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Real Life Debugged » Personal Stories

Archive for the Category ◊ Personal Stories ◊

Christmas Tree Worms

Christmas Tree Worms

Photographers who drag electronics underwater tempt fate. Camera equipment requires special attention; gentle words of encouragement. I’ve had problems which occasionally prevent me from taking pictures, but one nagged me at the start of our Alaskan dive trip.

When we arrived, I was shocked to find beautiful colors and corals in Alaska that dwarf the beauty of many Caribbean sights. One of the few times I’ve see that many vivid colors in once place in my life!

But while attempting to capture this beauty as I was being swept along a steep wall, my strobe (flash) went temperamental and decided to flash only when it felt like it.

“WHY NOW?!?” I screamed through my regulator. “I NEED PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE OF THIS BEAUTY! No one will believe this is Alaska!”


Subtitle: Another digression about talking with those silly customers

I had a discussion with a good friend the other day - we’d spent years fire-fighting embedded systems gone wrong. During many all-nighters and several 110-hour weeks, our deepening ire became sharply focused on the idiocy of using zillion-line industry standards as product requirements.

On that project, there was no “customer need” or requirements document. I’d never met a customer. That was 12 years ago. It hasn’t changed much, he admitted. Now, as it was then, buggy products are still late.

Then I was approached by a university to redo their senior design program. Cooool - I got to indoctrinate brand-new engineers to the entire industry-standard process: starting with customer needs and requirements. “Back away from the keyboard,” I told them. “TALK to the customer.” And you know what? They got it!

To my delight, my best teams delivered beyond the customers’ expectations, and one won a national design award for their work. (Their story is below)

If graduating engineers can do it, why can’t we?


I wrote before about my computer wasting CPU cycles by phoning home to HP.

I also wrote about my cat deleting important files and emailing government agencies in my absence. Josie-the-Editor’s subterfuge continued in her quest for increased thermo intake courtesy of my oh-so-toasty keyboard. But yet again I forgot to “retire” my computer for the evening, granting her leave to further exploit my foolishness.

I awoke last week to find my computer at a near complete standstill. Oooooh no. But Type A that I am, I scrambled for print-screens, suspecting a repeat performance of HP’s Calls to the Mothership. But the system was so clogged it took me 15 minutes of patiently moving the mouse 2 inches, waiting 20 seconds to see where it landed, readjusting, etc., until I was just over the button to frantically SAVE!

The little voice in the back of my head nagged, JUST REBOOT AND CUT THIS CRAP OUT!

I refused.


DEADBEEF and Kids These Days
Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 | Author: lisaksimone

Someone should write an “Ode to 0xdeadbeef.”  For a couple years, I taught an embedded systems class at NJIT and used deadbeef to initialize memory and find memory leaks and the like.  My graduate students were initially confused that hex was useful for anything beyond binary conversions and writing ASCII characters to a display.

They tittered at cafebabe, feedf00d, and babe2bed.  Poor deprived children.

I always taught wandering through the room, and repeatedly tortured these unwitting victims with random demands, “What is 2ˆ16?  Why is it magic? What’s the hex value for ‘0′ and why is it a good one to memorize?”

From their initial stunned expressions, I could tell they secretly doubted the usefulness of such games, and wondered if Professor Simone was simply nuts.  To my joy and happiness, they caught the bug and starting bringing their fun words to class.

Denton Gentry wrote a fun “looking back in time” entry (aptly named “[0123456789abcdef]” ), reminiscing when discovering new words was a cool sign of superior nerdhood.  And nutty Professor Simone never thought of 0×0ddba11 or 0xf00f.  Ah, opportunities wasted.

Subtitle: Awarding Jobs to the Lowest Bidder

For years Verizon has subtly questioned my ability to use my own two-line phone.

It came to a head when the kids moved out, we trashed DSL and switched to cable modem. No longer needed two phone lines. So I called Verizon on our main line to turn off Line 2. Finally (I cheered internally), the end of 10 long years suffering through Verizon’s insistence that in fact, Ma’am, you are calling me from Line 2. I’d given up arguing the “Line 1 vs. Line 2″ nonsense, but now that I wanted Line 2 turned off, I figured it was a good idea to “confirm” somehow.

So for the zillionth time I responded, resigned, “No, I’m calling from Line 1. This is the phone that rings when people call our main number.”

“No Ma’am, you are calling from Line 2.” (Unspoken on her side I imagine, “This lady is an idiot.”)

Sigh. “Cancel Line 2.” I confirmed the telephone number. Fingers crossed. Five days later, Line 2 was truly dead. “dee Dee DEE, The number you have dialed….” Amazingly, Verizon actually turned off the right one.

But now Line 1 rang busy. Forever.


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?


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.


Phone on Fire Newsletter, Issue 9
Friday, April 06th, 2007 | Author: lisaksimone


I am returning from the 2007 Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose and the official premiere of Phone on Fire! If you are in the field and have never been to an Embedded conference - you need to go. What a great collection of vendors, classes, and seminars! (Ed Note: I would include a static website for the conferences in general, but it changes every year. So, check out the Embedded Systems website, which always has great information including ALL the embedded systems conferences.)

In this newsletter -
- Highlights the Show,
- Phone on Fire Premiere,
- My Best Takeout Pizza Experience,
- Shameless Photos.


Phone on Fire Newsletter, Issue 8
Sunday, March 18th, 2007 | Author: lisaksimone


Welcome to Issue #8: It’s Really Happening!

After 6 weeks of silence (from me to you, and from the publisher to me!), we are shipping next week!  The premiere is coming up, and I can finally admit some of the secrets kept from my publisher.  ;-)


Phone on Fire Newsletter, Issue 7: Poll Results
Thursday, February 01st, 2007 | Author: lisaksimone


Welcome to Issue #7: Results of the Completely Unscientific Reader Poll

Thank you for participating in my Reader Poll. Your feedback helps me understand if my thoughts are completely out in left field or not. Well, I think I know the answer to that question without having to ask!

Here were the questions:

Question 1 asked about your personal preference - did you like the cover?

Question 2 asked about the cover’s ability to attract a potential buyer to learn more…does the cover art do it’s job?