Archive for the ‘Voices’ Category

I’ve been corrected

Friday, November 4th, 2011

A couple of years ago, I reminisced about the early days of personal computing.

Yesterday, a comment showed up on that post, pointing out that one of my memories wasn’t accurate, from the pioneer in the field who was involved.


Ten years ago

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

I was at work when a coworker said an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. After it became apparent that this was something serious, I went home and brought in a small portable TV to set up in the lunch room.

I don’t know how much work actually got done that day; I spent much of it watching what was happening. There’s a saying that goes like this: Once is happenstance, and twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action. When the second plane struck the towers, I said immediately that this was war. The Pentagon was the third strike, but there was no way that what was happening was anything but a result of deliberate actions.

The Pentagon was also my closest brush to a direct connection to the attacks; my father, although retired from both the Air Force and the civil service, had worked in the Pentagon before retirement and still went almost daily to take advantage of their fitness facilities. It was four days before I could verify that he hadn’t been anywhere near the Pentagon at the time of the attack.

I could fill this post with links to the words of those who have said things with which I agree in much better ways than I can or have, but what’s the point? I would either be preaching to the choir or convincing you that I’m deranged and dangerous. I will suggest that you read Blackfive’s post about Rick Rescorla, and sign the petition he links to, if you’re so inclined.

He must like the taste of his feet

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

He’s had them in his mouth so often.

Memorial Day

Monday, May 30th, 2011

There was a video I wanted to post for today, but I couldn’t track it down. Perhaps I’ll find it in time for Veteran’s Day. Since I couldn’t find it, I’ll repost some past Memorial Day items.

First, a poem Robert Service wrote after World War I:


For oh, when the war will be over
We’ll go and we’ll look for our dead;
We’ll go when the bee’s on the clover,
And the plume of the poppy is red:
We’ll go when the year’s at its gayest,
When meadows are laughing with flow’rs;
And there where the crosses are greyest,
We’ll seek for the cross that is ours.

For they cry to us: Friends, we are lonely,
A-weary the night and the day;
But come in the blossom-time only,
Come when our graves will be gay:
When daffodils all are a-blowing,
And larks are a-thrilling the skies,
Oh, come with the hearts of you glowing,
And the joy of the Spring in your eyes.

But never, oh, never come sighing,
For ours was the Splendid Release;
And oh, but ’twas joy in the dying
To know we were winning you Peace!
So come when the valleys are sheening,
And fledged with the promise of grain;
And here where our graves will be greening,
Just smile and be happy again.
And so, when the war will be over,
We’ll seek for the Wonderful One;
And maiden will look for her lover,
And mother will look for her son;
And there will be end to our grieving,
And gladness will gleam over loss,
As – glory beyond all believing!
We point … to a name on a cross.

And remember, when you think of those who gave their all for their country:

A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America ‘ for an amount of ‘up to and including their life.’

This looks familiar

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

William Woody has a post about developing Java code to implement the factorial function. More specifically, it’s about how not to. He starts with a very simple (and straightforward) implementation, then produces updated version after alternate version in order to handle various possible conditions that the code may need to support.

The operative word is “may.” He concludes the post with a discussion of appropriate pains to take in an implementation, as well as which requirements for a programming task are actual requirements. As he says,

So please, do us all a favor: if you have the urge to add complexity because “someday we’ll need it, I just know it!”, or because “it’s not sufficiently flexible enough” or “we need reusability in our code” or (God help us!) because it’s “cool”–just go home early.

I’ve not programmed in Java, but the points he makes are applicable no matter what the language. I believe that part of the problem is that there is a subgroup of programmers who aren’t happy unless they’re showing off how convoluted they can make their code. I remember a cartoon I saw, either in an issue of Forth Dimensions or in one of Leo Brodie’s books, Starting Forth or Thinking Forth. The cartoon shows two programmers in space looking at the Earth-Moon system. One, the Forth programmer, is saying, “No good – too complex.” The other, labeled, I believe, “Ada programmer,” is saying, “No good, too simple.”

I’ve worked with both types of programmer, and I’m currently maintaining a large piece of code written over a decade ago by one of the “no good, too simple” types. He came from a background in academia, and felt that his MSCS made him more qualified to define application requirements and design products than the combined 30 or so years experience in the field that my boss and I had at the time, because neither of us had a Master’s degree.

It’s pretty hard to figure out what any given piece of code in that application does, because nothing is simple and straightforward. It’s all convoluted, indirect, and involved. It puts me in mind of a button I bought at an SF convention a few decades ago, which reads, “Never make anything simple and efficient when you can make it complex and wonderful.” As an example, the program maintains a pair of ring buffers. Conceptually, these are fairly simple and straightforward. There are some boundary conditions you need to be careful with, which are discussed at the link, but other than that, they’re easy.

In the software I’m maintaining, they were implemented as state machines with 64 states. Talk about violating Occam’s Razor! The C source file containing the implementation is 15k in size, with almost 600 lines of actual code. What comments there are in the file mostly relate to the encoding and meaning of the state numbers – very little of the code has descriptive comments stating what the code is doing.

Years ago, I ran across the statement that the fastest-executing and most bug-free code in a system is the code that isn’t there. That made tremendous sense to me, and it’s why the ring-buffer implementation I just described offends my sensibilities so much. To me, it’s just intellectual masturbation. He wasn’t writing for efficiency, or for clarity, although I’ve no doubt he’d claim that that was exactly what he’d done. He was writing to show off, to himself if no-one else. There may have been some attempt at job-security-through-obfuscated-code going on, as well. If so, that didn’t work. After all, I’m maintaining his code, and have no idea where he is, nor where he’s been for years. Actually, although the comments in the file describe it as a “robust” ring-buffer implementation, I had to make a correction to it several years ago – there was a bug in his code (color me surprised) that caused a persistent error condition after a particular error occurred. The code, of course, couldn’t detect that it was in that particular error state. Eventually, though, a customer could.

I probably put more emphasis on clean and simple code than most programmers. It often ends up longer than other implementations, because I tend to ignore a number of advanced features of the language, unless the code is meant to demonstrate the use of that feature. This is because most of our customers aren’t programmers; they’re engineers who want to learn as little programming as necessary to get the job done, and the code I write has to serve a pedagogical purpose, as well as being useful. As a result, the code I write tends to be very simple with a lot of comments. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean it’s bug-free.

Coding style may be a matter of preference, but coding complexity, at least in this regard, is a matter of corporate culture. At a previous job developing dedicated word processors (that is, a computer system that could only do word processing), back in the early 1980s, I was at one point tasked with making an update to a particular piece of code. The code was designed to be incredibly efficient; it was written in an incredibly convoluted manner in order to minimize execution time. It took me three weeks to understand the code, after which the change took less than a day. Coincidentally, the original author had taken three weeks to write the code.

The convoluted code saved several milliseconds over what a naive implementation would have taken. It executed once during system startup. I suspect that you can guess my feelings about the efficiency of that module.

The author moved on to the “new product” project that the company started. Apart from a few supervisors, nobody in the “current product” group could move over to the new product group – they staffed it up with recent graduates who’d used Unix in school. That was their problem. Apart from the supervisors, several of whom were addicted to cleverness in their code, nobody working on the new product had ever delivered a product.

The current product line that was providing all the company’s income was based on 8086 hubs and 6800-based terminals (80×24 characters, IIRC, but they might have had larger displays). The new product under development was to be 68000-based, with a bit-mapped graphical display so that you could do WYSIWYG word processing. They gave us a product demonstration at one point. The system took somewhere between 30 and 90 seconds to come up (this was around 1983 when most personal computers were effectively instant-on, and even PC-XTs only took a few seconds to boot DOS), and the bug list was written ceiling-to-floor several times on butcher paper that covered one wall. One bug was that you couldn’t print – not a good thing for a word processor company’s upcoming flagship product.

This has been a long rant, but my point is largely the same as Mr. Woody’s: complexity for the sake of complexity, or for anticipated future needs, is a bad thing. My elaboration on that point is: make sure you’ve got someone who knows what needs to be done, and ruthlessly prevents unnecessary complexity.

It’s been a quiet day

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Which is nice for Veteran’s Day. Quiet gives you time for contemplation. Some good food for thought can be found at Blackfive – just keep scrolling down; there are several Veteran’s Day posts worth reading. I also like Bunk’s post about his grandfather in World War I.

Easier than doing it myself

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’d collected a number of links to various takes on the abhorrent 10:10 video, and had thought of doing a post rounding up the assorted reactions I’d come across.

Luckily for me, The Daily Bayonet has done exactly that, almost certainly better than I’d have managed.

It’s Constitution Day

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Senator Orrin Hatch and Joseph Stuart both have things to say about it that I think should be widely read.

Of course, I’m not sure how many people will go to the articles from here who wouldn’t have already seen them.

Never Forget

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Half-mast flag and burning Trade Center

I was at work when the news came about the WTC being hit by an airplane. When it became obvious that it was a major story, I went home and brought back a small TV, which we watched most of the day. I still remember the images I saw – smoke, flames, people jumping to their deaths, the towers coming down, dust-covered people running and walking away from the scene. I also remember Muslims dancing in the street in celebration. It took me four days to verify that my father had not been in the Pentagon when it was hit, and I thought of those celebrations a lot.

Now we have imam Rauf threatening violence if his victory mosque isn’t built at his proposed site. A few things have become obvious in the last nine years:

There are no moderate Muslims, in the respect that there is no effective Islamic voice opposing the radicals and terrorists. There are a few individuals here and there who denounce the violence, most of whom are under threat of death because of it, but the “Muslim street” acquiesces to or celebrates the vicious acts.

Islam is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of conflict and oppression. How many acts of terrorist and sectarian violence and armed conflicts in the world do not involve Muslims, and how often are they not the aggressors?

Islam demands supremacy over other religions. The very word “Islam” means “submission.” It demands respect it does not give to others, and the political left is cooperating with it. There is currently a flap over a threat to burn some Korans. Consider that Bibles are not allowed into Saudi Arabia, even for personal use, and the US military has burned Bibles that were sent to US troops in Afghanistan. Compare that with “Piss Christ” and “elephant dung Mary” and the left’s reaction to Christian complaints of disrespect.

Sharia courts have been implemented in Europe and Canada, and Muslims are trying to get them here. In Milwaukee, Muslim taxi drivers refused to carry people with dogs or alcohol, until they were told they’d lose their licenses. They do what they want, and don’t back down unless forced.

Islam is more-or-less a totalitarian political ideology masquerading as a religion. It divides the world into Dar Al’ Islam (the House of Islam) and Dar Al’ Harb (the House of War). As such, Islam itself is largely incompatible with Western Civilization. People keep saying that we’re not at war with Islam, but they won’t admit that Islam is at war with us.

If we don’t start to protect our civilization and our society, it could get very bad.

Never forget what happened. Never forget who did it. Never forget that it wasn’t their first attempt. Never believe that it won’t be their last.

Miscellany 9

Monday, July 12th, 2010

It’s been a few weeks since my last update. I’ve been busy, but not really that busy. I went to a wedding in Missoula with my daughter, celebrated the birthdays of a couple friends, got some stuff done at work, gave my daughter one of my ukuleles which she got autographed at the Jake Shimabukuro concert, and so on. The concert was very good (which I’d expected), and Jake finished with a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody (which I hadn’t). It’s going to be on his next CD. I picked up his DVD, Play Loud Ukulele, while I was in Hawaii … I’m enjoying that, too.

In any case, I’ve been saving this link. It’s to part one of a three-part article on trying to locate the diner portrayed in an iconic painting. The painting always reminds me of the Tom Waits song (and album), Nighthawks at the Diner, although the lyrics seem to refer to a diner in San Francisco, rather than Greenwich Village. It’s a good article, and the website as a whole is worth a look. I’ve long been interested in “hidden history” and the like.

Burt Prelutsky’s essay here resonates powerfully with me.

I have an Android phone and love it, so this looks pretty interesting to me. Via Make.

It’s the Tom Swift Centennial. I started reading Tom Swift books one Christmas when my brother and I each received a Tom Swift book and a Hardy Boys book. Now it’s my other brother who collects them. In honor of the centennial, I think that some Tom Swifties are in order. If you don’t like those, you can look here for others.

And, speaking of bad writing, the results of the annual Bulwer-Lytton competition were released during my hiatus. Personally, I’m rather taken with the runner-up in the Detective Fiction category.