The titanic battle between big iron and microprocessors
I'm a child of a microprocessor age. I learned to program on computers powered by a variety of microprocessors starting with the 4-bit SC43177/SC43178 pair powering a Sharp PC-1211, continuing with the 8-bit Zilog Z80 on the TRS-80, the Zenith Z-89, and the Sinclair ZX81 computers, and graduating to 16-bit processors: the Texas Instruments TMS9900 powering its manufacturer's TI-99/4A home computer and finally Intel's 8088 on an IBM Portable (16kg) Personal Computer. At the university I encountered an IBM System/370 4331/2 mainframe, which I regarded with outer contempt. It seemed to me like a dinosaur: slow and unwieldy, lacking interactivity, color, and graphics. I couldn't fathom why businesses were using such monsters. I now understand that I was watching an amazing race between the sprightly but woefully simplistic microprocessors and the powerful but slow-moving mainframes.
Continue reading "The titanic battle between big iron and microprocessors"
Research Priorities in Software Technologies
In the words of the web's inventor Marc Andreessen, "software is eating the world". Ever more products, services, and entire industries, existing ones as well as new, are running on software. In a report recently published by the European Commission, I argue that significant investment in software engineering research can help Europe stay on top and even lead a world that is increasingly defined and shaped by software.
Continue reading "Research Priorities in Software Technologies"
Computer vs Human 0-1
Earlier today the Athens State Orchestra played the Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 by Camille Saint-Saens, which is also known as the Organ Symphony. The French organist and composer Thierry Escaich was supposed to play the organ. There was a slight delay at the beginning: a lady appeared on stage and explained that there were technical problems with the organ's "brain".
Continue reading "Computer vs Human 0-1"
In a recent
NPR interview the journalist
described how I used a mind map to organize my work while I
served as Secretary General for Information Systems
at the Greek Ministry of Finance.
A number of people asked me for more details;
if you're interested read on.
Continue reading "Mind Mapping"
Advice from Successful Greek IT Startups
Members of the
Hellenic Association of Mobile Application Companies
Hellenic Semiconductor Industry Association,
assorted biotechnology companies, and representatives from
Greek and US-based venture capital funds gathered on Friday
December 17, 2011 in a meeting
to exchange advice, tips, and war stories on venturing abroad.
It was one of the most inspiring meetings I've attended for some time.
These are my notes from the meeting.
Continue reading "Advice from Successful Greek IT Startups"
Email's Ten by Ten Law
I drown in email and my aspirations for handling it are becoming increasingly
In the 1980s my goal used to be an empty mailbox at the end of each
During the 1990s the goal became to empty the mailbox by the end of the day.
But tasks I couldn't complete within the day accumulated, so in the 2000s
I just tried to have only so many messages as could fit in a window without
a scrollbar, so that I could immediately scan what I had to do.
Nowadays my modest goal is to keep the size of my mailbox below 100
messages, and I succeed in that only half of the time.
Continue reading "Email's Ten by Ten Law"
The Price of Cheap Labor
The strange entries I've found over the past two weeks I've been
researching a large database are innumerable.
Some addresses, like Wastington, DC are simply annoying,
while others, like Vancouver BC V6T 1Z4 United States, are
It's clear to me that the database has been populated by the massive
application of a cheap labor force.
This is happening all too often, and I think it is a mistake.
Continue reading "The Price of Cheap Labor"
Real-Time Google Earth GPS Tracking
In a recent trip I incorrectly assumed that real-time tracking of
Google Earth's pre-cached maps with a GPS receiver would be sufficient
help for navigating around the highways in Los Angeles.
I therefore experimented with the way Google Earth's
sparsely-documented real time tracking works,
and wrote a small program to interface Google Earth with a GPS receiver.
Fortunately, after seeing a colleague drive with a car-GPS device
on the dashboard I came to my senses, and got a real
Continue reading "Real-Time Google Earth GPS Tracking"
Revisiting the Antikythera Mechanism Emulator
Over the past few weeks I updated the
Antikythera mechanism emulator
I built in 2007.
I was preparing for an invited talk on the subject, which I'll give at the
2009 USENIX Annual Technical Conference,
and for this I wanted to include in the emulator the new findings
recently published in Nature.
Continue reading "Revisiting the Antikythera Mechanism Emulator"
The Information Train
The Information Train is a scientific
experiment that I presented at the
Wizards of Science 2009 contest over the past weekend.
The entry demonstrates how computers communicate with each other by
setting up a network in which a model train transfers a picture's pixels
from one computer to the other.
You can find
a video of the experiment
on YouTube, and, if you're interested, you can also download
the corresponding software and schematics from
this web page.
Continue reading "The Information Train"
Missing the Point
A number of Greek web sites offer for download a very strange Excel form.
Continue reading "Missing the Point"
A Visit at BMW's Leipzig Factory
Yesterday I had a chance to tour the BMW Leipzig factory.
It was a unique experience, in which I witnessed
the sophistication of modern production methods,
and the most well-organized complex human undertaking I have seen first hand.
The factory literally runs like a clockwork, eerily bringing to my mind
the descriptions of Mars's factories in Bogdanov's science fiction novel
Continue reading "A Visit at BMW's Leipzig Factory"
Decyphering Modern Texts
One would think that the decyphering of old writings would be the domain
of archeologists poring over ancient
It turns out that, thanks to modern technology, the quality of
documents written only a decade ago can decay to the point of
And don't get me started on the problems of
digital preservation and the
decay of URLs.
Continue reading "Decyphering Modern Texts"
Open source as a paradigm for evolving complex systems
Scientists in the 1980s hotly debated the feasibility of US's proposed Strategic Defence Initiative, commonly known as Star Wars. One argument concerned the amount of software needed to control the missile detectors and weapons.
Continue reading "Open source as a paradigm for evolving complex systems"
Quality, Democracy, and Code
Edwin Fine recently posted on amazon.com a review of my
Code Quality: The Open Source Perspective.
In the review he complained about the quality of proofreading and copy editing.
(The errors he noted are now listed in the book's errata.)
His comments sparked off a delightful discussion on the reasons behind
the falling quality levels of various products, the philosophical importance of this phenomenon,
and its effect on coding standards.
Continue reading "Quality, Democracy, and Code"
Management Support Technologies
My academic title contains the words management support technologies.
I therefore considered the new and efficient document
management and dispatch system I saw in use at my health insurance provider
a rare gem, worthy of inclusion in this blog.
Continue reading "Management Support Technologies"
A Malfeasant Design for Lawful Interception
Earlier this month it was revealed that more than 100 mobile phone numbers
belonging mostly to members of the Greek government and top-ranking
civil servants were found to have been illegally tapped for a period
of at least one year (see
Apparently, the tapping was implemented by activating Ericsson's
lawful interception subsystem installed at the Vodafone service provider.
How could this happen?
Continue reading "A Malfeasant Design for Lawful Interception"
How Not to Cook an Egg With Your Cell Phone
currently doing the rounds by email provides detailed instructions
for cooking an egg by placing it between two cell phones.
Here is my attempt to check its validity.
Continue reading "How Not to Cook an Egg With Your Cell Phone"
Let's start the new year with a retrospective look at hardware advances.
I've ordered some older and current hard disks that were lying around
We're taking for granted the increases in disk size, but also
impressive is the reduction in size of the control electronics.
Continue reading "Disappearing Hardware"
The Other Side of Digital Preservation
We often grumble that digital preservation is risky, and that
modern storage technologies and file formats quickly become outdated
destroying the record of our past.
What we don't appear to appreciate is how much more data we are
able to preserve, thanks to digital technologies.
Continue reading "The Other Side of Digital Preservation"
The inclined panel is indeed a computer screen,
and, of course, it is not working.
Another, more reliable, technology has prevailed.
Continue reading "Information Kiosk"
Everything Old is New Again
In 1984 the new kid on the block was Borland's Sidekick.
A terminate and stay resident (TSR) program for MS-DOS,
it would run in the background, and when it detected
the two shift keys being pressed it would overlay the
(then character) screen with a calculator, a notepad,
a calendar, a dialer or an ASCII table.
Continue reading "Everything Old is New Again"
Self-Healing Systems Will Age
A number of researchers are advocating the adoption of self-healing
approaches as a way to create more robust systems.
They suggest to copy a page from the book of life, where organisms
with a self-healing capability can survive numerous mishaps and accidents.
However, biological systems have another property, which I believe
is associated with their ability to heal themselves: ageing, and,
Continue reading "Self-Healing Systems Will Age"
As a child I used to be able to assemble and disassemble my bike;
the most sophisticated artefact I owned.
I could understand the working of its (simple) gear system,
the functioning of the brakes,
the assembly of its ball-bearings.
As a teen I had a reasonably complete understanding of the IBM-PC
the 8088 processor's complete instruction set,
the instruction encoding details,
the pinout and operation of the ISA bus and the Centronics and RS-232 interfaces,
the operation of the 6845 video controller and the 4164 memory chips,
all the BIOS calls,
all the MS-DOS commands and system calls, and the complete details
Basic and C programming languages I programmed in.
I also knew the principles of operation behing the processes used
to build the computer's chips,
the MFM recording format used by the hard disk, and
the operation of the CRT monitor.
Continue reading "Technological Complexity"
Writing, GUIs, and 4000 Years of Progress
The images speak for themselves.
Continue reading "Writing, GUIs, and 4000 Years of Progress"
An Interesting Remote Control
The garage remote control at the place where I work is really
Continue reading "An Interesting Remote Control"