2008 December : Dragons in the Algorithm


An Exception to Every Rule

I like automated code scanners, really I do. They can scan your code either before or after you check it in and review it for code formatting, memory errors, or even potential security problems. It can prevent lots of foolish errors and unnecessary inconsistencies.

But there is one catch more…

The Death of Ontology

Once upon a time, all good software used some sort of a command language. Whether it was a word processor like Emacs, a typesetting program like TeX, or even something like a graphing program, everything had a command line at the bottom and some kind of command language that could be used to control it. Learning to use a piece of software meant reading the manual to see what commands it had, and what kinds of modifiers and arguments those commands took. There was, I expect, a whole science behind the creation of good command languages. I know, for instance, that many allowed you to use abbreviations so as they were unambiguous, so the better designed ones used a vocabulary that was carefully selected to be memorable but with no words that shared more than a couple of leading letters.

Then with a single innovation, the entire science of command language design became forever irrelevant. more…

How Long is an Email Address?

Suppose you are setting up your database table, and you want to create a column to store an email address. How many characters should you allow in the field? more…

My Security Nightmare

As Willie Sutton didn’t say, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

I work for a bank, and so I worry more about security than most programmers. After all, if a hacker were were truly motivated and competent who would they pick to go after? Probably a bank (the other good option is political or corporate espionage). Recently I saw two security-related stories which, when combined, form my ultimate nightmare: an effective attack for which I cannot imagine a possible defense. more…

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