I heard about the DOOM Game Engine Black Book by Fabien Sanglard on the Hanselminutes podcast episode 666, and immediately ordered the book. It was a riveting read – at least for someone who likes technology and computer history like I do. The book walks through how the ID Software classic DOOM game from 1993 works and the tricks and techniques used to get sufficient performance out of the hardware of 1993. As background to how the software was written, the book contains a great description of the hardware design of IBM-compatible PCs, gaming consoles, and NeXT machines circa 1992-1994. It covers software design, game design, marketing, and how ID Software worked.Continue reading “DOOM Black Book – This is Brilliant!”
The new Windows 10 Controlled Folder Access (CFA) feature is a great idea – prevent unknown programs from modifying your files, to stop ransomware in its tracks. It is so good that I forced an early update to Windows 10 Build 1709 (“Fall Creators Update”) on a couple of my home machines and enabled it. Now, I have quickly disabled it, as it is not possible to actually use it in a real environment. It just stops things a bit too hard.
Last year (2015), a paper called “Don’t Panic: Reverse Debugging of Kernel Drivers” was presented at the ESEC/FSE (European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering) conference. The paper was written by Pavel Dovgalyuk, Denis Dmitriev, and Vladimir Makarov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. It describes a rather interesting approach to Linux kernel device driver debug, using a deterministic variant of Qemu along with record/replay of hardware interactions. I think this is the first published instance of using reverse debugging in a simulator together with real hardware.
When my old CM Storm mechanical gaming keyboard stopped working a while ago, I looked around for replacement alternatives. I ended up getting the new Corsair K65 RGB LUX narrow keyboard. A while earlier this year, I got a Corsair K70 at work. Thus, I can do a double review on a pair of closely related keyboards, but with different key switches, sizes, and backlighting systems.
Now that Windows 10 has been officially out for a while, I decided to give it a try on one of my home machines. I expect that all my Windows 8.1 machines will be updated eventually – it is a free update, after all, and supposedly things should work just as well as in Windows 8.1. Just with a different user interface. Windows 10 is indeed different from Windows 8.1 in fairly significant ways, and it really feels like what would have come after Windows 7 if Windows 8 hadn’t come between. I can see why many or even most people see this as the better upgrade path, even if I lament some of the changes made.
At the ISCA 2014 conference (the biggest event in computer architecture research), a group of researchers from Microsoft Research presented a paper on their Catapult system. The full title of the paper is “A Reconfigurable Fabric for Accelerating Large-Scale Datacenter Services“, and it is about using FPGAs to accelerate search engine queries at datacenter scale. It has 23 authors, which is probably the most I have ever seen on an interesting paper. There are many things to be learnt from and discussed about this paper, and here are my thoughts on it.
Debugging – the 9 Indispensable Rules for Finding Even the Most Elusive Software and Hardware Problems by David Agans was published in 2002, based on several decades of practical experience in debugging embedded systems. Compared to the other debugging book I read this Summer, Debugging is much more a book for the active professional currently working on embedded products. It is more of a guidebook for the practitioner than a textbook for students that need to learn the basics.
This blog post is a review of the book “If I Only Changed the Software, why is the Phone on Fire“, (see more information on Amazon, for example), by Lisa Simone. The book was released in 2007, on the Elsevier Newnes imprint. It is a book about debugging embedded systems, written in a murder-mystery style with a back story about the dynamics of an embedded development team. It sounds strange, but it works well.
IEEE Spectrum has an article in its May 2009 issue called “25 Microchips that shook the world“. Not long or deep, but an interesting mix of chips from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and the 2000s. Recommended as light reading.
FLOSS Weekly recently ran an interview with the creator of the Xen project, Ian Pratt from the University of Cambridge (and now working for Citrix since they bought Xensource). Since I happen to like virtual things, even the so-much-talked-about-it-hurts IT/server/desktop virtualization world this was a must-listen. It was a good show, but lacking some in the humble background department.
Yes, when does hardware acceleration make sense in networking? Hardware acceleration in the common sense of “TCP offload”. This question was answered by a very nicely reasoned “no” in an article by Mike Odell in ACM Queue called “Network Front-End Processors, Yet Again“.
I just rediscovered my first computer, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (good picture) which I bought back in 1983 or 1984 (I have no trace of the exact date, unfortunately). The machine was a perfect machine to learn programming on in my opinion, consisting of little more than a Z80 processor with memory, bit-mapped display (with a famously odd-ball addressing scheme and color handling) and ultra-simple sound output and input. Most of my friends in the end bought Commodore C64 machines, which had more powerful graphics and sound hardware, but a processor that was much less fun to program.
The Spectrum came with a built-in BASIC interpreter that are up the bottom 16kB of the 64kB addressing space. The BASIC was actually fairly powerful and easy-to-use, and included a very fun programming textbook. I just reread that textbook, and it is quite strikingly well-written and manages to cover both basic computer-science-style programming and deep close-to-the-machine and real-time programming in a compact 150 pages. There is no credit to a particular author in the book I have (Swedish translation by a group of people at Ord & Form here in Uppsala), but an online scan credits Steven Vickers.
The 44th episode of the Stackoverflow podcast contains an interesting discussion on what I have liked to call “the tyranny of syntax”.They note that for some reason people are scared of anything that does not look like C, but still lament some of the less good design patterns in C, such as the fact that closing braces have no annotations as to what is being closed. They also talk about the use of “little languages”, and an old favorite song of mine.
Unknown to most, IBM has one of the world’s longest records of using virtual platforms for software and firmware development and verification. This project has been ongoing since at least the days of the zSeries 900 machines, through z990, z9, and now z10. An excellent article on this virtual platform and its uses is found in the IBM Journal of Research and Development, number 1, 2009, . It is called “IBM System z10 Firmware Simulation”, by Körner et al.
Sometimes you find this rare gem of a piece of software that just works and that just solves a problem you have been having an itch with for a long time. SnagIT, from TechSmith, is just such a program. It makes doing screen captures and editing them incredibly easy and convenient. It also has some nice extras, like capturing a webpage in its entirety by scrolling the window in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Simple, but a great time saver for me. I feel like I literally saved hours of work time in just a few weeks of using this program. 30 bucks for a piece of software that does screen capture? In my job, a no-brainer. Highly recommended!
The book “Multicore Programming – Increasing Performance through Software Multithreading” by Shameem Akhter and Jason Roberts is part of a series of books put out by Intel in their multicore software push. In case you have not noticed, Intel has a huge market push currently where they give seminars, publish articles and books, and give curricula to universities in order to get more parallel software in place. I read this book recently, and here is a short review.
Continue reading “Book Review: Intel’s Multicore Programming Book”