Assembly lines: news from inside the bubble -

Assembly lines: news from inside the bubble


DHL replaces DSL
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), working with Cisco Systems, have decided to replace the Internet with a fleet of delivery vans.

The bandwidth of a FedEx truck loaded with magnetic tapes approaches 450 terabytes per second over short distances, far in excess of the speeds delivered by DSL, cable modems, T1, or even T3 links. A cargo plane carrying CD-ROMs has approximately 7,000 times the bandwidth of proposed fiber-optic networks. Moreover, the delivery technology exists today and is supported by a well-established infrastructure. No future development would be required.

Unlike IPv6 and other packet addressing schemes, delivery vans use existing addresses that are already in place, globally unique, and internationally recognized. Safety and security measures are already in place for handling dangerous packets and–in stark contrast to the Internet–many services offer guaranteed delivery. The medium is unafflicted by spam and most services have experience delivering large packets. Electronic signatures would be replaced by the real thing.

As the new system is phased in, existing copper and fiber connections will be turned over to the regional telephone companies, which may find some way to use them for carrying voice traffic.

New tool revolutionizes testing
Polo Flair software has released a tool designed to increase the efficiency of test teams. The key problem with testing is that it's so difficult to judge what percentage of the total set of bugs has been found. If it were known what percentage of bugs had been found, the testing effort could continue until the percentage of bugs remaining became equal to or close to zero. We can not guarantee that we'll find every single bug, but it would be very useful if we knew that we had found 95% of them.

Olaf Lipro, the company's CEO, told us that the ideal way to track that percentage is to seed the program with deliberate bugs and then monitor how many of these faux bugs had been discovered by the test team. If the team finds 90% of the faux bugs then it's likely that they've also found 90% of the real bugs. The tool adds bugs using a number of subtle changes to the software. These include:

• Removing a random line of code

• Adding 1 to a randomly chosen #defined value

• Swapping the names of two randomly chosen functions–of course, the functions must have the same signatures, otherwise the compiler would fail

• Inserting a line that assigns a pointer to NULL at a random point in the code

• Introducing race conditions by inserting random-length delays between hardware accesses

• Removing some calls to free()

• Changing some 32-bit integer types from 16-bit values to 8-bit values and vice versa

Extra features for C++ source:

• Randomly dropping the keyword virtual

• Occasionally delete the destructor

One downside to introducing faux bugs is that they have to be removed again later, since it would be foolish to release the final product with the faux bugs still in the code. The automated bug-removal method has had some teething problems, but it should be quite reliable before initial product launch.

Because the tool performs the opposite task of a debugger, the first release will be called Bugger 1.0.

Motorola completes transition
As the final stage of its spin-off from Motorola, Freescale has converted its processors to little-endian byte ordering. “The Intel way is better,” said Claire de Loon, spokeswoman for the company. The byte-ordering clash has raged since the first days of 16-bit processors, prompting endless debates by software purists over which method was most natural. By capitulating, Freescale brings much-needed harmony to software developers who struggled to remember which end was up.

Automating debugging
Sometimes a fresh perspective brings fresh insight. Experts from the petroleum-drilling industry who've recently turned their attention to software development may have uncovered a new way to improve software quality. “It's only ones and zeroes–how hard can it be?” declared Booger McPherson, chief engineer for the breakaway group. “If the program's malfunctioning, it must be one of them bits.”

By exhaustively flipping each bit in a program, the team concluded that any bug can ultimately be repaired. The only variable is the time required to find and flip the necessary bit, which naturally increases in direct proportion to the length of the program. A 1MB program, for example, has 8,388,608 bits. But even an inexpensive PC can flip approximately two to three billion bits per second, so debugging should take just fractions of a second–far quicker and cheaper than hiring trained software engineers.

While unorthodox, the process has the advantage of mathematical simplicity and rigor. The team also hinted that, with some additional research, programming might work the same way. Although it's too early to announce results, they feel that a 10MB program could be created from roughly 80 million bits, which may take upwards of 10 seconds to generate. Results of this new investigation are still pending.

Subliminal programming
In a related development, activist group Families Outraged over Offensive Lyrics (FOOL) has filed a class-action suit against several dozen big-name software companies for embedding hidden messages in their code. Allegedly, when the binary images of the offending programs are executed in backwards order, the host computers become “possessed” and “act crazy,” according to the legal filing. “We've heard talk of daemons in the operating system. Well, here they are,” said a FOOL spokesperson.

Executing Windows XP backwards also produces satanic messages, according to the group. “Hell, I thought if you ran it normally it did that,” says an unnamed source.

Industry weekly goes soft
The electronics industry's paper of record, EE Times, has begun publishing original fiction, literature, and freeform poetry as part of its outreach program to appeal to a larger audience. Following the addition of its Poetry Corner section, the publication will henceforth be known as e e times.

Disposable camera sales take off
Combining hot two trends in the consumer electronics industry, Minoltica has come out with its first disposable digital camera. The camera uses a recyclable plastic shell and is sold through vending machines and point-of-sale channels for vacations, parties, weddings, and other short-term uses. The unit's 16MB flash memory gives it a capacity of 20 to 30 photos, after which the camera is discarded.

Pepsi One XOR Coke Zero
Attempting to dislodge Jolt and Red Bull as the stimulants of choice among software engineers, the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico have begun selling Coke Zero and Pepsi One, respectively.

Billed as “the drink for the digerati” the new sodas are aimed at coders and developers around the world. Programmers are encouraged to recreate their favorite binaries using Zero and One cans, with prizes for the most complex “canned software.” A marketing program aimed at elementary schools uses the new sodas to teach binary concepts and to nudge pre-teens toward a life of programming. Coke is said to be offering a large prize to the first development team to craft a program entirely out of zeros. If the new drinks prove popular, Mountain Dew's Code Red drink will likely become just Code.

Dateline: Jakarta
Following the leads of the MPAA, RIAA, and SCO, the island nation of Indonesia has filed 2,438,817 lawsuits against users of its trademarked name Java™, which also happens to be the name of the country's main island. Starbucks stock plummeted 68% on the news and Sun Microsystems filed for bankruptcy. One target: a 28-year-old mother of fourteen, who complained “I don't even know how to turn a computer on! One of them little brats musta downloaded a JVM while I wasn't looking.”

In response to the suit, LucasArts is offering its own programming language, Jawa. Although similar to other object-oriented languages, Jawa is particularly efficient at real-time garbage collection. Early versions are said to be small and transportable and quite adept at scavenging unused hardware. Oddly, the initial release will be v4.0.

Memorable quotes
“I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.”
–Bjarne Stroustrup, computer science professor and designer of C++ programming language

“Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”
–Vint Cerf

“On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
–Charles Babbage

Happy April 1st!

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