Stardards, the market, and robustness

January 30th, 2003 § 1 comment § permalink

With all that talk in the Web about validation and standardization of HTML, XML and RSS, best practices and similar subjects, it’s easy to hope that things may get better for developers given enough time. However, whatever hope developers may have, it doesn’t change a fundamental reality: the market doesn’t care about standardization.

Browsing randomly through the web today, I found a relic of the lost times of the Internet: an e-mail by Marc Andreessen, one of the Netscape fathers, answering a question posed by one of the users of Mosaic, the browsers that preceded most modern navigators. The user was upset that Mosaic accept any invalid markup you threw at it without complaining. Andreessen retorted that this was what made Mosaic robust; it was a feature, not a bug. To the user’s request that Mosaic issue a warning about invalid markup, Andreessen responded that his company had no time, money or interest in implementing such feature.

Back in those days, when the standards were still being created, the market already demanded that products handle anything they got as input. In fact, Andreessen considered such kind of error handling a quality. Now, that doesn’t represent necessarily a repudiation to standards. It’s simply a philosophy that fits with the way markets operate because it gives maximum return to the user.

One of the principles of polite applications is that they must be taciturn about their personal problems. Polite applications should simply deal with errors without bothering users. That’s robustness. Applications work for, not against, users.

And unless developers control the environment they will deploy their applications — what, we all know, is unlikely — there is not other alternative but to deal with bad input. And even controlled environments tend to get out of control with time. An application may operate isolated today, but someday it may need to interface with a third-party and hell will break loose. As this always happens, it’s better not to assume much from the start.

In short, adapt or get out of the way.

Smalltalk rules

January 29th, 2003 § Comments Off on Smalltalk rules § permalink

James Robertson offers this gem:

Three types for the Lispy-things up there so high. Seven for the Fortran in their days bygone. Nine for the Algol ones, doomed to try. Just One Type for the Code Lord all alone, in the land of Smalltalk where the messages fly.

One Type to rule them all, One Type to find them, One Type to bring them all and so enlightened bind them.

Smalltalk just rules.

Microsoft vs. SQL Slammer

January 29th, 2003 § Comments Off on Microsoft vs. SQL Slammer § permalink

The Register published four internal memos from Microsoft detailing its fight to contain the spread of the worm (see its source code) that attacked SQL Server last Saturday.

The article also points that the fix was hard to apply. If we consider that service packs from Microsoft are prone to cause collateral effects, it’s easy to see why many administrators didn’t apply the patch. Nonetheless, that should not be used as an excuse to blame Microsoft for all troubles caused by its bugged software. If people choose a platform, it’s their responsibility to deal with its problems. On the other hand, prevention alone may not be enough to protect systems. Bruce Schneier, talking about prevention and hacking insurance, said: “The notion that you must rely on prevention is just as stupid as building a brick wall around your house. That notion is just wrong.”

Anyway, this is a major point for open source software, in my opinion. Historically, open source response to security threats has been far better than closed source responses. Also, open source users are more likely to apply patches and keep their systems updated because of higher security awareness in their communities and the better quality of patches.

But I just wonder who will get the blame the next time a worm hits a Microsoft product, and no patch is available.

Immortality

January 29th, 2003 § Comments Off on Immortality § permalink

It seems a guy found the secret of immortality. And he packaged it in the form of a little device you use while sleeping. Better yet, you can choose if you want rings or foot braces. Wow!

By the way, don’t miss the rest of the site. The guy is a prolific man. He can teach you to build a UFO, decipher the Bible code, and understand the mysteries of the universe and nature. I’m impressed :)

(via Cris Dias)

Tech staff for sale

January 29th, 2003 § 1 comment § permalink

There are some things that can only happen in the Internet: the complete staff of ZDNet Tech Update is for sale on eBay. The bid descriptions says:

Complete staff of ZDNet Tech Update, formerly a vital division of one of the top ten highest-trafficked sites on the Web, currently available to instantly implement professional Web site or print magazine. (…) Resumes available to highest bidder. Bidders should be prepared to make a total annual commitment for salary and benefits in the high six figures. Sellers will also consider contract work. Please e-mail any questions before bidding.

The current bid is at US$ 8.50, and interested buyers have three days to make their bids. First, it was a town. Now, people. What’s next? A planet?

(via Ben Hammersley)

Update: The Register reports that eBay pulled the auction because of its wording. The Register also speculates that it might have been a hoax.

Symbols

January 28th, 2003 § Comments Off on Symbols § permalink

Ever wondered what does a given graphic symbol mean? Symbols.com is a site containing more than 2,500 signs, arranged in 54 groups, with articles about their meaning, histories, and uses. The symbols include hobo signs, subway graffiti, and historical icons as the peace sign.

There is also a word index, and a search by graphic characteristics (for example, finding asymmetric closed signs with straight crossing lines).

The Door into Summer

January 27th, 2003 § Comments Off on The Door into Summer § permalink

The Door into Summer is a delightful book by Robert Heinlein, one of the great masters of Science Fiction. Written in the fifties, the book is very dated with respect to technology, but that fact is more than offset by the quality of the plot itself.

The story is told in a first-person point of view by the main character, Dan Davis, an hyper-creative engineer that design the appliance of the future: a robot able to execute most household tasks without human intervention. Everything is going well in Davis’ path to success until his greedy partner and his own fiancée trick him into leaving the business because they want to sell it to a big corporation. Depressed, he decides to take the Long Sleep, which is a form of suspended animation, and travel forward to the future. However, he gives up this idea and sets to get revenge against his enemies. His plan fails, and he is put to sleep against his will. However, the future reserves surprises not only to him, but also to his former enemies.

This is one of my preferred books in the Science Fiction field, despite its age. Even if most of its characters are too one-dimensional, Heinlein is able to keep the narrative interesting enough to allow readers to ignore the minor flaws in the style. The ending is also very well thought. And the book has a special character for those who like felines: Davis’ cat, which is a fantastic character on its own.

This is a book I recommend to every Science Fiction fan. It’s well-told tale for those who love good stories.

Write a compiler

January 27th, 2003 § Comments Off on Write a compiler § permalink

For programmers — especially those who, like me, love programming languages and compilers — this is an incredible cool tip from Keith Devens:

Inger is a simple C-like programming language that the authors developed “to illustrate the process of building a compiler from scratch.” In addition, they’ve written an e-book about it. Both the Inger compiler (v1.0) and the Compiler Construction book (PDF) are available for download.

Again?

January 25th, 2003 § Comments Off on Again? § permalink

I came home to find that the Internet has suffered a massive DDOS attack. I don’t know what’s worse: that the attack resulted from a flaw in a Microsoft product; or that so many server out there are open and unpatched because of clueless administrators; or that everything will be forgotten in a few weeks because we have a culture of not caring about software flaws.

From what is known, this attack effectively disabled five of thirteen root nameservers. As such attacks are becoming more common, I don’t believe anybody will be surprised if a coming attack succeeds in disabling all root nameservers simultaneously.

Frailty

January 25th, 2003 § Comments Off on Frailty § permalink

One of the most common mistakes we make is to believe some things will never happen to us. Especially with respect to violence. We read about it in the newspapers, we know it is becoming worse, but we never really believe something can happen until it does.

Today, I returned from work to my home, and if things had happened differently, I would not find my wife here: she and a friend were robbed at gunpoint, and almost were kidnapped — or worse; only God knows. They had spent the afternoon together, and later this friend brought my wife home. When they arrived at the front door, they stood in the car for a few minutes, talking. That’s when three armed young men ordered them to get out of the car. You can imagine what happened in few succeeding minutes. The robbers were extremely nervous, and ordered my wife and the other lady to get again in the back seat of the car. Fortunately, my wife managed to talk them in letting her and her friend go. She cannot explain how she found the courage to argue with them. The robbers then took their purses, got in the car, and disappeared. Thanks for God, it was over.

As I write this now, a few hours are gone. My wife is asleep, feeling better. The car is ensured, and the loss will not be too big. Obviously, nothing can compensate for the fear my wife and her friend endured, but everything is well now. Except for the documents, nothing else too valuable was in the purses. My wife lost her cell phone, but as she ironically said later: “At least the cell phone was broken, and the purse was very old.”

It’s strange to think this just happened. I lived almost all of my life in the same part of the city. I relocated a few times, but to different houses, and, except for two years in a another part of the city, I always have been in some point of two neighborhoods. When I was a child, the street I lived on was one of the most peaceful in that parts. The little traffic it had was caused by people living there. Theft was almost unheard of. When my wife and I got married, we choose a house in another neighborhood, but not much far from there. We chose it because it is situated near our church, and that would help in our ministries. We also had no problem with violence. Until now. The police officer that handled the case today told my wife the level of violence is increasing exponentially in this parts.

I thank God for His deliverance. Although it’s scares me to think a stranger has the keys to my house in his possession now, I trust God’s provision in that regard. When something like this happens, our perspectives are changed. It’s easier to understand our priorities. The old cliché applies: life is frail.

But as frail as it is, it goes on. Thanks to God.

“And we know that he works all things together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

Update: Good news! The car was found. It had been abandoned after being used for a robbery in another city. Most of the things stolen were in the car, including my wife’s prescription glasses and identification documents. Some we will just have to buy again, but that’s better than nothing. Thanks God!

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