Documentation is for the weak

I spent several hours reading some “documentation” today for a certain component of an enterprise product. Actually what I was doing was a repeated loop of the following:

  • Go to a page with a promising-looking title (e.g., The Fuckwidget Survival Guide)
  • Read some of the marketing-class vacuous bullshittery there, with a table of contents consisting of:
    • Overview of Fuckwidget
    • Introduction to Fuckwidget
    • Fuckwidget Operations Guide Overview
    • Fuckwidget Migration Patterns
    • Fuckwidget Introduction [didn’t we do that one already?]
    • Using Fuckwidget
    • Fuckwidget Infrastructure Templates
    • Fuckwidget for Beginners
    • Executive Guide to Fuckwidget
    • Fuckwidget Tutorial for Knuckledraggers and Mouthbreathers [didn’t we just do that one?]
    • Let’s Do Fuckwidget! (plus a crayon drawing of a cat by some VP’s kid)
    • Make Fuckwidget work for you with this One Weird Trick!
    • 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Fuckwidget
    • Fuckwidget FAQ

“Oh ho!” I whoop, and click on the promising-looking FAQ, and like a hall of mirrors I’d find myself in a document pretty much the same, but slightly different. Repeat for hours. Every time the documentation was about to admit a tidbit of actual, useful info, there was a link, and the link led to even more bullshittery.

Whereupon:

  1. Cry out “God in heaven, does any of this crap lead to any actual information about how you set up and use Fuckwidget?”
  2. Wait for an answer.
  3. No answer from God. He must be using Fuckwidget Message Queues for incoming prayers, it would explain a lot.
  4. Do another web search for “real fuckwidget documentation dear lord let it all end now” and start over.

This is an actual picture and probable copyright violation [ask me if I care] from some of that “documentation” –

plangrouppolicy

I think there’s a bug here, where they left out the part where you’re supposed to feed the security policy to a magic goat, whereupon magic shit happens that materializes into a security policy. Frankly I don’t think that anyone will be able to prove my little repurposing above, since I’m probably the first person to ever get far enough into the maze to find it.

Can we analyze this bit of art? Is it useful at all, to anyone? Well, yes, it turns out:

  1. Once upon a time there was a documentation team, on contract and paid by the hour by a large, soulless corporation that confuses quantity for quality.
  2. This team knew a good deal when they saw one, and sat in their seats and typed like crazed monkeys for as many hours as they could bill. They wrote introductions and overviews and guides and planning thingies and checklists and templates and any number of click-here-do-this-click-that instructionoids of the kind you find on really sketchy “How do I use a can-opener?” sites. The result was a massive collection of pages with a remarkable lack of useful information. And this was absolutely intentional, because:
  3. When the stone had been completely wrung dry and the documentation team could extract no more hours, the large corporation shipped the documentation out to users, and:
  4. The doc writers went back home and wrote a real reference and are happy to sell it to you for hard cash. It’s probably really popular on Amazon. I do not have the heart to search for it.

I think if I sat down for a couple of hours I could distill the documentation for this product down to about three pages, starting with an introduction like:

Hi. We know why you’re reading this, and we’re real sorry. It may help you to know that all of the suffering you are about to endure is the same suffering we went through. Of course, we had the advantage of access to the original team, so maybe we didn’t suffer quite as much. On the other hand, it may bring a smile to your face that the feedback we provided to the developers and managers was in some cases sufficiently convincing so as to ensure they will never be repeating the mistakes they made on this project. They’ll never woik in dis bidness again.

In the end, I kind-of got Fuckwidgets working. I wrote a wiki page for my coworkers with some “click here, do this-and-that” type instructions, and I feel filthy.

Bullshit triumphs when a good man does nothing.

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Author Jim Harrison, RIP

One of my favorite authors. I don’t quite have all his books, but it’s close.

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No brainer

“If I didn’t do that, I oughta be fired,” Comey [current director of the FBI] told the panel during his live testimony. [He was talking about asking the courts for crypto backdoor powers, when Congress has explicitly considered and then rejected them]

Uh . . . okay. That can probably be arranged.

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Precedence

Thought experiment: The US Government definitely has the technical ability to take an older iPhone, decap the chips in it and extract whatever keys they need. This capability is just too juicy for a government agency to have left undeveloped.  The FBI is almost certainly lying about their inability to crack that 5c (okay, they might need help from a certain other agency).

But the FBI probably sees this as win-win for them:

  • Apple refuses to unlock the phone. Regardless of whether Tim Cook goes to jail for contempt of court, or Apple wins in an eventual Supreme Court challenge, we should expect grandstanding legislation attempting to ban effective security on personal devices. “Apple is helping terrorists” and so forth.
  • Apple unlocks the phone. Now we have a flood of requests, world-wide, for similar unlocks.

It’s not about the phone. It’s all about the corner they think they have Apple (and the whole information industry) in.

A series of FOIA requests about how badly 5s security has been broken by the spook world would be pretty interesting. Classic FOIA stalling tactics would not help the government’s case.

[edit: It’s a iPhone 5c, not a 5s]

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The Force Awakens [spoiler-free]

A friend of mine remarks, “Worth waiting 32 years for.” Shame we had to wait that long for the 4th movie, though.

Ultimately they’ll make more money by having done a good movie than by selling plushies of things, or cups for sugar water. Lucas should have tossed the marketeers responsible for Return of the Jedi (and the subsequent Ewok merchandise) out on their ears.

[What’s that? Other movies? Oh, back in the day there might have been some hacks filming crap overseas, where copyright laws are loosely enforced — junk films like Star Crash and Battle Beyond the Stars are inevitable when someone is making a buck, I’m afraid:

“It’ll be just like Star Wars.”

“Okay. Who are the actors?”

“Nobody you’ve heard of. Don’t worry, they’re cheap and generic enough that we can just repurpose those action figures from your last film.”

“What about the merch?”

“We took a tour of the sweatshops and found a bunch of stale garbage just lying there in warehouses. Tons of it. I’m sure they can make more.”

“Okay, tell the writers to add a bunch of screen-time for that plushie with the floppy ears.”

“Won’t the fans be upset?”

“Who gives a shit? They can buy the cups just like everyone else.”]

I’m happy to report that The Force Awakens is a quality act.

 

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SCOTUS on secret courts

Now that we’re no longer under the Big Thumb of bulk surveillance [1] it’s a good time to reflect on the legal mumbo-jumbo being used to justify it. Wait. That was used. That’s all in the past now, and I’m happy that the US government has promised not to do any more bad things, will keep the moral high ground in situations of ambiguity, and realize that the government is the servant of the people and not the other way around. [2]

The recent legislation has added some “advocates” but it’s still not really a court; the folks they’re adding don’t have any real power. The proceedings remain secret and divorced from any meaningful oversight or appeals. It’s not a recipe that’s worked out before.

This is worth reading:

http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/why-nsas-bulk-data-seizures-are-illegal-and-unconstitutional

I’ll call out:

In the seminal case on the role of federal courts, the Supreme Court ruled: “A case or controversy, in order that the judicial power of the United States may be exercised thereon, implies the existence of present or possible adverse parties whose contentions are submitted to the court for adjudication.”23 The absence of a genuine “case or controvery” means that the FISA Court is not a genuine Article III court, but is instead simply a part of the executive branch. The deprivation of property by such a court in secret proceedings justified by secret orders and constitutional rulings is the antithesis of the Due Process of Law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

That case was in 1793.

Just because the administration has appointed a judge to do whatever it is that a FISA judge does doesn’t mean it’s a court. Apparently the judges take turns, and often “serve” from their homes, at all hours. So if a judge is in the bathroom taking a crap on the constitution while telling the NSA it’s okay to build even bigger data centers, it’s still not a court, no matter how big the piece of crap is.

I think I mixed a metaphor, but I don’t particularly care.

 

[1] Do I even need to have a snarky footnote about how likely that really is?

[2] /snark/

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Not an Asus fan

Dear Asus,

Please put less shitty chipset fans on your rather expensive motherboards. It’d be nice if these things lasted more than about a year.

/signed/ a customer who was replacing a shrieking fan at 5AM this morning, bodging in a 40mm fan in place of your 38mm fan made of unobtanium, using hot glue, tin snips, something to melt plastic, and a liberal supply of invective

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It’s called fdisk because…

In days of yore —

“When was Yore, Daddy?”

“It was the age before we had terabyte hard drives. Really, it was before we had any hard drives at all.”

“Is that old, Daddy?”

“You bet your sweet bippy, it was.”

— when rocks were young and you could count the number of megabytes on your computer on one of your hands — honestly, you didn’t even need all of a hand, or even a whole finger — I was chatting with some friends at school about how long a disk copy took.

“Just a few seconds, right?” I was a little starry-eyed. Okay, utterly naïve.

“Oh no. I’ve heard it takes a couple of minutes.”

That was unbelievable to me. Disks (eight inch floppy disks in those days, if you must have the truth) were supposed to be fast. Definitely faster than the audio cassette tape I was planning to store my programs on, when I got my own computer, which would be soon.

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

And we tromped off to the computer store, where they had a microcomputer named SWTPC, and we implored the owner of the computer store (Poor Richard’s Calculator Shoppe, in a town in northern Colorado and yes we had paved streets) to copy a disk. And since it was a slow day and nobody [in their right mind] was buying SWTPCs, Richard took pity upon our curiosity and loaded up two disks and did a copy, and lo, we saw it copy a disk in four minutes, accompanied by a crapload of seeking and other grinding noises (because this was a SWTPC, and they had issues).

I was pretty disappointed. Not so disappointed that I didn’t want a pair of floppy disks for my own computer, which I would have soon, somehow, but that interminable four minutes definitely knocked floppies off of the performance pedestal I’d put them on.

“What’s a pedestal, Daddy?”

“A pre-prepared disappointment.”

“What?”

“It’s like you expected Band class to be tons of fun, with everyone jamming away on their instruments and the Band teacher grooving on the podium with his baton, but what was it really like?”

“Awful blatting noises.”

“Yeah. None of you could play a note in tune, much less play anything together, and you’ve gotta practice scales and simple tunes that are really boring, and I happen to know that the band teacher is borderline suicidal, not from any specific knowledge but because they all are, teaching fifth graders to squawk and go hornck! in close synchrony will drive anyone to the brink. See? Onward.”

Let’s go forward a few decades and visit the scene of the actual rant now.

Problem: Wife has a laptop with an SSD that is nearly full.

No problem! I have a spare SSD that is larger. We’ll just clone that disk. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. It’ll be glorious.

Three weekends later I have admitted defeat. The dragons have done me in. I have written file systems and that shit is hard, but copying the sectors containing a file system? School kids do that. But what I have encountered is serial madness. This is one of those problems that is not supposed to be hard, but somehow it is. When we were not being vigilant, while we were playing in the sunny afternoon chasing butterflies and filling-up terabytes without a worry, complexity was doing push-ups.

Tool A claims, no matter how I instruct it, that the file system on the source drive wasn’t shut down properly. There’s an option to have it not do this check, but it’s a damned lie and the tool keeps checking and failing anyway. It has another mode, a “raw” mode, that appears to work, but after several hours of blinking activity lights the clone does not boot.

Tool B — which I paid dear money for, and which has an excellent reputation in the disk copying industry — makes a clone without any fuss. In fact, the tool sports a fancy user interface and makes important-looking animations and pronouncements during the copy. It does everything but strut. I am impressed, this is quality stuff and I’m happy to have spent the money on this quality tool. Naturally, the copy does not boot.

Tool C, provided by the drive manufacturer, makes some sincere promises, but the FAQ has some scary looking workarounds for things that shouldn’t need workarounds. The copy it makes doesn’t get high enough to crash.

Tool D says that the copy will finish in 24 days. Also, its UI makes my eyes bleed.

My malware scanner vaporizes tool E milliseconds after it is downloaded. Memento mori, I guess.

Well, there’s always booting into Linux and doing the old DD if=something of=something bs=somethingbig and then maybe hex-edit the partition tables after it runs off the end of the source drive. This is my wife’s computer and she’s worth it. For kicks, I look at what partition tables have mutated into. They were a miserable hack back in the early 80s, and time has not improved them. I wince and close that web page.

I consider writing something. How hard can it —

I do a clean install of the OS on the new drive, hand the laptop back to her and say, “Sorry, nothing worked, you’ll have to reinstall all that stuff. Here’s the old drive, you can copy your old files off of it.”

It’s really for the best.

“But Daddy, why didn’t you just edit the GPT entries to–“

“Have you practiced your instrument yet today?

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Oh, yes they can

Oracle, oh Oracle
Oh have you seen Oracle
Oracle’s EULA lately?

Don’t reverse that buggy code
Lest you make poor Maddi ‘splode…

(… you can learn a lot, from Oracle!)

— after Groucho Marx

link to discussion on HN

 

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Fresh Oz

New Ozric Tentacles! (yay)

 

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