Category Archives: Computers

Incidental Genius

With apologies to Ed Nather:

The most perfect checkin comment I ever saw
was a few years back, at Juniper.
An engineer named Dan,
not related to your humble scribe,
was making a fix
to the way the routing engines in a redundant system
resolved the question of which one was active
and which one was standing by.

Reading his one-line summation of his efforts,
I thought to myself:
Here is the essence of wisdom.
Here are words that might have sprung
from the pen of his countryman Machiavelli.

Do not declare yourself master until you have become master.

Neil Gaiman once said
That one of the hallmarks of good fiction
Is the way it leaves room for things to mean
More than they literally mean.
Which is true as far as it goes.
But it turns out to be true
of more than just fiction.

Over the years I’ve had frequent occasion
to appreciate the reminder
that prudence and humility
are so often one and the same.

Innovations in Terminology

Faisal offhandedly mentioned something called Aptana, which I’d never heard of before and promptly had to look up. It turns out to be an IDE for AJAX, but that is not the point.

The point is that when I glanced at the right column of the project’s homepage, some combination of carelessness, distraction, and excessive caffeine consumption tricked my brain into reading “Milestone Release” as “Millstone Release”, and I realized that I’d inadvertently stumbled upon an expression the software-development world has long been silently aching for.

That shitty build you only tossed over the fence to DevTest because management was breathing down your neck, and which causes you to spend more time fielding questions than it would have taken to fix the bugs? Millstone Release. That ill-starred 2.0 version that you began with bright eyes and pure intentions, but which was oozing a noxious trail of second-system effect by the time you managed to boot it out the door? Millstone Release.

“Millstone Release: Whether or not you drown instantly, you’ll be wearing it around your neck for the rest of your life.”

I’m off to ring the OED. Or at least see what’s involved in setting up a CafePress store.

Hot Air

Recent acquisition of a hot-air rework station, and attendant attempts at surface-mount soldering, have taught me that, to paraphrase Frank Herbert, “God made SMD rework to train the faithful. One cannot go against the will of God.”

In truth, it’s more than a little gratifying once you start to get the hang of it. Spark Fun‘s excellent tutorials help quite a bit. But there’s a point, somewhere around the fifth time you’ve blown a component the approximate size of a fingernail clipping clean off the board, where you start to wonder whether maybe you wouldn’t be more fulfilled collecting stamps or something.

Things (I think) I’ve learned so far:

  • The fact that you’re working on a very small part does not automatically imply that you should use the small nozzle. The small nozzle produces faster airflow, which increases your odds of accidentally blowing a small part about.

  • Don’t overdo it when you dome a pad in preparation for soldering down a component. Soldering through-hole parts using an iron accustoms you to using lots of solder as you build joints. SMD is all about very thin layers of solder pulling components into place via surface tension. Excessively generous domes just get squished by your component’s lands, sending solder to places where odds are you didn’t want it.

If I succeed in my current rework attempt, I might actually attempt to build something new next.

The IEEE Comedy Hour

Yesterday I stopped by the Apple Store to buy a short, thin FireWire cable, just about the perfect length and weight for conveniently connecting the external drive I now use as the destination for my SuperDuper! backups.

The cable lists for $14, and was my only purchase: the Cisco employee discount of 8%, combined with the California State Sales Tax of 8.25%, conspired to produce a register total of exactly $13.94. I’m not sure I was successful in explaining to the bemused fellow behind the counter just why I thought that was funny.

It may be that I need more sleep.

On Second Thought, Maybe It Wasn’t Thirsty

Should you happen to, say, accidentally dump a healthy helping of Diet Pepsi upon your MacBook’s keyboard and find that, despite prompt flood-control measures, a column of keys has become unresponsive to user input, you may conclude that the time has come to open it up for cleaning.

If you’d rather not find your way into a $1500 laptop via a trial-and-error approach, then you’d do well to peruse iFixit‘s excellent, detailed, and exhaustively illustrated guide to stripping the computer down to its bones before picking up that jeweler’s screwdriver. Highly recommended.


I’ve been posting a bit more lately, and while this is due to a couple of contributing factors, one of the big ones is my adoption of MarsEdit.

This is the blogging software that grew out of NetNewsWire: like NetNewsWire, it’s elegant, powerful, flexible, and clever without being too smart for its own good. If you’re looking for a tool that will let you create and manage blog posts from your Mac, MarsEdit is a fine place to start.

Le Renard, Part Deux

Firefox 2 has emerged from beta.

I’ve been running it for all of 15 minutes or so. I’ve observed no radical changes yet, which is fine, since in my view there wasn’t anything egregiously wrong with Firefox to begin with. Overall it looks like they’ve integrated some of the best ideas arising from the extensions developed for 1.x: finer-grained tab control and session persistence, to name but two.

My favorite new feature so far is integration with third-party RSS readers: it’s now possible for me to visit a site with Firefox, and then add its feed to my NetNewsWire subscriptions with two clicks. Very nice indeed.