Back to Xbox

I’ve returned to the Xbox group at Microsoft, and am working on controller back-compat for the Atari 800.

The workstation you get when IT doesn’t have your credentials quite ready.

(Deep thanks to my friend and cow-orker Stan for doing a bunch of hard work resurrecting an Atari 800. You could hear my howls of laughter clear down the hallway when I discovered this sweet setup in my office this morning).

And yes, of course there was a Star Raiders cartridge.

Comments Are Disabled

Someone was wrong on the internet
And I got sucked into the argument.
Why are we in such violent agreement?
There is much to do and life is short.
The comments here are unironically disabled.
Put your efforts into things that matter.

Why does my decision matter?
It grew from war, this internet,
Designed to be hard to be disabled
In case nations should have an argument.
The conflict would have been short,
On that, we are in agreement.

Of course, we are in agreement
But brother, what is the matter?
Your virtual neighbors are coming up short?
Welcome to the fucking internet,
Where you can have an instant argument
As long as comments are not disabled.

Why, my voice has been disabled!
I thought the goal was agreement,
When it was really about generating argument.
For the companies, it is the the ads that matter.
And they would transform the internet…
But this discussion thread has been cut short.

Our days on earth are short
And so comments here are now disabled.
A rage machine, uncounted are the lies this internet
Amplifies, under the veil of agreement.
The truth is buried, the weight of the matter
Crushed by algorithmically tuned and weaponized argument.

What is the point of this argument?
Can you not see that your time is short?
Can you not see that it doesn’t matter?
But O God, the comments are disabled
And I cannot tell if we are in agreement!
What is the opinion of the internet?

I’ve used it over 40 years, this internet,
And seen it turn from cooperation into a terrible global argument.
Decide for yourself the things that matter.

(I quit social media and wrote my first sestina. You may well hope it is my last! I am going to clean the garage now. Beats doomscrolling and it probably beats writing terrible poetry, too).

(Yes, comments are, unironically, disabled).

Jury Duty

Annnd . . . I’m off to do jury duty again. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks, since that totally depends on how many jaywalkers need to be sent to the labor camps, and whether or not I can still fake a convincing siezure. This is the price of having a legal system that largely works, where the term “large” refers to the amount of money you’re able to scrape up to buy some justice.

So it’s time to sit in a room with total strangers, waiting for the cattle call to the courtroom where we will be instructed not to pass early judgement upon total strangers whose lives are utterly fucked up and whose emotional garbage will be spread out in public for analysis by shlubs like me. Do we give a damn? Surprisingly, we do.

Well, that was easy. A day and a half of testimony and hi, ho, that fucked-up moron is off to jail. The guy accused of the Awful Thing even took the stand. His public defender probably urged him not to. His public defender was miserably ineffectual in many areas, but that particular advice was sound and the moron should have listened. Take the 5th, stupid, it has your name on it, it’s there for *you*.

I don’t know what the world’s record is for the shortest deliberation, but when it was time for We the Jury to go into the back room and decide the poor sot’s fate, things went pretty damned quick. We filed in, found chairs, elected yours truly as foreman, and I called for a preliminary vote. “Who’s thinking . . . guilty?” Everyone raised a hand. That was like three minutes flat.

So we spent another twenty minutes talking about the case, just to make sure, took another vote, and that was that. Mister Screwed-up Life (who thought he was going to have a “great time” with a 16 year old who actually turned out to be a 45 year old police officer with a hillbilly beard and a cop-class donut gut and a pretty nifty video recording setup) was sent up to the Big House for a couple years of bad food and quality meditation time.

I don’t claim this is a total win for society. We’re probably better off not having Hells-Angel-lookalike police officers pose online as under-age teens and essentially entrap people. It’s unclear that entrapment has any real effect on the supply-and-demand equation, or that we’re getting anything out of this other than improved employment for police officers and sales of trick video gear. On the other hand, I’m happy to have Mr Fucked-Up Life off the streets for a while. On the gripping hand, it’s not like this long and involved and very expensive process has actually improved anything in the world.

Hint: If the cops ever arrest you, and especially if they have you in front of a video camera, ask for a lawyer and shut the fuck up.

[Yeah, I know I haven’t posted here much in Quite Some Time. Mostly my output has been driven by frustration, which when multiplied by my reservoir of stories equals content, and I kind of ran out of both for a while. More later, I can’t promise when.]

RIP Jerry Pournelle

We’ve lost another big name in SF. I liked Jerry Pournelle’s collaborations with Larry Niven a great deal.

The Mote in God’s Eye is (in my opinion) the best piece of hard SF to come out of the 70s. [Screws eyes shut and thinks hard]. Yup. Ringworld was pretty damned good, but it hasn’t aged well, and Stand on Zanzibar and Dune were published in the 1960s, so Mote it is. It’s a fantastically well crafted first-contact novel.

Here’s a bit, I believe written by Pournelle, describing how the two authors built Mote.


When the little hand is on the two, and the big hand…

Two thirty in the morning is the witching hour of technology.

If you are a firmware engineer working on a product that has some kind of online periodic update system, at some point you will have a conversation with your project manager, the subject of the conversation being”What time of day do we *do* this update?” Because updates invariably require reboots and other awkward shenanigans, and who needs that in the middle of their daytime soap opera or fitness run?

The answer will invariably be two-thirty in the morning. If your product does weekly updates, your PM will respond with “Two-thirty every Sunday morning.” [Which you will change to “Two-thirty every *Monday* morning” because your PM really didn’t think about it enough, but you knew what they meant.]

The argument goes: Two-thirty in the morning is a time when all sensible and God-fearing people (and especially technology review editors) should be tucked away in bed. Thus, no one will notice just one appliance going offline for a minute or two while it reflashes its firmware. And no other company is going to do the same thing to *their* products at that crazy hour, it’s just so *unlikely*. Two-thirty AM sounds great, let’s ship it. It’ll be our secret.

The young, clever and over-enthusiastic dev pipes up, “Let’s make it /really/ random. Say, 2:37AM.”

“Great idea,” someone agrees. And you ship.


Cut-to: I am insomniac again. Minding my own business at Something-Dark-Thirty in the morning and doing some reading. Okay, I’m watching Firefly again, sue me.

The TV stutters for a second or two, then goes black and displays “Rebooting, please wait”. The microwave oven emits a “beep” and starts doing something awful and herky with its LEDs. My watch buzzes and shows a spinning whooshie graphic while it messes with its own insides. Everything is displaying progress bars and “percentage complete” counters and little apologetic messages that betray the same sad trains of thought. All the widgets in my living room are emitting little boops and beeps to announce that they have upgraded their brains and jumped off the cliff into next week’s firmware, to better our lives with bug fixes and shiny, new buggy features. Even the damned toaster is getting into the act. Why would a toaster need a firmware update?

Some of the devices don’t come back to life. Maybe there’s a hardware failure, or an overworked software guy flubbed a semicolon in the update code and now that company has catapulted half a million of its heavily advertised Internet of Things devices into the category of Internet of Dead-Ass Bricked E-Waste. People find these little corpses in the morning, like poor little rodents discovered by the cat. It’s highly likely that the company that made these benighted devices will become a corpse, too, which is why wise companies feed and train their firmware engineers with care. Right?

O, this brave new world of embedded, connected systems. Kind of like the old world, but I sure hope you’re running version 2.01a, because unless you have that latest patch . . .

   Intertubes of Things
Cat monitor, coffee grinder
       It sends email, too.

Let us not speak about devices that are designed to listen to you all the time. It is just too early in the morning for that amount of trust.

RIP Henry SF Cooper

I should keep track of my favorite authors better. Henry SF Cooper, author of Apollo on the Moon, Thirteen: The Flight that Failed and the majestic The Evening Star (which is about how the Magellan probe team debugged OS race conditions from 20 million miles away) died in January.

I can’t say enough good things about The Evening Star. If you’re into computers or into space exploration, it’ll be a great read. If you’re into both, it’s incomparable.

I highly recommend all of his books.

Dianne Feinstein should resign

Here’s a nice opinion piece. By the Christian Science Monitor, no less.

I concur.

Dianne Feinstein has a history of getting policy around cryptography and security utterly and disastrously wrong. She backed the regressive ITAR regulations banning export of strong crypto (which had the actual — and intentional — effect of reducing security of software in the US). She backed the Clipper Chip program in the 1990s, claiming a need for “balance” by mandating that US citizens use only government-approved cryptography (the Clipper protocol contained serious flaws which were exposed a few months after the specification was published). She backs the FISA secret courts. She has refused to investigate wrongdoings by the NSA and other intelligence communities, or to investigate the clear and blatant lying by government officials about surveillance programs to congress (last I checked perjury was still a pretty serious offense; Senator Feinstein is apparently just fine with it).

She has so clearly demonstrated her incompetence and misservice to her constituents and to the US at large that we should be done with her. Dianne Feinstein is a danger to our collective security, and she should either step down, or be removed from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Attending a modern political debate


Don’t use pine for your sign handle. Instead, find some good ash or hickory, the kind they use to turn out good quality baseball bats and axe handles. For the sign itself, a thicker gauge of sheet steel is best. Steel is heavier but lots more durable than cardboard or aluminum, and it takes and gives a beating. Steel also carries a nice, sharp edge that is unparalleled when you need to make an effective argument, and it will get your message across even if you can’t spell worth a damn.

Get a real pair of boots, okay? You may be into hi-top sneakers or loafers, but a good pair of steel-toed work boots will do wonders for your confidence. Just knowing that you can kick the shit out of someone who’s holding onto a weak or immoral position will have you unconciously holding your head high, your shoulders back, and wishing that you’d sprung for the fifty dollar truncheon instead of the one from the bargain bin.

Speaking of truncheons: Rubber-coated, steel core and integrated lanyard. That’s all you need. If you have something that takes batteries, that’s a goddamned flashlight and you’re going to look awfully silly trying to make your point once the D-cells have flown across the room because you forgot to Lok-Tite the cap. Use the right tool for the job.

That super-sized, cherry-red can of Obliterator! brand pepper spray indicates that you are a nOOb. Watch the old timers; they choose their targets with economy, generating maximum outrage and news footage with a few well-placed shots. You honestly don’t need more than a couple of ounces, and even a little of the cheap stuff goes a long way. Try some on yourself if you don’t believe me.

It’s amazing how many people will fight to the death for their right to remain indifferent.