Archive for July, 2006

Lad, I don’t know where ya been (but I see ya won first prize)

I’m disappearing this Friday for most of the month, with the rest of the family…

My folks: “Hey, we’re going to Scotland, wanna come?”
Me: “Hell yeah!”

With any luck we’ll find our supposed pile o’ rocks castle, and many more just like it except more castle-shaped. As always, many pictures promised to anyone who wants them :-) (Those at Arisia year before last already got your footage of me in a kilt, so nyarrr.) My phone won’t work there, and definitely no internet access (but I’m going anyway). Back when I’m back!

LSP-Fix utility open-sourced

I wrote this waaay back in college, while doing the webmaster / perl thing at the Power Transmission Products Company Who Shall Remain Nameless. It took maybe a couple evenings after work plus a weekend to code, and probably just as much time coming up with test cases to throw at it (not to mention valid installations of Microsoft’s many OSes for testing). It was source-licensed to a few companies for incorporation into their own products, mainly anti-spyware utilities (software licensing? Hey I was young, I needed the money! ;-), but the binaries were free.

LSP-Fix was basically a fixer for a rash of problems left behind by a specific malware vendor, but I couldn’t exactly come out and say so (or code it against that specific product) since at the time I couldn’t really afford (time OR expense-wise) to deal with the pile of lawyers this would invite. After release, it was soon discovered that several other malware products broke Windows in the exact same way, leaving hapless users stranded without internet access, so that may have been a bit of a good thing. It developed a bit of a following.

Anyway, I kind of forgot about it for a few years, then last week or so I got a letter from the Geek Squad* (now owned by Best Buy) asking permission to add it to their techs’ diagnostic CD. For Free, you say? I know, this is the part where I’m supposed to stick my hand out for money or something, but I DID release the binaries as freeware, so they could just as easily include it anyway without asking. It’s also already used by various ISP tech support departments, etc. Anyway, after a quick Google I think I found out why they’re so meticulous about getting permission these days.

So as long as these guys are getting freebies, let’s not give ’em an unfair advantage… “hey, I have a real job now and can’t be bothered handling that source licensing crap”, so I fixed a few niggling issues**, and released the new update under the GPL. Now to see if any of the former licensees / questionable spyware removers come neeping at me with “whaaat, our competitors paid $xxxx for THAT?!” ;-)

* The Unit E Geek Squad of TSU had the name long before these beetle-driving starfish hunters ever laid claim on it.

** …and one showstopper: if run as a normal user instead of Administrator account in those newfangled (in 2002) OSes that had such a thing, it would simply report a dire warning about missing registry keys and exit, rather than ask the user to try again as Administrator. Strangely, I have never had a bug report about this. Probably because the people most likely to get infected by malware are also the ones most likely to be running as Administrator all the time… *sigh*

Rorschach door…am I nuts?








Ever have one of those *boggle* moments? Scott and I were talking about processors and DSPs, and the days of yore when there was actually a clearly-defined difference between the two. General conclusion was, there doesn’t need to be a difference anymore; technology has advanced to a point where we can have every chip do everything. Every so often, the mind just boggles* at how far we’ve come without really going anywhere.

Some months back I found myself standing with No* in front of the Harvard Mark I, an 1940s small-room-sized computer, mechanically clocked, that could do about 3 additions per second. Right in front of it I was holding up a bit of hardware I’d just built, a nightlight of sorts with a string of LEDs that used a pulse modulation scheme to fade through and produce interesting color patterns. Each tri-color LED is controlled by its own tiny PIC10 microcontroller, which can be bought off the shelf for under 50 cents each. This runs at 1 million instructions per second, or could perform about 300,000 additions per second (not three).


It wasn’t just the fact that I was holding a dozen Mark Is in a 50-cent package the size of a grain of rice…it was the fact that with what was, in the context of the hulking electromechanical beast contained safely behind glass as though it might otherwise lurch out into the hallway and start taking peoples’ derivatives, such an comparatively unimaginable wealth of computing power in my possession, it was being used for no greater purpose than to blink lights on and off**.

Not to mention the fact that this is nowadays accepted as a perfectly legitimate (or even slightly advanced) way to spend your 1 MIPS. (Certainly, almost limitless gobs of CPU power are burned in far more frivolous ways every day***.)

* what does boggling actually look like? Dunno who came up with this. I’d imagine a mind in the act of boggling looks the way it would look if you blew up a really big firecracker inside of an unbreakable balloon.

** but if it’s any consolation, they blink on and off really quickly.

*** I shouldn’t talk; I’ve engaged in plenty of “Questionable Use of Academic Komputing Equipment” myself ;-)