix type systems, today number in the billions.

Dennis M. Ritchie, one of the fathers of the C programming language and the UNICS operating system has died at the age of seventy.
This man worked at Bell Labs for nearly forty years and his contributions are manifold. I believe the world would be a very different place but for his achievements. The iPhone, Macintosh, iPad and other apple products operate using a descendent of his Unix system. Copyright problems with Bell Labs, UC Berkley forced the birth of the unencumbered Linux operating system which closely followed the fundamental design of Unix.  

It was not until Apple switched to Intel processors and Unix that I moved from Microsoft Windows machines to Apple. That change was the driving force for me to leave an area where I held (and still hold) a strong technical competency.
The Apple engineers ported to Unix and Intel in an incredibly short time and I believe a lot of the credit for this was the design philosophy of Unix.

Whilst many people have heard of Steve Jobs, alas, few will know of Dennis Ritchie or his compatriots Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Douglas McIlroy, and Joe Ossanna, but you can bet Steve Jobs knew them.

Dennis Ritchie deserves his place amongst the stars with Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon and so many other great men.

Geeks or nerds or what ever the masses call these computer scientists and engineers, their achievements are threaded into the very fabric of our modern world.

Vale Dennis Ritchie
1941 - 2011
A drink! A drink I say! Salute! Another unsung hero.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Caught in the N.E.T.

The one that didn't get away. See you soon Steve.
  When you are caught in The Net you look around to see who else is there. Only a few of us. It's quite a rare cancer. Steve was here, for a while anyway. We all get the five year 'use by date'. We all end up under the microscope. Researchers and doctors gather around, filling the places that former friends and colleagues vacated with distasteful alacrity. We must learn a new language. Abdo CT, MRI, EUS, Chromogranin A (CgA).
Oxycontin, Metformin et al.
Old words take on new and sinister meanings. A prognosis can be 'guarded' or 'poor'. I hope someone is guarding the poor. With time off work and medical bills that is where I'll end up. Still, better in Australia than the U.S.

Fish finder? Death Ray?
It's just heartburn and stomach ache (yeah right...) In goes the cannula and sedation, down goes the camera, a bus and two trucks. Out comes the FNA biopsy. The boys have a look. Not happy.
Dr Crispin Corte (EUS wiz) says to me 'It's a bit more serious than that, but don't book a holiday just yet!'.
Dr. Gavin Barr (The Gastroenterologist)
thinks this is funny. It was funny, typical Aussie irreverence. I was just a bit pre-occupied is all.
It was a bit more serious. When fifty milligrams of morphine and 5 micrograms of fentanyl in the ambulance wont touch the pain, it's a bit more than a stomach ache.
Acute pancreatitis secondary to chronic pancreatitis.

"Is it fatal?" I ask. "Well they're all fatal - eventually" quips Gavin with a slight smile as he tilts his head forward and peers over the top of his specs. "... but if you've got to get one, this is the one to get".
"Well, That's a relief!" I think sarcastically, I feel so lucky I could just vomit. Tell that to Steve Jobs.

Plan 'A'  -  E.B.M
Note blue dye in center field.
So we hatch a plan. Crispin and Gavin meet with their cronies and decide Cris will mark the tumour with blue dye using an endoscope at Concord  and Dr. David Martin will burn the mother out laparoscopically at RPA.

Dr. David Martin
So one of my concerns is waking up on the table. When Cris was doing the endoscopy work, I woke up, tapping the canula in my wrist and yelling (as much as you can with a throat full of rubber pipes!). "Mate, your drugs are no good" I said "I can get better drugs up the pub!" So I relate this to the Anesthesiologist. "I don't want to wake up!" I say. "What! Not even after the operation?" he quips. "Eh, yeah, afterwards, that would be alright I suppose." I concede stupidly.

Burn baby burn.
David Martin skips in happily, "We all ready to go? Good, don't worry Pete, haven't lost one yet". Liar! I think to myself but I'm too worried about the stuff the anesthetist is playing with. "Is that a cannula" I ask goggling at what looks like an air-con duct. "Don't worry, we'll give you a local first' she grins back. "Well at least it's not an arterial line." I moan. "That's next" she says. I mumble something like " crrrap". Art-lines really, really hurt. Another local so it's not to bad. "I have heart trouble and undergo heaps of surgery" she says showing me her wrist which has more spots and bruises than a road-side pear. I feel like a wimp.

PCA Machine.
It all goes to plan, for them. Personally, I wake up feeling like shit. I have the ICU nurse telling me to sleep on my side or risk pneumonia, an intern adjusting my gown so that my package is not displayed to the whole ICU, and the anesthetist telling me to press the PCA button more often! Press Press, Press. The annoyances fade. Zzzzzz

Bill. K. The laughing Chinaman in the bed next to me, had the nasty version - Distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy. Full laparotomy, bloody big cut. Bill has chemo every Saturday, I'll join him with some good coffee and 'hold his hand' so to speak. We'll put aside the fear and insecurity, drink our coffee, talk shit and play with our iPhones.

Anyway, Eventually, Here I sit, updating the blog, but the Damoclean sword is still dangling over my head. Steve lasted six years. Magnificent effort! I can hardly not try. People say he was an inspiration, they don't know the half of it. He put up with way, way more than I did!

Pancreatic Tumour guys have to stick together to the bitter end.
Vale Steve Jobs (Legend!) 1955 - 2011
We'll Catch up shortly Steve.
Thanks for all the cool stuff!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kasreyn of the Gyre

Whilst Apple products may be known for solid definition, purpose and style, it appears this also applies to their iTunes Terms of Service.

Should you be unfortunate enough to lose a content file, you're on your own. You must purchase it again. There is no regard for the circumstances of the loss, even when caused by a failure of Apple software.


If you attempt to create perfection with magic, you will fail. You must introduce the slightest flaw, an imperfection, into your creation. Apple is fond of describing their products as 'magical' and they have indeed learned Kasreyn's lesson. The flaw introduced into the popular iTunes is a punitive and petty clause in the terms of Service as described above.

If you regard the Apple logo it is apparent that someone else gets first bite, the Apple handed you is not perfect, and neither is the Terms of Service.

No doubt Snow-White could impart a lesson or two about talking the first bite - unless you make the magic apple.

Still, nothing's perfect, as they say...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fanbois Fanboy

Hi. I'm an Apple fanboi, no wait, a Windows Fanboy, maybe a Ubuntu, penguinista, ... or was it BSD?

 (...sigh...), I guess I'm just an Operating System slut. 


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hang on to your hat.

So I'm reading Chuck House's eBook - HP Phenomenom, on an iPad using the Kindle app, in bed, in Sydney. The story of HP, business, technology and humanity. I think, boy, there is some really good stuff in here about running a technology business. So I shoot off an email to Chuck in California. It's night here, early morning over there. I continue reading. Bing! Email arrives from chuck. He has included another attached essay. Great stuff about General Radio, HP and Tektronics when they were just 'hitting their straps'. Chuck was an engineer at HP Labs. His stuff allowed us to see Neil Armstrong's foot hit the moon.

Reading in bed, So what? Well, if you were born when I was born, or moreover when Chuck was born, and you were reading his book, on an iPad and sending email at the same time, in bed nice and warm with electric blankets you might stop and think, wow, when I was a kid I didn't dream of this.

When I was a kid, I'd read in bed, but the electronics magazines were paper. I'd dream of getting my hands on enough components to build stuff. Software or 'programs' was an abstract notion. What was the point of flowcharting and writing a Fortran routine when getting on a 'computer' was like getting to the moon. I read the press releases and articles on LED and LCD display inventions, TTL logic designs and microprocessors on a single chip. I was stuck with crappy old valves and stuff from dead TVs. Later I could salvage transistors from dead radios, but integrated circuits were a distant dream. Years went by and with the help of Tandy and Dick Smith stores, overtime, I built a frequency counter. It cost me a fortune, but I was engrossed. It was the same effect that drove Steve Wozniak to design and build his first computer. How he found the money I'll never know.

So here I am in bed, in the erie glow of the iPad, and I recall being in bed with the glow of the fluorescent display of an opened up sharp calculator. Wondering at the display, the chips, the logic. I think back on all my dreams and projects. The thrill of unboxing each new device or computer (micro-computer). Hunting down the serious documentation on the chips and architecture. The wonder of being 'immersed' in the complex inner world that was the operating system and ROM code. Burning the midnight oil writing programs in assembler for 6502, 6510, x86 etc.

Now I have customers using accounting Software and specialized systems I have developed.

The iPad I'm using now, reading Chuck's book, sending emails and writing this blog, makes a mockery of my dreams, and yet in many ways is the fulfillment of them.

What an astonishing and magnificent ride.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

What can you say?

Weird 'wooden' Kindle and iPad support. 
It wont be long before Fahrenheit 451 becomes a (more) cryptic title.

Buying and assembling a 'bookshelf' is akin to getting a mantelpiece in order to support a 'Mantel clock'. Luckily I have a collection of 'paper' books.

Some of you may recall paper books. They were generally made from the mashed bodies of dead trees and occasionally covered with a thin layer of the epidermal skin of butchered ungulates.

In fact I almost have 'paper books' enough to justify the space this quaint antique requires, however, you can re-purpose these odd boxes to store other collectibles known as 'knick-knacks'.

The more esoteric amongst you could store 'Exercise Books'. These were really marvelous paper books that you sort of printed yourself. The printing instrument was known as a 'Fountain Pen'. These were sharp pointed devices that left a trail of 'ink' on the paper. The dye was made using the melanin-mucus secretions of marine cephalopods, mainly Octopus or Squid and drawn up into the device using a small built-in lever operated pump. Even older 'pens' were made from bird feathers.

Some of these 'bookshelves' have glass doors, a must have if your collection contains any of the gems mentioned above. Unfortunately, these paper books can be infested with tiny Arthropods (book mites / lice), not surprising given their composition. So you might think twice before bringing these items into your house - especially if you have young children.


Privacy is dead.

Whoooo, naughty Apple and Google are stealing your location data.
What rot.
Look, with a warrant here or there, or not, we can know everything there is to know about you without Apple or Google. (although we will use them as well). We only need to dip the stream on you once or twice, and we keep the stuff.

Any phone company knows who you call, what cell towers you transit through, as well as the person you're calling and the people they're calling ... Smart Psychologists, Mathematicians and Computer science guys have worked out algorithms to map all the connections between all phone users as well as details from EFTPOS transactions, rewards points cards, banking, medical, travel, electricity used, fuel used, etc etc.

We can know who you are, how many kids, life expectancy, sexual preferences, if you're cheating on your spouse, political leanings, racial opinions, religion and philosophical belief system. We can know what you like to eat, drink, smell and see. eg:The rewards cards and debit / credit cards can tie you to all your products scanned at your supermarket.

Over the years you have filled in so many forms, offered so much information to banks, hospitals, schools, passport, visa and customs, phone companies, energy supply companies, gun registries, council / county government etc etc.

Ever wonder how all this computing, internet, medical, appliance and communication technology works?
Wonder about Google Earth, GPS, the Internet, MRI and other advanced medical equipment. Massively complex and almost magical machinery?
Who has dibs on the GPS, Internet, Satellite imaging, WiFi etc. The military, their research agencies and the 'state'.
How many things in your house are not FCC or agency compliant. You think these guys don't get detailed reports on all this stuff prior to putting their stamp and numbers on everything.

Do you really think that the level of commercial technology, science etc, for all these everyday wonders is at the same level as the state.
You're kidding if you do. If you think Google Earth is amazing, that's nothing on what the 'state' has (Keyhole). That goes for nearly all of it.

Now we can't force RFID chips under your skin, (Well maybe we can, how carefully were you watched as a baby when you were in hospital being born? and where do all those Guthrie cards go?), but we don't need RFID.
We have your 'smart' phone - complete with detectors (towers). You carry it everywhere, with it you tell us where you are / were, who you you plot with and their relationship, and soon banks will send you an sms to confirm on line sales and card use. Two Factor Authentication.

We can bring it all together sooo sweetly it's a shame it's secret.

Now you be a good boy or girl, put on your tin foil hats, and you have nothing to worry about.

Skynet Operations and Management.
We know you better than you know you.

Friday, April 1, 2011


So we need to give a list of payments to the accounts girl. The guy has a sheet that he fills in and at the end of the day hands to the accounts girl.

Now there is a better way of doing this. Set up an XL spread sheet, fill it in and at the end of the day, email it to the accounts girl. It's easy to do corrections. They are all nicely filed away on the computer  etc.

Sounds simple. However, now you need two computers, two email clients, network infrastructure, a POP 3 server, an SMTP server, on and on. How many points of failure are introduced?

Now what if the accounts girl is not close? Well maybe the computer approach is the right one. But what if the guy just faxes the sheet over?

After a few years, you ask the guy, "What is the computer used for?" "To email the excel sheets."
If something goes wrong, often the problem is "how do we email the xl sheets" not "how do we deliver the figures"
Therein lays the problem we IT engineers see all the time.
People calling in experts to solve the wrong problem.

The Flying Bolt.

So the airframe mechanic rings through to fastening parts to get a set of window bolts.
"We don't have any AR17767 bolts" says the fastener specialist.
"What about AQ77567s" Says the mechanic.
"We got 'em, but you can't use 'em"
"Why not?"
"They're the wrong bolt, different part number."
"Don't give me shit about part numbers. They are the same length, same pitch, same socket"
"Mate, you can't use them. They are the wrong bolt. I know fasteners and you shouldn't use these on that aircraft."
"How many effing planes have you worked on eh?. I have been an airframe mechanic for 27 years. Don't tell me about bolting a window into a plane, just give the the effing bolts."

So the bolts fail at 35,000 feet and the pilot is half out of the window.
What went wrong?
The airframe mechanic only thought about putting the window in the hole. The bolt guy only thought about the bolt. The properties of a tensile fastening bolt are agnostic about what is being held together. It comes down to tensile strength, temperature characteristics, hardness etc.
It does not matter what the bolt is being used to hold together, that is totally irrelevant.
The window can only go into that aircraft. Not into a caravan or glass house. The bolt on the other hand can be used for any application that does net exceed the specs for the bolt.

The airframe mechanic came to the fastener specialist with a solution, not a problem.
The problem was finding a bolt to secure the window. Not securing the window per se.

He should have said "I have a problem and need to do xyz", can you give me a solution. Not, "I have a problem and need to do xyz and I want you to do abc"

He got what he asked for, but not what he wanted.

Don't go to specialists with a solution, give them the problem.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Soup For You

Microsoft announced that the new IE9 wont run on XP.
XP wont be able to handle all the new features a browser needs for today's web. Like JavaScript or HTML 5?

So now you must all buy New PCs and upgrade to Vista or 7 or you wont be able to surf the web, there being no XP browser good enough.

Oh Wait, Chrome! Blast!
This may not work the way we want.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

iPad II

I can't believe all the verbal diarrhoea from pundits about the iPad 2. It doesn't have this or not as fast as that... Giardia infection of the mind. In fact most of the so called reviews were written sans an actual iPad.

Steve Jobs has the right approach. He doesn't build the consumer devices for the tech heads, but for the masses who just want to get stuff done or entertain themselves. And he tries to bring a little design sophistication and aesthetic to the products. These pundits who spew out public vitriol over a bloody consumer device are placeing themselves at the end of the bell curve. The trailer trash end.

If you hate Apple then don't buy any of their stuff and stop being so f&%^ing neurotic.