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Now THIS is an error message
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Published Friday, July 11, 2014 @ 3:48 PM EDT
Jul 11 2014


(Mediocre Laboratories' web form error message.)

From the guy who invented and sold Woot!, meh.com.


Categories: Computers, meh.com, Music, Video, WTF?, YouTube


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Cleaning off the desktop
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Published Sunday, December 08, 2013 @ 10:01 AM EST
Dec 08 2013

It's surprising what pops up on Google...

It's U.S. Patent #7,249,057 B2, issued July 24, 2007: "Product Information Supplying Method, Product Information Acquiring Method, Product Information Registering Method And Recording Medium," and the description is equally enlightening:

"There is provided a product information supply method for supplying a user who desires to purchase a product with proper information about a related product that could be bought in combination with the product, so that the user is assisted in purchasing products. Registration of combination information to be supplied to the user is made with a database managed by a service provider server by a person who has bought the above product by means of a registration page so that a lot of combination information is accumulated in the database. The registered information includes not only information specifying a combinable product but also information about the effects of the combination and the ways of using products in combination. The database is searched in response to inquiry information from the user who makes reference to a page of products. Thus, corresponding combination information is extracted from the database and is sent to the user."

I'm no expert in intellectual property law, but- this is something patentable? A database of related products, with the added twist of returning information on "effects of the combination and the ways of using products in combination." You mean like peanut butter and jelly? Gin and tonic? Water and Alka-Seltzer tablets?

Even more puzzling is the reference to one of my old DEC Professional DCL Dialogue columns. It deals with referrals and recommendations for computer hardware and software, but its relevance to this patent eludes me. You can read the column here.

Other stuff that passed across the desktop this week:

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Categories: Cleaning off the desktop, Computers, Holidays, Miscellany, Star Trek, Technology, WTF?


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137 thoughts on computers and technology, and an error message
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Published Sunday, November 17, 2013 @ 2:28 AM EST
Nov 17 2013

[A] computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match.
-Bill Bryson

A computer cuts your work in half and gives you back the bloody stumps.
-Unattributed

A computer is only as good as the people who are employed to replace the people who were made redundant by the computer.
-Unattributed

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
-Mitch Ratcliffe

A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.
-(If Error Messages Were Haiku, www.pcpoetry.com)

A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer you didn't even know existed can render your own computer unusable.
-Leslie Lamport

A lot of what appears to be progress is just so much technological rococo.
-Bill Gray

A successful technology creates problems that only it can solve.
-Alan Kay

All programmers are playwrights and all computers are lousy actors.
-Unattributed

All scientifically possible technology and social change predicted in science fiction will come to pass, but none of it will work properly.
-Neil Gaiman

All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.
-David Ross Brower

An idiot with a computer is a faster, better idiot.
-Rich Julius

Any idiot can use a computer. Many do.
-Unattributed

Any problem in computer science can be solved with another layer of indirection. But that usually will create another problem.
-David Wheeler

Any research done on how to efficiently use computers has been long lost in the mad rush to upgrade systems to do things that aren't needed by people who don't understand what they are really supposed to do with them.
-Graham Reed

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.
-James Klass

Artificial intelligence is the study of how to make real computers act like the ones in movies.
-Unattributed

As far as we know, our computer has never had an undetected error.
-Unattributed

As practiced by computer science, the study of programming is an unholy mixture of mathematics, literary criticism, and folklore.
-B.A. Sheil

Asking if computers can think is like asking if submarines can swim.
-Unattributed

At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer you will find at least two human errors, including the error of blaming it on the computer.
-Unattributed

Bad command or file name. Good typing, though.
(Computer error message)-Unattributed

Bad things come in threes. However, when dealing with computers, the fourth thing is always the start of the next group of three.
-Unattributed

Cheese in an aerosol can is the greatest advance in technology since fire.
-James Angove

Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.
-E.W. Djikstra

Computer Science: A study akin to numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the latter.
-Stan Kelly-Bootle

Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.
-Joseph Campbell

Computers are man's attempt at designing a cat: it does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and rarely ever at the right time.
-Unattributed

Computers are such time-saving devices. In fact, I've just spent the last three years trying to print out an envelope.
-Elayne Boosler

Computers can do better than ever what needn't be done at all. Making sense is still a human monopoly.
-Marshall McLuhan

Computers can now keep a man's every transgression recorded in a permanent memory bank, duplicating with complex programming and intricate wiring a feat his wife handles quite well without fuss or fanfare.
-Lane Olinghouse

Computers can still barely open a printer port, much less the pod bay doors.
-Lee Gomes

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.
-Andy Rooney

Don't anthropomorphize computers. They hate it when you do that.
-Unattributed

Don't explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to virgins.
-Robert A. Heinlein

Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human relationships. That's why it's a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can't handle the truth.
-Unattributed (From Engineers Explained)

Enter any eleven-digit prime number to continue.
-Unattributed (Computer command prompt)

Even though today's technology provides us with mountains of data, it is useless without judgment.
-Felix G. Rohatyn

Every time you turn on your new car, you're turning on 20 microprocessors. Every time you use an ATM, you're using a computer. Every time I use a set top box or game machine, I'm using a computer. The only computer you don't know how to work is your Microsoft computer, right?
-Scott McNealy

For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.
-Alice Kahn

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.
-Richard P. Feynman,
in his analysis of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. Academy Award winner William Hurt portrays Dr. Feynman in "The Challnger Disaster," a drama based on the late Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist's final book, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" If you missed last night's premiere, it will be rebroadcast again tonight at 9 pm on The Science Channel.

Having a computer is like having a small, silicon version of Gary Busey on your desk. You never know what's going to happen.
-Bill Maher

Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.
-Buckminster Fuller

I have a computer, a vibrator and pizza delivery. Why should I leave the house?
-Unattributed

I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.
-Bjarne Stroustrup

I may be just an empty flesh terminal relying on technology for all my ideas, memories and relationships, but I am confident that all of that, everything that makes me a unique human being, is still out there, somewhere, safe in the theoretical storage space owned by giant multi-national corporations.
-Stephen Colbert

I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We've created life in our own image.
-Stephen Hawking

I think everyone in this country should learn to program a computer. Everyone should learn a computer language because it teaches you how to think. I think of computer science as a liberal art.
-Steve Jobs

I think it is time we learned the lesson of our century: that the progress of the human spirit must keep pace with technological and scientific progress, or that spirit will die. It is incumbent on our educators to remember this; and music is at the top of the spiritual must list.
-Leonard Bernstein

I was shocked upon viewing Internet porn while surfing the Web last night. Then I realized my wife must have wired the mouse on our computer.
-John Alejandro King (The Covert Comic)

If moral behavior were simply following rules, we could program a computer to be moral.
-Samuel P. Ginder

If the Catholic church couldn't stop Galileo, then governments won't be able to stop things now.
-Carlo de Benedetti (re: regulation of information technology.)

If we had a reliable way to label our toys good and bad, it would be easy to regulate technology wisely. But we can rarely see far enough ahead to know which road leads to damnation. Whoever concerns himself with big technology, either to push it forward or to stop it, is gambling in human lives.
-Freeman Dyson

If you can't beat your computer at chess, try kickboxing.
-Unattributed

If you don't know how to do something, you don't know how to do it with a computer.
-Unattributed

If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled, and no one dares to criticize it.
-Pierre Gallois

Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining.
-Jeff Raskin

In a way, staring into a computer screen is like staring into an eclipse. It's brilliant and you don't realize the damage until it's too late.
-Bruce Sterling

In all technologically 'advanced' countries, fashion has replaced tradition, so that involuntary membership in a society can no longer provide a feeling of community.
-W.H. Auden

In computer science, we stand on each other's feet.
-Brian K. Reid

In the computer business, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and benchmarks.
-Unattributed

In the long run, everything is a toaster.
-Bruce Greenwald (on innovative technologies)

In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.
-Douglas Adams

It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb, and then puts its hands over its eyes and says, "My God, what have I done?"
-Ursula K. LeGuin

It's a truism in technological development that no silver lining comes without its cloud.
-Bruce Sterling

Let's be frank, the Italians' technological contribution to humankind stopped with the pizza oven.
-Bill Bryson

Levitt's First Law of Information Technology: If it's free, adopt it.
-Unattributed

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.
-Wernher von Braun

Memory is like an orgasm. It's a lot better if you don't have to fake it.
-Seymour Cray (re: computer virtual memory)

Misuse of reason might yet return the world to pre-technological night; plenty of religious zealots hunger for just such a result, and are happy to use the latest technology to effect it.
-A.C. Grayling

Most undergraduate degrees in computer science these days are basically Java vocational training.
-Alan Kay

My perception was/is that while the rest of the computer world was striving for Fault Tolerant Software, Microsoft was working on Fault Tolerant Users.
-John Robinson

Never let a computer know you're in a hurry.
-Unattributed

Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window.
-Steve Wozniak

Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road.
-Stewart Brand

Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.
-Albert Einstein

Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.
-Isaac Asimov

PCMCIA stands for either Personal Computer Memory Card International Association or People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.
-Unattributed

Read, read, read and put away computers. Forget the Internet, that's all crap.
-Ray Bradbury

Reading computer manuals without the hardware is as frustrating as reading sex manuals without the software. In both cases the cure is simple though usually very expensive.
-Arthur C. Clarke

Science is everything we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else.
-Donald Knuth

Science is to computer science as hydrodynamics is to plumbing.
-Stan Kelly-Bootle

Some technologies do their job perfectly and tend to stick around. The spoon is one example, the lawn-roller another. Paper may well be a third.
-Unattributed (From The Economist)

Technological man can't believe in anything that can't be measured, taped, or put into a computer.
-Clare Boothe Luce

Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.
-Aldous Huxley

Technology [is] the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it.
-Max Frisch

Technology frightens me to death. It's designed by engineers to impress other engineers, and they always come with instruction booklets that are written by engineers for other engineers- which is why almost no technology ever works.
-John Cleese

Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born.
-Alan Kay

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.
-Unattributed

Technology is not in itself opposed to spirituality and to religion. But it presents a great temptation.
-Thomas Merton

Technology is really civilization, let's face it.
-Arthur C. Clarke

Technology is so much fun but we can drown in our technology. The fog of information can drive out knowledge.
-Daniel J. Boorstin

Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything, except over technology.
-John Tudor

Technology today is the campfire around which we tell our stories. There's this attraction to light and to this kind of power, which is both warm and destructive.
-Laurie Anderson

That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers.
-Jerry Pournelle

The British don't make computers because they never figured out how to make them leak oil.
-Unattributed

The Buddha resides as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain.
-Robert Pirsig

The computer industry has frequently borrowed from mythology: Witness the sprites in computer graphics, the demons in artificial intelligence, and the trolls in the marketing department.
-Jeff Meyer

The computer industry is a chicken on growth hormones, sloshing around in a nutrient bath with its head cut off.
-Peter Sugarman

The computer is a moron.
-Peter Drucker

The computer revolution hasn't started yet. Don't be misled by the enormous flow of money into bad defacto standards for unsophisticated buyers using poor adaptations of incomplete ideas.
-Alan Kay

The computer saves man a lot of guesswork, but so does the bikini.
-Evan Esar

The difference between e-mail and regular mail is that computers handle e-mail, and computers never decide to come to work one day and shoot all the other computers.
-Jamais Cascio

The entire body of computer science can be viewed as nothing more than the development of efficient methods for the storage, transportation, encoding, and rendering of pornography.
-Unattributed

The fault lies not with our technologies but with our systems.
-Roger Levian

The first time a person gets a screwdriver, he's going to go around the house tightening all the screws, whether they need it or not. There's no reason a computer will not be similarly abused.
-Theodore K. Robb

The goal of Computer Science is to build something that will last at least until we've finished building it.
-Unattributed

The human race has today the means for annihilating itself-either in a fit of complete lunacy, i.e., in a big war, by a brief fit of destruction, or by careless handling of atomic technology, through a slow process of poisoning and of deterioration in its genetic structure.
-Max Born

The Internet was done so well that most people think of it as a natural resource like the Pacific Ocean, rather than something that was man-made. When was the last time a technology with a scale like that was so error-free? The Web, in comparison, is a joke. The Web was done by amateurs.
-Alan Kay

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That's where we come in; we're computer professionals. We cause accidents.
-Nathaniel Borenstein

The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.
-Edward R. Murrow

The only thing God didn't do to Job was give him a computer.
-I.F. Stone

The only truly portable computer language is profanity.
-Unattributed

The power to hurt... has evolved in a direct relationship to technological advancement.
-Roger Zelazny

The protean nature of the computer is such that it can act like a machine or like a language to be shaped and exploited.
-Alan Kay

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.
-E.O. Wilson

The Republic of Technology where we will be living is a feedback world.
-Daniel J. Boorstin

The Web brings people together because no matter what kind of a twisted sexual mutant you happen to be, you've got millions of pals out there. Type in "Find people that have sex with goats that are on fire" and the computer will ask, "Specify type of goat."
-Richard Jeni

The world is just filling up with more and more idiots! And the computer is giving them access to the world! They're spreading their stupidity! At least they were contained before- now they're on the loose everywhere!
-Harlan Ellison

There are more computers running Windows than VMS. There are also more cockroaches than humans.
-Kevin G. Barkes

There are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data and those who will lose data.
-Unattributed

There is a computer disease that anybody who works with computers knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is that you play with them.
-Richard P. Feynman

There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology- the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it isn't any good.
-Robert Pirsig

There is no data to support that computers make business more productive... most companies have merely found faster and cheaper ways to do dumb things.
-Gary Loveman

There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.
-Neil Postman

This computer makes me all frowny with pure nougat-filled hatred!
-Jhonen Vasquez

Unlike human beings, computers possess the truly profound stupidity of the inanimate.
-Bruce Sterling

We are reaching the stage where the problems we must solve are going to become insoluble without computers. I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
-Isaac Asimov

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.
-Douglas Adams

We build our computer [systems] the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.
-Ellen Ullman

We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
-Carl Sagan

While modern technology has given people powerful new communication tools, it apparently can do nothing to alter the fact that many people have nothing useful to say.
-Lee Gomes

Whom computers would destroy, they must first drive mad.
-Unattributed

Why is it drug addicts and computer aficionados are both called users?
-Clifford Stoll

Without software, a computer is just a lump of plastic- whereas with software, it's a lump of plastic that can permanently destroy critical data.
-Dave Barry

Writing is a slow and a difficult process mentally. How you physically render the words onto a screen or a page doesn't help you. I'll give you this example. When words had to be carved into stone, with a chisel, you got the Ten Commandments. When the quill pen had been invented and you had to chase a goose around the yard and sharpen the pen and boil some ink and so on, you got Shakespeare. When the fountain pen came along, you got Henry James. When the typewriter came along, you got Jack Kerouac. And now that we have the computer, we have Facebook. Are you seeing a trend here?
-P.J. O'Rourke

Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that
-(If Error Messages Were Haiku, www.pcpoetry.com)

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NFPE- NON-FATAL PROCESSING ERROR:

     ITC - IGNORING THE CONTRACTOR
 
Remember that potential race condition I warned you about in the coding implementation meetings? You know, the one you condescendingly dismissed in front of your in-house staff of snickering, cognitively challenged ex-baristas? The condition that could never happen 'in the real world' and therefore could be ignored?
 
Guess what, Skippy? Some other process on the system- perhaps one from that odd location called 'reality'- just changed the offset into the next available customer acccount number table.
 
Fortunately for you, I ignored your explicit refusal to authorize the time necessary to write the code to lock and release the table offset. I did it on my own time out of a sense of professional pride and responsibility. If I hadn't, this application- and, through the resulting series of cascading failures, your entire production system- would have reduced this server to a puddle of molten silicon.

The arcane segmentation fault it would have thrown would have corrupted the entire account number sequencing mechanism. Your crack team of outsourced, clueless code monkeys would have taken weeks to identify the cause, let alone correct it. And who are we kidding? You would have been on the phone to me in under an hour, pleading- no, demanding- that I supply a patch, immediately and at no charge, because it's in a part of the code that I wrote and, therefore, is my fault, despite the fact it behaved exactly in the inane manner you decreed.
 
I would have then directed you here: http://tinyurl.com/nak5n7c
 
It's a capture of that portion of the aforementioned video conference meeting where I warned you about this problem and spent ten minutes describing situations in which the condition could occur- and your response, accompanied by the smirks and giggles of your obsequious minions.
 
This message will appear in the production run log file only this one time and will probably not be seen by anyone, since you only check log files when something crashes and burns. You never check for non-fatal processing errors that should be corrected but aren't because that would be contrary to your policy of ignoring the smoke emanating from your hat until your hair ignites.
 
Anyway, in the unlikely event someone does read this, you should also check the report date function two modules down. As written, the end of month summary publication will at some point display a cover date of February 30. I pointed this out in our last meeting and would have corrected it, but it required access to another function in another module which I couldn't access. You said you'd have Bjorn fix it. Let me tell you about Bjorn. His real name is Walter. He changed it to Bjorn because he thought it would improve his chances of being hired. Walter is only vaguely aware of his surroundings and, if you look right now, is wearing mis-matched socks.
 
You're welcome.
 
And I'm still waiting for that last check.


Categories: Computers, Quotes on a topic, Technology


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You are being watched. Might as well enjoy it.
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Published Friday, July 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jul 26 2013

In light of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, CBS' science fiction series Person of Interest now more closely resembles a reality show:

While not quite as memorable as "Space... the final frontier," the series' opening voice over provides a pretty good summary of the premise:

"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything... violent crimes involving ordinary people. The government considers these people 'irrelevant'. We don't. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you".

From the Wikipedia article on the show:

John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer, is living as a derelict in New York City after the death of the woman he loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), a reclusive billionaire computer genius who is living under an assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However, Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills gained in the military and the CIA. Through a back door built into the system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch must try to stop the crime from occurring.

They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who in early episodes investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be partners in the NYPD early in the first season, neither learns that the other is also working with Finch and Reese until season two.

Periodically, the team also enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers in league with budding mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni); in the course of this arc Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important storyline revolves around Root (Amy Acker), a psychopathic female hacker who is determined to gain access to the Machine; she asserts the device is actually God, and that she has been summoned by "her."

Ah, The Machine...

The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world. From this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government, its stated purpose is the identification of terrorist and their planned assaults. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, installed a routine called "Contingency" prior to delivering the system to the government. The covert software causes the machine to also act on non-terrorist crime. Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent directly to him. After Finch fails to prevent Ingram's computer-predicted murder, he further modifies the system so that "irrelevant" non-terrorism data is transmitted to him in the form of social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone.

Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat; red for perceived threats to the Machine, red-and-white for individuals predicted to be violent; and yellow for people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the Persons of Interest that Reese and Finch assist.

As the series progressed, a wider governmental conspiracy emerged. Known as "The Program", it revolves around the development and utilization of the Machine. Apparently led by a mysterious figure known only as "Control", an unnamed official (Jay O. Sanders) from the Office of Special Counsel begins eliminating key personnel who are aware of the Machine's existence by deploying teams of Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) operatives who believe they are acting to eliminate perceived terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as "Research". The members of the elimination teams are classified by the Machine using a blue box.

Person's producers have hinted the third season of the hit series, which moves to a new day and slot (Tuesdays at 10 pm, premiering on September 24) will attempt to be more, er, science fiction-y. Like all television shows, Person does have some reality-bending elements, but the suspension of disbelief level required is remarkably low. The bad guys are still lousy shots, and the key characters make miraculous recoveries from concussions, lethal injections and various forms of physical trauma, often before the show's end credits roll. But hey, it's episodic broadcast television, right?

Where the show excels is in production values and technical accuracy. While Mr. Finch's technology boasts features which are a couple software releases in the future, the indulgences can be forgiven. The show's cellular phone networks, computers, and other devices work at blinding speed. But when you have to shoehorn a rich narrative into 40 minutes of actual episode time, you really don't want to watch systems execute communication protocol negotiations in real time; trust me.

Particularly impressive is the effort the show puts into elements that have perhaps a second or two of screen time. Thanks to high definition and digital video recording, I've been able to freeze frame some of the monitor shots- and it's obvious these guys have some real-world Unix and TCP/IP knowledge. A one-second blip of a phony newspaper article reveals someone actually wrote a faux news story and, apparently, follows The AP Stylebook.

Other one-hour drama series spend eight days or less to film an episode. Person of Interest spends nine and a half, with more camera coverage, extensive location shooting, and substantial post-production work.

They spend money on this show, and it's all up on the screen. The episodes have a decided theatrical motion picture feel.

So... when planning your television viewing for the upcoming season, give Person a shot. Like certain other Warner Brothers shows, the studio hasn't made it available for free, on-demand viewing- you have to buy the DVDs or download the show from iTunes. Update: During the third season, the show became available on the CBS website.

Just type CBS Person of Interest into Google and you'll find hundreds of useful fan sites and video clips from key episodes.

One caveat- the series is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, which means there's a chance that at some point the whole thing could take a sharp turn into stupidity. But, based on the first two seasons, it's worth the risk.

And, the regular cast includes a dog:


Categories: Amy Acker, CBS, Computers, Dogs, Edward Snowden, Enrico Colantoni, George Orwell, Google, Internet, James Clapper, Jay O. Sanders, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, NSA, Paige Turco, Peggy Noonan, Person of Interest, PRISM, Ron Wyden, Science Fiction, Signs of the Apocalypse, Taraji P. Henson, Technology, Terrorism, The Machine, TV, Video, YouTube


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What might have been...
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Published Thursday, July 11, 2013 @ 7:51 AM EDT
Jul 11 2013

Gary Kildall could have become a household name and, possibly, the richest man in the world.

In 1980, IBM approached Bill Gates at Microsoft to license a BASIC interpreter for their soon-to-be-released Personal Computer (PC). They mentioned they also needed an operating system, and Gates referred them to Digital Research, Gary Kildall's company.

For various reasons, things didn't work out, and IBM went back to Microsoft. You know the rest.

There are various accounts of what actually happened, and the Wikipedia article on Kildall offers what appears to be a neutral report.

I used DR-DOS. I used GEM. And I wish more people remembered Kildall's contributions.

(YouTube video: Remembering Gary Kildall)


Categories: Bill Gates, Computers, Gary Kildall, Video, YouTube


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Comments to my future self
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Published Saturday, March 30, 2013 @ 7:30 AM EDT
Mar 30 2013

"Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it."
-Brian Kernighan

I'm working on a major project and including code from stuff I wrote in 1988. It reminds me of how much I've forgotten- well, not forgotten, but not recently accessed. The feeling's similar to the rush of memories you get when viewing an old picture album. And it's reassuring to see my overall state of mind hasn't changed, based on the comments in the code, like:

* Years from now you will review this function and say to
* yourself:
*
* "Boy, this is really crappy code. I should take the time and
* optimize it."
*
* You probably won't remember, but you spent an entire
* weekend of unbillable time tweaking this. You increased
* its execution speed by 30%, but in the process crafted
* a function of such blinding elegance that when you
* reviewed it the next day, you discovered it was totally
* incomprehensible. So you put the old code back in.
*
* This is running on a 386 machine with a 12Mhz clock
* and 640K, and the profiler lists the execution time as 211
* milliseconds. A bit slow, but acceptable.
*
* So forget about it.

"12 Mhz clock and a full 640k."

My current laptop has a 2.4 gigaHertz clock, which is 200 times faster than that old 386 desktop. That kludgy, awkwardly written function that required 211 milliseconds to run now takes a little over one millisecond, and the file that took 20 seconds to process runs so fast that the command prompt appears immediately after I hit the return key.

Thank you, 1988 KGB, for the unexpectedly wise advice. And by the way, Fox canceled Tracey Ullman, but the Simpsons got their own show and are still on the air. And that "Naked Gun" movie you saw with Doug last weekend? Keep an eye on O.J. Simpson. Trust me.

-----

You may ask, how did I remember taking my son to see "Police Squad?" Thanks to Google and the Internet Movie Database, this program comment now makes sense:

* "Hey Look! It's Enrico Pallazzo!"
dexxxe('identfy_provider(name,specialty,location)')


Categories: Computers, KGB


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It never gets old
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Published Wednesday, February 27, 2013 @ 4:49 AM EST
Feb 27 2013

My favorite computer trade magazine cover, from June 15, 1985- 28 years ago, about four years after the introduction of the IBM PC. Some things never change.


Categories: Computers


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"Open the pod bay doors, Hal." "F*** you, Dave."
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Published Saturday, January 12, 2013 @ 10:16 PM EST
Jan 12 2013

ABC News


Categories: Computers, IBM, Technology, WTF?


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A brief history of the Gregorian calendar
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Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012 @ 12:20 PM EST
Dec 12 2012

I'm sick of hearing about the Mayans, so here's an oldie but goodie:

This information comes from the original (pre-Motif) DECwindows help file which accompanied VMS version 5.3. It was written by Marios Cleovoulou and is copyright © 1988, 1989 by Digital Equipment Corporation.

As decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, October 4, 1582, was followed by October 15, 1582. Thus ended the 1,600 year reign of the Julian calendar upon which the Gregorian calendar is based, and thus began the calendar which DECwindows Calendar uses to measure time.

Calendars based on sun and moon movement were used even by the ancients, but the first reasonably accurate one was the 365 1/4- day cycle calculated by the Greek Sosigenes. This was the calendar authorized by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The Julian calendar (not to be confused with the Julian period; see below) had three years of 365 days each, followed by a fourth year of 366 days.

The 365 1/4-day cycle was more accurately defined in 730 AD by the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk, who shortened the time by 11 minutes, 14 seconds. This accumulates to a whole day's error every 128 years, or a little more than three days every 400 years. This being the Dark Ages, nothing was done to adjust the Calendar, despite Roger Bacon sending a note to Pope Clement IV, informing him of the drifting of the date for the vernal equinox. Later, Pope Sixtus IV did become convinced that another reform was needed and called the German astronomer Regiomontanus to Rome to advise him. Unfortunately, Regiomontanus died of the plague shortly thereafter and the plans died with him.

Thursday, October 4, 1582 was the next time the calendar was adjusted. This last day of the Julian calendar was followed by Friday, October 15. So began the Gregorian calendar that we use today, named after Pope Gregory XIII. He commissioned the mathematician Father Christopher Clavius, S.J., to do the necessary calculations, having been authorized to reform the calendar by the Council of Trent in 1545.

The Vatican librarian Aloysius Giglio provided a formula for long- range accuracy. He suggested that every fourth year be a leap year, except for century years that are not divisible by 400. Thus 1700, 1800, and 1900 would not be leap years, but 2000 would be, because 2000 is divisible by 400. This rule eliminated three leap years every four centuries, making the calendar sufficiently correct for most ordinary purposes.

Political Acceptance in Europe

Italy, Portugal, and Luxembourg immediately adopted the new calendar. By 1584, Belgium, parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland, and most Catholic German states had joined, and by 1587, so had Hungary. It was not until 1699-1700 that these countries were joined by the rest of the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Protestant German countries.

By the time the British imposed the calendar on all its possessions, in 1752, 11 days needed to be lost. September 2, 1752, was thus decreed to be followed by September 14. In addition, New Year's day was moved back from March 25 to January 1. (For example, before, March 24, 1700 had been followed by March 25, 1701). Among other repercussions, this moved Washington's birth date from February 11, 1731, to February 22, 1732. The following year, 1753, Sweden too adopted the calendar.

In 1793, the French Revolutionary government adopted a calendar of 12 onths of 30 days each, with five extra days in September (six on leap years). The Gregorian calendar was reinstated in 1806 by Napoleon.

Political Acceptance World Wide

Adoption of the calendar in countries outside Europe and its Crown possessions occurred much later, and often in conjunction with political upheaval: Japan in 1873, Egypt in 1875, China in 1912, and Turkey in 1917.

In 1918, Russia's revolutionary government decreed that January 31, 1918, would be followed by February 14, 1918.

Religious Acceptance Worldwide

German Protestants used the old calendar until 1776, three quarters of a century after their countries had adopted the Gregorian system.

Sweden retained the old Easter rules for 90 years after switching to the Gregorian calendar, and many Middle Eastern Christian sects still retain the Julian calendar.

The Russian Orthodox Church still follows the Julian system.

The Julian Period

Astronomers use the Julian period because it is convenient to express long time intervals in days rather than months, weeks and years. It was devised by Joseph Scaliger, in 1582, who named it after his father Julius, thus creating the confusion between the Julian (Caesar) calendar and the Julian (Scaliger) period.

Julian Day 1 began at 12:00 noon, January 1, 4713 BC. This date was thought by some to correspond approximately to the beginning of the universe. Certainly it predated any known astronomical events known in the 16th century without resorting to negative times. Scaliger decided on the actual date on the grounds that it was the most recent coincidence of three major chronological cycles:

- The 28-year solar cycle, after which dates in the Julian calendar (for example September 27) return to the same days of the week (for example Tuesday).

- The 19-year lunar cycle, after which phases of the moon return to the same dates of the year.

- The 15-year indiction cycle, used in ancient Rome for tax regulation.

It takes 7980 years to complete the cycle. Noon of January 1, 1988, marks the beginning of Julian Day 2447161.

The Julian period is also of interest because of its use as a time base by the VMS operating system.

VMS and the Julian Period or:
Why VMS regards November 17, 1858,
as the beginning of time...

The modified Julian date adopted by SAO (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) for satellite tracking is Julian Day 2400000, which turns out to be November 17, 1858.

SAO started tracking satellites with an 8K (nonvirtual) 36-bit IBM 704 in 1957, when Sputnik went into orbit. The Julian day was 2435839 on January 1, 1957. This is 11225377 octal, which was too big to fit into an 18-bit field. With only 8K of memory, the 14 bits left over by keeping the Julian date in its own 36-bit word would have been wasted. They also needed the fraction of the current day (for which 18 bits gave enough accuracy), so it was decided to keep the number of days in the left 18 bits and the fraction of a day in the right 18 bits of one word.

Eighteen bits allows the truncated Julian day (the SAO day) to grow as large as 262143, which from November 17, 1858, allowed for seven centuries. Possibly, the date could only grow as large as 131071 (using 17 bits), but this still covers three centuries and leaves the possibility of representing negative time. The 1858 date preceded the oldest star catalogue in use at SAO, which also avoided having to use negative time in any of the satellite tracking calculations.

Ultrix (Unix) Time Origins

The beginning of time for Ultrix systems is:

Thursday January 1 00:00:00 1970

The reason for this date being chosen is that this was the year that UNIX, the "father" of Ultrix, was firstreleased.

Thus dates prior to 1970 are BU; 1970 and later dates are AU.

History and DECwindows Calendar

If you read the topics concerning the political and religious acceptance of the Gregorian calendar, you will see that there is a problem: there are many dates for the conversion from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. For example, the British (and therefore the Americans) converted in September 1752, so British and American Calendar users might expect Calendar to show September 2, 1752, to be followed by September 14, 1752. However, a Russian user would expect to see this jump between January 31, 1918, and February 14, 1918.

DECwindows Calendar conforms to the date of the original decree, therefore no days have been lost since Friday, October 15, 1582, nor since the beginning of DECwindows Calendar time: January 1, 1600. Thus for everyone except for users from the majority of the Catholic European countries, which all converted before this date, there will appear to be an "error" in Calendar, where the conversion actually took place. This generalization was felt to be acceptable for an application not specifically designed for historians.


Categories: 12/12/12 12:12:12, Computers, Miscellany


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It's Friday the 13th...
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Published Friday, July 13, 2012 @ 8:12 AM EDT
Jul 13 2012

...and it's going to be one of those days...


Categories: Computers, Friday the 13th


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