Recent Feature Articles

Mar 2019

Exceptionally Serial

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You may remember Kara, who recently found some "interesting" serialization code. Now, this code happens to be responsible for sending commands to pieces of machine equipment.

Low-level machine interfaces remain one of the domains where serial protocols rule. Serial communications use simple hardware and have minimal overhead, and something like RS232 has been in real-world use since the 60s. Sure, it's slow, sure it's not great with coping with noise, sure you have to jump through some hoops if you want a connection longer than 15m, but its failures are well understood.

Portage and Portability

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ST 225 20MB drive and WDC controller

Many moons ago, when PCs came housed within heavy cases of metal and plastic, Matt Q. and his colleague were assigned to evaluate a software package for an upcoming sales venture. Unfortunately, he and the colleague worked in different offices within the same metro area. As this was an age bereft of effective online collaboration tools, Matt had to travel regularly to the other office, carrying his PC with him. Each time, that meant unscrewing and unhooking the customary 473 peripheral cables from the back of the box, schlepping it through the halls and down the stairs, and catching the bus to reach the other office, where he got to do all those things again in reverse order. When poor scheduling forced the pair to work on the weekend, they hauled their work boxes between apartments as well.

How It's Made

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People like hot dogs until they see how it's made. Most people don't ask, because they don't want to know and keep eating hot dogs. In software, sometimes we have to ask. It's not just about solving problems, but because what scares some programmers is the knowledge that their car's software might be little more than the equivalent of driving duct-taped toothpicks down the highway at 70MPH. Our entire field is bad at what we do.

Brett worked as a system analyst for a medical research institution, MedStitute. MedStitute used proprietary software for data storage and analysis, called MedTech. Doctors and researchers like MedTech's results, but Brett his co-worker Tyree- know how it's made.