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Android

Journal: Android Store Eaten by Google 1

Journal by DrVomact

I was surprised yesterday to note that the Android Apps store icon had gone away from my Android phone (T-Mobile Galaxy IIS), and had apparently been replaced with something called "Google Play". My first guess was that the faeries have been stealing apps and replacing them with their own offspring; turns out I was essentially right. (Here's a random link that talks about this. Here's a link that warns us about fake .ru domain sites masquerading as "Google Play".)

WTF??? When I bought into the Android OS, my understanding was that I would be buying my apps from the Android Apps Store; now it's suddenly gone away and some entity obviously associated with the company formerly alleged to do no evil has taken its place. I have given the apps store my credit card info, and have extended considerable trust to them. How arrogant to simply yank it away from me and substitute this...this...changeling. Who knows what the ToS for this new "store" are (I thought it was some kind of game service at first; what a stupid name!), or what their app policies are. I guess it's a good thing it doesn't work—when I click on it, I just get an endless wait. Time to look for alternative ways to buy apps, I guess. What a bunch of idiots.

User Journal

Journal: Intel LGA 1156 socket: disastrous design, or geek paranoia?

Journal by DrVomact
I drank the koolaid, and decided to build myself a new box based on the Intel 1156 socket CPU. (I chose the i5 because it was cheap, and I figure 4 physical cores will be enough for now, thank you.) I'll spare you the intricate painful details of my constructus interruptus experience; the point is that as a result of discovering an obvious defect in my "gently pre-used" board, I did some googling on the 1156 socket, and found out things that make me feel very queasy about this new socket design. I just wish I'd done the research before I ordered the replacement board.

First of all, this is NOT about the overclocking burnout issue . Or at least not primarily; I have no intention of overclocking my new machine. It's not even about the claim that Foxconn makes bad sockets (apparently, all the magic smoke at Ananandtech issued from boards that were equipped with a Foxconn socket). No my friends, my deepest fears center on the nightmarish conviction that the 1156 socket is one of those "innovations" that will be go down in the history of technology as a really, really major screw-up—in the same league as Windows ME, Chernobyl, and the Apple Newton. The significance of the overclocking failures with the 1156 is much like that of a canary keeling over in a coal mine—no, the gas hasn't gotten to lethal levels for humans yet, but you don't say to your fellow miners that they shouldn't worry because they're not canaries; you have to ask why the canary died.

When I examined the socket in my 1156 board and the CPU, I realized that Intel had done something that they probably thought was really smart: the 1156 CPU does not have the usual pins sticking out the bottom. Instead, the CPU has contact pads—flat surfaces that are intended to be contacted by little bits of copper wire sticking up out of the socket. This is not merely a gender reversal on the old socket-and-pins idea. The 1156 CPU doesn't have recesses for pins (just flat pads, remember), and those things sticking up from the socket can't be dignified with the word "pins"—they are just very fine pointy pieces of copper wire that are supposed (in theory) to make contact with the pads on the CPU.

Why does this give me the heebie jeebies? Well it seems to me that it's awfully optimistic to expect each and every one those copper cilia to be lined up exactly with a CPU pad, and to meet it with the amount of firmness needed for a proper contact. And indeed, some of the pictures in the Anandtech article seem to indicate that many pads in their sample CPU didn't make proper contact with their appointed cilia. Worse, it seems really dumb to make an electrical connection through a point contact. The old pins made contact along the length of the pin that was inserted into the copper-lined socket. It's possible that the poor contacts contributed to the overclocking failures; regardless of whether they did or didn't, I think poor or no electrical contact in parts of a circuit that are supposed to be connected is bad.

There's also the issue of verifiability. It's poor design to make parts that are intended to fit together in such a way that you can't positively verify that the fitting has been done successfully. With the old-style pins, you could tell if you hadn't placed the CPU properly into its socket—there was a definite tactile sensation when all the pins lined up and the CPU dropped into place. You could then assume with a reasonable degree of confidence that each of those pins were making physical contact with the conductor-lined hole in the proper socket; you could positively verify that this step had been performed correctly. Now you can only tell that the chip fits into the socket; who knows what makes contact? Who knows how good each of those contacts is? Sure, you could take the chip off and look for dimples in the pads that indicate they were touched by a cilium. But that's like checking to see whether your refrigerator light stays off when the door is closed by opening the door. How do you know that when you put the chip back in the socket, the contacts are the same this time around? How many times can you keep doing this before those little bits of wire lose their springiness and give up? Or get tangled with another, as had happened on my pre-used board?

I'm sure this new idea makes chips a bit cheaper to manufacture for Intel. In effect, Intel has gone out of the pin business, and they are probably congratulating themselves about it now. However, I think it's a horribly bad electromechanical design; if I had to do it over again, I'd go AMD.

Programming

Journal: Humor in code--Unprofessional?

Journal by DrVomact

Do you ever inject humor into the comments of your code or—heaven forfend—into the code itself? I recently had a "code review" of a Perl automation program I had written for my department. The salient criticism that emerged was that there was "sarcasm" in my comments, and that this was unprofessional. In retrospect, it was not surprising that the criticisms concentrated on my comments, as no one else in this group does much programming (the PHB claims to have "been a coder" once upon a time...I think he wrote COBOL on punch cards); nevertheless I was dumbstruck. What kind of world is it where you aren't allowed the occasional funny comment in your code? Do we have to be serious all the time? I asked a programmer in the "R & D" group, and he responded with a complete unsolicited psychoanalysis: he advised that I should develop a "professional personality" that was different from my real one I use at home. I was shocked—nay, mystified: where do you learn how to do that?

But let's concentrate on the smaller, more manageable issue: is humor in comments truly verboten? Am I the only one who makes the occasional light remark, or even a self-deprecating reminder to "Change this, you idiot...what were you thinking"? I've resolved to take the humor issue to a jury of my peers: to wit, the esteemed denizens of Slashdot.

I received an annotated copy of my code from my PHB, pointing out all my lapses into "unprofessionalism." Here are a few of the lines from my program that were deemed "unprofessional", along with my comments, and meta comments). I cannot actually guarantee that there is any genuinely funny stuff here, only that the PHB thought it might be taken as such. (Sorry about the lack of indenting...couldn't figure out how to make Slashdot's subset of HTML do that.)

BEGIN {
if ($^O eq 'MSWin32') {
use Win32::Console;
Win32::Console::Free( );
}
}

Weirdly, nobody thought this was at all funny or objectionable.

# Set the directory if we got lucky
This was in a set of nested conditional tests that tried to find a file, no matter what crazy place the person running the program had stuck it. I fail to see this as sarcasm...I call it "cheerful optimism".

# Fix nasty problem where...
Comment in code that fixes crazy stuff in input files. Apparently, the word "nasty" is nasty.

$sysreturn = $proc->wait; # This gets exit code of process (it's already gone, so it's not really going to wait)
The parenthetical comment was marked as objectionable. You got me; I thought this was a potentially confusing line of code, and that the comment helped.

} else { # For all others, we just need to recover the original declarations that got eaten by the XSLTs
The word "eaten" was deemed unprofessional, sarcastic, or something.

my $status = shift @_; # 1 means the error causes certain death, undef or 0 means it's a warning (user gets to try again), 2 means it's a "notification"
Describes possible values passed to an error handler; "certain death" was deemed objectionable. Perhaps it was construed as a threat?

my %args = @_; # Stuff arguments into a hash, so we can look them up one at a time
"stuff" is an offensive word, apparently. All instances of "stuff" were marked as offensive. Good thing I didn't use "slurp", or "suck", huh?

if($name ne "subsection") { # We want the minor stuff included with first subsect file
To my great consternation, "stuff" is objectionable both as a verb and a noun! I think maybe PHB was using search-and-replace for his code analysis, though.

$button_text="Bummer!"; # It's NOT OK, man!
This one caused the most outrage. It's actually part of the code, unlike the other cases—it's the text of a button in a fatal error dialog. I completely hate when an application notifies me of a fatal error and asks me to click a button labeled "OK"—as if asking for my approval for having screwed up. Like my comment says...it's not OK. PHB wanted "OK", but I finally changed it to "Exit".

So, I ask you, my peers of Slashdot, to pass judgment on me: am I hopelessly unprofessional? Or have I discovered the real reason why so many programmers don't comment their code?

The Almighty Buck

Journal: Sock-Puppet HR

Journal by DrVomact

A month ago, we employees were bombarded with a slick advertising campaign to notify us of a new corporate Human(oid) Resources service. It is called "MyHR", and the pitch was that "you can answer all your HR questions by calling one number!" There were glossy photographs of friendly smiling people talking on the phone, clearly eager to reach out and help.

I didn't quite understand why this was supposed to be such a huge benefit for me. It seemed like a lot of trouble to advertise a new HR phone number. If they wanted to provide better services to employees, why didn't HR open a local office where I actually work, and give me some real people to talk to? But HR had eliminated local HR reps years ago...as a "cost saving measure".

I didn't think much more about it until a family crisis manifested. I have an aunt who lives in Europe, and it looked like she might require a couple of months of care while she convalesces from hip replacement surgery. I was considering taking that time off as unpaid leave under my company's "Family Leave Policy", but I wasn't clear if aunts were covered by the policy.

So I gave those nice smiley people at MyHR a call. Sure enough, the phone was answered immediately by a rep...though I sensed right away she wasn't one of those brightly smiling people in the glossy pictures. I asked my question and she told me curtly that "aunts are clearly not covered by the Family Leave Policy." I was a bit shook up by several things that were going on, health-wise, in my family, so I guess I said something that questioned why aunts couldn't be covered. I mean, we're talking unpaid leave here. I was polite. She replied, "Look, if it weren't government mandated, you wouldn't have this benefit at all!". End of conversation.

YOU? . My suspicion meter kicked into the red zone. If I were talking to a fellow employee, why didn't she say "we"? It didn't take much water-boarding to get my PHB to admit that the nice smiley MyHR people were in fact "employees of another company". In other words, HR (or the insignificant portion of it that deals with actually helping employees) has been outsourced—"to cut costs". I guess I must be pretty naive, but I was shocked.

Now for another data point—and a bit of irony. I'm applying for a new job at another large corporation. I was referred to the hiring manager by a mutual friend, and had a very encouraging phone interview with him. He told me that he wanted to set me up for an interview and come meet the rest of the staff, but HR has to arrange the interviews, so it might take a while. I've been contacted by their HR, and the first thing I noticed was that though the name of the company I am applying to was in the rep's email address, it was clearly a sub-domain of another organization (something like joe@sockpuppet.company_I_want_to_work_for.com). I asked Joe if he is, in fact, an employee of said company, and he assured me that he truly worked for the HR department of maybe_will_hire_me corp.

Well surprise, surprise, I called my friend and he told me that Joe is a sock puppet--that is, he works for an "outside consulting firm that specializes in HR services". Lucky thing I didn't have much emotional investment in that relationship. But for all I know, the same puppeteer is handling my (potential) hiring as is now sympathetically caring for my well-being at my present corporation. Geez.

Two data samples may be statistically insignificant, but mathematical rigor has never stopped me from jumping to conclusions: we are witnessing the rise of another magnificently absurd and completely disastrous management fad. Or am I the last person in the world to catch on again?

User Journal

Journal: Adobe Acrobat is Spyware (not a surprise) 2

Journal by DrVomact

I'm posting this because I don't know what else to do with it. I've found some obvious spyware behavior with recent Acrobat Reader updates (actually, they probably go back at least to V7), but can't find anything on them via Google. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed this, so it must be a plot.

The problems with Acrobat Reader go far beyond the fact--noted by some others--that Reader calls home. The appalling thing is that once you have installed Reader, all Adobe products on your PC call home. I don't know what these applications communicate, but both PhotoShop and FrameMaker on my PC started doing this after I installed Acrobat Reader V7 (I think it started with V7.0, but it may have been a minor update of V7).

I actually first noticed the problem at work about 6 months ago, when they updated Reader. Whenever I opened FrameMaker, I would get a dialog that said, "Adobe online internal error". An "internal error" is usually something very bad, but FM would start normally after I clicked this dialog. After some investigation, I found out that the dialog resulted from corporate IT having blocked FM from "calling home".

At home, I noticed that both FrameMaker V7.1 and Photoshop were attempting to contact Adobe.com, because Zone Alarm gave me a notification. This had never happened before I updated Acrobat. I blocked both applications from "calling home" via ZA, but then got an annoying "contacting Adobe" progress bar. OK...I then deleted the folder "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\Web", figuring that this was the culprit. That helped...I now only get the single "Internal Error" dialog with FM that I get at work. PhotoShop is completely back to normal. Seriously, I'm surprised there hasn't been more of an outcry about this. FrameMaker is a niche product, but can it be that every installation of PhotoShop out there is pirated, and so people are afraid to complain?

My employer can do what they want, but as for me and my house, we will discard Acrobat; I've uninstalled it and am trying Foxit. But even if I have trouble reading PDF docs at home, I am never going to install Acrobat reader again (unless I find a really old version lying around). Adobe obviously has delusions of indispensability.

Long computations which yield zero are probably all for naught.

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