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Ask Richard Stallman Anything

James Youngman Refreshed strategic direction for GNU (573 comments)

The GNU project's initial goal of producing a free Unix-like system has long been met. While of course maintenance and enhancement of the necessary components of GNU continues, what should be the project's strategic goal now?

about 2 years ago

Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel?

James Youngman Re:Environment (389 comments)

My point was nothing to do with adoption - in fact I was pointing out that people used programming languages even when then did not intend to use or write a compiler for them.

Lack of a stack doesn't imply a machine is not a von Neumann architecture. For example, if I recall correctly, the Cray Y-MP series had no stack for procedure activation records and yet still had a shared instruction/data storage.

more than 2 years ago

Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel?

James Youngman Re:Environment (389 comments)

It's like compilers. Sure we can't imagine computing without them nowadays, but for 10-20 years in the early days of computing, there WERE NO PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES. It wasn't until computers were powerful and "cheap" enough to make the concept of an abstract language cheaper to code than raw machine code that the compiler and programming languages really took hold.

Your estimate is a bit too high. Plankalkül was developed between 1943 and 1945, and published in a paper in 1948. FORTRAN was implemented in around 1955. I ripped these dates from Wikipedia's History of programming languages article.

For that matter, Turing's famous and influential 1936 paper On Computable Numbers paper introduces an abbreviation system ("Inst{...}") for building Turing Machine configurations (on page 260) which might loosely be described as a higher-level language.

more than 2 years ago

Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel?

James Youngman Re:Environment (389 comments)

The city of Çatalhöyük existed from about 7500BCE with a large population (thousands). This is apparently several thousand years older than the wheel.

more than 2 years ago

Electronic Health Records Now In All US Military Hospitals

James Youngman Re:Electronic patient records (86 comments)

Drat, too much haste.

s/do different people/two different people/
s/The latter cares most about the privacy angle/The former cares most about the privacy angle/

more than 3 years ago

Electronic Health Records Now In All US Military Hospitals

James Youngman Re:Electronic patient records (86 comments)

If by "scares" you mean manufactured, misleading hyperbole, you're wrong. There are tens of thousands of adverse drug interactions annually in the UK (and more in the USA). Many of these are avoidable (they're not just drug-drug interactions, adverse drug-condition or drug-{age,procedure} interactions occur too) and key to avoiding this is delivering timely, accurate information to your healthcare providers.

Keeping yourself off the relevant clinical databases is a choice and a compromise of risks; on the one hand the risk that your data will be leaked and on the other hand that your choice to equip your clinicians with less information will cause you to get less effective treatment in the future.

In some senses this is a balancing of benefits to do different people; first, your healthy, vigorous, young self. Second, your elderly, sick, incapacitated self. The latter cares most about the privacy angle but I'm pretty sure the latter cares most about the quality of care. But it would too late for the elderly you to benefit their treatment by reversing the decision made by their younger self.

more than 3 years ago

10,000 Commits To an Open-source Project

James Youngman Yes, Jim Meyering on coreutils (101 comments)

~/source/GNU/coreutils/coreutils$ git log | grep -c '^Author: Jim Meyering'
~/source/GNU/coreutils/coreutils$ git log | egrep '^(Date:|Author: Jim Meyering)' | tail -n 2
Author: Jim Meyering
Date: Sat Oct 31 20:42:48 1992 +0000

more than 3 years ago

Google, Microsoft In Epic Hiring War

James Youngman Re:Google produced more with fewer people (235 comments)

That's a false dichotomy.

Google's infrastructure is too large to hire system administrators that do anything manually. This means even the "system administrators" are software developers.

more than 2 years ago

Google, Microsoft In Epic Hiring War

James Youngman Re:Don't want them (235 comments)

The alternative to doing the research to identify which job opening appeals to you most is that they interview you for a job _they_ think might suit you, which isn't a good match for your skills, and so you don't get the job. Which one is it you prefer again?

more than 2 years ago

Indian Military Organization To Develop Its Own OS

James Youngman Development breakthroughs (466 comments)

Writing an allegedly Windows-compatible OS to resolve cyber-security concerns? Are they also developing lead aircraft?

more than 3 years ago

Recourse For Draconian Encryption Requirements?

James Youngman They shouldn't just stop an encryption (555 comments)

If a major hospital is letting people roll up and connect personal (i.e. uncontrolled) laptops to their internal networks, the information security team/officer there is either incompetent or being ignored. They should take responsibility for making sure neither of those things is happening.

As for the OP, they seem to me to be recklessly endangering the security of patient data. People's personal laptops have all kinds of scary cruft on them. Seventeen different kinds of malware, if they run Windows, probably.

more than 4 years ago

Need Help Salvaging Data From an Old Xenix System

James Youngman Disk is UFS, but do you have tape too? (325 comments)

The Altos 586 I used to own also had a QIC tape drive in it (it's in the front of the unit). It also had an Ethernet connector - blanked off in the case of my machine, the Ethernet controller wasn't installed. But check yours.

The filesystem format is UFS and is intelligible by Linux (I verified this in the case of the 5.25" floppies, but the hard disk should be the same).

more than 4 years ago

Google Italy Execs Convicted Over YouTube Bullying Video

James Youngman Sigh. OP did not read the linked article. (391 comments)

The original poster didn't read the article carefully, I think. The executives were convicted in Italy, but they weren't Italian executives. In fact, they don't (or in the case of Reyes, didn't; he left) even work there.

more than 4 years ago

What Knowledge Gaps Do Self-Taught Programmers Generally Have?

James Youngman I made the same journey (396 comments)

My list:

- complexity theory (and some 'concrete' mathematics)
- functional programming
- lisp
- domain specific language design
- concurrent systems design and implementation
- graph algorithms
- large-scale OO design (i.e. how to design a framework rather than a program)
- DFAs

That's after I eliminated the things I already knew I didn't understand when I graduated in 1993 (language parsing, compiler design and implementation, database theory, unit testing, ...).

more than 4 years ago

Defining Useful Coding Practices?

James Youngman Re:What is clear to one ... (477 comments)

Goodness, how did that person get hired as a programmer if they weren't already fully familiar with arrays? I wouldn't hire anybody as a programmer unless they were able to select an appropriate data structure for a problem, and explain why they selected that particular one. (Well, at my current employer, the bar is much higher than that, but I'm speaking in general).

more than 4 years ago

Geek Travel To London From the US — Tips?

James Youngman Dress like the others you see (1095 comments)

When on the first day out, look at other people and then dress like them for the rest of the journey

Hmm. Best not go to Horseguards on the first day, then.

more than 4 years ago

Geek Travel To London From the US — Tips?

James Youngman We have no idea what you like (1095 comments)

"I am traveling to London from Washington state for two weeks in December for pleasure (use-it-or-lose-it vacation scenario) and was wondering if I should bother bringing my laptop. I know that I would have to change the region code on my wireless amongst other things and the power cord would have to be changed for a UK outlet.

Why bother? Just get a travel adaptor, like everyone else does. They're cheap, even if you buy them in the most expensive place possible - the airport. Most laptops do not require voltage conversion (and have power supplies that explicitly state that they accept 230V). Check.

Would I be better off not bringing my laptop and just using Internet kiosks (do they exist in London?) or would having my laptop be a better choice to keep in touch, off-load my digital images etc?

London is no different to (say) New York in this way. You can use Internet kiosks, but you'd be crazy to do so for banking transactions, just as for internet cafes anywhere in the world. As for how you work with digital images, it depends on the value of the images and the volume of data, doesn't it? When on vacation myself I generally produce more image data than it's convenient to burn to DVD, so I don't really have that option. Hence I take a laptop + an external drive, so that I can keep two copies of the data. One goes in the checked luggage, the other is carry-on.

I plan on hitting the British Museum but was wondering what geeky things to do that are in London that might be worth going to and any tips hints on overseas travel for geeks? I travel quite a bit in the states but this will be my first trip overseas and want to make the best of my stay in merry old England. What words of advice do you travel seasoned geeks have for me?"

You won't see much "Merrie Olde England" in London. It's a city. As for stuff to do there, you haven't indicated what you enjoy doing. People could recommend you landmarks etc., but that would make your stay awfully generic. Here's a list of non-generic things you'll probably hate because they don't suit your (unstated) tastes:

  • The London Silver Vaults
  • Camden Lock (when the market's on)
  • Dickens House Museum
  • Sigmund Freud's House
  • Highgate Cemetery
  • Greenwich Foot Tunnel
  • Royal Observatory, Greenwich (correct pronunciation is "grenitch", that is, one of the Es and the W are silent)
  • Almost any of the London Walks company's walks (recommended guide: Richard with the red hat)
  • Tate Modern
  • The Museum of London (which is a museum about the city itself)
  • Horseguards
  • The Cabinet War Rooms
  • Belowzero
  • Harrod's (esp. the barber's and the Green Man)
  • The Clink Prison Museum
  • St. Paul's
  • The Thames Barrier
  • The umbrella shop on New Oxford Street
  • The Skinny house at the junction of Devonport Road and Goldhawk Road (in the UK, never leave out the "Road" or "Street" part, there are often duplicates - "Foo Street" and "Foo Road" likely both exist and are sometimes far apart)
  • The Old Bailey - drop in quietly on a random trial to see how it all works

... so, research them to select the things you'll find interesting.

more than 4 years ago


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