* Posts by doug_bostrom

93 publicly visible posts • joined 4 Jan 2017


40 years of Turbo Pascal, the coding dinosaur that revolutionized IDEs


Turbo Pascal war story: A project to retrofit Bear automotive pollution inspection stations with anti-fraud measures.

Situation was that mechanics in Pennsylvania were swapping in clean cars for tailpipe readings. For a small gratuity, repairs thereby could be avoided by customers.

So, "just" randomly capture an image of the vehicle with license plate and probe in view, store these and sometimes upload them to state regulator. And let mechanics know about it, and that image uploads without a clear shot would generate a phone call.

This was ca. 1992 or thereabouts so this involved sourcing an affordable digital camera suitable for the job, reasonably robust. As it shook out, this turned out to be the Connectix QuickCam. The Bear machine was centered on an embedded PC so a parallel port was available for connection. After quite a bit of correspondence we negotiated an NDA with Connectix and obtained complete documentation for talking to the camera (and they sent us a handful of free cameras for development!).

In order for the image capture to function with adequate speed, we needed to use assembly language. Turbo Pascal's inline assembly option made this a snap, was a huge timesaver. As well, this add-on was super simple for Bear to integrate as it was a standalone chunk that the machine's main software could call. Almost no effort on Bear's part, and no administrative hassles as the capture/upload process was entirely independent from their process.

AWS rakes in half a billion pounds from UK Home Office


Interesting way of building ransomware. Data is not only volunteered but the victim pays in advance for capture, and builds the perp's option to deny access if payments stop.

Practically speaking: once in, never out.


Drones aim to undo Ukraine's landmine problem


Well done, Thomas.

My comment is that this is a very nicely reported story. Hats off to Thomas!

Low on passengers, low on memory: A bad day on the London Underground


It's an astoundingly good outcome for Microsoft that the company has habituated us to turn to such an enormous, sprawling OS simply to display a handful of messages.

Also kind of offensive in terms of the waste of physical resources needed to feed and maintain the habit.

Aircraft can't land safely due to interference with upcoming 5G C-band broadband service


Faster delivery of what by volume is mostly pointless video, or more reliable and also mostly useless travel?

Decisions, decisions.

Russia: It isn't just us – a bit of an old US rocket might get as close as 5.4km to the ISS


Skills in practice: "what about."

In this case, "what about" is a 56 year old booster launched before Kessler did his calculations, before we had a clue about space debris, before there was an ISS to intentionally involve in a orbital path of debris purposely created and long after we knew better.

Falcon upper stages left behind now mostly in service of the orbital kitty video delivery system? That's a legitimate problem, but not one the authors of "what about" worry over, based on their own seemingly pointless action. It's worth noting also that upper stages made by SpaceX passivate as part of their normal procedure, won't fragment unless struck. Unlike the Fregat still used by the "what about" authors which routinely fragments after use, and the continuing problem of SOZ ullage motors which continue to be deployed and continue to routinely fragment due to "we don't care."

Indeed, the puzzle answer for _why_ the Russians did this might lie in work also done decades ago, the exploration of geopolitical posturing with nuclear weapons by Herman Kahn and others. Sending a message to the effect of "we're crazy" can have a strategic purpose.

But the "what about" authors can depend on the reliability of ignorance. That fog can be penetrated in this case by visiting ARES' https://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/quarterly-news/

[I think I've got my spacecraft mixed up here; the Pegasus stage in question is probably the later Northrop-Grumann variety. But: passivates, isn't intentionally fragrmented in a dangerous manner.]

Azure's now-fixed Cosmos DB flaw could have been exploited to read, write any database


Perhaps some of the budget directed to creative spelling could be repurposed to something more useful. How much did "Jupyter" cost, in meetings etc.?

Thunderbird 91 lands: Now native on Apple Silicon, swaps 'master' for 'primary' password, and more


The shape of a hammer, pliers etc. are also dated. Please don't mistake tools for handbags.

Boots on Moon in 2024? NASA OIG says you better moonwalk away from that date, because suits ain't ready


In fairness these suits are being designed to solve at least partially the dust problem. Apollo suits were at EOL after a few hours' use. Search ntrs.nasa.gov for info on results in '60s, integration of that information, results now. It's not simple.

Tesla Autopilot is a lot dumber than CEO Musk claims, says Cali DMV after speaking to the software's boss


Re: Musk rat

It's true that he's flirting with disaster. Should the company falter in the shares market, discrepancies like this could really cost.

Grow the tree of talk, no way to climb down because unreasonable expectations have been set for customers of both the shares and the product, so "grow more tree" becomes inexorable.

Can't get that printer to work? It's not you. It's that sodding cablin.... oh beautiful job with that cabling, boss


Heh. I worked for the well (oily type) logging outfit "Welex" in the same era. Our instrument/winch trucks were equipped with the same gear and I wonder if this story has its roots there. Ours sported dual compact tape drives with the classic whir-stop-reverse behavior and extremely nice for the time Tektronix graphics terminals. With those and the mixture of analog and digital displays, indicator lamps etc. it was an impressive concentration of gizmos in a very small space, perfect for making drillers feel they were getting their just desserts for our astronomical fees.

Aside from missing chips (never ran into that), the Versatec plotters were distinguished by their "electrographic" technology for laying output on paper. This process produced toxic gas (ammonia) which needed to be exhausted from the operations compartment of the truck. If the exhaust blower failed during plotter operation, the compartment would become a hostile environment within a couple of minutes.

I can't remember any of these blowers failing, and can't remember if there was an interlock to prevent them running with a failed blower. At the time of my employment Welex was enjoying the benefit of legions of cast-off NASA engineers in their design and production area (Houston headquarters). I have to say that attention to detail and reliability was good, maybe as a result of that crew.

ThinkPad T14s AMD Gen 1: Workhorse that does the business – and dares you to push that red button


"It’s part of the ThinkPad brand, certainly, but it’s not something you instinctively want to use. Especially considering the T14s AMD comes with a generously sized and responsive trackpad"

Trackpad aka "scrabble pad."

Disable the trackpad if you need to use a laptop while configuring hardware that is over 1,000 miles away and up a tower, in the jungle.

We _told_ our tech to disable his trackpad. He didn't. Dispatch, get flown, hack through jungle, climb tower, plug in, reconfigure. Thanks, Mr. Tech and your stupid scrabble pad.

Trackpads are a cost-containment method similar to the single touchscreen in a Tesla M3, sold to consumers as a feature when in reality they're a human factors disaster.

It's happened: AWS signs Memorandum of Understanding for fluffy white services with UK.gov


Shortly we'll come to understand that we never fully realized the real meaning of "lock-in."

This move is essentially irreversible.

At some point Amazon will need to be acknowledged as an embedded part of government. Will it be amenable to being subordinate to government interests, as a traditional IT department?

LibreOffice 6.4 nearly done as open-source office software project prepares for 10th anniversary


I never have to use Office. Success.

Holy smokes! Ex-IT admin gets two years prison for trashing Army chaplains' servers


"He specifically targeted his actions to do harm to one of the company’s most lucrative contracts with the US Army Chaplain Corps..."

Structural graft might be the next worthy target of investigation.

Assange rape claims: Complainant welcomes Swedish investigation's reopening


Will the US folks taking possession of the goodies be from the pro-Trump faction within the US system or from more traditional operatives with different and possibly more legitimate motivations?

So, that's cheerio the nou to Dundee Satellite Receiving Station: Over 40 years of service axed for the sake of £338,000


The "hostile environment," pinch-purse beat-ups on disabled people, library closures, sackings of legions of police and other civil servants along with this particular degenerative event all seem to indicate a general loss of pride in the UK. Pretty much along the lines of not mowing the lawn at home, letting the paint on the walls of a home flake off, etc.

These days, political leadership is an exercise in humiliation of constituents. Let no opportunity for embarrassment go untapped.

Windows Subsystem for Linux distro gets a preening, updated version waddles into Microsoft's app store


"App store" and Linux fit together like a 22mm nut fits a 25mm bolt. Complete misfit, starting with the silo and working outward.

"App:" Eloi language for "computer program."

We don't know whether 737 Max MCAS update is coming or Boeing: Anti-stall safety fix delayed


So much easier and cheaper than doing it correctly the first time.

VP Mike Pence: I want Americans back on the Moon by 2024 (or before the Chinese get there)


Worst enemy or best friend? Stay tuned to Twitter between 4 and 6a US ET to stay up to date on that.

DXC Security exec: Yes, I'd have thought we'd spend more on certs and laptop kit for staff, too


An open window into Hell, sight and sound together.

What did people do in life, to end up in this firm?

We don't want to be Latch key-less kids: NYC tenants sue landlords for bunging IoT 'smart' lock on their front door


Stalked by a mugger, made it to the front door by skin of teeth, couldn't swipe the stupid fone awake, fone stolen along with sense of security.

"I have an atrophied imagination." Is that a box that has to be ticked by landlords before they're unleashed on tenants?

MPs tear 'naive' British Army a new one over Capita recruitment farce


This isn't complicated.

Private enterprise exists to make money, not provide goods or services. The whole point of private enterprise is to divert money from customer intentions. Provision of goods and services are secondary considerations to making money. Optimal operation keeps the customer just barely satisfied (or alive) sufficient to pay bills-- anything more is excessive and excessively harmful to profit. The system will always converge on this outcome.

Capita has zero fundamental interest in doing whatever it is we want them to do and which they claim to earnestly support -- they didn't volunteer to do our work as a magnanimous gesture. Duh.

From time to time we have to relearn this, obvious though it is.

Can't unlock an Android phone? No problem, just take a Skype call: App allows passcode bypass


Wait, the operating system allows an application to roam about without authentication being plugged in, but it's the application's fault?

Oh, the things we have seen-- and forgotten. Securing a file system and other machine resources isn't really the job of an application.

Blighty: We spent £1bn on Galileo and all we got was this lousy T-shirt


"Sir William Cash piled in, suggesting that the UK could simply knock the Galileo £1bn off the eventual divorce bill."

Yes, and next time we change our minds in the middle of remodeling our home and want the old look back, we'll complain bitterly when it turns out we're still on the hook for commitments made to contractors, and them even spitefully refusing to put it all back together for free.

Six critical systems, four months to Brexit – and no completed testing


Complete end-end testing of software necessary to land on the moon was not completed until a few seconds after the descent engine of the first LEM to land on the moon shut down. It was deemed acceptable to allow two volunteers to participate in this activity, and they were nothing if not fully informed.

I don't recall "do you want to travel to the moon as a passenger on a freshly designed spacecraft" being the referendum question.

In news that will shock absolutely no one, America's cellphone networks throttle vids, strangle rival Skype


Short of pretending that human nature is inherently good, so-called "libertarians" such as Pai could simply mandate that carriers publish their applied network management policies.

After all, the "free market" ideal assumes perfect information on the part of consumers. Here we're not dealing with a force of nature that really needs scientists to tease it out, just the ripples emanating from boards of directors.

But Pai won't do that, because he's actually still a lobbyist.

Windows 10 Pro goes Home as Microsoft fires up downgrade server


Engineered scarcity first, you second. That's the system.

In memoriam: See you in Valhalla, Skype Classic. Version 8 can never replace you


Wasting user time in getting familiarized to the latest "design language" is the principal stock in trade of too many software firms.

Although a pencil shaped like a pretzel is a novel "experience," so is chewing-gum in the hair. There's no good reason for either.

All tools reach an optimum utility level and then offer distinction only by dithering around optimum efficiency. See ratchet wrenches.

Amazon Alexa outage: Voice-activated devices are down in UK and beyond


'"Worst part is, the Alarm is stored locally so it still works... But you can't turn it off because Alexa doesn't respond to voice commands.. like "Alexa, stop"!!!'

Yeah, and the poor Eloi don't know what a power cord is, and can't ask.

Alexa: make yourself into a brain-dead quadraplegic.

I want to buy a coffee with an app – how hard can it be?


"I am now contributing to saving the planet by owning a dozen solid plastic reusable cups that will probably outlast all life on it. "

Look on the bright side. Every molecule of HC drilled, pumped, massaged, excreted temporarily into your hand and then put safely back underground in a landfill is a fraction of a millimeter less sea level rise. In other words, a forever plastic cup is better than an ephemeral flame.

The whole plastics recycling thing is crazy. Bury it back underground, as fast as possible before the HC gets burnt or the plastic ends up floating in the ocean.

Microsoft reveals train of mistakes that killed Azure in the South Central US 'incident'


The promise of cloud is lower cost but with a heavy seasoning of better reliability. Presumably customers are doing the math on this finding the promise to be true?

Trading random, asynchronous private data center outages of the old days for the modern, synchronized 100 megaton variety at least offers a ray of hope: everybody can take the day off, secure in the knowledge that everybody is stuffed. But that presumes they can still communicate.

Perhaps "outage as a service" could be a thing? There must be a way to charge for this.

Did you know? The word 'Taiwan' would crash iOS thanks to a buggy filter for the Chinese govt


It's odd that even as China is such a powerful player in objective terms it behaves in such a weak and humiliating manner.

All that hair dye soaking into the poor old brains of the geriatric leadership? They seem so frightened; bizarre.

Snooping passwords from literally hot keys, China's AK-47 laser, malware, and more


Thermal technique will be deployed in some movie that also includes bleeping/churring noises with each key-press, long persistence phosphor displays driven by 300bps connection, stock footage of kernel compilations.

And nowhere else.

UK.gov IT projects that are failing: Verify. Border control. 4G for blue-light services. We can go on


We can expect plain sailing with MaxFac. History tells us we should be confident. Of course history also tells us that such a project will conclude only after a couple of decades, two or three prime contractors, several low-level ministerial ritual executions, money multiplication factor of 5-10X. But we may be sure that it might succeed in the end.

Cops: Autonomous Uber driver may have been streaming The Voice before death crash


Considering that inattention is the autonomous driving product, it seems more interesting to wonder why Uber's vehicle was traveling at 44mph in a 35mph zone while overtaking another car in the wrong lane in the middle of an intersection.

The promise was to remove the human factor from driving, but the car was behaving like a human.

Low AI rollout caused by dumb, fashion-victim management – Gartner


"But to make it work there needs to be a business value proposition. The key point is the customer journey."

Drank the Kool Aid.

'Autopilot' Tesla crashed into our parked patrol car, say SoCal cops


"...drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times.."

Otherwise understood as the "notapilot" feature. Used as intended, it's really doing nothing at all.

US Congress mulls expanding copyright yet again – to 144 years


Same congress that can ask the question, "is sea level rise due to rocks falling in the ocean?"

Calculated stupidity.

Capita cost-cutting on NHS England contract 'put patients at risk' – spending watchdog


Where private sector provisioning of public services begins: unaligned objectives. The whole point of the private sector is to divert money from fulfilling the needs of consumers, what we call "profit."

Capita's intended purpose is to make money first, provide services as an unfortunate side-effect of making money.

So we're not really surprised by this, are we?

You love Systemd – you just don't know it yet, wink Red Hat bods


Systemd is the Linux world's MS Office "ribbon," another of those sad inflection points where developers have crawled up their own asses and lost sight of the light of day.

NASA boss insists US returning to the Moon after Peanuts to show for past four decades


The usual inversion as practiced by agents of Agent Orange: first move was to cancel almost-ready rover which would have been useful for locating resources for visitors.

The rover was not football-shaped but was certainly yanked away at the last minute.

Autonomous vehicle claims are just a load of hot air… and here's why


Oh, yeah, hydrogen cars.

See the kit involved in transporting slightly more than 200kg of transport fuel hydrogen to a refueling station, and the mayhem resulting when ineradicable human nature encounters a fuel that is even trickier and less forgiving than gasoline:


Uber's disturbing fatal self-driving car crash, a new common sense challenge for AI, and Facebook's evil algorithms


"...how effective Facebook really is at political profiling and mass manipulation is difficult to measure and an important question to consider."

And CO2 is only a trace gas and how can we tell it's affecting anything, anyway? Answering these questions with absolute certainty comes too late. Precautionary principle applies.

US Navy gives Lockheed Martin $150m big frickin' laser cannon contract


Lockheed: they have the patent on being rewarded for failure.

Boring. The phone business has lost the plot and Google is making it worse


At a certain point we stopped being excited with pencils.

Once we'd seen round vs. octagonal, mechanical vs. traditional, a range of softness and the all-important addition of a built-in eraser there wasn't much left to maintain enthusiasm over what is of course only a tool to make life a bit easier.

But in the "high tech" world it seems we must never be allowed to settle into comfortable coexistence with what are really only prosaic tools. Hence we are challenged with often lunatic "innovations" that are imposed on us, to the detriment of productivity. The ribbon in Office comes to mind.

Phones can indeed benefit from refinements, along the lines of the titanium hammer replacing steel in professional kits. But changing the entire shape and function of a hammer isn't really possible.

PowerShell comes to MacOS and Linux. Oh and Windows too


PowerShell on Linux. That's rich. "Here, Yoda, let me show you how to use that there force."

Nest's slick IoT burglar alarm catches crooks... while it eyes your wallet


Reminds me of friend's neighbor, who had a nifty alarm with inside siren. The home was burgled with neighbors present on both sides and of course nobody could hear the alarm, because it was inside. An inside-only alarm goes beyond simple impoverishment of the imagination and reaches stupidity. (and forget the cops being dispatched; a real human hiding in a closet will produce a response time reaching greater than an hour, according to our own neighbor's report after her hiding in her closet for more than hour until the plods showed up after she called on a prowler).

It's a decade since DevOps became a 'thing' – and people still don't know what it means


Not to slight "DevOps" but it's another method, style or approach (possibly perfectly valid) that comes under the general heading "once and future doing it wrong." DO possibly especially stands out as something that would have been considered extra screamingly incorrect not so long ago. Will its stock sink so low as to regain the name "chaos?"

Most of this churning and reflux is really about perfecting human nature. Good luck!