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Comment Re:Common knowledge? (Score 1) 188

No. Wrong. Completely wrong. Completely misses the point.

Writing is a quite different cognitive activity than "thinking". Writing about things provides distance and helps overcome the limitations of working memory that can prevent you from seeing the same problem by just "thinking". Writing documentation produces very different results than just thinking about the code.

Comment Not an Old-School Problem (Score 3, Interesting) 575

Most "old school" programmers have some interpreted language in their toolkit. People who think "old" means 40 probably have Python/Perl/etc. People who are really old probably had Basic/Awk/etc. So, nothing to do with how long you've been programming, more to do with how narrow your background is. As with learning any new language, there's no getting around the basic advice of: Write More Code.

Comment Re:Seen this article everywhere now. (Score 2) 253

No, it's just one of those things that people who work in cancer research are aware of and, eventually, that awareness leaks into the public and the press realizes that the research community knows something the uneducated public would find astounding.

Let me give you a human example of the cost of screening. I was sitting in a mammography waiting room once when a women came in for her screening. The receptionist informed her that she could get screened, but the radiologist was out and she would have to wait a day to get the results. The woman became upset and demanded there be a radiologist present. The receptionist gave the same reply.

Eventually, the woman was sobbing and explaining that, though she was a nurse, false-positive mammograms had sent her in for biopsies three times already. The last time had been 5 years earlier and she simply stopped returning because she couldn't face another biopsy. This was the first time she had got her nerve up to come in for a mammogram again in all that time, and there was no way she could leave that office and not know if anything (false or not) had been found.

And that's not even a case with serious physical costs for screening, "merely" psychological costs: that caused someone to stop getting screened.

Likelihood of a false positive by your tenth mammogram? Nearly 100%. Since you're presumably working in some kind of technological field, you should really realize that technology always has a downside and not assume that anyone recommending shoving less technology down patients throats simply has a profit motive.

Comment Re:Or they could do MORE frequent screenings. (Score 1) 253

Two reasons that won't work. Restrict the discussion to breast/prostate cancer for simplicity. Both are highly treatable if they haven't mutated enough to have the ability to metastasize. You can't make an imaging technique that checks every cancer cell to see if even one(!) has gained the ability to metastasize.

Second, the vast majority of people will INSIST on surgery if they know they have cancer. I used to try to explain to people that most of us have already (if we've got grey hair) thyroid cancer, but it is highly unlikely to harm us. Then I realized I was just causing people to run to their doctor to demand an X-ray of their thyroid. People can't process things like "likelihood" when it comes to cancer, which is why the fact that screenings can cause more harm than good is very difficult to have a rational discussion about.


Athena's Free Firewall Browser 23

athenasec writes "Firewall Browser is a free configuration analyzer (download here), released by Athena Security, which works on Cisco, Check Point, and Netscreen firewalls for searching rulebases based on address or service ranges — the way change requests are actually made. The tool is available as a free download with no limitations, user license restrictions, or registration hurdles. Users can slice and dice any firewall-related question about the network, service objects, and security rules for a multi-vendor environment from a single flexible interface. There is also this how-to guide for applying the tool to day-to-day operational tasks."

Submission + - Software Tools For Buggier Bloated Software (

RonBurk writes: Software tools are putting more power in the hands of more programmers. Is that a good thing? That it often is not can be seen by examining the case of modern parser generator tools. In principle, they offer more power and ease-of-use than the older generation of tools. In practice, they make it easier for programmers with no parser experience create buggier and more bloated software.

Submission + - USDA Launches Apps for Healthy Kids Competition 1

theodp writes: The USDA is calling all techies to participate in the Apps for Healthy Kids competition, part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity. A total of $40,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to developers of 'innovative, fun, and engaging tools and games' that utilize a USDA nutrition dataset to encourage children to make more nutritious food choices and be more physically active. The nation's CTO used what some say are dubious statistics cited by the First Lady to encourage attendees of the Game Developers Choice Awards to join the competition. Contest judges include Segway Roller Derby-playing Steve Wozniak and Zynga CEO Mark 'I-Did-Every-Horrible-Thing-In-The-Book' Pincus. The Apps for Healthy Kids website advertises that the site is 'Powered by ChallengePost,' a startup that counts Judge Woz as a Board member.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Thre Strange Definitions of Computer Programming

My Ignite talk hits YouTube (, in which I define programming in terms of energy, intelligence, and evolution. As it says, "... the magic of computer programming has been lost on its practitioners."

Comment No problem (Score 1) 244

just ask all the users you worked with during development to spread the news. What's that? You didn't actually work with your future customers while developing the software? And now you're surprised that total strangers you didn't value during development don't value your project now? Classic.

This actually happens with shareware all the time. People code up something that scratched their itch. Build a website. Find a credit card provider. Issue a press release. And then are disappointed when there are 0 sales after a month.

If you want to make software for you, go into a cave and do it, and be happy with what you get. If you want to write software for people, then you have to work with (surprise!) people. The payback is, the first day the software ships, you already know it's useful to others, you already have a user community, and they are already spreading the word for you. When people tell you they aren't interested in trying your software, they're telling you your software is not very useful. Either they are right, or you can't describe your software very well.

Comment Hardware Failsafe: Never Trust Software (Score 1) 383

There's nothing creepier than showing up for your weekly radiation treatment just to find out there's a delay because they're "installing a Windows upgrade". When I asked the radiologist if there was any failsafe in the device, he assured me there was. When I asked if there was a radiation detector positioned behind the patient that was capable of shutting off the beam if it detected too much radiation, he said "no, nothing like that."

Medical radiation equipment should be designed with a secondary, independent piece of hardware capable of measuring pass-through radiation and shutting off the equipment. Doctors should demand such designs. Do you face much worse risks in your daily life? Sure. But your local Toyota dealer did not swear an oath to "first, do no harm."

Comment Your App Will Suck Anyway: So Use Java (Score 2, Funny) 310

The Java repliers are right on the mark. Trying to use app-independent portability layers ensures apps of any complexity will suck. By "suck", I mean "compromised at every turn by lowest-common denominator design decisions". Your app will end up using threads on an O/S designed to make multi-processing beautiful (Linux), or end up using multiple processes on an O/S designed to make multi-threading beautiful (Windows). It'll be clueless about the nifty GUI features that exist on a Mac but not Windows, and vice versa. Knowing up front that your app is going to suck allows you to, in all good conscience, choose a language that highly adapted for creating apps that suck in this manner. When I fire up a Java app on Windows (and I ALWAYS know it's a Java app the minute it finally manages to lumber onto the screen), I know I'm going to get the same sucky behavior if I fire that app up on a totally different platform (well, assuming I can manage to figure out whatever obscure infinite-megabyte downloads are needed to get the right "runtime engine" for the given app). Really, the only way you can make your app suck even more and be even more portable is to just go ahead and make it a web "service". That has the added advantage that nobody really expects anything but poor performance and clunky UI design from the get-go. But if for some reason you can't have your app suck as bad as a web service, then Java is definitely the next-suckiest way to achieve that portability that your end users don't give a crap about, but you hope will make your life easier.

Comment Re:You don't even know what patents are for (Score 3, Insightful) 252

Now anybody can see what you did and how. Patents are as much a learning tool as they are an economic engine.

That's the sentence where you stuck your foot in it. How many hundreds of thousands of programmers on the planet? OK, now how many programmers search the patent database for ideas they can buy before coding? 100,000? 1,000? Can you name me even 10? Where is the Eclipse plug-in for searching the patent database for relevant algorithms? Where is the panoply of web startups offering an online search tool that locates the patented algorithms that will help you get your next project done faster if you license them?

When it comes to software, patents have had half their faces blown off. They no longer function at all as a learning tool, or even as an economic engine for a hard-working programmer/inventor to profit from their non-obvious invention/algorithm. With much of their original, intended functionality rendered useless, patents (most especially in the realm of software) have long since passed the point where they offer society more costs than benefits. They are almost entirely the tool of large companies, lawyers, and those who sell services to inventors gullible enough to believe we still live in an age where patents work the way you describe.

Comment Early detection doesn't always improve outcomes (Score 5, Insightful) 123

Non-oncs generally don't understand that a whole lot of cancer is "clinically irrelevant". That is, it would never go on to kill you. Thus, as early detection gets better in most areas, you detect a greater percentage of cancer that was never going to hurt the patient. However, once you see the cancer, you are duty-bound to slash/burn/poison (Susan Love's famous chapters) to cure it. Statistically speaking, you know you are actually harming some patients, but it is a dilemma -- you hurt all the patients in order to serve a greater good for some percentage of them. A good example is the growing backlash against general PSA screening. Even just a biopsy for prostate cancer can't be 100% risk-free, but the treatment is really risky, assuming you're not enthusiastic about being impotent and/or incontinent for the rest of your life.

So don't get too excited about increased early detection of cancer. Currently, it is usually a double-edged sword that brings suffering to some percentage of patients who would have avoided it before the new test existed. An exciting development would be a detection test for distinguishing cancer that's just sitting there from cancer that's on the move and likely to kill.

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