top Why Software Builds Fail
I am intrigued by these statements:
"Within Google we use a custom build system with a custom build file format."
"...at Google there is no distinction between "builds on my machine" and "builds on someone else's machine."
I'd be curious (if you can say much about it in a public forum) how your build system compares to the approachs used by tools such as CMake and Autotools in terms of introspecting into systems to determine what headers, functions, etc. are available. We use CMake and try to detect all of the characteristics we need to know about the host operating system environment at configure time. How does Google's system tackle the problem of cross operating system portability? Say, for example, someone needs to add Haiku to the operating system targets for their project? What is the process?
top Whom Must You Trust?
I still remember the fascination from when I first watched The KGB, the Computer, and Me. It was many years later that I finally read The Cuckoos Egg, and I found that even more enjoyable - a fascinating story, well told. I still have it on my bookshelves today.
I also have one of the Klein bottles - a very nifty product, entertaining and educational at the same time.
Thank you for making such rich contributions to the world.
top Confirmed: F-1 Rocket Engine Salvaged By Amazon's Bezos Is From Apollo 11
Thank you for that article - awesome and interesting reading.
top Ask Slashdot: Good Linux Desktop Environment For Hi-Def/Retina Displays?
I'd really, REALLY like to get my hands on a powerful Linux laptop with such a high resolution screen... if I could afford it I might even settle for the virtual machine solution on the Mac, but a full-up Linux laptop with such a screen would be ideal.
During certain kinds of software development, it isn't uncommon to accumulate a dozen or more terminals and application windows displaying relevant content. Given good eyesight, there simply is no substitute for a high PPI screen when doing such work. Ditto for studying high resolution photos or working with computer aided design. If I could find an affordable IBM T221 monitor with the right adapters for modern graphics hardware, it would STILL be superior to anything I could buy at consumer PC monitor retail. (Unfortunately, the adapters and setup are apparently a tricky proposition even if you can find the monitor.)
I've looked now and then, but I still haven't been able to find any indication of when PCs will begin offering high PPI displays, or even whether the rest of the computer industry is *trying* to catch up with Apple in this respect. Has anyone seen any hints?
about a year and a half ago
top Where Are All the High-Resolution Desktop Displays?
If we have to wait for "proper" OS support, they'll never come - the OS support won't be fully fixed until there is a demand for it. And the higher cost/lower yield for high PPI display production means it's a risky, difficult task to try boostraping the market from the manufacturing side.
I'm hoping a hybrid approach might be workable - at SIGGRAPH a few years ago, Microsoft was presenting work on technology for splitting a display signal up over multiple screens. If a way could be found to mount multiple iPhone-type screens into a monitor configuration and translate input over them, that might offer a viable way forward.
High density PPI displays are extremely expensive to produce because of the zero-defect-over-large-surface-area manufacturing issues. Since iPhone screens are smaller and already being produced in large numbers, it might be more practical to splice a bunch of those together. Edge visibility when "stacked" is probably the greatest physical hurdle - I'd guess it's a toss up between that and the inability of current graphics cards to drive such a monitor for "biggest practical hurdle."
Still, if one manufacturing process could turn out vast numbers of small screens that can either be used for phones or assembled into monitors... that seems to me like the only viable approach to the "too expensive to manufacture" problem you face with things like the IBM T221.
top Univ. of Minnesota Compiles Database of Peer-Reviewed, Open-Access Textbooks
Acceptance of textbooks - verification of quality and being usable in courses - is a big hurdle. It's the equalivent to the problems open access journals are currently striving to overcome - building a reputation takes time, and without it viability in education/academia is a difficult proposition. Hopefully this is a useful way to start building momentum - I think it would be an excellent way to get more educational value for the dollar.
If the idea can gain broader acceptance, there are a number of interesting ideas for open source textbooks that can be tried. I like the idea of developing a K-12 and college educational plans in an "open source" fashion, identifying the resources needed, and mapping out the missing pieces as a guide for where to concentrate efforts to create open source teaching materials. I suppose there is only so much you can do to "solve" the problem of what constitutes good teaching materials, since that will vary with learning style, cultural and linguistic background, etc. but it would be nice to have a systematic framework and forum within which to try, evaluate, and evolve ideas. It will be interesting to see whether, as open source devs age and start having families, interest in open source educational materials also grows - that's when the question becomes directly relevant and worthy of resource commitment for a lot of people.
Ideally, open source materials could be managed for "dependency satisfaction" - i.e. mastery of the material in grade 6 materials associated with a project provides the necessary and sufficient foundation to learn grade 7 materials, and so on. That was sometimes a frustration for me growing up - structured resources with fine-grained pointers like "understanding of this concept requires understanding of X, Y and Z" from previous years would have been nice. Sort of "knowledge building a.l.a math proof."
top Canadian Media Companies Target CBC's Free Music Site
Even for public domain recordings?
top Canadian Media Companies Target CBC's Free Music Site
If they're complaining about having to compete with a more advantageous cost structure established by the non-profit for royalty requiring songs, I take it there would be no objection to the CBC streaming public domain and Creative Commons licensed content? (I'm assuming Canadian law doesn't mandate royalties be paid for any playing of any content, but that's an assumption - somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.)
On a broader scale, I sometimes wonder if we need to have a public conversation about the fundamental motivation for allowing and promoting non-commercial activity, and what kind of society we really want to be. As I understand it, non-profits get treated differently because they are (theoretically) providing some benefit to society at lower cost than would be necessary to an organization performing the same service while trying to make a profit at the same time. Lower cost means greater public benefit for the same resources committed, and that greater public benefit is valued more highly by society than the specific lost opportunity for someone to make a profit.
In principle, if you disapprove of non-profit activities, couldn't it be argued that the very existence of ANY non-profit is unfair competition to some potential for-profit company? Do people who think this way see any value in anything that isn't tied to profits? Are municipalities that want to provide public internet to all at low cost as a utility (information becomes just like power and water, not an unreasonable analogy given the way our society currently functions) doing something wrong? Are libraries ruining the commercial market for books and other consumer media? Are museums wasteful institutions because they lock up artifacts that could otherwise be immensely profitable as commodities being bought and sold in the art and collectibles markets? Is public schooling a bad idea because it competes with private schools that would otherwise be able to pick up the business? Where and how do we draw this line?
top Florida Thinks Their Students Are Too Stupid To Know the Right Answers
it's how you handle it that counts. Years ago, I was part of a program where a college did some summer school programs for (IIRC) middle school students designed to give them more exposure to science. On the whole it was a good program, but the college physics students working that summer looked at the physics questions on the final test and discovered several problems. To the credit of those running the program, when the college students pointed out the issues to the program leaders they either struck the questions or gave credit for correct answers when more than one answer was shown to be correct. And they did so as the test was in progress, rather than let the students trip on them and get slowed down. I was impressed at the time, and am more impressed in retrospect.
Science questions can be tricky to get right - what seems like an unambiguous question when it is written turns out to be much less so when you start thinking more "generally" about things like frame of reference. It's important to own up if those kinds of mistakes happen though, because the students who are thinking about the questions deeply enough to spot those issues are exactly the ones you most want to encourage in scientific study. The response "yeah you're technically right but we're not changing your score because we meant this" is very discouraging, and will tend to cause students to shy away from complex subjects. It demonstrates that learning the material is not always enough to get decent grades - why bother putting effort into it when there are other fields that more reliably reward their efforts?
Part of me wonders why teachers are still having to write their own questions for basic subjects like this... you'd think there would be Creative Commons licensed materials assembled that had been widely vetted and community reviewed... add a bunch of vetted, correct "twists" to each question that the teacher could opt for when assembling a given test and memorizing all the possible answers gets prohibitive - or at least, gets hard to do without actually learning what needs to be learned to answer correctly in the first place...
top Open-Source NVIDIA Driver Goes Stable On Linux
I'm using this driver (well, probably a slightly older version of it) with my desktop now, and so far I've been pleasently surprised. I don't need blazing fast performance on 3D for most things. FlightGear/OpenArena level games are about as far as I'm likely to push, since I'm not into the latest and greatest FPS anymore. Given that, the prospect of an integrated driver that "just works" without having to do anything extra is awesome.
My last Gentoo re-install I ended up trying the Nouveau driver after my attempt at enabling the binary NVIDIA driver didn't go well - had to flip on a couple kernel options to get acceleration, but after doing so and for my uses the results are "fast enough." I'll be sticking with Nouveau from now on unless I hit a major show-stopper. Well done, Nouveau team!
top When it comes to U.S. colonies on the moon ...
My guess is a disaster on the scale discussed would actually be less survivable than a remote hostile environment, for the simple reason that such a disaster would constitute an abrupt, dramatic shift in the environment with no (or at least, not enough) time to prepare our resources to cope with it. Not to mention the minor issue of deciding who survives out of the current world's population if our resources under disaster conditions can only handle 5% of the population - that alone might be enough to socially cripple beyond repair any effective survival measures.
Setting up shop in a remote hostile enviroment for the long haul is something we can do under calm, socially stable conditions that let us problem solve effectively. The kicker is of course whether there is enough incentive for us to commit the considerable resources it would take to actually achieve a survival result in such an environment - as you correctly note, it's a problem given our current technology. To me, the first thing to do is start improving our technology with an eye towards developing what we will need in such environments, before we go and try to set up shop there - no doubt many lessons would have to be learned in the attempt, but we can very likely do a lot "up front" to improve our chances of success (and probably produce some cool tech at the same time for domestic use.)
top NASA Open Sources Aircraft Design Software
They have been told this:
See in particular slide 22.
I suspect any meaningful change in the policy dictating NOSA use, if its even possible, will take years....
top NTSB Recommends Cell Phone Ban For Drivers
Banning hands-free cell phone usage raises some other interesting questions... should we ban talking to others in the vehicle while driving? Listening to talk radio while driving? Listening to music? (Who else has caught modern music using sirens and cell phone noises as faint background attention getters?)
I suspect the default assumption made about people objecting to a ban would be that those people don't want to lose the convenience of talking to their friends/family while stuck in traffic, and in a lot of cases that's probably a fair assumption. However, personal convenience issues aside, there are a lot of professions (real estate agents come to mind) who do a LOT of their business while between one location and the next. Really clamping down on such a ban would play havoc with them. What about doctors - should they no longer be allowed to be notified about patient emergencies while behind the wheel? Should police cars have to pull over in order to use their communications gear?
Banning texting strikes me as a no brainer (I'm more astonished anyone would actually *try* that...) and hands-on usage banning I agree with, but banning hands OFF communication seems to invite some complications that deserve careful thought. I have heard claims that even hands-off cell phone usage causes a dangerous degree of driver distraction and that might be the case, but does anybody know of actual published peer reviewed studies demonstrating that and what the numbers are compared to radio, in-car discussions and other such distractions?
top Isaac Newton's Notes Digitized
Looks like they're using a non-commercial Creative Commons license for the images:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-NC 3.0)
That trend seems to be popular when it comes to such efforts, and by and large I'm OK with it - preserving early manuscripts is not a zero cost operation, and the NC license allows the data to be distributed and made available for scholarship while still giving the holding institution the chance to recover some of the (usually non-trivial) expense of digitzation. Hopefully if they don't want to publish printed bound versions themselves they'll be willing to negociate with someone who is intersted...
top Isaac Newton's Notes Digitized
There have been a number of other notable manuscript digitization projects of late:
British Libraries Digitised Manuscripts
"Homer Multitext" - several manuscripts including Venetus A
The Archimedes Palimpsest
Personally I think such projects are absolutely vital to the long term preservation of these manuscripts. Modern technology makes possible the duplication of these source documents in high fidelity facsimile (Taschen in particular has published a number of fascinating editions, including Blaeu's Atlas Maior - another example would be The Book of Michael of Rhodes from MIT Press). So often works survive only as a copy of a copy of a copy, and we are left to peer through the murky glass of multiple interpertations at the far distant original author's intent. (The current definitive edition of Euclid, for example, is available to us only because of a single surviving early copy in the Vatican's library (which so far as I know has not been digitized, unfortunately, except for a couple images here:
We should be scanning and then printing many copies of these early works and depositing them in libraries around the world in order to help these early glimpses into our history survive (at least in SOME form, even if the originals are lost). Of course, multiple copies of the digital data is also very important, but we have no way of knowing how well digital data will survive on thousand-year time scales. Fingers crossed that we will see multiple volume facsimilie copies of Newton's notebooks (one volume for the facsimile, one for a modern translation ) on Amazon in the next few years...
top OpenMoko's FreeRunner Rises From the Ashes
I'd pay extra for an open phone, provided it did two things reliably - make calls and receive calls.
I was excited by the OpenMoko project, and I am still grateful for what they have provided to the community (among other things, the Computer Aided Design models for their phone case are still the best open source CAD models I know of). I even got my hands on a Neo1973 as a physical example of (some of) those CAD files, for reference. I have never seriously considered trying to use it as my primary phone, however.
Personally, I'm less concerned with "smart phone" features - my main phone is still the "old school" style without a touch screen, internet, or all of the features we commonly associate with things like the IPhone. That makes me a fairly good candidate for an open phone, so long as it can do phone calls well - the stability/in-development status of the rest of the "smartphone pacakge" wouldn't bother me so much. But it *does* need to do phone calls. Decent charging behavior would also be a plus.
If they can focus on and deliver those key things for the "next" version of the OpenMoko, I'm definitely going to be interested. Fingers crossed...
top The best computer upgrade I've ever done was:
Monitor isn't the *only* investment grade hardware around - what about a Model M keyboard? I think mine has outlived at least two machines since I owned it (got it used in 2002 or so and it's dated from the 80s, so lord only knows how many before I got it), and I'll be replacing it with a new Unicomp Model M for my next machine (already got it ahead of time) only because I can't get adapters for the old style plug any more. It's still working great and I'd keep using it if I could.
Now *that* is durable hardware
P.S. - that reminds me, anybody know of a USB adapter for old style AT keyboard? I know there are problems with not enough power being supplied from a single USB slot...
top Mozilla To Remove User-Facing Firefox Version Numbers
OK, it's pretty well established that a lot of people don't like this new approach to Firefox versions (or lack thereof). Among (many) other issues, how are website developers supposed to test against various versions of the browser to make sure things work? (Uh, yeah, your website didn't work with Firefox version Tuesday and Thursday, but I didn't see the problem on Friday...)
If we don't like it, what options are available?
Fork it - difficult to do successfully; replacing the supported development currently done on the codebase is probably impractical unless all the support moved to the fork. Also total loss of brand name recognition, since the firefox name and logo couldn't move with a fork.
Use something else - Opera isn't open source, so while it's a good practical alternative to have around it's not something to bet the farm on. Chrome is at least based on Webkit, but it also isn't fully open and has similar versioning issues. Also, the Firefox plugin ecosystem would be hard for a lot of people to give up.
Negociate a truce - if the Mozilla devs don't want to maintain releases, perhaps the various Linux distributions and corporate users with an incentive to see stability return could pool some development and financial resources to maintain a stable version of Mozilla's web browser (my vote would be Mozilla Gibraltar) that would protect corporate users from the churn and ensure things like major/minor version API compatibility. Firefox can plow ahead at full speed, but have a team of developers taking Firefox's work and more carefully fitting it into a more traditional framework. If Mozilla were willing to "bless" such a browser while not having to constrain their Firefox development style to satisfy the requirements of corporate IT and more cautious users, perhaps it would be workable all around?
Backporting fixes to older software versions does take work and is usually less than exiting (wow that was crappy code, now how do I make it do this new thing without gutting it?) so perhaps it might be reasonable to set up a mechanism where those who want that work can vote with $$ to make it happen while still being an "official" Mozilla browser?
top Mozilla To Remove User-Facing Firefox Version Numbers
There seem to be some projects that actively resent the idea of version numbers having meaning. Maybe they don't want to be "constrained" by what they can and can't do based on major/minor version updates, or maybe they just don't want to keep track of it all - I'm not really sure.
To me, version numbers are a way to communicate something about a project to users. "Oh, it's a patch release? That should be relatively small fixes and fairly safe. A minor release? Cool, some new features or significant changes to look at. A major release? The file format changed and the GUI got rewritten - going to need some eval/retraining on this one."
There are reasons for this rational, structured approach - when you have users in the Real World, they need time to prepare for major changes. Your software is probably doing Real Work, and cannot be simply yanked and upgraded without first ensuring that it will continue to do what it needs to do.
Developers may resent this, but it is an utterly inescapable reality. Critical tools cannot be casually changed - there MUST be a testing and validation period. Patch releases with minor/security fixes allow for relatively quick and simple deployment of truly essential changes without the major upheaval of EVERYTHING changing. Eventually you do need to make the jump to the next major upgrade, but surely Debian stable is proof positive that users need controlled, gradual change? Relativly stable periods between major changes are ESSENTIAL for a controlled computer environment, and it's hard to blame those who are saying the new Firefox approach is automatically disqualifying it from their networks.
Of course, there's also the point that developers with limited resources don't want to have to keep backporting code to older versions of browsers and work around issues that should have long since been restructured away (and have, in newer versions.) This is actually one of the better cases for commercial support of FLOSS - a company being paid to ensure older versions work can do the grunt work that the open source volunteers aren't going to want to spend time on.
Perhaps Mozilla could think about offering a paid service that maintains and supports particularl version numbers of browsers and have their "unversioned" open source browser with all the latest changes be the default, if this is a resource constraint issue?
top Standards Make Rapid Software Releases Workable
I'm seeing a lot of folks saying Chrome may be the big winner out of all of this, but not much comment about Opera making gains. I confess to being a bit out of the loop when it comes to browser alternatives, but my impression was that Chrome isn't entirely open source. It uses WebKit, but that licensing does not seem to cover the whole of the browser - wikipedia at least cites some sort of "Google Chrome Terms of Service".
Are the "GCTS" open source, or is the current sense of the community that Chrome is "open enough" to displace Firefox, despite not being fully open? If I were a business and needed to replace Firefox, and didn't care about open source, my first thought would have been Opera - is the recent management change there (along with the comments about "quarterly" focused management) enough to cast a shadow on Opera as well?