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Real Life Debugged » Technical mysteries

Tag-Archive for ◊ Technical mysteries ◊

My evil car knows I get cold easily, and it purposely screws with me when I desperately need hurricane winds of hot toasty air. “No heat for YOU” in its best Soup Nazi sneer, armrests crossed and headlights rolling in the air. “I just don’t feel like it right now.”

Northbranch Park. When I was *prepared* for the icicles.

Last spring, I jumped into my car, damp from a light afternoon shower and jacked up the heat. It was overcast but about 70ºF outside. Brrr - I was chilled! But when when I maxed out the temperature (90ºF) my car refused to emit the anticipated waves of warmth. Grrrr.

The gas tank was full, car nicely washed and detailed, clean air filter and sated with meandering drives in the country: she should be happy and content. But nooo, she’d gone bipolar and my car insurance doesn’t cover mental health.


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!

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!


What’s in the “Phone on Fire” Mystery Book?
Sunday, October 26th, 2008 | Author: lisaksimone

What this book ISN’T

This book is not a hardcore textbook or a manufacturer-specific or toolset-specific “how to” book. It isn’t a book that becomes dated after a few years. It isn’t a book that guilt-trips you into reading it just because you bought it.

What this book IS

This book contains a series of technical mysteries for readers to solve. It’s fiction, and it’s nonfiction. “CSI for Embedded Systems” if you will. Machines crash, products catch fire - the engineers at Hudson Technologies race to fix the problems before it is too late!


This new book manages the unthinkable - it conveys crucial technical information to engineers without boring them to tears! …

Unique format casts the reader as a technical detective by presenting a new mystery in every chapter. Not another dry technical book! It’s conversational tone and intriguing quandaries draw the reader into the action, while teaching crucial debugging skills.

Read the rest of the review here.

Ever get stuck, not knowing how to fix a hand-held calculator or cell phone? Then check out a new book by Lisa Simone, PhD, of Bridgewater, an assistant professor, at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

If I Only Changed the Software, Why Is the Phone on Fire? (Elsevier, 2007) offers step-by-step, easy-to-understand information about how to debug small and large electronic products ranging from pocket calculators to cell phones.

“Debugging is the process of removing bugs and problems from software and devices,” said Simone. “It is a valuable skill for anyone working in a technical field like engineering. Unfortunately, it is difficult to teach debugging, and most people have to learn through experience, which can be time consuming and frustrating.”

The book introduces readers to real-world technical mysteries of progressive complexity, guiding them toward successful solutions. Simone hopes the audience will be for the general public as well as engineers. “I’ve created a fictional company with a cast of engineers. The engineers tackle real-life software and hardware technical problems while upper management and customers hover nervously.

The book shows engineers faced with technical mysteries and products behaving badly. In one instance, a new software engineer uses a newly-developed monitor to measure her own heart-rate. To her surprise, her heart-rate has mysteriously doubled. She and a senior colleague brainstorm to find the bug. Eventually, by eliminating hardware and software parts, they fix the monitor. The book’s final chapter offers a summary of smart debugging techniques introduced throughout the text.

Simone’s idea for the book grew from realizing while working in industry that students, developers, computer scientists and engineers often don’t know how to solve problems.

At NJIT, Simone is developing a portable low-cost glove for functional hand measures that can be worn by victims of stroke or traumatic brain injury. The National Institutes of Health is funding the research. The device will help researchers, physicians and therapists assess the degree of injury and methods that might help patients regain mobility. Other current projects also focus on using wearable embedded systems and technology to help rehabilitate people with physical disabilities. Simone’s research has been published in six peer-reviewed journals and she has presented at 13 prominent conferences. She received her PhD in biomedical engineering from Rutgers University.

The Press Release can be found here.