Archive for the ‘Notes’ Category

Because china

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

I’ve been saying for years how everything is starting to suck more and more, mostly in the software development world because that’s what I see most, but now I’m starting to see the edges fraying in other fields too.

I call this “progress.” When we take something that works, make it better, and the end result is that it doesn’t work as well.

Take the humble telephone. It used to be that if the power went out because of a power source problem (and not wires down on your street), you could still make phone calls. But now we have better phones, the kind that go out when the power goes out. Things like that.

Well today I saw a number of examples in a completely different field. All of my kids’ birthdays are in June, and as a result there’s an onslaught of toys and assembly required all around the same time.

Today I noticed this:

A solar car that needed to be assembled from parts that snapped together, included two identical parts that instead should have been a left side and a right side part. Poor quality control? Bad sorting mechanism? Surely there was a person somewhere who gathered the parts into a set for this toy, and grabbed one of the wrong part. I’m going to begin the effort of trying to get the correct part from tomorrow, I’m sure it will yield nothing. I can tell by the relatively good but still obviously translated instruction page.

But the day is not over. We also got a toy that was a car carrier truck, that included a little ford focus car that it carried, so you can play with them as a set or separately. You can put the ford focus in the truck or drive it out of the truck. Very cool for a small kid. The focus was decked out with all sorts of decals to make it sporty looking, except it was painfully obvious that one of the stickers was just missing. Nobody ever even tried to put it on. Poor quality control? Bin of stickers empty? Surely there was a person somewhere who’s job it was to put the stickers on this car and for whatever reason, they missed this one.

A missing sticker here, an incorrect part there, a software crash over there… Not a big deal.

But it’s a sign that things are getting worse. I think a while ago I went on about “peak programmer.” I’m starting to think perhaps the problem is more systemic than just programs becoming too complex for your average programmer.

Maybe all of our business processes and just-in-time supply chains have become so complicated and efficient that the average person can’t deal with it 100% of the time and more and more mistakes are made.

Stickers and toy parts aren’t a big deal, but one of these days, somebody’s going to put the wrong stone in the keystone position of the wall they’re building, or they’ll grab the lower-integrity I-beam when building that bridge buttress.

Or the surgeon’s scalpel will break due to a bad mixture of the steel used to make it.

Or maybe I just got two bad toys on the same day.

But I don’t think so.







E.T. Reboot

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

It just occurred to me today that the movie “The Martian” is quite a bit like E.T. with the roles reversed.
E.T. is left behind by his buddies who eventually come back for him after he calls home.
Matt daemon is left behind by his buddies who eventually come back for him after he calls home.

Hastening the collapse.

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

I’ve often pondered the idea of hastening the collapse.

Given the way things are going, and this history of man, it’s hard to imagine things going more faster better greater stronger without some kind of collapse.

Think the roman empire, the british empire, etc.

Nobody likes the politicians, nobody believes the media, they’re just there for entertainment, the environment is being ruined, everything costs more, the economic divide between the haves and the have-lesses is growing… It will all end in tears.

So why not speed it up? Why wait for it to happen slowly and miserably, when we can just trigger the collapse and get it over with more quickly and be done with it and then move on to the next thing.


Because maybe the collapse will suck and as it turns out you don’t have it all that bad after all.




Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Perhaps one way to get rid of lobbyists and special interests is to do to them what uber is doing to medallion cabbies.

Design by itch.

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Everybody loves open source software.

But if you think about what’s going on, it’s this: open source software was written by/as a bunch of scratched itches, and no more. Itches are like evolution, they’re not intelligent. Which means when an itch is scratched, it’s good enough, if it’s not itching enough, it doesn’t even get scratched.

Anybody who is unhappy with the state of a piece of open source software is free and able to do something about it, but if it’s not enough of an itch and we have bigger itches, we don’t do it and it stays the way it is. What we have is good enough. Just like evolution.

And so it is with every single open source software developer. And that’s why everything is the way it is.


Peak programmer

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

That article finishes with:

“But to anyone who has ever wondered whether using m4 macros to configure autoconf to write a shell script to look for 26 Fortran compilers in order to build a Web browser was a bit of a detour, Brooks offers well-reasoned hope that there can be a better way.”

A man after my own heart.
But what can be done? Can there be a better way? I don’t think so.
I have come up with a new theory relatively recently, in the past year or two to explain this:
I think we have reached “peak programmer.”
The work of rewriting the same stupid lines of code to read in command line params or process the “list” function from a json call, can’t be built once and reused, so everybody has to implement it themselves for their particular application or database or whatever.
And people like to do that, and they’re good at it because they’ve listed the items in a database a million times. They just like doing it with new frameworks and cooler c++ techniques. These are sometimes called “disk to screen” applications, which is really 99% of what everybody does.
But that’s it. That is peak programmer. That’s what most of the people who are programmers are capable of doing at least reasonably well. Well maybe. See below.
To do the next thing requires really smart people (I mean REALLY smart people) who can come up with the algorithms that are the backbone of neural networks and machine learning and all that. People who are not interested in just typing in the same crap all over again in a different programming language but are ready to and CAN invent the next paradigm shift departure from “disk to screen.”
For example: writing a program that can take an audio sample, and find a song match from what’s playing in the sample despite background noise, low volume and only getting a random snippet of the song. Not too many disk-to-screen-ers would be able to pull that off, I think.
I think there just aren’t that many people capable in the world. Programmers may be a small minority overall, but the people who will move the world next probably number in the thousands, if that. I think we’re running out of steam, the technology is getting too hard, abstracted away, layered with crap and filled with things like automake and autoconf and configure.
And it’s not going to go away. The pile of shit we have built as an industry has caught up to the average smart programmer intelligence.
We can’t make it better. We could start from scratch and build something better, but that will never get any traction so it will never take off. I’m sure people do projects like that and you never hear about them because it doesn’t run windows or simply because the barrier to adoption is too high.
The quantum computer? It is doomed. I can tell already. As soon as somebody gets something to work that is even moderately consumer usable, somebody will write an x86 translation layer for it and then get linux to run on it, and then windows and then all we’ll have is slightly faster computers that are even more shittily designed than what we have now.
I’ve got a few ideas for marvels of the future (like a computer that doesn’t need disk, or filesystems or files, the technology already exists) but everybody I pitch it to says “nope, never going to happen.”
Because we’ve reached peak programmer and nobody wants to or can do anything beyond disk to screen.
You know what really made me sad recently, it really hurt when I saw this:
The other day I was trying to help a friend find and set up a better print-screen screen-area selecter in xubuntu.
You go to the settings menu, then the keyboard option, then application shortcuts.
Click on the program entry to edit, change the setting, click ok and….
“System program problem detected.” or whatever it says when a program crashes.
That’s right. Just wanted to change the command that gets run when you hit a keyboard shortcut, and for that, I get a program crash.
This actually turned my stomach a bit. I often complain that nobody ever tests anything but the positive test case of their software, but this wonderful work of art, couldn’t even do that.

And I’m sure while it might seem simple to a programmer “just read the value from the text box and update a config file” I’m sure what’s actually going on is that there are layers and layers of remote target endpoint updater (even though the endpoint is just a config file on the same machine) and user interface abstraction text box locator (even though it’s just a textbox that  GetWindowText could handle). And each of those layers and the libraries they rely on are all positive-test-case-only tested, and as a result, I want to use a feature of the UI manager that somebody thought was a good idea to bother writing a feature for, and I can’t because it blows up when I try and use it.

Peak programmer.

Updating a config file from a setting in a text box is beyond the abilities of the average software developer.

I have another friend who says “Complexity breeds profit.” So at least I know I will never be for want of employment.

Maybe what’s really going on, is that we’re doing this on purpose to make sure the computers can never take our jobs away.


Missing letter sounds

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

So today I thought about how many letters are pronounced like one of the vowels, so I made a list.

In the first column is the vowel, a, e, i, o and u, and following them are the letters that are sounded out by that vowel.

E gets the overwhelming majority. A and O get nothing but themselves.

a a j k 
e b c d e g p t v z
i i y
o o
u q u w

But what about the missing letters:

f h l m n r s x

What makes them so special?

And the sounds that don’t even have letters, like th.

There’s probably lots of language people and phoneme people who’ve worked all this out but I just noticed it today.


The socialism of coding standards.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

I’ve been writing in my weird coding style for decades now, and everybody who’s ever seen it has complained that it’s stupid in one way or another.

That’s okay, it’s my style not theirs. Their style is different.

But the one thing that’s assured is that the coding style that is the corporate standard wherever you work won’t be quite like anybody in particular’s style.

Which means that everybody has to code in a way that is not comfortable to them. Everybody has to conform to something they find annoying in some way.

Seems to me, it would make more sense if everybody wrote in whatever style they felt most comfortable with and everybody else had to be open minded and tolerant of everybody else’s style.

Imagine that, having an open mind about other people’s opinions.

This way you could concentrate on figuring out how to convert the solution to a problem into a piece of software and not have to worry about reading it in a way you find awkward while doing it. It removes a distraction.

And just as a final kick in the head: your next job? Their coding standard is going to be different from your current job’s coding standard style and you’re going to have to get used to another style anyway, so why doesn’t everybody just do what they want be be tolerant of others. Sounds a bit libertarian, but that’s what makes sense to me.


Setting clocks

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

The most uninteresting thing in the world is setting the time on a digital clock.

Cars have clocks on their radios or dashboards, and homes have wall clocks, and nightstand clocks, DVD players and wristwatches and dash cams. Everything has a clock. And if it’s not internet connected, you have to set it every six months for daylight savings time.

There are some ‘atomic’ clocks that set themselves based on the NIST broadcast thingi in colorado, but my experience has been that they only time they can set themselves is when there’s a blackout and there’s no other radio signal noise drowning out the signal from colorado. (not that I ever understood how the signal could bend around the curvature of the earth to get to my house in new york unless it’s bouncing off the atmosphere or something.)

Some people use their phones to solve most of their time problems, and now you can buy a watch that syncs to your phone for $15 that requires recharging everyday, so there’s progress for you.

But for those of us with older equipment like non-internet connected blu-ray players and free low-end dash cams, setting the time on digital clocks can be a pain. Simply because there is no standard interface for doing it.

I’ve been setting digital clocks since the 80s when they first came into existence and there is truly a marvel of different options when deciding how to design the clock setting mechanism. Do you have one button? Two? A rocker switch? Do you cycle through minutes as one number or the tens digit separately from the ones digit? Is there a button to reset the seconds to zero, does the selection of seconds-resetting come after the minutes or after the day setting? Do you cycle through the hours/minutes/seconds once then go to the main display or is there a separate button to get out of setting-the-time mode. Do you always go forward, or can you go backwards? Some clocks will go forward slowly and then speed up if you hold the button down. Some speed-up modes just makes the minutes go by faster, some make them minutes increment by 10 at a time. Some include the hours so you don’t have to select if you’re setting hours vs minutes, you do them both at once, but if you pass the time you want, you have to hold the button down for a long time to skip the next 23 hours and 59 minutes to get back to the minute you wanted. And if you can go backwards, you can only seems to go backwards slowly to compensate for having overshot the time you want going forward, which creates lots of angst when you have to set the clock backwards an hour. Do you go forward and sit through the 23 hours? Even in fast mode that takes a while, or do you suck it up and just sit through the going backwards in slow mode. You’ve all been there, you know what I’m talking about.

Just when you thought there was no way to possibly design a new way to set the time on a digital timepiece… I recently got a $4 watch from some noname brand of watchmaker, and they did something pretty neat: The watch has the feature of showing 12 hour am/pm time or 24 hour time. Every other timepiece I’ve ever used had a separate mode setting to cycle between the two options. This watch cycles through all the 24 hours of 1-12am/pm options and then through the 0-24 hour options, and you implicitly are selecting which of the 12/24 hour mode options you want by which hour setting you stop on.

Why would anybody bother to write a diatribe on all the stupid ways you need to figure out to set a clock?

Why did you bother to read to the end?

It just seems to me it is unlike anything else in this world. Digital clocks have been in homes and cars for over 30 years and everybody has had to deal with them, and in all that time there is no one obvious standard or monopoly system that has won out.

What is it that makes this procedure such an oddity?



Sunday, November 5th, 2017

The ants go marching one by one hoorah, hoorah.
The ants go marching one by one hoorah, hoorah.
The ants go marching one by one,
the little one stops to suck his thumb.
And they all go marching down.
To the ground.
To get out.
Of the rain.
’cause it’s cold.
In the rain.
And it sucks.