Moore’s law, the speed at which technology moves forward, means that the digital past gets smaller every year. So this is what is left are the tracings of hundreds of people, or thousands, who, 20, 30, 40 years ago found each other and decided to fabricate all this…digital stuff. Glittering ephemera. They left these markings and moved on.

Who wouldn’t want to go back 20 years—to drive again into the office, to sit before the whiteboard in a beanbag chair, in a place of warmth and clarity, and give it another try?

Go read.





4
Sep
'14

In 1961, Frank Drake helped organise the first Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference. In preparation for his speech, he came up with the Drake Equation, which effectively multiplies a whole lot of unknown probabilities together to come up with a figure which may or may not tell us how many real live aliens there might be out there trying to communicate with us.

Drake’s Equation is little more than an interesting thought experiment, since every single variable is a SWAG. Still, people use it to come up with a figure that motivates them to aid the search. Nothing wrong with that.

But even if Drake’s Equation convinces you that there are many many civilisations out there, there’s reason to believe that the Earth is unique, or at least very rare, in one way. From where we stand, the sun and the moon both occupy about 30 arc seconds, or to put it differently, the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also 400 times further away.

Where the unique becomes sublime is when we have a total eclipse of the sun. If the moon were bigger, we wouldn’t see a halo. If the moon were smaller, it wouldn’t be a total eclipse.

Which is why Iain Banks, in his novel Transition, suggests that instead of watching the great American eclipse of 2017, you should rather be looking around. Many of the spectators might have hitch hiked a number of lightyears to observe the phenomenon.









2
Sep
'14

September marks the start of spring in South Africa. While we sometimes have rain, this year September 1st was an absolutely gorgeous day.

Also, in the other hemisphere, students go to school after summer holidays. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, new students getting access to the university computer networks caused all kinds of chaos on usenet (what we had instead of the world wide web back then) until they acquired some clue.

This changed in September 1993, when AOL came online and flooded the network with clueless lusers. Some nerd types adopted a new calendar — today being September 7672, 1993.

On September 1st 2014, the lusers got to Tam.

The ‘net is just a little bit poorer today.

 





20
Aug
'14

One of the disks that came with my Apple ][ clone contained a little game called Nightmare #6. At the time it completely stumped me, there seemed to be no way to beat the game. I’d worked out that a move consisted of two letters, no more, no less, and that it was possible to lose points quite quickly, and also possible to not lose points, but I never worked out how to actually gain points.

For some reason I thought of this game again the other day, tried to find it. This was not easy, but plenty google later I found it in the Apple Software Bank Volume 1.

Of course my BASIC is better than it was in 1980. I learned that:

  • You get eleven moves
  • Each move consists of two letters
  • Using the same letter twice gives you a “nightmare #6″, which doubles the amount of points you lose on the next wrong move
  • Re-using the first letter of a previous move gives you “super zonk”, which quadruples the amount of points you lose on the next wrong move
  • Any other move gives you no points, except when the value of the two letters (A = 1, Z = 26) add up to a multiple of ten.
  • If the letters add up to a multiple of ten, you score that value, and the score associated with the second letter is set to this same value.

So, NZ (14 + 26 = 40) is a valid move. So is OY, PX, QW, RV and SU. After playing these, you can’t re-use N, O, P, Q, R or S, but U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all set to 40, so UV, WX and YZ are legal moves for 80 points each, and leaves V, X and Z set to 80.  VZ and XZ give you 160 points each, finishing the game with 1880 points out of a (claimed) possible 2080 points.

So I thought about it some more. Realised that while NZ is a good place to start, XZ (24 + 26 = 50) is better. Of course this means that PX is no longer a legal move, you can’t play the first letter again. OY, QW, RV and SU are still good for 40 points each, and YZ, WZ, VZ and UZ give 90, 130, 170 and 210 points (because the point value of Z increases every time). But this is only nine turns, and we need eleven. Fortunately we still have J (= 10) and T (= 20) to play TZ and JZ, for a total score of 2280 points.

I still don’t know how the author got to the “possible 2080″ points.

Screen capture of end of Nightmare #6, with 2280 out of a possible 2080 points.

 

Oh yes, and this is why I’m with Jason Scott — we’re not huge Wikipedia fans because they delete perfectly good information.  Someone took the trouble to write something about Nightmare #6, and noted that it is possible to get more than 2080 points, but the editors decided that “WP is not a videogame guide“.

 

 

 

 





6
Aug
'14

There’s a hoary old bit of Internet folklore, that in the mists of time when dinosaurs roamed the computer rooms, there existed a machine which could be upgraded by cutting a single wire.

In other words, the machine shipped with more power than you paid for, with some kind of a silicon handbrake to cripple the hardware until such time as you could afford to pay for an upgrade.

But that’s long ago and we do things differently now some people don’t learn from history.

Because apparently Tektronix sells equipment with built-in capabilities that costs money to enable, except if you can program an EEPROM. And not with some encrypted password or string, no, apparently plain text available straight off of Tektronix’ website will do the trick.

So after Hackaday linked to Oontz’ website, Tektronix got all butthurt and issued a DMCA takedown notice.

Notes to Tektronix:

1. Streisand Effect. I wouldn’t have written this post if you had not got all upset.

2. Wayback Machine. Jason saved it all for us. Including the original post.

3. Once the cat is out of the bag, it becomes trivial to replicate. Even if you DMCA the Wayback Machine, and me, and everyone else… you still lose. See Note 1.

So, learn from this and design better security next time.

 





31
Jul
'14

I remember when this album hit the shops. We loved it. I drove from Cape Town to Johannesburg, via St. Francis Bay, with one tape in the car. It was amazing.

 

 





16
Jul
'14

 

 





Someone who looks at a picture like this one

and comments

Finger off the trigger tsk tsk :)

shall henceforth be known as a gunorak.





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