Warblog

That’s “war blog” two words, and here’s a good one.

Yawnage. Spent too much time playing with the cat and doing taxes tonight.

Random neat paper of the day, on how to get around having to flush all kinds of pipeline gunk when a superscalar processor takes an interrupt. [I’m reading Silc, Robic and Ungerer’s Processor Architecture (From Dataflow to Superscalar and Beyond) at bedtime. It’s a neat book.]

Surplus pointers

Here in Silly Valley, we’ve got a lot of old crap hanging around that we like to sell to each other.

Here’s a bunch of links to various suppliers.

Nostalgia can be hazardous to your pocketbook. What’s a 25 year old IMSAI truly worth, when you can get an emulated one for, well, free…

OBD-III

[From memepool] OBD stands for On Board Diagnostics. It’s for automobiles. You’ll probably hear more about this in the near future.

OBD-II is used to diagnose cars at smog check stations (and other places). It started in California, then substantially the same spec became a federal mandate for cars manufactured since 1996.

OBD-III might as well be called “Over My Dead Body, Iy-yi-yi!” The air quality nazis want to make OBD call home, via cell phone or satellite. They want to know where you drive. They want the ability for the police to pull you over by disabling your engine remotely. This is all to keep the air breathable, by remote monitoring of car emissions. But it’s oh-so-much-more, a tired old pattern since the War on Terror essentially vaporized privacy in this country.

Any bets on how secure the result is going to be? If it’s designed by automotive engineers, or even better, by the government, it’s going to make Microsoft software look like Fort Knox. Now, this could actually be a boon. You could subscribe to services like:

– Page me if my car is driven outside of a specific area (“My car’s been stolen” / “Oh, junior lied about going to his study group.”).

– Likewise, send notification if someone is coming home. Useful if you’re burgling a house and know the VIN of the owner’s car.

– Naturally, we can assume that security is bungled for cop cars, so you’d be able to track them, too.

– That bozo who just cut you off? Zap! Cut off his engine with your handy “RoadRage” transmitter.

Motorcycles are presumably exempt … as is anyone who knows what wires to cut, or what firmware to patch. Of course, we all know that anyone who rides a motorcycle or knows how to use a logic analyzer is a potential terrorist, so that’ll probably be taken care of well before cars sporting OBD-III hit the streets.

TurboTax Copy Protection

So, like millions of folks I bought a copy of TurboTax this year, and now there’s this NT system service (CDAC11BA) doing something to my computer all the time — whether I’m running TurboTax or not — and I don’t know what else has been done to my system. I was going to move my WinXP box’s boot drive to another hard disk a few weeks ago, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because the copy protection software in TurboTax scribbles to undocumented locations on the disk, and moving the disk would have caused TT to fail.

This is just unacceptable. It’s so idiotic that I don’t know where to begin to express how stupid and incompetent it is. And if Intuit’s products are doing this next year, I’m not going to buy them.

Like millions of other folks, I imagine.

Someone on the Politech list pointed out that in the 1980s MicroPro added copy protection to their flagship product WordStar, and that was the apex of their rising star. People began to switch to the fairly new Word Perfect, and MicroPro was history. Don’t think this same thing can’t happen to a large company like Intuit. That’s what competitors are for; they reach out and begin eating pieces of your lunch the moment you show a weakness.

Intuit execs can soft-pedal the behavior of TurboTax all they want, but the fact remains that the copy protection is intrusive and is doing undeniably dangerous and fragile things to millions of PCs. It’s not the kind of thing you expect a piece of financial software to be doing to your system.

I think that Intuit is now screwed. If they remove the copy protection next year many, many people will pirate the product. If the protection is still there, sales will be down dramatically. Either way, Intuit loses — the course has already been set. Intuit made the choice to trade many years of customer good-will for a single season of good sales. My vote for the best seller next year is TaxCut.

The bottom line when it comes to copy protection: Customers are smart and they know when they are being shafted, and execs would do well to remember this.

Antiquarian book … sale?

My wife and I went to the Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco this weekend. In addition to the heavily overpriced copies of Harry Potter ($25,000 to $40,000), I saw monsterously overpriced Thomas Pynchon (1st ed. fine Gravity’s Rainbox $5,000), Ray Bradbury that was too dear (at $800-$4,000), and many copies of the pulp Ace double I was a Unreformed Junkie ($500-$5,000, depending on the booth). There were also $400,000 works on Euclid, and you could have a 13th century mathematics text for $120,000 or so (“Er, I left my checkbook at home. Is that a plus sign, or a religious symbol?”)

I semi-seriously looked at a signed first edition of John W. Campell’s The Black Star Passes, a wonderful bit of space opera that I enjoyed when I was 12 (“The golden age of Science Fiction”), but it was $375, the woman at the booth sensed my fear and apprehension and was not very nice, and ultimately I read for enjoyment, not to collect anything.

So just to confirm my cynicism, doubter me tracked this down on the net this morning:

93-1671 Campbell, John W. Jr. THE BLACK STAR PASSES. Fantasy Press: Reading, PA (1953). 7.5×5″, cloth, 254pp, hand stamped name and date on front pastedown and bottom edge, spine sunned. FIRST EDITION. LIMITED TO 500 NUMBERED COPIES, SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. $65.00

$65 is a whole lot better than $375. But as my friend Jack says, “I’m not a fan, I just read the stuff.”

My wife says I should see how many first editions I’ve got on my shelves. If an unsigned 1st ed. fine of The Hemmingway Hoax is going for $200 today, then maybe I should wrap it in plastic, shoot some nitrogen in there, and wait 30 years for it to power my retirement. But I could sell to you now, for cheap. You name a price first, okay?