Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image


SpaceX With Crescent Moon-500 wide.jpg

Last night, when I took the dogs out at about 6:20 PM, I looked toward the crescent moon and immediately saw the unmistakable trace of a rocket about to go by above it. Rockets are fast, so rather than run in and try and find my Canon G16 and risk missing it, I pulled out my phone and did my best. It turned out reasonably well, with even a sort of Halloween-y color cast in deep dusk.

It was a SpaceX launch of still more Starlink satellites, from Vandenberg AFB. Before I could get my phone out to take a shot, we saw the first stage drifting down toward a landing on an unmanned landing barge that Elon Musk has whimsically named Of Course I Still Love You.

Although the shot I took wasn’t bad, there is a site detailing the Vandenberg launch schedule, and next time I’m going to be out there with a tripod and my G16.

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Elon Musk, yeah. He apparently closed the deal to buy Twitter earlier today, and has already fired top management. One of the first corporate directives he’s going to issue is to un-ban all banned users. He’s also going to throttle way back on content moderation, which for Twitter has generally meant censoring anything Twitter’s management doesn’t like.

That may still take some doing. Ironically, if he succeeds in cleaning house along the lines he’s stated, it could mean that several much smaller social networks catering to those who have been banned or censored by Twitter could lose members to a new “big tent” Twitter. We’ll see how that plays out. Musk knows how to get things done, and if anybody can create a social media network that is open to all sides of the political spectrum, it would be him.

_…_ _…_

All this cooks down to some pretty fundamental questions. What are social networks good for? Twitter seems to be a bottomless well of political derangement, which (as you might imagine) I dodge as best I can. I’m active on Twitter because every time I mention my books there, I sell a few. Whatever else I post there are pretty much what I post here now and then as “odd lots,” i.e., links to interesting things, few or none of them having anything to do with politics.

I’ve stated before that Twitter is an “outrage amplifier,” and it’s still true–but then again, any social network can be an outrage amplifier. Twitter seems particularly good at it, which has always puzzled me. Not long back I began to wonder: Is Twitter what it is because so many journalists are on it? Journalism itself (at least outside of vertical market reporting) seems to draw its energy from outrage. If Musk makes the journalist community run screaming from a network it can no longer dominate, what will Twitter become?

Recent news about Meta’s financial crisis suggests that Twitter could in fact become the new Facebook–especially if the old Facebook becomes insolvent. Zuck seems to be pouring all his energy and free cash flow into a virtual world that nobody asked for and nobody wants. Abandoning his Metaverse would be the ultimate humiliation; one has to wonder if he would pull back before the company crashed for lack of cash.

I have an idea that I think I covered here some time back: a social network server into which many independent social networks could connect and trade information according to rules established by each participating network. If people wanted an echo chamber, they could build an echo chamber. If they wanted a wide-open discussion board, they could build that too.

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I haven’t posted much over the past month because I’ve been beating hard on the 4th edition of my assembly language book. It’s coming out reasonably well, though I really miss the much-maligned Insight debugger, which I featured in the 3rd edition back in 2009. Most Linux debuggers are designed for C and C++ and don’t have an assembly source code view like Insight had. The source for Insight is available online, and if any of you are capable of creating an installable package, I encourage you to do so. I understand that the damned thing is weird internally, containing as it does the whole damned Tcl/Tk interepreter for the sake of its widget set. Or failing that, if anybody can recommend a standalone (i.e., not SASM) Linux debugger with an assembly view, please let me know. I’ve looked at a lot of them, including Nemiver, edb, and DDD without much success. I’ve thought hard about trying to teach my readers command-line gdb, or even gdb TUI, but naked gdb is a quadruple handful. My book is for absolute beginners, and I’ve got page-count constraints that wouldn’t allow me to teach enough of it to be truly useful.

Insight would be my first choice, but I also described Kdbg in the 2009 edition, and although the source is available and I’ve tried to compile it for modern distros like KDE Plasma and Linux Mint Cinnamon, the make failed for reasons that I don’t understand. Nor do I understand why it was pulled from all the Linux repos to begin with. It was robust and relatively easy to use. Could it be built as an appimage? That would be way cool.

Beyond that I’m certainly open to suggestions.


  1. Bill Beggs says:

    Hi Jeff, nice camera shot of the SpaceX launch. I’ve been using the gdb debugger on Linux and don’t find it especially difficult as long as one learns the basic commands. I think that anyone who ventures into assembly language programming is not intimidated by a certain level of complexity.

    1. The problem I see with gdb is that it could scare off beginners. As ubiquitous as it is, there are only two books I know of devoted entirely to gdb: the big (nay, ginormous) book by Richard Stallman, and O’Reilley’s gdb Pocket Guide. There is room in the middle for a beginner’s tutorial on gdb, but I’ve never seen one, and have no desire to write it myself. Nor do I have room in the book for much beyond introduction and an exhortation to “go learn it,” however that might be done. I learned by beating my head against it, but I’m just stubborn that way. I don’t expect my beginner readers to be willing to teach themselves something as gnarly as gdb.

      I’m fascinated by separate “front ends” for gdb, and have several here, including DDD, edb, and Nemiver. SASM, of course, is a gdb front end, and the only one of the bunch that does a good job with assembly language. By that I mean stepping through the source code as shown in the source code file (including the comments) not just the disassembled machine instructions.

      I’ve had a lot of difficulty using DDD and Kate as gdb interfaces with the example programs from my book. (Nemiver is hopelessly C-centric.) Most of the time with DDD, gdb just hangs while posting that it’s reading symbols from the executable. I build the executables with debug information enabled, so it shouldn’t have any trouble with that. DDD also seems stuck on loading session information, which doesn’t help. SASM works well for fairly simple things, but it has no way to set arguments, so you can’t debug a program with CLI arguments. I’d really like to give them a debugger with more power to display memory than SASM has.

      If it weren’t for problems like this, I’d be done with the x64 rewrite by now.

  2. Alex Dillard says:

    I think this is the free graphical assembly language linux debugger you are looking for:

    1. Jason Bucata says:

      The site lists it as “no commercial use”… it might be a gray area but use for a book might count as “commercial”.

      1. Alex Dillard says:

        That’s a very good point, I hadn’t thought about that aspect at all. I would say there is a real possibility that if Jeff decides to use IDA for his book then he may need to buy a license of IDA Pro. Readers of the book should be safe with IDA Free as long as they themselves aren’t using IDA for commercial purposes. The lawyers at Jeff’s publisher will have to make a final decision on all that. More likely I’m guessing Jeff will conclude IDA isn’t appropriate for beginners and choose to not use it for that reason.

      2. I downloaded IDA and will install it as time permits (this has been a nutso weekend) but I have that same caution. On the other hand, keep in mind that this is a very popular book that a lot of people will see. The firm would be nuts to object–not that no firm is ever that nuts. For them, it would cause thousands of people to become aware of their slightly obscure product–I had not heard of it before myself–and actually try it. That’s a crapload of free promo.

        I’ll have to try it for a bit before I make any kind of decision, but I much appreciate the suggestion.

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