Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

writing

It’s Here: Learning Computer Architecture with Raspberry Pi

RPiBookCover-500Wide.jpg

I had just tossed a salmon filet on the barbie yesterday evening when the UPS man rang the doorbell. There it was: an author case of a book I signed in 2013, finished in early 2014, and have been waiting for ever since. I confess there were times I approached despair and thought the publisher might cancel it, but the concept had legs, and (more important than legs) Eben Upton was behind it.

It’s not all my own work. My co-authors include Ralph Roberts, Tim Mamtora, Ben Everard, and Eben himself. I wrote Chapters 2-7, which entailed about 100,000 words and 90 hand-drawn technical figures. (My chapters come to about 300 pages out of the book’s 507.) Eben wrote a few thousand additional words in my chapters on things that I don’t know well, like compiler internals. (I’m sure he contributed to other chapters too.)

The publisher hasn’t done an especially good job positioning the book, and it’s already being reviewed badly by people who thought it was something other than what it is. So let me position it for you.

Learning Computer Architecture with Raspberry Pi is an introduction to computer architecture for senior high students, and bright junior high students. It’s not a university-level treatment, though it might have application in community colleges. Like the Raspberry Pi itself, it was designed to be affordable to young people, and so it’s not 1,000 pages long. The cover price is $30 (exactly, no .95s or .99s!) and you can get it on Amazon for the inexpensive if peculiar sum of $18.07. It’s not a standalone manual for the board, nor programming the board, nor learning any given language or operating system. It’s about what all the pieces are, and how they work together.

This is important. Today’s young people are digital natives, in that there were cheap desktop computers, lots of them, since before they were born. Kids who are interested in computers have studied and experimented with those parts of the computer that interest them. This is the sort of learning that trips up autodidacts, since it runs very deep in places, but is shot full of holes, some of them huge. The way to fill those holes is to take a survey course, and that’s precisely what this book is for. The course syllabus itself may not exist yet, but I have a hunch that a lot of educators in a lot of places are already hard at work on curricula using the book as the primary text.

People who have read my other books will recognize the approach I took in these chapters: Start at Square One, at the absolute beginning, and tell readers up front that they can skip a chapter if they discover early on that they’re already familiar with the material. Chapter 2 is titled “Recapping Computing,” which goes back to the idea of “a box that follows a plan,” and continues from there. Some people will skip that chapter. Many won’t. A few may be annoyed that it exists at all. (There’s no pleasing some people.) Once you get past Chapter 2, each chapter is much more focused, and covers a specific continent on the larger world of computing:

2: Recapping Computing

3: Electronic Memory

4: ARM Processors and Systems-on-a-Chip

5: Programming

6: Non-Volatile Storage

7: Networking

Chapters 8-12 were written by others, and provide a Raspberry-Pi specific slant on things, especially graphics and I/O. I had not seen those chapters until yesterday, so I can’t say a whole lot more about them just yet. A cursory glance suggests that you won’t be disappointed.

That’s pretty much the story. I had something additional in mind that I didn’t talk about while I was writing my chunk of the book back in 2013: homeschooling. I wanted the treatment to be so clear and comprehensible that parents could use the book in a homeschool environment. I think I succeeded, but I won’t know until I hear from a few homeschoolers. Sooner or later, that’ll happen.

I needed a book like this back in 1970, but of course, it didn’t exist. Computers themselves were mysterious, and the computer gatekeepers seemed to like it that way. Not me. Nothing should stand between people who want to learn and what they want to learn. Nothing. If my lifetime mission as a nonfiction writer could be stated in just a few words, that would be it. I loathe elitism, credentialism, and exclusive-club-ism. I learned stuff, I wrote books about it, and now you can learn it too. If you haven’t started learning about computers yet, well, this is a pretty good time to start. And forgive me for saying so, but this is a pretty good book to start with.

Go for it!

Odd Lots

Fighting the Time Bandits…

Stacks of Boxes-500 Wide.jpg

…not to mention the energy bandits. I didn’t always have trouble with those.

So. I have not abandoned Contra, am not dead nor even injured. (I took some skin off one of my toes in Hawaii.) I don’t know that I can manage a detailed entry today, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gone a month without posting here. I’ve done a little better on Facebook, but that has mostly been posting interesting links and maybe a little commentary.

Like, f’rinstance, the Sun has gone to sleep, and has been asleep now for twelve days. For ten of those twelve days, even the solar plages went missing, and I generally don’t see that. Yesterday I started to see some plages again, so I’m guessing we’ll see some spots in the next few days. It’s remarkable for this to happen just two years after a solar maximum, poor limp excuse for a maximum that it was. We’re certainly seeing a much quieter Sun than we’re used to. What that means is impossible to know right now. I doubt we’re sliding into a new Ice Age, though it’s fascinating to speculate…and one of the reasons we may not be is that we have a little more CO2 in the atmo to keep things warm.

The cool part (as it were) is that I will probably live long enough to see if a weaker solar cycle has any measurable effect on climate. (I won’t be 90 until 2042, and I certainly intend to live at least that long.)

So. The reason I’ve been so strapped is this: When we packed the house last December so we could winter over in our new house in Phoenix, we packed what we needed, and left everything else in Colorado. Now we have to empty the house except for some furniture and knicknacks for staging.

What was startling was how much was left after we extracted what we needed.

There’s a lesson in that somewhere, and if I had time I’d dig for it. Instead, Carol and I are doing triage on an enormous amount of stuff, packing and labeling the keepers and hauling the discards to whoever will take them. I’m making a salvage run to the metal yard later this week with a couple of ’50s chrome kitchen chairs with the padded panels removed, a couple of ’70s folding chairs ditto, a ’50s charcoal grill, a ’50s stepstool, some odd steel scrap, and about ten pounds of copper wire and other odd copper/brass items. I’m selling furniture and our gas grill on Craigslist. We’re shredding twenty years of odd bills and recycling several boxes of old magazines that somehow escaped the heave-ho last year. Almost all back issues of the Atlantic are now online, so I don’t need to keep paper mags, even the ones tagged with significant articles. (The Atlantic used to have a lot more of those in the ’80s and ’90s than they do today.)

Solar Panel 300 Wide.jpgCarol’s packing glassware and kitchen and office stuff and much miscellany. I have to get rid of a solar panel that I cobbled up in 1977 from six 6-cell subpanels that doesn’t work anymore, and I would like to investigate the peculiar failure mode if I had time: When first placed in the Sun it generates 17 volts, but over a period of no more than five minutes the voltage drops down under 10 volts and eventually to 5. It hasn’t been in the Sun at all these past 40 years…so what died? I’m curious, but not curious enough to keep it and do exploratory surgery on it.

The kicker, though, is this: No sooner did we get back from our Hawaii vacation than I was sent the PDF proofs of my six chapters of Learn Computer Architecture with the Raspberry Pi. That’s 100,000 words and 90 hand-drawn technical figures. I have to read them closely, because I’ve already spotted typos that were not present in the edited manuscript ARs. Somebody, somewhere changed “Jack Kilby” to “Jack Kelby.” The inventor of the integrated circuit deserves better. I may be the last line of defense against stuff like that, so I have to read slowly and pay complete attention. Also, don’t get me started on example code. Whitespace is significant in Python…and for what, Lord? To torment typesetters and technical editors?

Sheesh.

We’re still trying to schedule some essential work, like having an epoxy coating put down on the new garage floor, getting all the outside windows washed, and having the carpets and drapes cleaned. So, evidently, is everyone else in Colorado Springs. Want to make good money? Forget your Grievance Studies degree and go into carpet cleaning.

By now you may be getting the idea. I turned 64 on the 29th, and am feeling every day of it. I’m desperate to do some new SF (so desperate that I’ve started writing country-western songs in my head while schlepping boxes) and that’s not going to happen for awhile.

The bad news is that this isn’t going to be over any time real soon. End of July, I hope. But if the house keeps vomiting up weird stuff that we didn’t have to deal with last time, all bets are off. Your best bet is to watch Facebook, as I allow myself fifteen minutes of online time during the day.

I’ll be back. (Didn’t somebody else say that? Oh, yeah: I used to have some 75 ohm terminators, but they’re long gone.) I haven’t been doing this for 18 years only to stop now.

Monthwander

Busted Up Slab - 500 Wide.jpg

Where the hell have I been?

Here. Working like a sumbitch at 6700 feet above sea level, on things that may or may not be interesting to anyone but Carol and me. There is a lot of money tied up in this house, and the goal is to untie it as quickly as possible. On most days, come suppertime I am toast, and have not had the wherewithal to post anything interesting here on Contra since mid-May. Contrary to rumor I am not dead, nor anything close to it. I’ve been rearranging my sock drawer, for very large values of “sock drawer.”

It’s old news to my Facebook readers, but my garage floor has been cracked up (see above) and carted out, after which they brought in a dump truck full of road base fill, thumped it down very thoroughly, and then re-poured the concrete slab. It has to sit curing for five weeks before they can do the epoxy floor coating, but the worst of that task is out of the way.

The restorative surgery on Phage House continues. The painting is done. We’ve had the linen closet doors straightened. The ill-fitting cattle pen/dog run has been dismantled and donated to All Breed Rescue. We sold our snow blower on Craigslist, thinking that we won’t need it much in Phoenix. The granite counters and new kitchen fixtures are in and they’re drop-dead gorgeous. (Why didn’t we do this five or six years ago?) The staging lady has been hired and is ready to roll as soon as we get everything not required for staging into boxes. So as time and energy allow I’m boxing up all the stuff that didn’t go down to Phoenix back in December. We’ve given a lot to Goodwill and our friend Deidre who has an indoor flea market table. There’s more than I thought. (More, and heavier. Think vintage power transformers and filter chokes.) Lots more.

But then again, isn’t there always?

We should have been a little more forthcoming with our friends. Yesterday, a woman we’ve known since college and haven’t seen in several years sent me an email to say, “We’re in Colorado Springs on our way home from New Mexico. It’s so sad that you’re not here anymore.”

Gakkh.

No writing has been done, though I occasionally take notes on The Molten Flesh. Instead I’ve been reading copyedited chapters on my Raspberry Pi book, which would have been much easier if I weren’t trying to load half a house into boxes. (And no, I cannot explain SSL in two paragraphs. Sorry.) I still don’t know when it’s going to be published. Hell, I don’t even know who my co-author is. I do know that writing chapters in 2013 to be published in early 2017 is a really dumb way to do things, especially for computer books. Not that it was my idea.

One of my early readers of Ten Gentle Opportunities asked me to write a side-story about Bones, an AI animated skeleton who worked the crowds in a screen at a big amusement park until he was archived because he scared little kids too much, even though at heart he was a gentle and sensitive soul. The idea appeals to me. Later in the year. We’ll see. Side-stories are something I’m not used to and may have to practice a little to get right. This might be a good, er, opportunity.

The Sun has been completely blank for four days. This is peculiar, given that the solar maximum was in 2014. I would expect this in 2019. I do not expect it now. It does make me think that moving to Phoenix was the right things to do.

I am reading in the evenings, and watching a few movies. Carol and I saw Inside Out for the first time last week. It is hands-down the strangest animated film I’ve ever seen…and one of the best. I knew Sadness in college; she was in a lot of my classes. (Actually, there were considerably more than one of her.) If I hadn’t been dating Carol then, well, I would have stood in line to go out with Joy. And when Bing Bong faded out for the last time in the Chasm of Lost Memories, I caught a tear running down my cheek. If you’re going to have an imaginary friend, well, he’d be the one to have. (Mine mostly asked me to drop silverware down the cold-air return.)

I’m not done with it yet, but in The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz finally drives a stake through Ancel Keys’ heart. You will live longer by eating more saturated fat. Keys and his shitlord minions murdered millions. Don’t be one of them.

I have too many power transformers. Some of them are going to have to go. I see a few of them (like the old Collins items that I’ve had since the ’70s) are going for $100 and up on eBay. Smells like easy money to me.

Anyway. I’m working very hard doing boring things, harder things and more boring than I’ve seen in one period for a very long time. I guess this is just what it takes. With any luck at all, the move to Phoenix will be done by August, and I can start being interesting again. Nobody’s looking forward to this more than me.

By Request: A 30-Year-Old Manuscript Page

Whew. Took another 30-odd pounds of paper up 14 feet of stairs and out to the garage, and I’m catching my breath again. This is turning out to be weight training with a vengeance.

Anyway. Reader Vince asked (in the comments under my entry of April 14, 2016) if I could post a page from the manuscript of my 1986 book, Complete Turbo Pascal, Second Edition, which turned up while purging the collection in our furnace room. I chose a page at random just now, slapped it on the scanner, and there you go. It’s mostly readable, even at 500 pixels wide, because it was good-quality output from my first laser printer. The page number means nothing. Each chapter was its own file, with page numbers starting from 1.

Keep in mind that this was a book focused on the IBM PC and (egad) Z80 CP/M. In other words, this was a book about getting things done. I acknowledged the pure spirit of completely portable Pascal–and then dynamited it into the next county.

It’s interesting to me, as a writer, how the conventions for writing book-length nonfiction have changed in the last 30 years. When I wrote my chapters for Learning Computer Architecture with the Raspberry Pi two or three years ago, we agreed to work in a common word processor format (.docx) using comments, and applying paragraph and header styles to the text as we went. The chapters looked like printed book pages even while they were being written. Thirty years ago, we wrote in whatever word processor we wanted, and then sent a huge big pile of paper to the publisher. I don’t think I sent actual files to a publisher until the first edition of my assembly book in 1989–and I sent the files on 5″ floppy disks through the mail after sending that big pile of paper!

By the way, my Raspberry Pi book is still a live project, and I sent back my second chapter of six yesterday after author review of copyedits. Beyond that, I can’t tell you much, especially when I think it might actually hit print.

Ahh. Breathing normally again. Time to lug another boxful out to the garage.

Flickr : , ,

Odd Lots

The Duntemann Ensmallening Continues

As I lugged box after box from our furnace room up All Those Stairs (people who have been to our Colorado house known of which I speak) it wasn’t just the boxes that were heavy. These were boxes of computer books and magazines, and all of them went into our recycle can for next week’s pickup. With each tip of a box into the recycle can, my heart grew heavier. These were not somebody else’s DOS programming books. Uh-uh. These were copies of Degunking Windows, Degunking Your PC, Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann’s Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide, and Assembly Language Step By Step, 2E (2000).

Lots of them.

When an author writes a book, the publisher typically sends him one or more boxes of books without charge. I’ve been a published tech book author since mid-1985. Do the math. Ok, sure, I no longer have box quantities of Complete Turbo Pascal. However, I do have the printed manuscript for Complete Turbo Pascal 2E (1986) in a monsteroso 3-ring binder. (See above.) The damned thing is 4″ thick. That book was work. And if I recall (I no longer have it) the printed manuscript for Borland Pascal 7 From Square One was in two binders, each 3″ thick. I also found the original submission manuscript for Pascal from Square One with Pascal/MT+, from mid-1984. That manuscript was sold, but the publisher prevailed upon me to rewrite it for another Pascal compiler whose name you’d know. (Alas, they changed the title on me. But they’re dead, and I’m still alive, so I win. And there will be a Lazarus from Square One someday.) Do I keep these manuscripts? I still have the word processor files on disk, though I’m not entirely sure about the Pascal/MT+ ones. It’s another ten or twelve pounds of paper, and I freely admit I haven’t looked at either binder since we moved to Colorado in 2003. So I guess they have to go.

How heavy can your heart get before it collapses into a black (red?) hole?

I know a lot of you have been through one or more ensmallenings of your own, because you’ve told me. A couple of you have offered me your complete runs of PC Techniques/VDM. I already have five or six copies of all sixty issues. I’m keeping a full set. The others will feed the can as soon as I catch my breath enough to lug them up the stairs. (I’m not writing this entry because I have time on my hands…)

A lot of other odd stuff has come to light: My original Rio MP3 player, year unknown. A box of 3.5″ floppies. My father’s medium-format Graflex camera. My own trusty but now useless Nikon film SLR. What’s to become of it? The Rio is scrap, as is Carol’s final-generation APS film camera. My SLR is probably not worth much anymore. About my dad’s Graflex I have no idea. I’ll probably keep them both for the time being. A great deal of other stuff is going out on the curb. The concrete people are replacing the garage slab on May 4, and the garage has to be dead-empty by then. What needs to be kept from the garage collection has to come down to the furnace room, which means gobloads of other stuff must exit the furnace room first, and forever.

Man, this is work. And work at 6600 feet, at that.

You’ve heard me say this before, though I’ve forgotten who said it originally: Not everything from your past belongs in your future. Keep everything that reminds you of your past, and you end up turning into a museum that only you ever enter…

…if you ever actually do.

Time’s up. Another load or six needs to go up the stairs. They say it gets easier after the first twenty loads. I guess I’ll find out.

Odd Lots

Respect and the Hyphenation of God

My father was big on respect. We were taught to say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” and much else that cooked down, for the most part, to respect. He understood the culture as it existed in 1960, and I was warned strongly not to speak slurs against people for what they were, especially Jews and blacks. If he had known how hatefully anti-semitic our universities would become by 2010, he would probably have apprenticed me out to a tool and die maker.

We were taught flag etiquette in Boy Scouts. We genuflected before we got into the pews at church. (I once genuflected before going into a row of seats at the Pickwick theater, so thoroughly soaked into my bones had the gesture become.) I was taught that girls were not casual entertainment, but potential friends and colleagues, and ultimately, spouses. Like I said, respect was a very big deal.

So it puzzles me sometimes when people write “G-d” instead of “God,” especially non-Jews. I understand, perhaps imperfectly, the Jewish traditions regarding the name of God, which, when written down, should not be burned or thrown in the trash, but buried in hallowed ground. God’s name is holy and must be respected. I get that.

But…”God” is not the name of God.

When Moses met God on the mountain and asked Him what his name was, God replied with what we today call the Tetragrammaton, approximated by YHWH in English characters, usually spoken as ‘Yahweh” when spoken at all. Given that this translates (roughly) to “I am that I am,” I think what God was telling Moses was, “I exist in and of myself, and that’s all you really need to know.” In the pre-Mosaic animist traditions, to know the true name of an entity was to have a certain amount of control over it, and that’s how shamans and magicians earned their keep, by commanding spirits/angels/demigods/demons to either deliver favors or keep their distance. The Hebrew God was beyond commanding. A great deal of the early part of the Old Testament can be seen as the transition between primordial animism and genuine monotheism. Given that names are how we tell similar things apart, a truly singular and infinite God would not in fact need a name at all. But to the extent that God has given us His name (and “Yahweh” is pretty much it) we need to respect it.

All that said, we need a way to address God, because God is our Creator and immanent, not off behind the clouds somewhere that He can’t hear us. “God” works well in that capacity, because it isn’t a name but a respectful and singular title, as befits a singular God. I think it’s fair to compare the title “God” to the word “Sir” as my sister and I were taught to use it: as a respectful form of address. The respect is built in. So I’m not sure I see how saying “S-r” is any more respectful than “Sir,” given that “Sir” was established specifically as a respectful form of address.

We could argue about that all night and halfway to lunchtime; why not use the word “Lord” or “Father” instead of “God”? Some do. On the other hand, there are many lords and many fathers, but only one God. As I see it, to blot out part of the word pushes the idea of God away from us in the here and now, away from the immanent toward the abstract. Push it far enough in the cause of respect, and the idea of an immanent and transcendant God vanishes over a sort of epistemological horizon, beyond which God ceases to be graspable by His creation. After that, what’s left but human lords and lesser gods?

I don’t want anybody to misunderstand here: This isn’t me chewing out people who choose to use the term “G-d”. I respect their choices, and if it makes sense to them, so be it. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I have a plaque immediately above my desk, presenting an epigram from Erasmus in bold Roman letters:

BIDDEN OR NOT BIDDEN, GOD IS PRESENT.

Jung had the same epigram, in Latin, over his front door. (I have that plaque too.) It simply means that we don’t have to whistle God up from somewhere else. He’s always here, no matter what. We mean Him no disrespect to recognize that, with a word custom-made for the purpose, standing intact, graspable, and ready for us when we need Him most.

Odd Lots

  • Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there’s a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it’s not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
  • Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven’t yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it’s the best how-to I’ve yet seen.
  • From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don’t understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
  • Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn’t say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It’s not shipping yet, but they’ve raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
  • Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler’s Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there’s been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they’re still in business. It’s not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
  • Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it’s limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It’s a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you’re out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT…a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
  • Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They’re a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
  • In case you’ve never heard of shadowbanning
  • I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It’s looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my “RAD Mars” piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
  • Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here’s one that I particularly liked.
  • The Obamacare exchange in Colorado “smelled wrong,” so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • I don’t care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.