Category Archives: Rant

Why ‘Keyboard not found, Press F1 to continue’ isn’t dumb for the reason you think it is

If you’ve been around computers long enough, you’ve seen this message.  It might have been decades ago, but it’s held up as an example of idiocy for the same reason people make fun of the McDonald’s Hot Coffee lawsuit.  Also, just like with the McDonald’s case,  the people making fun of it are really really missing some important info.

j48vZC4This error message is not an accident. This is not someone being dumb. This is… an artifact of the A20 line hack and it’s glorious and stupid but not for the reasons you think.

When the first IBM PC hits the market almost 35 years ago, a bunch of programmers end up relying on a memory seeking method that involves just cycling through RAM until it bounces off the end register and restarts from the beginning until they get to their target.  They do this because it’s easy and saves some processor ticks and, well, it works.  This is happening out in the field in thousands of businesses and all the software is pretty much custom written so there’s no central ‘update’ depot.

When the AT chipset comes out and the range of available memory expands, this seek method will now cause an overrun condition and crash a computer but they don’t figure this out until very late in the ship process.  IBM realizes that if they ship their new flagship systems, thousands and thousands of businesses will experience huge problems and they’ll probably blame it on the machines.  This will be a disaster.

“OH SHIT”, they say, “WE NEED TO FIX THIS”. They also needed to turn off Caps Lock but that’s a different story. They decide they’ll fix it by having a watchdog circuit keep an eye on the memory and look for a process using this traversal method to bounce back to the beginning then manually DO that. But… there’s a shortage of processing. Anything that’s doing this WON’T be doing its real job, and that’ll slow something down.

“We need to find a processor that can take on this job without hurting performance!” they now cry. They look all over. Disk controller? No, it’s busy. They need every bit of power for I/O. Graphics? GOOD LUCK, this is a game of inches and picos with pixels sprinkled everywhere and they can’t spare it there either.  Even if they use the CPU, they’ll take a performance hit and MIPS is everything.

Eventually some engineer (maybe the whole CAPS LOCK thing is still fresh on his or her mind) points at the keyboard and drunkenly rasps “What about that?” It turns out there’s a little processor in the keyboard that’s not performance bound. Nobody is running benchmarks on keyboards, at least not that this will affect. They write a hack… IT WORKS!

Post fix, the keyboard then sits there between keypresses watching for 1980-era business code running wildly through the memory and delicately flicks it back to the beginning when it approaches the previous limit.

Eventually, this memory management was moved onto the motherboard and the keyboard was no longer required. Modern computers account for little hacks like by the hundreds in their BIOS and the little processors in keyboards are once again free to go back to waiting for you to type the next letter in your Great American Novel instead of performing a vital chunk of memory management.

And that’s why it was so important to have a keyboard plugged in way back when.  It wasn’t a dumb error, this was a leftover chunk of computer history that stuck around for a few years after the original bug it addressed had been fixed.  But… the original fix for the bug was far from stupid like anyone who’s seen that message has suspected, far from it.  It was a kinda crazy smart hack if you think about it.  Maybe it’s not stupid if it works.

Least realistic part of Independence Day is not related to aliens

Every 4th of July, we watch Independence Day.  For us, it’s like some sort of explosives-filled, fiery amid-summer version of ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.  Sure, it’s not exactly July anymore, but the reason I’m thinking about it now is …  Ok, I was staring at this sentence for like 3 minutes hoping I’d figure out how to end it with some sort of well-formed reason but I’ve got nothing.  Seriously, I have no clue why this has come to a head in my brain TODAY and not, say, months ago.  It suffices to say that for whatever reason, I think I may have finally found that little chink in the armor that separates the film from “documentary caliber fiction that can only be disproved by reviewing history books and/or interviewing the cast”.  Basically, I think I can finally put my finger on that ONE TINY THING that makes the film ‘unrealistic’.

“But this movie is basically a documentary of how we’d fight off an alien invasion!” I can hear you saying.  I totally get that, but- “How DARE you suggest otherwise!?”  As this imagine conversation progresses and you interrupt, your voice gets increasingly strident. Really, I understand, it’s not my intention to disrespect the sacrifices of all the people in the film who fou- “YOU’RE A MONSTER!” you scream in this now very alarming hypothetical conversation, lunging over the desk at me.  Let me speak!  Wait!  Let me describe the one tiny atom of implausibility in this otherwise great ode to our national ‘Never say die, never moderate our defense spending’ spirit!

It’s the magic TV wall.

Next time you watch the film, pay attention to Jeff Goldblum in the TV network operations room with the wall of TVs.  This is roughly 27:04:43.21 into the film.  The aliens have invaded (spoilers!) and the TV network he works at has the ubiquitous ‘WALL OF ALL TELEVISION CHANNELS’ seen at every TV network in every film.

Each monitor has some static but you’re clearly seeing a hundred different feeds from around the world.  He’s basically alone with the wall (Harvey Fierstein is crooning into a phone with those sweet dulcet tones he’s famous for) and the rest of the staff is in the bomb shelter.  Suddenly: over the period of like 1-2 seconds, all of the TV channels switch to be one big display like some kind of CRT Voltron.
id4
How does this WORK?!  Is everyone around the world looking at a different part of the White House logo and then the president’s face?  Who gets the chin, who gets the giant eye?  Or does Jeff Goldblum’s TV system automatically recognize that some sort of significant ‘same signal everywhere’ event is happening and combine them even though it’s only 1996 or something?  My god, they don’t even have the technology to put twitter feeds at the bottom of their display but we’re expected to believe this wall of televisions can just MAGICALLY figure out that it needs to look like one big TV?

Too far, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.  You went too far.

To me, this was the least believable part.    …of a film that LITERALLY features an alien invasion that falls prey to Mac OS 7.

A sticky situation

So I still don’t really like coffee.  It tastes like angry sadness with bitter under and over-tones, but obviously I need the caffeine for my O-dark-thirty start time so…  coffee.  Thankfully, we live in this amazing time where the technology exists to make coffee not TASTE like coffee, which is great!  With that in mind, years ago I bought some sugar-free coffee syrups (because I found out my coffee place could add them and make the drink taste great) and….  they didn’t work.  They didn’t taste ‘right’, and it was so easy to get too much in.

So I went back to drinking the coffee-flavored coffee while at work and only getting the good tasting stuff when I went out to Dutch Bros (the Oregon-centered chain I prefer).

…but I knew it wasn’t right.  It wasn’t right to just give in.  I’m an American, damnit, and part of being an American means not settling for drinks that taste like themselves.  No, we FIX those problems!

Got a potato chip that tastes like boring potatoes?  AMERICA HAPPENS and now it can taste like some sort of cool ranch.

Got a cookie that tastes like a boring cookie?  AMERICA HAPPENS and now we have ‘Cookies & Cream Oreos’, a cookie that taste like an ice cream that’s designed to taste like a cookie!

Got a coffee that tastes like (ew) coffee when you’re at work and don’t have easy access to the drive-thru flavor laboratories of Dutch Bros?  AMERICA NEEDS TO HAPPEN so I can figure out their secret, and I think I’m on the right path.

Their secret?  Oh-ho, ho, yes, I think I’ve seen what they do differently.  I don’t think they use those clear coffee liquids at all, oh no.  You see, I’ve WATCHED them.  I’ve sat in my car and WATCHED them pour some sort of thick, opaque syrup into measuring cups!  That’s right, I’ve been putting lies into my coffee at home.  Torani and DaVinci glass bottles with fancy little pictures of caramel?  LIES.  That’s not the flavor I really want, that’s the stuff that’ll make my drink taste like some airport coffee stand.  I need…  the better stuff.

Now, I’m not socially adept enough to perform advanced level interaction like ‘asking the coffee person at Dutch Bros’, so I had to come at this from another angle.  I cruised every coffee aisle I could, browsed for answers online, but every syrup was basically the same as the stuff that didn’t work until….  yesterday. Leaving my local restaurant supply store, I now had a half gallon jug of ‘Sugar Free Caramel Flavored SAUCE’ and a pump dispenser.  The answer was SAUCE.  I had been searching for syrup, but now I realize Dutch Bros must use a caramel SAUCE.  Of course!

At 6:15 this morning, I decided to get ready for my 6:30 meeting by enjoying a nice, flavorful caramel coffee-that-doesn’t-taste-like-coffee.  Challenge: I tried to install the pump thing and couldn’t get it to close.  I pulled it out, checked for an adjustment, then tried again.  Time is passing, and for some reason I just can’t get this dispenser to lock into place.  Each time I pull it out of the jug, caramel syrup is leaving and dripping places and the sink at work is looking…  pretty strange.

I push and shove and still can’t get it to thread!  I’m an adult, I’ve got a keychain, credit rating, opinions on capital gains, a vacuum cleaner, everything.  The indicators of adult-hood are there, but I STILL can’t get the damn syrup dispenser to lock on.  It’s defeating me, and as I close in on 6:30 I realize that I’m in trouble.  Running back to my desk, I get some scissors and finally figure out that the dispenser tube is wrong (like actually wrong, not ‘I can’t figure it out so it’s wrong-wrong’) and snip an inch off it.  Now, the pump locks into place perfectly.  6:28!  Quickly, I rinse the sink.  I scrub at the bottle, pump some caramel into the coffee cup and fill it, then dart back to my desk and join my call right on time.

Well, even though I may be an adult, I’m not as competent at ‘last second cleaning’ as I thought so as I start to mouse-around and pull up spreadsheets while talking to folks around the country and in Europe, my every movement makes a tiny ‘Tscchk’ noise as the trace particles of caramel stick to things.  I’m able to fix about 80% of this with frantic licking while muted (at least, I think I muted my phone…) but essentially most of this meeting is administered in a fog of caramel-smell while I stick to everything.

That said…  it wasn’t all bad.  You know why?  Because my coffee didn’t taste like coffee.  Why?  Because AMERICA HAPPENED.

…and the Prime Directive in Star Trek, WHAT’S THE DEAL with that?!

I think it’s interesting to note that it’s not the ‘non-interference directive’ or something else descriptive, it’s the PRIME directive.

As in: This is law #1. Not ‘don’t genocide’, not ‘don’t start wars’, not ‘don’t murder alien babies’, but instead don’t interfere.

I think there’s a question that’s been staring us in the face for almost fifty years: Why is it the PRIME directive?

This is my in-universe theory (If you’re thinking ‘Geesh, it’s just a TV show’ then please understand that I know that, but that’s boring): I think something terrible happened at the result of do-gooders trying to help out primitive aliens. I believe it’s evidence that something happened between Enterprise and The Original Series that shook the Federation to its core and drove the creation and implementation of this, the highest law of pace.

In my imagination, something just horrible happened, and I bet this would be an interesting basis for the next TV show.  Basically, chronicle the years or event(s) that lead to this. I envision a society that’s coming together and reaching out into the big universe with good intentions. “We’re going to make things better”, parts of them say. “We will be missionaries of freedom and culture and will help other worlds avoid the pitfalls that Earth, Andoria, and Ancient Vulcan went through.” In the series, they’d try to help defuse religious conflicts, provide industry to improve the lives of primitives, and so on.

Of course, there are so many ways things could (and often would)go wrong. Let’s say they stumble across religious conflict so Federation social workers come in and demonstrate scientific method so the primitives can “properly” take stock in the role of nature versus relying on gods. Boom, both sides unite to form a militant theocracy to push the Feds off their planet and something horrible comes into being as a result.

Or, primitive workers are given industrial techniques to improve their lives, but within months they realize that this frees huge numbers of people to engage in warfare against their neighbors. “We could never organize these armies before because we needed everyone in the fields” or something. “Thanks Federation!” (war were declared)

Medical advances are shared, and massive overpopulation or fear of it causes bloodshed. Technology is shared and backfires in some exciting way.

Perhaps the series would culminate in a multi-planet empire of conquest coming together because of the ‘helpful’ meddlings of the Federation and then dying off in some terrible genocide or warfare. Multiple species are killed (maybe even species from Enterprise that weirdly don’t show up later because they didn’t exist yet.  Really?  No Xindi or Denobulans in TNG?).  It becomes obvious that none of it would have ever happened if the well-meaning Federation citizens/Starfleet hadn’t meddled.

New rules are drafted.

Federation society is struck by massive amounts of guilt over what has happened in the name of their civilization. Whole species made extinct because the arrogant Federation citizens ‘knew better’ leads to the drafting of what will be known as the Rule Of Space for this civilization:

The Prime Directive

No ifs, ands, or tribble butts. This is now THE LAW because when we didn’t know better, we fucked things up.

Dishwashers can’t clean stupid

I’ve been struggling with my dishwasher for a while and it has been both educational and humbling.

A few years ago, we noticed that ours wasn’t doing as good of a job as before.  We cleaned filters, rinsed it out, but it just wasn’t clearing stuff off the plates as well as it used to.  It’s a good dishwasher (one of those Kenmore Elites designed (presumably) to get even the toughest caviar stains out of your wineglasses or somesuch nonsense) and it seemed to be working its little heart out, but it _just wasn’t doing as well_ as it used to.

We started rinsing more off our plates before putting them in.  While we never quite got to the point my dad has (where he does the dishes by hand then loads them into the dishwasher to be dish-baptized or something), but we scraped and soaked.

We tried different detergents.  Powders, liquids, gels, nada.  A few months ago, KayDee bought a big box of household cleaning materials from one of her friends with a home business and it had a big foil packet of these little dishwasher ‘pellets’, a meatball-sized chunk of soap wrapped in some sort of wonton-like dissolving wrapper.  We loaded one of those in and saw an improvement, and that was good!  It still wasn’t as effective as our dishwasher was in ‘The Good Old Days’, but it wasn’t bad.  Alright!

Eventually, the package ran out so one of us grabbed the next foil packet and started using it.  Dishes were still getting clean…ish, but the job didn’t seem…  quite as good.  In fact, as first one then two weeks passed, the situation grew increasingly dire inside our mystery pit of washing.  The dishwasher (with its little dirt detecting brain) would run longer and longer but dishes were starting to have some sort of kinda glaze on them that we’d have to rinse off.  ALSO, the inside of the dishwasher started to get a weird greasy coating.  It was not awesome.

Once again, I cleaned the filters thoroughly.  I drained the reservoirs, I got a brush and degreased and scrubbed the inside of the dishwasher because we’re not animals.  Well, technically we ARE animals, scientifically speaking, but specifically we’re not ‘Satisfied-To-Have-A-Dirty-Dishwasher Animals’.

No improvement.  Still got that weird glaze.  I read up on the problem and learned a lot!  In fact, I learned why our dishwasher had grown less effective a few years ago,  It turns out that Oregon is one of 17 states that outlawed sale of dishwasher soap containing trisodiumphosphate.  TSP is the stuff that makes dishwasher soap really WORK and the stuff we could buy in the store didn’t have it anymore.  It’s kinda like when Sudafed switched from Ephedrine (which could be used as a precursor for methaphetamine) to Pseudophedrine (which can be used as a precursor for methamphetamine) to protect, well, nobody I guess from methamphetamine.  In the case of TSP, phosphates were believed to cause toxic algae blooms in our rivers so it seemed sensible.  The fact that we’re having toxic algae blooms in our rivers three years after the ban went into effect is probably an interesting data point for someone, but I’m certainly not qualified to determine if it suggests anything important about the efficacy of that ban.

I also read a tip that white vinegar (added to the rinse cycle reservoir) could help in this post-phosphate world so I did, and there was indeed a modest improvement but it wasn’t _good enough_.

So….  a few days pass and we’ve assigned a loading/unloading cycle to the childrens.  Having planned and executed the whole ‘Having a child’ thing over a decade ago specifically so we could offload chores, the whole ‘kids’ thing was starting to finally pay off.  Now, any parent knows that while we want kids to do things around the house, the kid often wants to NOT do them for some reason.  Of those who don’t follow through on their basic obligations to the household, some will just say ‘No!’ and need to have various privileges put on the line until they do the job.  Some slightly brighter kids will agree to do a chore then not get around to doing it while maintaining plausible activity in some other acceptable fashion, and the really bright ones…  the ones that are most exhausting…  they’ll make sure that having them do a chore is harder for the parent than the parent just doing it themselves.

Have you ever frustratedly told a kid to just “go somewhere else” so you could jump in and properly do something you had assigned them?  “I don’t have time for this”, you might think to yourself while industriously scrubbing or shoveling or burning something.  “I might as well just do this myself next time”.

Stop!  This is a win for the child, and unless WE keep the upper hand at all times, they’ll grow up thinking they’re inheriting the world from us and not simply servants to our every aging whim!

So it was with this eternal struggle to Keep Youth Down in mind that, when one of my kids told me we were out of dishwasher soap while loading, I knew instantly what was going on.  “No, you still have to load it because we’re not out.  We have soap right next to the sink in that foil packet”, I confidently informed him.

“No, that’s laundry detergent.”

I rolled my eyes.  This little exercise in rebellion was getting out of control.  “No, it’s dishwasher soap.  You can’t just get out of a chore by making it difficult for us to assign, we’re onto you.  Use it!”

My kid read the back of the packet again.  Dubiously, he tried again.  “Are you sure?  It talks about clothing and I think it’s for the clothes washer.”

RIDICULOUS!  Now I could tell that my kid thought I was a moron, too.  This little tactic was about to backfire and I was going to deal with this little slowdown issue once and for all.  The mistake he’d made this time was to give me something I could immediately disprove and then use as a jumping point directly into a nice long lecture about the importance of doing your assigned chores, respecting your parents, and making sure they have the finest quality retirement homes to live in when old and decrepit.

“Bring it over here”, I confidently instructed, my hands reaching out to take it so I could point out the error in his ways.  He picks it up and brings it over.  I know this pouch, I think I even opened it when we ran out of the last batch of-

Hmm, that’s odd.  The little dishwasher picture on the back has a circle on the front of it.  For some reason, that woman in the photo is loading clothing into her dishwasher.  ‘SILLY LADY, that’s not how you use a dishwasher!’ I think to myself.  The packet promises that the (redacted) will be completely color-safe.  I can’t quite make out the word that’s redacted, every time I try my brain resets.  The phrase ‘No Streak’ is nowhere to be found, but the words ‘Folding’ and ‘Fabric’ are prominently….  displayed….

Shit.

For the last two weeks, it seems, we have been using laundry detergent in our dishwasher.  When KayDee bought a box full of cleaning supplies, it came with a bunch of stuff including one package of dishwasher soap pellets and one packet of almost identically packaged and visually similar laundry soap pellets.

Damn.

The weird glaze on our dishes?  Probably fabric softener.  The greasy film building up on the side of the dishwasher?  Who knows, but apparently when your dishwasher soap doesn’t contain any actual grease-cutting dishwashing power AT ALL, that’s the kind of thing that starts to build up.

DAMN.

So that evening, one of our sons…   won.  They won.  There’s no getting around it, he was right and we were wr-wr-wr-wr-wr….   He was right and we were wr-wr-wr-wr…  he was right and we were less right.

I’ve since gotten actual dishwasher detergent and miracles of miracles, the dishes no longer have that glaze.  I’ve scrubbed and rinsed the inside of the dishwasher again and the greasy wallcoat hasn’t started coming back yet, and while the dishes still aren’t getting quite as clean as they did before TSP, they’re certainly not as terrible as they were when we were trying to wash them with laundry soap.  GO FIGURE.

So…  moral of the story:  Dishwasher acting up?  Check the label on your soap to make sure you’re NOT AN IDIOT.  And hey, if you’ve got a box of TSP sitting around, maybe you can add a dash occasionally for those days when you think your poor dishwasher deserves to have a victory.  They work hard for us, it’s only fair.  Not like those lazy, scheming kids, that’s for sure.

Another shot at redeeming Jar Jar

He’s here to stay, and since my other theory got plastered by Attack of the Clones, we need to go deeper…

Introduce the idea of a parasitic mental force meme in the new movies. It’s a semi-sentient creature of the Force that is structured by the unconscious biases and assumptions of the people around it.

We discover that Jar Jar never actually physically existed but was instead a visual symptom of the corruption suffusing the soul of the Jedi Order.

It’s one of those things that’s presented in a way that convinces you during a rewatch the prequel’s that it was an obvious sign right in front of you that you _should have caught_.

‘Dammit’ is spelled wrong

I assert that ‘dammit’ should be spelled ‘damnit’.  Damnit is treated as a misspelling by the spellcheckers I use, but dammit just looks…  ridiculous.  It’s a word with no gravitas, something that dribbles out of someone’s mouth as an almost invisible droplet in a stream of unnecessary noises punctuated by smacking gums and the occasional squirt of spent chewing tobacco spit.

Damnit, on the other hand, can be a heartfelt condemnation of a person, place, or thing.  Not only do I judge X lacking, I call upon the gods themselves to damn it because of the magnitude of the failure.

Damn it, Crom.  Damnit.

Which form of governance is the least broken?

A friend wrote an interesting question on Facebook this morning: “Should the world be governed by one, by some, by many, or by all?”

The answers to questions like this were so OBVIOUS when I was younger, I miss that clarity.  Now, it feels like there are so many points and counterpoints to each that I have more questions than answers.  I took a stab at it and this isn’t my usual wacky hijinx or whatnot so skip it if that’s why you’re here.

All

This seems like the ideal but there are some practical problems.  While our technology makes 100% democracy possible, it only takes a few minutes of browsing Facebook or Reddit to see how finely tuned manipulation of the masses is becoming.

There’s obviously a science to getting people to do what you want and right now, there’s just money to be made in driving clicks to BuzzFeed and other clickbait aggregators.  Imagine if it was direct power?  Also think of the different witch hunts in the media where tens of thousands of people fill hundreds of message boards with vitriol against people who are accused of crimes and essentially convict them on the spot?  If 100% democracy exists, what victims could there be to the tyranny of the masses?

Many

Right now, I feel I like this one the best.  Local representation with accountability to the voters seems to be a pretty good compromise, but that’s 37 year-old me talking so I wonder what I’ll think in a few years.  City Councillors, Mayors and Governors seem to wobble back-and-forth at a pretty “ok” steady-state of “not being dicks”, but they’re not perfect.  Still, the amount of damage they can do is equally limited so I feel pretty good about that setup but of course there’s room for improvement.

Some

This is what we have when we invest power in the Federal government versus local.  It’s a mixed bag; civil rights often benefit when a top-down prohibition on asshattery and dickery is enforce, but there’s a real danger to having a large power structure that’s responsive to people “over there” instead of in our home towns.  From a practical perspective, large-scale infrastructure and international relations benefit from centralized power, but again, the risks are worthy of vigilance.

One

My least favorite from an idealism perspective, it may also be damningly effective.  Humanity is a mixed bag, and anyone can be a despot or a saint so it’s a crapshoot where everything’s riding on one roll of the metaphorical dice but if they’re not a dick, a single leader could get stuff done.  That said, ‘getting stuff done’ isn’t automatically good so I’d rather not this be the structure.  Lots of folks have tried and there’s something about the process of ACQUIRING this position that seems to bring out the worst in people.  No matter how good they might govern, I’m not sure I could imagine that the roll of the dice could possibly turn out in our favor as a people because of what they would have to do to BECOME that leader.

So…

What’s the One True Answer?  Preferably one that doesn’t put me in charge, I’ve got shit to do and ain’t nobody got time to rule the world.