Wednesday, May 31, 2006
This discussion started over a serious problem that we were trying to deal with. It was in 1978, and we were working with an evil piece of IBM hardware called a 3790. This particular computer had very few redeeming features.
Our problem was that we had two programs running that needed to talk to each other. One process communicated with the user, the other performed a database lookup. The theory was that the User process, would request some data, go off and do some other processing then come back and get the data. Unfortunately our early tests showed that 99% of the time when the User process came back, the cupboard was bare! The database lookup had not finished, and so there was nothing in the buffer for the User process to use. This particular problem was resolved over beers, and yes the design document was a beer napkin. We created the "loiter loop". Basically the program went to sleep for a couple of seconds.
I guess management were just used to us Tech's talking babble, cos no one ever asked us what the "loiter Loop" did, it was just an integral part of the synchronization process!
Anyway, over more beers we hashed out our wish list of programming extensions.
Assembler was one of the main tools we used on a daily basis, we decided that the following op codes would be a fine start:
BAL - Branch and Loop
BCF - Branch and Catch Fire
BRR - Branch on Random Register
RXR - Randomly Transpose Registers
BOHP - Bribe Operator for Higher Priority
Of course Assembler uses stacks to deal with data, basically you put things on the stack (push) and take things off the stack (pop). There are two common techniques used in stack manipulation, FIFO, which stands for First In First Out, basically the piece of data that is stuck on the stack is the first piece of data to be dealt with. The other technique is called LIFO, Last In First Out, meaning that the most recent piece of data on the stack is the first to be dealt with.
We decided that this arrangement was to limited, and came up with a third stack manipulation technique, FISH, First In Still Here.
In the world of Structured programming the use of the unconditional branch is frowned upon. The unconditional branch is also known as a GOTO statement. Our solution to not using the GOTO statement was to great a COME FROM structure. This would add a whole new dimension to debugging code!
PL/1 is an interesting language, and to the best of my knowlege was the first to incorporate the ON ERROR block, this was a slice of code that would be run in the event of an error occurring, which in my experience was most of the time! A rethinking of the programming methodology would have the error handling routines as the mainline code, and in the event that there were no errors you could include an ON NO ERROR block. This would simplify the design process.
On a more generic note is the IF THEN ELSE structure. This should be modified to be:
Then (run this load of rubbish)
Else (run this load of rubbish)
Or Maybe Try(this load of rubbish)
This new Construct would be ideal for those pesky situations the data does not quite meet the stringent requirements of the conditions.
If you have a very large program there are usually blocks of 'Orphan' code. This is code that under no circumstances will ever be executed. This is the code that drives you crazy if you are trying to debug someone else's program. You lay awake at night trying to figure out how the hell it would ever get triggered. In order to ease the burden of fixing other peoples programs all 'orphan' code should be put in this construct:
This would make debugging so much easier
I have been involved with computers for way too long. My mother was right, I should have got a proper job!
I am not rich, and I certainly do not earn enormous sums of money, but that has not prevented me from having a formidable collection of working computers. None of which are worth a red cent.
One of the misconceptions about computers is that you have to have the latest and greatest hardware. If all you do is play online, do a little bit of word processing, and things like that, any old piece of junk will do (and I should know).
Junk is what I like, and junk is what I do.
Our main TV is an old Apple Mac Performa, it has a TV card in it, and it works great! I have an old 19 inch monitor on it, I even have a remote control for it. As I recall it was from the 1996 vintage of Apples, a very fine year indeed. Recently we had to call in a plumber, and apparently (according to my wife) he walked by it, stopped, retraced his steps, and said "wow, how the hell do you do that on a computer?". Jans answer was simple, "I have no clue, you would have to ask Simon". In my opinion this is a great use of a computer that other people would just junk.
One sunday morning about a year ago, I was bored, I needed some diversion, well I decided that what the family needed was another computer. I had no plan or need for another one, but it seemed like a good way to while away and hour or so. The first hurdle that I encountered was I did not have a case to put it in, my junk pile was high in motherboards, processors, ram, and all of the other internal stuff, but not a case in sight.
What I did have tho, was some empty beer can boxes. This was the start of the BeerBox project. You can find all of the gory details here.
The BeerBox has been a very stable platform, I have Linux (fedora) and all sorts of interesting software running on it. In fact if you clicked on the link above, you were actually on the BeerBox, its my Web Page Server!
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
For scientific stuff it was Fortran, for payroll it was Cobol, to become an untouchable that was kept behind locked doors and fed raw meat. It was Assembler. Oh, and if you wanted no chance of obtaining any sort of job advancement you became a PL/1 guru.
This all made for a very orderly life.
It was even fairly orderly in the 80's, the introduction of the IBM PC, added a little more complexity, BASIC. Fortunately BASIC was never really viewed as a career making language, it was ok for Tic-Tac-Toe, and Battleship, but it really never took off as a serious business tool.
Here we are 30 years later. What the hell has happened? There are now more programming languages than there are people to program in them! I blame the Internet! You have 87 variations of C, Java, .Net, PHP, Perl, and god knows what else! In my opinion its high time the whole programming world was rationalized.
Lets go back to Fortran, Cobol and Assember hahahahahahahaha
Screw all this 'object oriented' rubbish, lets go back to the good old days where a program had a start, a middle and an end. And you could print the compile on 17 inch wide green bar fan fold paper!
It's just a thought.......
Sunday, May 28, 2006
For the past 10 years they have 'owned' the desktop and the office environment. It really all had its roots in what happened in 1992. Microsoft had been throwing pots of money into the Windows 'black hole', people basically didn't like the stinking product. From its nasty inception in 1985 Bill had not been able to give it away! It was clunky, it slowed down an already too slow processor, and offered nothing new or innovative.
Then they released Windows 3.11, and the world changed! This version allowed you to 'cheaply' (its all relative) connect computers together to share data and printers. Finally Bill had a success on his hands. Although it actually took until 1996 for him to obtain his stanglehold on computing. In 1995 he released Windows 95, and Office 95, to give you an idea about how successful this launch was, they sold a million copies of Win95 in 4 days! At $100 a copy, that's a cool $100 million dollars in revenue, not a bad weeks take.
I have always been interested in the computer industry and have maintained an ear to the ground about what Microsoft are doing. Ever since I first came across the company (1991, DOS 1.0), I have disliked their marketing strategy. Create a need, by all but giving the product away, and then gradually and relentlessly hike the price. This is almost like peddling drugs, create you addicts at a loss, then sell them their fix for ever more increasing prices.
With each release of Windows, the price has steadily increased, Windows XP Home (Home means its been stripped of any useful features) retails for about $160. You can bet your bottom dollar that when Windows Vista debuts next year you won't be getting any change out of $200.
There have always been alternatives to using Microsoft products, unfortunately the alternatives were not attractive. That has changed significantly over the past year.
Linux is an operating system, the problem in the past was that Linux was designed by geeks, programmed by geeks, and only used by geeks, because you needed a PHD in astrophysics to get it to do the most menial task. Even the lowly text editor (VI) required an IQ approaching that of Einstein to use it.
Linux over the past year has grown in leaps and bounds. If you can insert a CD into your CD drive, you too can load Linux. Even better, the price tag is $zero. I am always a fan of free stuff. Free is my favorite price for any thing.
Bill and the boys have been grumbling for some considerable time about how people are pirating the Microsoft products! I am not a fan of pirated software myself, but I also think that if products are priced correctly, you remove the need, and the desire to pirate. Bill has gone to great lengths with Office and XP to make it very difficult to set up illicit copies (at least for the cheapo home versions), so what are the pirates doing? Bootlegging the much more expensive and feature rich versions aimed at the enterprise user.
You can bet your last Microsoft share that the security built into Vista will be even more rigorous and harder to crack.
I run several (probably too many) computers at home, and if I was to run XP on them all I would have over $1000 invested. Well that is a little too rich for my blood, so I have diversified my portfolio! Likewise I like and need a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, and presentation manager.
I would like to use MS Office, but at $400 or so, a copy I would have $3000 invested. Again, that's way too much for me, that is 7 months rent on my apartment!
I may be a little strange and out of the norm with the number of computers I have, but, these days it is not unusual for the average family to have 2, or even 3 in their home. These software costs are beginning to approach the cost of the actual hardware it's self.
What can be done about this? I hear you ask. Well actually quite a lot. Instead of using Windows give Linux a try, there are lots of versions available, personally I use Fedora and Debian, not because they are any better than any of the others, I just stumbled upon them first.
Instead of running Microsoft Office, take a look at Open Office, no it is not quite as feature rich as the $400 Microsoft offering, but it is catching up fast. Better still you can read and write MS Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Oh and best of all, it's free.
Need to make a web page? Well FrontPage does a good job for the novice Web Designer, but why not take a look at Nvu, for the most part it does the same job, it even looks similar, and it has the magic price tag of $zero.
Do you need a web page and don't want to learn anything about the technical stuff? Take a look at Google Pages. It's a great little product, even the absolute beginner can create and host a professional looking page.
I could continue this list for a very long time, instead of Access (which is amateurish at best) try MySQL, which is a serious database product.
Or want truly portable documents? Take a look at Writely.
With each day that passes these products gain features and converts.
I really do believe that while we may be a little early for the Microsoft wake, it is clear that the world is discovering that there are some alternatives out there.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
I grew up in England many, many years ago, and I remember then we got the third TV station, that was BBC2. Yup, the whole country only had a choice of 3 channels. It does not sound much by today's standards.
I live in Calgary these days and subscribe to the regular cable package, I think in total we get about 60 channels. Now we can discard about 10 of these because they are in French, and I do not speak French. I am still left with 50 channels, my goodness, I'd have gnawed my right arm for 50 channels when I was 10 years old!
All is not as it seams though, I have 50 channels but what is on them? The answer is........ Mostly rubbish, there are 3 or 4 shopping channels, a couple of public access channels, a weather channel, a what's on TV channel, even a channel about the channels (Shaws pat themselves on the back channel).
So I guess that brings the total of watchable channels down to about 40. That's still a lot more than 3 though!
So then I start to analyze my watching habits, I hate Sitcoms with a passion akin to eating at Mac Donalds. I don't do quiz shows, and if its 'reality TV' why do they have script writers? I am not keen on Soap Opera's, the last good one I followed was the OJ Simpson trial.
When you take all of those items out, you are really not left with much.
The truth is the only channels I watch are CNN, The Cooking Channel, a very little of Discovery, TBS (if it is showing "O Brother"), and OLN (but only if they are showing the Americas Cup.. That happens every 3 or 4 years).
Because my wife does not like CNN, I only get to see about 10 mins a day. Discovery seems to have run out of new programs, so I probably watch about 1 hour a week, or 10 mins a day.
I like the cooking channel, the Iron Chef is must see TV, specially if Chen Kenichi is on! I like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey on the Cooking Channel, I never thought I'd see the day where a cooking show is preceded by a coarse language warning! hahahahaha
When I total this up I get about 2 hours a day, so that's about 60 hours a month. And for this I pay $50! What a rip off!
If we multipy the number of hours in a day (24) by the number of days in a month (lets say 30) we end up with 720.
So there are 720 possible viewing hours in one month. If we multiply that by the number of channels (60) we get 43,200 viewing hours per month.
I watch about 60, which is means I watch about .02% of the stuff that's available.
That's a strange coincidence, .02% is about the percentage of emails that I get that are not spam! 2 good emails for every 98 offering to enlarge my manhood, make me rich, or get me an online degree or PHD in less than a week!
So there is my conclusive proof, that the tv and the Internet are a lot alike!
Friday, May 26, 2006
Back then there really wasn't much 'searching' going on, you either knew where something was, or you just left it alone.
The proliferation of the 'World Wide Wobble' has changed all that. Even the smallest company has a web site, many individuals have web sites, hell, peoples pets have their own web sites, the web has exploded. This vastness of knowledge and garbage has created an environment where in order to locate information you must use a search engine.
By far the most popular is Google, but there is also MSN, Yahoo, AOL, everyone and their dog wants in on this game!But where is the incentive? I hear you ask. Why would you want to spend millions of dollars cataloging the net, so that people can use you services for free?
Oh, there is big money involved here, Google makes its living primarily from the advertising revenue it charges. Have you never noticed the 'paid for' ad's when you do a search? The amount of money being generated by search engines is obscene (damn I wish I had thought of this business opportunity in the early 90's).
All of these search engines are plowing money into make theirs better than the rival, so that they attract more revenue. This is where the problems start.Let me try and explain a little.
I am sure that you are all familiar with e-mail spam, and I am sure you hate receiving all the offers to make things bigger, live longer, get rich quick, and all of the other scams out there. The World Wide Web is also over filling with spam. Spam Websites offering the same pills and potions, this in its self is not a problem, or at least it should not be.
If you type into google "Cheap Hotel in Las Vegas" you expect to get a list of hits about cheap hotels in Las Vegas, unfortunately what was happening was Google was also returing hits about Viagra, and other delightful things.This was not because Google was doing anything wrong, it was because web site owners were manipulating the search engine by methods like 'key word stuffing', this is where you include (un seen to the naked eye) keywords on your page that the Google web crawlers will index.These less than upstanding web owners also found a variety of other techniques to fool the search process.
Obviously this is not a good thing for the consumer, nor is it a good thing for the advertiser that is in effect financing the entire show.
Google has made it clear to the tech world that it is no longer tolerating this situation. Unfortunately what seems to have now happened is that it is next to impossible to actually get your new web site listed, and existing web sites that are well meaning, but maybe not professionally developed are being de-listed.Over the past few months I have created several sites, mostly non-commercial, mostly fun, or information sites and none of them have made it to the Google index. Yahoo, Msn, Altavista, have happily picked them up tho.
So the moral of the story, if you are a small e-commerce company do not put all of your eggs in one basket, and if you are a consumer looking for something, give the other search engines a try.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Ever since the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981, the hard ware and software manufactures have been waging a war. Faster hardware verus fatter applications. This war has been waged for 25 years, and their is no sign of a clear winner. Windows get bigger, Intel gets faster! If I was into conspiracy theories, I would say they are in collusion!
From the stuff I have been reading it looks like the next version of Windows is going to need (this is the guess on actually having a system that is responsive):
- 1 gig of ram
- 2.5 gig processor
- 256 Meg Video card
Hmmm, well I can tell you that I do not have any computers that come near that spec! I have lots of computers and they are all in the 850mhz and less. I run Windows XP, Linux, and I have a couple of Apple boxes as well. I am happy with my puters, my wife is happy with hers, they all work just fine.
So why do you need a screaming fast system? Games, Games, Games. If you do not play the high end graphic games, you will see no difference between a 4ghz overclocked, water cooled computer from hell, and a Pentium III 500. For most things, word processing, email, spreadsheets, being bad on the net! Any old piece of crap will work just fine. In fact when I need another computer, I just assemble one from my ever growing junk pile.
Oops, I seem to have got a little off the original topic. I wanted to talk about brands.
So you think you are in the game for a brand new system? As I see it you really have 3 choices:
- Best Buy, Future shop, Staples, Etc
- The Mom and Pa Computer store
- Dell- esque
All these operations are only interested in moving product, and moving the lowest cost product. Their product line is all name brand. Now in most consumer electronics you want to buy name products. If you go to the store for a new TV and for $200, you have your choice of a Sony, or Joe Kim Sans Electric Corp from Bum Hell Shanghai, you will buy the Sony. Sony has a great name and you know that the Sony TV will work great and last a long time. All of the computers that these people sell are at the bottom edge of technology. Do not get me wrong, they are a great deal, great bang for the buck, but you will lose in the long run. All of the products are proprietary, and generally impossible to upgrade or fix if something bad happens.
A good example is when little 3 year old Johnny stuffs his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the floppy drive. Instead of being able to replace it with a $10 generic drive you will have to special order a $40 drive from Compaq, or who ever.
The other major problem with all of these boxes are they are maxed out. Don't think that in 6 months you will be doing any significant upgrades to it, because you wont! About the most you will be able to do is maybe add some memory, but even that is a maybe!
Another problem is that the vast majority of these systems have the video as part of the motherboard, this is ok if you just want to play online and do a bit of writing and spreadsheet activity, but they are very poor performers for playing games. The graphics really suck!
This is without doubt my favorite, find a reputable local computer store and get then to build you a nice generic system. You will pay a little more than Future Shop, but you will get exactly what you want. Better still, because it is generic it will be easy to upgrade and replace parts.
In my opinion the Dells and Gateways of the world do make some good machines, but they also make some really nasty low-end ones as well. You get what you pay for. The low-end are very similar to what HP, Compaq, and the rest of the Best Buy inventory.
Is the best advice I can offer
Monday, May 22, 2006
Well when I am not at home messing with my ever growing collection of computers and typewriters I can be found working in a homeless shelter. It sure is an interesting line of work. You see the most interesting stuff! In fact just when you think you have seen it all, something completely 'off the wall' happens.
One of the most unique events I can recall happened about 4 years ago. To protect the guilty, we will call him Gary. Forever after known as 'six pack and a ho Gary'.
I went to work on a Saturday morning, but it was just to drop something off. So about 9am I was leaving the building when Gary saw me and said hello. No being in any rush I decided to stay and chat with him. I asked him how he was doing, and he replied "not very good". So being the caring person I asked what the problem was (my first mistake!). Gary had a bit of an addiction problem, he could not resist the VLT's (One armed bandits, aka slot machines) and last night had blown his entire two weeks worth of wages in them (well over $1000).
"so what are you going to do?" I enquire. "Get me a six pack and a ho" is his answer. I point out that this lack of funding he currently has is going to be a bit of a hurdle in his goal, Beer and prostitutes generally require the transfer of money.
Garry is not phased by this and invites me to accompany him on this quest. Well I personally was not interested in sharing the outcome, I was interested in how he was going to achieve his goals. So I said "sure thing Gary I'll tag along for a while".
It was a most educational adventure.
The first stop was a gas station a few blocks away. Gary had scammed a $2 transit ticket from god knows where, and this particularly scuzzy gas station would trade transit tickets for cups of coffee.
Fortified with caffeine he led me off in the direction of down-town. With no warning he hangs a right into one of the back alley's. "Where we going?" I ask, "first order of business is the beer" he tells me. He walks up to a large dumpster and climbs right in. After some banging and crashes he climes out with a used large black garbage bag, "you have to have something to put them in" and continues down the ally. "this is usually a productive spot" he informs me when we stop at another dumpster. In he goes, "we hit the mother lode!" he shouts from inside.
I finally get it, he is collecting cans and bottles for the deposit! A couple of dumpsters later he has filled up his bag.
Emerging from an ally Gary suddenly darts across the street, I have no idea what he is doing, then I spot the object of his desire, an abandoned supermarket cart! With the cart he has increased his earning potential. An hour or so later we find ourselves outside the bottle depot, in line to cash in our find. While we are waiting Gary regails me with bottle picking stories about finding full bottles of booze and money in dumpsters, he also graciously introduces me to several other "professional" bottle pickers. The pro's get up at 3am, that apparently is the prime time, you get the best stuff.
Because of Gary's late start, he only has made $10. I point out that while $10 is enough for a 6 pack, there will not be much left over for the "ho". He tells me that its all in hand, he has it covered.
Next stop, the liquor store where he gets his 6 pack of Black Label ($7).
"You Hungry?" he enquires, "tell you what, let me buy you lunch" he continues. And with that starts walking east. Yup, he bought me lunch all right, he took me to another homeless shelter!
After sating our appetite I ask the big question, "so Gary, ya got ya 6 pack, how are you going to get the ho?".
He looks across the room and winks, the ugliest (and I do mean ugliest) woman I have ever seen comes over to our table. Gary smiles and says "I'll share my 6 pack for a blow job". She thinks about this (for about half a nanosecond) "Okay". And off they went to the park!
I decided that I had had enough of this adventure and went home.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The best bit is....... they are hosting it!
Cajun Delight is alive and well and now residing at http://cajundelight.googlepages.com
The big event on Tuesday was Skypes announcement. Skype is a small company that was recently gobbled up by the 800lb gorilla known as E-Bay. Skype was one of the first innovators of VOIP (basically telephone over the internet). For the past couple of years people have been able to talk for free using Skype. The downside was that it was only computer to computer. They did offer Skypeout, which was fee based, and permitted computer to 'land line or cell'.
On Tuesday they released a new version (Skype 2.5 beta) that allows free computer to 'land line' anywhere in Canada and the US.
This offer is good till the end of the year. Free long distance! Who could say no. I downloaded it on Tuesday, and yes it works!
I did some digging around in the seamier side of the net and it seems that the Telco's (who for the most part are also ISPs) are a little grumpy. They stand to lose a pile of revenue, because who is gonna pay when you can get it for free.
Several Telco's seem to want to block traffic originating from Skype. Now this is where it gets entertaining. Skype has been designed to be stealthy, it uses known public router ports, and switches originating server ip's like the rest of us change our underwear! It is a moving target, so very hard to stop. I think this is great for the consumer, and it is really hard to have much sympathy with the telco's that for so long have had a monopoly over communications.
This is HOT.
Now, on the not so hot list is Google. Google is a company that I normally think very highly of. They are innovative, they are creative, and they are mostly free! And I like free. Their recent acquisition of Writely is going to mean that very soon they will be offering web based word processing, and web based document storage. I have a writely account, and I really like it. With google behind them, this product will go far. If anyone is interested in trying out the beta (or maybe this is alpha) version, please drop me a line.
Ok, back to the 'not so hot' aspects. I have been following some very interesting threads on Usenet. It seems that Google rolled out a new version of its web crawler in March. The web crawler is the thing that roams the web finding sites to include in the google index.
This version seems to have taken a quantum leap back in technology, web sites that have been indexed for several years are suddenly finding themselves de-listed. For the average Joe, this is just an annoyance, for someone that is using Google as a store front, this is a disaster. I have read thread after thread of e-commerce Webmaster weeping about how their business has gone into the toilet over the past 2 months.
Google is being very tight lipped as to what is going on, but I think it is fair to guess that they are fed up with the way people have been manipulating the page ranking (where you appear in the hit list) and are trying to remove all of the spam sites. Unfortunately their 'new broom' seems to be sweeping up the good with the bad. I have created several sites in the last two months and I have noticed that Yahoo, and MSN are finding and indexing them, but good old Google is not!
So google is NOT hot this week!
That was going to be the end of this post, but yesterday I got hit with another piece of internet dog turd! My wife has a web site, she has hosted it for two years with Topcities.com, using their free web hosting product. For no good reason they removed her site and her account! I thought the poor lady was going to have a coronary. The good news was that I had local copies of the page, so I am now hosting it locally on the BeerBox, with a pointer from Googlepages.
I guess this is the downside of using free web hosting. I have send a nasty-gram to topcities, but I doubt they will reply.
Okay, enuf of this, I need a beer..............
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Here are a couple of my recent adventures:
I hope you enjoy them!