It Sucked Back Then Too.

I see that a lot of people add “programming” tag to my blog in And as they might have noticed, there are very few posts about computers and programming in this blog. So far, my favorite note in is “a NY programmer, I guess, doing you know, stuff”. Anyway, here is an exclusion from the rule, a post about computer technology.

There’s a computer book that I was looking for for a long time. I remember having it in my dad’s library, but it probably was left behind. I finally found a source of used books in Russia,, so I finally replaced it.

“Personal Electronic Calculating Machines in Engineering Practice” by Krenkel, Kogan and Taratorin, Moscow 1989, Radio and Communications. I mostly bough it for a certain infamous passage attributed to Dr. Taratorin, a fellow immigrant and Livejournal deserter. If you can read Russian, here is a collection of his prose(he is extremely talented) and here is his blog.

So, let’s see, it’s 1989. Dr. Taratorin is writing these immortal words (my translation follows):

“One example of unwieldy, and in authors’ opinion useless add-ons is integrated WINDOWS system by Microsoft. The system takes up almost 1 Megabyte of disk space and was designed primarily to be used with devices of “mouse” type . It unites in itself functions of a file catalog browser, text editor, calculator, calendar, graphics editor and allows to load different other applications . Because this system integrates different subsystems and allows data passing amongst them it’s often called operating system wrapper (see paragraph 2.9). It seems that the usefulness of such wrapper in the ability of the user to load a few different programs and organize data sharing amongst them. For instance, after editing a text, you can pass it to an electronic table editing program (translator’s note: I think the word “spreadsheet” did not enter Russian vocabulary back then), database, etc.

Work with WINDOWS, of course, is rather impressive: during waiting (subsystem loading, file writing) a symbol of waiting, hourglass, appears on the screen, during file erasing a picture of a trashcan appears, backgrounds and font colors change, helper windows overlap, etc. In our opinion, the symbol of extreme esthetism and unwieldiness is the time-telling subsystem. When invoked, this system shows a pretty clock with familiar clock face and moving hands… But you always have to pay for prettiness. In WINDOWS system the price is long wait times for switching between applications, bloatedness of switching constructs (translator’s note: no idea) and large amount of memory needed from the Electronic Calculating Machine.”

Ahh, nice vintage Windows bashing. Warms my heart.


Down The Gopher Hole

Today, for some reason I remembered about gopher:// protocol. And was I surprised to find out that there are still gopher sites operating: gopher://

Gopher is a pre http:// protocol that was created at University of Minnesota an named after its mascot, Goldy Gopher.

Goldy is apparently not really a gopher:
““He’s actually a chipmunk,” said Sarah Compton, a student worker at the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History.

The museum has created a mock criminal lineup comparing five stuffed rodents alongside a stuffed Goldy Gopher.

Although this comparison makes Goldy’s mistaken identity seem obvious, other rodents have been mislabeled as gophers since before Minnesota became a state.”

Well, it could have been worse. If MIT or Caltech geeks created it, we would have had beaver:// protocol on our hands.

Browsing about a little I found this gem:

“Happily, most web browsers will still understand Gopher, but they are at best suboptimal. No major web browser understands Gopher+, for one thing.

Because of security bulletin MS02-047, Gopher support is NOW DISABLED IN INTERNET EXPLORER 6 and higher. Rather than fix the buffer overrun in the Gopher protocol handler, Microsoft, in typical fashion, simply decided to disable it entirely. Instead of spending another paragraph or two on a droll rant about how high up their rear ends the heads of Microsoft technical designers are, we’ll just talk dispassionately about the impact of this security flaw: while the risk of an exploit is low in our very friendly community, it is not impossible, and the flaw is apparently damaging enough to be graded Critical. Nevertheless, if you want to reenable it, download the registry file from the clients directory here at Floodgap, or go into RegEdit, drill down to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings, and enter a key named EnableGopher
with type DWord and value 00000001. The reg file is available from gopher://

Rooting around I found some protocols that I haven’t even heard of, like “Hyper-G“. Man, why do I like to dig up this obscure stuff?

Some Microsoft Poetry

I have not had any problems with Windows 2000 for years. Until the last couple of months. One of the patches must have done something to the crispy crunchy goodness that is Windows graphics code. Since then – nothing but trouble. It seems to begin when I have too many windows open. It happens both at work and at home where I have completely different video cards.

I already replaced a floppy drive in my home computer with an internal memory card reader. This left me totally unprepared to nasty progression of : messed up window rendering -> bungled driver upgrade -> 640×480 only mode -> 640×480 only mode in safe mode only -> crash -> crash -> crash -> fundamental system file corrupted -> repair boot that DEMANDS THE STUPID RAID DRIVER ON A FLOPPY -> a whole weekend with a computer that has all my files on it that won’t even boot. This is what you get when your operating system of choice has graphics code mixed in with everything else.

That’s it. From now on there will be a fully built Linux server with all my files on it somewhere in my apartment. Hopefully in a couple of years I’ll be able to make a complete switch to Linux. Lets face it: Windows XP is slow, buggy and generally crappy. Especially in it’s Tablet PC variety. I can’t even imagine what crap they are whipping up right now without Dave Cutler, but that doesn’t matter. It’s going to be too little too late. Now, if there was a whole lot of developers walking around MS campus with Cutlers boot squarely up their collective asses things might have been different. And now Windows 2000 is messed up by patches. Linux starts to look better and better.

Wanke Wanker, Nike Style Developers and The Big Secret

An interesting article about Windows developers:

“This late in the development process, bugs are often passed along, or “punted,” to the next Windows release–Longhorn–if they’re not sufficiently problematic.
On the day I attended, one feature group had four of its bugs punted to Longhorn because they had failed to shown up for War Room. When someone argued that they should be given another day, Wanke simply said, “F#$% ’em. If it was that important, they would have been here. It’s in Longhorn. Next bug. “

I bet that when Dave Cutler was around, nobody missed meetings like that. Probably because Cutler would have punted them.

And this is just a good proof of what Joel keeps saying about superstar developers :
“I went out and handpicked the three best developers on the team and said, ‘just go and fix it.’ One developer fixed over 7,000 references to [Windows] .NET Server. Let’s just say that there are people I trust, and people I don’t trust. I told these guys, ‘don’t tell me what you’re doing. Just do it.”

From the first part of the article
“Originally, we were targeting NT to the Intel i860, a RISC processor that was horribly behind schedule. Because we didn’t have any i860 machines in-house to test on, we used an i860 simulator. That’s why we called it NT, because it worked on the ‘N-Ten.’ “

Huh. Now they tell us.

I Like Small Keyboards and I Can Not Lie You Other Brothers Can’t Deny

The perfect keyboard. A geek’s holy grail. And I am not immune to the siren’s call of this insane quest.

If you think that there isn’t much innovation in the field of alphanumeric input devices, you are in for a surprise. If you don’t think so, then you’ll be less surprised.

There are four main schools of keyboarding thought:

1) Typewriter keyboards suck , if you are really hardcore, you should use chord keysets. A chord keyset is basically a keyboard that uses combinations of buttons (like chords on a piano) to encode letters and numbers. Since fingers don’t have to travel horizontally and vertically, tremendous typing speed can be achieved. Chorded keyset is somewhat similar, but not the same as a stenotype machine used by court stenographers. According to The Straight Dope stenotype training takes 2,700 class hours (some of the classes probably have to do with understanding law terminology and the like) and you have to type 225 words per minute at 95% – 98% accuracy to pass the state exam.

Douglas Engelbart had really high hopes for his version of the keyset. Much of his research as well as The Mother Of All Demos included a setup that had a keyboard, a mouse and one handed keyset.

A historic moment: Engelbart uses his chord keyset to delete the first Spam.

Closeup of a keyset, or Small Black Hit’em Bugger Teeth as it’s known in Pigin English

The problem with chorded keyboards is the super steep learning curve and what’s even worse, the skill of typing in chords seems to quickly deteriorate without practice.

2) Then there are those who think that the root of evil is the QUERTY layout. I am yet to see a person who regularly uses Dvorak keyboard, and the whole superiority of it seems to be just a myth.

3) In the olden times there was the horror of The Space Cadet Keyboard. There were a few other devices that LISP programming aliens seemed to use. Truly bizarre geekery.

4) On the other end of the spectrum of weird keyboards are ultra expensive contraptions. Even though outrageous prices are binding this group together, the usefulness, good looks and coolness factors are all over the board for these. You have to be one rich (or fiscally irresponsible) geek to afford them. There are keyboards that are split in two, like this Kinesis keyboard that mounts on armrests. has one and likes it.

Then there is a truly scary keyboard from the same maker that has bowl shaped indentations for keys:

This $350 keyboard has vertical set keys. I think I saw somebody’s review of it which stated that using it hurts. A lot. And I think I believe that person.

Fingerworks this $339 keyboard that has gesture recognition. Apparently uses one right now. The learning curve seems to a bit steep according to his post.

I think that all of these far out solutions are a bit too much. Split keyboards are kind of nice though. That Kinesis keyboard is 133T, but I did fine with Natural Keyboard Elite.

I also had Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro which was discontinued (I think) is just like Elite, but with a row of buttons on top. Out of those buttons the volume control was very useful. In fact, the perfect keyboard in my opinion should have a set of buttons for volume control. I might get a Griffen Powermate for that purpose though. But at $45 it’s pricey. But cool. The rest of the soft buttons were mostly useless.

I wish I could map a button to a key combination that switches between keyboard layouts (Cyrillic and English), but that wasn’t possible with out of the box functionality. Some of the soft buttons are outright dangerous, like the crappy “sleep” button. If pressed by accident it would plunge all of your unsaved data into the buggy realm of Windows power management, the cursed ACPI.

Before then I experimented with a “clicky” keyboard. I purchased an IBM model 42H1292 aka The One True Keyboard. These Irish built mastodons capable of various feats of endurance have special spring loaded keys instead of wussy rubber membrane ones. Manly. Very manly. A click of The One True Keyboard can be heard for miles in an empty cubicle farm. But also a pain in the ass. Turned out I don’t like the clicky sound, the keys were getting stuck sometimes (even though I bought an unused, keyboard gravy free one).

Right now I am thinking of switching to a mini keyboard, like the Happy Hacking Keyboard. Right now I am typing this on a mini keyboard that my friend Dan lent me. It’s called MiniTouch. I has those IBM style clicky keys and a layout that with a little remapping could really work for me. Does anybody know a good Windows keyboard rempapper? The layout feature that I use the most is a function key that turns arrow keys into page up/down/home/end. Oh, and one thing that I do with all keyboards is turn off (by ripping out) the caps lock key. That thing is pure evil.