Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programmers

I make it easier and faster for you to write high-quality software.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

“Patently” obvious

Due to a lack of digit extraction I’m not at FOSDEM this weekend. That’s unfortunate because as well as catching up with my friends at Brainstorm and on GNUstep, I really enjoyed the weekend last year and drank plenty of great Belgian beer and ate plenty of nice moules-frites.

So I’ve been spiritually living the Free lifestyle by reading what RMS and Torvalds have to say. Mostly I’ve been going over the essays in Free Software, Free Society. I find it very easy to accept the premises RMS uses, easy to follow, comprehend and agree with the arguments he presents but then somehow (perhaps for illogical reasons on my part, his part or both) hard to agree that the conclusions he draws are inevitable.

For instance, I agree that copyright law exists directly to benefit the public, and indirectly to benefit the authors (by providing incentives for authors in the shape of limited term monopoly over their authored content) and not at all to benefit Industry Associations. It even says that here, in the first ever copyright law: …for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books; May it please Your Majesty, that it may be Enacted… certainly doesn’t seem to mention greedy lawyers or management.

Letters patent were never created for the same reason, of course. But because it became clear that patents from the Crown were obtained uppon Misinformacions and untrue pretences of publique good, many such Graunts have bene undulie obteyned and unlawfullie putt in execucion, to the greate Greevance and Inconvenience of your Majesties Subjects, contrary to the Lawes of this your Realme, and contrary to your Majesties royall and blessed Intencion soe published, so the whole system was rebooted so that patents were only grantable … to the true and first Inventor and Inventors of such Manufactures, […] soe as alsoe they be not contrary to the Lawe nor mischievous to the State, by raisinge prices of Commodities at home, or hurt of Trade, or generallie inconvenient….

The situation we find ourselves in now is that industries claim copyrights and inventions from the authors and inventors and lobby for more and more restrictive variants of the above laws, ignoring the previously-granted rights of the public at large and extending the previously-ungranted rights of the rights-owners, simultaneously removing those rights from the people granted the rights in the first place. So why in the case of copyright do the FSF assume copyright, but in the case of patents they refuse to deal with them? That inconsistency I don’t understand.

posted by Graham Lee at 17:28  

Monday, February 18, 2008

Don’t go there

From the title linky: " Mobility is only available for Windows and Linux." Good job no-one bases their mobile appliances on Mac OS X ;-)

posted by Graham Lee at 21:02  

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mach-OFS: aforementioned polish and functionality

It’s getting there, now has the ability to display load commands (though it only reports useful information for LC_SEGMENT and LC_SEGMENT_64 commands):

Again the screenshot depicts the OmniDazzle binary for no reason other than it’s a nontrivial file. The directions in which to take the filesystem are now numerous: I can add info about the remaining load commands (v. useful), the raw data for each segment (somewhat useful), and the sections in each segment (v. useful). Whether the filesystem will eventually get to the level of symbol resolution, I’m not sure :-).

posted by Graham Lee at 00:58  

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Well, you could have told me

When looking through some of the configuration options on my laptop (well, it’s either that or go to the pub and socialise with humans) I came across something I couldn’t account — pardon the pun — for. A new user account on the system, short name messagebus, full name "Message Bus" user id 506. Now messagebus looks like the name of a system daemon user, but that full name looks like some clueless skiddie made a mistake creating the user account, especially as the uid is that of a regular user. That’s the kind of mistake no self-respecting installer would make.

So, what had this phantom user done? Well, thankfully, nothing. Neither the shell nor home directory was real, and wtmp/utmp showed no activity. Neither did the ssh logs – but in looking for them I realised that I don’t actually use ssh on the box, so turned it off.

Anyway, it turned out to be an innocuous issue – the MacPorts installer for dbus creates this bogus user, which I’ve since deleted. This Apple forums discussion explains more.

posted by Graham Lee at 00:41  

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mach-O FS (no really, MacFUSE does rule)

It needs some polishing and more functionality before I’d call it useful, then I have to find out whether I’m allowed to do anything with the source code ;-). But this is at least quite a cool hack; exploring a Mach-O file (thin or fat – in this case, I used the OmniDazzle executable which is a fat file) as if it’s a file system. FUSE of course makes it easy, so thanks to Amit Singh for the port!

posted by Graham Lee at 23:39  

Saturday, February 9, 2008

MacFUSE rules

One reason that microkernels win over everything else (piss off, Linus) is that stability is better, because less stuff is running in the dangerous and all-powerful kernel environment. MacFUSE, like FUSE implementations on other UNIX-like operating systems, takes the microkernel approach to filesystems, hooking requests for information out of the kernel and passing them to user-space processes to handle. Here’s the worst that can happen when screwing up a FUSE filesystem:

Now that might sound not only like a recipe for lower-quality code, but also like I’m extolling the capability to create lower-quality code. Well no it isn’t, and yes I am. The advantage is that now the develop-debug-fix cycle for filesystems is just as short as it is for other userland applications (and HURD translators and the like). This provides a lower barrier to entry (meaning that it’s more likely that interesting and innovative filesystems can be created), but also a faster turnaround on bugfixes (no panic, restart, try to salvage panic log… no two-machine debugging with kdb…) so ultimately higher-quality filesystems.

posted by Graham Lee at 22:06  

Friday, February 8, 2008

Non-subscription updates means charged?


p>The justification for the iPod Touch upgrade fee (to enable the new apps, which are actually deployed-but-disabled by a free firmware upgrade) is the same as the justification given for the MacBook wireless upgrade fee last year – that adding new features to a product that isn’t sold as a subscription service needs to be charged for. That in itself is odd – it means that the regulators in the States get to set a price (if not the price) for hitherto free products offered by companies. But it raises a more interesting question – what constitutes a new feature? If a bugfix renders a previously-unusable feature usable, is that charged for? If a security fix makes it possible to use a system in a different environment, should that be charged for?

posted by Graham Lee at 18:55  

Friday, February 8, 2008

From the no-man’s-land of the format wars

About nine and a half years ago, a sixteen-year-old gadget boy in Weymouth made a simple mistake. Given the already near-complete shift of the music industry from the cassette tape to the Philips compact disc, and the superior portability and resilience of the Sony MiniDisc format, this boy decided that it was obvious the world was going to adopt this format. So our protagonist went out and bought a MZ-R35 walkman. Three years later, and although the writing was by now on the wall for the storage format, he added an MD-M3 to his collection.

I now believe I own all five pre-recorded MiniDisc albums ever made (though I don’t remember when I bought Hours by Bowie, and can only think that I bought Recurring Dream because at the time I fancied a girl who liked Crowded House), and have swathes of my vinyl and tape collection "backed up" to recordable MDs. But the rest of the world forgot to catch up with me! Where are the Hi-MD drives built in to laptops? Even Sony don’t offer that… Come to that, why do we still put up with crappy scratchable CDs? iPods may be a damn sight more convenient than my MD walkman is, but the bandwidth of an amazon package containing MiniDiscs is still far higher than the connection between my laptop and iTunes.

I still intend to find the required cable and port the rest of my LPs to the format though, as MDs are definitely more portable and resilient than is vinyl. And I haven’t actually listened to Bauhaus’ 1979-1983 in years.

posted by Graham Lee at 00:57  

Friday, February 1, 2008

We! Haven’t! Thought! This! Through!

So almost the entire world has exploded with news that Microsoft haven’t bought Yahoo!, but are at least waving ridiculous amounts of TEH CAHS under the noses of the shareholders. But what would be the outcome of such a takeover? Microsoft and Yahoo! are in pretty much the same position, they both have technologically acceptable “online presence” services which are marketed really badly such that a competitor virtually owns the market. The only example of a service between them I can think of which is vaguely market-leading is Flickr, although Yahoo! Groups (which was eGroups) might still be popular, I expect that Facebook and Google groups are at least comparable, if not larger than it. Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail are both familiar names, but then online mail is now a free and worthless commodity, and everyone has been playing catchup with Gmail for the last couple of years. People don’t “Windows Live Search” a thing, they “Google” it. People don’t “Yahoo! Video” their dogs on skateboards, they “Youtube” them.

So the post-acquisition world would go from two implementations to one, but one that’s still being marketed into the ground and with a few fewer workers. And all the transitional pain that Microsoft will impose on Yahoo! services, when someone remembers that FreeBSD isn’t a Microsoft solution. M$ seem to be of the opinion that with a market they don’t lead and $45Bn, the best approach is to lose the $45Bn and hire some other people who don’t lead the market. Not, like, take that $45Bn and make their stuff better.

posted by Graham Lee at 23:54  

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