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David B. Black
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I promise I didn't plan it this way, but when I looked on Amazon for a product to help me deal with an infestation of bugs, I encountered a major ... yes, bug. I described the bug in detail here, and at the time thought it might be isolated -- after all, in my all-too-extensive use of Amazon, I had never before encountered such a bug. Not long after, as the issue continued to "bug" me, I went onto Amazon again, and found more interesting bugs. This could be just some scamming or corruption. I'm taking the trouble to describe... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2019 at The Black Liszt
I have found ample reason to mock the golden-glowed tech reputations of most of the tech giants, in addition to the supposed tech prowess of organizations such as the NSA. There is good reason to believe that old-style libraries are more secure. I recently stumbled upon a rather glaring bug or result of hacking at Amazon -- and found that Amazon provides no way I could find to report the problem. The problem was glaring and amusing -- a whole set of over 3,000 reviews of a book attached to a pest repelling product. As I'll describe in a future... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Computers are so exact and numbers-based that we tend to think of the people in charge of them as white-jacketed scientists with esoteric knowledge driving towards calculated optimal results, much the same way we imagine that the scientists and engineers calculated the path of the Apollo capsule to the Moon. If the Apollo program were run the way most computer projects are, it would have been a miracle if the capsule made it off the launch pad, much less traced an incredibly exact path from Cape Canaveral to the chosen landing spot on the Moon, a journey of over a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Since when is “data entry” (entering data into a computer) a pivotal, innovative technology? When the difference between doing it the normal way and doing it with advanced technologies is a …ten-to-one productivity difference … that’s when. I’ve described how the Operations Research algorithm of Linear Programming is fifty years into an agonizingly slow roll-out through different applications, from scheduling oil refineries in the 1960’s to scheduling retail sales in the 1990’s, and now scheduling medical infusion centers and operating rooms in the late 2010’s. In each case, laborious and error-prone human scheduling was replaced by the algorithm, with improvements... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Facebook is working hard on building a brand-new cryptocurrency system called Libra, sort of like Bitcoin and Ethereum, except it will be much better, at least according to Facebook. With all the talk about Libra, cryptocurrency, regulation and the rest, no one seems to wonder about what existing solutions normal people will be using to solve the problems for which Libra is suited. This isn’t strange at all actually – in all you’ve read about Facebook’s Libra, how much have you read about the pressing problems it will solve, the unmet needs it will address – right? Mostly what you... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2019 at The Black Liszt
There are patterns in software evolution. Because almost no one studies software history, and even fewer study software evolution, these patterns are almost never discussed. The patterns are amazing. In some cases, you can be pretty sure that a trend that “everyone” says is going to be the future will fizzle out. In other cases, you can predict with a high degree of certainly that software of a certain definite kind and description will be built – even though it hasn’t been built yet – it hasn’t been built anywhere by anyone, but nonetheless you know it will be built.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Value-creating innovations are rarely the result of a bright new A-HA moment, though an individual may have that experience. A shocking number of innovations are completely predictable, partly because they've already been implemented -- but put back in the vast reservoir of ready-to-use innovations, or implemented in some other domain. This fact is one of the most important patterns of software evolution. Sometimes the innovation is created, proven and fully deployed in production, like the optimization method Linear Programming, which I describe here. In other cases, like this one, the innovation is built as a functioning prototype with the cooperation... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Practically no one understands software, so why should we expect anyone to understand the broader and in some ways more demanding subject of software evolution? But while rarely (as in, almost never) studied, thoughts about software evolution are often found lurking in the backs of people's minds, and pop out in the things they write. In biological evolution, putting aside nasty things like DNA and all the stuff it can and can't explain, there is a now-obvious pattern in the fossil record of how species have evolved. There is a clear progression from simple to complex, less capable to more... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2019 at The Black Liszt
There is loads of talk about “innovation.” Lots of people want to do it, lots of people think they’re doing it, consultants run courses in how to be innovative, and large organizations claim to promote innovation and be innovative. The assumption behind most of this “innovation” talk is that a wonderful bright idea that will change the world (or at least your organization or startup) can pop into anyone’s head. It’s new! It’s brilliant! We’re going to win big with this great new idea! See this for example. When you study software evolution, you get an entirely different picture of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2019 at The Black Liszt
There is a general impression that software innovation in one of its many forms e.g. “Digital Transformation” is marching ahead full steam. There are courses, consultants, posters hanging in common spaces and newly-created Chief Innovation Officer positions. What’s new? What’s the latest in software? The reality is that there are large reservoirs of proven, tested and working software innovations ready to be rolled out, but these riches are kept behind the solid walls of dams, with armies of alert guardians ready to leap in and patch any holes through which these valuable innovations may start leaking into practice. Almost no... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Facebook’s Libra faces the daunting task of pulling off the flawless world-wide launch sometime next year of a new cryptocurrency based on new code. In taking on this task, they are hoping to pull off a first in software history: a major body of new code that works out of the gate. I assess the odds of this working here. At the same time, they have upped the stakes by also introducing a brand-new smart contract framework based on a brand-new language. Good luck! Smart contracts are a way of extending and customizing a blockchain. Outsiders might imagine that the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2019 at The Black Liszt
There is a great deal of buzz about Facebook’s new cryptocurrency Libra. There is even a trickle of technical information about it surfacing. No one seems to be talking about the deep-seated technical reasons the new system will crash and burn. Sadly for Libra, there isn’t just one such fatal flaw! Here I’ll describe one of them. The core reasons that FB’s Libra will fail are: it’s a large body of new code new code is always riddled with bugs, no matter how hard the developers try Unlike the code big companies like FB are used to, bugs are really... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2019 at The Black Liszt
There is strong interest in the latest developments in software. No one wants to be left behind. At the same time, there is a peculiar (to me) lack of interest in whatever the latest thing grew out of or evolved from. What are the new thing's predecessors? What did that thing grow out of. Have similar things appeared in the past? Are there patterns we can observe here, or are the new software things that explode onto the scene just a meaningless sequence of random events? Are they things that we obsess about while they're here without questioning or wondering... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2019 at The Black Liszt
After many years of fighting against entrenched corporate interests, the FCC finally extended its regulatory authority to the internet, instituting the so-called "net neutrality" rule in 2015. Finally, the internet would remain free and open. Then a new administration came in, with new leadership at the FCC. There was a move to repeal the common-sense principle of "net neutrality!" Why would anyone think that letting giant corporations pick and choose what we can see on the internet was a good idea, making things they didn't like too expensive or simply blocked -- crazy! It's kind of like repealing the laws... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2019 at The Black Liszt
If you want a cheap laugh, go to the Mount Sinai medical system website and hope they ask you to complete an opinion survey. It’s stupid and ridiculous, deserving lots of snark. But try not to think about what it means or the underlying reality, or you might get kinda depressed. Like I did, because I went to the website because I needed to get something done! I needed a phone number. Sounds simple, right? Until you understand I had already talked with someone at Mount Sinai, and that person gave me the wrong number. But I really needed the... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Computer software is plagued by nightmares. The nightmares vary. Sometimes they are fundamentally sound ideas that are pursued in the wrong way, in the wrong circumstances or at the wrong time. Therefore they fail – but usually come back, sometimes with a different name or emphasis. Sometimes they’re just plain bad ideas, but sound good and are cleverly promoted, and sound like they may be relevant to solving widely acknowledged problems. Except they just don’t work. Sometimes these fundamentally bad ideas resurface, sometimes with a new name. Sometimes they’re a good idea for an extremely narrow problem that is wildly... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Blockchain promoters and enthusiasts continue to blithely stroll along the yellow blockchain road to the golden city where immutable distributed ledgers make decades-long technology problems fade away, like the wicked witch. None them publicly acknowledges or seems to notice the hurricanes and earthquakes that are increasing in frequency and intensity. In total, hackers have stolen nearly $2 billion worth of cryptocurrency since the beginning of 2017, mostly from exchanges, and that’s just what has been revealed publicly. That’s no big deal, I guess. I describe these little security problems here and here. Someone who’s technically sophisticated could argue, following the... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2019 at The Black Liszt
It’s easier by far to make a reservation at a restaurant than for a medical test. I guess having a meal at a restaurant is far more important than getting an MRI, given that the restaurant people have made the process simple and convenient and effective for all concerned. Getting a medical test must be rare and unimportant, since no one has bothered to make it work well. Sure. I guess that lie is more comfortable than the other possibility, which is that medical system administrators and software providers are too incompetent, lazy or unmotivated to make things moderately convenient... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2019 at The Black Liszt
For a wide variety of human-understandable reasons, software is perceived as a science. In academia, it's taught in the Computer Science department, often part of the math department. What could be more precise and scientific than that? Whatever its pretensions, software is anything but scientific. It's mostly driven by fashions and fads, led by "experts" who promote theories that sound good when described -- but which entirely lack any form of scientific process, testing or evidence. Software diseases will continue to severely hamper our computer systems until we wake from our long, pre-scientific sleep. We will know we're making progress... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2019 at The Black Liszt
When you are going to acquire or make a major investment in a company, it makes sense to perform due diligence. Not only does it make sense, it's a fiduciary responsibility! Due diligence on the company's financials are a no-brainer. Same thing with legal. Wouldn't want to be surprised by a landmine in one of the contracts, would you? If there is software involved, most people perform technical due diligence. In each case, you hire an expert who combs through the relevant portion of the company. The expert produces a report, at minimum highlighting any deficiencies. They're all pretty similar,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2019 at The Black Liszt
First there was Bitcoin, friend of criminals, speculators and tech geeks everywhere. It’s grown amazingly. Then there were alternatives to Bitcoin, often sharing much of the same code, but with different and incompatible tokens. One of those Bitcoin alternatives, Ethereum, introduced the concept of Smart Contracts, which I discuss here. Now, increasing attention is being paid to “blockchain,” said to be the foundation on which crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are built. Large corporations are taking up the charge, places like IBM and Microsoft, and leaders in various industries have projects going to prove out the technology. While the terminology... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Chatbots for financial and other applications aren’t just a cool new thing. They’re a necessity! They solve the worsening problem of too many options to choose from on shrinking screens, with unhelpful help screens. Do you access your financial accounts online? If you do, perhaps you’ll remember that the first time you tried to do something, you had the fun of poring over the menu system to find what button to click, sometimes only to reach another screen full of buttons and menus. On the plus side, online financial systems let you get a lot done. On the minus side,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt
As I’ve described, cryptocurrency losses started long ago and have kept on mounting over the years. Most recently, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, QuadrigaCX, has experienced a little problem that has resulted in what appears to be a permanent loss of over $130 million for its many customers. The losses don’t seem to make any sense. My account is stored in a ledger that’s immutable – it can’t be changed because it’s locked down by unbreakable cryptography. It can’t be lost because the ledger is distributed, so even if a few computers are lost, there are still loads of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Bitcoin is an amazing technology. I admire it. The central idea of how to implement a virtual currency with no one in charge, but where the “bank vault” is nonetheless pretty safe, is clever, as I explained here. However, the second you take this clever idea and apply it to situations for which it was not designed, it quickly becomes ridiculous – inferior by factors of thousands compared to existing solutions. It’s as though you liked hiking and camping in a tent -- and went back to your home on your suburban block, knocked your house down, disconnected from electricity,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt
Smart contracts are all the rage in the blockchain world these days. They are the key feature that has pushed Ethereum to prominence. They’re everywhere! There are just a few little problems. They’re not smart. They’re not contracts. They’re rife with security issues. And they violate the core principles that are supposed to make blockchain wonderful. Other than that, they’re great! There is a huge amount of rhetoric and propaganda about what Smart Contracts are supposed to be. Here’s the reality: A smart contract is a software program. It’s written in one of a variety of mostly brand-new languages, chief... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2019 at The Black Liszt