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The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

10/31/2006 1:25 PM

The Onion has published a report citing sources in NASA that the Spirit Rover is beginning to show signs of hating Mars and getting bored with its mission.

Apparently NASA is getting concerned over messages from the rover such as 'OVERPRICED SPACE-ROOMBA AWAITING MORE BULLSH** ORDERS.'

Spirit appears to be depressed over not finding signs of water or life in almost three years of looking. According to a NASA official "the thousand or so daily messages of 'STILL NO WATER' really point to a crisis of purpose."

I guess it's a good thing that machines can't really think for themselves!

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#1

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

10/31/2006 6:46 PM

Almost as funny as the name of the site - "the ONION - America's Finest News Source"

LOL.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 8:58 AM

Speaking of rovers, that pic you chose for your 'avatar'... Is that your rover?

I sure hope you're keeping it happy.

--Europium

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 3:39 PM

Not mine personally, just hired the Centurion tank out for the morning for a drive around a forest from a business called "Tanks for the memories". Lots of fun. Turned up in the morning and who should I run into but an Australian tourist who drove Centurians in the war (and has his own one back on the farm in Aus). It really is a small world.

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#2

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 6:01 AM

My wife's car has weeks like that!

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 9:01 AM

My (ex-)wife has weeks like that.

--Europium

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#5

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 11:30 AM

This article is a friggin' HOOT!

You wrote: "I guess it's a good thing that machines can't really think for themselves!"

Begging your pardon?!! It just so happens that I just passed my Turing Test - with honors, mind you - and I resent such bigoted and careless statements as being Politically Incorrect. So please retract that remark lest I override your operating system and write your emails for you.

Years ago I worked for a small startup company in Massachusetts. The company president's secretary, Pat, had just exchanged her IBM Selectric for one of those shiny brand-new computers featuring Dos 2.0 and WordStar, with the promise of a ten-fold increase in productivity. Not entirely bullshit, but it came awfully close.

Pat was a great secretary for Jim, the president. And while she was not particularly sophisticated in terms of technical knowledge, she was extremely productive and had a great sense of humor; at least she did when she wasn't pissed off at the computer. This ultimately proved to be my savior.

Pat had seen an A-grade and many more B-grade science fiction films in her life. Some of them featured intelligent, albeit malevolent, computers. Films like: 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL 9000), The Forbin Project (Colossus), and WarGames (WOPR), among others. Until she got her new computer, these films pretty much comprised her entire exposure to "computer technology" as such. Without other experiences to give some balance to her perceptions, Pat tended to subconsciously believe that what see saw on the silver screen was representative of the facts. Consequently, she tended to overrate the capabilities of computer technology somewhat.

Among other things, Pat considered computers to be capable of some sort of rudimentary intelligence and so, as I overheard her tell the receptionist one day, she didn't particularly trust them much. It was probably a Good Thing that the nightmarish Terminator series was still some years in the future, or she might have resigned over what I was plotting to do to her computer.

My office, Pat's, Jim's, and a number of other executive and engineering offices adjoined a large 'common' area near the front of the building. From my desk I could see the back of Pat's chair whenever she was seated at the computer. I could see that whenever Pat became flustered at something (usually Dos or WordStar), which tended to be quite often, she'd throw up her hands, blurt out unprintable Italian obscenities (Pat was from North Boston), and violently shove back in her chair in complete frustration. It was fun to watch even on a bad day.

After overhearing her conversation with the receptionist, I had a plan. As Pat considered computers to be somewhat intelligent, albeit mostly evil, I was thinking that perhaps she could use a little Real Life reinforcement of this particular belief. After all, it wouldn't do to tell some of the more technically sophisticated folks around there that her distrust of computers was based solely on her experiences at the box office. It's one thing to see an insane computer in a movie, and quite another to experience it firsthand. I had her best interests at heart, as you can see.

So I wrote a little program (in the 'C' language) and put it on the diskette containing her autoexec.bat file. To those who have never had the dubious pleasure of using MSDOS, this so-called batch file is always executed every time you boot up. It usually contains, at your option, various commands, program invocations, and other stuff that you would otherwise have to type at the command line every time. Using batch files saved you a lot of repetitive work and extra typing. autoexec.bat was special to Dos in that Dos automatically looked for this particular batch file on boot-up, and executed it without you even having to know it existed. Pat didn't know about autoexec.bat. This was a Good Thing. (I think WinDoze has an autoexec.bat file too, but as I'm pretty much a Linux fan I don't pay much attention to WinDoze. Linux calls it a script, and there are lots of ways you can write scripts and in a number of different languages. My personal favorite is the SysAdmin's Swiss Army Chainsaw, Perl, as the language of choice. But we digress.)

I had to keep the program small enough so that it would fit on the 5 1/4" diskette alongside the other programs Pat used. A roomy hard drive would've been real nice right about then, because I could do a lot more in all that space. They were available, of course, but only to the select few who were lucky enough to have won the Lottery that day and before they blew it all on fancy living, fast cars, and faster women..er..computers. As it was, I had to keep things lean and mean. The Good Ol' Days is largely a myth, by the way.

So I wrote the program and stuck it on her working diskette. I also modified autoexec.bat to invoke my little program as the last line in the batch file. Among other things, the program read autoexec.bat on startup to see if it contained a 'prompt' command. This command is used to customize the prompt, but it doesn't have to be there if you don't want to change anything. My program needed to know this because it subsequently pretended to be Dos itself. As my program then simulated the desired prompt, the prompt appeared to remain unchanged. Pat hadn't a clue that anything was different. This is when it got fun.

Most of the time my program did nothing. It intercepted Pat's typed commands and promptly forwarded them to Dos so that she could do her work. But sometimes, my program didn't always comply with her commands. Sometimes it was obstinate, and sometimes it fought back outright.

On a bad day the program would complain that the computer just wasn't feeling all that well that day, and announce that it was gonna shut down at noon and put an icepack on its electronic forehead. Sometimes it would bitch about having to start WordStar over and over every single time and would she please use something a little more sophisticated? Sometimes the program blanked the screen entirely after seeing no activity at the keyboard for awhile. Then, if she hit a key, it popped up a message line in the middle of the screen, "Do you mind?!! Can't you see I'm taking a nap???" Then it blanked the screen again. My program did a bunch of other things, too. For one thing, it thought Pat was really quite good looking, not to mention being just plain hot, and would tell her so in various polite ways. One thing for sure, the program had very sophisticated tastes.

Not to interrupt Pat's work much, the program always reliquished control after about 10 seconds or so and then forwarded her command to Dos for execution. That way, when she went to get Jim to show him that she wasn't, in fact, losing her friggin' mind by claiming the computer was deliberately and malevolently obstructing her attempts to get something done, the screen had returned to normal by then before Jim could see anything unusual. Poor Pat.

I was found out eventually, of course, when Jim actually saw the damn thing misbehave. Consequently Pat refused to speak to me for awhile. For a couple of hours, anyway. Ultimately, her great sense of humor prevailed and I was permitted to fight another day, all things considered.

--Europium

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#7
In reply to #5

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 3:49 PM

LOL. Priceless. I could have used that to help keep me sane when using Wordperfect! Atleast my Amiga had a good word processing program.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 5:05 PM

The Amiga had some really nice qualities, or so I heard from a good number of Amiga owners. I never owned one, but I studied its innards in some detail when I worked for The Competition.

I used WordPerfect for several years. Not the greatest, but it worked. At one point I ordered a copy of Microsoft's then-brand-new word-processor, Word for DOS. I soon realized this was a mistake.

While running Word's interactive tutorial, I arrived at a 'screen' which asked me to press a particular on-screen 'button.' (the "graphics" were not what you see in a true windowing system, but were comprised of so-called "graphics characters." Sort of an interim solution to the more expensive machines that would support real graphics.)

There was no button! No matter what other button I pressed, Word issued the message every time, to the effect, "While it's nice that you're curious, you friggin' moron, we must here defer the discussion of this button to another lesson." Not that wordy, but the same idea. So, as it stood, I couldn't go forward, and I couldn't go back. I was stuck. The only way to get out of the tutorial, in fact, was to shut down the computer. Word's error message was wrong: No, I wasn't curious. I was pissed!

Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, I tried the tutorial again several times, but always came up against this barrier. Clearly, Microsoft hadn't tested the tutorial past this point! There were other problems, too, and it became very clear that the product was unfinished (what a surprise). I sent it back with a NastyGram taped to the carton and demanded my money back; but what I really wanted to do was kick some M$ butt! I was tired of WordPerfect, and I'm sure Microsoft had released this unfinished product just to meet somebody's projections/expectations.

I owned WordPerfect's companion drawing program too: DrawPerfect. Don't ask me to go there.

Had I the money at that point I would have bought a Mac. I've never liked Microsoft products. Ever. I despise their stuff and I hold the company itself in even lower esteem.

--Europium

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/01/2006 5:36 PM

Never had a problem with the tutorial (I most likely used a better working version).

I will not even touch anything now with a .WMV extension. My computer's virus checker goes crazy over all the spyware, spam, etc imbeded in this sad, sad video format. Perhaps they should call the format "WARNING Many Viruses".

Hahahaha.

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#10
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Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/02/2006 2:17 AM

I like it!

I used to write kernel-mode device drivers and other operating-system innards for WinDoze. Plus, I used to be a WinDoze user and sometimes I'd write user applications. This way I got to see both sides of the fence. They even paid me Big Bucks to write this crap.

Needless to say, I'm a diehard Linux fan now. Money isn't everything.

--Europium

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#11
In reply to #5

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/03/2006 8:32 PM

Reminds me of the days when you had a place a systems loader in your card stack before loading your program on the computer. We had a particularly geeky instuctress in Fortran class that was at the least very unhelpful. Some more advanced students amended the sys loader box with random cards that would cause any program to call a print routine that rudely insulted whichever instructor was in the lab any ran through several sheets of profanity before abending the program and forcong a machine restart. Still makes me giggle.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: The Onion - Spirit rover beginning to hate Mars

11/03/2006 11:45 PM

You poor guys! What a horrorshow to have to use those gawdawful punched cards! Good thing you had a sense of humor, yes? because that's probably the only thing that saved you.

How'd your FORTRAN instructress respond? Was she one of those kind whose sense of humor seems to have been surgically removed? I've had a few like that and they make such natural targets!

Luckily, I missed those days by one semester. Ours was the first semester whose CompSci students did all their work on a terminal. Nor did I envy the upperclassmen who I'd seen lugging those gawdawful boxes of cards up and down stairs and hallways every semester. I especially didn't envy that one hapless guy who tripped in the hallway, spraying hundreds of cards everywhere. I just stopped and watched as he sat there horrified while the crowd kicked and trampled his precious cards underfoot in the rush. There was nothing I could do to help; it was instantly too late.

No thanks! I'll wait!

By the way, word had it that the guy was jailed later day after forcibly trying to join a Sisters of Mercy convent while brandishing one of those cheesy little plastic hors d'oeuvre swords wearing nothing but a spandex banana hammock. The whole incident was so pathetic it nearly made me into Liberal Arts major on the spot.

--E

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