Tech: September 2003 Archives
September 29, 2003
Build him the perfect office:
Most software managers know what good office space would be like, and they know they don't have it, and can't have it. Office space seems to be the one thing that nobody can get right and nobody can do anything about. There's a ten year lease, and whenever the company moves the last person anybody asks about how to design the space is the manager of the software team, who finds out what his new veal-fattening pens, uh, cubicle farm is going to be like for the first time on the Monday after the move-in.
Well, it's my own damn company and I can do something about it, so I did.
September 23, 2003
So I encountered one of the software engineer's primary enemies yesterday: a non-deterministic bug. What I mean by that is that the bug's behavior is apparently random. Sometimes the bug will appear, sometimes it will not, and there is no way to reliably reproduce the bug. These are possibly the most difficult class of bugs to fix; if you tell any software developer that you've found a problem with his software, his first question is almost certainly going to be "How do I reproduce it?". This particular bug was due to a race condition; two files were being created at about the same time. If one was created first, the code worked perfectly; if the other was, it exposed a heretofore unknown problem in the code.
I spent eight hours yesterday and four hours today hunting this bug through four layers of software, at least 7 different software modules, and two different configurations. And in the end, I nailed it to the wall.
It's surprising, really, how much pure satisfaction I derive from that; from proving that I understand how the software and the computer work, being able to explain the exact problem to my team lead and my manager, and being able to fix the problem in six lines of code.
It's funny; yesterday I worked late, and the last 12 work hours were high-pressure and high-stress, and they were not at all glamorous, but they sure as hell reminded me why I love what I do.
September 16, 2003
Randall Parker is considering what will happen when a single terrorist will be able to kill enormous numbers of people. His conclusion states that:
If we are going to be faced with growing threats from terrorism due to technological advances that make it easier to launch terrorist attacks of enormous lethality is there anything we can do about it? As I see it there are only about two major counters that can be used to sustain a defense in the long run:
- A massive worldwide surveillance society. Sensors would be deployed throughout the world to watch for dangerous actions by individuals.
- Reengineer human minds to make humans less dangerous.
One of his commenters says, "Another 'counter' is to build a less fragile civilization." Perhaps it's because I've been reading Frank Herbert lately again, but I'm reminded of the concept of the "Golden Path" in the Dune books (the original ones, not the horrid ones infected by Kevin J. Anderson).
September 9, 2003
There's a good article in Slate called An Offer You Can Refuse which discusses the current state of P2P and the RIAA's utterly BS amnesty. Among other interesting factoids is that even if you take their deal, any other copyright owner can then subpoena the RIAA and use the amnesty information to sue you themselves. Charming, yes?
The really interesting point the author makes is to point out that activity is starting to move off of the current major P2P nets. He mentions EarthStation 5, a Palestine (as in the Middle East) based network that uses anonymization etc to try to hide who's downloading and sharing what. Another trend I've noticed is a move to "semi-private" nets, where a community (online or offline) will provide a secret, password-protected P2P net for its own use. While this does slow down the diffusion of new material, it doesn't do so by a whole lot because of the six-degrees-of-separation problem; many people will belong to multiple nets, and will thus help move material across community boundaries. Several colleges and universities have these kind of nets (both official and unofficial), as do numerous online forums.
A wise man once said that "The Internet views censorship as damage, and routes around it." So far he's right. First noticed this via Instapundit.
There. I posted. Happy? :)
September 8, 2003
So apparently the author of the SoBig worm is performing some kind of experiment—ostensibly to find out what the ideal conditions for a worm release are. (Details in the Star Tribune.) Exciting times ahead for the internet, no doubt; maybe people will slowly figure out why firewalls are good things. (I note that Microsoft is starting to ship XP with the built-in firewall enabled by default, which is something they really ought to have been doing before.)
Anyway, this quote really irritates me:
"NASA has virtually defect-free software," said Paul Saffo, director at the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. "Why doesn't Microsoft achieve that same level of software? Because they think they don't have to and because everyone is rushing to introduce the shiniest bell and loudest whistle."