Posts Tagged ‘Software’

Software rot, not cyber-terrorism, is the threat

July 12, 2015

The computer systems serving United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street Journal web page all crashed on the same day.

The cause almost certainly was not cyber-terrorism.  It was software rot.

Software programs of most big institutions are built on modifications of older obsolete programs.  There are so many layers of software that nobody fully understands them.

A writer named Zeynep Tufekci explained—

In the nineties, I paid for parts of my college education by making such old software work on newer machines.  Sometimes, I was handed a database, and some executable (compiled) code that nobody had the source code for.  The mystery code did some things to the database.  Now more things needed to be done.

windows-rotThe sane solution would have been to port the whole system to newer machines, fully, with new source code.  But the company neither had the money nor the time to fix it like that, once and for all.

So I wrote more code that intervened between the old programs and the old database, and added some options that the management wanted.  It was a lousy fix. 

It wouldn’t work for the next thing that needed to be done, either, but they would probably hire one more person to write another layer of connecting code. But it was cheap (for them). And it worked (for the moment).

via Medium.

Other aspects of the problem are that most software programs are written in a hurry to meet tight deadlines.  Remember the engineers’ proverb?

Price.  Time.  Quality.

Pick any two.

All this is part of a larger societal problem—the refusal of managers of big institutions to spend money on maintenance.

Our dominant operating systems, our way of working, and our common approach to developing, auditing and debugging software, and spending (or not) money on its maintenance, has not yet reached the requirements of the 21st century.  [snip]

From our infrastructure to our privacy, our software suffers from “software sucks” syndrome which doesn’t sound as important as a Big Mean Attack of Cyberterrorists. But it is probably worse in the danger it poses.

Via Why the Great Glitch of July 8 Should Scare You by Zeynep Tufekci for Medium.

The danger of living in an all-digital world

June 16, 2014

Barnes & Noble wants to shift me away from buying printed books and get on their Nook system.  My church wants to stop sending me paper newsletters and send me e-mail instead.  My bank stopped sending me canceled checks, or even photocopies of canceled checks, a long time ago.

My medical records and bank records are all in electronic form, and I’d guess (though I don’t know) that those records have no physical back-up

Digital-MediaNow influential people are talking seriously about phasing out paper money, and doing all buying and selling by means of credit cards or debit cards.

It doesn’t make sense to me to become so dependent on software systems when nobody can guarantee that these systems are completely reliable.

The Internet and digital technology are great blessings.  I just don’t want to become completely dependent on them.

I want to read a book that can’t be deleted because of a windstorm, a software glitch or a corporate or government edict, and I want to be free to do what I please with the book.  If somebody else wants to use Kindle or Nook, that’s fine.   Just don’t deny me access to printed books in order to make life easier for book distributors.


The passing scene: Notes & links 11/26/13

November 26, 2013

Silicon Chasm: the class divide on America’s cutting edge by Charlotte Allen for The Weekly Standard.

Pundits such as Richard Florida say that if a community caters to the “creative class,” there will be business innovations that expand the economy and benefit the whole community.   Charlotte Allen’s tour of Silicon Valley indicates that things don’t necessarily work out that way.

When Product Features Disappear: Apple, Amazon and Tesla and the Troubled Future of 21st Century Consumers by Steve Blank.

One of the great innovations of the 21st century is software-based products which you don’t need to maintain yourself, and which suppliers automatically upgrade without you having to go to the store.  But Steve Bank points out that the downside is that (1) the product you bought today may not be the product you have later, (2) manufacturers can, and do, downgrade your product as well as upgrade it, and (3) you have no legal protection.

“Blood Avocados”: the Dark Side of Your Guacamole by Jan-Albert Hootsen for the Vocativ news site.

Alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 1920s fueled a big increase in organized crime.  But when Prohibition ended, the crime syndicates didn’t go away.  The gangsters found new forms of enterprise.  Drug prohibition in the United States has fueled a big increase in organized crime in Mexico, Colombia and other countries.  But drug legalization won’t make those crime syndicates go away.  Jan-Albert Hootsen wrote about how one Mexican drug syndicate is taking over the avocado industry.

Coal Politics: Big Win in a Small Town by Lou Dubose for the Washington Spectator.