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Comment What do we need? (Score 5, Insightful) 537

Your question implies the following:

  • The we know what a functioning and healthy society looks like and, thus, know what next step we're missing to get there.
  • That there is anything like a consensus on what the "most" important problems are or what their approaches should be.
  • That these are problems with direct solutions in "technology," without cutting-edge domain-specific knowledge.

I'm not sure that any of these is strictly true, and I'm nearly positive that we'll only know most of those answers in hindsight.

How about race relations? There's no app for that. War? You can't solder-up a PCB that convinces governments to stop murdering each other's citizens over differences of opinion.

Speaking of governments, what would a "techie" solution to government oppression look like? We have Tor, cryptocurrencies, steganographic filesystems, and mobile devices that would destroy the data on them before giving it up to an intrusive search, and look at how governments react.

That said, how about some of the areas where technology absolutely has worked on big problems?

Do you think climate change is a big problem? Do you think that the amount of power consumed by information technology globally is a terrifying figure in the face of anthropogenic climate change? This is a problem we know how to fix in "tech," and we're working on it.

Deaths due to traffic accidents? Computer vision and distributed coordination algorithms are at the core of self-driving automobiles.

How about 3D-printed prosthetics, or the medical industry in general? Data processing revolutionized drug research and genome work. Sure, there are more people doing silly apps than designing new systems for doing drug interaction simulation because one requires connections to established research labs, years of work, very expensive studies of efficacy, a decade of postsecondary education to have the domain-specific knowledge, and a hardware budget that runs into the millions; the other requires a crappy $300 laptop and some free software.

If there's a big problem out there that you want solved, either put up, pay up, or shut up.

Comment Horses for Courses / Multiple Times a Day (Score 1) 331

My primary work product is a C/C++ manufacturing process-control application with bits of Lua and Perl embedded in it. Surrounding it are some web services, which I generally write in Python and Perl, with the front-ends obviously in Javascript.. There are some backend data-crunching services that process XML, and I've written those in Java.

A totally separate media-oriented project is a spitball of shell scripts, Perl, Javascript, and C, which I'm slowly replacing with Python, C++, Javascript, and Go. It's less a case of tossing the old code to replace it with something nifty and more the case of refactoring the code into a better-fitting implementation, now that we have a decade or so of use-cases to reflect upon.

I used to be a "C or GTFO" sort of guy until I realized how much time I was wasting by reimplementing hash tables and B-trees wherever I needed them. Python and Perl are decidedly Not Fast, but if they don't have to be fast, I can save a lot of stress and reduce the technical debt of code maintenance by writing the program in something where the problem domain fits better idiomatically. Sure, Java is annoying, but if you need to fan-out a couple hundred threads of data crunching, and your source data and results are in XML, the only thing that might fit better is C#.

I once read the suggestion to learn a new programming language every year. Do this. Get past "Hello, World," and at least solve toy problems. If you came from C, your whole world will change when you "get" map. If you came from Javascript, you'll have a whole new appreciation for the machine when you grok pointers. Try writing a piece of code in a functional style in a nonfunctional language (especially C) and discover how the language works against you and your resulting code is woefully inefficient.

Then, you'll be in a great position to embrace whatever tools you find and select the best one for the task at hand.

Comment But That's How We've Always Done It! (Score 2) 57

The significance of the advisory isn't that the initial firmware can be replaced. As indicated, that's a standard feature not only with Cisco gear but just about any computing device.

This is what should change. Firmware being read-write without some significant intervention is a huge factor in the current generation of vulnerabilities. Why is ROMMON write-enabled without moving a jumper or flipping a physical switch on the chassis?

Why can we update firmware on our PCs without needing to reboot into some special mode first? That stuff should be read-only (preferably with a hardware latch on the write-enable pin that's only cleared by a processor reset) as early as possible in the boot sequence.

The general case is that we do not update firmware while running the device. Even if you did that thirty times in the lifetime of the computer, they'd still be relatively exceptional cases. Why is the default behavior to trust that the OS will be bug-free enough to protect something so critical?

Or maybe I'm just getting old. Break out the UV EPROM-eraser and get off my lawn!

Comment Re:This is not how you inspire confidence (Score 2) 151

In this particular case, yes. There will always be non-exploitable bugs.

The problem is that when you begin to dismiss bugs as non-exploitable (whether you've fixed them or not) and their reports as "overblown," you put yourself in the unfortunate position of only needing to be wrong once. Specifically, dismissing bug reports with the notion that the bug would never be exploitable—not because the bug is "beyond the airtight hatchway," but because no one would be dumb enough to write an application in a particularly boneheaded way discounts decades of examples of people writing software in amazingly boneheaded ways.

Whether it's true or not (and, in this case, it seems true), this is not a way to inspire confidence, and an SSL implementation needs every bit as much community confidence as it does technical correctness.

Comment Re:That's strangely sane and oddly normal. (Score 1) 229

The person penalized did, or allowed to be done, something illegal but not especially malicious or very damaging. They face a penalty which will certainly be unwelcome and which will probably encourage them to act within the law. No huge court case, no lives wrecked, no lawyers riding the gravy train. *This is how a legal system is supposed to be.*

Granted, that's a far sight better than how things are here in the US, but to say that's how things are "supposed to be" is aiming pretty low. That's still a legal system that spends taxpayer money to defend the "property" of copyright holders from nebulous threats, and punishes people for activities that have no provable harm to anyone. Wouldn't it be far more preferable to have a system that spends its time restituting actual victims instead of collecting arbitrary fines from people who aren't hurting anyone, perhaps a system that considered impact instead of looking at who's coloring outside the lines drawn by politicians?

I will furthermore submit that "The Rule of Law" will always be "The Rule of Lawyers" so long as the lawyers are the ones constructing laws prohibiting whatever behavior the well-connected consider inappropriate.

Comment Re:It depends - Sticktion Y2K Repair (Score 1) 504

"Back in the day" (mid-90s) when that was more common, the term for it was "stiction." I don't know if it's less common these days because disk mechanisms are more reliable, the lubricants are better, or machines have much shorter average service lifetimes.

SGI field-service engineers actually had a rubber mallet specifically dedicated to coaxing stictioned drives to run for long enough to get the data off them. The Micropolis disks they shipped in their workstations back then were notorious for that (among many other problems). The company I worked for at the time had such a service call, and the technician told me that the hard part wasn't getting the disk running again, but convincing the disk that whanging the disk with a hammer was a sane thing to do!

Comment Re:Actually sounds interesting... (Score 3, Informative) 83

Have you heard of the Software Engineering Radio podcast? I've been listening to it for a few years, and I really enjoy it—even if I don't share Markus' enthusiasm for model-driven software. The web site is at http://www.se-radio.net/, and even the back issues are worth listening to (processes don't get dated nearly as rapidly as tools).

Comment They're ALL Betas (Score 5, Informative) 237

From the big Bugzilla thread about version numbers earlier this week:

Users cannot sit on Firefox 4.x They will be updated to the latest version when they open the About dialog (or sooner) because all* but the current Firefox release are unsupported versions in the new rapid release cycle. Those not current versions do not not get critical security updates except via the current version. Firefox users will not be spread across Firefox 4, 5, 6, etc. They will be on the latest version or they will be about to be on the latest version.

Effective expiration, lack of bugfixes, and rapidly replaced by newer versions with bugfixes? By any practical definition, there is no stable version. They're all betas from here onwards. The whole notion of a release isn't that it's bug-free, but that it's supported for a reasonably-long period of time.

Comment Re:St. Reagan (Score 1) 788

One of the few constants in government is the "It's not <bad-thing> when we do it" trope.

Asset forfeiture? It's not stealing when we do it. Beating an unarmed man because he was videotaping police misconduct? It's not battery when we do it. Shooting a deaf whittler in the back? It's not murder when we do it.

The opposition party always does thoughtless, foolhardy, destructive, tyrannical things. However, they're not bad when we do them. "Small government" Republicans got the country further into debt in the last ten years than it'd been in fifty, and "peace prize" Democrats still wage war overseas. Thugs, the whole lot of them.

Space

Submission + - Rogue Brown Dwarf Lurks in Our Cosmic Neighborhood (discovery.com)

astroengine writes: "The UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii has discovered a lone, cool brown dwarf called UGPSJ0722-05. As far as sub-stellar objects go, this is a strange one. For starters, it's the coolest brown dwarf ever discovered (and astronomers using the UKIRT should know, they are making a habit of finding cool brown dwarfs). Secondly, it's close. In fact, it's the closest brown dwarf to Earth, at a distance of only 10 light years. And thirdly, it has an odd spectroscopic signature, leading astronomers to think that this might be the discovery of a whole new class of brown dwarf."

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