|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 35,000 engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
September 4, 2018
I bet your email inbox is like mine. Constantly assaulted by scams, sales pitches for things I don't want, and more. Some seem strangely targeted; for instance, I get tons of email out of China for PCB fabrication. Many want me to click on a link, which will surely infect my computer with some sort of nastiness.
Only an idiot would fall for these malicious schemes. Except that apparently a lot of people do. My parents are in their 90s and I have to constantly remind them to not click on links, to not open email unless from people they know. And even then, hacked inboxes can send deceptive emails that seem to be from family or friends.
Only an idiot would fall for these malicious schemes. Except I'm getting email that looks really authentic, with hijacked logos and forged return addresses that give me pause. Hover over that URL!
Then there are the scam phone calls. This year I ripped out our "land" line (it was really an IP phone) as it was clogged with robocallers or worse. But they still flood the office number and my cell phone.
One famous scam is the "I'm from Microsoft and there's something wrong with your computer." My Dad fell for that last year and was out a couple of hundred bucks. Once, frustrated with yet another of these calls, I pretended to fall for it. The crook told me to type in various DOS commands, which I pretended to do. Then I said "my computer is smoking. Did your commands make smoke come out of it?" He started to panic. Then "it's on fire! What should I do? Should I leave the house? But there's a baby in the other room!" More panic. "Should I toss the computer out the window?" He agreed. "It fell into a pile of leaves. Now the house is on fire!" At that point I had to hang up, laughing.
My stepson's grandfather lost $10,000 to a villain who telephonically claimed said grandson had been kidnapped.
And the hackers: you can't open a newspaper without reading about some band that has drained bank accounts or stolen millions of personal records.
What has changed? Two things: The Internet, and cheap phone calls. As for the latter, there was a time when long-distance calls (we're talking even between two adjacent states) were very expensive. When such a call came in, we were expected to yell "Dad!" as it meant someone had died.
I naively used to think the crooks were a tiny percentage of people. Now I'm not so sure. In the olden days you had to present yourself at a bank with a gun to commit a crime. The barrier to entry was high; the chance of getting busted thinned potential criminal ranks. Now all it takes is an IP phone or a computer. Have we gotten more evil... or is a criminal intent part of the human psyche, unleashed when the chance of getting caught is vanishingly small?
Nuns and Jesuits were my teachers for twelve years. There were plenty of admonishments about things we should not do. Strangely, though, the infamous "Problem of Evil" never came up. I suspect that was because belief in Catholicism was expected, and no one thought about having any doubts about religion. The Problem of Evil is one of the most pernicious challenges to faith; one I have never seen addressed to my satisfaction.
I get it that people need money. And that the opportunities to make it are scarce in many places. If we lived in poverty in Nigeria would we take to Internet scamming? If our kids were starving? If we did, out of desperation, would we create some justification to rationalize our illegal actions? I expect so.
The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has been going down for a long time. But these figures are based on income levels of a dollar or two a day. Can you imagine existing on a few hundred dollars a year?
Does poverty justify crime? I think not, as such a justification opens the doors to anarchy. But, like the founders of the United States who came up with a nation of laws, I am so comfortably removed from that situation that my opinion may be biased by a full belly.
Regardless, a certain amount of larceny does seem to lurk in our souls, and it saddens me to see it exhibited so often now that the constraints of getting caught have been removed. One can only take solace in realizing that most people are pretty decent.
I wonder what the future holds. I'm not optimistic.
Meanwhile, we'll keep tuning our spam filters. We'll continue to build suspicion, of email, crank calls, and maybe even of those outside our tribe.
That, friends, is a sad state of affairs.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- A Lack of Forethought - Y2K redux
- How I Write Code - Comments first, code second.
- How Projects Get Out of Control - Think requirements churn is only for software?
- 2019's Most Important Lesson. The 737 Max disasters should teach us one lesson.
- On Retiring - It's not quite that time, but slowing down makes sense. For me.
- On Discipline - The one thing I think many teams need...
- Data Seems to Have No Value - At least, that's the way people treat it.
- Apollo 11 and Navigation - In 1969 the astronauts used a sextant. Some of us still do.
- Definitions Part 2 - More fun definitions of embedded systems terms.
- Definitions - A list of (funny) definitions of embedded systems terms.
- On Meta-Politics - Where has thoughtful discourse gone?
- Millennials and Tools - It seems that many millennials are unable to fix anything.
- Crappy Tech Journalism - The trade press is suffering from so much cost-cutting that it does a poor job of educating engineers.
- Tech and Us - I worry that our technology is more than our human nature can manage.
- On Cataracts - Cataract surgery isn't as awful as it sounds.
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.