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User Journal

Journal Journal: F-22 Navigation Glitch: "It worked fine in the lab" 4

IFENs aren't the only computer system you can crash in flight, evidently. The shiny-new F-22 raptor arrived in Okinawa this weekend, the first overseas deployment for the USAF's most advanced and most expensive fighter. The arrival was a week late, due to a software glitch that at the time was unspecified, but required all six F-22s to turn back.
A week later, a purportedly unclassified document is making the rounds of the internet that suggests that inadequate testing of navigational software resulting in a bug bringing down all but the most basic flight controls of all aircraft.

Subject: F-22 AEF Deployment

Date: 12 Feb 07

To: CC

Info: CV, DS


1. A 1st Fighter Wing AEF 6-ship (Petro 91) departed Hickam AFB enroute to AEF location on 10 Feb. Approximately 4 hours into the mission and coincidental with crossing over the International Date Line, all six aircraft experienced a significant avionics failure including:

Both GINS 1 and 2 Fail

FLCS Degrade

Radar Fail

Fuel Degrade

Loss of all attitude references

Loss of Flight Path marker

Loss of all navigation aides (TACAN, ILS, Computed, etc.)

Loss of all heading indications

2. Aircraft communications were available via backup radio only. Only navigation available was via cockpit airspeed and altitude indications (both deemed accurate). All other aircraft systems, to include engines, electrical system and air refueling, were nominal.

3. Flight Lead, Lt Col Tolliver, initiated via the tanker a CONFERENCE HOTEL (CH) call with LM Aero. All CH team recommended workarounds (avionics restarts, date and time resets, etc.) did not resolve the problem.

4. Lt Col Tolliver assessed pressing to the AEF location but decided to turn back and return to Hickam. He also directed the second deployment cell, a 2-ship approximately one hour behind him, to return to Hickam. NOTE: This 2-ship never crossed the International Date Line.

5. Enroute back to Hickam, after crossing back over the International Date Line, avionics restarts were unsuccessfully attempted.

6. All aircraft successfully recovered at Hickam, shut down (cold iron), restarted engines and all avionics malfunctions cleared.

7. An F-22 Crisis Management Team (CMT) has convened. Two telecoms (1300 and 1700 EST) were conducted on 11 Feb. Participants included F-22 Program Office, LM, Boeing, NG and A8F personnel.

8. The F-22 Program is working 24/7 to resolve this issue. Both F-22 avionics integration labs (RAIL and AIL) have successfully duplicated the problem. The problem resides within the GINS software when the aircraft transitions between East/West Longitude. NOTE: Most RAIL and AIL testing simulate GINS inputs and past testing discovered no issues with over flying the Dateline or Poles. It took testing this weekend using actual GINS hardware and software to duplicate this problem.

9. A fix for this software problem has been developed at NG and currently is being evaluated in the RAIL. We should find out at our 1300 CMT telecom today if this fix works.

10. This fix will require an OFP update to be loaded on the aircraft. Currently no IMIS OFP loading support is on-site at Hickam. 1 FW IMIS was previously deployed to AEF location.

11. F-22 Program currently expects software fix, OFP loading hardware and LM support team in place at Hickam by mid-week. Aircraft possibly will be able to depart Hickam for their AEF location by the end of the week.

12. Updates to this issue will be provided as additional information becomes available.

Translation: The navigational system (Global Positioning Inertial Navigation Systems (GINS)) had never been physically tested crossing the date line, but only on simulated real-world inputs. When it crossed the date line for the first time, it crashed, as did the backup, bringing down with it all navigational systems and much of the aircraft's instrumentation, leaving them with backup systems reminiscent of a Cessna 172 (without the navigational stack).

What sort of software engineering is that, where the failure of a one element can bring down the whole avionics suite?


Journal Journal: The Microsoft ROKR

I'm loving this Zune thing. Only a couple times a season does a consumer electronic launch end in such a tragic mess of champagne, blood and flailing body parts. As far as catastrophes go, the Zune has to work for mindshare: I mean, we've got the PS3, both Blue-Ray and HD-DVD, and increasingly cool videos of Li-Ion fires. But the Zune had a really great launch: before the band could stop playing, the Zune had slipped to the deep, leaving its only trace a few bubbles that would intermittently breach the surface, where one strained to hear their flaccid popping sound under the cackles of bystanders and ill-wishers. Now CNN assures me that Apple fans are clamoring for an iPod phone, and as I wonder "gee, didn't they try that last year?", the Zune story suddenly sounds familiar. Is the Zune the much-heralded second coming of the ROKR?
The Zune really was the device you wanted to hate, and it didn't disappoint:

1) Clunky Interface
2) Incompatible not only with Linux and Macs, but apparently Windows as well
3) Bad DRM that doesn't work with Microsoft's other bad DRM.
4) Neutered Wi-Fi.

In management speak for years to come, "Zune" will become a verb, "To Zunify", which will mean "To cripple a cool idea by pandering to interests aligned against the client".

Still, Zune's destiny could be part of some evil, sinister plan. The probable case is just the one I outlined above. Now here's a possible case, just for giggles:


Remember that ROKR thing? It was the rumored "Big Project" that kept industry folks guessing and speculating, until it was released with a whimper. Interesting idea: Motorola putting an Apple-cobranded media player on a cellphone and letting it use ITMS. But yeah, it bombed. There are plenty of reasons why it bombed: Cell phones and Media Players recharge and discharge their batteries according to different patterns; people really didn't want to listen to music on their cellphone any. But the important reason the ROKR failed is that it got Zunified before-the-fact.
The good folks who gave us the ROKR weren't just Motorola and Apple: they were working with the cellphone service providers, who notoriously see cellular phones in terms of revenue generation, and confirm/reject mobile phone features based on whether they can charge extra for it. So the ROKR comes out with an artificial 100-song limit, and restrictions on how you can get songs onto the thing. It bombs.

But the conspiracy theorists loved it. They claimed that, by developing a cellphone, Apple was gaining much needed experience in the cellphone field that will help with v. 2.0 (without Motorola). Or, better yet, that by "buying an interest" in the field, they were preventing competitors from going that route: after all, with Apple developing and fielding a Cellphone Media Player, it was no longer an "untapped market" for over-the-horizon threats. At the very least, Apple was hedging their bets.

But, well, what really happened?
The release day for the ROKR, Apple upstaged the Motorola device with their new hat for Malibu Stacy: the iPod Nano (or shuffle, or both, I forget). Motorola managed a hit with their RAZR, and their second generation ROKR (E2) has removed the ITMS support, and the Zunification of the 100-song limit. Apple was able to use the ROKR as a screen to hide what they were really up to; once launched, the ROKR's failure ensured that manufacturers would view Cellphone MP3 players as a niche market. Motorola used the ROKR E1 fiasco to overcome vendor resistance to features that would make the phone actually useful.

So what's my conspiracy theory for the Zune?

The Zune gives the old (and increasingly irrelevant) content companies everything they've asked for:
"HARD" DRM = it won't work even with Microsoft DRM, so owners have to buy a new copy of stuff.
A music store with a variable price structure. Totally sweet -- now you can charge more for some songs. The RIAA has been looking to do this for years.
A "swapping" feature that turns the threat of music sharing into sales: and just to make sure it's not abused, everything gets DRM'd. As a side benefit, those rogue musicians who release their stuff for free won't have an advantage over the oligopoly.

So up and down the list, Microsoft has given the recording industry everything they've asked for. The result? A spectacular failure that leaves everyone scratching their heads and wondering why.

But now think of what the Zune could have been: a cool device that would work on your wireless network, allowing you to stream music across your house, pull tracks off your NAS, endlessly copy podcasts, pointless YouTube videos and yes, even music. What would happen? The RIAA would decry the obvious and willful attempt to destroy its business and civilization in general, and slap a lawsuit on Microsoft that would make the whole Rio thing look tame.
But what if they did everything the RIAA asked, and it failed?
Well, then they'd have a whole stack of marketing surveys, product reviews and slashdot gossip pointing out what a stupid idea it was. As Motorola managed to lift the 100-song limit in v. 2.0, will Microsoft be able to say, "we tried it your way, and it didn't work", and then pull out the stops on the WiFi and wrest pricing control from the record companies?
What about other products? In the hardware world, the CE folks are in a tight spot: content producers are putting the squeeze on for increasingly improbable and expensive devices that largely serve to augment consumer hostility and decrease sales. As probably the largest content producer and content enabler in the world, Microsoft is feeling it at both ends: they really, really want the wipe out "Schoolyard Piracy", but at the same time they're looking at implementing DRM schemes that can only limit their market share: counterintuitively, DRM makes piracy more attractive by decreasing the value of the legitimate product.
So the Zune actually helps matters: it gives Microsoft some fairly convincing arguments why it is a bad idea to implement all that annoying DRM crap the music and movie people want to see. Whereas pre-Zune, they had little response to the Oligopolies' accusations of "facilitating thievery"; now they can make arguments based on "what the consumers want".

But it's a conspiracy theory. We all know what really happened. A cool idea developed down the ranks about schoolyard sharing, Microsoft hedged its bets, and they developed the darn thing. Then upper-mid management screwed the pooch by making sure "no egos got bruised", and the thing matched Microsoft's rapidly changing content protection policy. The very notion of "schoolyard sharing" is so antithetical to a traditional software house that there was no chance a Wi-Fi Media Player from Microsoft would work.
Hardware Hacking

Journal Journal: Crappy Hardware I've owned recently

Just in the last couple of years, In no particular order:

4. Creative Sound Blaster LIVE!: Monopolies are great; monopolies mean you get to make money by raising the price and saving money on QA. What's the record for most years using creative products without a serious problem? My personal best is maybe 6.

3. The Masscool 520UI 5.25" enclosure. Yes, I looked at this before buying, but not close enough. The case looks good enough -- solid build quality, easy opening lid (with sliding locks), IE 1394 and USB 2.0 support -- in short, what you need.
Only when I take it home do I recognize the US plug at the end of the power supply -- no problem, most of my stuff is US-plugged; I got adapters. I plug it in, and wham! my first surprise. IT'S A DISCO BOX! They got translucent plastic on the sides. One side has two red LEDs, one two blue. First the red one is flashing. Then I connect the firewire to the computer, and the red one goes solid, the blue starts flashing. Then I try to format the damn thing. Yes, the blue one goes out for data transfer. Of course, the format fails. Now the thing is back to "xmas tree mode". Hell, even the power supply's LED is pulsing! I'm surprised they didn't put air dams, a spoiler and a big R-Type sticker on the damn thing! Okay, so wire the USB, and continue the format. Now try to access it. No good. Okay, sleep and deal in the morning. Try again. Now only the red light is flashing, the fan is spinning, but the HDD doesn't come up. Put in a spare HDD I have in my drawer. Okay, now both blue and red are flashing. My neighbors are now looking around for the cop car. Look again at power supply. You know, it's rated to 240 W, but that LED really shouldn't pulse like that; come to think of it, the fan shouldn't be pulsing either. Does anyone know what an inverter is these days? Let's try the PS from my Bytecc 3.5" 1394 enclosure.
[whine of fan achieving proper RPMs, lights stay solid on].
As I finish writing this rant, I pick up that PS, with the pulsing light, givb it a whack against the side of the table. OF COURSE THAT WORKS. I forgot the cardinal rule: electronics need tough love.

2. Siemens C-65 Mobile Phone: Another turd. Tiny keypad -- which is standard for the genre -- with a little 4-way pointing stick above the keypad, set among the softkeys. Right between the pointing stick and the keypad is a non-soft softkey: hold it down for a second, and it'll go to the send SMS feature. Tap it, and, well, it loads the web browser. After what feels like 30 seconds to a minute in which you can't use the phone, the web browser comes up. Now this handy little key works _anywhere_: dialing a number? WebBrowser. Entering a SMS? Forget that, time to download some porn buddy! Taking salacious pictures? No sir, webbrowser for you!
Okay, I'm not being fair. The C65 is worse than that. The firmware I had on the version sold to me featured sporadic hard crashes (=remove undersized and underpowered batter to continue) until I had to buy the proprietary USB Serial cable to reset it. Speaking of which, the computer software for this thing is among the worst in the business. Transaction based? Not on your life! Everything is synchronized with the phone. Want to delete a bunch of files? No problem. Let's just get the directory at 9600 baud. Now select the files you want to delete, waiting between each selection for the phone to acknowledge your selection. Now hit "delete", and wait while the phone marks those files for deletion, then deletes them.
What? You selected more than 6 files? I'm sorry, the computer got bored and decided the phone was no longer there. Unplug the USB cable; shut down all the software, reconnect, start the software, and wait up to two minutes for the phone to be recognized again (if at all). Now, repeat the same process, this time with fewer files. Then wait while it reloads the directory.
Another brilliant C65 design move: this is a candy bar phone, so it needs a keypad lock feature: you know, you put the thing somewhere loose, and a key or two might inadvertently get hit. Evidently, previous keypad locks were too complicated, requiring the user to enter in some sort of combination. Not the C65: just press the # key once and you're good to go. If you didn't get it, I'll spell it out: the feature they designed to prevent inadvertent key presses can be defeated by a single inadvertent key press. Hell, before that thing died, my pants made more phone calls from it than I did!
No, really, this was a great phone -- Siemens advertises it as a "MMS-allrounder", or something, but I was unable to get the MMS function to work in any way on two separate European networks in separate countries (one Vodafone, one TIM), attempting both automatic and manual configuration. Fortunately, the circuitboard/battery connection was genuinely crappy, and the power started to drop out at the most inconvenient times. After a week of this, it wouldn't stay on without constant supervision. I suppose I could file a warranty claim, but why? I've learned my lesson never to deal with Siemens again (or BenQ for that matter).

1. MSI TV @nywhere Master: On paper it sounds really cool: silicon tuner, so it changes channels really fast; CX23883 audio/video decoder, producing high quality video, a super-slim remote that's really cool. There's just two slight problems: A) No other retail, shareware or freeware/OS TV tuner program supports the proprietary tuner and audio. B) Intervideo wrote the bundled software, but apparently forgot to ensure it was stable. Sure you can watch TV on it, but if you hit spacebar, it starts PVR-on-demand that was never debugged, and it's time for the ATX "standing six count". You can get timeshifting to work elsewhere, but the Audio runs as a pass-through cable, out from the video card, into the sound card. Oh yeah, and the PVR software can only record audio or play back audio, not both. The MSI forums, and any other forums, are peppered with the wails of the damned who'd bought one of these turds. They may have fixed these problems, but I've already shipped my card to Hell, so the devil can be sure to have enough gorgeous nude models on hand to string anybody responsible for this product up by their genitalia and pull on their feet. In a sentence: interesting hardware, crippled by shitty firmware, and no QA.

--- (I don't link here, just figgered that it might turn up on a search or something and at least amuse someone, if not save them from buying junk) ---
User Journal

Journal Journal: California Raisins

Okay, so the story on Movie Games sucking caused a horrible flashback to what I consider to be the worst video game I ever encourntered.
It was summer 1991 (could have been 90, but pretty sure it was 91), and I was working my summer job (if you could call it that) doing beta and final testing for a house that contracted mostly to a whole range of gaming companies.

Somehow, I drew the unlucky straw that day, and I got saddled with this NES project -- the story was vague, the thing had been written and forgotten about for 18 months, or it was way overdue and the publisher had already given up on it -- anyway, the NES was on its way out, and this game really, really, REALLY sucked. I'm talking about California Raisins.

It was painful: I had to explore all the annoying little cracks in this uninspired Mario ripoff (With all of four -- count them, four -- levels) eight hours a day in a roomn where everything flashed at 60Hz. I was amazed I never killed anyone on the way home. In short, the game was bad in every sector: the music was the first bars of "I heard it through the grapevine", over and over again, the jumping part was all based on precision with lethally punishment for failure. Worst of all, by the time I saw the game, the California Raisins craze was over by nearly two years.

So yeah, I worked on that game, tested it, and gave the client my personal opinion that schlock like that would never sell.

Then today I google the damn thing ("the game that, when I was paid to play it, convinced me a needed a career change"), I find that thank God, it never was published. And I thanked myself for that.

But what's this? One EEPROM escaped, and it's been used to multiply that game? 12 years after I did my moral best to damn that game into oblivion, even at personal financial loss, it emerges from the grave. Worse, that one bit of evil somebody missed, now has, thanks to the "legend of the game that never was", returned to even greater stature than it would have had before?

How? why? where could it come from?

Google found that too:

An interview with a NES cart collector reveals that a woman received them, along with a couple other NES titles I remember very well from that era from someone who "used to work for a gaming company".

I looked at the shot -- it's been many years, it's a generic proto cart, but I wouldn't be surprised if my fingerprints were on that thing.

Damn, I wish I had insisted to the boss that the cart be destroyed.

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