31 August 2005

New Orleans is filling "like a soup bowl". With dead bodies floating.
A Gumbo for the 21st century.
More on being laid off. The company is supposedly high-tech.
Defibrillators. Yet their cost-reduction is laying off R & D staff. (Also closing
an expensive Irvine office near the airport, which the engineering
staff regarded as an extravagant waste of money.) Yet the
former CEO who makes in 3 months what an engineer makes
in a year is kept.

Our PhD scientist who wrote the family jewels, the code that determines
whether to shock or not (which can kill or save), resigned a few days
ago. Rumor was it was to save jobs. A really nice guy, native Chinese.
I'll miss the folks at work, excellent senses of humor and brilliant all
around. The fired lead engineer was a woman, FWIW. And "middle
aged". A rare and precious work environment. (Actually she probably
didn't think that much of me; I wasn't as experienced in embedded and
when under time-pressure didn't do that well.)

Speaking of time. I was testing the Gizmo's error handling, and two
errors before I was done testing it, I found that a trivial failure caused
the whole system to reset. Life-critical gizmos and corporate time-scales
really don't mix. Other neat things: without experienced consultants
the project wouldn't have gotten done. Then they left. Its as if
no one ever read The Mythical Man-Month.

PS: Leeches and Maggots are now FDA-regulated devices.
I don't know which is a grosser critter. But if I needed them, they
would be limb-savers.

Personally I don't think the FDA or DEA should regulate what you
can buy. The use of certain words should be regulated by the state,
and addictive/sleep-inducing/hallucinogenic/fever-reducing
things should be required to be labelled. But you should be able
to buy whatever you want. Asking the government to take care of
you is 1. asking Evolution to take you out 2. encouraging big brother.
Better to have independent organizations like Kosher or the UL labs
available to consumers, than to have the government tell you what you
can or can't have. Again, if you sell something objectively (as measured
through scientific methods) addictive, hypertensive, etc., you must
label it thusly, (otherwise its fraud, which the government can
rightly regulate, as its the role of the government to regulate fraud
and unconsensual violence) but it should be otherwise freely available, available
for recommendation or scorn of whatever organization(s) you subscribe
to. Yes, the masses are dumb, but that's why there are recommending
agencies like Kosher, Consumer Reports, the folks who grant the labels
Organic or Green or whatever. The worst is to have the violence of the
State (elected by the dumbs) control what you can consume.

Democracy is merely (readily sellable to the mob) mob rule. That's what the
Bill of Rights is about --limiting the mob. Unfortunately, the mob
can elect slime that doesn't enforce the BoR, so democracy is
no guarantee of Freedom. Sometimes benevolent dictatorship is
appealing, except that there's no guarantee that dictator N+1 is
reasonable. But then, no guarantee that the next cycle of elected
slime or appointed "officials" is reasonable either. What we need
is a BoR that is enforced, to keep the idiots at bay, despite their
The company did its merger today. And so I (and our lead
engineer, and a recently-hired other engineer, and a mechanical
engineer) got canned. Got a month salary.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, Plan an invasion, Butcher a hog, Con a ship, Design a building, Write a sonnet, Balance accounts, Build a wall, Set a bone, Comfort the dieing, Take orders, Give orders, Cooperate, Act Alone, Solve Equations, Analyze a new problem, Pitch manure, Program a computer, Cook a tasty Meal, Fight efficiently, Die Gallantly.Specialization is for insects! Robert Heinlen.

Went downstairs, heard singing in the bathroom. The kid (almost 6)
was using a plunger in the toilet. No need to, but doing it still.

The market is supposed to be ok, so we'll see. The best part is
that more qualified (the lead engineer) were fired (RIF'd (reduction
in force) = laid off) too, so I'm not taking it personally. I'm very
rejection sensitive, actually. I did get spoiled on the 10 minute
commute, but we'll see.
Just heard about http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov
Its a pretty good site with pictures, offenses, addresses.

Personally I don't think messing with approx 15 year olds is a crime
since they are marryable in many cultures (including some states in
the US), and generally have a clue.

Anything forcable, well, I don't see a reason to let them out. Harvesting
for organs would be a good plan.
And Moses told the Pharoah,
I will bring airplanes, your great buildings will fall
I will bring foam, your space shuttle will break up
I will bring hurricanes, your gulf coast will flood
I will bring IEDs, your crusaders will die
And still George W didn't listen to Osama's fatwa
calling for his centurions to leave their land

Maybe Jenna needs to read up on history...

24 August 2005

On biz models

Way back when, you could dream of writing code, selling it. Then it turned out that at best
Microsoft would buy you, at worst, they would develop something similar and give it away
for free. Nowadays you worry about some open-source wanker proving himself by writing
it and giving it away for free too.

Well, that was for PCs, for volume software like browsers, email, messaging, etc. Now the
only way to live off software is to either sell services (e.g., customize open source) or
code for a niche that is too small or specialized for Microsoft et al. I've built tools for
in-house use, or for use by other engineers using eg the company's chips, and am now doing embedded. Microsoft isn't getting into embedded medical programming any time soon :-)

Yes, that's why open source is written: because someone is proving himself, building a reputation.
This is of course fine, adapt or die.

During my year of floating between jobs, I wrote a free program that turned 1960's geiger counters
into computer-logged instruments, using only the ubiquitous sound cards on PCs. I've kept
the source code, but the program is free. In a fit of bells and whistles, the program is also
a stand-alone web server, so you can see what your civil defense GC is measuring remotely.

On adapt or die: many people resist "big" companies, like Micro$oft or Ford. The reality is,
an organism (like a company) has an optimal size for a given environment. Its simply not
feasable to make affordable cars on a small scale. Its not conspiracy, its physics. Economics
is a corollary of physics, of course.
A good day at work. On the second to last test of the gizmo that I was doing, I found that
(my simulated) error reset the gizmo. This was quickly fixed, but it was rewarding to find
a heavy-duty bug.

Also had discussions about how to license features. Here my background in cryptography
and threat analysis helped. First, you define your threat model ---a malevolent service tech
with a smart nephew to help with computer stuff. The Fundamentals of Security as Economics
(you don't put a $10,000 security system into a $2,000 car); Convenience vs. Security too.
Also the volumes and attractiveness of the target matters ---not many virii for Macs, because
they're too small a target. We've included all kinds of connectors on the production circuit
boards, stuff that would make an attractive high volume target like an X-Box toast. And
understanding hash functions, and trusted boundaries. All good stuff. In the end, instead of
having some of the bootloader firmware be the Enforcer, a PC tool will be, which is weaker,
but sufficient. I suggested requiring a password with the PC tool, much as your ATM card
requies a PIN to use it.

Impressed by how the brilliant folks at work knew or picked up this stuff so quickly.

23 August 2005

Eventually we'll get back to being a middle aged suburban engineer with a mortgage.

Really, I'm a nice guy, although I suffer occasionally from Hendrix's http://www.jimihendrix.com disease, aka mild bipolar. My 14 year old housecat publishes letters in the local paper,
as well as having my phone listed under his name. (It costs to be unlisted, but not to use
a pseudonym). I'm a cypherpunk, libertarian, remove crucifi from public streets
when I see them, and know the folks who clean the city by pulling down war pornography http://www.geocities.com/andy_zelinko/, and love the Bill of Rights. http://archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/bill_of_rights.html
(The Constitution is mostly administrative boredom)

I grew up in the countryside, and regard cities as prisons for the clueless/scum.
Suburbia is a compromise I tolerate. My neighborhood is safe, my commute
about 10 minutes, the schools are supposedly good, and I love California geology
(and the flora and fauna; I recently saw my first wildcat at http://www.ocparks.com/caspers
after 18 years of being here). Poison oak is about the same as poison ivy (as a kid,
I put the sap on a square of my forearm and took notes about the sequalae), black
widows mostly hide, and only this year did a rattlesnake see me before I saw him.
(A rattlesnake with a red/blue lightbar and tits is pretty much a hyperstimulus)

Getting back to the nominal topic, I was taking things apart as a bored kid and fascinated
by the mechanical logic in some of them. This led to an interest in computers, which turned
out to be lucrative, without intending it to be so; I always thought that interest in things
--reality-- would provide, and it has. Later of course every grandmother has a computer
and internet connection, mostly using the former as glorified telephones on the latter.

Only this year (2005) did I get a cell phone, which is mostly off, recharged by an inverter
in my car. Its for peace of mind, safety, really useful if you get stranded on a freeway,
but otherwise not much used. I was amused/amazed to find that I'm not the only
dinosaur, many of the folks at work don't have them --though they are electrical
engineers. I really like the intelligence and senses of humor of folks at work, this
motivates me to stay, much like the 'brotherhood' felt by soldiers even when their
commanders are idiots.

Enough rambling for tonight. Perhaps I'll keep this log going another night.
High energy hobbies.

For a few years, I've been into radiation. Got a few Geiger-Muller counters, ranging from
a $10 russian model to a $150 computer-linked model I got on the excuse that I was
doing cryptography, and wanted to play with true random number generators. Also
a bright yellow CDV-700 from the cold war, as old as me (born 1964).

Recently I made an x-ray generator using ignition coils and a light dimmer and some
old vacuum tubes. Made a radiograph with it. Puts out about 5 mR/hr, which is
not much, and its very soft x-rays besides. But it took a while to get over the fear
of high voltage. At work we use 2000 volts, and enough capacitance (ie stored
energy) to stop or start your heart, and that may have helped. Also a friend
dying (and killing himself before he decayed too much) helped. Also seeing my
mother in law decay from Alzheimers. Best to go quickly. Peace be with you,
Hunter S. Thompson.

Also recently into high-energy chemistry. "Volcano mix" my son calls the homemade
gunpowder, and I've made more brisant things, which I'm very careful with. Impressed
myself by shattering a 5mm clamshell with a gram of fluffy powder, ignited with
a bit of old hair-dryer nichrome and a PC power supply, from a distance.

Maybe its because my mother studied chemical warfare when she was gestating me,
so my ROTC dad could finish his law exams. Or maybe its because I'm just a kid
with discretionary income.

Hell, I've made my own yellowcake from rocks I got in the Mojave, and I was nervous
about using some drain cleaner aka sulphuric acid. But caution and respect are
useful traits.

Here in Irvine, bb guns are illegal, and in California, blowguns are illegal. You know
all those drive-by blowgunnings.
I recently replaced the condenser blower motor on my home's air conditioner. The bozo
from Comfort Air of Orange County, California showed up, said he didn't have parts, and
that the previous bozos from A-1 put in the wrong motor, and got $60 for his half hour.
I should have been suspicious when he showed up in clean clothes.

The 1/10 HP 230 V single phase motor cost $180 and it took me a few evenings to
replace, most of which was spent dealing with rust. I (unlike many computer science
types) know which end of a soldering iron to hold, but was worried about 230 V. That's
foolish, single phase is just like regular house wiring. I miswired the capacitor at first,
so the motor didn't spin (I hadn't taken notes as I should have and there was some
ambiguity) but nothing was ruined and I got it to work. So try it! The Comfort Air bozo
was going to charge $600!
Two things to know if you consume ethanol. One, you need to consume water too.
Second, niacin is good. If you don't need it, you can get a brief, harmless flushing
(itchy, red skin) for about 15 minutes. But EtOH metabolism uses it up, it seems.

At night I take an aspirin, niacin, and melatonin which assures I get to sleep when
I want and sleep well. Unlike say antihistamines, you aren't groggy the next day.
And its over the counter, and not hazardous in the long term like benzodiazepines
(which work on the EtOH receptor, BTW).

Speaking of which, I scored a bunch of pseudoephedrine today at a fraction of the
normal price. The http://www.latimes.com ran an article on how Feinstein wants to
make it controlled, so there is a rush on it. Feinstein needs to be hung for treason;
she also has proposed banning speech on the 'net, e.g., how to make brisants.
(Ie, explosives, etc.) When I got the PE today I had to buy it in batches of 4,
since the http://www.ralphs.com computer wouldn't let me buy more than that. I should have
asked for red phosphorous too... But it helps dry my sinuses, and the phenylephrine
that may substitute for it causes dangerous blood pressure.

http://www.steelreserve.com is great beer ---twice the strength of normal beer, so
more efficient, fewer calories, etc. Wine is harsh on my stomache and bowels,
stronger stuff leads to excess.

I tend to know a lot about psychopharmacology; I have a degree in Cognitive Science as well as
Computer Science, and understanding how the brain works --how matter thinks-- has been a
very longstanding interest. And I share the Victorian et al. interest in rational self-experimentation.
I went to grad school to study AI, which was hot at the time, and I've alluded to in my first post.
One of the most annoying things about Americans (who, remember, half of which are below
average intelligence) is that they confuse culture with pharmacology. If you drink Martinis
you needn't listen to Sinatra (and vice-versa); if you ingest THC you needn't be a communist.
In fact, I'm a libertarian, as are most of my friends, and many intelligent people.
My first blogpage. Motivated by an http://eetimes.com article on engineers' careers.

I work at a local medical device company, doing embedded programming. [More
on my diverse career later.] I found out that the thermal printer was outsourced to India, and it was totally useless; one of my colleages had to redo it. That is somewhat reassuring. Of course, it could be the fault of the local "managers", for underspecifying what they wanted, and under-testing what they got. Anyway it cost time and money, presumably the reasons for outsourcing in the first place.

I'm an employee at the company, previously I did some consulting for a very big Japanese company. In fact, that company "outsourced" its software to the US division that I worked for, so in that case I benefitted. (The US division also outsourced some work to http://www.wipro.com!)
Basically the Japs can't write code, though they did a good job on the fine mechanical work inside
the high-end printers they made.

Before that I was unemployed for a year, I was discouraged when Reduction in Forced from
http://www.idt.com and started looking, had some savings, and a friend and former boss convinced me (or I convinced myself) to work (for paper shares that came to naught) for a hardware security company he started. See, I had taught myself Verilog http://www.verilog.com (a hardware description language that can be simulated as well as turned into netlists, then masks, then chips) and information security. For the year of living off savings, I used the http://www.icarus.com free simulator, since we didn't have $100,000 per seat for the http://www.synopsys.com gold standard.
And of course http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/emacs.html which I've used since maybe 1984, when I was in college. My first internet post was in grad school, http://www.ics.uci.edu, in 1987, where I was interested in computer risks.

I drifted out of grad school, where I studied human and machine perception, articulated motion. I worked at http://www.csmc.edu for a few years, the commute from Irvine to Beverly Hills was hell, though the work was interesting, people smart, and I got to program a 4-CPU http://www.Sun.com machine with a whole 128 MByte of RAM! This was in the days of Sunview, before X-Windows, Motif, and all that, which I also programmed. I've been through a number of windowing systems; when I drifted out of grad school I got a job doing Windows NT programming, and learned Win32 programming. In fact, because I hosed my NT 3.51 or 4.0 system, including network driver, I recapitulated the history of Windows (from DOS to 3.11 etc) so I could get the system back up, in a week.

Anyway, I came to Calif to study perception, did some research but found I wasn't really a researcher, TA'd a number of classes, got the job as a research programmer for 3 years,
that grant ended, I got the Windows job. I was programming sheet-metal applications
at http://www.otc.com, which is pretty much a servant of http://www.amada.com, where I was sent for a while, which disgusted me with the drive, though it was less far than Beverly Hills. Also worked on graphical chat room programming, which was big once (hah), the company would take
anything and had Jap connections so we did this. I was also the network dude, since no one
else was, and the net was starting. This was 95-98, and I taught myself about TCP/IP; I had
used it (email, Mosaic, gopher, veronica, archie) when all that was happening (and you
couldn't sell anything, and girlie pix were verboten on the net) but had no previous interest
in how it worked. When I found how it worked, I found it was all postcards, no privacy, and so I got interested in encryption, http://www.PGP.com, technology & society, etc. That led to me studying how encryption worked (the magic of an algorithm that scrambled information), and I wrote up a paper on how Blowfish (see http://www.counterpane.com) could be done in hardware, since it seems to me that if you truly understand something, you need to code it or design it. That paper led to my job doing chip design at IDT, which (when the crypto chip project was cancelled) kept me on as a programmer supporting their other chips. This introduced me to embedded design, as I was working on a development board with a MIPs CPU that IDT was making. All this from my home office, me flying up to silly valley a week per month. I watched Sept 11 from my fabulous http://www.motel6.com room, wondering if I'd be able to fly back home. The collapsing towers reminded me of Sideshow Bob's hair from http://www.thesimpsons.com.

More on Sept 11 later. Basically, the US needs to not have forts in other countries. You'd think the Roman experience would have taught something. You'd also think someone would realize that Osama is basically Moses, bringing plagues until Pharoah George et al. let his people be free of colonial invaders. See the article in http://www.reason.com/hod/db082205.shtml and the coverage at http://www.antiwar.com.

After I was RIF'd from IDT (IDT sold to http://www.cisco.com which sold to worldcom/uunet/MCI whatever that once-bankrupt company is now called, when they burst the bubble I eventually got laid off) I floated for a year as I said, keeping sharp designing a chip that included not only 3DES but RSA. Finally I needed a job, it was clear the wannabe startup wasn't, I got a 2 month consulting
doing security programming (got to use www.linux.org for real, which turned out to be easy, since there were GUIs for the tools that I knew from a command-line, having learned SunOS and then http://www.FreeBSD.org. I had been worrie that Linux would be foreign, but the GUIs helped. Linux is ATT based, which sucks, but the concepts are the same.

During that 2 month stint, I saw what corporate inertia is about. Groups that don't talk to each other, that spend a lot of time writing specs then design docs before coding, etc. (Start coding early, to inform the specs & design, but plan to throw one away!) But at my current job I see the opposite, ie, a CMM www.sei.cmu.edu/cmm level of -1, suits making promises they've pulled from various orifices without consulting the people who build, specs changing up until
the FDA gets their hands on it, etc. More on that later. And on politics, raising my six year old son, Amerikan culture, and more. Stay tuned.