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Journal Journal: Belonging to a different era

Feeling a little nostalgic at the moment, but also beginning to sense a serious part of why I feel like a dunce today when it comes to computing when once I felt like a genius.

Quick wall of text on the Nostalgia bit

That article on Vector Graphics the other day reminded me a little of the S-100 bus, and the whole move to the PC ISA that came just before I really got into computing. The first computer I really touched was our school's RM 380Z, which was a proprietary CP/M based system, but exposure to that at school was mostly a "You can book 15 minutes to use it at lunchtime but otherwise the school maths teacher will use it to demonstrate things now and then." So the first computer I learned anything from was a friend's VIC 20. I then used a variety of cheap single-board-computers until my Amiga 500+, the most powerful of which was a Sinclair QL.

So... I never touched S-100. And I didn't really touch the PC until there was literally no other choice that was viable. S-100 was never an option for two major reasons: it was expensive, and it was crap. I mean, seriously, awful. S-100 survived because the home computing establishment's equivalent of the Very Serious People decreed it was Serious, and it was Serious because it was "standard".

A typical S-100 system consisted of the S-100 box itself - a dumb motherboard (very dumb, the only components on it were the edge connectors and a few capacitors and resistors to do all that magic EE specialists understand and I could never get my head around) enclosed in a card cage, plus a CPU card, a completely separate memory card or three, a completely separate disk controller, and a completely separate serial I/O card. The disk controller would be hooked up to a disk drive it was designed to control (yes, proprietary), which would be unlike around 90% of other disk drives out there - that is, if you were lucky. And the I/O card would be hooked up to a terminal that frequently was more powerful than the S-100 computer it was hooked up to..

Each combination of I/O and disk controller cards required a custom BIOS so you could run CP/M with it.

The bus itself was essentially the pins of an 8080 turned into a 100 line bus. So you were essentially wiring each card to an 8080, or something pretending to be an 8080, in parallel. This required quite a bit of hardware in each bus to make sure each didn't conflict with other S-100 cards.

Now, technically, you could get graphics (and maybe sound) cards, but that was unusual. Likewise, you could get more exotic CPUs - though getting software for them was a problem. But the typical S-100 system was text only with a Z80, and the typical S-100 system owner spent rather a lot of time trying to figure out how to order a "standard" CP/M application in a form that would run on their "standard" S-100 system, taking into account their disk drive that only 10% of the market used and their terminal that used VT-52 codes rather than VT-101 codes or (insert one of the other popular terminals here.)

Did I mention this is expensive? While the original Altair 8800 was $500 or so, it came with nothing but the card cage and motherboard, the CPU card, and a little bit of memory. And even on this, the makers barely broke even, expecting to make the profits on after sales. Useful memory, a terminal, an I/O card, a disk controller, and a disk drive, pushed up the prices considerably. Realistically, typical "useful" S-100 systems cost somewhere around $4,000.

Given all of that, it's not really surprising it got supplanted by the PC. Much is made of the fact IBM was taken more seriously by people outside of the personal computer industry in 1981, and that undoubtedly helped, but I can't help but feel that S-100 couldn't have survived for much longer regardless. You could buy a complete system from Commodore or Apple that was more capable for a third of the price even in 1981. The PC didn't need to be cheap, it had IBM's name behind it, but it was obviously more capable than S-100, and it was obvious that if the architecture was adopted by the industry, machines based upon it would be more standardized.

The "Feeling like a dunce" bit

So anyway, that was my train of thought. And it occurred to me that the fact I even have opinions on this suggests my mindset is still stuck there. Back then, even when you programmed in BASIC, you were exerting almost direct control over the hardware. You had a broad idea of what the machine did, what memory locations were mapped onto what functions, and every command you typed affected the computer in a predictable way. The computers themselves were (mostly) predictable too.

As time wore on, especially with the advent of multitasking (which I welcomed, don't get me wrong) you learned to understand your software would be only one party to how the computer behaved, but you understood that if you followed the rules, and the other programmers did too, you could kinda get your head around what was happening to it.

And you felt like a genius if you understood this. And I say "if", because it was possible.

At some point that stopped being possible. Part of it was the PC ISA, the fact an architecture from 1981 was still in use in the mid-nineties by which time it was long in the tooth and needed serious work. Its deficiencies were addressed in software and hardware. Intel essentially replaced the CPU, leaving a compatible stub there to start older applications, and the industry - after a few false starts - threw out most of the PC design and replaced it with the PCI architecture, again, like Intel leaving compatible stubs here and there to ensure older stuff would work. And Microsoft worked on making Windows the real interface software would use to access the hardware.

After a while, there were so many abstractions between your software and the underlying system, it really became hard to determine what was going on underneath. If I program, I now know there are rules I can follow that will reduce the chance of my application being a problem... today. But I don't know if that's the case for the next version of Windows, and all I know is how to reduce the chances, not how to eliminate them. I don't know if the Java I'm writing will generate a webpage that contains Javascript that will contain a memory leak that'll cause the part of the process managing the tab its in to bloat up an additional 100M or so. I can hope it won't, and use mitigation strategies to avoid things that might cause problems, but there are so many things outside of my control I have to trust now, it's just not practical.

Logically the right thing to do under the circumstances is to take back control, to use lower level APIs and simpler sets of rules, but in practice that's just not practical, and doing so means that my tools no longer fit inside the ecosystem with everyone else's. So it's not the right thing - it's actually the worst thing I can do, and if I tried to do it, I'd be shunned as a developer.

I was a genius once because I (mostly) understood the computers I was programming. I feel like a dunce today because that's just not possible any more.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Strange SQL Server 2014 behavior 7 7

I have a Select Statement that returns 4 rows. When used in a stored procedure as input to an Insert Into, though, it was returning five rows. I commented out SET NOCOUNT ON; which is added by the SQL 2014 template. It then returned 4 rows. To test that was what was really going on, I uncommented out SET NOCOUNT ON; and it is now returning 4 rows properly.

I made no other changes.

Anybody else ever run into anything like this??

User Journal

Journal Journal: Winduhs

I think the whole mobile operating system thing has screwed up GUI design to a certain degree. Microsoft, Ubuntu, and GNOME have both been brave and tried something new, but what they ended up with ended up being highly unpopular on the desktop. And to be honest, I think only Microsoft ended up with something truly good on a touch interface, though I admit to not using Ubuntu or GNOME in those contexts, just being aware that they've not really encouraged an ecosystem for applications to work well in a tablet environment, leaving users with only the main shell being friendly. So the loss of optimization for the desktop lead to no significant gains elsewhere.

The way I'm seeing it, Windows 10 seems to be genuinely exciting, and a decent modern desktop, that also encourages cross interface design. Microsoft has learned from the mistakes it made with Windows 8, kept the good parts, and put together something truly great and modern.

I don't really want to be stuck with Windows though as my primary OS. I'm hoping Ubuntu et al actually learn from it.

This is something you'll never normally hear from me, but perhaps they need a Miguel type figure to take a lead in either GNOME or Ubuntu. At this point, at least to me, it looks like Microsoft is the one with the good ideas about how a UI should work and the relationship of an application to the UI frameworks of the underlying OS. I don't want anyone to clone Windows, but it would be nice to learn from it, at least.

Back in the 1990s, nerds like me put together our own "desktops", running random window managers, app launchers, and file managers (if that) that seemed to go together. I'm feeling like the FOSS "desktop" is heading back to that era, of stuff that doesn't really go together, being shoehorned to fit, with no real philosophy binding the system together.

User Journal

Journal Journal: When did Net Neutrality change? 26 26

As late as last year, I remember Net Neutrality being a libertarian free market concept- preventing a crony corporate takeover of the Internet. Now that it is being implemented by the FCC, it has suddenly become a crony corporate (Democrat Brand) takeover of the Internet, that all good libertarians should oppose.

I haven't had political whiplash like this since the Catholic Church went from those nice monks doing AIDS research and running hospice care centers to those bigots who want to keep THOSE people from marrying.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Found at a Catholic site 39 39

The legal impossibility of a Christian polity in America is formally declared in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The so-called 'free speech' and 'free exercise' clauses of the First Amendment are purely secular mandates. They are a rejection of the Catholic notion of the common good, mandating that there be no restraint whatsoever on things that damage souls and ultimately destroy the State itself. They grant as lawful precisely what many popes have called unlawful: unconditional freedom of thought, of speech, of writing, and of worship -- as if these were so many rights given by nature to man. The language of the First Amendment reflects the Protestant-borne, Enlightenment-bred faith of the deistic Framers in the ability of unaided human reason to define and sustain liberty apart from Trinitarian Truth; that is, without a cooperative effort by the Church and the State. Thus, all manner of violations of natural and divine law, including the "right" to murder children in the womb, and the coming "right" to "marry" someone of the same sex, are found lurking in the secular mandates of the First Amendment. The true Church foresees these errors. Oddly enough, the Secular State itself will not be able to endure its own mandates.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Final Thoughts at End of Contract

Things that were not explained adequately upon conversion from CW to ICE.

  1. Bonuses- it was thought by my management that QPB applied to all blue badge employees including ICE. If I had known I wasn't going to get bonuses, I would have asked for higher base pay.
  2. Vacation Time- MUST be taken while still an employee, and unlike what the recruiter who wrote my job offer told me, cannot be used to extend your final week. Any unused vacation time will be lost at end of contract, by policy. In addition, apparently you lose it at the end of the year, I really should have taken WW52 off, then the sting would not be so bad now.
  3. ICE as a stepping stone to full employment at Intel is a lie. I couldn't get anybody, despite spending many hours on networking, to give my resume a second look. I even learned a new tool in this contract that is internal and can only be used at Intel and is completely worthless outside of Intel. No matter, I've had many interviews outside of Intel, and will land well, but I'll keep this in mind the next time I am tempted to take a short term contract at Intel.
  4. Being a blue badge, if you are ICE, still means you're treated more like a resource than like a human by human resources. Many policies are used to reverse decisions that your manager, who is working more closely with you, has made.
     

Software Project Management At Intel in non-software divisions

  1. Brooks Law is almost unheard of at Intel. Hardware Managers think that all software projects can be completed in less than six months, and therefore throw contingent workers at the project. Since software estimates, in general, are 75% engineering and 25% new science, they are wildly inaccurate. When the project inevitably fails to be complete in the first six months, the temptation is to break Brook's Law by adding more contingent workers. The time to ramp up CWs on the project of course exceeds the time to complete the project if you kept software engineers working for more than 18 months at a time.
  2. Agile or Waterfall- Pick one and stick to it. This crazy combination used on software projects in hardware divisions is ridiculous, as is the general lack of written requirements.
  3. It's hard to hit a moving target- input data integrity must be respected. If you don't have input data integrity, then there will be bugs. Bugs add complexity. Bugs make software estimates inaccurate. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On the new diversity initiative

  1. There is no link between surface appearance and how a person thinks, or how capable they are. None at all. While this makes the apparent racism of the past a mistake, this also makes modern affirmative action programs equally racist and invalid.
  2. There is no link between religion, sexual orientation, or disability and how a person thinks, or how capable they are. Such factors should not enter into hiring or promotion decisions at all, and when they do, that is what Intel needs to eliminate from the system.
  3. There IS a link between certain forms of mental illness and the ability to innovate. Since mental illness affects the brain directly, having somebody with a well controlled mental illness on your team increases diversity of thought, which leads to innovation.
  4. I believe that the uncertainty surrounding the diversity initiative was a part of my failure to convert to FTE. Not necessarily outright discrimination against a white male, and due to my autism I fall into one of the protected groups anyway and HR is well aware of that. But I believe the way the diversity initiative was announced, and the weeks of confusion surrounding it before BK finally clarified his position, coming at the same time I was trying to convert to FTE, meant that I had a harder time of trying to get my resume noticed and find open, externally advertised jobs for my skillset.

Final Thought and contact info

While my search to convert to FTE at Intel has failed, my external search has succeeded. I have at least one, maybe two job offers in hand; I will likely be back to work sometime between March 25 to March 30. This posting will be crossposted to Inside Blue before I leave Intel. Comments section below is open.

 

User Journal

Journal Journal: I owe Bill Dog continuation, Prius Hack ideas 10 10

Bill's last set of answers, and my answers to his answers
 
>>1. The only reason to run the gas engine under 25 miles an hour [â Typical residential speed limit] should be for recharging and generating, period. EV mode only at low speed.

>And Toyota may have started out planning on along those lines, but may have gotten focus group research that indicated people preferred a little more acceleration.

Which is weird, because when you put the two electric motors working together, you have MORE acceleration than the gas engine alone. 104 HP vs 70 HP.

>>2. An expert mode should be available wherein "creep ahead at stop" is disabled

>Having switched to owning only manual transmission cars, I only miss that on a metered freeway onramp, that's uphill. I imagine it's added behavior when in electric-only mode, to simulate a slush box, so not sure how it could be universally defeatable. There's no "neutral" on those smug little cars?

There is, it just doesn't auto-engage. The default is creep ahead (and yes, it's electric- it is quite obvious that your gas engine has stopped and it's in stealth mode- which makes it even more dangerous for say, a pedestrian in the cross walk in front of you, no warning roar of the engine as the car speeds up to 8mph slowly).

>>3. Cruise control should also be able to be set by a numeric keypad, and should be able to handle values lower than 23.

>That's an awesome idea, rather than having to bring the car up to the desired speed manually. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's the government disallowing the latter.

It certainly gets them more speeding ticket revenue in 20mph and 15 mph zones. That, and thanks to the "delayed reaction" in the CAN of the prius, I can never seem to hit the correct speed. Always 1mph off, either above or below. And why does slowing down below 23 erase the register, forcing a manual reset, instead of disengaging alone?

>>4. Sport mode should be available that disengages the traction control and enables all three motors for acceleration (you can get the second half of this in a gen2 by angrily stomping on the accelerator, it takes a second to engage, but you suddenly go from 34 HP to 174 HP as the second electric and the gas motor kick in).

>Why would a Prius owner want this?

Ice, sand, and mud. Thanks to the traction control the way it is, and the standard modes, it is impossible to get more than 34hp to the wheels in the first second of travel; and in addition to that, if there is any wheelspin at all, that 34 goes to 0 hp real quick and a little light blinks on to tell you that your transmission is disengaged. A sport mode would enable both drag racing and off road abilities that the prius currently lacks.

>>5. Finer resolution than 5 minutes on the average MPG consumption graph.

>>6. Ability to download trip data onto an SD card.

>Likely never, directly. Companies want your personal info to go to "the cloud" first, so that they can mine it and monetize you further.

I'd even accept an upload to the cloud if I could get fine resolution consumption and the ability to diagnose my driving habits after the fact. The big change in driving a prius isn't so much the technology, it's the feedback given about your fuel consumption, and it occurs to me more feedback is better.

>>7. If gas tank 20% full and battery 20% full, hibernate mode on computer if accidentally left on and wheels are not moving. Right now if you tried to use a Gen2 prius as a backup house generator, you run the risk of bricking the system, unable to boot computer, unable to add more gas, must drag onto a flatbed and tow to Toyota to use their fancy charging system to bring the car back to life.

>I guess you're saying these cars have no under-hood starter battery like ICE vehicles, that's user-swappable with a replacement from any auto parts shop. And I guess neither can these cars be jump-started, simply by using another vehicle (with a battery of equal or greater cold cranking amps). Wow.

More of an in-the-trunk starter battery that is only good for booting the computer system. If you run out of gas *and* the high voltage battery goes totally flat the most you will be able to do is boot the computer, the high voltage battery is needed to spin M1 to be the starter motor (M1 does triple duty- it's a 34 HP electric motor that does the initial acceleration, serves as a generator, and also serves as the starter motor for the gas engine- and it runs off the high voltage battery; M2 is a 70 HP electric engine that can also double as a generator, and then E1 is the gas engine that can send power to the wheels, to M1, to M2, or to all three- quite a complex computerized transmission runs it all). So there would be good reason to provide a hibernate mode that would allow a Prius to be parked for more than three weeks.
I suspect that a plug-in conversion and/or a Gen4 plug in prius is the answer to that last problem- if you're feeding off the grid regularly, there's no need for the gas engine to generate power to begin with.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Parents aren't perfect 7 7

Seen rather a lot of the "Parents are evil because they did something wrong because they believed that something was right" meme that's going around at the moment.

Worst case: massive harassment and threats against the parents of a trans teenager who killed herself blaming their insistence on "Christian" therapy. Horrible case, entirely the wrong approach by the parents, but at the same time if the parents hadn't cared, there wouldn't have been any therapy to begin with, bogus or not. The parents were convinced by people they trusted that the wrong thing was the right thing. Screaming at them, particularly at a time when they are mourning, that they are evil and heartless is evil and heartless.

Now seeing it in the vaccine "debate". Not the only problem I'm having with the pro-vax side (Reminder: yes, I'm pro-vax, and yes, I'm in favor of it being mandatory for the obvious deadly common diseases), but there's a world of difference between a lazy parent not having their kid vaccinated because they can't be bothered, and a parent being too scared to vaccinate their child because they've heard from convincing sources that vaccinations can cause terrible things.

It is better to never have tried anything than to have tried something and failed. - motto of jerks, weenies and losers everywhere

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