Older blog entries for MichaelCrawford (starting at number 63)

It was suggested in today's Slashdot story on Microsoft losing a major patent infringement case about SQL server that we link to a page like the following with the link text Microsoft Business Partner.

It's a list of companies that Microsoft has either acquired or driven out of business through unethical practices.

The way google works, if enough people link to the same page with the same link text, it will rise to be ranked #1 among google's search hits for the link text's words.

New Toy

I bought a used Blue & White G3 Macintosh from a friend of mine in California. It arrived today after a week in transit, and happily works just fine.

I wanted this particular kind of Mac because the FireWire chip is a Texas Instruments PCILynx chip. Unlike the more common OHCI chips, PCILynx chips have a snoop mode (like ethernet's promiscuous mode) that allows one to spy on the FireWire bus using a free-as-in-beer tool from Apple called FireBug.

The OHCI standard doesn't allow snoop mode because Hollywood participated on the committee that set the standard, and they feared allowing it would defeat FireWire copy protection.

I actually have a couple of Newer Technology CardBus PCILynx cards, but my iBook doesn't have a PC Card slot at all. I bought a CardBus to PCI adapter for my 8500, but couldn't get it to work with any of my cardbus cards.

Throughout the later part of my development of FireWire Encrypt I rented a Blue & White G3 from a local Apple dealer, but I had to return it because the rental fees were getting expensive. They offerred to sell it to me & credit part of my rental fees but even still their price was a lot more than Andy was willing to sell his G3 to me for.

Unfortunately, FireWire hardware with PCILynx chips is getting hard to come by. I think the chip may not be manufactured anymore. One reason is that Microsoft doesn't support the PCILynx in Windows at all.

There are no FireWire protocol snoopers that you can get affordably to run on x86 hardware.

Linux supports the PCILynx chip, and I have lots of disk space on this G3 so I plan to put Debian on it. At some point in my abundant free time I plan to write a FireWire snooper application that will be Free Software. But it's been a long time since I've had much free time and I don't forsee having any anytime soon, so it will be a long time before I do.

Embedded Systems Development

In other happy news, I got a second embedded programming client. I will also be doing FireWire/SBP2 programming for them - I was able to get the work because of the experience I gained from working for WiebeTech.

Happily, this will be working on a system with far more resources than the Oxford 911 chip, so I'll have the use of a real debugger, running on my Win2k box and connected through a JTAG port. All I was ever able to use for debugging on the 911 was lighting up some LEDs on their developer board.

I still have some work left to do on FireWire Encrypt before it can ship. The next thing I plan to do is add support for Windows to the passphrase application. There is some sample code available for doing Windows FireWire, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any documentation. All I found after searching Google's Usenet archives was a bunch of people asking how to do it but not getting any answers.

FireWire Encrypt is going to support Linux too. I know anyone can use the kernel encryption for free, but it's pretty intimidating to install and configure. The main advantage of FireWire Encrypt over the kernel's encryptor will be that it is much easier to set up. Also you can move your drives to Mac and Windows boxes if you want to use them to transport encrypted data.

Oh, The Horror!

I just did something that in my youth I could never have imagined myself doing at all, let alone successfully.

I spent an entire day to hunt down and correct a ten-cent error in my business' checkbook register. I also prepared some tax forms that I will file in the morning.

Although the forms are a little late at least I am sure they are correct.

I spent my youth preparing to be a scientist. When that didn't work out, I became a programmer. Because I didn't like commuting or signing away all my inventions, I went into business as a software consultant.

When I was young, mathematics for me was both an art form and a tool. Now as a businessman, the most mathematical thing I do on any regular basis is operate QuickBooks to maintain the accounting for my company, of which I am the sole employee.

I think QuickBooks wouldn't be such a bad program if one were knowledgeable about it from the time a business is founded, and one stays on top of everything. But if you don't have much of a clue and you're a slacker, well it really becomes a mess.

I was especially concerned to fix my ten-cent error because I have to file the IRS corporate income tax form by March 15, and I want the books to balance exactly. I don't expect to owe any corporate income taxes (because I pay all the business' income to myself as salary, except for a few business expenses), but I imagine that having unbalanced figures in the form is probably a trigger to get audited.

I don't think the IRS would be overly concerned about a ten-cent discrepancy except that it would be an indication that I wasn't managing the books properly.

I have been eagerly following the progress of GnuCash for a while now. It's not yet really ready for business use but the new 1.8.0 release does have some small business features.

I will probably start to use GnuCash for my personal accounts soon, to replace Quicken. I would have used 1.6 but I couldn't get the foreign currency exchange to work for me - I have bank accounts both in the U.S. and Canada (Bonita is from Newfoundland).

Quicken can't handle foreign currency at all, one big reason to prefer GnuCash. There's a Canadian edition of Quicken but then you can't manage U.S. currency with it too.

I will try out GnuCash again when I get a little time to spare (hah!). Mainly I need to make a Debian package that I can install on Woody for PowerPC. I know how to use apt-pinning to get testing or unstable packages, but I don't want to mess up my nice Woody system by dragging in a bunch of whacky dependencies. So what I will do is get the GnuCash 1.8 Debian source package and build it against Woody.

I expect if I can get it to work OK I'll post the package on my website somewhere so all the hordes of Debian-using Macintosh owners can use GnuCash conveniently with Woody.

My wife seems very impressed with me for finding this ten-cent discrepancy, as well as with cleaning off and organizing my desk while searching for bank statements.

You should understand that when Bonita first came to live with me, she found a couple boxes of unopened mail in my office. Among it was dozens of unopened envelopes containing bank statements and bounced check notices.

I never used to keep a checkbook register. If I didn't feel certain I could write a check, I'd just check the balance at an ATM. That sort of works, if you maintain a large enough positive balance to buffer the uncertainty.

Unfortunately I have more accounts to deal with before my books will be completely pristine. I still have both business and personal accounts back in California from before I moved East, and there's a personal account here in Maine and one in Canada.

The one I just successfully reconciled is the most important one though.


After reading a letter in the Contract Employee's Newletter entitled "Recruiter Competence, or Lack Thereof", wherein an electrical engineer tells of a recruiter trying to place him in an aerospace engineering job for which he was completely unqualified, I wrote a letter to the newsletter editor giving the URL of my policy on recruiters.

I said I would be stoked if they published the link. I was even more stoked that they published my whole letter.

I have been working as a consultant full-time since April '98. In that time I have only gotten one contract through an agency, and even on that job I insisted that I sign my contract directly with the client and get paid by the client . I told the recruiter he could make his own arrangements with the client but I didn't want to be involved with them.

(Usually with agency jobs, the client does not even know the rate at which the consultant bills the agency, and it is not unheard of for 200% markups to occur).

I can't say it's been easy, but I've managed to stay employed the whole time and to support myself and my wife, and buy a house.

And it leaves me with the same kind of refreshing clean feeling that comes from not using Microsoft products.

30 Jan 2003 (updated 30 Jan 2003 at 02:09 UTC) »
Talking to Americans

If you thought my diary entry from yesterday was a little odd, then you have never seen This Hour Has 22 Minutes' feature Talking to Americans.

This Hour Has 22 Minutes appears on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I get to watch it when I visit Canada. It is one of the funniest TV shows I have ever seen.

In Talking to Americans, host Rick Mercer visits some place in the U.S.A. to demonstrate the ignorance that Americans have about world affairs in general and Canada in particular.

This is particularly poignant for Canadians to watch because they are subjected to so much American culture from films and television that they all know far more about American affairs than they could ever care to, while it is obvious that the vast majority of Americans know nothing about Canada.

Yesterday's quote came from an episode where Mercer visited Iowa and explained to the people there that Canada used to use a 20 hour clock. He said that a Canadian hour had 65 American minutes. Then he would ask the American public whether they thought Canada ought to use a 24 hour clock. He would get them to say "Congratulations Canada, on getting a 24-hour clock".

Being from an important national network like the CBC, he is able to get appointments with State governors. And so he caught the Governor of Iowa on camera congratulating Canada for getting a 24-hour clock.

He got the Governor of Arkansas to congratulate Canada for saving its National Igloo (now covered with a dome to protect it from global warming) and both the Governor of Michigan and George W. Bush (while campaigning for President) to express their pleasure that Prime Minister Jean Poutine had given his support to Bush' candidacy. (Poutine is a tasty but fattening snack of french fries, cheese curd and gravy.)

(Before Mercer meets the Governor, we are told that the State of Michigan enjoys $156 million in trade with Canada every day.)

Among other things that Americans have congratulated Canada for are:

  • legalizing staplers
  • legalizing insulin
  • legalizing daily newspapers
  • getting 800 miles of paved roads
  • getting electric lights in parliament

In addition, Americans have congratulated Prime Minister Tim Horton for getting his first double-double (ostensibly support of both houses of Parliament, but really extra cream and sugar in one's coffee from the popular donut shop that was founded by a famous hockey player).

Mercer visited Mount Rushmore to explain to Americans that the mining rights to the monument were now owned by a Canadian company. His question was whether it would be better to explore via precision blasting through the nose or drilling from the back of the head.

He got such answers as that they should pursue the mining method that would cause the least environmental damage. No one seemed to actually object to having a Canadian company mine this prized American landmark.

The majority of Americans surveyed supported the bombing of Saskatchewan.

I thought to post this because a while back Bonita taped a one-hour special that was nothing but Talking to Americans. I watched it a couple nights ago and while I found it hysterically funny I found it quite painful to find my countrymen making such ignorant asses of themselves.

No American seems to be immune. Not just politicians but also students and professors from such universities as Harvard, Stanford and NYU.

While visiting Florida, Mercer discussed the merits of Canada's proposal to create a Navy. This was controversial because Canada (as he put it) has no access to the oceans. The plan was to have the Canadian naval vessels use U.S. ports. Generally Americans thought this was a good idea.

There's lots more but I think you get the idea.

I want you to think about Talking to Americans when you read news reports that most Americans support the planned war in Iraq. If the American public had their way, we'd be bombing Saskatchewan too.

Congratulations Canada, on getting a twenty-four hour clock.

My name is Michael, and I'm a caffeine addict

Bonita got the idea that it would be soothing to her jangled nerves if she started drinking decaf instead of regular coffee. Things were in fact more pleasant for her the very first day off caffeine.

In part to be supportive and in part out of convenience I started drinking decaf too. I cut out the caffeine cold turkey.

It happens that I have always had a powerful thirst. I always have a beverage at hand and I'm always drinking something. So if a pot of coffee is on I will drink it until it's gone. (Unquenchable thirst is a symptom of diabetes - I've been tested several times and don't have it. It just seems to be the way I am).

So it turns out that when we brew a pot, Bonita will have one cup of coffee and I will drink the whole rest of the pot. So I have been drinking about three pots of coffee a day for quite some time.

So yesterday around 5 pm I lay down for "a little nap". I just wanted to take a little break before setting into some difficult work.

Bonita tried to wake me but I was so exhausted I could not get up. I slept until 9 am this morning. So my little nap lasted 16 hours.

When I lay down for another little nap this afternoon Bonita got really concerned. After some discussion we decided that the decaf must be my problem.

We went out to the local bookstore cafe and I had a large coffee and then another with a shot of espresso added. Caffeinated.

When I got home I had the energy to work and in fact fixed a difficult problem I've been working on for a few days.

Bonita feels that she doesn't need to cut out all caffeine, just most of it, so she had me brew a pot of regular coffee to drink while I worked.

I find it disturbing though that skipping caffeine for a couple days could have had such a dramatic effect. I think I want to continue trying to cut down on my caffeine.

I just don't think I should try to do it cold turkey.

Ice Nine

Greetings from Sunny Nova Scotia.

Really, it was bright and clear driving up today - and about 25 below zero celsius with blowing wind. Bitter, bitter cold.

Someone told Bonita yesterday that this is the coldest winter in Maine in ten years. We believe it.

It snowed a couple weeks ago but hasn't warmed up enough for it to melt in the slightest, so the snow is still powdery. It was drifting across the road today like fine sand. Even though it was sunny the snowplows were out clearing the edges of the road.

I only got about two hours sleep last night because I was preparing for the trip. So I won't work tonight. But tomorrow I'm going to huddle in the motel room and work on my laptops.

I have to keep this brief because I'm dialed into my Maine ISP long distance.

I'm very close to having the passphrase application for FireWire Encrypt working on Mac OS 9. There is documentation and sample code for doing FireWire on OS 9, but the doc is very terse and the sample code is very complex, and doesn't quite apply to what I'm trying to do.

I have all the code written that I think should be necessary, but it is not working quite right.

I got the Windows driver development kit so I could learn to do FireWire on Windows. After I do Windows (which I expect to be my most difficult platform) I will do it on Linux. I run Slackware on a Pentium III box and Debian Woody on my Power Macintosh 8500, so I can support Linux for both x86 and PowerPC.

This will be WiebeTech's first product with explicit Linux support. It's happening mainly because I'm into Linux, and I reasoned with my client that Linux people are more security conscious and so disproportionately likely to be interested in the product.

While you can get free hard disk encryption with the GNU/Linux Crypto API, installation and configuration are somewhat daunting. I figure we'll make some Linux sales because our product is easier to use.

Bonita and I are going up to Nova Scotia for a few days. I hadn't expected to go, but Bonita was worried about driving by herself because our winter has been fierce at times and it's very, very cold right now.

So once I'm done with this diary entry I'm going to get both my laptops prepped to work on the road (I have a 450 MHz Pentium III Compaq Presario 1800T and a 700 Mhz OS X/OS 9 iBook.

The Compaq used to be my main development machine. I bought it just before I moved to Newfoundland, and found it very handy when I was traveling around so much. But Bonita needed a machine so I took all my whacky stuff off of it and configured it the way she likes it. I only get to use it when I travel nowadays.

mobius said:

I'd also forgotten how ugly the Advogato layout is. Yick.

That's funny, because I regularly point out Advogato to my friends as an example of particularly tasteful web design.

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