Thursday, November 07, 2013

Back in the breakership saddle!

Yesterday, as is my wont, i broke the car out of its cocoon and took it to the East Bay for a very important business lunch. This is a fortnightly (i wrote bi-weekly, but it seems its definition has become corrupted) occurrence, usually accompanied by band practice. No, the band is not getting back together. Yes, we might be playing a reunion show.

Anyway, basically I never drive, and after 16 years of my negligent ownership, the last 7 of which have basically comprised abandonment, I am staggered that my car still puts up with me. I think it wants me to sell it, but I don't really want to, because (1) it's a 3rd generation Mazda RX-7, so it's way rare and cool, (2) it's been a reliable servant and i still occasionally need it, (3) it has issues and selling it would potentially be problematic and/or costly, and finally (4) Robin likes it and thinks I should keep it. She's a keeper, too.

So on the way home, about 30 yards from said cocoon, on the steep part of Masonic just before Frederick, in a line of traffic, I managed to stall the car. Embarrassing eh? When the RX gets warm it gets a little irked, and sometimes this happens. So I turn the key… nothing. Not a sausage. No attempt to do anything whatsoever. Aha, thinks I, the computer is saying no, as things are a little toasty under the hood.

I remember another instance of this, after a 3-way mildly drunk car chase across LA from the pool at the Figueroa downtown to the bar at Spaceland in Silverlake where friends Dealership were about to take the stage. Halfway into the parking space, clonk. It took me, the bouncer, and half the band to push it fully into the space. The computer simply wouldn't play.

And here we zoom out. Literally everything I have ever owned has had an intermittent catastrophic undiagnosable problem. My Peugeot 205 would occasionally refuse to start, but bump start easy and then start flawlessly minutes later. My VW Corrado, the original Red Fish, same exact thing. My Atari 1040STF would scramble its video signal after a while, but only when connected to *my* monitor. My Apple Cinema Display occasionally refuses to talk to the MacBook Air, but it's fine talking to other computers, and fine even talking to the Air when it's anywhere else but the office. My Nova would occasionally act like it was out of fuel, even when it wasn't. The music Mac acted like it had bad RAM, even through RAM checks and RAM and motherboard swaps, and only when running music apps. My Express Modem claimed it could only do 2400 baud. The castle's Airport Express farm will occasionally only stay up for 20 minutes at a time. The list goes on. Of course, nothing is ever diagnosed, and eventually inconvenient breakage due to malignant spirits inevitably leads to Total Carnage blog entries.

Lately this virus has spread to things I don't even own. Robin's Prius is the exact opposite of the RX-7, and in many ways a computer with wheels rather than a car, but it is an impressive piece of engineering and well thought out. So naturally, it has begun losing its mind if left in an airport car park for more than 2 nights. Return to car park after miraculously surviving flight, car is dead as doornail. Once a little power arrives, courtesy of AAA or whoever, the car springs to life and behaves normally. Even claims the battery is almost fully charged. WTF?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hooray! I finally broke something.

Kindof a big one, too. I've been building little synth modules and stuff for a few years now, and thanks largely to friends showing me the proper way to do things, I've enjoyed a very high degree of success. In fact for the most part, stuff just works first time. This is a far cry from my first attempt at this, many years ago, which was to build a MIDI thru box from instros in E&MM. I remember PJ "LeChug" Ford retreating rapidly just before I switched it on, and insisting I didn't connect it to any of *his* gear. Well the thing only functioned as a way of freaking out my DX7, so I gave up for decades.

More recently I've been recording vocals and guitar at the house and so decided to "save money" by building my own preamps and compressors etc. Again this turned out well, with the Neve 1072 and LA-2A clones working first time. I turned my attention then to the 1176 compressor, and got a bunch of bits and pieces.

Time came to test the power supply. Wired up the power transformer, powered up, waited for a few minutes, heard some creaking from its plastic covering, thought it was just expanding from getting warm, etc. I was right. After about 10 minutes there was a loud CRACK and jolly nice molten metal smell. Fab!

I looked again at the wiring instros I'd followed. 220v. Hmmm.... I'd grounded the centre taps on the primary side, resulting in basically a short. I'm impressed with the Lindberg Y236106 - it did its best for as long as it could. Happily there's no real damage to the 1176 board, as far as i can see, so i can just try again with another one. Wheeee!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

blog.repurpose() again + Js rant

It's not like I got tired of blogging about breaking things. I've written before about the Heisenberg effect -- am I deliberately breaking things just to write about them? I don't think it's really that either. And coincidentally I've not really broken anything recently either -- well apart from putting a kitchen knife through my limited edition boxed copy of Tara Busch's Pilfershire Lane when I couldn't get its jiffy bag open. If there was any collector's value in that, there isn't any any more.

I think the main deal is that as a programmer and mobile human I see so many things that are broken every day, and I don't see why I shouldn't write about them just because I didn't do the breaking. So the new title is "It Was Broken When I Got Here", with due respect to the Crucible fire experts' motto of "It Was On Fire When We Got Here, Honest".

First up for the treatment, though by no means the first, last, or only, is the "new" HTML 5 Web Database API. Now in general I think HTML 5 is great smashing super. canvas is proving to be a real graphics workhorse, geo can't hurt, and video will hopefully mean a web video standard finally (Apple, please get out of the way, thanks). Together they will spell the death of Flash, and really how could that be a bad thing?

Unfortunately however someone left the design of the web database package in the hands of someone who has never seen a database API before and thinks that one should write one's Javascript application onion-style, as a series of concentric closures. I presume they did this in an attempt to make code as unreadable and unportable as possible in order to prove how smart they are. Not to mention how stupid it is to implement classes in Js so why would we bother? Hey dickhead, take a look at John Resig's Class.js.

The problem is that the entire API is asynchronous. You heard me right, a *database* API is asynchronous. How long does "create table" take? Or even the most complex retarded SQL query? An hour? No, more like a few milliseconds. In other words, much shorter than your average Ajax call. Because, you see, Captain Closure, database calls are *local*, *CPU bound*, and in general the application needs the data it got back in order to proceed. So making the whole thing asynchronous kinda indicates that you thought you were writing something networky or I/O bound, and someone bolted on some database shit at the last minute.

Yes, yes, shut up, I know there is a synchronous API too. Be nice if anyone implemented it. Safari and Chrome don't. Largely because it came along quite recently. This should be setting alarm bells off in any *real* programmer's head by now. Wait, they didn't implement the async API on top of the sync one? Or rather expose the sync API so if you *really* wanted to do your database sync, you could roll your own? Nope. That kind of stupid traditional talk doesn't make any sense in Js, also known as AnyExcuseNotToImplementRealLanguageFeaturesScript.

No problem, says the real programmer, we've been building sync APIs on top of async APIs for ages. Just reset your flag, spin and yield waiting for the flag to get set by the async task. Easy. Well apart from one thing. Js really isn't a real environment, as despite kinda having thread, it has no yield().

Because, once again, dear readers, the authors of Js and the HTML 5 web database API didn't bother thinking about it, they just started writing code. This is agile development, we don't need design! We can just iterate! Never mind that 8 million developers around the globe will adhere to a crap standard and will create 8 million hacky workarounds for a problem which would have taken 5 minutes to prevent had someone - anyone - not taken a bong hit before ratifying the standard! Who cares? We make money from incompatibility! This is the web! Code should be free! It's open source, everything is fine!

tl;dr -- the HTML 5 web database API is a pile of shit designed by someone who had no clue what they were doing.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fish Supper

Many different versions of Swami inhabited the Miles house over the years. From Applesaucer bassist through Rockridge's own Big Lebowski, maverick underground video producer, holder of the prestigious Ben & Nick's "Eleven Beers" award, and finally to Almost Respectable Family Man With Good Job, Probably. Swami is living proof that enough time spent in the east bay's most famous halfway house can indeed turn one's life round.

Unfortunately, respectability comes at a price, and Swami found it necessary to leave behind his friends, who must now navigate their own salvation. However, it's not quite clear how we're supposed to do that without the 4-hour late night bitch sessions hosted on the kitchen floor, and especially minus the sturdy spiritual sustenance represented by the Magic Auto Refilling Corona 12-Pack parked in the fridge.

Tragically, his friends weren't the only things he left behind. A good 3 days after the official move-out date, we were still carrying truckloads of assorted kibble out of the Miles house for handling by NBC-suited toxic waste disposal experts. I did say that we could blow them up in the garden ourselves, but the NBC guys said they'd not seen waste this toxic before and they wanted to call in their lab rats to sample it.

Some of the more entertaining things remaining after the Exodus though were Swami's impressive collection of Mutant Video Star Goldfish. These guys were bought as nippers to star in a long-forgotten Hieroglyphics video, and subsequently force-fed every day on Royal Jelly, with the effect that they achieved the size and weight of ocean-going liners.

And nice healthy crunchy late night snacks. Yummy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Anti-Aircraft Bat

I did try to blame this summer's infestation of fruit flies on global warming, and I even conducted studies in other people's houses tracking the incidence of these annoying little fuckers. Almost the worst thing about them is their irritating tendency to cluster around, or frequently in, one's sublime and refreshing adult beverage. The more luscious and expensive the beverage, the more it drew in clouds of buzzing spectators. Of course, it's relatively easy to give them what they want and drown the little buggers in it, but there's precious little fun in that.

I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a fly, and frequently ran around my kitchen (the old one, that is, the new one has barely enough room to turn round, never mind run anywhere) waggling my head around furiously in an attempt to empathise with the highly mobile insect's plight. Of course, I was holding bunches of straws up to my eyes for the complete fly A/V experience.

Somewhere along the line I realised that while these things were diving and swooping and whirling around various areas of the house, they were perfect prey for my vorpal anti-aircraft bat, +50 vs anything airborne, to include basically anything getting in the way.

Now, in this country, badminton is a sport which usually brings forth mirth from any native with which you discuss it. This is because Americans are crap at badminton. England is about #6 in the world, and the USA, despite having lots more people living in it, is in the 40s somewhere. This is due to the influence of the following elements -

- it's tough to make money out of badminton, compared to lame sports like basketball, baseball, American football, etc, where the thing being passed around rarely if ever breaks the sound barrier and most of the game is spent feeling up the other side's players in an event to make it more TV friendly.

- badminton clubs in successful (at badminton) countries usually operate on a very egalitarian peer to peer system where everyone plays with everyone and therefore everyone gets better. Kinda like the JFK "all the boats float" idea. Well, you know how well that approach goes down in Individuality Central. Hence.

Badminton is most emphatically not the beach game the USA thinks it is. It's the fastest racket sport, by a long way - a good smash will leave the shuttle breaking 200mph. That crack you hear is the racket head breaking the sound barrier. Yeah. No shit. Because of this, and the shuttle's heart-stopping deceleration causing long rallies, it's obviously much better a spectator sport than the ridiculous tennis or golf or indeed much of anything else. Try it.

You can see where this is going. With the racket head travelling at 500mph+ even in the hands of a rank expert like me, the little airborne alcoholics are going to receive a pasting. Check it out.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Guest Destroyer

Please welcome the first guest destroyer to Carnage Supreme. We don't know who he is, and he (presumably) doesn't know he's here, but that does nothing to diminish the magnitude of the event. I'd like to say that I hired a freelance destroyer to come in and do some destruction, partially in order to assuage my fear that Heisenberg was setting in and I was ruining things just to write about them, but the truth is that the universe noticed the unusually long no-breakages period and provided a Saviour.

Of course, we don't actually know that our mysterious destroyer exists, because only G actually saw him, and he's an unreliable witness at best. Liz (aka "her upstairs") claims to have seen an appropriately clad stranger scarpering from the scene, but upstairs is a known stoner hangout, so that could mean anything.

Adding further to the already murky waters, our destroyer only broke the window in the front door, which arguably needed a good kicking to convince Carol that our security was inadequate, and he only took the crappiest laptop in the house, which could only barely get it up anyway. G maintains that the destroyer took his phone, but G *returned* to the house, catching him in the act. Are we to believe that G left the house *without* his phone? In 2007, are we really going to buy that story?

So today, of all days, some time after the event (this is a(nother) backdated post) we can finally unmask the mysterious burglar destroyer dude. Some deliberation was necessary, but now the jury is in. The fact is that there was no such mysterious burglar.

Cast your mind back to June 6, approx 4.15pm. G returns home from his noncy stick-waving session and discovers that he can't open the front door, either because he's forgotten his key or because the Door Fairy has accidentally moved lock #3 into alignment with the planets and No Power On Earth can open the door from the outside. G tries various combinations of knocking on the door and calling people and all the rest of it, and eventually concludes that I am enjoying my post-trawl afternoon nap in my room with Vangelis's Voices playing at threshold of pain volume.

At this point G flies into a martial rage and drop-kicks the door into the middle of next week. However, the unexpectedly loud noise shocks a respectably dressed and impeccably behaved young black man who was randomly passing, and he takes off down the street, assuming quite rightly that he will be blamed for anything going wrong in this neighbourhood.

The noise also jolts G out of his destructo-trance, and seeing the black dude take off realises that he has a short amount of time to cover his tracks. He dumps the crappy Sony laptop under the love-seat (for later removal to some remote trash-can), hides his phone in his backpack (for later production upon "replacing it", which carries the nice possibility of profit via my renter's insurance), and then bursts into my room, yelling "are you stupid?" upon encountering my rather sedate countenance. He then takes off in his car to try and "track down" the offender. Of course, no progress is made with this task.

G managed a convincing performance during the resulting police visit, and no further questions were asked. Until now.

And if you're out there, good sir, and come to any distress or inconvenience from this performance, please accept my apologies.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Vista Meets a Sticky End

sorry it's been so long. the problem is one of heisenberg. am i destroying things just to write about them? in other words, is the red mist real?

happily, this time, the act is justified whether or not it's premeditated. the irony is of course that pieces of criminal insanity like Windows Vista are adept at breaking themselves without any outside intervention.

so why you have such a low regard for microsoft, jase?

ironically enough it's not so much about the product these days, utter crap that it is. it's not about the fact that windows presents its user interface approx 2 minutes before it will listen to mouse clicks, or that it usually won't reboot at the first or even fourth try, or that it installs updates without asking you (whose computer is this, bill?). it's more about this type of stuff -

- microsoft were really the first to introduce the concept of bugs as profit sources. they, or rather bill and steve, realised that a working product wasn't going to make any money for anyone. rather like the drug industry, microsoft built their business on lifetime treatments instead of cures. and once the market leader settles on this kind of strategy, competitors are a little screwed - either you spend the money on QA and impact your bottom line, or you ship a flawed product and then admit you're no better than the worst best player in the game. it's this situation, that to my mind has brought about the current woeful state of software quality. when the web arrived, with its free and broken software model, it wasn't greeted with the "fuck this, it's broken, let's use something else" reaction that it should have been. instead it has been accepted with the postmodern "no worse than the worst thing" LCD attitude.

- microsoft have traditionally cared almost nothing for any aspect of their product apart than those that directly translated into profit. i remember thinking ages ago why i preferred mac. i deciding that for apple, it wasn't just about the money. it was about making this wonderful thing called computing actually nice to use, and fun. whereas, if you gave microsoft all the money on the planet, they would immediately investigate how to make money on another planet.

- microsoft have traditionally defeated competition by very scabby tactics. they would embrace and extend an accepted standard, thereby diluting it so that it was useless. or they would pre-announce a competing product in order to kill demand for a new arrival from another mfr, only of course to never actually produce it, never mind release it. and in some cases they would consider licensing a product, only to release a competitor to that product based on code stolen from the evaluation copy provided. would you buy used software from these guys?

- microsoft also did some downright nasty things in software. engineering is about making things that work - enabling, creating, building, growing, permitting, co-operating, all that hippie stuff. it's not about writing code that deliberately breaks or defeats things, but that too is a microsoft hallmark. consider that IE would recognise an attempt to download netscape, then slug and corrupt it along the way. also, IIS used to put requests from netscape to the back of the queue, so that netscape would seem slower than IE. IMHO, all this stuff should be legally actionable.

the core issue is that microsoft pervert the whole idea of what computers and software are supposed to be about. it's as though republicans ran a software business.

and windows is shit, too.