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David B. Black
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There’s little new about the Colonial pipeline security disaster; nearly everything was business as usual: expensive but ineffective cyber-security systems and people; penetration and massive data stolen secretly; learning about the breach when ransomware popped up and said “pay me;” shutting everything down; taking days to recover; and the government, which is incapable of protecting itself, making solemn statements about “helping” more. Colonial did manage to stand out from its fellow victims in a couple of ways: unlike many victims, they paid the big ransom; and their shutdown hurt millions of normal people in significant ways. The other way Colonial... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Black Liszt
You really do have to read and understand the ingredients list of any food you buy. Even places like Whole Foods need to be carefully checked. Yes, the same Whole Foods that charges "whole paycheck" prices to supposedly only sell food that's good for you. The Whole Foods brand Olives Whole Foods is a grocery store with a huge selection of products produced by others. Whole Foods also has its own brand of products, some with standard packaging and some that are custom-packed. Someone I know went shopping there the other day and bought some Whole Foods olives, intrigued by... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Once computers were invented and started being used, people discovered that writing programs for them was brutally hard. It didn’t take long before some smart folks figured out ways to make it easier, taking two giant steps forward in ease and productivity in quick succession. After that wonderful start, people kept on inventing new languages, but somehow never made things better – in fact the new languages often made programming harder and less productive, a situation that the experts and exalted Professors studiously ignored. They never even bothered to spell out what makes one language better than another, which you'd... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Yelp is a Big Tech company that isn't listed when people talk about "big tech," but it's nonetheless all about tech and it's unarguably big, with well over 100 million unique visitors per month to their site and a valuation in the $ billions. How good is their software? Are they a company from which non-tech corporate America should poach talent to upgrade their in-house tech? I recently had occasion to spend a little time with Yelp, and found that they are indeed an exemplar of the Big Tech tradition of tech bumbling as I have documented. Harvard Business School... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2021 at The Black Liszt
I have described the concept of automation depth, which goes through natural stages starting with the computer playing a completely supportive role to the person (the recorder stage) and ending with the robot stage in which the person plays a secondary role. I will illustrate these stages with a couple examples that illustrate the surprising pain and trouble of going from one stage to the next. Unlike the progression of software applications from custom through parameterized to workbench, customers tend to resist moving to the next stage of automation for various reasons including the fear of loss of control and... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2021 at The Black Liszt
I’m glad I have health insurance; I’ve had some health problems, now under control, that were expensive to fix. My insurance company, Anthem, has paid the claims. Still, I can’t help being impressed by how many actions of this health insurance giant are stupid, wasteful, incompetent and worse. To be clear: I don't claim they're worse or better than the others; they just happen to be the one that I have. I’ve just had a new stupidity inflicted on me by them that is low on the “it matters” scale, and high on the “a smart high school student could... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2021 at The Black Liszt
It's something I always knew, but I just couldn't make the nagging doubts that would pop up from time to time go away. Finally, at long last, the evidence has arrived: experts really are super smart and expert at what they say and do! The evidence can be found in this article. This is an extra relief to me personally, since I've expressed such strong support for the authority of experts in the past, giving examples of their prescient ability to analyze and predict with super-human accuracy. I need worry no more. The evidence has arrived. Experts truly are everything... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2021 at The Black Liszt
What's inside the food I'm eating or the substance I'm putting in my body? As I hope we all know, two of the most important factors in health and sickness are WHAT and HOW MUCH we ingest. You would think that paying attention to what we ingest and its varying impacts, good and bad, would be front and center in research and education. Yes, we're told to have a "healthy" diet. We're told some things about what that means. Sadly, a great deal of what we're told is wrong, and even worse, few people pay attention to the actual SUBSTANCE,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2021 at The Black Liszt
I have discussed the fundamental concept of automation. Software automates human effort to varying degrees. In doing so, software emerges that performs this automation to an increasing extent. In this post I'll describe the basic stages through which automation progresses. In later posts I'll give specific examples. Automation depth Automation depth can be understood in terms of the extent to which human effort, observation, knowledge and control is replaced by the computer system. Stages: help a human do something; do something a human would otherwise have to have done; make a decision a human would have made; gather information about... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Micro-services are one of today's leading software fashions; see this for more on software fashions in general. I have treated in depth the false claims of micro-services to make applications "scalable," and separately treated in depth the false claim that micro-services enhance programmer productivity. Where the heck did such a crappy idea that has taken such a large mind-share in the software and management community come from? I don't know. Who knows why skirts are short or long this year? Or whether shirts are tucked or not tucked? What I do know is that bogus fashion trends infect the software... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Years ago when I encountered big-company software flubs that were screamingly bad I would wonder about them: all those people, all that money, all those MBA-led processes and controls -- how could they screw up basic software things? What's wrong with them? Now I know more. I know the flubs I saw weren't exceptions. They were and are the rule. I know that big corporate and government organizations are incapable of building reliable, cost-effective software. I have identified many of the contributing causes to this disturbing phenomenon, but there's much that isn't known. What's worse, all of the important people,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Subroutine calls are glossed over as yet another thing to learn when software is taught or described. The fact is that subroutine calls are one of the most amazing, powerful aspects of computer programming. They are the first step up the mountain of abstraction, the path towards creating software that solves problems with optimal efficiency, effectiveness and ease. What's a subroutine? In common-sense terms, it's like a habit. I hope you have the habit of brushing your teeth. Calling a subroutine is like deciding you should brush your teeth. The subroutine itself is like the steps you take to brush... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2021 at The Black Liszt
I have described the way that once an application appears on a software platform, there is a consistent way the category of applications evolves on that platform. In this post I'll describe examples of this pattern. Briefly, the sequence starts with a prototype, and goes through these stages: Custom application Basic product Parameterized product Workbench product There can be several levels of sophistication at each of these levels. The sequence is important because each step increases the speed and decreases the cost of making a body of code meet a set of customer needs. Metasys (bought by Optum), Syntra (Clearcross)... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2021 at The Black Liszt
There's a simple way to understand the impact of micro-services on programmer productivity: they make it worse. Much worse. How can that be?? Aren't monolithic architectures awful nightmares making applications unable to scale and causing a drain on programmer productivity? No. No. NO! Does this mean that every body of monolithic code is wonderful, supporting endless scaling and optimal programmer productivity? Of course not. Most of them have problems on many dimensions. But the always-wrenching transition to micro-services makes things worse in nearly all cases. Including reducing programmer productivity. Micro-services for Productivity Micro-services are often one of the first buzzwords... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2021 at The Black Liszt
This is the fourth in a series of examples to illustrate the way that functionality that had been implemented on an older platform appears on a newer platform. See this post for a general introduction with example and explanation of this peculiar pattern of software evolution. This earlier post contains an example in security services software, this earlier post describes an example in remote access software and this earlier post describes an example in market research. Unlike the prior examples, this one is well known and I had no personal involvement. Example: BEA systems Old platform IBM mainframe MVS Old... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Many large companies depend on software. They often have staffs of thousands of people using the best methods and project management techniques, supported by professional HR departments and run by serious, experienced software management professionals. They can afford to pay up so that they get the best people. Why is it, then, that after all these years, they still can't build software that works? Some of these giants recognize that they can't build software. So they buy it instead! Surely with careful judging and the ability to pay for the best, they can at least slap their logo on top-grade... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2021 at The Black Liszt
The vast majority of production software applications undergo a process of continuous modification to meet the evolving needs of the business. Sometimes organizations get fed up with the time and cost of modifying an application decide to replace it entirely. The replacement is most often a brand-new application. When this happens, nearly everyone agrees that a different programming language should be used for building the new version. After all, everyone knows that programming languages have advanced tremendously since the about-to-be-replaced application was written, so it just makes sense to pick a modern language and get the job done. It occurs... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2021 at The Black Liszt
Not long after third-generation computer languages (3-GL’s) got established, ever-creative software types started inventing the next generation. In a prior post, I’ve covered two amazing programming environments that were truly an advance. They were both widely used in multiple variations, and programs written using them continue to perform important functions today – for example powering more hospitals than any competing system. But they were pretty much stand-alone unicorns; the academic community ignored them entirely and nearly all the leading figures, experts and trend-setters in software ignored them and looked elsewhere. Experts “in the know” directed their attention to what came... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2021 at The Black Liszt
The invention and widespread acceptance of the modern database management system (DBMS) has had a dramatic impact on the evolution and use of programming languages. It's part of the landscape today. People just accept it and no one seems to talk about the years of disruption, huge costs and dramatic changes it has caused. The DBMS Blasts on to the Scene In the 1980’s the modern relational database management system, DBMS, blasted onto the scene. Started by an IBM research scientist, E.F. Codd and popularized by his collaborator Chris Dodd, The Structured Query Language System, SQL, changed the landscape of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2021 at The Black Liszt
This post dives more deeply into the issue of Conceptual UI evolution as introduced in this post. Understanding UI conceptual evolution, which in practice is a spectrum, enables you to build applications that have UI's that produce dramatically better results than the competition -- getting more done, more quickly and at lower cost. Whose perspective? The least evolved UI concept looks at things completely from the point of view of the computer – what do I (the computer, which is really the person writing the application) need to get my job done? In this concept, the UI job is conceived... Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2021 at The Black Liszt
In prior posts I've discussed the nature of programming languages and their evolution. I have given an overview of the so-called advances in programming languages made in the last 50 years. Most recently I described a couple of major advances beyond the 3-GL's. The purpose of this post is to give a couple real-life examples of how amazing new 4-GL’s and O-O languages have worked out in practice. I was CTO of a major credit card software company in the late 1990’s. Because of that I had a front-row seat in what turned out to be a rare clinical trial... Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2021 at The Black Liszt
The cryptocurrency enthusiasts are at it again, with a new name and even more ambitious goals than before: now they want a “national digital currency.” Hurry! The Chinese will beat us to it, and we’ll be left behind! Somehow, no one in the debate acknowledges the obvious fact that we already HAVE a national digital currency. It’s fast, cheap and secure! It has no issue with regulators, and it’s accepted everywhere. Who knew? It’s called … the US dollar. The wild-eyed “national digital currency” groupies prefer to ignore the fact – yes, it’s a fact – that the US dollar... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2020 at The Black Liszt
My car was safely parked in my driveway. A large branch broke off of a tree that had recently been checked by an arborist and declared healthy. Ignoring the arborist’s expert opinion, the branch broke off and fell anyway. My formerly sound, two-year-old car was towed to a repair shop, an estimate for repairs made, and my insurance company declared it not worth fixing. Totaled. But this shocking event had a couple good outcomes. The first was that I ended up leasing a nice new car. The second outcome was some education that is hard to come by, and has... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2020 at The Black Liszt
Who would have thought that the amazing, pioneering and tragic Bronte sisters could demonstrate important things about software programming languages? Not me, until I started thinking about it. I realized that their achievement has a close parallel to what great programmers do: they don’t invent a new language, they use an existing language to express new things, thoughts that were in their heads but which hadn’t before been published. The Sisters I hope you’ve at least heard of these ladies, and even better read a couple of their wonderful novels, among which are Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2020 at The Black Liszt
User interfaces have gone through massive evolution since their first appearance in the 1950's. Lots of people talk about this. But not many separate the main two threads of UI evolution: technical and conceptual. The technical thread is all about the tools and techniques. Examples of elements in the technical thread are the mouse, function keys, menus, and graphical windowing systems. Advances in the technical thread of UI evolution are created by researchers, systems people and systems makers, both hardware and software. People who build actual UI’s generally have to use the tools they’ve been given. The conceptual thread of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2020 at The Black Liszt