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Real Life Debugged » 2009 » January

Archive for ◊ January, 2009 ◊

I wrote most of my book on a little Dell Inspiron 700m, carrying it in my backpack all over creation. It’s a lightweight little thing with a great screen and 5 hours of run time on the extended battery. Delayed flights, no problem. Writing on the patio, no problem.


But sometimes when I’m pursuing a life outside the office, it spins into overdrive, cranking the disk and fan up into a frenzy. And when I return, the CPU Usage is pegged at 100%.

What the heck is it doing, I wonder? Is it more productive than *I* am? Well, could be when I’m surfing icanhascheezburger, but when I look away it may be stuck on the home shopping channel.

Does your computer misbehave behind your back? Today I decided see where my computer wanders, using a little deduction and some pretty simple tools.


Let’s Debug It: Keyboards and Endothermic Mammals
Saturday, January 24th, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

First, recognize that in any disagreement with a Cat, the Cat will Win.

The main character of my book, Josie, was named after my oldest cat. My tiny little girl going on 13 who still jumps, plays, zips around and insists on her treats at EXACTLY 7:30 each night. But she’s gotten older, perhaps stiffer, and as such, she’s sought out the warmest areas in the house to snooze.

And then she discovered my laptop computer.

How do you stop a clever cat from using your laptop as a Really Nice and Warm Bed? While also preventing the sending of salacious emails to your co-workers?


Subtitle: “An Author’s Relationship with Amazon, Google and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”

I admit, when the book first came out, I was so antsy to see it on Google. In the beginning I was secretly disappointed to keep finding it behind pages and pages of cell phone battery horrors … “Girl burned when cell phone catches fire” … “cell phone sparks fire that leaves California man severely burned.”

But after the the book came out and gained publicity, my attitude (and my mental status) buoyed happily seeing it at or near the top of search results. Then at international Amazon sites, and in lists in industry journals and college libraries. And the reviews - I printed out page after page to save for posterity!

But … my amusing and somewhat sarcastic writing style didn’t win me this international publicity. Nope.

It’s all about Google and Amazon. And SEO - search engine optimization.


Thanks to my publisher, Elsevier/Newnes, the first chapter of the Phone on Fire Technical Mysteries is available online! I am including a link to it here, and also to the Elsevier website.

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

It was an odd-looking line of code, awkward in its form and syntax, dovetailed between well-formatted lines that marched up his computer screen. The pleasant left-and-right rhythm of indentation was marred by this single line, positioned brazenly flush with the left margin.

Not appropriate at all.

It was the offending line’s placement that first caught his attention, as if it had been cut-and-pasted by mistake. Closer inspection added to his unease. The original author of this code was not the author of this line - a hack interloper had destroyed the beauty of this software. Oscar raked a hand through his hair as he pulled his focus away from the individual characters and syntax and let awareness of the code’s function flood his brain.

It was a command to store a block of data into memory.

He scanned the comment section of the function and found no reference to the change. He wasn’t surprised; someone writing sloppy code generally didn’t pause to add comments.

But could this line be the source of the emergency, the reason why he’d been summoned back to work at 10 p.m. last night? And then spent the day alternately hunched over a lab computer and being dragged into various managers’ offices to estimate when he could fix a bug that he hadn’t yet had time to understand?

Three days before the final hardware and software were to be finished and delivered to manufacturing, the display on the Friend-Finder Communicator device suddenly turned red.

For no apparent reason.


Find the entire chapter here - with my shameless permission to link to it as well!:

Chapter 1) The Case of the Irate Customer - Debugging Other People’s Code, Fast!

Cover Art: The Acid Flashback Big Reveal
Friday, January 16th, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Back when I was emailing Newletters to folks in the pre-production days, one of my anguishes was the book’s cover art. Now that I have recovered over the past year or so, I can talk about the whole trial less emotionally (… I lament in that totally weak wilty female whisper of delicateness while fanning flushed face quite rapidly).

** Rolls eyes **

Anyway, in Phone on Fire Newsletter #4, “Author Anguish,” I had relayed that the publisher forwarded three concepts for the cover, and that I had been underwelmed by all three. I also admitted,

One was downright awful. I think I used the phrase “acid flashback” in my feedback to the publisher on that one.

I refused to show anyone that concept. I think after all this time I will reveal the cover art that nearly scarred me with the idea that they were actually considering it.


This is a shout out to Jason Andrews from Cadence who mentioned the value of embedded systems, debugging, visualization and verification as cornerstones in technology going forward. Everything seems to be tied to everything else, and we all need to get our heads out of the cubbyholes (aka cubicles) and take a look at better and more comprehensive ways to solve problems.

Jason also gave a nice plug to If I Only Changed the Software, Why is the Phone on Fire?, and for that I thank him. He mentioned that we share a common publisher, Elsevier/Newnes with his book Co-verification of Hardware and Software for ARM SoC Design. With hardware and software merging closer and closer together as time goes on, we need to be more cognizant of the challenges of verification. We can’t design, develop, debug, or test in a vacuum any longer. Check it out.

Bugs: Product Features or Warranty Restrictions?
Friday, January 09th, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Jessica Hagy writes a neat little blog called Indexed - it’s full of interesting meanderings about life that we all recognize as true, but we Never Quite Thought Of That Way.

Each is hand drawn on an index card. Short attention span theater. As the blog’s tagline states:


Not all musings are about bugs or debugging, but many highlight problems, misunderstandings, and truisms about life.

This card begs one to explore the disposition of bugs which aren’t solved, either before product launch or after.

Fix, Featurize, or shove into the Product Warranty under “misuse, abuse … or use under improper environmental conditions.”



More helpful advice from product manuals and company websites to meet all your technical needs.

Symptom: No sound.
Try this:
Increase the volume.


    An Engineers’ Guide to Cats
    Thursday, January 01st, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

    Engineers are some of the greatest and most creative people on earth. While stereotypes about us abound, we are also capable of making complete (?) fun of ourselves.

    Many hard-and-fast logical engineering types believe that aliens use cats to spy on us. Cats are incomprehensible. But really, figuring out a cat is just like debugging any other unknown…observe, hypothesize, test, and validate.

    This film is a wonderful introduction to the sometimes aloof and generally lovable felines of the 4-legged variety. From the YouTube site, this film carries the following introduction:

    Two professional engineers illustrate the proper care and practical benefits of cats. None of the cats, humans, or engineers were mistreated in the making of this film.

    It is one of my favorite videos!

    It is quite possible that my husband secretly supports this instructional video, even though he is very vocal about his thoughts on cats - he prefers them breaded and fried.

    You know, like W.C. Fields … “I like children - fried.

    Category: Engineers, Humor |  Tags: | Leave a Comment