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Comment 360 machine/assembly, FORTRAN, and PL/1 (Score 1) 629

Changed my major to CS in 1974; my first CS class (BYU), we started with a IBM 360 pseudo-machine code (on punched cards) and then moved on to actual 360 assembly (also on punched cards). Later in the semester, we had to buy a FORTRAN text (which I still have), teach ourselves FORTRAN, and pass a proficiency test. (My professor for that class was Dr Alan Ashton, who would end up being on of the co-authors of Word Perfect. Great teacher.)

At the same time, I started working part time for a computer-assisted translation research project on campus that was using PL/1; my first task was doing data entry of Spanish vocabulary, but I bought a text on PL/1 and started teaching myself.

I'd actually had some brief exposure to BASIC a few years earlier, but not enough to claim it was my first language.

Comment Yes, I do. (Score 3, Insightful) 137

I DVR virtually any sports event I'm interested in. If I'm watching "live", it lets me pause the game for whatever reason, then skip over ads until I catch up again. If I'm not that invested in the game, or if I have other things interfering with seeing it live, I'll record it, see what the final score is, then decide whether I want to actually watch it. The upside is that I can skip thru ads.

Comment $3 million is just pocket change (Score 2) 84

Given that this case has gone on for six (6) years, a $3 million verdict probably won't even cover MobileMedia's legal fees (which, I suspect, the judge will not grant to them on top of the aware; it's unusual for the plaintiff/patent owner to get legal fees on top of damages in these cases). Patent litigation is very expensive, especially if you go to trial; I remember being staggered at what the cumulative per-hour billing rate must have been for one such trial where I testified as an expert. ..bruce..

Comment Been hearing this for, oh, 40 years or so (Score 4, Insightful) 140

Not to be an old programming fart (but, hey!), but this comes up about every 5-10 years. Someone has created a system for automatic program generation that is going to replace programmers (4th generation languages, anyone? How about "The Last One"?), and it turns out to have only limited usefulness.

Of course, code generation programs exist. They've existed almost as long we've been programming computers. The most common are assemblers and compilers, which take in text specifications and generate running code (or sometimes bytecode to be interpreted). And if you stop and think about the difficulties that most of us who code have with making source code that we write produce running code that meets our needs, you can immediately see the issues with replacing or bolting on top of that system a 'source code generation' system. It can work very well as long as you don't exceed what it can actually do and only if the code generation system itself is well-written and reliable. (This is why developers feel a sense of betrayal and anger with compiler bugs more than any other kind of tool bug.)

So, yeah, like strong AI, self-coding systems are always 5 to 10 years out and have been for half a century. ..bruce..

Comment Yep -- it cuts both ways (Score 1) 765

I have personally worked at firms that felt it was OK to lay people off without two-weeks' notice (and without severance pay). So, yeah, I think it's ok. Have I ever done it? No. Would I ever have done it? It would take some pretty extreme circumstances, since I'm a firm believer in not burning bridges (unnecessarily). However, at this point, I'm 63 and self-employed, so it's not likely to come up again in my own life. :-)

Comment Stunned to hear this (Score 3, Insightful) 67

I had bought and read several of Ed's books before I met him; we became colleagues and then friends (albeit not close ones) about 15 years ago. It's been a year or two since we've swapped e-mails, but I continued to see his photography work show up on Facebook from time to time.

And I daresay many of those posting here have no idea how influential Ed was in software engineering developing as a discipline, starting nearly half a century ago. He pioneered and championed many concepts and practices that we would take for granted today, both in technique and process. I am so sorry to hear this. ..bruce..

Comment My perspective (dating back to the early 1960s) (Score 5, Interesting) 189

(A comment I made over at io9 as well.)

As someone who lived through the ‘false dawn of space travel’ (to use Heinlein’s phrase), who grew up intensely following the space program, and who actually worked at NASA/JSC on the Space Shuttle flight simulators back in 1979-80, I can give you my observation: the American people got bored with space. Seriously. No one (outside of a small group of space enthusiasts, such as myself) was clamoring for yet more Apollo missions. TV ratings of flight and moonwalk coverage sank to the basement. It was all just more men in space suits skipping around in a black-and-white environment.

With no public demand or support, neither Congress nor the White House had much stomach for pushing things forward, not when the funds had other uses. The NASA manned flight division evolved into a jobs program, which is why NASA fought against privatization of space flight for so long. (The NASA unmanned space exploration division continued to work miracles, even as it does to this day.)

Of course, the real root problem was that the Apollo approach was fundamentally flawed in the first place; as some wag put it decades ago, it was like building a cruise liner for a single crossing of the Atlantic and sinking everything but one lifeboat at the end of the trip. Prior to Kennedy’s challenge, the US was working on an incremental approach: SSTO (single stage to orbit), gliding re-entry, and a space station. We basically lost half a century due to the Apollo approach (and the horribly expensive, horribly fragile kludge that was the Space Shuttle). Frankly, NASA’s current Orion effort is a repeat of just about all the mistakes we made with Apollo and threatens to soak up NASA’s budget for years to come, even as goal dates keep getting pushed back more and more.

The night that Apollo 11 landed, I was part of a group of friends (we were all high school students) who stayed up all night to watch the coverage. When I heard the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”, I felt the future had begun. I was sure I would live long enough to visit LEO myself and to see humans colonize the moon and land on Mars. If you had described to me back in 1969 what the state of space exploration (and, in particular, US space exploration) would be in 2015, I would not have believed you. And yet here we are.

Comment Oh, for cryin' out loud.... (Score 5, Insightful) 305

Seriously? Seriously? He really doesn't recognize the full implications of what he's proposing? Time to drag out my favorite passage from Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons":

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Comment I've used this for IT project analysis (Score 4, Interesting) 63

Estimating confidence in the completion date for an IT project can be hard. When I've been asked to review a troubled IT project, I've found that a very useful technique to determine how far along the project actually is -- and when it's actually likely to be done -- is to ask those involved at different levels what their "$1,000 confidence level" is -- that is, what date they would be willing to bet $1,000 out of their own pocket that the project will actually be done by. I find that even the most optimistic engineer suddenly turns cautious and starts thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

I then ask what their $10,000 confidence level is. Those answers tend to be the most accurate. ..bruce..

Comment Speaking as an IT expert witness of 16 years... (Score 5, Interesting) 117

...I think the defense has the better argument. I have used software tools (both third party and ones I have developed personally) to do source code comparisons and analysis, but they only serve to point me to likely areas of investigation; I have never directly reported and relied upon the output from one of my custom tools in my expert reports.

A key aspect of expert testimony is that your analysis should, in theory, be repeatable by any other qualified expert using the same methodology (which needs to be spelled out in your report). If Perlin is relying directly upon his custom program for his conclusions, he needs to thoroughly expose his methodology -- which, in effect, means either allowing his source code to be reviewed or producing a detailed summary of his methodology that would allow someone else to reproduce it. Trying to claim trade secret status (which is what he's doing, in effect) for a expert methodology is an oxymoron.

Comment Have they not been watching the new Heroes series? (Score 2) 247

In the new NBC series "Heroes Reborn", the big bad corporation, Renautas, is in effect torturing an "evo" (a person with powers) to use her powers to enable a system that can locate all other evos on Earth, so that they can be rounded up. Their corporate motto? "Doing good is good business."

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