February 26, 2003
A strategic comparison of Windows vs. Unix

Think about that for a moment: there are tens of thousands of ten-year-old Unix machines competently running current software with 24 x 7 reliability, but you won't find any ten-year-old 486s running Windows 2000 Server with current application-loads. Most people who bought Sun or HP servers five years ago still use them, but people who bought NT servers with Windows 95 desktops have typically had to upgrade their hardware twice and their software three times, just to be ready for the next round of upgrades this year.

February 25, 2003
Why Schools Should Shun Microsoft

Teaching a specific program by explaining exactly how to do something is a losing battle anyway. Instead of training computer-literate users, you create users who are helpless when the interface of a program changes. We've all worked with such users before -- the people who become helpless every time there's an upgrade. People whose work habits are thrown into chaos just by upgrading from Word 97 to Word 2000 because one or two of the features they depend on have changed slightly.

No matter which program a student uses, odds are that the interface and functions of any program, such as Word or Excel, will change between the time the student learns them in school and the time he or she uses them at a job or in college. Students might as well use a program like OpenOffice, which has all the functionality they need to do work in school -- at a much lower price for school districts.

The GOP Home Shopping Network

That most lamentable duct tape suggestion last week by a Homeland Security official -- which drove countless panicked citizens out to buy the product -- has been widely derided as useless and pretty crazy.

But maybe not so crazy. Turns out that nearly half -- 46 percent to be precise -- of the duct tape sold in this country is manufactured by a company in Avon, Ohio. And the founder of that company, that would be Jack Kahl, gave how much to the Republican National Committee and other GOP committees in the 2000 election cycle? Would that be more than $100,000?

Installing Perl 5.8 on Jaguar

The newest release of Apple's operating system, OS X v10.2 (Jaguar) is filled with many welcome improvements and additions. The integrated Address Book, improved Mail, System Preference tweaks —all good things. But what really excited me was the new stuff under the hood: bash, Python, gcc 3, Ruby. About the same time Jaguar was in development, work was finishing up on my beloved Perl, version 5.8.0.

A quick trip to Jaguar's Terminal showed me that this version didn't make it into the default install:


[cpu:~] user% perl -v
This is perl, v5.6.0 built for darwin

As is almost always the case with UNIX-based systems, there is a workaround. So, if you're looking to get Perl 5.8 up and running on Jaguar, I'm here to tell you how.

Apache Startup Bundle Redux

In part one of this article, I provided instructions for creating a startup bundle so that your custom Apache could be started when Mac OS X starts. My approach to creating the bundle involved copying Apple's Apache startup bundle from /System/Library/StartupItems, altering it, and then putting it into /Library/StartupItems.However, attentive reader Milo Polten noticed a flaw in my approach -- at least from the point of view of good Mac OS X system administration.

Creating SystemStarter Startup Item Bundles HOWTO

Startup items are directory bundles consisting of at least two parts, an executable file and a property list file (StartupParameters.plist). The property list file describes the startup item. Each item provides at least one named service, and may specify any dependencies on services provided by other items. SystemStarter will start items in an order honoring the listed dependencies.

February 24, 2003
Linux Could Become Inexpensive Alternative to Proprietary Systems

Russell Weeks, a member of the math department at Logan High School, has removed the traditional operating system from his computer programming lab and replaced it with a free Linux-based program.
"We had some concerns about the cost of Microsoft and having the flexibility of changing what kind of software you want to run," Weeks says. "We've been talking about doing this for some time, so we just decided to drive off the cliff."

Securing Your TiBook

A secure computer, it has been said many times, is one that's turned off and not connected to any network. But that could easily describe a TiBook in the backpack you just set down for a minute. If somebody can steal it, or even access it for a few minutes, they can get at your files. This article shows you how to slow them down.

Tools for the short hike

On a practical level, I've found that two things happen in these environments: 1) many of the most talented scripters eventually become disgruntled and leave for scripting-friendly pastures, and 2) the "real" developers spend days and weeks writing Java and C code to solve problems that those talented Perl or Python programmers could have knocked out in a few hours. If you put the world's most talented Java developer and the world's best Perl programmer in a room and gave them an unstructured textual document to parse, I would put my money on the Perl programmer to finish first.

February 22, 2003
Confident You Are Competent? Think Again

The two psychologists think that inept people are often self-assured because they lack self-monitoring skills, which are the same skills required for competence. Subjects who scored in the lowest quartile in tests of logic, English grammar, and humor were also the mostly likely to ``grossly overestimate'' how well they performed.

``Not only do (incompetent people) reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices,'' wrote Dr. Kruger, ``but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.''

Sounds like Bush to me...

GOP threats halted GAO Cheney suit

Threats by Republicans to cut the General Accounting Office (GAO) budget influenced its decision to abandon a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, The Hill has learned.

Sources familiar with high-level discussions at the GAO said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and “unambiguously� pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $440 million budget.

February 20, 2003
Five things every IT manager should know about Linux

When IT managers ask me if they should use Linux, my response is always the same: "It depends upon your needs and goals." This usually leads to a spirited conversation about long-term vs. short-term strategy, return on investment and "core competencies."

In the course of listening to these managers, I've found that the decision to switch comes down to five basic issues. These issues don't apply to every company, but they do apply to the companies that decide to go with Linux.

February 12, 2003
Gates Taking 'Pervasive' Linux Seriously

But Linux is an "unusual kind of competition because in a way it's out there and very pervasive. In a way, there's more incompatible versions of Linux than there are of all other operating systems put together. That is, as people do innovations on top of Linux, they don't all get tested together and they're not all consistent with each other," Gates told the MVPs.

Let me add a little perspective...

I write code. When I ship something, it works... is tested... and fits well with the other things I've written.

But...

You can bet that every minute, of every day, that code on *MY* computer looks a *LOT* like what Bill is talking about.

It is called innovation.

You have to experiment a lot. Make a lot of mistakes. Try things that don't work with the existing product... and... above all else... be willing to completely abandon past code when you find out you made a horrible mistake and there is a better way to do it.

That, my friends, is what you see in Linux.

Software development at it's finest. Not holding on to old, musty code because of some economic analysis made by a bean counter somewhere. But, rather, true innovation from decisions made by the people most qualified to make them.

The coders.

Open and closed security are roughly equivalent

By way of an example, Anderson floated the possibility of the NSA discovering a devastating attack on Windows NT.

Reveal the attack and the help protect American businesses. But keep it secret and they might be able to break into the networks of foreign powers, and supply the President with valuable intelligence.

The latter is more likely to secure the NSA greater funding, Anderson observed.

There is one big problem with this line of reasoning.

All systems, even ours, are open to the hack. And the hack can be used by others against us.

Better to secure the system and get your information elsewhere.

February 10, 2003
Picking up your marbles

Shared Source, you will notice, is only one step away from completely proprietary, and this is reflected mainly in the control issues. If Microsoft share their source with you, they can pick up their marbles at any time, and take them away, and there's nothing you (the client) can do about it.

With the GPL and above, at least in most locales, there is no way for the author to repeal the release of an instance of the code, although (s)he/they may alter the licence terms on future releases of all of the code that they wrote. This, coupled with other rights not available in Shared Source, provides an unprecedented amount of security for clients.

February 08, 2003
Quote of the week

Failure is the defining difference between distributed and local programming, so you have to design distributed systems with the expectation of failure. Imagine asking people, "If the probability of something happening is one in ten to the thirteenth, how often would it happen?" Your natural human sense would be to answer, "Never." That is an infinitely large number in human terms. But if you ask a physicist, she would say, "All the time. In a cubic foot of air, those things happen all the time." When you design distributed systems, you have to say, "Failure happens all the time." So when you design, you design for failure. It is your number one concern.

February 06, 2003
Royal Standard Has Given Way To a Royal Pain

In a study of 8,000 tech projects in businesses, only 16 percent of the new systems were deemed successes. The blame, Mann says, goes in good part to the "growing conflict between end-users and the IT department." Translation: No one can understand what the techies are talking about, and the techies think the rest of us are dimmer than Bozo.

February 04, 2003
HTML to PDF

To demonstrate the integration of HTMLDOC into a Perl CGI script, we've concocted a simple but useful example. Our script, when executed via a web server, accepts a CGI parameter (such as a form field) named innerHTML. The script will then, on-the-fly without need of reading from or writing to any temporary files, convert innerHTML to a PDF file that is sent directly to the user's browser.

On a machine with Adobe Acrobat reader installed, the browser should recognize the data stream of the MIME type application/pdf, and launch the Acrobat reader. A browser without this capability will probably ask the user what he or she would like to do with the file and/or where to save it. These two screenshots illustrate a front-end page we built to the CGI script, and the results produced from the script.

Cognitive Dissident

It's ridiculous, dangerous, grossly unconstitutional, and it's perfectly in keeping with what this administration's been doing across the board. This is an administration that has recently reserved to itself the right to kill American citizens anywhere on the planet for the mere suspicion of membership in Al Qaeda. That's really quite and awe-inspiring breakthrough. And the astonishing thing is that the American people are nodding along in their stupor and saying "Yeah, well, whatever it takes to stop terrorism." I'm so disappointed in my countrymen.MJ