Why Doesn’t Stuff Just Work As It Should?

Steve Fox of PCWorld raised some timely questions in his March 2010 column Tech Products: Revolting not Not Rebelling :

… our state-of-the-art technology too often fails to work as it should. That’s why I have to reboot my Wi-Fi router at least once a week; why my fingerprint-recognition pad periodically forgets what my thumb looks like; and why my smartphone keeps dropping calls without provocation.

Mostly, I think the answer likes in our neglected software development process. In darker moments, many of us probably suspect that our software vendors hire besotted programmers to code their operating systems and mission-critical software in bars and back alleys. In truth, a coding project like a modern Mac-OS-X or Windows 7 may rival the Manhattan Project in resources and organizational complexity. When things go south, where did we go wrong?
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Back In The Day

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

My mom used to irritate the heck out of me with this old quote, attrtibuted to caustic French critic, journalist and novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-1890). I will grudgingly admit that, with the passage of time, it seems as true as ever.

Digging through some old notebooks, I found a forgotten printout from ten years ago. I bolted from the Mac platform to the PC in 1997. I upgraded my first PC hardware in 1999. Principally, I replaced the original Micron motherboard with a newer, faster ASUS board. My letter to a friend follows below.

To: Richard
From: Alex
Subject: Back On The Air

Richard,

The motherboard upgrade went very well. The mechanical part was a piece of cake, and I took my time.

Windows took awhile (several restarts) to get used to the new motherboard. It wanted to install a few drivers that should have already existed. It didn’t help that I got confused about which drive letter it had assigned to the CD-ROM with the Windows disk and drivers. I put in a different Ethernet card, and had to reconfigure the TCP/IP to get back onto PacBell DSL.

And that’s about it. Total time was about five hours. The machine does seem faster. With the 100MHz bus, the 500MHz CPU should seem roughly twice as fast. I can see a difference in the apps. Startup never seems any faster no matter what machine or platform, although no Mac has ever been as slow on startup as any Windows machine I’ve ever used …

Alex

I think we must all admit we’ve come a long way in the past decade of technological breakthroughs. With 45-nanometer chip architectures and 3.0+ gigabyte CPU clock speeds, Windows startups do seem slower than ever.

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Math Miracles

The September 2009 PC World magazine reviews the new Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro A1278 on page 54:

“In MacWorld testing, the 2.53GHz version proved to be just over 12 percent faster overall than the 2.26GHz version.”

The coincidence is nothing short of utterly astounding. In a simple and repeatable Summitlake.com test, the number 2.53 was also found, every time, to be almost exactly 12 percent greater than the number 2.26.

Despite the almost inexplicable coincidence in the speed metrics, Apple seems to have offered a lot more laptop for less money. You can also read the entire review online.

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Short and Unhappy Life of RegCure

After removing RegCure and reinstalling the drivers, my system works perfectly. If this doesn’t prove that RegCure was removing needed registry entries, I don’t know what does.

I had some problems on my machine in Phoenix. But I’ve always had them, at least since the XP service packs SP2 or SP3, it seems. Clicking a link in Outlook, or in some of my applications, would cause the link to hang and, ultimately, the app would crash.
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What’s In A Signature

I’ve long used a “signature logo” to help Summitlake readers connect with the fact a real person pens these pages. The signature is “Alex”. I just realized this graphic is 24 years old!

You’ll often see it at the bottom of those of my posts with a more personal flavor.

With quite a bit of practice, I created this on my new Macintosh 512K in 1985. At the time I bought that machine, there were no other models to choose from. The mouse seemed to be one of the most ergonomically “natural” I have ever used. I used a huge drawing nib, probably about 18px, to scrawl this out in the original Mac “Paint” program.
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Regular Expressions for Strings

Today we switched over the site’s “Write Us” function to a much simpler WordPress solution. We posted an article on this in our HOME page.

The old solution linked to a cgi page. In WordPress installations, and we have a lot of them, the changeover was simple: change the coding on a button and a couple of include files, and you’re done. All pages, all buttons, in under five minutes per department.

We didn’t appreciate how many unconverted legacy HTML pages we still have, many going back to the 1990′s. DreamWeaver found 1,292 links needing change. Typically two links per page, that’s between 500 and 600 HTML pages. Except for the uploads, the powerful find/replace feature can make short work of that too.

There was a BIG problem.
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Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL’s)

I like and use CFL’s where possible. Our apartment complex converted all units to CFL fixtures, free, over a year ago. In the Phoenix house, I’ve switched almost all regular light bulbs to CFL. Fluorescent lighting is three times as efficient as incandescent – so a 20W fluorescent really provides as much light as a 60W bulb. That’s  a fact. The energy savings on a whole residence add up.

A few folks object to a perceived flickering in fluorescent fixtures of any type, and always have. Personally, I attribute this to bad ballasts in thousands of older fixtures with the  2-foot and 4-foot tubes. The same goes for hum. With CFL’s, though, occasionally I do detect a slight hum, not objectionable, and this generally goes away as the bulb warms up.
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Human Interface Guidelines

Back around the dawn of history, when the ghostly flickerings of DOS still cast long dancing shadows upon the primeval forest, early mankind was still searching for a way to get through the forest while bypassing the medicine men and witch doctors.

This was at places like Xerox/PARC and Apple. We fix the year at roughly 1984 AD.

The idea was that a user ought to be able to navigate the depths of the operating system, and its attendant user applications, with a consistent, intuitive, learnable set of conventions. Since the interface was graphic, not text-based, the new GUI dashboard was populated with graphic icons, menus and consistent keyboard shortcuts (copy, paste). No longer did the stop sign get to be red and hexagonal in one county, and yellow/triangular when you crossed the line into the next county. Apple came up with a pioneering set of guidelines, their famous Human Interface Guidelines – surely not the first, but the most comprehensive and consistent.
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CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000

CoolerMonster

Cosmos 1000Well, I can say one thing right away about the CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000 case. It’s BIG – measuring 23-1/2 x 10 inches, including helicopter-style landing skids.

Another thing: it’s QUIET. CoolerMaster really soundproofed this design well. It’s even quieter than any laptop I ever owned. I can hardly hear it at all.
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