Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Microsoft and Piracy--It's your problem, not theirs..

I just came across an announcement about Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2. Scoff. Well, maybe not scoff. Last time I scoffed at IE was ca. 1995 when Microsoft joined the game late and bought (spyglass?) and slapped the Microsoft logo on the browser. So maybe this is worth a look. Microsoft, of course, has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on key technology--this is probably going to be pretty good. If you can get it installed.

I have a 5 second conversation with myself--wondering if the software will hose my XP SP 2 box. (Funny, I don't have that debate with Google or Mozilla software). Then I figure, what the hell, I'll opt out when it starts to get rough.

I click the link and start the download. Only 11.3 MB. That doesn't sound too bad..

Now I start the installer. It's a little clunky, but that's to be expected from pre-release software. (I am, after all, a semi-sympathetic software developer)
Setup was unable to open log file for writing c:\WINDOWS\io7beta2_main.log

Well, I don't care.. Maybe the installer will proceed. It does.

License agreement, whatever.

Now something very curious:

Before installing Windows Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview, you need to validate your copy of Windows with Windows Genuine Advantage. Validation assures that you are running a genuine copy of Windows. By using genuine Microsoft Windows software, you can be confident that you will have access to the latest features, updates, and support which will help to improve your productivity and expand the capabilities of your PC. You will also have access to new innovations and offerings available only to genuine Windows customers.

When I was in college the campus bookstore had this policy: no students were allowed to take their backpacks into the store. You had to drop your backpacks into cubbies in the entrance, and hope their contents remained safe from the very criminal element that the bookstore was trying to protect itself from. It was pathetic. This store decide to take their problem (shoplifters) and transfer the problem to us (the honest student). They basically told every student who walked through the door that A) they didn't trust you, and B) they weren't competent enough to handle their problem without alienating their customers.

Now, it seems, Microsoft's decided to continue the trend of transferring their problem (software piracy) to us (the honest user). I have three licensed copies of XP running in my house. One on a laptop that my work provided, one on a desktop, and one on an old laptop I've had for the past 5 years. All copies are legal. I bought both personal copies. One through Microsoft's developer's program (I saw a special deal on Slickdeals.net when XP was new--some kind of promotion to get developers to use XP). The other from a similar deal. I've got two shiny holographic CD's to prove it.

But, I'll play along. Now I'm wondering how silly this will get. What if it doesn't work and from some reason decides my copy of XP is not legit? Will it lock me out--erase my hard disk? Will it notify the FBI, NRC, NSA, RIAA? Adventure! Plow forward.

The installer then proceeds to launch my default browser, Firefox (snicker). Then says: "Your current browser cannot run the ActiveX control required by the
genuine Windows validation process. Let's try validating a different way.." It then asks me to download and install another program which will do me the favor of confirming that I'm running a legit copy of Windows. This is fun. Download the program. Hit "open", "run", "go". Yes, I trust Microsoft.

After a few tense moments:

Error: A problem has been encountered during the Windows Genuine Advantage validation process. Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to determine whether your operating system is genuine at this time. Please return later to complete the validation process.

I'll hold my breath.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Edubuntu installation notes


I only had a few hiccups. Linux is still not quite your grandmother's operating system, but it could have been worse.

I had to give up on using the Live CD because I couldn't get X to work. Granted, I didn't try very hard, but it hurt my brain when I tried to figure out how I could reconfigure the xserver when I didn't have a place to write configuration files available. I went ahead with the full install.

First shot at the installation failed with a few errors that seemed to indicate that the installer couldn't read or write files properly. I figured I'd try another CD so I burned a second one and it installed without any problems.

Of course, after the install, the X server didn't start. I found the following tip on the web:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

I reconfigured the server by plowing through and accepting all the defaults. X came up just fine, thank you.

Of course my mouse wouldn't work right away. This was a new USB mouse with the USB to round pin converter thingy on it. I plugged in a 1990's era mouse and all was well.

I got logged in and everything looks good. Dang this thing is slow. A look at the system monitor shows that the software is gentle on my delicate little 128MB of RAM tho.

By the time I got firefox started the first problem I noticed was that I couldn't resolve domain names. When the installer started installing the system it asked me to configure the IP address, gateway, and DNS server. Why it couldn't use DHCP at that point, I don't know. I dropped into the command line and saw nothing but the loopback interface.

Rather than plowing through a refesher course in the ifconfig man page, I search for ubuntu and "domain name server" and found a pretty handy link here
I edited /etc/network/interfaces and set it up to use dhcp again. Then when I tried to take down the eth0 and bring it back up again, that's when I noticed that eth0 wasn't up in the first place. I'm not sure how folks are supposed to get started without networking.. Maybe it was just me. "ifup eth0" and I am in business.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Problems booting isolinux

Don't you hate it when you're searching the web for answers to some obscure technical problem and you find lots of pages where people are posting that they have the same problem--but no good answers? Whenever I'm in that situation I figure the dozen people who had that problem went off and found their own solutions, but never bothered to follow up and share said solution with the rest of the world.

Well, to be a good citizen, I'm going to share my problem/solution here..

I have an old Dell Dimension XPS Pro200n computer that I got back from my in-laws after upgrading them with a new machine. I decided I wanted to try out a linux distro on this box. Edubuntu looked interesting (maybe there'd be something in it for the kids). I downloaded a live CD (boot the CD and don't mess with your current configuration) of Ubuntu to give it a try.

Alas, I get errors trying to boot the CD:

isolinux 2.04 isolinux: Loading spec packet failed, trying to wing it
Failed to locate CD-ROM device; boot failed.

I looked around on the web for a while and found myself with only a couple of half way meaningful clues:

  • My CD-ROM wasn't going to work, and I should try a different device. But most of the discussion I saw around this was WRT SCSI vs IDE CD's. Mine was already IDE.
  • My ISO CD didn't burn properly, maybe I should try again at a lower speed. (Did that, didn't help).
  • My BIOS was out of date, and a new BIOS would help. This sounded promising. In fact, one person had success here.

I got on Dell's website and spent some time trying to find a suitable BIOS upgrade (from AMIBIOS A03). I saw mention of an A06 version of this BIOS on some of the forums, but it took a while to track it down. I finally did so by using the Dell service tag number and drilling into the available BIOS upgrades via Dell's support page (nice!). The trick is that the upgrade does not have Pro200n in the description at all, rather "Pro XXXn" The file name is ProN_A06.EXE

So I upgraded the BIOS and the CD boots fine.

Now to figure out if I'm going to get X to start on my ancient graphics card.. *sigh*

Friday, January 27, 2006

Writing software the old fashioned way: one document at a time

The Waterfall2006 Conference is an homage to the waterfall method. I guess this is a strawman created by the Agile authors pretending to be spoofed on the site. But it's funny anyway..

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Java -- the new COBOL?

I know, not a fair analogy at all. Hear me out.

I was just reading Yet Another Resume from a guy who's gone from engagement to engagement (presumably through a bodyshop) doing Java stuff. Loads of three and four letter acronyms in his resume. EJB this, Websphere that. Big company engagements like SBC, Equifax, North Atlantic Railways, etc. I was scanning through his resume having a mental wrestling match. "I don't want to hire this guy." "Why not? He's got loads of experience." Finally it dawned on me that it was not the technology I was judging, but the project environment I envisioned as I read the resume. I saw big projects with big project plans, giant lumbering machinery and schedules, corporate politics, big money, mediocre results, Office Space.

It dawned on me, reading this poor guy's resume, that Java has succeeded in becoming the new COBOL--the language of choice for "data processing" type projects in the kinds of environments that quench passion, creativity, and often do not result in positive results. Without something else from this guy's resume other than the Java acronyms, I'm going to have to pass.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Harry Porter and the 415-relay computer - Engadget

Yup, retro computing is just plain cool. If this kind of thing was a legit geek hobby when I was in high school I would have had all kinds of dates. Check out Harry Porter and the 415-relay computer

NASA's Solar System Exploration: Multimedia: Our Top 10

I think my favorite is the 10,000 galaxies and the story behind the image. This is a great image for your desktop wallpaper. When you think things are stressful, just look at one of those points of light and consider that it is an entire galaxie full of stars, and that from where we sit, this picture is a magnification of just one tiny fragment of "empty" sky.
NASA's top 10 images

Microsoft ads aim to erase 'huge' image

Seems like Microsoft could just spend $120 million/year on a new company that isn't so huge, but still has a chance at success. Kind of ironic otherwise: Microsoft ads aim to erase 'huge' image

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Born to hack

If what I've heard is true, strong abilities in the subject of Geometry indicate that you'd make a strong computer programmer. This article on humans built-in ability for geometry would seem to imply that us humans are "born to hack."

Friday, January 20, 2006

ACM Queue - Lessons from the Floor - The manufacturing industry can teach us a lot about measuring performance in large-scale Internet services.

I'm interested in measuring quality of performance for software development efforts. Both for the development of the tools I manufacture, as well as the products our engineering department releases. Interesting article here from ACM Queue on the subject.
Consider the manufacture of any mass-scale complex engineered product, such as a car, motorcycle, or small appliance. Customer satisfaction—the gauge of quality—is multifaceted. Manufacturers need ways of quantifying the ways that customers make judgment calls. A customer may say, “This toaster was a disappointment.” Was the most important facet causing that disappointment the consistency of the color of the paint on the outside of the toaster? Was fit-and-finish (the way the product feels when used) a factor? Or was the ability to make more than one piece of toast, with uniform quality, breakfast after breakfast, the determining factor? The take-away message is that complex products have complex quality goals. For a Web-based e-mail service such as Hotmail, we need ways of determining the priority that customers place on a number of service quality measurements.

Read more at acmqueue.com/modules.ph...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Manager Pool

I suspect I'm going to have to order this book: The Manager Pool: Patterns for Radical Leadership

I simply like the premise:

"What if -- instead of a programmer pool -- there were a manager pool, from which self-selected software developers chose the leader for their project? Would you be chosen? Do you have what it takes to lead developers to produce more creatively and proficiently?"

As a manager, this simple idea is important to keep in mind.

One of the reviewers on Amazon has put together a list of the patterns in the book.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Agile, Top Down

Ron Jeffries has some good points. I like
"Let's accept no other form of "progress" as being particularly interesting. You're working on the requirements for Project X? Boring. You've got someone figuring out architecture for Project Y? Boring. The guys are designing Project Z? Boring. What have you done for me lately?

Who has built something that their customer will certify is part of what they want? That's interesting."

I particularly like: "We value running tested software meeting our customers' needs"

Read more at xprogramming.com/xpmag/...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Apple throws Intel a bone

I couldn't help but laugh at this one:
I couldn’t help noticing that Jobs wore yet another of his seemingly endless supply of black turtlenecks, while Intel CEO Paul Otellini was forced to wear a dorky white jumpsuit (just to make sure everybody knows who the cool kids are in this crowd).


Google Pack

I just ordered a new computer for my in-laws. Their old computer was a 10 year old machine (one of my old ones--still running Windows NT). I couldn't find any anti-spyware or antivirus software for the machine, and I wasn't going to pay for an upgrade to Windows. Some hardware component must die *someday*, so I figured it was time for them to get a new box. I ordered a bottom of the line Dell.

This will make setting up their new computer a snap.

Read more at pack.google.com/

Science News Article | Reuters.com

This goes in the "design is really important" file..

Read more at today.reuters.com/news/...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Apple II "Beautiful Ground" Music Video

I first started programming on the Apple II ca. 1982. I guess this video has been around for a while, but I just saw it on Digg. The artist here has a bunch of ASCII art and retro type things in his portfolio. The code scrolling to the music is fantastic. Yes, I am a geek.

Web page: http://www.stewdio.org/jed/
Direct link: http://www.stewdio.org/jed/MEDIA/jed_movie.mov


While I was at JPL they were doing design work on the Stardust mission in the lab we built. We had a "rapid prototyping" environment with hardware and software for doing design and prototyping work for the faster, smaller, cheaper type missions. In particular we had an SGI machine that was pretty good for its day. When I'd take people through the lab I'd be sure to show them the SGI machine and bring up a 3D model of the Stardust spacecraft that was under design development at the time. It was always a big hit. Until the day we added another 256MB of memory to the machine just before Ed Stone (the director of JPL) came by for a tour. We didn't notice that one of the fans on the machine was out, so the extra memory caused it to crash periodically. Bummer.

Anyway, it's nice to know that I can participate in Stardust again in some small way via the Stardust@Home program.