Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

BBC, Voyager 1 is impressive

July 25, 2016

The BBC published an article with a paragraph that bugs me. It starts with:

The only spacecraft to have made it further than the planets, moons and asteroids of our solar system is Voyager 1.

To claim that Voyager 1 has traveled further away than all the asteroids is to claim that the Oort Cloud has none. Object 1996 PW suggests this is not the case. But if the comparison is limited to asteroids no further from the sun than the Kuiper belt, then Voyager 1 is only the farthest such spacecraft. Behind it is Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, and Pioneer 11. New Horizons hasn’t yet gotten past the Kuiper belt, but it’s on the way.

The paragraph continues:

At the time of writing, this plucky probe was 20,083,476,000 kilometres (12,479,293,426 miles) from Earth, travelling at some 17 kilometres per second. This sounds impressive until you remember that Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, is fitted with early ’70s scientific instruments, cameras and sensors and has been voyaging for almost 40 years.

How does a launch in 1977, and all that implies, make Voyager 1’s distance and velocity any less impressive? I don’t think it does at all.

Here is something that makes both Voyagers very impressive: they still function. Both spacecraft continue to make observations of the solar wind and are now seeing how it interacts with the wind beyond. The current prediction is that both will have enough electrical power to continue making observations and transmitting them until at least 2025, for almost fifty years of operation. How’s that for electronics and mechanical parts that haven’t been replaced or seen a mechanic in forty years, during which time they’ve been exposed to a good amount of ionizing radiation?

The Voyagers are very impressive feats of engineering. Operating for almost forty years only makes them more impressive. How many machines can do that without maintenance?


A call to Comcast

December 31, 2015

I had reason to call Comcast today. It went something like this:

COM: You’ve reached Comcast customer service. This call may be monitored. Someone will answer whenever they get around to it, so wait. More blah . . .

COM: Is this you address?

ME: Yes.

COM: There is an upcoming fight. Would you like to hear about it?

ME: No.

COM: Please say yes or no.

ME: No.

COM: Two grown men will beat the crap out of each other for violent entertainment that costs money to watch. Do you want to pay for it?

ME: [Hang up since no means yes]

The only fight I’d like to see is between Comcast customers, armed with clown hammers, and their head of customer service. It would be the most brutal clown hammer fight ever.

I wonder how many programs I’ll have to pay for before I reach a person. Sounds like another reason to cancel service, but what little competition there is tends to be no better. Thanks FCC!

Useless toilet repair parts

November 22, 2015

It is a good thing that I didn’t leave earlier for Thanksgiving. I heard an odd sound from my bathroom today, followed by the sound of water spilling on the floor. I quickly found the problem and stopped the leak. A connector for the water supply to a toilet had fractured, allowing water from the incoming hose to escape.

Toilet water inlet parts on dirty old floor

In the image above is the hose with the fractured white connector, although the damage isn’t visible. I found that I have a replacement part from a toilet repair kit that I bought years ago (bottom left), but I can’t figure out how to remove the broken part. It seems like I would need to break the metal collar on the hose. I don’t know how to do that without breaking the hose, but even if I could, I would need a replacement for that, too. After searching the web for a while, it seems that the connector part is not replaceable; the whole hose needs to be replaced.

That begs the question: why was that replacement part included in the repair kit that I got? What am I missing?

Steel Bound Keys: Replacement Risk

May 11, 2013

I’ve been out of a car since someone rammed mine about a month ago. On two occasions thus far, I have rented a car from a local Enterprise office so that I could get a few things done, like buy a lot of groceries or obtain a copy of the police report about the collision. The people at the Enterprise office/location have been great, and seem to handle the stress of being very busy quite well. I’m surprised just how busy it is since the place isn’t located next to an airport.
Steel bound keys

The second rental I got was a Toyota Corolla. All the keys were bound together with a steel cable along with a tag showing the replacement cost. I can understand the rental company wanting to impress upon its customers that losing keys is a bad thing, but the steel cable isn’t helping. With all the keys bound together, that means if one key is lost, all the keys are lost. This will make life more difficult for a customer who loses the keys, and will increase the replacement cost. Further, it makes giving more than one driver access to the car less convenient since two people can’t each have a key simultaneously.

Most ridiculously and silly, though, is the inclusion of the valet key next to the regular full-function keys.

This bit of absurdity really has nothing to do with the local rental office. I’m sure it’s just company policy.

Radio is useless

October 18, 2012

While driving home from work today, I decided to turn on the radio for once since the music I put on the CD I had wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. After I found a radio station (they were all lost when I fixed the cruise control), I heard that there was a 20% chance of rain, and even thunderstorms might visit the area tonight. I could barely make out those words over the loud pattering of a heavy downpour while I drove in a dark occasionally lost to lightning. That reinforced why I seldom bother to listen to the radio, so I turned it off. I guess I shouldn’t be expecting an improvement.

Windows XP is incompatible with Windows XP

September 25, 2012

I had to go through an excruciatingly lame ethics “course” for my employer that was really a slide show. The only challenge was figuring out which button or link to take next since their interface was horrendous, but that didn’t take long. There weren’t even any questions; I could have ignored all the text of their fit-for-elementary-school tale.

Before I could look at their ethics tale, I had to convince the web server to let me see their crap. In the process, I received a turd that I have tried polishing for you, but the poor fonts and scaling mean you may have to take the link to read it.

System Compatibility Check

System Compatibility Check

One of the computers I use at my job still runs Windows XP. The claim that it isn’t optimized enough shows whoever wrote the error doesn’t know the meaning of optimized. Even better is the suggestion that instead of running Windows XP, I should try running Windows XP. To get this far, I had to use Internet Explorer; the installed Firefox was too new according to the server, but I’m sure it would have worked fine. I tried to print the error page, but IE choked, quit responding to events, and crashed three hours later.

HOV Lane: not always in effect

September 12, 2012

There is a High Occupancy Vehicle lane along a southern stretch of I-95, but it comes with hours.

HOV lane hours on I-95

At almost any time of the day, you can find drivers on I-95 who avoid the HOV lane. I see this practically every time I travel this stretch of I-95, yet I’m seldom on I-95 when the HOV restriction is in effect. Seems odd to me. Drivers are supposed to be able to read, right? These tend to be the drivers who want to go faster when the slow pokes fill every lane, the very people who seem more likely to break the HOV rule since they are already breaking the speed limit. Yet they avoid using the HOV lane whether it is around noon or late at night and just go slower tailgating a slow poke. In their defense, only every other HOV sign show the hours.

It may be a rather American thing that just 2+ is considered to be high occupancy. The only vehicle I can think of that can’t manage that is a motorcycle. But then, I read “2+” as meaning “occupancy > 2”. I have the notion that other people may read it as “occupancy >= 2”, which would allow some motorcycles. High occupancy sounds like it should take a passenger bus, not a small car.

Time to increment that number again

December 31, 2011

It is that time again when we increment a number of a mostly arbitrary calendar that most of the world has agreed to use. Oh, hurray. I’m so happy for that number. Other people are so overjoyed that they have taken to exploding things. As I see it, this time marks the end of vacation. I’ll still enjoy it while it lasts, but I’m not particularly joyful about its end. Maybe I just need to find the right thing to explode.

Acronyms With Historical Baggage

July 9, 2011

There are some pretty silly acronyms out there. Some even parody themselves. My personal favorite is PCMCIA for People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.

As people build new things based on old things, the new things sometimes get names that tell a bit about their history. This eventually leads to an AWHB, or Acronym With Historical Baggage. Here, baggage refers to how the name manages to oxymoronically mention its history. An obvious example, at least for those familiar with it, is EEPROM, or Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory. In this case, programmable means data can be written to the supposedly read-only memory. Before EEPROM, there was EPROM which was erasable, but not electronically. Before that, there was PROM that could be written only once, and before that, ROM, which was manufactured with the data instead of being programmable. Thus, EEPROM is clearly an AWHB.

A newer AWHB is GPGPU, or General Purpose Graphics Processing Unit. I imagine that most people who have thought about a GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, came to the conclusion that it was generally for the purpose of making graphics, so why make a new, longer acronym that explicitly states is it general? That is where the AWHB nature comes in. A GPGPU adds all the complex branching needed for general purpose computing to a processor with a GPU lineage. That makes a GPGPU a CPU that can do math really fast in parallel compared to most other CPUs. Some CPU designs are moving toward the same goal, like IBM’s POWER architecture and Intel’s Larrabee. Just to confuse things more, Larrabee is being called a GPGPU but is extending Intel’s CPU designs to look more like GPUs, just like POWER.

As far as I can tell, GPGPUs are a subset of CPUs and not GPUs. When GPUs came out, they were for a specific purpose. The design took what would be software on a CPU and implemented an equivalent with transistors which resulted in hardware that did predetermined mathematical computations faster than a CPU because implementing conditional branches while maintaining high performance is very difficult and takes a lot of transistors. These GPGPUs remove the limitation that made GPUs different from CPUs in the first place. Their approach to math was different from CPUs before CPUs gained SIMD, or vector, instructions.

Now, GPGPUs differ from CPUs only in what hardware they are paired with, but that isn’t inherent in the GPGPU itself. The notion of something called a GPGPU just bugs me. AWHBs just have that effect on me.

There are plenty of other AWHBs, but I don’t know them all. What AWHBs have you come across?

A Backslash is not a Slash

June 26, 2011

I must be playing the crotchety old man today. Maybe it has something to do with not feeling all that well. I’ll get over that, but I might not get over these young’uns who, when I tell ’em to use a slash, ask which one. There is only one. It is used for division. It is used in paths for Internet protocols like HTTP and FTP. It is used as the directory separator on UNIX and UNIX-like systems, which is how it came to be used in Internet protocols. That slash. You know the one.

These young’uns seem to get the slash confused with the backslash. I’m not quite sure why. Try putting in your source code somewhere “a = b \ 2” and I can guarantee that it won’t divide by two unless you have made a conscious effort to do something about that backslash. Try putting backslashes in place of the slashes in the URL bar of your web browser. There is a good chance that the web browser won’t know what you want it to do, and if you get past that, the web server will likely give you a 404.

My best guess is that these young’uns have gotten confused by some Microsoft software allowing both the slash and backslash to be used as directory separators. There was a time when their web browser allowed this and caused some people just learning how to make web sites to make links that were incompatible with anything other than Microsoft software. It seems we have gotten past that bit of confusion from the late 1990’s, yet some software developers get confused when I tell them to use a slash, even though they ought to know them apart to make their division and escape sequences work.

I suppose I might be partly to blame. I regularly use slashes in paths on code that runs on Windows systems because I know that the Windows libraries, like Win32, will interpret the slash as a directory separator. It was a fine decision on Microsoft’s part to assist in porting UNIX software to Windows, and I do use some software at work that started on UNIX and was later ported to Windows. The whole development team does, even if they don’t realize it. So, I use slashes in the paths because they work, and I don’t have to type two characters; using the backslash would start an escape sequence and require another backslash to be interpreted as a single backslash in a string literal.

Still, that doesn’t seem very confusing to me. Software developers need to get this sort of thing straight, so I’m still not clear as to why software developers don’t know what I mean when I say slash. I can understand if they ask about it in the context of a path since not all software on Windows will go both ways, but I get asked outside that context, too. I think when I’m asked which slash to use in the future, I may start answering with use the character for division, or use the character for an escape sequence. If a software developer still doesn’t know what I mean, then they shouldn’t be employed as a software developer. Fortunately, I think it’ll be a while before I find myself working with such an ignorant developer.

False Steps

The Space Race as it might have been

You Control The Action!

High Frontier

the space colony simulation game

Simple Climate

Straightforwardly explaining climate change, so you can read, react and then get on with your life.