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Run-Time Errors Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "breakpoint" journal:

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November 1st, 2012
05:20 am


Locked down for spam
Due to excessive amounts of spam comments and resulting email notifications (and I mean EXCESSIVE, like dozens per day), I have globally disabled public comments for this journal.

Also, no new content is pending for this journal; I've simply left it up until I transfer the useful technical bits somewhere else.

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March 21st, 2010
04:03 am


Analog Video Blather: We're Only...
Making Plans for Nigel

This video includes an interesting trick that I only just now recognized, and it is one which is rarely seen these days, because it is done strictly in the analog domain. Notice the parts where the people appear to have sinusoidally displaced hair, but the background is stable?

Video overlays, like other effects, at that time occasionally included digital _control_, but were generally performed against analog inputs, and generated an analog output. "Bluescreening", or more properly _chroma keying_, gets its name from exactly that-- selecting one of two inputs based on analog color thresholds in a trigger input.

The thing about analog video, though, is that unlike a digital raster image, the number of pixels is not _per se_ fixed; rather, it is a function of time. Analog video relies on timing signals-- both for the start and end of a frame, and the start and end of each row.

The effect you see is the result of the analog horizontal timing signals (the "front porch" and "back porch" of each row) being displaced according to a sine wave. The modified signal is used as both the overlay and keying input. The second input, an unmodified signal, is used as the backdrop.

And now you know how you, too, can generate your own 1979 rock video special effect. Don't forget to add 60,000 watts of light and enough oversaturation to make the Zenith logo blur right off the television set.

Seriously, if you ever want to do something like this, let me know. I'd love to help, or at least see the result.

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March 10th, 2010
09:25 am


The World's Oldest Fielded Weapons
Okay folks, here's one to consider: what are the oldest weapons ever actually fielded in combat?

I'm not talking about classes of weapons; I'm talking about individual artifacts. Ancient weapons are a staple of science fiction, fantasy, and various games, but we generally think of real-life weapons rusting out or being obsolete after, at the very most, a century.

There are, however, exceptions, and I'll start with one of my favorites: the Great Turkish Bombard, also known as the Dardanelles Gun. Constructed in the 15th century, this huge cannon was actually fired at British ships over three hundred years later, during the Dardanelles Operation, resulting in 28 dead.

Any other good examples come to mind?

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February 27th, 2010
02:25 pm


iSplash: Emergency Care Instructions for Wet Electronics
If any of you are trying to get ahold of me, sorry, try again on Tuesday.

iPhone + water = $200 replacement cost. On a phone I've had less than a month. Sigh. At least it's better than the full retail price, but ouch. Still, I use the damn thing all the time and can't really justify being without it-- I'd have to cart a laptop around even more often than I already do.

However, it occurs to me that I should provide advice on what to do in this situation. Keep in mind that this applies for any amount of water, not just submersion.


1. Shut off the phone IMMEDIATELY. If the phone doesn't acknowledge the power button-- this is what happened to me-- you won't be able to do this, and the rest of this becomes extremely important to follow as rapidly as possible.

2. Remove any protective cases and shake out as much water as possible.

3. Using a paperclip or push pin, remove the SIM card (instructions elsewhere). If the SIM card is wet, dry it off-- this is not a good sign.

4. Carry the phone in your pocket to get it warm while you get to a car with a heater and an air conditioner.

5. Close ALL of the vents, except for whichever one you can best fit the phone into. Turn the heat all the way up, turn on the air conditioner, set it to dash vents, and turn the fan all the way up. The air conditioner will dry the air blowing through the phone, and the heater will heat the water in the phone; the combination will raise the vapor pressure of the water relative to the air in the phone and help it evaporate.

6. Put the phone in the vent with the screen side UP, since this side of the case has openings that the water vapor will more easily escape from, instead of just condensing on the inside of the case. Every three minutes, rotate the phone 180 degrees. Check the camera lens and screen for drops or vapor.

7. Go to a store that sells silica gel desiccant. If you don't know how to obtain this, buy silica gel cat litter instead. "Litter Pearls" or "crystal" cat litter is mostly silica gel and that will do the job. Buy some, and a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid that will easily hold the iPhone.

8. Pour two to three inches of desiccant in the jar. Stand the phone up in this, and pour in the rest of the desiccant SLOWLY, covering the phone completely. Pour slowly to avoid generating any more dust than you can avoid, and don't inhale the dust. Close tightly.

9. Let sit for at least a day, preferably 2-3.

10. CAREFULLY AND SLOWLY remove the phone from the jar. Silica gel can be sharp; use care to avoid scratching the device. Carefully remove all silica gel bits from SIM port, headphone jack, and charging port. Use a DAMP CLOTH ONLY to clean the screen and case or you WILL scratch it worse than you would expect.

11. DO NOT replace the SIM card at this point, but DO place the phone on a charger. As with all untrusted rechargeable batteries, place the phone on something fireproof.

12. If, after thirty minutes, the phone is not taking a charge, you probably need to exchange it. Sorry.

13. If the phone seems to charge okay, shut it off, disconnect it, clean the SIM card carefully and reinsert it.

Good luck. Hope it works out better for you than me. The charging and backlight circuits are particularly prone to damage from water. Apple Stores offer a $199 trade-in for another refurbished unit (which should be fine). Painful, but it could be worse. And yes, iPhones have moisture sensors you wouldn't be able to easily replace (the case damage would show, for most of you).

In a pinch, you can try substituting fresh, dry rice for silica gel; it's a poor-man's desiccant.

My results? The phone sits at 10% charge, blinking, with the backlight off. I'm convinced this is because I screwed around with the phone too much before it dried out, though, and your results may be considerably better.

Let me know if this saves any of you a repair bill.


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February 14th, 2010
04:45 am


Meme Flashback
Heh. While trying to troubleshoot a LiveJournal problem, I found this error page which I think was even better than what I was looking for.

Reload at least five times to locate amusement.

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04:43 am


To everyone who replied to that last post-- thank you for your thoughts, but I hadn't intended to make that public. I reinstalled the LiveJournal iPhone app and forgot to reconfigure the defaults. So, please pardon the lack of replies.

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February 8th, 2010
01:51 am


Use the, uh, Force, Han
For those of you out there who may be both Feminists and Star Wars fans, please allow me to ruin your childhood forever:



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February 1st, 2010
03:49 am


Amadinejad Promises to "Disappoint" Enemies, Tyrants February 11th
"I am sure the Iranian people will do something on February 11, which will disappoint the enemies and the tyrants completely."
--Mahmoud Amadinejad

These words almost certainly refer to street demonstrations of pro-government factions. However, there are three recent wrinkles to keep in mind before writing such a remark off.

First, while the government is definitely being challenged, it is not unstable-- a revolution is entirely unlikely in the near term. Nevertheless, a successful demonstration of an ability to stand up to the west or Israel might very well help to re-solidify governmental control.

Second, a high-level Hamas official was recently killed abroad. A number of people, purportedly from (or, at least, with passports claiming origins in) various countries have been arrested. There is a widespread assumption, both within and beyond the Arab world, that the Israeli Mossad is responsible for the killing. The belief is so widespread that any alternate actual reality may not matter unless it is extremely convincing. A move against Israel would, so the theory goes, help unify Iran with like-minded neighbors.

Finally, Iran continues to attempt to procure high-grade defense materials from Russia, including the SA-300 (actually, Iran almost certainly wants the state-of-the-art SA-400, but good luck with that). Make no mistake, if there is one thing Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, actually does well in defense, it is missiles. It isn't so much a matter of technological prowess as just extremely well-refined processes. Even the somewhat-dated versions are quite potent, and meaningful modernization and upgrade kits have been sold for years (and, quite possibly, are where the real money is made). Russia has felt a need to reassert its military relevance in recent years, and it may yet be willing to stand up to the west more strongly through a proxy than directly, to test the waters. Iran, meanwhile, still wants to acquire hardware Moscow is still on the fence about selling.

Amadinejad's speech contained the following, as well:

"This year will see the definite failure of capitalism, inhuman liberalism and the start of globalization of the Islamic revolution."

This, of course, fails the "And I want a pony" test.

Nevertheless, as an exercise, it would be a good idea to at least take an exasperated look at the Domestic Threat Checklist for Iran. It's late, and I'm tired, so I'm going to cut to the chase on this one.

The only even marginally credible meaningful strategic threat Iran will have at some point against the domestic United States is the deployment of an EMP-optimized nuclear weapon via their emerging longer-range rockets high above America, probably from a cargo vessel offshore. The reasons this is their most credible strategy go roughly like this:

1. Modern missile guidance can be almost completely ignored; the damn thing just has to go almost straight up and then arc for a bit.

2. Anti-ballistic missile defense (which we do have a very limited, but not negligible, capability for) probably won't help, since the missile would be too high for mid-course interceptors and terminal-phase interceptors will be irrelevant, since the physics package will have activated prior to that point.

3. Various effects will greatly amplify the EMP effect of even a normal nuclear weapon when detonated high above the bulk of the atmosphere. A moderately-sized weapon that could be shrugged off when coupled with a crappy guidance system may nonetheless cause a significant EMP effect.

4. American vulnerability to, and cascade damage from, EMP effects continues, and will continue, to increase. I usually offer the ray of hope here that resupplying these materials from our trading partners abroad would only be a matter of days in many cases-- cargo ships will already be en-route due to their normal operations, after all-- but it would be, nonetheless, extremely disruptive.

So, for what it's worth, the one eye-rolling, devil's advocate domestic U.S. option Iran either has or will develop at some point is a stratosphere-exosphere EMP device.

So-- what do you, Joe Public, do?

Not a hell of a lot, honestly. The things you should do anyway, of course:

  • Three months of any life-critical medications. Always, always, no exceptions.

  • A week of water, changed out every three months.

  • A week of food, changed out as appropriate for the ration type.

  • If you have somewhere to store it safely-- not in the house-- ten gallons of gas.

  • However, for EMP, you should consider doing the following:

  • Spare, high-value electronics (meaning communications gear, really) should have the batteries removed, all antennas and long wires disconnected, and be packed into metal containers. Old metal ammo cans are great for cell phones, radios, and so on. While you're at it, make sure the waterproofing seals are still good. And those lids are supposed to scrape the sides of the can.

  • If you know what you're doing, you can compress steel wool carefully against the circuit boards, or otherwise ensure a safe shunt to keep long circuit traces from discharging into components.

  • While disconnected motors and refrigerators which are not plugged in at the time may be reasonably survivable, DO NOT expect to be able to run a refrigerator or motor off a UPS (uninterruptible power supply)! The startup current required for these is very high, and nasty for a UPS.

  • Outdoor antennas should always have lightning protection. It's unlikely the E1 spike from an EMP event would start a fire in most antenna systems, but it's worth thinking about, and you want the lightning protection anyway, so do it.

  • Anyway, there you go. EMP defense from a software engineer after three drinks. Sheesh. Whatever happened to Civil Defense?

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    January 23rd, 2010
    02:00 pm


    Retro Game Boxes for Modern Movies
    These were too good not to share; click for more:

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    January 19th, 2010
    08:08 pm


    VirtualBox + Fedora 12 = Not Recommended
    As of today (19JAN2010), I have to warn against using Fedora 12 with VirtualBox as a guest OR a host. While I expect the problems to be relatively short-lived (30-60 days), at the moment they can be severe unless you are willing to work around them.

    If you are trying to get used to VirtualBox, I recommend using the current version of VirtualBox with Fedora 11 instead.

    If you have to run a Fedora 12 guest, I recommend falling back to an early 3.0.x release of VirtualBox.

    If you have to run VirtualBox under a Fedora 12 host, you may or may not have problems, and may be able to work around them by rebuilding VirtualBox from source, if that is an option for you; alternately, try an early 3.0.x release of VirtualBox.

    The blunders are a little vexing, but they are also not all that straightforward to troubleshoot. Problems this severe are rare, but they can occur when working on the two bleeding edges at once. =]

    Share and enjoy,

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