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How CPU multipliers came to be locked

It was 1996. I was a senior in college, and I went to the computer store in the student commons to get a cable or something. I ran into an old classmate working in the store, who went on to work as an engineer for Boeing. We talked for a few minutes, and he told me about a web site that I just had to visit. I still remember the URL for some reason. He grabbed a piece of paper and scrawled “http://sysdoc.pair.com” on it.

It was my introduction to the world of PC hardware enthusiast sites. That mysterious URL was the early address of Tom’s Hardware Guide. The front page mostly consisted of links to articles telling you how to overclock Pentium CPUs using undocumented jumper settings on Asus motherboards, and the ads were largely mail-order houses offering specials on Asus motherboards and low-end Pentium CPUs.
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Going violent

The rhetoric in today’s political environment is toxic. Since before the 2008 presidential election, I’ve been expecting it to take a violent turn. Today it happened. It happened later than I expected, and the target wasn’t who I expected, but now we’ve gone violent.

It’s entirely possible that the pundits and candidates who utilize violent turns of phrase didn’t expect it to happen this way. Their intent matters little at this point. You never know whether violent rhetoric will be interpreted literally or figuratively, but all it takes is one person to take it literally for it to turn into a tragedy. Now it appears that a 22-year-old consipracy theorist did take it literally, and now we have a tragedy. Among the wounded is a 40-year-old Congresswoman. Among the dead are a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

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Blasko: Daring to dream in D.C.

Andrew Blasko and I were columnists for the same student newspaper at the University of Missouri. He was a couple of years ahead of me, so I can’t exactly call him a classmate, seeing as he was taking 300-level classes when I was taking 100-level classes. But as the senior ranking columnist when I was the new guy, he was a mentor and an influence.

He had an editorial today in the Washington Times. And while there are perhaps two sentences I don’t completely agree with (and he probably wouldn’t want every reader to agree with every single word), it’s very good. I hope some people in Washington read it and take note.

I’ll be back later with something completely different. But since I just found out about this, I wanted to say hey, read this! I know that guy! (And I do think I’ve used up my yearly quota for exclamation points.)

Fix host hijacks or host file hijacks for free

Sometimes your antivirus will tell you that you have host hijacks or host file hijacks, but not elaborate on how to fix them. Some people charge way too much to fix them. Here’s how to fix host hijacks or host file hijacks for free.

A former classmate’s computer suddenly stopped letting him get to search engines. Aside from that, his computer appeared to be normal.

Fortunately he had some antivirus and antispyware software installed, so he was able to run it and get a relatively clean bill of health, but he still couldn’t use Google or Bing or Yahoo.

One of the pieces of software he ran mentioned a host hijack or hosts file hijack, but didn’t offer to clean it up without ponying up some serious bucks.

That was enough to tell me how to clean it up though. You don’t have to buy anything.Read More »Fix host hijacks or host file hijacks for free

A late adopter’s survival guide to Facebook: Part 3 of 3

This is part 3 in my series on Facebook and avoiding pitfalls. Here’s part 1.

Too many friends

Psychology professor and self-help pioneer Jess Lair used to ask people if they had five friends. If they said no, he said to go make some–with fewer than five, you wear your friends out. If they said they had a lot more than five, he said no they don’t–they have a lot of acquaintances. People don’t have enough time and energy to maintain more than about five deep friendships.

I think about that when I see people who have hundreds of Facebook friends. One Facebook meme I’ve seen is people posting a status update that just says, “Tell me how I know you?”

By hiding game/app updates, you can make it a lot easier to keep up with larger numbers of people. Hiding friends who post excessively helps as well.

But the odd thing is, even though I’ve done these things, there are still friends I’ve never seen a status update from. They appear to be active. Many of them have hundreds or thousands of friends. Whether they’re using filters and I’m just not in any group that gets their updates, or whether Facebook just isn’t designed to handle hundreds of relationships, I don’t know.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to keep in touch with large numbers of people, but don’t let the “friends” misnomer get in the way of the relationships that are most important to you.

The power of lists to filter updates and avoid conflict

Sometimes you may post something that you suspect will rile certain friends up. Hopefully it will be a small number of them. Before posting, click on the lock icon, and there’s an option there labeled hide. Start typing the names of friends you don’t want to see the post, then select them. This will keep them from seeing the post, and hopefully prevent you from inadvertently starting a world war.

A former Mizzou classmate clued me in to an even better tip: Some people go so far as to create lists and hide certain updates from those lists. Click on Friends, then click Edit Friends, then click Create List. Name the list by topic, add friends you don’t want to send updates on that topic, then click Create List. Now, when you go to post a status update, when you click on the lock, you can type the name of that list into the hide option.

You can also use lists to avoid sending irrelevant updates to all 999 of your closest friends. You can create lists of family, coworkers, former coworkers, former classmates, and any other list that’s useful to you. Then, if you want to send an update just to your family, type your update, click the lock, select customize, select specific people, and then type the name of the group. Now you can send a message to your whole family and not worry about bothering other people who won’t care or understand the message.

And then you can use those lists to see updates just from those specific groups, so if you ever wonder what your old coworkers from Initech are up to, you can find out really quickly. Just click on Friends, then click that list, and you’ll see all the recent updates from the people on that list.

The upside

Despite the pitfalls, there’s enough upside to make it worthwhile. I’ve questioned it a couple of times, but never for more than a few days.

It is an effective way to keep in touch. One blatant example: Last summer, we had a project at work that required several teams to travel. Those of us who had Facebook accounts knew how the remote teams were doing. Those who didn’t knew very little. It was a lot easier to sign in to Facebook at the end of the day than it was to use our convoluted e-mail system from the road.

I also find it easier to deal with than e-mail. I used to get more e-mail per day than I could possibly read or respond to in 24 hours. With Facebook, people’s expectations are more reasonable. I have a much better handle on what’s going on in people’s lives by spending a few minutes on Facebook than I did plowing through hundreds of e-mail messages.

I’m a whole lot more connected now than I was in 2007. I can trade family pictures and talk effortlessly with my first cousin in Philadelphia, whom I haven’t seen in person in 22 years. I can do the same with my first cousin in Germany, whom I’ve never met at all. I’ve even used it to try to chase down job leads for friends who weren’t on Facebook yet. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of that.

When a dollar isn’t a dollar

When my accountant did my taxes this year (I almost always file Form 4868 to extend my due date, which is why I’m talking about taxes in October), he included a comparison sheet, comparing 2009 to my previous years.

One thing jumped out. I made almost 12%  less in 2009 than I made in 2008. My salary for both years was supposed to be the same.

I worked for different companies, but had the same job title and comparable responsibilities. Once company was relatively generous with its benefits; the other extremely stingy.

When I worked for that company in 2009, it seemed like they were nickel and diming me on my benefits, but I never attached a number to it. He did. No wonder things seemed so tight that year.

I didn’t really negotiate the salary. The negotiation started with the hiring executive asking what I make. I told him. He asked if I could produce a couple of pay stubs. I did. And that was pretty much the end of it.

I should have asked more questions, like what the benefits were, and what they cost. Then I should have used those numbers to figure out how much I’d have to make in order to keep my take-home pay more or less constant, because I basically threw away four years’ worth of pay raises when I signed on the bottom line.

Of course, my fear at the time was that if I played hardball too much, they’d just hire someone willing to work for less. I’m not certain that fear was unfounded. And at the time, my phone wasn’t exactly ringing with job offers, even though I was looking aggressively.

So it’s hard to be too regretful. In effect, I took a pay cut. In 2009, so did a lot of people. When I was shopping for clothes for my interviews, I ran into a former classmate at Dillard’s. Working there, not shopping there. I took the job, waited for a better opportunity, and when that happened, I took it.

But when you get a job offer and the time comes to talk salary, it probably makes sense to ask more questions than I did.

Make something! Fix something!

Clive Thompson: I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment, surrounded by electronic parts… It’ll look awesome when it’s done. If it ever gets done — I keep botching the soldering. A well-soldered joint is supposed to look like a small, shiny volcano. My attempts look like mashed insects, and they crack when I try to assemble the device.

Why am I so inept? I used to do projects like this all the time when I was a kid. But in high school, I was carefully diverted from shop class when the administration decided I was college-bound. I stopped working with my hands and have barely touched a tool since.

I can relate a little too well.I think part of the reason I was misunderstood for so much of my career was because I used to do stuff like this. I still remember the day when a new OS arrived for my Amiga 2000. It came on a ROM chip (remember those?) and some floppies to install. I had the Amiga completely disassembled, sitting on Dad’s orange OMT table in the basement. Dad came downstairs, his eyes got big and his jaw dropped, he pointed, and then looked at me. “You going to be able to get that back together?”

I barely looked up. “Yep,” I said, continuing whatever I was doing.

Granted, the Amiga’s design made it look like an onerous task–you had to remove the power supply, the assembly that held all the disk drives, and at least one plug-in card to get at the ROM chip I needed to replace. But at this point, I’d disassembled at least a couple of PC/XTs even further than that. It wasn’t long before I’d replaced all those parts that were strewn about Dad’s table and fitted them back into the case, just as they all belonged. I powered it up, and immediately knew I was successful–all those royal blue screens of Amiga DOS 1.3 were replaced with the gray screens of 2.1.

Dad watched me put it back together, and although he didn’t say much, I think he was impressed.

That wasn’t the only modification I did to that computer. Amigas operated a bit differently in Europe and in North America because of the differing video standards. Software designed for European Amigas didn’t always run right. There was a soldered jumper on the motherboard to switch between PAL and NTSC operation. I bought a small slide switch from Radio Shack, soldered a couple of wires to the motherboard, and ran them to the switch, which I hung out an opening next to the mouse port. Elegant? Not at all. Functional? Totally.

There were tons of homebrew projects for Amigas in the early 1990s. Some worked better than others. But you learned a lot from them. And I think that’s part of the reason I look at things differently than people who grew up with Macintoshes (a closed black box if there ever was one) and PCs. Sure, people have been assembling their own PCs from components for 20 years now (ever since PC Magazine declared on a cover that you could build your own PC/AT clone for $1,000). But there’s a subtle difference between assembling components and modifying them. No two 286 motherboards were the same, while the design of Amiga motherboards tended to change very little, giving lots of time for people to study and learn to tweak them.

So while the PC owners were swapping their motherboards, we Amigans were tweaking ours to give ourselves new capabilities on the cheap. And in the process I think we were learning more.

So I agree with Clive Thompson that I’m a lot less likely to take a salesperson’s claims at face value. And I think that gave me a lot less patience with people who are. With only one exception I can think of, I always worked well with (and for) people who’d taken a soldering gun directly to a motherboard or programmed in assembly language. Thanks to these rites of passage, we had a much better idea of how things worked. And it gave a certain sense of skepticism. Commodore’s own engineers didn’t know the full capability of the machines they built. So if the engineers who design a system can’t know everything about it, then what on earth can a mere sales drone know?

And that’s why I’m reluctant to buy anything that’s just a black box if I can avoid it. What if it breaks and needs to be fixed? What if I need to change something about how it looks or works? And besides that, if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, I don’t want to just throw it out and buy a new one–I paid good money for it!

But I have my limits. A few years ago I checked out some books on repairing Lionel trains from the library. The books suggested using mineral spirits to clean out the old grease and oil from a motor and bring it back to life. That would be good advice, except for one thing: I had no idea what mineral spirits were (a kind of paint thinner), or where to buy them (a paint store or the paint aisle of a hardware or discount store). And have you ever tried to punch it into Google? Trust me, in 2003, there weren’t many answers. The Wikipedia article didn’t exist until 2005.

I’m sure there are lots of people who are laughing at me because I didn’t know what mineral spirits are. But I’ll bet you that if you were to go find my 120 or so high school classmates and separate out the males who lived in the suburbs whose fathers were white-collar workers, the overwhelming majority of them would have no idea what mineral spirits are either. Why not?

Because when we were growing up, we were college-bound. People like us didn’t need to know what mineral spirits are. We needed to know things like the fact that there’s no such thing as the square root of a negative number. (Yes, I know that’s not a correct statement–but those were the exact words of my Algebra II teacher, and those words cost me a lot a couple of years later.)

I even remember one time, a group of us were talking about something, and one classmate’s name came up. “He’s going to end up being a plumber,” someone snickered.

Never mind that the last time I had to call a plumber, my plumber most certainly made more money than I made that year, and he probably got a head start on me because he didn’t have to go to college for four years either.

One of the reasons plumbers make a good living is because so many people don’t even know how to shut off the water valve when their toilet leaks, let alone how to go about fixing that leaky toilet. For the record, I can shut off the water valve, but I don’t know how to fix the toilet. I’m hoping they’ll show me on This Old House sometime.

My gripe with DIY books today is that the authors don’t necessarily realize that there are one or possibly even two or three generations of readers who may very well not know the difference between a wood screw and a machine screw. They don’t learn it in school, and Dad might or might not know, but in an age when fewer couples marry and divorce rates are sky high, is Dad even around to tell them any of this stuff?

Today, I couldn’t care less about imaginary numbers. But I’m reading old DIY books, desperately trying to learn the lost arts of making and fixing things. Thanks to Disney and other useless companies, I can’t use a computer to locate digital copies of anything newer than 1922. That’s a shame, because it condemns all of the DIY books of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s to obscurity. They won’t be reprinted because there isn’t enough market for them, they aren’t worth the expense of hiring a lawyer to find out if they somehow slipped into the public domain before the laws started really changing in the 1970s, and they’re scarce enough that you won’t always find them where old books lurk, making them a bit more difficult to borrow or purchase.

That all but eliminates a golden age, limiting me to 1922 and earlier. But admittedly it’s very interesting to read how people made and fixed things in the decades immediately before and after the turn of the previous century. So many books today start out with a list of exotic and expensive tools before they tell you how to do anything. One hundred years ago, people didn’t have as much money to spend on tools, and since things like electricity weren’t necessarily always available, there weren’t nearly as many exotic and expensive tools to buy either.

I found an incredible quote in an 1894 book by Charles Godfrey Leland, a teacher and author from Philadelphia. “It is much better not to have too many implements at first, and to learn to thoroughly master what one has, and to know how to make the utmost of them. This leads to ingenuity and inventiveness, and to developing something which is even better than artistic skill.”

That’s not just good advice for metalworking, which was the subject of this particular book. That’s an excellent philosophy of life.

Unfortunately right now I have more time to read than I have to tinker. But I think once I have a little time to tinker again, I’ll be able to make some nice stuff. And maybe someday when someone says they don’t make ’em like they used to, I’ll be able to smile and say that I do.

What’s your favorite cold remedy?

I’m sick. It kind of snuck up on me. Yesterday I was tired all day and it just got worse. By about 6 I had a full-bore sore throat and I felt ready for bed.
And it all went downhill from there. My girlfriend came over around 8, after her workday ended, and by then I was two tons of fun. Not that I was a jerk, or whiney, or anything. That was the problem: I wasn’t saying anything.

I guess it’s good that it hit on a weekend, since the first day or two is usually the worst. I can’t really afford to miss much work, so I’m going to hit this thing hard.

Zinc lozenges. As soon as I can drag my sorry butt down to the store I’m going to get a couple of packages of these. Nobody knows why they work. I discovered them in college. They work.

Orange juice. My freezer is full of it right now. By the end of the week it won’t be. Vitamin C is your friend.

Raw garlic. Steve DeLassus taught me about this one. Take a clove, cut it up into pill-size pieces, then swallow them like pills. Take with milk to cut down on the aftertaste, or eat a piece of bread afterward.

Chicken soup and anything else steamy. A classmate of my dad’s told me why this works. (It’s a shame it’s next to impossible to find an osteopath in St. Louis.) Our bodies make us miserable because they feel dried out. The body absorbs steam readily, cutting down on its perceived need to handle the problem via other methods. So there really is something to the old adage about chicken soup. Besides the psychological effects.

Hot tea can benefit you as well. Something about tea soothes a sore throat. But caffeine’s bad when you’re trying to rest, so stick to decaf tea.

Rest. I slept 10 hours. I’m going to take another nap here in a bit.

Vitamins, minerals and herbals. Zinc. (The lozenges don’t go through your whole system, so zinc lozenges and zinc tablets aren’t redundant.) Vitamin C. Echinacea. Antioxidants like Vitamin E and Beta Carotene. It’s all about strengthening the immune system and building resistance.

Gargling salt water. My girlfriend mentioned this one. I think my dad used to have me to this, way back when. The body absorbs water that’s slightly saline a lot better than it absorbs plain old tap water. That’s why you use saline solution on contact lenses rather than pure water.

I’ve gargled four times this morning. It seems to be starting to help.

So… Those are my tricks. What works for you?