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The Whiz of Silver Bullets

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the you-wont-have-to dept.

244

ChelleChelle writes "In an entertaining yet well thought-out article, software architect Alex E. Bell of The Boeing Company lashes out at the so-called 'Silver Bullets' and those who rely on them to solve all their software development difficulties. From the article: 'the desperate, the pressured, and the ignorant are among those who continue to worship the silver-bullet gods and plead for continuance of silver-fueled delusions that are keeping many of their projects alive.'"

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244 comments

The Real Silver Bullet (4, Funny)

MarkByers (770551) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782525)

Microsoft Vista! It's the silver bullet for everyone! Where do you want to go today? TM

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (2, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782738)

You mean this [coorslight.com] stuff I've been quaffing for years is bogus? Piss!

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (0, Troll)

Zediker (885207) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782768)

I thought the fact that it tastes like carbonated styrofoam water gave it away... no, im not a miller/budweiser fan... all american beers taste like carbonated water... its just a fact...

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (1)

Goose In Orbit (199293) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783064)

Miller/Budweiser != All American beers (thankfully)

It's just that hardly any of the decent stuff gets to reach us on the other side of the pond...

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (1)

Andrzej Sawicki (921100) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782813)

Are you saying we are werewolves?

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (1)

ozbird (127571) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782835)

Microsoft Vista! It's the silver bullet for everyone!

Silver bullet, or dum-dum bullet?

Re:The Real Silver Bullet (1)

andrewman327 (635952) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783075)

This means that Linux is only used by werewolves! I knew it!


Seriously though, people need to learn that software is a tool. For example, houses would never get built without hammers, but you still need skilled workers putting in the hours to get it done.

Silver Bullets are just marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782531)

It is our job as professionals to separate the hype from the reality. The parent is a troll....egads what has the software engineering world come to?

-ac

Bullets? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782535)

Seeing as how TFA mainly rants about XML (and only passingly mentions past "silver bullets" of the past), he should be complaining about the silver bullet.

I prefer my analogies in car or tube form, thank you very much.

Re:Bullets? (2, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782565)

At least XML works. Instead of technologies, I'd be much more critical of development techniques that are pitched as silver bullets, like Extreme Programming. Remember that? All the rage a few years ago, with even level-headed publishers like O'Reilly getting in on the action --they even released a pocket guide [amazon.com] , come on, what is this, devotion on the level of Mao's little red book? -- it was supposed to solve bottlenecks in development and result in cleaner, more easily maintainable code. Instead, all it did was make people blow a lot of money on books, and slow down output because in the XP you're supposed to code with your annoying coworker right there next to you with all his backseat driving.

If one codes in a way he's personally comfortable with, he can get the job done even if it involves a not globally ideal technology like XML, but when working methods are pushed down by above with no consideration for individual needs, that's dangerous.

Re:Bullets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782577)

Define "works"

Re:Bullets? (4, Insightful)

BMazurek (137285) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782636)

XML works? Huh?

XML is a data representation. It works? How does it work? By representing data?

What else could work? S-Expressions? SGML? ASN.1? Flat text file?

The data representation isn't solving the problem.

XML, Extreme Programming, technique / technology of the week all are trying to do the same thing: help us manage complexity. Fred Brooks had a lot to say there. My favorite quote from the 'No Silver Bullet' essay:

Software entities are more complex for their size than perhaps any other human construct because no two parts are alike (at least above the statement level). If they are, we make the two similar parts into a subroutine--open or closed. In this respect, software systems differ profoundly from computers, buildings, or automobiles, where repeated elements abound.

Re:Bullets? (4, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782693)

XML works by freeing you from the need to come up with your own format and a parser. So, flat files, for example. Most people use completely braindead formats for flat files, like each data item on a line with no indication of what it might be, reinventing .INI files, or the even less complicated key/value approach.

That works, until you notice that it's not as easy as it seems. How do you represent arrays of data, or trees? Can you specify a string in Russian and have the parser not choke on it? What about Chinese? Can it handle Unicode? What if your format is "key=value", and the value contains a "=" or a newline? Can the key contain spaces? If you write "key = value", do the spaces get stripped or not? What if the first character of the value is a space?

I've seen all sorts of horrible tricks to deal with those problems, like "key=value" where the value is encoded in hex or base64.

XML is nice for that: The designers thought of all that already, designed it to be able to deal with all of them, and made parsers that work.

Re:Bullets? (2, Interesting)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782763)

Ok, so the syntax was standardized.
XML says little of the semantics. This isn't evil in and of itself. The way it was marketed as a silver bullet, even though the semantic holes|canyons|abysses stretch wide, explains the backlash.
What's good about XML, and I used to go to some government working groups about it, is that by calling everything "human readable text", there was much participation from people who otherwise wouldn't budge.
The bad news, in the government case, is that homo bureaucratus realized that free transfer of information among agencies would mean a migration of the logic from people-ware to software. Realizing the ensuing threat to the rice bowls, the whole working group collapses in semantic wars. Shall we use attributes or nest entities? and so on.
Once again, technology fails to overcome behavioral problems.
What will succeed XML as a soteriological technology? Rails?

Re:Bullets? (4, Insightful)

zootm (850416) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782806)

I think you've essentially hit the nail on the head there. XML is excellent at what it does. However what it does is not "everything", and the "silver bullet" marketing (Java + XML = "Enterprise"!) surrounding it causes people to get upset, because that's not what it is.

Marketing is, in general, really good at turning people against perfectly good technologies, because those in the know will always see through the lies, exaggerations and half-truths, but will then have a hard time conveying these to superiors or other colleagues who have had a little less experience and a glossy leaflet to gaze on.

Re:Bullets? (2, Insightful)

Haeleth (414428) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782820)

Glad to see you enjoyed the Kool-Aid.

Can you specify a string in Russian and have the parser not choke on it? What about Chinese? Can it handle Unicode? What if your format is "key=value", and the value contains a "=" or a newline? Can the key contain spaces? If you write "key = value", do the spaces get stripped or not? What if the first character of the value is a space?

Observe that all these things are problems that only arise if you have humans generating the data. If a program generates it, then you never get bogus spaces or text in an encoding the program can't handle.

Guess what? XML is fragile when humans write it, too. What happens if they write a lowercase tag in uppercase? Or if they add a string in Chinese (Big5) to a file that's supposed to be encoded in UTF-8? Or if they forget a closing tag? If they write "<key> value </key>", will the spaces get stripped or not?

Besides, who said anything about designing your own format and writing your own parser for it? It's not like the only ready-made, well-tested, well-designed libraries are XML-based.

Re:Bullets? (2, Insightful)

cluckshot (658931) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782872)

Ah Ha! My chance to get modded into oblivion by those who don't know anything!

XML is a tagging system. It may be useful for the transmission of data between dissimilar systems but even there it is a crappy methodology. It bloats the data with massive tags, if you parse it in anything but a linear fashion, it becomes a recursive method to make processes take forever and isn't worth anything more than a flat file with a table at the top to tell you where things are. XML only handles ASCII and doesn't do that very well. In fact it really goofs up when you get down to numbers. Imagine 12 types of nodes! (Reality if you have run the parser) It isn't even logically linear in operation. XML eats internet bandwidth like it is going out of style.

As to the "Silver Bullet" theory. Well XML is a whole lot better than a secret proprietary methodology, but that could have been solved by simply telling the file format.

What is going on is something a lot of us older programmers have known for a long time. We see subsituted for skill, planning and ability for massive structures that eat memory, and they do the job, sometimes and slowly. I remember open discussions that memeory would eventually expand to the point that we didn't have to worry about it in programming. Of course that geometrically degraded the performance. Sure you have enough memory now but what are you using it for?

Re:Bullets? (2, Informative)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782889)

You kidding? It's trivial to make a program that generates something it can't parse back. Want examples?
void write_value(int handle, char *key, char *value) {
/* this is stupid, but not that hard to find */
 
    char buf[1024];
    strcpy(buf, key);
    strcat(buf, "=");
    strcat(buf, value);
    strcat(buf, "\n");
    fwrite(handle, buf, strlen(buf));
}
 
write_key(h, "example", " 2+2=4\n4*4=16");
Here you have a bit of code that very trivially writes something that can't be parsed back. Will the leading space be stripped? And even better, instead of that being written correctly, the data will be corrupted, with the first line being read normally, and the second being interpreted as key "4*4", value 16.

Encoding issues work the same way. It's trivial to write any random \0 terminated junk. It's a lot harder to correctly parse it back. What if the key is made of multi-byte characters, one of whose bytes has the value 61 (ASCII for '=')? A naive parser made for ASCII will sometimes correctly retrieve the key and value from an unicode file, but choke on the lines including characters it incorrectly interprets.

Re:Bullets? (5, Interesting)

gutnor (872759) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782971)

Some time ago when SOA where the very new buzword, I've had an interview where the manager of the team asked me why I didn't put XML in big bold character in my resume next to Java, C++, ...

For him, XML was sort of a religion. The ultimate "technology" (we were not talking about all the technos that comes with XML like XSLT, ..., just the plain XML) that allowed the world to see the light and embrace SOA/MDA design, the only god that can save our wicked developer soul. The whole interview was about my relationship with the XML and how its light shines upon me.

Talking about XML as a "tool" was a blasphemy. I "learned" that the savior XML:
- Saved us from the interoperability problem by allowing us to transfer data from and to any system
    transparently. Sure, you only have to transform the output of one application into the input of the second system.
- Reduce coding problem ( using for example, the function "XML DoSomething(XML params)", so you can change the params without changing the interface and the doc (duh!) )
- Reduce database problem ( storing XML as blob in the DB - no need to call the DBA when you change the data format )
- Solve configuration problem ( now configuration file are in XML that means it is easy to understand )

Thanks XML.

Re:Bullets? (4, Insightful)

Xiroth (917768) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782655)

If one codes in a way he's personally comfortable with, he can get the job done even if it involves a not globally ideal technology like XML, but when working methods are pushed down by above with no consideration for individual needs, that's dangerous.
Within reason, of course. If your code looks like this:
if( yes->strong )
yes->weak->run(fast);
b = when->walrus();
b.helloWorld();
delete b;
And it's suppose to be a generic method to manage mouse-clicks, the manager has some cause for complaint (and the rest of the team are likely looking to murder you the next time you nod off at your desk).

Re:Bullets? (2, Funny)

tfinniga (555989) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782742)

As opposed to my generic walrus olympics opening ceremonies method?

Re:Bullets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782790)

In that case, your code is perfect. Carry on.

Re:Bullets? (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782997)

> As opposed to my generic walrus olympics opening ceremonies method?

Yes, if those are just slimy fucking walrus-looking pieces of shit

Re:Bullets? (1)

Tom (822) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782847)

Absolutely correct! You need to verify that yes->weak->run is a valid function pointer before you call it, otherwise debugging will be hell. b.helloWorld(), on the other hand, should work fine even if it's not, provided you use the proper compiler.

Re:Bullets? (1)

mikek3332002 (912228) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782751)

and Here i thought it was about warewolf hunting tech.

Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782554)

Consider the following scenario. You have told your boss, in total honesty, that your software code will need 8 weeks to complete. Your boss cuts your time to only 4 weeks and then pressures you by hinting that he may fire you if you do not comply with the new accelerated schedule.

In this case, if you under 18 years of age, I recommend that you buy a box of silver bullets or just plain vanilla lead bullets. Put the bullets into your revolver. Hide the revolver in your jacket. Then, walk into your boss' office. Fire away. You will not be tried as an adult since you are not a legal adult. Better yet, after you reach the age of 18, your criminal record will be wiped clean.

If you are over 18 years of age, you need to weigh the situation carefully. If you kill your boss, then you will definitely be tried for 1st degree murder. You may be eligible to submit a plea of insanity. Most states allow such a plea. Check with your lawyer before you start shooting.

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782575)

In this case, if you under 18 years of age...

How many software firms hire 16-17 year-olds?

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782607)

Judging by the quality, quite many of them.

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782929)

Judging by the quality, quite many of them.

Why did you choose to insult my abilities as a software developer?

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782633)

If you are over 18 years of age, you need to weigh the situation carefully.
HOLD IT RIGHT THERE buddy. That sounds an awful lot like BDUF.

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782637)

You will not be tried as an adult since you are not a legal adult. Better yet, after you reach the age of 18, your criminal record will be wiped clean.

...Unless you're black. Then you have to be younger than 9 to not be tried as an adult.

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (2, Informative)

Mjlner (609829) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782892)

"In this case, if you under 18 years of age, I recommend that you buy a box of silver bullets or just plain vanilla lead bullets. Put the bullets into your revolver. Hide the revolver in your jacket. Then, walk into your boss' office. Fire away. You will not be tried as an adult since you are not a legal adult. Better yet, after you reach the age of 18, your criminal record will be wiped clean."

You don't live in the US, do you? In the US, persons under the age of 18 are tried, convicted and executed [ncadp.org] on a regular basis. Well actually, they aren't being executed until later on in life (nowadays), since the appeals process does take some time.

Re:Silver Bullet in a Concealed-Carry Revolver (2, Interesting)

umghhh (965931) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782910)

While walking the earth (and working for big corporations) I encountered countless technologies you can qualify as silver bullets. They all come wrapped up in shiny packages and beside obvious help in technical work are usually supposed to find cure for cancer, eliminate poverty and among many other things arange peace for the world. Alas I hardly remember what they are all about. But I recall two that managment team tried on us:
  1. faultless software policy
  2. 'no heroes' policy
I am still waiting to see occurance of the first one and chief boss brave enough to properly implement the second even though attempts are constantlly made to down size, off-shore or tell a cleaning lady to do my job while swiping the floors etc. When one thinks of it - it is really a pity that so much effort to produce so many shiny tools and technologies go wasted all the time. I guess somebody makes healthy profit on our stupidity and/or indiferrence because I cannot explain why new ones are coming without a pause.

Well... (5, Insightful)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782558)

If Vendors would stop preaching that they are the next 'silver-bullet' then perhaps this would stop. It is not the techs who decides what comes in and what goes out. It is normally driven by cost. And when companies say they can do all of X,Y, and Z at a lower cost then any competitor, the IT department gets screwed, and management looks at them with wonder because they provided a 'silver-bullet' solution to them.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782711)

If Vendors would stop preaching that they are the next 'silver-bullet' then perhaps this would stop.

There are *two* reasons for this.
1. the previous silver bullet didn't work.
2. people really cannot learn.

Re:Well... (3, Insightful)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782721)

If Vendors would stop preaching that they are the next 'silver-bullet' then perhaps this would stop.
This sentence might be true, but is meaningless. Vendors will do whatever sells. Period.
It is not the techs who decides what comes in and what goes out. It is normally driven by cost.
And this is what has to change. Saying that techs should make all the decisions is of course unrealistic, but in a sane company the management lets them evaluate the solutions before deciding.

Re:Well... (4, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782825)

Saying that techs should make all the decisions is of course unrealistic, but in a sane company the management lets them evaluate the solutions before deciding.

Why ? Think about it from the management's point of view. The choices they face are:

  1. Listen to the your tech department and make a decision based on their (hopefully realistic) estimate. The company continues steadily onward and you get fired since you didn't manage to improve it, and therefore the stock doesn't rise enough to meet the stockholder's demands.
  2. Listen to claims you know full well are sweet lies and make estimates based on them. The company gets a hopelessly overoptimistic estimate on its future fortunes, the stock price goes up, and you get a fat bonus. When the lie is found out, you can claim that you were lied to and can't be blamed for anything.

Which one should a sane manager choose ? Getting fired or getting a bonus ?

Here around (1)

aepervius (535155) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782559)

it is RUP, ITIL. Now everybody in the management swear by those. Naturally softwaer engineer are forced to draw nice UML diagram before those are sent in gigantic 98 pages document to the otusourcing team, for a change which should have taken at most 20 hours we get weeks of works. I would accept it if this was linked to an increase of quality of code, less bugs, and lower end cost. But this is not. Still this has been declared a success by our management.

Stop the BLAME GAME! (4, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782593)

I will admit that people like to find silver bullets. BUT, and this is where I get annoyed. It is not just management that preaches silver bullets! How about those that preach Open Source will solve all problems? Or how about Ruby? What about Perl, Java, Linux? And we get annoyed when people don't listen to our "silver bullets."

The problem here is that everybody has their own silver bullets, and if you don't happen agree then you think the other person is a bone head.

So let's stop the blame game shall we.

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (4, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782657)

I thinks most engineers are smart enough to understand there is no single solution to every problem. They may have biasses, but most damn well know that there are problems for which the other solution is best. What you are talking about is a vocal minority of zealots versus a very large majority that can't be bothered to deal with them. The problem is that, typically, engineers are the silent majority and managers are the vocal minority.

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (1)

tezza (539307) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782688)

I could not agree more. Alex E. Bell is Preaching to the Converted.

But worse, has he opened his eyes?? Is he so *blinkered* that he does not see that Silver Bullets exist in all spheres of human activity?

Failing Football Team? just add Wayne Rooney
Global Warming? just change your lightbulbs to savers
Middle East Crisis? just send in Condaleeza Rice
Endemic Crime? everyone would be fine if there was Education, Education, Education.

This guy needs to get out more.

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782791)

How about those that preach Open Source will solve all problems? Or how about Ruby? What about Perl, Java, Linux?
I agree with you 100%. Those people are just wrong-headed and can't be reasoned with. It's Python that accelerates software development.

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (4, Funny)

indifferent children (842621) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782919)

It's Python that accelerates software development.

In our shop, it's Java that accelerates software development, and I don't mean the programming language.

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (0, Offtopic)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783122)

I know this is kind of off-topic, but since we're talking about Python anyway...

The reason I thought to make that joke about Python in the parent posting is that in reality, I really *am* tons more productive in Python than in Java or C++. I found that when I went from C++ to Java, I got maybe a 1/3 reduction in the time it took to complete comparable projects. My Python projects probably take only 50% as long to complete as comparable work in C++.

Have you guys had similar experiences?

I suspect it has to do with the following issues:
(1) I don't need to think about deleting objects properly, in most cases.
(2) When debugging, most things have a string representation that I can
        print with very little programming effort.
(3) A very useful set of of built-in container types: dictionaries, lists,
        sets, etc. And unlike C++'s STL, it takes very little code to use them.

To be fair to C++/Java, as my codebases get bigger, I do sometimes start to wish that Python cleanly supports the notion of "interfaces", so that I can use them to document what methods I need a class to provide. But in general those problems get shaken out pretty early in testing anyway, so it's not that big a deal to not have explicit interfaces.

Thoughts?

Re:Stop the BLAME GAME! (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782964)

I think it's mainly high school and college kids saying Ruby (or whatever) will solve everything. Anyone in the real world knows better.

strangly this whole thing (0, Troll)

atarione (601740) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782564)

<sarcastic +5 funny whoring>

  <grab refreshing beverage>Coors Light

  <message>made me want to drink a Coors Light - The Silver Bullet....luckily lust in time I realized Coors Light is terrible
  </message>

</sarcastic +5 funny whoring>

Re:strangly this whole thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782644)

Your XML is off. You needed a </grab> tag.

<shudder />Too much XML coding for me, I think.

Re:strangly this whole thing (1)

indifferent children (842621) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782936)

Your XML is off. You needed a tag.

Fortunately, /. has non-validating moderators.

UML and managers (4, Funny)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782569)

Overheard while doing an internship at Logica CMG [logicacmg.com] :

Manager: "This new project should be done with new project management methods, like UML"
Senior: "Uuh, you do know that UML is a notation for diagrams?"
Manager (irritated): "Yeah, of course I know that. You know what I mean!"

Re:UML and managers (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782666)

My department is being sold to LogicaCMG in a few months...

Re:UML and managers (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782695)

LOL, nou de ene manager is niet de andere. Het was daarnaast toendertijd CMG, niet Logica.

Re:UML and managers (1)

smutt (35184) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782869)

You should do what I did when that exact same thing happened to me. Leave!

Re:UML and managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15783222)

Not atypical. I work for them (hence anon).

A complaint made about me recently: "you know what the problem with you is? You know what you're doing."

Sorry, no sale :p (3, Interesting)

tibike77 (611880) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782572)


As opposed to China or India, however, my outsourcing plan would focus on a small town in Romania - for it is only in Transylvania where the werewolf can be hired to work with an unrivaled vigilance to avoid the whiz of silver bullets.


Sorry, I LIVE in a pretty small town in Transylvania (used to live in a slightly larger one), and software developers around here are all BUT immune to (the lure of such) silver bullets... ever heard of Cluj-Napoca or Baia Mare (or any of the software microbehemoths that start springing to life there) ?

Re:Sorry, no sale :p (2, Insightful)

indifferent children (842621) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782947)

ever heard of Cluj-Napoca

See, this is the problem with offshoring. It's not the quality of the foreign coders, it's the lack of a shared cultural context in which to collaborate. For instance, no American software company would put "Cluj" in its name.

Re:Sorry, no sale :p (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783050)

What about wooden stakes and garlic?

Silver Bullets works just fine (2, Insightful)

lmoelleb (974144) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782598)

There is abselutely no problem sticking to your silver bullet.... Instead of choosing the right tool for the task, choose the right task for the tool. This also ensures you don't waste your time with web development as there is no tool that is right for web development, just tools that suck slightly less than the others. :)

Re:Silver Bullets works just fine (1)

j-pimp (177072) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782654)

This also ensures you don't waste your time with web development as there is no tool that is right for web development, just tools that suck slightly less than the others. :)
GVIM [vim.org] works pretty well for me. I also use NVU for RAD prototyping. Oh and I auctually wrote a useful webservice in C# using SharpDevelop so that counts as well.

The sad part is vim sucks the least of these three, although SharpDevelop is starting to support the ASP.NET thing pretty well.

Re:Silver Bullets works just fine (3, Insightful)

John Nowak (872479) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782875)

All web development sucks if you consider the fact that ultimately HTML gets involved. Toss in CGI and/or Flash and you might as well just kill yourself now and get it over with.

Bullets don't kill people... (5, Insightful)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782599)

... - As the saying goes.

The problem with Silver Bullets is not the bullet itself - but the idiot behind the trigger.

Most of these Silver Bullets are great ideas, but give them to some moron who half knows how they work (and yet claims to be an expert) and they do the exact opposite of what they were intended to do, and because some PHB reads about in the industry pages, they just keep hanging in there like a millstone around our respective necks.

For any technology you can see outstanding implementations. But for every one of those there are ten other complete disasters.

And as the other saying goes - if you don't know who the moron is.....

Re:Bullets don't kill people... (0, Flamebait)

MosesJones (55544) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782724)

Hello! Welcome to idiot town... population you. You'll want the train to Cluesville, it leaves at seven.

Most of these Silver Bullets are great ideas

A silver bullet is something that will produce an order of magnitude increase in project performance. I take it that you have read the world's best book on Software Development [amazon.co.uk] haven't you? I'd recommend the 25th aniversary edition with the Silver Bullet essays in it.

Sure there are good technologies, and idiots who implement them badly. The whole point of the article with in reference however to technologies that make claims that contradict Fred Brooks's essays and the muppets who keep thinking "hey it must be true, its on a poster". They are NOT Silver Bullets, there are no such things as Silver Bullets.

If you haven't read Brooks you shouldn't be in IT.

Re:Bullets don't kill people... (1)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782864)

And, equally, I would recommend TFA to you - if you haven't read it then you shouldn't be replying to my post. Try to keep in context instead of showing off that you've read a book.

Alex Bell describes XML as a 'Silver Bullet' - he is alluding to the notion of a Silver Bullet being a technology that can actually solve a significant number of problems, but that is taken up by the ill-informed as being capable of solving all problems. This is not Brooks' original meaning of Silver Bullet, but is one which has come to be a common understanding of the term. This is why he put's the term in quotes.

XML is a great idea but XML is often used badly and XML is heralded by those that don't understand it as 'the solution to all our problems'.

Those are the only points I made - but please, feel free to beat your Strawman to death.

Re:Bullets don't kill people... (1)

MosesJones (55544) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782898)

From the article
"There are plenty of examples in the software engineering realm that demonstrate blatant disregard for Fred Brooks's sage advice asserting that there are no silver bullets"

And oddly your claim that This is why he put's the term in quotes I can't quite find the bit in the article that says "Silver Bullet" in quotes.

So you've read neither the article nor the book?

Untried bullets (4, Interesting)

Knick-Knack (162724) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782602)

An interesting article but one should be wary of dismissing a silver bullet on the basis of poor application.

My own experience of some of these bullets (UML, agile methods, etc.) within an organisation is that they get a small enthusiastic following who push it so far, implement maybe 20% of the technique then lose interest or regress under deadline pressure. They don't follow the bullet far enough to draw proper conclusions.

I'm cynical about most bullets, but some catch the imagination. I'd just like to see one of them, just once, properly implemented.

Incidentally, this isn't just an engineering article. Management suffers from the same tendency towards managerial silver bullets (and the same poor application). I guess many professions do.

Re:Untried bullets (2, Insightful)

Saint Fnordius (456567) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782692)

In other words, the silver bullet is only useful if you have the right calibre gun.

Re:Untried bullets (1)

Knick-Knack (162724) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782716)

Quite. Brilliant.
I think we've invented a new adage.

Current silver bullets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782619)

.NET and thin clients feature heavily in my day to day role. Trying to argue that turning an existing C++ thick client with literally hundreds of dialogs into a web service based .NET application is pointless. Management believe that this is the way forward and therefore we have to deal with it. Now we're half C++, half .NET, half thick, half thin bastard child which consumes twice the resources of the old product and all the budget is allocated to business functionality so we can't complete the job they told us to start.

Webservices are todays silver bullets (3, Insightful)

Laz10 (708792) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782622)

XML as the simple thing it is, works perfectly.
And every body knows that XML itself is no longer a silver bullet. It is too natural and integrated to not use XML where it fits in.

What I worry about is the huge stack of technologies that are currently being built on top of it.

Webservices being the biggest of those and worse the stuff that goes on top of that:
XML Schemas, WS-YouNameIt, BPMN, BPEL4WS

It reminds me of a few years ago when choosing java for an enterprise project meant that you had to use EVERY component in the J2EE stack, so that every single class was a EJB and every single call was a remote call.

Now most projects has learnt to stay away from the "classic J2EE" approach, but are instead falling for the next silver bullet which invites to make the excact same mistake using Web Services

Webservices are great and has their uses, but I have seen projects that subscribe to the idea that every single component in the project should be a webservice and orchestrated by BPEL. Good luck.

Re:Webservices are todays silver bullets (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782639)

What do you mean "It reminds me of a few years ago when ..." ???

You are not from the future, right?

Re:Webservices are todays silver bullets (3, Interesting)

DrXym (126579) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782652)

I wouldn't say XML is a silver bullet, but the act of forcing you to structure your data and use extremely robust libs to read / write it sure has its benefits. I wish in fact that all apps read and wrote their configs through common libs. Something akin to PAM, but for config files would be an enormous benefit to Linux where every app and its uncle seems to use a different format.

Web services are probably being overtouted as a silver bullet, but the fact is that they serve a very useful purpose. I maintain a legacy app which uses ad-hoc XML over HTTPS. Since I have no idea what the format of the request and response is, I must constantly refer to the code to figure it out. I must also invent my own error responses if the format is incorrect. Web services mean I could just define the interface in WSDL (using WTP in Eclipse for example) and more or less forget about it. I can even use Axis or .NET's wsdl.exe to auto generate the stubs that make the call and just concentrate on the business logic. Bad calls throw a soap fault which is turned into an exception or whatnot by the client lib that makes the call. It doesn't make all my problems disappear, but it does mean I can be looking at the functionality of the app rather than wasting time rolling my own XML format.

And even the ad-hoc XML over HTTPS is quite an improvement over what came before. Then you'd be talking about opening a port and defining the whole handshake and transfer of data using messages, complete with all the bugs and security issues that go with that. Standards are a great thing even if they initially seem confusing.

Certainly any standard is open to abuse. I expect that anyone who has to deal with Microsoft's new Office format over XML will be in a world of hurt. But you have Microsoft to blame for that, not the standard.

Re:Webservices are todays silver bullets (2, Interesting)

NotZed (19455) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782980)

XML works perfectly? Only for some strange definition of "perfectly" I think.

Yes sure, it works. It is an easy solution to various simple data-interchange-like problems.

However, it is also bulky, inefficient and overly complex. Bulky - needs no explanation. Inefficient - parsing it isn't that trivial, and also applying schemas is expensive and complicated. Multiple levels of namespaces, and so on can lead to complex heirarchical data structures that need a load of work to make sense of.

There is always a meta-layer (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782623)

Don't blame inappropriate, blind, forcing of new methods and tools upon developers by ignorant, parroting managers on that methods and tools - those are someone's successfully deployed solutions which didn't work elsewhere, as they could had been expected not to.

The simple rule of the thumb is (Oh, no, another silver bullet incoming): listen to the needs of your "troops from the trenches", your developers. Each innovation begins with someone's "scratching own itch". If your developers don't feel the same itch as the inventor of the new method/tool, then they will certainly suffer under the scratch devised and produce net worse results.

Managers should be evaluated not based on total of changes ("improvements") they did but on the difference between the damage they did when they acted without real need and gain they made when their actions where appropriate. Beeing frantic is not desirable feat for a leader. We don't need CYA excuses ("Don't fire me, I worked hard, I am up to date, I introduced all this new buzzword-named things I found on Internet") but responsibility, insight, competence, awareness. It shouldn't be easy-wheasely cakewak beeing a manager and following the path of "blame others" as it seems to be today.

Why 'silver bullets'? (1)

Peter Mork (951443) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782630)

So, what's a 'silver bullet' supposed to be good for? Killing werewolves, right? (Or wererats or warehouses or werecanaries.)

Given that it's really only good for one extremely limited function, why in the world does a 'silver bullet' represent a solution to a wide range of problems?

Re:Why 'silver bullets'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782646)

They're not only good for killing were*s, they'll kill anything. Hence the term 'silver bullet' being applied to a solution to a wide range of problems.

Re:Why 'silver bullets'? (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782734)

Silver bullets were presumed to be much more precise in firing than normal lead bullets - I saw this in an american movie (but I don't remember which)

Re:Why 'silver bullets'? (2, Informative)

Tim Browse (9263) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782765)

Sheesh [berkeley.edu]

Kids today.

TFA is shallow hogwash (3, Interesting)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782650)

Oh, so buzzwords can be used to disguise laziness and bad implementation? Where's the news? Even in his satire of XML (and don't you think I'm a big XML fan) he shows that he doesn't understand.

For one: 'utterance_in_a_state_of_speechlessness' should be 'utterance state="speechlessness"'

And further: Using sophisticated design techniques doesn't replace the work, but it can help a piece of software reach it's maximum potential. On the inside of every shop there is a silver bullet: It's called education. A model doesn't replace programming and somewhere beyond the ususal CRUD there's allways work to be done on procedural details - that's where part of the fun in sw developement is. Every developer worth his money knows this. If he where ranting at academics, I'd understand, but as far as I'm conserned he's preaching to the choir.

TFA is definitely not 'well-thought-out'. In fact it's a tad pointless.

Re:TFA is shallow hogwash (1)

LarsWestergren (9033) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782712)

Oh, so buzzwords can be used to disguise laziness and bad implementation? Where's the news?

Yes, it is yet another article that can be summed up by "Some technologies are overhyped and used inappropriately".

Re:TFA is shallow hogwash (2)

Idolatre (197068) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782818)

There's no "right" way to represent something in XML, it depends on your application's context. In some contexts, it may be perfectly valid to have different data types for utterance_in_a_state_of_speechlessness and utterance_in_a_state_of_happiness. I may have two different classes for representing UtteranceInAStateOfSpeechlessness and UtteranceInAStateOfHappiness (both inheriting from the Utterance base class) with different attributes specific to each type of utterance, and want them to be deserialized from XML to the right class. Or I may want spechlessness utterances to initiate a process that attempts to resolve the speechlessness problem, while happiness utterances are simply logged in a database (for the purpose of generating a monthly report of hapiness utterances) and acknowledged.

Don't try to be too generic for your context, it would lead to:
<message>
    <event>Utterance</event>
    <eventParam name="state">Speechlessness</eventParam>
</message>,
which would be the XML equivalent of having a std::vector<void *> (a typed container that holds untyped values). If that's then submitted to a generic DoAnything web service, it would then mean your web service will contain code to route that message to the right place, instead of letting the programming language/web server/integration engine route the request to the right class/orchestration based on method name and data type.

It's fine to try to be as generic as possible, but the right balance between genericity and specificity is different from one context to another. So my idea of having two different data types for different states of utterances may just be additional overhead for some contexts, and then you would be right to have a generic Utterance class with a state and no subclasses.

Fred Brooks original silver bullet paper (5, Informative)

jonv (2423) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782651)

Re:Fred Brooks original silver bullet paper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15783195)

Thank god! Someone else notices that this is a PAPER - not an ARTICLE.

Here's a tip for the /. ed's

- if it has references at the bottom - it's a 'paper'.

If you cant spot the difference between writing styles from a 'paper' and an 'article' you're a pretty pathetic journalist - go back to university .

*sigh* (1)

hagbard5235 (152810) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782677)

I am currently involved in a lot of remediation of silver bullet stuff. Don't get me wrong. I love XML, get a lot of milage out of using UML to drive MDA tools, am an advocate of publishing web services etc. The problem is, so much of it is done in an ass hatted way. And then I get called in, late in the project, to tell folks exactly how screwed they are.

The root problem is people using tools they never bother to even vaguely understand. If you aren't going to bother to understand the technology, please don't use it. Please, I'm begging you, you'll just screw it up. Or at the very least, find someone who *does* understand the tech to advise you.

Asshats (1)

Jaxoreth (208176) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782744)

The problem is, so much of it is done in an ass hatted way.

I think you mean 'half-assed', unless your problem is getting rooted by script kiddies.

The root problem is people using tools they never bother to even vaguely understand.

Ah. I stand corrected.

Re:*sigh* (1)

Jellybob (597204) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783175)

I feel for you - I'm working at a small design/web agency which seems to be populated by people who really want to avoid knowing anything about how the web, or the tools we use work.

The problem here is that it's very cultural - the manager doesn't want to know the details, and refuses to accept that squirting ink on a piece of paper is not something you can compare developing web applications to - I'm building a site for his other company at the moment, and one of the "specifications" is that all content for a page should be visible without scrolling.

And I put specifications in quotes, because his idea of giving a spec is to draw a couple of interface ideas, wave at it, call you Reg a lot, and then wrap up the meeting. Any questions about processes get waved away as details, and then when the project is over budget, past deadline, and nothing like what the client asked for, it's our fault.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Technoluddite? (4, Insightful)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782679)

Apart and aside from the fact he sees little or no value in things like objects or IDEs, he writes in an inpenetrable victorian style. It's either fine satire skewering the irony of luddite technologists, or the poor guy just doesn't have a clue how laughable his essay was.

As he snarkily pooh-pooh's the distribution of realtime stock and financial data as a web service, it's probably the latter. I used to work for a company who ran their own ticker plant and had software on the desks of almost every stock broker, investment banker and forex trader on the planet. The client/server requirments of the system were immense. The client had to be maintained on Windows, Sun, Mac and was being slooooowly ported to linux, was fragile as hell and a pain to install and upgrade. The server was a farm of eight midrange Sun or AS/400 boxes, fed by redundant T1's from the ticker plant, and this would only accomodate two or three hundred users.

Then we went to a web-based client, sort of like AJAX before people started calling it AJAX, and all the headache went away. It's not a small or trivial thing, and it radically changed the way business was done, and for the better.

Just because it's new and has a buzzword doesn't mean it's a flash in the pan. The moral of the story is to use your judgement, and avoid formulas. Even tried-and-true ones. Silver bullets may not exist, but technology doesn't stand still, no matter how many hours you've sunk into learning emacs and gdb.

SoupIsGood Food

Re:Technoluddite? (1)

wildBoar (181352) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782760)

How did this solve your problems ?

Re:Technoluddite? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782808)

I'm guessing that there was only one code-base to maintain (the one server-side).
So no deep familiarity with the guts of niche OSs.
And updates could be painlessly rolled out to all clients, requiring no reinstallation.

Standardised network connections, allowing common tools. Also load-balancing web-servers is quite a well understood problem.

Sounds like it solves a few problems to me.

Re:Technoluddite? (4, Insightful)

Peter La Casse (3992) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782955)

Apart and aside from the fact he sees little or no value in things like objects or IDEs

How did "objects and IDEs don't solve every problem" turn into "objects and IDEs have little or no value"?

Re:Technoluddite? (2, Interesting)

Jerf (17166) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783048)

Just because it's new and has a buzzword doesn't mean it's a flash in the pan.

Silver Bullet != !(Flash in the Pan).

It doesn't look like the essay defines "silver bullet" and I don't have the original in front of me, but a Silver Bullet is a single methodology or technology change that by itself always results in an order-of-magnitude improvement, thus seeming to "slay" previously immortal beasts of problems.

Fred Brooks never claimed there wouldn't be improvements, and there have been. But they always seem to start out looking like silver bullets, and end up being incremental improvements at best. Most things are actually steps backwards if applied to the wrong domain. (A Silver Bullet probably won't have a "wrong domain", although this point is debatable; certain it shouldn't have many.)

Being a "flash in the pan" is even worse than not being a silver bullet, in that it implies it never had any real value at all.

Also, while your web application specifically may have been an improvement, the idea that it's an improvement in general is debatable, let alone anything like a silver bullet. It improved your case simply by virtue of expanding your options, allowing you to adopt a model more suited to your domain, but there are cases where a web app would be a serious step backwards. I consider the attempt to build office suites for browsers a joke, for instance. Web apps are merely improvements in some ways at some times, not a silver bullet. (I realize you didn't directly make this claim, I'm just discussing it.)

Silver bullets .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782691)

Clearly a hunter loot.

Hmmm. (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782700)

Either you know what you are doing - or not.

the 'biz' of corepirate nazi mindphuking hypenosys (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782702)

is none of yOURs.

from previous post: many demand corepirate nazi execrable stop abusing US

we the peepoles?

how is it allowed? just like corn passing through a bird's butt eye gas.

all they (the felonious nazi execrable) want is... everything. at what cost to US?

lookout bullow.

for many of US, the only way out is up.

don't forget, for each of the creators' innocents harmed (in any way) there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/US as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile will not be available after the big flash occurs.

'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi life0cidal glowbull warmongering execrable.

some of US should consider ourselves very fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate.

it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc....

as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis.

concern about the course of events that will occur should the corepirate nazi life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order.

'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

Software development is a pathological case (4, Insightful)

Archtech (159117) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782727)

There can be few examples of an advanced industrial activity in which the ultimate decision-makers know so little about the technology involved, and have so little respect for the opinions of those who do.

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast" - indeed, in business (and especially sales) optimism is highly thought of, and realism often denounced as "cynicism" or "negative thinking". This is all very well in activities involving human beings, who can easily be manipulated through their emotions. However, it fails utterly when confronted with the cold, hard facts of the physical world.

When someone seems to be unrealistically hopeful, we speak of "getting a reality check". In other words, finding our noses hard up against the brick wall of ineluctable, unarguable facts. The problem with most software development projects is that the ultimate decision-makers - those who have the gold and, therefore, make the rules - are very rarely able to get a reality check until the project runs out of time, money, or both. They are hopelessly ill-equipped to make reasoned, educated judgments based on the arguments presented by vendors, analysts, and their own technical staff. So it's hardly surprising that over-optimism tends to creep in.

I have been giving talks about software engineering for about 20 years now, and I usually stress the fact that "there are no silver bullets". This warning is always greeted by vigorous nodding, knowledgeable smiles, and sometimes applause. Afterwards, I sadly feel, the people who have just agreed that there are no silver bullets go out into the exhibition hall or open their magazines, and resume... looking for silver bullets.

Ultimately, I see just two ways out of this dead end. Either decision-makers take the time, trouble, and mental effort to learn the necessary basics about software development and maintenance. Or they start choosing technical managers and architects who really know their stuff - and trust them implicitly. As time goes by, I hope that both these things will happen more and more.

references but not links? (0, Offtopic)

gizmo_mathboy (43426) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782732)

I know this is nitpicking but how can one have an article that uses superscripts for references but not links?

Do I fault the author or the publisher?

Flow Charts - UML (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15782862)

I started out learning flow charts.
I migrated to strucured software development and PDL.
I learned Yordon-Demarco data flow diagrams.
I learned and began using UML.

It seems like we learn new technologies every few years that bring incremental improvements. However, software development is still stuck in a very manual, very craftman-like paradigm.

I too worked on a project that thought XML and web services were the solution to all the problems of man and machine. All must be controlled by the BEPL.

A one size fits all solution (common with silver bullets) is NOT the answer. We need to think beyond that and use ALL the tools at our disposal.

When will software development really achieve the gains that it is capable of? When will it be a mix between the skilled craftsman creating the low-level, optimized components, and the journeyman creating the final product from skillfully reusing the stable, optimized, well-tested components (or objects or libraries or web services)?
 

Sound analogy (1)

bjk002 (757977) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782916)

If we equate "Manager who buys into this crap" with the werewolf, and watch as said manager's project(s) fail miserably, in the end, the silver bullet has/will effectively done/do its job.

I've been in the business for nigh on 1/4 century (5, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#15782935)

I've seen programming paradigms come and go (structured programming). I've seen management techniques come and ago (PERT charts). I've seen technologies that had gone come back again (virtual machines) and even some that have gone come back (centralized computing services). If punch cards come back, I'm retiring to my cave.

There is one thing that seems constant: The mix of successful, marginally successful, and just plain failed projects feels the same as ever, even though I'm positively sure that our knowledge of how to create software is much greater than it was.

The glass half full aspect of this of course is that the sytems we are developing are far more powerful and complex than what we worked on in the early 80s. Back then many projects were just collections of utility programs that were invoked from the OS command line and ran top to bottom. Structure those programs, and the problem of how to create software is solved, see??? That's why structured programming was the silver bullet of the 70s and early 80s.

Now, it's not uncommon for a "lowly" application programmer to have to deal with things like aynchronous processes, something that was the province of the lordly systems programmer back in the day. Ordinary applicaitons are as or more complex today than major systems were back then.

The other thing that is constant is that some people get it, some sort of get it, and some don't get it a all. But the common shibboleths of our profession are freely available to all, level of englightment not withstanding. The difference is the lower the level of enlightenment, the more those things take on the role of totems and fetishes.

I've been looking at jobs listings recently, and curiously they never seem to be looking for charactersistics that would demonstrate that somebody "gets it". I've seen things like "Must have three to five years of programming with Struts." Now I have nothing against Struts, but I can see nothing about Struts that would indicate you need three years of hard labor to be able to work productively with it. After all, the point of all these frameworks is to make things easier. I can see "must have thre years working with distributed transactional systems", or "must have three years of experience with security on web applications", or "must have three years of experience with designing user interfaces."

I'd rather call things like the XML or web services craze "technology fetishes" than "silver bullets". A fetish is "An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices." Religious or technological, fetishes are for some aids on a difficult but rewarding journey, for others they're the promise of relief from hard work, thinking and risk.

Splendid stuff! (3, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783018)

Reading this article has instantly solved all of my project management problems!

Silver bullet effect (2, Insightful)

chrism2202 (846939) | more than 7 years ago | (#15783119)

When you find a silver bullet, you usually end up shooting yourself in the foot.
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