evening with blown chips
Wednesday, November 30 2005
This morning I made a "copy" of that CD that Clare inserts into the CD player of her Prius just before driving out of Los Angeles in the final episode of Six Feet Under. By "copy" I mean I copied all that I knew about the CD. The first song was Sia's "Breathe Me," and the Sharpie-marker label read "TED'S DEEPLY UN-HIP MIX" in two lines beneath the center hole, parallel to whatever writing the manufacturer had put on the blank CD. I filled out the rest of the CD with the music I've been listening to lately: everything from Jets Overhead to the only good song by Lake Trout. And then I headed to Woodstock for a day of housecalls there. It was a little creepy driving north up Dug Hill Road in a Prius listening to the same song that had been so perfect at the end of Six Feet Under.
At a client's house in Woodstock, the same one I was at on Monday, I finally figured out what was causing all https:// page requests and any page requests in Firefox to fail: Norton Internet Security. I'd turned off all of Internet Security's functions and had wrongly assumed it was inactive, but the part that was filtering out these requests remained active until I uninstalled the program. That's a serious bug, and the creepy thing about it is this: it was probably introduced into the computer during the course of an automatic update, something that, as with all Norton products, usually happens with no user approval whatsoever. We're supposed to trust Norton because they're the good guys, or at least the guys who make the software that fights the bad guys.
If there's a company I dislike more than Microsoft, it may well be Symantec, the maker of all Norton products. The cyberboogieman-fighting business is a lucrative one, and Norton benefits enormously from being the overwhelmingly best-known brand in it. There was a time, as I've written before, when Norton products were useful, allowing smart people to get under the hoods of their hard drives and track down files that would otherwise have been lost for good, or providing the computer illiterate something of a safety net. Now, though, Norton products (particularly Internet Security) are massive, bloated applications that have become laws unto themselves. Nobody knows what they do or how they work, and one can only assume they're full of bugs because there's no incentive for them not to be. Modern processors are fast enough to absorb most of the pain these programs inflict and Norton is fat, dumb, and lazy in its role as King of the Virus-Fighting Mountain. It's still drawing on the good reputation it earned in the early days, much like the GOP when it reminds us that it's the party of Abraham Lincoln. But how sad is it that the main thing being done at any one time by the processors in most people's PCs is scanning for the arrival of things that will never come if you have a hardware router and the common sense not to open attachments that come with messages written in broken English?
This evening I spent hours and hours rebuilding the latest iteration of the solar sufficiency controller. I didn't find out until today that all of its integrated circuits (and two of its LEDs) had been destroyed by an experiment I'd performed yesterday evening using a 5500 microfarad capacitor. I'd hooked the capacitor up to the power supply while the circuit was running, hoping to eliminate the 60 Hz hum coming from the relays as they neared their switchover thresholds. The hum had vanished, but unbeknownst to me, this was because all the integrated circuits had been destroyed. Evidently the capacitor had a full 30 volt charge and I'd stupidly unleashed it into the five volt LSTTL circuitry. The resulting tsunami of electrons was so overwhelming that it even killed non-LSTTL circuitry: the ULN2003, the LM339, and (most telling of all) the 7805 voltage regulator. With the exception of the ULN2003, I had replacements for all of these chips available, but desoldering blown chips and soldering in good ones is not my idea of a perfect way to spend an evening. I found an online supplier of ULN2003s, which cost less than a dollar each. So I ordered five of them, along with some 74LS74s and some 4016s. (Twenty years ago when I was learning all my present electronics knowledge, chips were expensive - Radio Shack wouldn't have sold a ULN2003 for anything less than $8.)
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