Expires Faster Than Milk

It’s amazing how quickly things become useless and outdated on the Internet. What is worse is people usually choose one of the first five search results and consider it Gospel no matter how horribly out of date it is. Recently I got a bit nostalgic for some of the DOS work I used to do. Greenleaf libraries were a mainstay in my development tool chest no matter what compiler I was using.

There CommLib product was awesome. Data Windows provided a rather great ASCII graphics mouse enabled user interface. The Greenleaf Database library was also quite a treasure. I never owned a copy of their Functions or Super Functions products. Part of me wonders if that isn’t what morphed into the Boost library or at least the inspiration behind it.

Kids today don’t understand. They come to C/C++ with quite an arsenal of string, date, and time functions. It wasn’t always so. In the early days we were all rolling our own. Part of it was ego, but the major part was compiler vendors didn’t provide much in the way of support and there was no standard. You also aren’t old enough to remember when Janet Reno, with Hillary Clinton whispering in her ear, committed a crime against the human species not putting Bill Gates in prison AND allowing Microsoft to trademark Windows in the software world DESPITE numerous DOS based windowing libraries predating the Microsoft claim.

The result of this was Microsoft’s lawyers sending threatening letters to each and every software vendor with “Window” or “Windows” in their product name even when that product existed years before Microsoft shipped Windows. Most of these companies were small so the threat of an 800-pound gorilla was enough to get them to pull the product. I don’t know of one which renamed their product and kept going. I don’t believe this round of Microsoft criminal activity allowed for that option.

These threats went deep. Like Jihadists trying to purge all historical artifacts which disprove their claim, the legal threats and historical destruction ran amuck with the blessings of both the Clinton’s and Janet reno.

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I clicked on some of those Dr. Dobb links and they don’t work anymore. The Dr. Dobb’s site still exists and is being archived for posterity, but those links don’t work. It appears that only Google’s blatant for profit copyright infringement has thus far escaped the purge of the Microsoft lawyers.

boosk links

I clicked on some of those books.google.com links and they worked. That EDM2 link worked as well. There they flag all GreenLeaf products as “discontinued.” That’s been both true and false over the years. Greenleaf folded up, for a few years, then, some other shop began selling at least the database library and perhaps a few others. Then I lost track of it.

Part of this mental journey came from wondering if any of the Functions or Super Functions would still serve a purpose today as well as very fond memories of CommLib, having exchanged many emails with Mark, Ruby and I believe someone named Billy back in the day. Putting it mildly, I was probably viewed as a support nightmare. I was replacing burnt EPROM embedded systems with cast-off PCs running DOS so I was pushing the libraries. I was also using the much stricter Watcom and they were using the rather lax Borland.

While, technically, CommLib is “discontinued,” I happily found Mark Nelson’s “Dr. Dobb’s” article about “Any Serial Port.” At some point I know I’m going to find myself on an embedded Linux project which isn’t using Qt and I will be more than willing to take a serious look at what the project has to offer.

If submitting stuff to the Qt project wasn’t such a royal pain in the ass, I might even be willing to hack the QSerialPort class to give it the features everyone needs. Features CommLib had back in the days of DOS. A double ring buffer which understands the concept of a record, be it a fixed length record, or one bounded by begin and end characters. Doesn’t matter if you are reading from a truck scale or some other source, everyone needs that.

Hey, while I’m on the topic, I certainly hope vendors of truck scales have finally stopped several bad practices. CommLib, at the time, didn’t recognize multiple character begin and end markers. Scale vendors would do one of two thing:

  1. Put the CRC byte in front of the ending byte without restricting the range of CRC values so it could have the same value as the ending marker.
  2. Put the CRC byte after the ending marker so your “record” logic couldn’t retrieve everything it needed to process the read without doing an extra one-byte read.

For those of you who don’t think it is a problem, try, within the limits of 16-bit DOS, the configuration information for 7 different scale brands, each one of which uses a different packet format, baud and frequency rate. Any one of these scales can be on any port.

Damn! I was a geek back then.

I do hope the Greenleaf crew has prospered in their lives after Greenleaf. I have fond memories of all the misspent hours in front of my AST Premium 286 putting their products to work.

Information, like youth, really does expire faster than milk.

 

The Much Maligned Phone Company

Kids today probably don’t have a frame of reference to understand how maligned phone companies were back in the day. Very few people speak of them now since fewer and fewer people have actual hard lines (as they were called in “The Matrix”.) Back in the day phone companies were universally shit on because, quite honestly phone companies were shit. Without exception.

Today a “party line” is at best some Web chat thing kids visit and at worst it is a line of cocaine for them at a party. The rest of us grew up with party lines where more than one house shared a phone line. Some had different ring patters for the different houses and others simply rang hoping the correct person picked up. No, I’m not kidding. I was too young to use the phone much, but I remember just how frustrated my parents got when they wanted to use the phone and couldn’t. One of the houses on our party line had not one, but two teenage daughters and when school was out, they were on the phone.

Large portions of our country would still have the party line system if it wasn’t for federal regulations demanding all homes receive touch-tone service. I firmly believe the switch which serves my family farm was the absolute last switch upgraded in the nation. We got touch-tone service on the last day allowed by law. I remember the little GTE truck pull up at 4:30 asking us to try our phone and handing some information to the parents. I assume it was our new individual phone number.

I was in college during the break-up of ATT. Well, that is overstating it a bit. I had graduated from a junior college and was in the process of being fleeced by Devry, certainly not a school I would recommend in this or any other lifetime. One of our classes had to break up into groups to create presentations on various topics. The group I was with chose the break-up of ATT. Thankfully everyone else in that group was petrified of public speaking so I told them I would do the presentation if they did the report. It worked out well since the rest of them lived in the same apartment complex. Suffice it to say this is a topic which came up multiple times in my past.

One dude in the presentation simply couldn’t understand why the break-up was a good thing. He kept asking questions like “before the break-up I could lease a phone for 39 cents per month now I have to buy one, how is that good?” He had “me & my” syndrome and you just couldn’t shake it out of him. Today, if he is still around, I hope he has finally caught on. If you happen to still think that was a bad idea, or worse yet, think federal regulation is a bad thing, read on and think again.

We would have never gotten the Internet without the break-up of ATT. Motorola would not have been able to establish a cell phone market (called car phones then because most were installed in cars.) Today you would not have your flat monthly rate sucky VOIP service. The concept of flat rate, let alone discount long distance would have never been introduced. You know the names which became big after the break-up, Sprint, MCI, Verizon and others. Some of you probably have Sprint for your wireless provider. MCI became part of Worldcom and together they purchased CompuServe. For those who don’t remember CompuServe is was a charge-by-the-minute dial-up version of the Internet before we had the Internet.

You didn’t live through the time when you could get someone’s email address and not be able to send mail to them because they had a different email provider. Oh yes, it is true! Content was king in the pre-Internet days. Each provider tried to be their own information silo charging various access fees. You could not send email from your AOL or Prodigy account to someone on CompuServe or any other competing ISP. There was a major outcry over this. The dam broke cracked CompuServe and AOL inked a deal to link email systems. The dam broke when the Internet backbone was established with open email servers. You didn’t have to live through all of this. You also didn’t have to live through the start-up flame out of DSL providers all trying to resell some other service provider then going out of business without warning.

Today you send email without thinking about it. Today you abandon hard lines for marginal VOIP services. Today most people have cell phone of some sort or other. None of these “todays” would have happened if we hadn’t broken up ATT and passed federal regulations to ensure minimum service levels, much like we did with Obamacare, establishing a minimum level of service then watching the fly-by-night operations cancell policies and close up shop en masse.

Here is a thought for you to ponder though. When your Internet is down and your cell phone battery is dead, how do you dial 911 to report your heart attack? Probably the biggest taken-for-granted federally mandated improvement in the telco world is the creation of 911. I don’t care what problems your local 911 has. Over all this has saved a lot of lives. This was made possible by another federal regulation which mandated all homes have touch-tone service.

Some day the switch which serves my family farm may be updated from that original touch-tone switch machine. I assume it is still the original machine. It doesn’t provide dial-up Internet. It does have caller-id, but, not most other services you take for granted. It is so old the maintenance people told me a brand new fiberchannel cable was trenched in from another switch to that one and the cable is simply coiled on the floor because there is no place to connect it.

Now that is management!

Word-Idiots-Internet

The title really says it all. It appears that the tiny handful of desktops left running Windows in the world is oblivious to the fact they’ve been left behind. They keep hearing that posting in news groups and in blogs on the Internet is a way for them to “sell” something or “stay relevant”. In truth it just shows how out of touch they really are.

Oh, you know who they are. Many of you are too polite to tell them this isn’t the 1850s anymore, women actually have the right to vote and are allowed to drive after they learn how to read and pass the same test men take. You all know how to spot these individuals though. They have all of the funky punctuation

funky_punctuation

Come on, you’ve all gotten them.  Probably hundreds of them.  If you’ve been unfortunate enough to work on a project headed by some DOT NOT fan determined to write an application which would only run on the last five computers in the world running Windows, you’ve encountered it as well.  Heck, I’ve had one that was paying $250/hr for me who absolutely refused to believe multi-byte and Unicode were not the same thing despite the thousands of times lovely little pictures like the one above spit up on his screen.

Some day people will learn that Microsoft products have no place on the Internet.  We can only hope it happens before they become those sad heavily medicated stories we hear about from the old folks home.

Then they wonder why they can’t sell copies of their book. It’s
because they don’t know who their audience is.