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Fixing the Pain of Programming

RonBurk s/emperical/empirical/ (294 comments)

It's right before the sentence that accuses the world of choosing to be illiterate.

about 4 months ago

Code Quality: Open Source vs. Proprietary

RonBurk Not a surprise, but no reflection of O/S vs Prop. (139 comments)

First, we shouldn't confuse Coverity's numerical measurements with actual code quality, which is a much more nuanced property.

Second, this report can't compare open source to proprietary code, even on the narrow measure of Coverity defect counts. In the open source group, the cost of the tool is zero (skewing the sample versus the commercial world) and Coverity reserved the rights to reveal data. Would commercial customers behave differently if they were told Coverity might reveal to the world their Coverity-alleged-defect data?

Again, having good Coverity numbers can't be presumed to be causally related to quality. For example, Coverity failed to detect the "heartbleed" bug, demonstrating that the effect of bugs on quality is very nonlinear. 10 bugs is not always worse than 1 bug; it depends on what that one bug is.

about 5 months ago

FAA Shuts Down Search-and-Rescue Drones

RonBurk Re:Gov Control (218 comments)

May I come to your local airport and shoot off my model rockets when your children are in a plane that's on short final?

about 5 months ago

FAA Shuts Down Search-and-Rescue Drones

RonBurk Not the same (218 comments)

>more dangerous than what goes on every weekend at RC modeling sites
My local RC park is marked on my aviation maps, which are updated with some regularity. People flying random devices at random places at random times pretty much have to be more dangerous than that, if they don't show up in the computer when I'm planning my flight route. As drone usage increases, we'll logically eventually see the first GA aircraft crash caused by a drone. It would be logically preferable to make the rules for avoiding that before it happens, but the custom in the U.S. is to wait until someone dies, then make a rule that's draconian, then fight back and forth over tightening and loosening based on what news events garner the most eyeballs over time.

The saving grace will be that MOST drones will be in positions that are illegal for GA aircraft most of the time. Still, even if a guy kills some little kids by hitting a drone while illegal buzzing his own house, involvement of any RC device will become the legal topic de jeur I imagine.

about 5 months ago

Joining Lavabit Et Al, Groklaw Shuts Down Because of NSA Dragnet

RonBurk Re:Three choices, pick one. (986 comments)

Probably there are more choices. For example:

Find a sympathetic Congress person to hold a public hearing
with NSA plus real Computer Scientists to inquire
on the feasability of using the data they already have
to identify gun owners in the U.S, to identify all Jews
in the U.S., to identify all Catholics, all Mormons,
all Tea Party sympathizers, etc.

Don't take on a superior force if you can instead use
small effort to pit two superior forces against each other.

1 year,29 days

Will IBM's Watson Kill Your Career?

RonBurk Re:Watson is a better button pusher (206 comments)

Hmmm, I thought I recalled seeing at least one question where Watson was beaten to the buzzer. Maybe it just had no answer at all and I misinterpreted that.

more than 2 years ago

Documentation As a Bug-Finding Tool

RonBurk Re:Common knowledge? (188 comments)

No. Wrong. Completely wrong. Completely misses the point.

Writing is a quite different cognitive activity than "thinking". Writing about things provides distance and helps overcome the limitations of working memory that can prevent you from seeing the same problem by just "thinking". Writing documentation produces very different results than just thinking about the code.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Making JavaScript Tolerable For a Dyed-in-the-Wool C/C++/Java Guy?

RonBurk Not an Old-School Problem (575 comments)

Most "old school" programmers have some interpreted language in their toolkit. People who think "old" means 40 probably have Python/Perl/etc. People who are really old probably had Basic/Awk/etc. So, nothing to do with how long you've been programming, more to do with how narrow your background is. As with learning any new language, there's no getting around the basic advice of: Write More Code.

more than 2 years ago

Re-evaluating the Benefits of Cancer Screening

RonBurk Re:Seen this article everywhere now. (253 comments)

No, it's just one of those things that people who work in cancer research are aware of and, eventually, that awareness leaks into the public and the press realizes that the research community knows something the uneducated public would find astounding.

Let me give you a human example of the cost of screening. I was sitting in a mammography waiting room once when a women came in for her screening. The receptionist informed her that she could get screened, but the radiologist was out and she would have to wait a day to get the results. The woman became upset and demanded there be a radiologist present. The receptionist gave the same reply.

Eventually, the woman was sobbing and explaining that, though she was a nurse, false-positive mammograms had sent her in for biopsies three times already. The last time had been 5 years earlier and she simply stopped returning because she couldn't face another biopsy. This was the first time she had got her nerve up to come in for a mammogram again in all that time, and there was no way she could leave that office and not know if anything (false or not) had been found.

And that's not even a case with serious physical costs for screening, "merely" psychological costs: that caused someone to stop getting screened.

Likelihood of a false positive by your tenth mammogram? Nearly 100%. Since you're presumably working in some kind of technological field, you should really realize that technology always has a downside and not assume that anyone recommending shoving less technology down patients throats simply has a profit motive.

more than 2 years ago

Re-evaluating the Benefits of Cancer Screening

RonBurk Re:Or they could do MORE frequent screenings. (253 comments)

Two reasons that won't work. Restrict the discussion to breast/prostate cancer for simplicity. Both are highly treatable if they haven't mutated enough to have the ability to metastasize. You can't make an imaging technique that checks every cancer cell to see if even one(!) has gained the ability to metastasize.

Second, the vast majority of people will INSIST on surgery if they know they have cancer. I used to try to explain to people that most of us have already (if we've got grey hair) thyroid cancer, but it is highly unlikely to harm us. Then I realized I was just causing people to run to their doctor to demand an X-ray of their thyroid. People can't process things like "likelihood" when it comes to cancer, which is why the fact that screenings can cause more harm than good is very difficult to have a rational discussion about.

more than 2 years ago

How To Spread Word About My FOSS Project?

RonBurk No problem (244 comments)

just ask all the users you worked with during development to spread the news. What's that? You didn't actually work with your future customers while developing the software? And now you're surprised that total strangers you didn't value during development don't value your project now? Classic.

This actually happens with shareware all the time. People code up something that scratched their itch. Build a website. Find a credit card provider. Issue a press release. And then are disappointed when there are 0 sales after a month.

If you want to make software for you, go into a cave and do it, and be happy with what you get. If you want to write software for people, then you have to work with (surprise!) people. The payback is, the first day the software ships, you already know it's useful to others, you already have a user community, and they are already spreading the word for you. When people tell you they aren't interested in trying your software, they're telling you your software is not very useful. Either they are right, or you can't describe your software very well.

more than 4 years ago

CT Scan "Reset Error" Gives 206 Patients Radiation Overdose

RonBurk Hardware Failsafe: Never Trust Software (383 comments)

There's nothing creepier than showing up for your weekly radiation treatment just to find out there's a delay because they're "installing a Windows upgrade". When I asked the radiologist if there was any failsafe in the device, he assured me there was. When I asked if there was a radiation detector positioned behind the patient that was capable of shutting off the beam if it detected too much radiation, he said "no, nothing like that."

Medical radiation equipment should be designed with a secondary, independent piece of hardware capable of measuring pass-through radiation and shutting off the equipment. Doctors should demand such designs. Do you face much worse risks in your daily life? Sure. But your local Toyota dealer did not swear an oath to "first, do no harm."

more than 4 years ago

Platform Independent C++ OS Library?

RonBurk Your App Will Suck Anyway: So Use Java (310 comments)

The Java repliers are right on the mark. Trying to use app-independent portability layers ensures apps of any complexity will suck. By "suck", I mean "compromised at every turn by lowest-common denominator design decisions". Your app will end up using threads on an O/S designed to make multi-processing beautiful (Linux), or end up using multiple processes on an O/S designed to make multi-threading beautiful (Windows). It'll be clueless about the nifty GUI features that exist on a Mac but not Windows, and vice versa. Knowing up front that your app is going to suck allows you to, in all good conscience, choose a language that highly adapted for creating apps that suck in this manner. When I fire up a Java app on Windows (and I ALWAYS know it's a Java app the minute it finally manages to lumber onto the screen), I know I'm going to get the same sucky behavior if I fire that app up on a totally different platform (well, assuming I can manage to figure out whatever obscure infinite-megabyte downloads are needed to get the right "runtime engine" for the given app). Really, the only way you can make your app suck even more and be even more portable is to just go ahead and make it a web "service". That has the added advantage that nobody really expects anything but poor performance and clunky UI design from the get-go. But if for some reason you can't have your app suck as bad as a web service, then Java is definitely the next-suckiest way to achieve that portability that your end users don't give a crap about, but you hope will make your life easier.

more than 4 years ago

Eolas To Sue Apple, Google, and 21 Others

RonBurk Re:You don't even know what patents are for (252 comments)

Now anybody can see what you did and how. Patents are as much a learning tool as they are an economic engine.

That's the sentence where you stuck your foot in it. How many hundreds of thousands of programmers on the planet? OK, now how many programmers search the patent database for ideas they can buy before coding? 100,000? 1,000? Can you name me even 10? Where is the Eclipse plug-in for searching the patent database for relevant algorithms? Where is the panoply of web startups offering an online search tool that locates the patented algorithms that will help you get your next project done faster if you license them?

When it comes to software, patents have had half their faces blown off. They no longer function at all as a learning tool, or even as an economic engine for a hard-working programmer/inventor to profit from their non-obvious invention/algorithm. With much of their original, intended functionality rendered useless, patents (most especially in the realm of software) have long since passed the point where they offer society more costs than benefits. They are almost entirely the tool of large companies, lawyers, and those who sell services to inventors gullible enough to believe we still live in an age where patents work the way you describe.

more than 4 years ago

A Breathalyzer For Cancer

RonBurk Early detection doesn't always improve outcomes (123 comments)

Non-oncs generally don't understand that a whole lot of cancer is "clinically irrelevant". That is, it would never go on to kill you. Thus, as early detection gets better in most areas, you detect a greater percentage of cancer that was never going to hurt the patient. However, once you see the cancer, you are duty-bound to slash/burn/poison (Susan Love's famous chapters) to cure it. Statistically speaking, you know you are actually harming some patients, but it is a dilemma -- you hurt all the patients in order to serve a greater good for some percentage of them. A good example is the growing backlash against general PSA screening. Even just a biopsy for prostate cancer can't be 100% risk-free, but the treatment is really risky, assuming you're not enthusiastic about being impotent and/or incontinent for the rest of your life.

So don't get too excited about increased early detection of cancer. Currently, it is usually a double-edged sword that brings suffering to some percentage of patients who would have avoided it before the new test existed. An exciting development would be a detection test for distinguishing cancer that's just sitting there from cancer that's on the move and likely to kill.

about 5 years ago

South Korea Joins the "Three Strikes" Ranks

RonBurk 1 botnet, 1 angry geek (278 comments)

Scenario: the wrong geek gets 2 strikes, gets mad, and fires up a botnet (or just happens to have, say, $20,000 laying around to rent an existing one for a few runs). The botnet causes a significant percentage of users in some country to start getting their "strike warnings". As a result, the fallacy of the idea that IP addresses identify human beings is exposed (or the fallacy that ISPs invest the slightest effort in controlling botnets, if you like).

more than 5 years ago

Saving 28,000 Lives a Year

RonBurk Re:Importantly (263 comments)

Your anecdotal data point is representative of how risk is being moved from organizations to individuals, and income volatility is increasing even for highly educated workers (in the U.S., of course). See "High Wire" by Gosselin for detailed statistics. When Suze Orman switched to telling people they need 1 year of income in cash for emergencies, the shift in risk, the increase in income volatility, is the "why".

more than 5 years ago



Software Tools For Buggier Bloated Software

RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 4 years ago

RonBurk (543988) writes "Software tools are putting more power in the hands of more programmers. Is that a good thing? That it often is not can be seen by examining the case of modern parser generator tools. In principle, they offer more power and ease-of-use than the older generation of tools. In practice, they make it easier for programmers with no parser experience create buggier and more bloated software."
Link to Original Source

Ballmer Inflicts Brain Damage on Windows Devs

RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 5 years ago

RonBurk writes "That was the punchline in my 5-minute Ignite Seattle talk that got the most laughs. But the message was a serious one: that it is easy to be incompetent and never realize it. The psychology of incompetence offers some disturbing explanations for why the current state of software development doesn't seem to be getting much better."
Link to Original Source



Thre Strange Definitions of Computer Programming

RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 4 years ago

My Ignite talk hits YouTube (, in which I define programming in terms of energy, intelligence, and evolution. As it says, "... the magic of computer programming has been lost on its practitioners."


An Evolutionary View of Software

RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 5 years ago The Kurzweillian view is that we will eventually create software that is sentient and able to evolve on its own. But what if software is already participating in evolution via its effects on us? An Evolutionary View of Software


Cartesian Programming

RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 5 years ago

Descartes would have been a programmer if he were alive today. The unpleasant little fellow didn't think too much of the intellectual ability of others, and was always inclined to solve problems on his own. This has led to my definition of Cartesian Programming.


RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 9 years ago LightScribe is HP's new, long-delayed, and still-not-shipping technology for labeling recordable CDs and DVDs. Basically, you have to buy special discs coated on the non-data side with a dye, and special drives. Then, after you burn your disc, you flip it over and use special software that uses the drive laser to burn a "silkscreen-quality" monochrome graphical label into the disc.

Unfortunately, what appears to be a botched press release from MKM/Verbatim is contributing to the ongoing stumbling introduction of LightScribe, since it says they'll be selling "stampers and ink" for LightScribe-enabled drives.

I've written about the mess here:
What is LightScribe Ink?


RonBurk RonBurk writes  |  more than 9 years ago Some people with downed Florida ISPs are switching ISPs as though they've really solved the problem. Of course, every ISP in every part of the country is vulnerable to being knocked out for an extended period of time. If your web site needs to survive extended downtime, you really need a backup plan designed to let you relocate your website to another ISP within a matter of hours.

Of course, most users deserve at least a modest amount of offsite backup, and we all mean to do it, but just don't get around to it. That led me to think of using hurricane season as a reminder to create or verify your offsite backup plan, just like fire departments use the daylight savings time switch to remind us to check our fire alarm batteries.

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