Thursday, July 16, 2020

Peace in Our (Electronic) Time

Somehow this house has acquired 8 Raspberry Pi computers.  (I blame Snuffles P. Bear).

Most of them sit around powered off. A Raspberry Pi 3b+ does act as our network server, and a pair of Raspberry Pi 4s take up space in my office. Actually, one takes up space (powered off). The other is reasonably useful as it handles my retro computing needs, hosting a number of 1970's mainframe IBM Operating System images. It runs, cheaply, 24x7. (I used to use my semi-retired Mac Pro in library for the hosting, but it requires ~ 10 times the power.)

I have thermostatically controlled fans (on 65 ºC, off at 55 ºC) on both of the Raspberry Pi 4s. The unit which stays powered up to tends to kick in the fan a few times an hour. Unfortunately, the fan makes a subtle buzzing noise; this not surprising (it's not well anchored, hanging off GPIO pins) but it is annoying.

I put up with it.

Ah, but today I checked ... the machine is not heavily loaded, and a Raspberry Pi 4 doesn't throttle until above 70ºC. Adjusting the thermostat up 5º causes it to run under normal load at ~ 64-66ºC without the fan cycling. That's even with the room temperature creeping up to 79ºF.

So there is peace in our time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Would You Like to Play a Nice Game of Chess?

The Internet is 50 years old today.

I showed up ... well not early, but in 1986, well before the Eternal September. By 1990 I had my first domain (which celebrates its 30th anniversary in February), which picked up mail from MIT via dial up UUCP.  But that's getting ahead of the story ...

In 1986, the Internet was a more innocent place, and for that matter the preferred network protocols were still in flex. Clarkson University had IBM 3270 devices, dedicated serial lines, Bisync lines (including to BitNET), a modem pool, an X.25 network, and that year the school added a MILNET link.  (Clarkson got assigned, which means it got the 25th class B network.)

One day three of us were trying out the new MILNET link when the head of operations (an ex-Marine) walked by. He quipped, "Yesterday you were hacking into the X.25 HVAC sensors. What is it today, the Pentagon?"

The VM systems programmer turned around and said, "As matter of fact, yes!"

(We were, too, thanks to a DoD civilian family member who shall go unnamed.)

The head of operations quietly slipped away with an odd look on his face.

Friday, January 4, 2019

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy

I bought my first modem, a Hayes SmartModem 2400, in the summer of 1985; I was returning for my third and final tour of duty at Clarkson and its dial up lines.

As they say, it's been all downhill since then.

In 1988 in Kingston (NY), I installed a second phone line for the modem. After I moved to Boston, use of the second line grew as I used UUPC/extended and its mail functionality to connect to the internet and my family in the early 1990's. For a short time in mid-1990's we had even three lines: a voice, dial-in modem, and a dedicated dial 56K PPP (Internet) Link.

Alas, UUCP and dialup in general lost the war to the always on Internet. The third line got dropped when we replaced dial up with our first cable modem in 1997 -- Katherine wrote about the glory of always-on high speed (for then) Internet in an early Wired issue.

But as our modem usage dropped, Katherine started working at home; she needed a business line, so need for the second line continued uninterrupted. Thus, though we have not relied on dialing a modem at home or on the road since long before we moved west, we have kept two landlines going on thirty years.

Over 30 years, things do change. Katherine's business communications has been moving from the telephone to mail, the web, and chat for years. The marketing robocalls now far outpace the few legitimate calls that Katherine gets on her business line; she has been talking about dropping it for years. 

Still, the two lines lived on. Until this week, that is.

Now, she is transferring the business telephone number to Google Voice; she'll forward that to her cell phone.

Line 2 now has no dial tone. I told our two-line wireless handset base station to not worry its little brain any more about line 2, and replaced the bulky two-line speakerphone I had on my nightstand with a (single line) Trimline.

But my last modem, a little Mac USB modem which is tucked away in the office closet having never been used for real data, ponders old Electric Light Orchestra:
"Okay, so no one's answering
Well, can't you just let it ring a little longer
Longer, longer oh, I'll just sit tight
Through shadows of the night
Let it ring forever more, oh ..." -- Telephone Line (Jeff Lynne)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Improving the Classics

I looked at some IBM assembler code from ~ 35+ years ago (support for some FORTRAN games ported from MUSIC to IBM VM/CMS). While it worked fine, it truly offended me. In particular, I felt driven to rewrote 32 lines into 9. (The 9 lines doesn't count the pair of simple FORTRAN programs I wrote to test the routines BEFORE I modified them. THAT's something I've learned to do since 1980 ....) Looking at the old code, I'm reminded of Cargo Cult Programming -- the old code did the right things, but it was redundant and did things by hand that macros could do for the past fifty years. It was all as if the coder didn't really grasp what they could do ... I'm sure I've seen and probably touched the code before, but I never wrote code this ugly -- I know, as I've got code samples from the era this was written, and I if nothing else I didn't code stuff by hand that macros existed for. I've also commented my code better since I was a freshman. (My old schoolmates would beg to differ about a help script I wrote for the Clarkson ROSCOE time sharing system. Its funky subroutine #20, which none of us could decipher a few weeks later, wasn't deliberately obfuscated, but it was dense, like an APL one-liner -- write only code. Hey, it worked.)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Turnaucka’s Law (Automotive Edition)

In my previous post, I noted that Purr More the Aqua has updated electronics.  This is perhaps the biggest change between the model years, as it now has its own 4G cell service for enhanced traffic information, emergency calls, concierge service, telemetry, stolen vehicle tracking, and limited remote control.

It's all very cool. It also reminds me that I have said more than once that the 2016 MINI was one firmware upgrade away from being a charter member of Skynet. These changes are a serious upgrade, and now they can directly push more updates over the air.

Info Page of MINI Connected
(from the iPhone App)
The spooky thing is that it knows more than it explicitly publicizes. For instance, in the mock up of the car above from the companion iPhone application, it shows that the car is a convertible Cooper S, and all the customizations, including color, bonnet stripes, wheels, fog lights, headlight rims and even the mirror caps correctly.  It also has (if one scrolls down) our exact current mileage.

I didn't see any agreement that we were "serfs to global domination" in the Terms and Conditions. Katherine wonders if we should have read it more carefully before we agreed.

We do have Turnaucka’s Law:
The attention span of a computer is only as long as its electrical cord.
Where's the fuse panel on the 2019 MINI?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

It's Here! It's here! (Announcing Purr More the Aqua)

So once upon a time we replaced our 2006 rag top MINI with a 2016 rag top MINI . The plan was for it to have an equally a long, useful, and fun life.

It didn't work out that way. After about a year, the top, which only requires a single switch to raise and lower completely, didn't. It would fail every few months, Katherine would get out the Allen wrench to do the emergency close procedure, and then she would call Seattle MINI. They could see the problem code in the car's computer, but could never reproduce it. They tried (and I mean tried hard!), but modern integrated electronics are not something mortals can disassemble in the field.

To make a long story short, due to the top issues, we had the car declared a lemon. We ordered a 2019 replacement in late August, and we surrendered the 2016 MINI to MINI/BMW on September 14th. We were treated well by the dealer and MINI Corporate, and we've moved on.

This past Friday, our lovely 2019 MINI arrived. It's Caribbean Aqua in color, has more advanced electronics by three model years, an apparently working top, and otherwise feels very much like its now departed predecessor.

A friend of Katherine's hopped in it today and said "Did you get this painted?  I was sure this car was silver". That's an easy mistake to make. They are the same generation, and a guest won't notice subtle differences in the stereo or a repurposed switch or two.

Live Long and Motor, little MINI Cooper.

Presenting our 2019 MINI Cooper S Convertible, Purr More the Aqua.
(Click the picture for the full size edition)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Wayback Machine, Computer Languages Edition

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook:
FORTRAN is the first high language I learned. It's clearly also the first one I forgot...
which led to an amusing thread with friends who knew me back in college.

It turns out my command of FORTRAN isn't lost, it's just my brain hid it somewhere. This was no doubt a vain attempt to save my sanity. Now (with the occasional help of a few choice archival sites on the web) the FORTRAN is coming back ... with a vengeance.

To wit, I offer this gem from code I wrote in high school:
WEK DAY = MOD(WEK DAY - 1 + MONTH(B), 7) + 1
That is valid code, because FORTRAN doesn't tokenize on spaces. That is, WEKDAY could be spelled WEK DAY or W E K D A Y; they are all the same valid FORTRAN variable. (Tokens were something for subway turnstiles when FORTRAN was invented.)

At least I commented the program sometime in college. The first version from high school had minimal comments, as I originally wrote it on a 029 keypunch. (If you ever used a keypunch with its lack of an erasing backspace, you would understand.)

Shockingly enough, the program, written in 1978, was not Y2K ready. Let me see what I can do about that . . .

Note: My sanity is not lost, it's backed up on tape, somewhere.