Making an Impact

Wanna be the center of attention when you’re travelling this holiday season?

(A version of this is available for sale here. I don’t know who did it first).

Usual disclaimers: If you wanna shoot the messenger, consult a copy of your Constitution (what? you don’t carry one? gooood citizen) and remember that you don’t have a right not to be offended.

Holiday Spam Count

Recipe for a (nearly) spam-free Thanksgiving: Configure Eudora to drag down mail every hour or so and delete the spam, leaving the rest on the server. This makes web-based mail usable (only 40-50 bogus messages leaked through). Final count: 850 emails, 830 or so of which were garbage.

If I hadn’t done this, email would have been totally unusable.

HP Calculator Comeback?

Hewlett-Packard layed off the last remnants of their calculator division nearly two years ago. Hola, but news has it that they are bringing out a new version of the HP48.

Here is the museum of HP calculators.

When I was 13, my dad brought an HP-65 home from the office for the evening. I was hooked; I spent about three hours ditching homework, just punching buttons and figuring the thing out. (He still has it. It still works).

HP programmable calculators just rock. When I was 15, I got (in an, er . . . rather complex set of negotiations) an HP-25C programmable calculator. It was my first personal programmable device. With 49 steps of program memory that didn’t go away when the calculator was turned off, it was the bee’s knees until I got my first computer. I programmed the heck out of that thing. I skipped classes to program. I couldn’t *quite* get a MasterMind scorer in 49 steps (two of them had to be manual). This early exposure to tight-resource computing proved useful later on [1].

[Every HP owner in high school has had this moment: The classmate next to you asks to borrow your calculator. You say, “Sure!” and hand it over. They start pecking away, then pause. Longer pause. “Hey, where’s the ‘Equals’ key?” You just grin…]

When I joined Atari and started writing video games, I had a little extra money, and bought an HP-16C. I couldn’t really afford it, but it helped out a lot when I was doing low-level debugging. The 16C is, in my opinion, the best calculator that HP has ever made (and I own a number of others, including the 41C and several versions of the 48).

I read some books on synthetic programming on the 41C. Basically, some bugs in the firmware let you drop down into the native instruction set. It was interesting, and kind of cool to see the inner workings of things, but not that interesting if you’ve got real computers around to program.

Computers just don’t cut it for calculators. It’s a UI thing; a calculator is always immediately available: Just turn it on and you’re working. On a computer you have to find the calculator app, make sure it’s in the right base, then type in expressions whose keys are located all over the QWERTY keyboard. And if you’re doing systems programming, the computer that your calculator is on has probably just crashed….

A world without HP calculators would be a poorer place. I’m glad they’re making some kind of comeback. Of course, all of the folks who did the designs are probably gone, they’re just porting most of the existing stuff to newer, less proprietery hardware. Still it’s good that they don’t die altogether.

[1] My current target platform is a 13Mhz 68020 with a megabyte of ROM and a megabyte of RAM. It’s amazing what you can cram into such a tiny box with a good team of people.

MTS (Memo To Self)

Have an ice-scraper handy.

Teflon tape (used in plumbing joints) can be used to ease the threading of cable through tight spots.

Properly applied gum can stop an elevator door from closing.

People ignorant of LISP are doomed to repeat it. [After Greenspun].

M and S

This was slashdotted, but it’s too good to pass up.

The County of Los Angeles purchasing department has decided to ban the phrase “Master/Slave” because of the phrase’s lack of “cultural diversity and sensitivity.”

This is stupid enough that even a fully operational bureaucrat should be able to realise that it’s going to leave LA county a laughingstock. But we all see where this is headed: rather than admit their mistake, there will be a pogrom of Ninja-coated SWAT teams raiding local computer stores, yanking shop-owners into the street while the shelves are purged of all politically incorrect labelling.

But the master/slave relationship is the tip of the irreverant techie iceberg.

DMA. Looks suspiciously like DAMN. Purge.

Mouse. This is slang for . . . never mind. Ban.

Bus Terminator. The ‘T’ word sounds bad, and we’re still trying to shake off the effects of that movie on our image. Eliminate.

Object Oriented Programming. Treating things like objects is demeaning. Rename.

Gone are: Screw, screwdriver, nut, hex. Don’t even think of stocking male or female connectors. The mission is to purge the languge of anything even remotely offensive. We’re gonna wind up in a corner saying “Duh, duh, duh” because that’s the only thing left to say that won’t offend anyone. We’ll be huddled in that corner under the protective gaze of the television’s two-way eye, wondering which two objects we rub together to get fire. If that were allowed. Fire is dangerous, and it reminds us of that thing you do with evil objects we’re not even allowed to think about any more, unless you’re a Ninja, in which case, sure, protect my rights, we trust you.

I mean, you sure got the Master/Slave thing right.

HPC at Sun

A neat little overview of HPC at Sun. (HPC = High Performance Computing).

Cell phone makers have been measuring operations in interesting units for years. One company I consulted for knew how many electrons an Add operation took. I knew enough not to say “Gosh, wow” — while it’s not super-computing, these folks have hard problems, too.


Keywords that I wish C / C++ had, because I mis-spell the official ones so often.

beak. Kind of like break, except more so. It should let you break out of the loop that you’ve (bwa ha ha) stuck a switch statement below (yup, you’re hurtin’ now).

retrun. Think of “The Shining” and pronounce this keyword with a kind of gravelly, throaty growl (“Redrum, Redrum”). Retrun means we’re returning a value, but we don’t necessarily feel that good about it, and maybe something bad is going to happen that’s beyond our control.

nit. A smaller int than usual.

singed. What happens to a value after its sign bit catches fire and halts.

pubic. Not public. Don’t even want to think about it.