Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kalzumeus: Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names

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Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names

John Graham-Cumming wrote an article today complaining about how a computer system he was working with described his last name as having invalid characters. It of course does not, because anything someone tells you is their name is — by definition — an appropriate identifier for them. John was understandably vexed about this situation, and he has every right to be, because names are central to our identities, virtually by definition.

I have lived in Japan for several years, programming in a professional capacity, and I have broken many systems by the simple expedient of being introduced into them. (Most people call me Patrick McKenzie, but I’ll acknowledge as correct any of six different "full" names, any many systems I deal with will accept precisely none of them.) Similarly, I’ve worked with Big Freaking Enterprises which, by dint of doing business globally, have theoretically designed their systems to allow all names to work in them. I have never seen a computer system which handles names properly and doubt one exists, anywhere.

So, as a public service, I’m going to list assumptions your systems probably make about names. All of these assumptions are wrong. Try to make less of them next time you write a system which touches names.

More really good information for programmers and for anyone who finds the subject of names to be of interest.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to read the message I just posted which gives the same treatment to timekeeping.

Infinite Undo: Falsehoolds Programmers Believe About Time

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Falsehoolds People Believe About Time

Over the past couple of years I have spent a lot of time debugging other engineers’ test code. This was interesting work, occasionally frustrating but always informative. One might not immediately think that test code would have bugs, but of course all code has bugs and tests are no exception.

I have repeatedly been confounded to discover just how many mistakes in both test and application code stem from misunderstandings or misconceptions about time. By this I mean both the interesting way in which computers handle time, and the fundamental gotchas inherent in how we humans have constructed our calendar – daylight savings being just the tip of the iceberg.

In fact I have seen so many of these misconceptions crop up in other people’s (and my own) programs that I thought it would be worthwhile to collect a list of the more common problems here.

A really fascinating read, both if you're a programmer and if you're a normal human being who just happens to find timekeeping interesting.

Be sure to also read the sequel with even more falsehoods programmers believe about time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Rolling Stone: Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free

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Up in the Air: Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free
Last year, a young man walked into the Seattle airport and took the next flight to anywhere — and he hasn't come down since
By Ben Wofford July 20, 2015

Schlappig, 25, is one of the biggest stars among an elite group of obsessive flyers whose mission is to outwit the airlines. They're self-styled competitors with a singular objective: fly for free, as much as they can, without getting caught. In the past 20 years, the Internet has drawn together this strange band of savants with an odd mix of skills: the digital talent of a code writer, a lawyer's love affair with fine print, and a passion for airline bureaucracy. It's a whirring hive mind of IT whizzes, stats majors, aviation nerds and everyone else you knew who skipped the prom.

Wow. It's a lonely life, but I'm very amused at this guy's ability to game the airlines' own rigged system.

The real irony is that none of this would be possible if the airlines would just play fair with their customers. But they don't. Schlappig is proof that if make the rules too complex for anyone (including yourself) to understand, there will always be a few people who figure it out and take you to the cleaners using those very same rules.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ABC: The Muppets - First Look Presentation

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I can't wait for the show to air. It's going to be heaps-o-fun.

New York Times Bits blog: Security Researchers Find a Way to Hack Cars

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Security Researchers Find a Way to Hack Cars
By Nicole Perlroth July 21, 2015 2:32 pm

Some cars can now be hacked.

Over the last two years, two well-respected security researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, have been hacking away at various cars, trying to find a way to control them remotely.

At the annual Black Hat and Def Con hacking conferences in Las Vegas in August, Mr. Miller and Mr. Valasek plan to demonstrate how, after two years of research, they have discovered a way to control hundreds of thousands of vehicles remotely. From the Internet, they were able to track cars down by their location, see how fast they were going, turn their blinkers and lights on and off, mess with their windshield wipers, radios, navigation and, in some cases, control their brakes and steering.

This is a pretty disturbing article. They used a security hole in the radio's firmware (which is used for cellular communication, navigation and probably other things) to hack into the radio. From there, they were able to access the other computers in the car.

I know that my car (a Honda Civic) is similarly connected. There are several computers in there, and they all seem to be coordinated by an iMID - Intelligent Multi-Information Display. This computer controls a screen that shows radio settings, fuel economy data, the odometer, and pops up alerts for scheduled maintenance and "check engine" warnings. For some model cars, it also has internet connectivity for music (e.g. Pandora), phone calls and text messages, along with BlueTooth and USB connectivity to your phone. Based on what I've been able to learn from various web sources, this computer connects to just about everything in the car. If someone can hack it, they can pretty much take over, maybe even do things to kill the driver (imagine what would happen if the airbag suddenly deployed while driving at highway speed around a turn.)

I'm very glad my car has no network connectivity of any kind. If someone wants to hack it, they're going to have to get physical access first. But will I even have that choice when it's time to buy my next car?

Dry Bones: Not the Donald

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The media is so shocked by Trump's pronouncements that folks can't believe that the quote in the cartoon is not by Donald S. Trump but rather by a liberal Democrat.

Click through to read the entire quote by Al Franken.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Light Reading: I Ate Soylent for a Day: 'Food' Special

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I Ate Soylent for a Day: 'Food' Special

... I started looking into several food products that have been engineered to deliver complete nutritional needs. The granddaddy of these, announced more than two years ago, is Soylent. Marketed as "a full day of balanced nutrition made in 3 minutes for $3/meal," Soylent is a bag of mixed nutrient powders that you blend with water and drink. The manufacturers and enthusiasts say you can survive on nothing but Soylent all day -- and some do for months -- though most Soylent users live on a mixed diet of Soylent for some meals and snacks, and regular food for others.

I decided to try Soylent to see how I liked it, and whether I could use it for a few meals or snacks on the road to channel my unhealthy eating into healthy patterns....

Interesting, but I can't imagine wanting to drink this goop in place of going to lunch. Lunch breaks aren't just to keep from starving, but to get out of the office for an hour each day and unwind from the morning's stress.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Imgur: These will be useful in certain comment threads

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These will be useful in certain comment threads

A great list of logical fallacies commonly used in discussions (in real life as well as on-line), illustrated with football refs.

I may have to link to some of these when confronted with critics who can't think. The one I put in the tag image above seems to be the one I get hit with most often. Along with these gems:

See the full collection.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fortune: Meet Ericsson’s first 5G device

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Meet Ericsson’s first 5G device

This 5G test device may be too big to fit into a car, but it’s already outperforming every 4G phone on the market today.

Telecom firm Ericsson is testing out a new 5G device on the streets of Stockholm, Sweden and Plano, Texas, that will revolutionize mobile technology.
Ericsson routinely clocks 2 Gbps in its outdoor tests. That’s already ten times faster than the 200 Mbps theoretical speeds available on today’s most powerful 4G networks, and it’s really only the beginning.
"This is not only yet another system for mobile broadband," says Sara Mazur, Ericsson’s head of research. "The 5G system is the system that will help create a networked society."

A fascinating look into one company's "5G" wireless research and a possible glimpse at what we can expect to see in a few years. Read the whole article for more interesting information about this new tech.