Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

January, 2014:

Odd Lots

  • There’s lots more Neanderthal in us than we previously thought. My knobby Neanderthal head is poking me in my conical ribcage…
  • Google just sold Motorola to Lenovo, but will be keeping the Motorola skunkworks.
  • Saturation radio advertising in the early 70s has left their jingle stuck in the far corners of my head, but I never actually tasted Zapple cinnamon-apple wine. Weird wines fascinate me (I stop well short of baby mice wine, thanks) and that sounds better than some of the gimmick wines I’ve tried in my life.
  • However, I did try Mateus and Lancers back in the day, both of which were handed out to all passengers on those noisy old Fokkers I used to ride between Chicago and Rochester MN when Carol was in grad school. Both still exist. I wonder if I have the will to buy one of each and see if those old golden memories were about the wine or the woman? (Three guesses. None of them count.)
  • So is it “assortive” mating, or “assortative” mating? I see both spellings online, but having internalized “preventive” I’m loath to endorse”assortative.”
  • A heads-up on something I’m investigating when time allows: Running the Atlantis word processor on Windows 7 fails the first time, but launches the Windows 7 Game Explorer module gameux.dll, which for some reason causes rundll32.exe to use about 50% of my CPU cycles thereafter. This problem arises with games, but Atlantis is not a game. The machine does not have a network connection, which seems key. Still poking at it, but if you’ve seen this problem and fixed it, do let me know how. I’m starting to think that there’s a game called “Atlantis” somewhere and that Game Explorer is looking for a network connection to “do something.” If there’s a way to carve Game Explorer out of Win7 without breaking anything else, that would be not only useful, but damned useful.
  • People in Colorado are already skinnier than people in other states. They may be about to become skinnier yet.
  • Another revelation from the Ministry of the Painfully Obvious: Political discussions damage Facebook relationships. Since a huge fraction of Facebook posts seem to be hatehurling anyway, this should surprise no one.
  • Perhaps a new way to look at the dichotomy: Weather is anecdotes. Climate is data.

The March of Computer Time

Last night I turned in my chapter on programming–just think, all of software development summarized in 55 book pages!–and am gathering my thoughts on mass storage for the chapter I’ll begin later today or tomorrow. Again, if you haven’t seen me much lately that’s the reason.

Each of my chapters has begun with a historical perspective on that chapter’s computer technology topic. This has brought lots of things to mind that I haven’t thought about in years, like IBM cards, FORTRAN, punched tape, and Bernoulli Boxes. I still have the card deck from the first program I ever wrote, in the spring of 1970. (See above.) I did some work with paper tape as well in my COSMAC days, but whatever tape I kept has been hiding well. I’d love to get a scan of a length of ASR-33 style punched tape, or a length (8″ or so) of the tape itself to scan here. Doesn’t matter what’s on it as long as it’s not greasy or physically damaged. Contact me if you have some you could spare, or least scan.

Time marches on. I have a 10MB Bernoulli Box cafeteria tray cartridge–probably in a box somewhere with the paper tape–and an original 1983 Microsoft Mouse. Obsolescence doesn’t bother me as long as I can keep functionality. I had to buy a copy of Office 2007 to keep writing commercially, since Word 2000 doesn’t understand .docx files, and Atlantis doesn’t do annotation. Yup, time marches on.

It does. Right now we’re looking down the throat of something a little unprecedented: On April 9, Microsoft turns off security updates for Windows XP.Most of my nontechnical friends seem unaware of this, and my nerd friends have long since moved on to Win7 or 8. I’m in the middle: I’ve been using Win7 on my GX620 for about a year, and have a new Win7 Optiplex 780 on the shelf ready to be populated and configured when time allows. (I’ve done almost nothing but this book for what seems like–hell, has been!–months.) I’m about to take my quadcore in for a new sled-mounted SSD and Windows 7 Pro. The 780 will become Carol’s office machine. I will keep an SX270 XP machine basically forever, because it has pop-in drives for both 3.5″ floppies and Zip cartridges, some of which are piled in odd boxes here for no compelling reason other than they’re paid for. (Yes, most of them have probably gone to bitrot by now.) However, it will no longer be on my network, and will be powered up only as needed.

Here’s an interesting wrinkle that few people seem aware of: Win7 Professional comes with a special-purpose copy of VirtualPC, with a VM containing an instance of XP. (Win7 home does not.) I’m thinking that if I don’t enable the Ethernet connection to the XP VM, it doesn’t matter whether the instance gets security updates or not. I have some stuff here that won’t run on Win8, and possibly not on Win7 either. I can install it on my poor SX270 survivor, of course, but it will be interesting to see what limitations may exist on the XP VM. If something weird turns up in the VM, I can always revert to an archival image.

The real problem with this, of course, is that a lot of nontechnical people are still using ancient machines that won’t run Win7 ever. Only five or six years ago, I still saw Windows 95 on 486 machines owned by older people at my parish. I’ll bet there are plenty of doddering Pentia XP boxes with 512MB of RAM still crunching email and (maybe) Web, along with Office 97. What happens to them? They may well get pwned. On the other hand, I’ve seen several with updates turned off that aren’t pwned. How bad is the problem, really?

I’m sure nobody knows. Sometime this spring we’re going to find out. How many exploits are likely to be left in a 12-year-old codebase? There will be some. Not all exploits are the result of bad coding practices, though I’m sure plenty can be walked back to unbounded string functions in libc, which the C community just can’t seem to give up. XP’s security model is generally lousy, especially for people who don’t understand the implications of what they do, double-especially with Internet-facing apps. That being the case, how far does Microsoft’s responsibility extend? As big as they are, can’t they keep a few security fanatics on staff to fix the exploits that do appear?

I’m thinking that questions like this may soon be asked in the courts of law. We’ll see.

Anyway. I can fix things here, and in extended family. I do worry about nontechnical retirees at our church and elsewhere. When you’re 80, a 12-year-old OS may not seem like any kind of problem, and those on fixed incomes may not feel like $500 for a new box is worthwhile to solve a problem that remains hypothetical. (Hell, my 4Runner is older than XP.) Those of us who remember Y2K hysteria can be forgiven for a strong dose of skepticism. I expect pwnage. There’s pwnage today. The only question is how bad it gets, and how much bad PR it will earn Microsoft. My prediction: If it gets bad enough, and the lawsuits get thick enough, the updates will return.

Pass the popcorn and dig your 3-D glasses out of the drawer. This is gonna be good.

The Other Shoe Drops

SurgeryAllergyLabel - 01-16-2014.jpg

Carol’s home and sound asleep upstairs, after having her right foot fixed late this morning. She won’t be walking unassisted for a couple of weeks. No problem; she has a knee scooter, crutches, and me. Oh, and practice: Having had her left foot and ankle repaired on Halloween, we both know the drill. Time and love will do the job. Our nephew Matt and his beautiful fiancee Justine will marry this coming August, and damn, there will be dancing.

The surgery RN asked Carol about her allergies, and Carol wore the fire-engine red badge above during surgery. No cats or mangoes were encountered, nor any other difficulty. The surgeon came out to the waiting room to let me know all was well, with an X-ray of Carol’s foot in his hand. He explained the pins and the bones and other things that lie far outside my core competence. My main question was simple: Is my forever girlfriend all right? The answer was all I needed to know: She is.

The Pack is over at Grandma Jimi’s getting washed and groomed and will then spend the night, so for now peace reigns at Phage House on Stanwell. When we dropped them off, Jimi gave us a crockpot full of home-made chicken soup. There’s most of a very good pork shoulder in the fridge and another in the freezer when we finish that. I laid in a couple of bags of Costco torta rolls and a fresh quarter wheel of Stilton cheese. We’re short on diet ginger ale, but the wine rack is full. If there’s any hunger in this house in the next week or so, it’ll be the sort of hunger where most of TV is from. (Especially The Weather Channel, more on which when time allows.)

Not much to report, which is good. I’m currently writing a summary of coding GUI apps in Python using Tkinter, followed by a summary of coding GUI apps with FreePascal and Lazarus. Then this interminable chapter will be over.

More tomorrow.

Odd Lots


Wow. Somehow it got to be a whole new year when I wasn’t quite looking. I’m not unhappy to be shut of 2013, and as usual, I have high hopes for this year to be better. The last of our parents has been released from her suffering, and while I miss them all (especially my father, who died 36 years ago) my idiosyncratic understanding of Catholic theology suggests that they’re all in better shape than I am right now.

Which isn’t to say I’m in bad shape. I had a couple of health problems this year, but nothing horrible. I’ve been able to get my abdominal fat down to almost nothing, and weigh just eight pounds more than I did when I was 24. It still puzzles me just a bit, but I lost that weight by eating more fat. I’ll tell you with confidence that butter makes almost everything taste better except corn flakes.

I scored an interesting if slightly peculiar writing gig this year. It’s been an immense amount of work, not so much in the writing as in the learning. I’ve never done a book–or part of one–with this broad a scope. I’ve touched on a lot of technologies in my career, but touching isn’t understanding, and understanding is the critical path to explaining. I’ve written code in Python and C and ARMv6 assembly. I practically buried myself in ARM doc for most of two months. That felt good in the way you feel good after walking fifteen miles…once you’ve allowed three or four days for the smoke to clear. I now know a great deal more about virtual memory, cache, and memory management units than I might have just touching on things in my usual fashion. Curiosity is an itch. Autodidaction is a systematic itch. And to be systematic, you need deadlines. Trust me on that.

No, I still can’t tell you about the book. It’s going to be late for reasons that aren’t clear even to me. When the embargo breaks, you’ll hear it whereverthehell you are, whether you have an Internet connection or not.

Every year has some bummers. The ACA did us out of a health insurance plan that we liked, but at least in our case it wasn’t cancelled on the spot. We have some time to figure out where we can get a comparable plan, if one exists. (One may not.) It could end up costing us a quarter of our income or more, and we may lose relationships with physicians we’ve known for ten years. I’ll just be called evil for complaining, so I won’t. Anger is the sign of a weak mind, after all. I think one of my correspondents whose insurance was cancelled without warning summed it up in an interesting way: “I’m not going to get angry. I’m going to get even.”

It’s snowing like hell as I write. I would have posted a photo, but as most of you are staring out the window at snow this week (in some places a great deal of it) I doubt it would have been especially interesting. Besides, a couple of hours ago, I could have just said: Imagine yourself inside a ping-pong ball. Open your eyes. In truth, the weather hasn’t been all that bad. The global climate, in fact, has been remarkably benign considering all the dire predictions of the past ten or twelve years, at least once you look at actual stats and not anecdotes or GIGO models. Science works. Back in 2007, Al Gore himself told us that we would have an ice-free arctic by 2013. (Then again, he also said that a couple of kilometers under our feet it was millions of degrees…talk about global warming!) I love the scientific method. You predict, you test, and then you learn something. Sure, I believe in global warming. I’m still unconvinced that it’s entirely a bad thing. (I remember the ’70s. I also remember Arizona.)

I’ve also been doing some experimental research on the psychology of people who jump up and start frothing at the mouth like maniacs the instant they read something somewhere (anywhere!) that conflicts with their tribe’s narrative. That research is ongoing.

I’ve discovered a lot of good things, albeit small ones: Stilton cheese pairs with Middle Sister Rebel Red. Who knew? Python is much better than I remember it, TCL, alas, much worse. And Tkinter, wow. You’re not going to spin a GUI that fast or that easily in C. Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut beats all, at least all you can get in a K-cup. Carol and I are dunking good bread in good olive oil again, now that Venice Olive Oil Company has a retail shop in Colorado Springs.

Time to go up and start cooking supper. We’re out of egg nog but my Lionel trains are still running. I don’t care if it looks like a ping-pong ball outside. I have my wife, my dogs, my junkbox, and a head that still works more or less as intended. Happy new year to all. Life is good, and getting better. Trust me on that too.