Monthly Archives: July 2009

On Microsoft’s Contribution of Drivers to Linux

Microsoft recently made its first significant contribution to Linux in the form of GPL-licensed code recently. See the>analysis of Redmonk’s Steve O’Grady for a good summary: Microsoft, the GPL and Linux: The Q&A.

The best summary I have seen comes, not surprisingly, from Linus Torvalds in an interview in Linux Magazine, Microsoft Patches Linux; Linus Responds. [1]

What should we do? Perhaps Linus should reject the code and keep Microsoft at bay. After all, why help them? Then again, anyone should be free to contribute code if it’s useful and the right quality.

We put this question to Linus, asking whether this patch was something he would be happy to include, even though it’s from Microsoft. He replied:

“Oh, I’m a big believer in “technology over politics”. I don’t care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don’t have to worry about licensing etc issues.

In fact, to some degree, I’d be more likely to include it because it’s from a new member of the community rather than less (again, I’d like to point out that drivers are special. They don’t impact other things, so they get merged much more easily than some core changes).

I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other
people and companies out.

There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”

See especially (emphasis added):

Linus states that this is how all open source code gets written, developers scratching an itch. The fact that this comes from Microsoft shouldn’t make any difference at all, saying:

“I agree that it’s driven by selfish reasons, but that’s how all open source code gets written! We all “scratch our own itches”. It’s why I started Linux, it’s why I started git, and it’s why I am still involved. It’s the reason for everybody to end up in open source, to some degree.

So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them. That’s the point of open source – the ability to make the code better for your particular needs, whoever the ‘your’ in question happens to be.

Does anybody complain when hardware companies write drivers for the hardware they produce? No. That would be crazy. Does anybody complain when IBM funds all the POWER development, and works on enterprise features because they sell into the enterprise? No. That would be insane.

So the people who complain about Microsoft writing drivers for their own virtualization model should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are being so hypocritical.”

I couldn’t agree more. Ultimately every programmer writes code to prove, by example, that it can be written, whether working on their own or for a corporation.


1. I hope Linus appreciated the irony in being interviewed by a magazine whose name is based on his.

Opening Pandora’s Web Box

Here is a letter I sent to Tim Westergren, CEO of Pandora: [1]


I saw mention of Pandora on Slashdot earlier today, and took it for a spin. A brief trial convinced me it was a good product. I then noticed the ads, and saw mention of Pandora One, so I decided to upgrade.

Keep up the good work.


I sent this as a reply to a note he sent me after I upgraded from free to a paid account, at a cost of $36/year.

His note was the *first ever* I have received from a CEO on buying his company’s products.

Keep up the good work, Pandora Team.

I have so far created channels for Bach, Mozart and Handel. I’m listening to Handel’s Water Music as I write this.

Pandora is music to my ears.


1. I’m surprised no one had taken this URL before. I had a similar feeling when I was able to become the owner of Delites.US.

And yes, I know the content of is minimal, to say the least. That’s because I’m busy on porting SPITBOL in MINIMAL to Linux.

Executables for SPITBOL for Microsoft DOS and Windows now available

The DOS and Windows ports of SPITBOL are now available on the SPITBOL Downloads section

The DOS version is S.COM. This is 16-bit 8086 version and can be run under Linux using the package ‘dosqemu.’

The Windows version is SPITBOL-3.7-win.exe. This is 32-bit version and can be run under Linux using Wine. You also need to download 32RTM.exe to run this program. I don’t know why. I just know SPITBOL complains if it is not present.

These are the *only* executable versions of SPITBOL at hand. S.COM dates back to 1983. SPITBOL.exe was last updated a decade or so ago.

Both are as fast as the wind, and a Linux version should be available shortly. 🙂

My First Computer: The Geniac, 1958

While poking about the web I located my first computer, The Geniac. See also this entry in the Old Computer Museum web site: Geniac picture

I can recall building most of the circuits, especially the one that played tic-tac-toe.

There is was a Geniac for sale on ebay: Geniac Vintage Computer Edmund Berkeley Simon.

I just bought it!

It turns out the buyer lives nearby and I hope to pick it up in person.

I had a lot of fun with that computer — back around 1958 — over fifty years ago.

I’m still having lots of fun with computers — except when I have to use Microsoft software.

My first Geniac cost less than $20. My second Geniac just cost me $320.

That is less than $100 more than the cost of a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 – Retail from Newegg.

The Geniac boots up much more quickly. Just flip the switch on the battery, and away you go.

And you don’t even need the Internet to install new updates every other day…

On restoring Ubuntu after messing it up

I messed up my Ubuntu install last night by wrongly deleting a package that was essential for network access.

Fortunately, I had a spare FAT32 partition I had created for sharing files between Windows and Linux, so I made a tarball of my home directory and saved it to that partition. I also rebooted into Windows and used cygwin to verify the tar file was readable.

I then fired up a Kubuntu 9.04 install. Usually when I do an install I format the root partition (“/”) but I decided to leave it as it was. I also thought of saving the files to a flash drive, but I have had such good luck that I decided to go ahead.

Good thing I did. I noticed during the install there was a message “copying changed files” or similar language.

When I booted up the machine there was my home directory!

All I had lost were the packages that I had installed. I’ve already recovered the ones I need. I know I need them when I type a command and there is no executable. A quick apt-get fixes that.

Good work — as always — Ubuntu team. Keep up the good work.

This is yet another reminder why one should run Linux instead of Windows. The Linux folks know what they are doing. With Microsoft you never know. (And if they do know then they won’t tell you.)

Swanson Shields on Attending Funerals

I just learned via Google News of an item in the Washington Post so profoundly obvious that it is amazing the editors decided to publish it:

Arts & Living > Music >
Jackson’s Casket Expected at Memorial Service

Michael Jackson’s casket will be front and center during his star-studded memorial service today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the entertainment Web site TMZ reported this morning.

The news sparked a frenzy of excitement among the anchors of the morning infotainment shows, all of which were broadcasting from outside the Staples Center in the pre-dawn darkness in order to capture the magnitude of the event.

The possible physical presence of the remains of the King of Pop — who died suddenly and suspiciously last week at age 50 — raises the specter that “crowd control could become an even bigger issue,” said “Today” host Meredith Vieira.

There was no way to independently confirm whether, in fact, The Casket will be onstage with the performers as the Land of La-La says ta-ta to Jackson, one of the best-known and most controversial entertainers ever. But TMZ, you’ll recall, has been leaving the traditional media mostly in the dust since it was the first to report Jackson had collapsed at his rented Holmby Hills mansion on June 25.

Family spokesperson Ken Sunshine, interviewed by Viera, refused to confirm or deny the casket reports — as did Al Sharpton, interviewed a short time later. But Sunshine did want Meredith to know that the Jackson family “has shown extraordinary dignity in a very emotional time” and that “Michael Jackson is the biggest figure emitting love ever.”

“Has anybody been to a wedding or family event when a Michael Jackson or Jackson Five song came on it wasn’t the highlight of the event?” Sunshine asked rhetorically.

But perhaps I thought this old news because it made me recall my father’s funeral, in October, 1997, at the Stephenson – Wyman Funeral Hom, in Clare, Michigan.

While waiting for the service to begin I spoke for a few minutes with Mr. Wyman, owner of the home and a long-time family friend.

Mr. Wyman said that he and Swanson had once spoken about my dad’s funeral.

Swanson Shields on His Own Funeral:

I don’t know how many people will be there, but I promise that I will be one of them.

Though I am no great fan of Mr. Jackson, I do find it noteworthty that he decided to honor our family policy on attending funerals.

One Million Lines Per Minute: SPITBOL/386 times for tokenizing and code generation

I’m making good progress on producing a version of SPITBOL for Linux.

One sign I’m on the right track is the performance that PC-SPITBOL delivers when run on Linux using Wine.

The translation is done in two steps.

The first step tokenizes the input, puts the operations in a standard form and drops the comments. This takes about 0.8 seconds to scan 31,000+ lines of MINIMAL source for v3.7, and produces just over 12,000 lines of tokenized instructions. This corresponds to about 2,325,000 lines/minute.

The second step generates assembly code for 386 for the 12,000 instructions. This results in 14,000 386 instructions and takes about 1.4 seconds. The scales up to about 500,000 statements/minute for the code generation phase.

The combined phases take just over 2 seconds to translate 31,000 lines of MINIMAL to 14,000 386 instructions. This corresponds to about 930,000 source lines per minute.

Not bad for a program written over 25 years ago.

And that’s before doing any tuning…

SQL No, Set Theory Yes

Slashdot just posted a story about a “nosql” conference, Enthusiasts Convene To Say No To SQL, Hash Out New DB Breed.

The “nosql” folks seem to agree with me that SQL is fundamentally wrong.

However, a quick look at some of the presentations to be found at NOSQL debrief suggests they are missing a key point.

The presentations lament the problems with SQL in today’s world, and make mention of some of the latest buzzwords such as “JSON,” “REST” and “Log-structured Merge Trees.”

I suggest the answer is not be found in a mashup of hot new technologies but by going back to the basics.

That would be mathematics.

If set-theory is good enough for mathematicians shouldn’t it be good enough to describe what you want to retrieve from a database?

Get the basics right, and all the rest will follow. This is a much better approach than working backward from technology to determine how the user should construct a query.

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