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On the Humble Default

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the ne-pas-décider-c'est-décider dept.

Programming 339

Hugh Pickens sends along Kevin Kelly's paean to the default. "One of the greatest unappreciated inventions of modern life is the default. 'Default' is a technical concept first used in computer science in the 1960s to indicate a preset standard. ... Today the notion of a default has spread beyond computer science to the culture at large. It seems such a small thing, but the idea of the default is fundamental... It's hard to remember a time when defaults were not part of life. But defaults only arose as computing spread; they are an attribute of complex technological systems. There were no defaults in the industrial age. ... The hallmark of flexible technological systems is the ease by which they can be rewired, modified, reprogrammed, adapted, and changed to suit new uses and new users. Many (not all) of their assumptions can be altered. The upside to endless flexibility and multiple defaults lies in the genuine choice that an individual now has, if one wants it. ... Choices materialize when summoned. But these abundant choices never appeared in fixed designs. ... In properly designed default system, I always have my full freedoms, yet my choices are presented to me in a way that encourages taking those choices in time — in an incremental and educated manner. Defaults are a tool that tame expanding choice."

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It's not my fault (3, Funny)

cjeze (596987) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449445)

response by default

Re:It's not my fault (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449615)

Dumb ass. Why didn't you make some clever comment about how first post should default to "frist post" or "frosty piss" or something.

Re:It's not my fault (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449653)

Dumb ass. Why didn't you make some clever comment about how first post should default to "frist post" or "frosty piss" or something.

What's wrong with a nigger joke?

Re:It's not my fault (0, Offtopic)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450117)

Red Foreman! You leave that boy alone!

Netcraft confirms *BSD is dying (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449459)

Suicide is Painless

In 2000, chief *BSD developer Matt Damon left the project after penning a long, meandering suicide note, loosely based on a novel by renowned playwright Buzz Aldrin.

        FreeBSD used to be fun. It used to be about doing things the right way. It used to be something that you could sink your teeth into when the mundane chores of programming for a living got you down. It was something cool and exciting; a way to spend your spare time on an endeavour you loved that was at the same time wholesome and worthwhile.

        It's not anymore. It's about bylaws and committees and reports and milestones, telling others what to do and doing what you're told. It's about who can rant the longest or shout the loudest or mislead the most people into a bloc in order to legitimise doing what they think is best. Individuals notwithstanding, the project as a whole has lost track of where it's going, and has instead become obsessed with process and mechanics.

[edit] Netcraft Weighs In

Not long after Matt's suicide, the United Nations Commission for Wresting Control of the DNS Root Servers from the Imperialist United States ("UN-USA")'s Netcraft project weighed in with its final judgement. In typical Netcraft fashion, the writer kept to the facts and looked to the numbers:

        It is now official. Netcraft has confirmed: *BSD is dying

        One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered *BSD community when IDC confirmed that *BSD market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that *BSD has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. *BSD is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last [] in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.

        You don't need to be the Amazing Kreskin [] to predict *BSD's future. The hand writing is on the wall: *BSD faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for *BSD because *BSD is dying. Things are looking very bad for *BSD. As many of us are already aware, *BSD continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

        FreeBSD is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time FreeBSD developers Jordan Hubbard and Mike Smith only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: FreeBSD is dying.

        Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

        OpenBSD leader Theo states that there are 7000 users of OpenBSD. How many users of NetBSD are there? Let's see. The number of OpenBSD versus NetBSD posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 NetBSD users. BSD/OS posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of NetBSD posts. Therefore there are about 700 users of BSD/OS. A recent article put FreeBSD at about 80 percent of the *BSD market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 FreeBSD users. This is consistent with the number of FreeBSD Usenet posts.

        Due to the troubles of Walnut Creek, abysmal sales and so on, FreeBSD went out of business and was taken over by BSDI who sell another troubled OS. Now BSDI is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

        All major surveys show that *BSD has steadily declined in market share. *BSD is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If *BSD is to survive at all it will be among OS dilettante dabblers. *BSD continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, *BSD is dead.

That crippling bombshell sent *BSD fans into a tailspin of mourning and denial. However, bad news poured in like a river of water.
[edit] Commission for Technology Management

In 2003, the widely respected Commission for Technology Management completed a year-long intensive survey that concluded that *BSD may as well already be dead.

        Yet another sickening blow has struck what's left of the *BSD community, as a soon-to-be-released report by the independent Commision for Technology Management (CTM) after a year-long study has concluded: *BSD is already dead. Here are some of the commission's findings:

        Fact: the *BSDs have balkanized yet again. There are now no less than twelve separate, competing *BSD projects, each of which has introduced fundamental incompatibilities with the other *BSDs, and frequently with Unix standards. Average number of developers in each project: fewer than five. Average number of users per project: there are no definitive numbers, but reports show that all projects are on the decline.

        Fact: will not include support for *BSD. The newly formed group believes that the *BSDs have strayed too far from Unix standards and have become too difficult to support along with Linux and Solaris x86. "It's too much trouble," said one anonymous developer. "If they want to make their own standards, let them doing the porting for us."

        Fact: DragonflyBSD, yet another offshoot of the beleaguered FreeBSD "project", is already collapsing under the weight of internal power struggles and in-fighting. "They haven't done a single decent release," notes Mark Baron, an industry watcher and columnist. "Their mailing lists read like an online version of a Jerry Springer episode, complete with food fights, swearing, name-calling, and chair-throwing." Netcraft reports that DragonflyBSD is run on exactly 0% of internet servers.

        Fact: There are almost no FreeBSD developers left, and its use, according to Netcraft, is down to a sadly crippled .005% of internet servers. A recent attempt at a face-to-face summit in Boulder, Colorado culminated in an out-and-out fistfight between core developers, reportedly over code commenting formats (tabs vs. spaces). Hotel security guards broke up the melee and banned the participants from the hotel. Two of the developers were hospitalized, and one continues to have his jaw wired shut.

        Fact: NetBSD, which claims to focus on portability (whatever that is supposed to mean), is slow, and cannot take advantage of multiple CPUs. "That about drove the last nail in the coffin for BSD use here," said Michael Curry, CTO of "We took our NetBSD boxes out to the backyard and shot them in the head. We're much happier running Linux."

        Fact: *BSD has no support from the media. Number of Linux magazines available at bookstores: 5 (Linux Journal, Linux World, Linux Developer, Linux Format, Linux User). Number of available *BSD magazines: 0. Current count of Linux-oriented technical books: 1071. Current count of *BSD books: 6.

        Fact: Many user-level applications will no longer work under *BSD, and no one is working to change this. The GIMP, a Photoshop-like application, has not worked at all under *BSD since version 1.1 (sorry, too much trouble for such a small base, developers have said). OpenOffice, a Microsoft Office clone, has never worked under *BSD and never will. ("Why would we bother?" said developer Steven Andrews, an OpenOffice team lead.)

        Fact: servers running OpenBSD, which claims to focus on security, are frequently compromised. According to Jim Markham, editor of the online security forum SecurityWatch, the few OpenBSD servers that exist on the internet have become a joke among the hacker community. "They make a game out of it," he says. "(OpenBSD leader) Theo [de Raadt] will scramble to make a new patch to fix one problem, and they've already compromised a bunch of boxes with a different exploit."

        With these incontroverible facts staring (what's left of) the *BSD community in the face, they can only draw one conclusion: *BSD is already dead.

[edit] Wired Writes an Epitaph

In 2004, Wired Magazine published an article in which it declared *BSD dead, once and for all. The article also declared Linux superior to *BSD.


                * BSD is Dying, Says Respected Journal

        Linux advocates have long insisted that open-source development results in better and more secure software. Now they have statistics to back up their claims.

        According to a four-year analysis of the 5.7 million lines of Linux source code conducted by five Stanford University computer science researchers, the Linux kernel programming code is better and more secure than the programming code of *BSD.

        The report, set to be released on Tuesday, states that the 2.6 Linux production kernel, shipped with software from Red Hat, Novell and other major Linux software vendors, contains 985 bugs in 5.7 million lines of code, well below the average for *BSD software. NetBSD, by comparison, contains about 40 million lines of code, with new bugs found on a frequent basis.

                * BSD software typically has 20 to 30 bugs for every 1,000 lines of code, according to a group of Carnegie Mellon University's pot-smoking hippies. This would be equivalent to 114,000 to 171,000 bugs in 5.7 million lines of code.

        The study identified 0.17 bugs per 1,000 lines of code in the Linux kernel. Of the 985 bugs identified, 627 were in critical parts of the kernel. Another 569 could cause a system crash, 100 were security holes, and 33 of the bugs could result in less-than-optimal system performance.

        Seth Hell, CEO of Covertitude, a provider of source-code analysis, noted that the majority of the bugs documented in the study have already been fixed by members of the Linux development community.

        "Our findings show that Linux contains an extremely low defect rate and is evidence of the strong security of Linux," said Hell. "Many security holes in software are the result of software bugs that can be eliminated with good programming processes."

        The Linux source-code analysis project started in 2000 at the Stanford University Computer Science Research Center as part of a large research initiative to improve core software engineering processes in the software industry.

        The initiative now continues at Covertitude, a software engineering startup that now employs the five researchers who conducted the study. Covertitude said it intends to start providing Linux bug analysis reports on a regular basis and will make a summary of the results freely available to the Linux development community.

        "This is a benefit to the Linux development community, and we appreciate Coverity's efforts to help us improve the security and stability of Linux," said Andrew Mumpkins, lead Linux kernel maintainer. Mumpkins said developers have already addressed the top-priority bugs uncovered in the study.

[edit] The Obituary

On September 9, 2005, *BSD was finally declared dead. The following obituary appeared in the Berkeley Observer:

        * BSD Obituary

        * BSD, 28, of Berkeley, CA died Monday, Sept. 19, 2005. Born July 3, 1976, it was the creation of a cluster of pot-smoking hippies who went to Illinois and came home with a reel of tape. Rather than smoke the tape, they uploaded it and hacked on it a little.

        * BSD was known for its C shell and early TCP/IP implementation. After being banished from UC Berkeley, it was ported to the x86 platform, where it fell into the hands of heavier pot-smokers who liked to argue. Soon, the project had splintered into 12 different Balkanized projects. Until its death, there was almost constant fighting in and amongst these groups, sometimes degenerating into out-and-out fistfights.

        * BSD is survived by its superior, Linux, as well as several commercial unix implementations. It may be missed by some who knew it, although most of them are said to be mere OS dilettante dabblers.

A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Berkeley Chapel on the UC campus, with interment to follow via the burning of the original *BSD tapes and scattering of the ashes over the San Francisco Bay. The Rev. Lou "Buddy" Stubbs will officiate.

The family will receive friends from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the funeral home.
[edit] Enemies of *BSD

        * Microsoft enjoyed this. Steve Ballmer claimed that he would Fucking Killâ BSD and now it finally is happening. Bill Gates is doing the happy dance.

        * Linux was very happy, and a new version of Super Tux was made with the BSD Deamon and other BSD characters as the new enemies. Except for Rinux which seemed to only have Mario type games with enemies named Billy and Bally and Mario had to break Windows instead of boxes.

        * Apple knew that they no longer had to pay royalties for using *BSD technologies, not that they really contributed anything important to *BSD like that nifty GUI based on Aqua, or Safari, or Sherlock, or Doctor Watson, or Moriarty, or even iTunes, or those special screen savers that Apple made. In fact, Mac OSX no longer uses any *BSD code, and Steve Jobs took up Kitten Huffing after counting the profits Apple made from sales of the iPod and new Macintosh systems.

It's not default... (3, Funny)

realnrh (1298639) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449463)

... of de programming language that your code doesn't compile!

Slashdot defaults (4, Insightful)

IntlHarvester (11985) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449465)

Do the defaults on slashdot still require posters to manually type HTML codes for line breaks?

I always thought the misleading options on the posting form were a pretty funny newbie filter. Welcome to slashdot, RTFM.

Re:Slashdot defaults (2, Funny)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449491)

Oh! I remember my first post. It was all neatly formatted, and then I pressed the Submit button, and it came out as a huge wall of text.

Ahh, good times.

Re:Slashdot defaults (0, Offtopic)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449529)

Really? HTML formatted vs "plain old text" made sense to me.

Re:Slashdot defaults (1, Offtopic)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449885)

Except that "Plain Text" still allows all the same HTML tags, and does a lousy job of formatting line breaks.

Re:Slashdot defaults (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449933)

Really? HTML formatted vs "plain old text" made sense to me.

Except that plain old text is really just html with newlines replaced by <br>

Go ahead, try displaying some unequalities like x < 1 without replacing the < with &lt;

Look at our financial system (4, Funny)

stox (131684) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449471)

More and more are taking the choice to default than ever before.

Re:Look at our financial system (1)

patro (104336) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449735)

Yep, in the current economic situation it's not a wise thing to talk about the default.

The Chinese read Slashdot too, you know.

tienanmen (3, Funny)

lorenzo.boccaccia (1263310) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449797)

tienanmen tienanmen tienanmen tienanmen
here, they may look at it no more, talk freely

Re:tienanmen (1)

BobReturns (1424847) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449827)

Well... It would have worked if you'd spelt it right.


Re:tienanmen (1)

diskis (221264) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449955)

Re:tienanmen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450109)

You mean those chinese filters are way strict on spelling?

Free Teebet, then.

And free the western world from its financial system too, debt is slavery.

On a related note (0, Flamebait)

realnrh (1298639) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449475)

If I request in this comment that people not respond to it, for how many people will the default behavior be responding to it? Please do not respond to this comment.

Re:On a related note (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449487)

Default behavior is to respond to this comment.

Please do not respond to this response.

Re:On a related note (2, Funny)

causality (777677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449657)

Please do not respond to this response.


Re:On a related note (1)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449707)

I wonder what would happen [] if I responded to your comment.
(of course, one of the /. defaults is linking to xkcd)

What? (0)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449481)

What the hell does any of that incomprehensible gibberish mean?

'Default good lol 'cause like computers are hard'?


Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449779)

Do any of your linux folks know if one always had to roll their own kernel back in the day, or could one get a generic one?

I never used linux, but still remember the good old default-less days when installing freebsd required you to type in the number of heads/sectors in your hard drive, and the horizontal refresh rate of your monitor.

That horizontal refresh was a real bitch the first time around. And you'd have to sit down and figure out that it had something to do with the number of your screen pixels and the desired frame rate. No reasonable defaults. No nothing, just an empty field taking numbers 0-999, and if you calculate wrong, your system boots to a blank screen, and you have to reinstall and try again.

That's the beauty of a default: it'll just freaking work. Not ideally, but good enough to get you going and let you change it later on, at your own pace.

Re:What? (2, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450035)

That's the beauty of a default: it'll just freaking work. Not ideally, but good enough to get you going and let you change it later on, at your own pace.

Wrong. That's hardware detection. And it's gotten so good I don't even have an xorg.conf anymore.

Re:What? (1)

AlterRNow (1215236) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450265)

I have an SLI system and ( I believe my motherboard is damaged ) most of the time the second card isn't "present" so sometimes when I boot, there are 2 cards, sometimes one. Now, when this second card magically appears, xorg can't figure out which one is the primary device ( I'm fairly sure the first one would be a good default ) and I get "no screens found" in the logs and X won't start. Took me a little while to figure that out and fixed it with a Busid line in xorg.conf.

Probably would have fixed it faster if I'd actually looked at the logs straight away and I'm fortunate to have multiple computers ( quick google search led me to the answer ). I'm guessing the problem arose from the second card not being present during the installation.. so the hardware detection still has some ( minor but significant ) gaps.

Dunno... I didn't RTFA ;) (2, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450243)

But defaults aren't automatically good. Good defaults are good. Bad defaults aren't ;).

So what are good defaults for configuration? I think of it as a form of compression.

The most common+safe+useful settings should be the default. The trouble is figuring out the right balance of safety and usability for your product or system.

It's not easy to get right, and that's why a lot of stuff is crappy or just mediocre[1] ;).

For many things it doesn't have to be just "default vs ADVANCED mode with zillions of settings".

It could be: Small, Regular, Large, Extra Large, Custom/Advanced. With Regular being the default selected option.

See the compression of the decision tree? You don't want most of your users to have to make too many unnecessary decisions. Even if they can make the decisions - it's more work for them and makes things more error prone.

McD doesn't have their staff ask users the details of what they want upfront- they don't ask whether you want ketchup, pickle etc. The sets are listed and there's Regular and Large (and supersize?). Any further customization if possible is on demand.

And they go "Will you have fries with that" even if you already said "No" or "yes" to fries... Hmmm maybe McD isn't such a good example ;).

[1] The dev gives up thinking really hard about what the default should be, picks the first somewhat usable one and replies with "WORKSFORME" if users complain.

Bollocks (5, Interesting)

tonyr60 (32153) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449495)

Default was first used in computer science in the 1960s because that is when computer science, as we knew it, began. It was picked up from common usage outside of computer science, and was general use well before then. Unfortunately I am old enough to remember it as a common term in the 1950s. For example the default land area for a house (at least in my part of the world) was a quarter of an acre and it used to be referred to as the default area.

Re:Bollocks (1)

EricX2 (670266) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449637)

I had to explain what default meant to my dad a few years ago... to him it meant this:

Failure to perform a task or fulfill an obligation, especially failure to meet a financial obligation: in default on a loan.

Although from your subject I'm guessing your part of the world and my part of the world are far apart... :)

Re:Bollocks (4, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449781)

I remember running into this type of issue at my first programming job, almost thirty years ago. I told my boss (the owner of the company) that in order to get the software to do what he wanted, we had to change some of the defaults on the computer. He insisted that I was wrong, because he hadn't missed any payments on any loans, and I was never able to get him to understand that the term had a different meaning when you're talking about computers. Still, he wasn't a techno-phobe by any means, he was computerizing his business long before it became common.

Re:Bollocks (1)

JakartaDean (834076) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449693)

Wow, they made 'em big where you lived. Each house is almost 11,000 square feet [] ? Are you sure you didn't mean the average mansion?

Re:Bollocks (3, Funny)

Deltaspectre (796409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449737)

On the contrary, these houses had traded much of their living space for this thing called a yard. Not to be confused with the measurement, a yard was the area generally unused by the house left grassy.

Land Area (2, Informative)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449809)

Each house is almost 11,000 square feet?

Land area means the land the house sits on, not only the house. A quarter acre is not really that large.

Re:Bollocks (3, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450151)

It was picked up from common usage outside of computer science, and was general use well before then.

Phew, for a moment there I thought that before computer science was invented, everything came in random configuration.

This whole story is a waste of space. Slow news day I guess.

Re:Bollocks (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450331)

We were using it in England back in the 1500's...

Even as soon as thou canst, for thou hast to pull at
a smack o' the contrary. If ever thou be'st bound
in thy scarf and beaten, thou shalt find what it is
to be proud of thy bondage. I have a desire to hold
my acquaintance with thee, or rather my knowledge,
that I may say in the default, he is a man I know.

William Shakespeare

Anonymous Coward (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449497)

Defaults have been around for a long time. For example. When an electrician installs your light switch, the default is for up to mean ON, and down to mean OFF. To flush most toilets, push Down on the lever. etc

Re:Anonymous Coward (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449601)

That is NOT what default means. That's called STANDARD.

Default is when you DON'T choose an option and then it's already set in some way _exactly because_ you did not choose any.

That's what default means. When an option is set because you did not set it yourself. It's NOT the same as _standard_.

Re:Anonymous Coward (2, Funny)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449895)

Like the light switch being in the OFF position when it's first installed. Not that you can see it, because the lights are off.

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449629)

That is a standard, not a default. A default is a common initial setting, e.g. all light switches starting out in the 'off' position when installed (which is a terrible example).

root word of Default is "fault" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449763)

Not On or Off, silly.

default only continues along that choice of flaw. All "courts" I've ever had go after me would try to misplace their trust as though they are helping me do evil, by taking common mistakes and misconceptions out of my control and then slandering and libeling them to be an abstract of character with implicit admittance on my behalf to make me out as a wicked man through the Doctrine of Principal and Agent.

Do not trust, and by all means court(v.) the corportate court(n.) executing that administrative task with unclean hands and bad faith!

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450233)

It would not be a setting if there were not a choice to be made. Again, "default" is what you get if you choose to not choose.

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450307)

It would not be a setting if there were not a choice to be made.


Again, "default" is what you get if you choose to not choose.

That's pretty much what I said. Choosing not to choose is the same as accepting the initial setting.

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

diskis (221264) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449973)

Not in all countries. In some countries the light is turned on by flipping the switch down. Gets confusing for the first few weeks.

How hard can it be? (1)

Tinctorius (1529849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450079)

Just toggle the switch if you don't like the current setting for the light. Works on multiway switches [] too.

Re:How hard can it be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450191)

It gets hard when you're living in a house that was wired by the landlord's brother-in-law's friend and half the switches go one way, and half the other, sometimes when they are right next to each other.
Okay, it's fine when you're awake, but when you've staggered out at 4am to deal with some of the beer you've drunk, tripped over the cat, and stepped in something warm and soft, you really don't want to be trying to figure out which way to toggle the damn switches!

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450315)

Sometimes they are on the wrong side of the door, too. I can't count the number of times I slapped my hand to the right of the doors in my old house.

Right is the standard here.

Not only that (1)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449507)

... but them damn defaults are also responsible for a good number of security vulnerabilities. Default passwords and what not.

Bah-loney (5, Insightful)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449521)

I don't subscribe to his crazy theory. If defaults are to be defined as a configurable initial state, then they've been around for a lot longer than he's claiming. He's just writing for the sake of reading his own words.

Do you suppose he wrote it to be judged by you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449673)

Res Judicata trumps Default judgments of all shape and form.

Mr. Bill, YOU are hereby sentenced to 4 more years of
(.) Fark
(.) Digg
(X) 4chan
where you will
(.) moderate
(X) passively view and learn to live in harmony with
(.) profit
  all journalists documenting
  (.) technology
  (.) Apple art
  (.) home surgery
  (.) Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail...
  (X) Other (please fill-in below)

      Private Administrative Remedies
     ________________ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Re:Bah-loney (4, Funny)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449705)

"He's just writing for the sake of reading his own words."

That's default motivation for writing.

Re:Bah-loney (2, Interesting)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449721)

If defaults are to be defined as a configurable initial state, then they've been around for a lot longer than he's claiming.

As far as I can see, his point is that only in the past half century humans have started to consider default as a valid configuration and engineers carefully tweaked the default to be what most of their customers needed.

Re:Bah-loney (5, Funny)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449979)

As a French person, I resent what the author is implying. Defau(l)t is a french word. It means "inaction", "failure", or "inactive state". And if anybody invented "inaction", we certainly did. We have prior art. It's part of our cultural heritage. And you guys, you were just lucky that we even taught it to Great Britain in the twelve century, for without that specialized knowledge, that special concept of defaults would never even have arrived in America!!

Re:Bah-loney (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450163)

"As a French person, I resent wh ... "

Have you no shame?

Default is way older (4, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449567)

We might not have called it that, but default solutions and default products have been around since the invention of mass production. From then on, there was a "default" product, a standard product that works as the default if you didn't order something specifically different.

Hell, even the spanish inquisition had a default verdict.

Re:Default is way older (5, Funny)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449659)

Hell, even the spanish inquisition had a default verdict.

Well, I didn't expect the spanish inquisition to come up in this context!

Re:Default is way older (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449679)

As long as nobody brings up Nazis, we're all okay

Re:Default is way older (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450283)

You never expect the spanish inquisition! Kids, learn your pop culture refs.

Re:Default is way older (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449717)

No one expects the Spanish inquisition!!

Re:Default is way older (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450093)

Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!

Re:Default is way older (0, Redundant)

OneSmartFellow (716217) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450253)

Nobody did

Re:constant verdict (1)

pr100 (653298) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449987)

The Spanish Inquisition had a constant verdict - even simpler than a default one.

wow zzz (1)

cathector (972646) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449597)

> Choices materialize when summoned. [rest elided]

Bah-um? (1)

pasakie (1027816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449611)

i thought da fault came from cali... 'neath etsy.

1960's? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449681)

Last time I checked, Computer Science has been around since way before the 1960's.

Re:1960's? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449993)

Perhaps the writer means "software engineering" instead of computer science? It's an understandable confusion, since the modern CS curriculum is basically there to churn out software engineers, with perhaps a few watered-down courses on computer science thrown in.

Re:1960's? (1)

satoshi1 (794000) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450165)

Not at my school... I was under that impression as well, but most of the courses here ended up being algorithms and math related...

A good translation for default to other languages (4, Interesting)

codekavi (459992) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449685)

Non English speakers / translators!

Did you have trouble translating the word "default" into other languages? How difficult/easy was it to find a translation for "default" for user manuals in, say, jp or cn or fr?

Asking because I had trouble figuring out a good word for it in Hindi. Still not sure if we have the right word.

Do note that /. only allows ascii in posts.

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (3, Interesting)

codekavi (459992) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449803)

Asking because I had trouble figuring out a good word for it in Hindi. Still not sure if we have the right word. Forgot to add: the closest translation I could come to was "pre-decided" and that doesn't seem to mean the same thing as "default" - it should actually be a word or phrase that means "pre-decided but modifiable to something else".

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

zwei2stein (782480) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449977)

I have seen it translated as equivalent of pre-set or initial-settings or factory-settings.

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (3, Informative)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449861)

Quite easy in Chinese. Since /. is too US-centric to tolerate Unicode, I'll just post the Unicode codepoints for these two characters: U+9ED8 and U+8BA4. Look them up in a Unicode table ;)

This Chinese word for "default", in a more literal translation, means "tacitly accepted/recognized". It has nothing to do with the financial meaning of the word "default", which translates to a completely different word in Chinese.

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449873)

Sorry for replying to myself, but on a second thought, I found that the phrase might be translated more accurately as "accepted without an explicit choice/decision". Anyway, I hope you get the idea ;)

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449913)

Of course, the financial meaning of default comes from the original meaning which is the default reconciliation of a (loan) contract when its terms are breached.

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

davidgay (569650) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449927)

Well the French word starts with d, contains an f, and ends in t. And it isn't borrowed from English either. Hmm...

David Gay

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

PearsSoap (1384741) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449965)

In French, it's usually par defaut, which is unsurprising considering the number of words we share.

The etymology of the word is more apparent in French: it can be understood as de faute, literally "by lack [of something better/else]". You could translate the whole thing as "because of lacking-of-something-betterness".

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449981)

Do note that /. only allows ascii in posts.

Yeah, about that.....I asked for UTF8 and as a result we got strange bars and colored dots. Careful what you ask for on slashdot. They just might do something. I still remember the horror of the pink ponies....

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (1)

Tinctorius (1529849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450125)

I often see it translated as "standaard" (adj.), mostly as "standaardwaarde" ("standard value") in Dutch. A more accurate translation would be "verstekwaarde" (literally "default value"), but I doubt many users would understand that word nowadays.

Re:A good translation for default to other languag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450311)

English language has so very very few words that I would imagine translating FROM English to some other language would rarely be a problem.

In Icelandic (2, Informative)

Exception Duck (1524809) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450329)

In Icelandic
It is "SjÃlfgefiÃ" or "Sjalfgefid"(since the special characters get fubar) which translated literally to English, would mean "Given by itself".

I think it's a very old word, since it also can mean "taking something for granted".

On the not so humble paean (3, Insightful)

tgv (254536) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449711)

Does convoluted writing add credibility to your statement?

Does not knowing the slightest thing about cognitive psychology help you get attention?

Not in the rest of the world, but on /. it gets you to the front page.

In fashion everywhere I work (2, Funny)

xcut (1533357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449733)

Ever since Lehman Brothers, the default has definitely been making a comeback. Let's see how much money I lost today.

A few examples (2, Interesting)

Pascal Sartoretti (454385) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449759)

I don't know if defaults really appeared in the 1960's in IT, but this guy has a point : computers and others toys have become so somplex these days that the quality of a device or application often lies in the choices made by its designers. A few examples:
  • Apple is excellent at producing things which "just work", among others because the default values are chosen with care, and only a few can be overriden with a configuration GUI. Some people like it, some hate it.
  • FireFox is a great browser because its default values are also chosen with care, so that an "out of the box" FireFox is easy to use and relatively safe at the same time. Contrarily to Apple, however, FireFox's default settings can be altered; this can be done at different levels (native configuration GUI, extensions, or about:config) depending on the user's capabilities. What makes FireFox great is that it is at the same time a good browser for beginners AND for advanced users.

Re:A few examples (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450179)

SENDMAIL.... it works!!

Default is for wimps... (5, Funny)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449775)

No real geek/nerd would ever even consider using the default settings. Only real men use the default, real geeks use their own settings. Thats why none of their shit works.

Pre-1950 systems with configurable defaults. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449777)

I'm trying to think of something prior to 1950 that had an overridable, configurable default. It's hard. Business telephone systems had some configurable defaults, but setting them up required physical wiring. The same was true of Plan 55-A Teletype message switching. IBM plugboard-wired tabulators didn't really have defaults as we think of them today. Machine tools had adjustable speeds and feeds, but no real defaults. Jacquard looms didn't have defaults. Linotypes didn't have defaults. Chain-programmed embroidery machines - no.

The closest thing I can think of was General Railway Signal's NX signaling system [] for controlling railroad interlockings. This 1930s system may have been the first "user-friendly interface". An NX system controlled multiple switches and signals in an area (an "interlocking") preventing conflicts. Interlocked signal controls had been around for years, and they handled the safety issue, but before NX, it was the user's responsibility to figure out the desired path from A to B. With an NX system, you selected an "entry" point where a train was going to enter the interlocking, and all the reachable "exit" points would light up. The "reachable" logic took into account other trains that were in the interlocking area. When the operator selected an "exit", the NX system would pick a path between the entry and exit, routing around other trains or even track locked out of service.

A default "best" routing was hard-wired into the system, but the operator could override the default routing manually, by picking some intermediate point along the path as the "exit", then selecting that as an "entry" and picking the final "exit".

That's the oldest system I know of with a real "default" mechanism.

Re:Pre-1950 systems with configurable defaults. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449901)

It's hard.

Look for complexity. carburetor; came with default jets, default choke settings, etc. phones (traditional land line); default area code. transmissions; overdrive by default, non-overdrive if commanded. High end CB radios would ship with certain presets by default. tape recorder; default recording speed, high speed, higher speed.

Does any of that really compare to what the writer has mind; complex systems with thousands of designer configured defaults? Not really.

The point is that we're using systems that far exceed our capacity to configure from scratch. We're still figuring out how to cope with this mess as well. It's easy to put a system in a non-working state by playing with the knobs too much. Often it's hard to revert the damage. That isn't stopping anyone from piling on more and more knobs. Designers often make very poor default choices as well.

Bunch of Wank (2, Insightful)

Hecatonchires (231908) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449815)

The limited production in ages past meant that EVERYTHING was default. Want a car? Here's a Model T. It comes in black. Want bread? It comes in white. Sliced. (Wooo!) Defaults aren't new, they are a return to an older, simpler time, when many of your choices were assumed based on limitations.

Re:Bunch of Wank (2, Informative)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449937)

It's not a default if it can't be configured.

Re:Bunch of Wank (0)

addsalt (985163) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450065)

The limited production in ages past meant that EVERYTHING was default. Want a car? Here's a Model T. It comes in black.

Is it valid to call a variable that cannot be changed a default? A default setting implies that it has the possibility of being changed, therefore not the default setting. Only now when you can get a car in 10 different colors could the default be black.

This is bull (4, Informative)

LS (57954) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449907)

But if you are looking for another computer word that has made it into common usage, how about "reboot"? It's now used to describe starting anything over from scratch, especially in things like movies. For instance, the new Star Trek movie has been called a reboot by several movie critics.

I can imagine a time far in the future where "reboot" is listed in the dictionary with the etymology saying "origin unclear, borrowed from computer terminology". 95% of people will not know that it comes from the REpeating the action of BOOTstrapping a computer. Bootstrapping or booting a computer comes from the term "to lift oneself up by the bootstraps", which is impossible and refers to the apparent chicken and egg problem of a computer loading itself up with software.


Re:This is bull (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28449983)

My son plays a lot of computer games and most have a pause function. I have noticed that the games he plays in the playground with other kids have also acquired a pause function.

No defaults before computers? Oh come on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449935)

Machines shipped with an on/off switch set at the factory to off. Customers plugged it in, switched it to on.

Cars delivered to customers after dealer prep which included rolling down the windows.

Forms that read "If shipping address is same as billing address, leave blank. Otherwise fill in shipping address"

Lots of defaults from long ago.

wow, the default SSN filter works now (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28449949)

I can type in my social security number and the filter replaces it with X's.....XXX-XX-XXXX. That's damn neat, thanks /.

sometimes you only get the default (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450099)

when i buy a car, its appearance is the default, and nothing else. (sure i can make some modifications myself, but only to some extent, and that is not the point).
when i buy clothes, same thing (not much choice in different sizes either).

note to the industries: we want additional flexibility in customizing our products.

Read Nudge (1)

A Pressbutton (252219) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450101)

I recommend Nudge by Thaler&Sunstien The book discusses how people structure defaults for the choices you make, from the positioning of goods in a supermarket to healthcare to choosing a school and (sort of) attempts to describe a philosophy for working out what default is a 'good' default to present. I largely agree with them. Default choices have been set since time immemorial. Default religion (in the UK) :- Church or England, a few hundred years ago if you chose a non-default religion you may well have experienced adverse consequences.

Methinks someone has been reading the Economist (3, Insightful)

adamkennedy (121032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450121)

If you read The Economist, you may have noticed a recent review of the book "Nudge [] ".

I have more than a sneaking suspicion the original poster (and TFA) have been reading this as well.

Suffice it to say that the shallow commentary here pales in comparison to the jaunt through behavioural economics that the book provides. If you can get past it's focus on public policy and just absorb all the core information, the book provides good advice than you'd ever think existed on the art of defaults.

"Default" is REALLY old (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450167)

Default is what happens when you don't show up to meet your obligations, legal or otherwise. You are making the "none of the above" choice.

This is a concept that goes back a REALLY long ways.

Modern life in 1225 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450219)

From an etymology dictionary [] :

c.1225, "failure, failure to act," from O.Fr. defaute, from M.L. defalta "a deficiency or failure," from L. dis- "away" + fallere "to be wanting." The financial sense is first recorded 1858; the computing sense is from 1966.

Defaultss (1)

ebolaZaireRules (987875) | more than 5 years ago | (#28450239)

Default settings seem to be something that few people get right...

They should more or less be failsafe, and there should always be a 'reset defaults' option (for when you **** if up)

if stuff doesn't 'just work', it needs better defaults (or a better autoconfig)

a 'default password' should be criminal. Nothing should work till its changed... though that does tend to remove 'password' from your list of passwords.

This is utter bullshit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28450301)

Kevin Kelly is an idiot for writing it and thinking anyone would believe it. kdawson is a flaming moron for believing it.

Defaults have been around for centuries. Fire kdawson now.

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