* Posts by John Werner

28 publicly visible posts • joined 31 Aug 2007

Cable-cutting vandals disconnect Silicon Valley

John Werner

Emergency Service Backup Comms

There are systems for backup comms for Emergency Services, and they aren't even commercial systems -- they're volunteers using their Ham Radios. In the US, the Amateur Radio Service is chartered to provide a core of trained radio operators for emergencies.

According to this report in the Mercury News (http://www.mercurynews.com/centralcoast/ci_12115324), :Ham radio operators organized themselves to assist with communications between hospitals. About 25 operators were handling the radio traffic while another 50-60 had signed up to fill in when other volunteers got tired, operator Craig Smith said."

- John

Spies hacked US electrical grid, says WSJ

John Werner

Connected to Internet not Always Real Time

Did everyone miss how the Diebold ATM machine's were hacked? It doesn't take a physical, real-time connection to make the transfer. All it takes is some luser to connect his work laptop to his home network to watch some "art films" some night. The payload gets planted on his machine. Then he troddles back into the office, connects to the "secure" LAN and the payload is set loose.

So, how do you protect it? There are lots of draconian measures (no laptops, forced VPN connections, etc), but those only infuriate the luser, and may even make them find ways around the "restrictions." Probably a better method is a two fold approach - make sure the lusers machine is well virus checked, and use smart network switches on the secure lan that do deep packet inspection and (hopefully) filter out threats before they spread.

- John

New DNS trojan taints entire LAN from single box

John Werner

If only...

...there was some service that provide free, open DNS resolution that you could point all your personal machines to, even when traveling.

Oh wait, there is.

- John

US lawmaker injects ISP throttle into Obama rescue package

John Werner


It was called the "line item veto." US Presidents have long sought to have it, but it has continually been found unconstitutional. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line-item_veto)

Woman jailed for texting while driving

John Werner

We're already heading there...

Over here on the other side of the pond, New York State is seriously looking at legislation that not only prohibits texting while driving, but also much further. There is even talk of a complete cell-phone ban, including when using hands-free. Most of this is coming in light of a very tragic accident almost 2 years ago when 3 graduating seniors from a high school were killed in a head-on accident with a truck after their SUV crossed into oncoming traffic. The proponents of the law point to the fact that the driver's phone sent a text message just seconds before the impact (and of course the driver must have been texting on their phone, not one of the others in the car).

[As you can guess from my tone, I don't think that was the cause -- I put it down to the piss-poor driver training in NYS: the driver had just passed a vehicle when her car swerved back across the road -- sounds more like she over corrected when pulling back in and lost it.]

While I agree something has to be done, I get really worried about knee-jerk responses. The real answer isn't in prohibiting everything, but in better education. Telling someone "Don't do that" only teaches them not to get caught. Teaching them them why it is a bad thing has a much better result.

- John

US Congress kills digital TV delay

John Werner

Just Do It

I think the biggest thing most people have to worry about is that they will discover there really wasn't anything worth watching in the first place :-)

There are going to be some hicups in the process, but delaying the transition will just delay the hicups. I think it is better to get them out of the way now, not later.

As for signal reception, if you have a good quality UHF/ VHF antenna already, it will still work. US DTV (which is not the same as HDTV) is using the same frequency bands as US Analog TV used. It's even using the same 6 MHz band width. It's not like you need a special antenna that is tuned to a different frequency band.

Having said that, there may be some minor confusion as the digital stations may not be on the same band (UHF, VHF) as they were before. Also, as many stations may switch frequencies/bands on Feb17 when they go back to running only 1 transmitter rather than two. In my local market, 3 of the VHF stations are on the UHF band for DTV. On Feb 17, two of them will switch their digital signal back to their old frequency (or at least band). The other will stay on UHF. Interestingly enough, in most cases, the decision as to switching back is being made a corporate offices, not at the local stations. To the end user, the biggest issue is that even with a DTV box (or DTV ready TV), they will need to re-scan for channels!

So what about US Cable? By law, the cable companies are required to continue analog broadcasts until 2011 (or maybe only 2010 -- I forget exactly). After that, it's anyone's guess. While people may complain at the cost of cable ($90+/month for digital cable), most don't realize that there are often much lower costs options if they push the person on the other end of the phone. In some markets, you can get the local broadcast stations (+ all of the shopping channels ever created) for < $10 / month.

IMHO, there are two groups of people who are going to have the biggest issues. The first ones are those who think the signal they are getting in their apartment from a connector on the wall is cable TV when it really isn't. In many apartment buildings, the signal is just the signal fed from an antenna (or antenna cluster) on the roof.

The second ones are the ones who had bad analog (NTSC) reception in the first place. Digital is not very forgiving: the signal is either readable or not. If the picture on your TV is full of "snow" now, you won't have a good DTV experience. (This reminds me of going from an analog cell phone to a digital -- my analog never dropped, it just got noisy. My digital cell phone drops.)

- John

US woman says Ubuntu can't access internet

John Werner

Re: Linux=Fail

> Windows? Right click > repair connection would be typical of the effort involved in fixing it.

I'm still fighting with Vista on my daughter's new laptop, the "Repair Connection" still can't find my non-broadcast, secured, wireless access point. I had Ubuntu 8.10 online within 5 minutes of finishing the install, and most of that was the time it took to put the MAC address into the router's permitted list.

- John

OpenOffice 3.0 - the only option for masochistic Linux users

John Werner

Solver tool

The hype is interesting about the solver tools, both in OO and MS land, especially considering that both of these pale in comparison to the grand-daddy of all equation solvers, Tk!Solver. I was using this spreadsheet like program 20 year ago to solve matrix equations.

Revealed: The golden rules of managing software projects

John Werner

Rule # 1 - What About...

"Enable your developers to work in a manner that makes them most productive."

Too many times in my career I have had to deal with managers who believe the only way to get work done is to do it the way they would. I don't just mean using the same methods, but the same work process habits. Some people can sit there for hours and crank out work continuously. Others work in "brilliant flashes followed by long blackouts." (that's a phrase one of my best managers used to use -- I loved working for him.)

A good manager will recognize the difference in how people work and enable them to work that way. If that means getting the employee access to the building from 7am to 9pm every day, so be it. If it means running interference when another employee says "He only put 4 hours of work in today, that's not fair!" so be it. Hours worked != work done.

- John

Official: gadgets not responsible for Qantas jet plunge

John Werner
Black Helicopters

Reminds me of...

Why does this remind me of "What do you mean kilometers, we thought it was miles," and the ever infamous "Unsigned Values? No, we always passed _SIGNED_ values. Why would you assume otherwise."

One of the funny, and scariest presentation I ever went to was at an Embedded System Conference a few years back. The presenter was talking about failures that should have been caught, but weren't, and the results of them in some safety critical systems. (One was a radiation therapy machine, one was a mars probe, several were missiles.)

- John

Nokia's Trolltech preps embedded app breakthrough

John Werner


Qt? Isn't that just for gui's? Don't most truly embedded projects (you know, the ones running your dishwasher, car engine, brakes, stove, microwave, radio, dryer, washing machine) lack an important part of a GUI, a graphical display? (where's the ? icon when I really need it.)

Agile Development’s Secret Sauce

John Werner

re: Tools and other stuff

> 3) a wiki for project documentation

We found that a forum was worked better. The wiki is good in that every one can change it, but without specifically looking for something, you can't always find the "why" of a documented decision. With a forum, you get the history (and discussion) right in there.

Either way, wiki or forum or both, the key is creating a system where ideas and documentation can be kept evergreen and where other people can see what is going on.

There is saying a "You can't get something different unless you do something different." The hard part is getting people to do something different, like using a wiki for forum. I can't tell you how many times I have seen developers, even 2 years after project start, sending around e-mail discussions with 10 people cc'd in. This is exactly where a forum should be used. If there really are 10 people interested or impacted in the decision, then there probably are 10 more people who will be secondarily impacted.

Back to agile scalability. There is no perfect process. Every process has good and bad qualities and good and bad application domains. The real trick is learning what parts of a process make sense in your domain, and being willing to adjust things as needed. Maybe part of the team works well doing pair programming, but others don't. Fine, enable both groups to work to their best potential.

The key really comes down to how you manage development teams. May the question shouldn't be "Can Agile Scale?" but, can your organization develop a process that is adapatable, supports the individual developers needs, and maintains predictability. The further question to ask, is "Is management interested in processes or enabling engineers to do their job?" If it is the first, success is going to be a hard road. If it is the latter, success should be easy.

- John

Are today's developers more creative?

John Werner

Valuable Tools?

If I were starting a project, I'd make sure the following tools were in place:

- Requirements Management

- Testing Plan

- Source Control

- Defect Tracking

- Change Tracking

without these, it's hard to know what you are build, and track how well it is being built. Tools are just a part of the equation, you should also have

- Clear Customer Requirements (not implementation notes, or "just make it like xxxxx")

There are also specific jobs that should be filled at the start

- Configuration Manager

- Build Manager - if you got more than one developer, someone needs to make sure builds are done in an orderly fassion

These aren't glamor jobs, but without them, things get pretty messy pretty quick.

- John (SW Eng at heart, Config Mgr by need)

PS: Creativity is writing code to fit into 64K RAM and 128K of ROM on an embedded processor with a total address space of 64K that allows only 32K of ROM and 16K of RAM available at one time.

Symbian: Linux unfit for mobile phones

John Werner

Horse and Buggy

The automobile is not fit to replace the horse and carriage. Anyone who has worked with both can tell you that. You can't just let the automobile drive itself. A horse, well, when it's time to go home and you've had a few too many, he'll take you to your home without even thinking about it.

Mozilla pushes out second Firefox 3.1 alpha

John Werner

But I still can't see...

That's great news, but until they fix the issue with screen updates failing on super high resolution displays with multi-monitors (monitor 1 = 2048x1536, monitor 2 = 1280x800) on Windows, It's still FF2 for me.

On my linux boxen, it's FF3.

Which is the best Linux for laptops?

John Werner

Depends on the HW and SW

I've played a little with this on a couple of different laptops and a couple of different distros. The answer really comes down to the hardware you are running and the built in drivers in the distro.

The first key thing I was found is that new laptops need the newest distros and drivers. The laptop is evolving really fast. Old laptops (>5 years old) may only have spotty hardware support.

For general use on an older laptop, Mandriva seems to have a bit of an edge. It has a longer history. If you are using a newer laptop (<2 years old), I would go for Ubuntu. It is slightly more user friendly than Mandriva (which was the one time most user friendly distro), and it is being kept very current.

To be more specific, I find that XUbuntu is a good choice for a lightweight environment for a laptop. It uses GTK, but does not have the extra weight of a full Gnome setup. A stripped version with just Firefox, Open Office, Thunderbird, Gimp, and a few other basic utilities will fit on a 2G flash drive (Should you need something to travel with). If MythTV, Scorched3d, bzflag, Freeciv, pioneers, googleearth, 500 megs of music, and a few other programs foor "in flight entertainment" are needed, you can still get it all on a 4G drive.

The key to battery life comes down to speed scaling. On one 2 year old Compaq nc6400 laptop, the SpeedStep technology of the Centrion Duo processors/chipset does not work in Ubuntu 8.04. (It also doesn't work in Win2K -- so it may be some a bios or hardware issue.) On a 1 year old Compaq 6910p with a Centrino Pro, Ubuntu seems to be able to throttle the CPU fine. All of the other built in hardware is well supported.

BTW, if FC5 is installed on the 6910p, the onboard LAN and WAN are not recognized. (FC5 had to be put on it to support some development tools for an embedded product.)

- John

Newegg plays chicken with New York 'Amazon Tax'

John Werner

Side Effects, Interstate Commerce Tax

At first I didn't care about this issue. Then I received an email from one of the major source of revenue for a non-commercial website I run (a real .info site, not a fake one designed to do retail business). The email stated that the new rules meant that they would have to collect tax on commissions since I reside in NY State, and since they were not set up to do that, they would stop doing banner ads for all sites that are registered to entities in NY State.

The implication here is that since the domain is registered to a NY State address, the place of business for the website is NY State, even if the traffic comes from other locations and the site is not hosted in the state.

BTW, I'm still not sure how any state can legally charge sales tax. The US Constitution provides that there shall be not tax on interstate commerce. If I buy something from a corporation that is not in the state and have it shipped into the state, isn't that interstate commerce? Therefore, shouldn't it be protected from taxes?

(Here is an interesting article on the new NY State tax from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2008/05/13/amazonlaw-states-rights-oped-cx_scjw_0514amazonlaw.html)

- John

Japanese photographers offered recyclable camera

John Werner

Everything old is new again

I not surprised that someone came up with this new idea. It's like that idea from those Kodak people for a film camera that you use once, send into for processing, and you get prints back (or even a CD now). In the mean time, the camera is reloaded and resold.

@David Gonsell -- if the idea is such a bad one, why are there so many of the single use film cameras being made both by Kodak and Fuji Film. While they may not be great for profession quality photos (IMHO any with digital in it isnt -- I'll just use my large format camera if you please), most people couldn't tell the difference. The single use cameras also work great for things like capturing candid photos at wedding receptions. Just put a camera on each table, let people loose, and collect them before they leave.

Kaminsky (finally) reveals gaping hole in internet

John Werner

Re: Patches for broken NATs

Yes and no. It depends what you have and what firmware you are running. I know at least one alternate firmware for the venerable WR54G router has been patched already. I'm not sure about others. (I admit that after reading the article, I decided to check to see if I should upgrade the firmware on my router and found that a new version featuring the patch was out.)

I am glad I don't have to wait to Linksys to roll a patch for my long discontinued hardware.

BTW, I run Tomato on my router.

- John

Feds urge court to dismiss lawsuit protecting life on Earth

John Werner

Even Experts Can Be Wrong....

Before the first successful detonation of a nuclear bomb, there was a very serious, on-going debate amongst the scientists on that project as to what if the atmosphere would ignite when they set it off.

Back in 1999 several well papered experts all claimed that the world would come to a crashing end as power stations failed and banks lost money 8 years and 6 months ago because of this Y2K thing. That doesn't seem to have happened either.

MoD begins full UFO-files public release

John Werner

Torchwood - Declassified

I wonder how many references to flying blue boxes and this weird guy calling himself a doctor there will be.

Tengu - the PC pal

John Werner

They Killed the iDog

Looks like they took the head off a iDog and gave it a USB cable for a tail.


Terminator Salvation is go for May 2009 release

John Werner

At least not....

At least it is just Terminator movies. Thankfully, they haven't decided to do it to the Indiana Jones movies. What?.... Oh nevermind. Is that my coat?

Stallman steps back from Emacs

John Werner
Thumb Up

Emacs, XEmacs, JOVE

It will be very interesting to see what the future of the "Emacs Twins" will be with Stallman taking a more backseat role. Years ago, there was one Emacs (and a few other clones like Temacs and JOVE). Then, almost a decade ago it seems, there was the split (as much philosophical as functional) that led to two main branches - GNU Emacs and XEmacs. Will this change to the leadership of GNU Emacs mean the two might slowly come back together? (Not that either is very different from the other -- its more like red raspberries vs. black raspberries.)

BTW, I learned Emacs essentially 23 years ago, and I still use it daily. I tried many other things, including Visual Studio, Eclipse, Codewrite, and others, but nothing beats the simple down to earth functionality that Emacs has. True, the learning curve can be steep (although XEmacs has a much gentler curve), but the payback is huge.

Perhaps the biggest endorsement for Emacs is that so many editors have a emacs key emulation mode! (But then again, Emacs has a VI key emulation mode.....)

Emacs - it's not just an editor; it's a religion.

(Emacs = Eighty Megs And Continually Swapping)

The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was

John Werner

Fuel Cells - Not Just Hydrogen

@ Nexox

Electric vehicles are just a bad idea. The best foreseeable replacement for gas cars would be a fuel cell, since those can theoretically be pushed to nearly 100% efficient. For now the hydrogen has to come from electricity, but that is a highly efficient process, so if people can figure out how to store and ship hydrogen while pushing fuel efficiency, we could see a 1:1 competition with petrol efficiency, and potentially reasonably similar range, depending on how the storage comes along.

Why is it that everyone who says Fuel Cells thinks Hydrogen. There are other fuel cells. In fact, a small part of a very large company here in the US is developing a fuel cell that is powered not by Hydrogen, but by Hydrocarbon based fuels. There are a couple of distinct advantages of this, both related to how to produce and distribute hydrogen.

The major drawback to the technology to use hydrocarbon based fuels (Diesel, gasoline -- or Petrol for you UK'ers, BioFuel, etc) is the weight of the fuel cell assembly. So far, they are not making in-roads into passenger vehicles. Where they are doing well is in large trucks. Recent anti-idling laws have posed a problem for long haul truckers who used to idle their engines to provide electricity (and HVAC) for their cabs while they crawled into their sleeping quarters and got a few hours of shut-eye. Hydrocarbon fueled fuel cells solve this quite well. The extra weight isn't much of a problem, and they can tap into the already existent fuel supply on the truck.

UN mandates stability control in trucks - cars to follow

John Werner

Computers can't beat Physics

Somehow people seem to thing computers can solve anything. ESC is not some silver bullet that will suddenly allow an inexperienced driver to beat the laws of physics. It something that will allow an experienced driver to get into bigger trouble before they realize that the laws of physics are immutable.

In other words, instead of hitting the tree at 15 mph because they lost it in the snow and were driving without snow tires, they will now hit the tree at 30mph because the ESC let them get in deeper before it had to yield to physics.

The real solution should be REAL driver's education that includes instilling the essential understanding of the physics of driving (weight transfer, traction circles, etc.) with what if feels like to practically deal with them while driving. The Street Survival Schools (http://www.streetsurvival.org/) are a good model.

BTW, I know that in some places in the world, driver's licenses don't come easy and the training is practical. In most of the US, all you need is to pass a short multiple guess test and then take a drive around the block with the tester.

Mandriva Linux 2008 is out and about

John Werner

Mr. U vs. Mr. M

I'm glad to see a new Mandriva release. Having been using Mandriva since it was Mandrake 8.<something>, I have come to really like the the setup and configuration tools they have. It is very easy to setup the system exactly the way you want it. Ubuntu is good, but not quite as good. (I think Ubuntu still is a better experience then Redhat.)

What I am really interested to see in the new Mandriva release it what happens after installation. My present experience tells me that Ubuntu has a much better upgrade-to-the-latest-release system. In Mandriva, even up through 2007, upgrading to a the latest release is not something easily done, and many of the people commenting on it suggest a fresh install. (That's why I still run Mandrake 10.1 on my personal machine, and haven't upgraded.) My wife and kids both run Ubuntu.

- John

Managing Software Complexity with Virtual Chapters

John Werner

I'm missing something here....

I'm not sure how a Virtual Chapter (which seems just like good documentation practice) helps track a project. It might generate documentation on interfaces, but I have found using tools like Doxygen on well documented code to be a much better alternative.

BTW, the real problem is getting the developer to document stuff that so others can understand. Comments are supposed to be for others to know what you did, not just for you to remember when you look at it tomorrow!