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Real Life Debugged » 2008 » December

Archive for ◊ December, 2008 ◊

Let’s Debug It: Hacksaws are Your Friend
Sunday, December 21st, 2008 | Author: lisaksimone

Clearly, all good things go bad when least expected. I was playing CDs extremely loudly one night and my fun came crashing to an end when the CD player began emitting disturbing grinding noises. Not at all in sync with the beat. In fact, there was no more beat.

Okay, I thought, I’d just inserted two new CDs before the grinding began. Maybe, like a DVD or CDROM, it didn’t quite seat right in the tray - let’s redo.

Wrong. Not only could I not eject the CDs, I couldn’t stop the grinding noise and couldn’t turn the unit off. It finally stopped when I pulled the power cable, but sadly resumed said grinding after power cable reinsertion.

Okay fine. Bag the music for the evening; let’s watch TV. Ah, nice try. Audio for all our electronics also goes through this system.

It’s either Grind-Grind, or silence. Some folks on the internet suggested 1) throwing it on eBay or 2) throwing it off the balcony. Shall we have a go at it a bit more nicely first?


“Phone on Fire” Foreword by Jack Ganssle
Sunday, December 14th, 2008 | Author: lisaksimone

Foreword by Jack Ganssle

The oldest known book about engineering is the 2000-year-old work De Architectura by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. One historian said of Vitruvius and his book, “He writes in atrocious Latin, but he knows his business.” Another commented, “He has all the marks of one unused to composition, to whom writing is a painful task.”

Does that sound like the last ten technical books you’ve read?

Engineers are famous for being very bright but also for lacking basic writing skills. Yet writing is still our primary means of communication, so we buy heavy tomes created without the benefit of basic grammar and often bereft of a coherent structure. Storyline? Character development? Forget it.

Welcome to a very different kind of technical book. Lisa Simone’s work isn’t the usual dreary tome stuffed with arcane wisdom buried beneath paragraph-length sentences seemingly written by someone just learning English as a second language. This is certainly the first embedded book with characters. The first with action, and with interesting and cool stories.

Bad code that makes a phone burst into flames?

What fun!

This is a James Patterson-style fast-paced book with dialog as close to gripping as one can imagine for a computer book. Its uniquely embedded focus twists together elements of hardware and software just as we engineers do in our daily design activities. One can’t be understood without the other. Code makes the hardware smoke. That’s unheard of anywhere but in the embedded industry.


Embedded Humor: Smart-House 2.0 Crashed My Kitchen
Sunday, December 14th, 2008 | Author: lisaksimone

This is a hilarious set of diaries entries for what can Go Wrong when you network your house. While we laugh now, years into the future when you need to reboot your kitchen, we’ll look back at our innocence and wonder why the heck we didn’t pull an intervention before this could be allowed to happen. (Sadly, or happily, we’ll get here by default.)

Nov 28: Moved in to my new digitally maxed-out Hermosa Beach house at last. Finally, we live in the smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything’s networked. The cable TV is connected to our phone, which is connected to my personal computer, which is connected to the power lines, all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface I’ve ever used. Programming is a snap. I’m like, totally wired.


Should you read at your desk at work, or under the covers before bed?

This book can be enjoyed in a number of ways - it was written for folks of all experience levels from students and new engineers to seasoned technologists. Each mystery is a window into technical team dynamics and provides a “Day In The Life” for folks curious about the field. Each mystery stands alone, although the Hudson team is the thread that weaves the stories together.

I invite you to grab a pencil and work through the examples to solve the mysteries before the team at Hudson Technologies does. Write in the margins. Think of other solutions. If you get stuck, work through the symptoms and the evidence side-by-side with Oscar’s team and verify what they conclude. Or, just glide along with the team as they tackle one technical mystery after another. (I’ll state upfront that none of the bugs are caused by minutiae like missing semicolons or misspelled variable names!)

While you get caught up in the mysteries, I hope some of the team’s tricks get lodged in your brain and come floating back out when you find a similar bug or symptom in your own technical travels. When that happens, check out the appendix - everything you’ve learned is nicely summarized with references back to each mystery.

It’s all about your approach to problem solving.

Make your next step a logical one instead of a random one.

This book also targets a very wide audience. Several types of folks will enjoy these mysteries. All kinds of engineers, students interested in science and technology as a career, technical and support staff who have to debug and understand embedded systems.

And maybe best of all - your FAMILY and FRIENDS! Never know what to buy for your favorite techies? How about a neat technical mystery book!