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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

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Microsoft released Windows Azure Home Edition for the growing number of consumers with enough desktops, laptops, netbooks, set-top boxes, game consoles and smartphones to create their own teraflop computing cloud. The software will be a direct upgrade from Windows Vista Ultimate with Windows Media Center...

Technology analyst firm Gartner has been named to a Gartner Magic Quadrant for its leadership in technology analysis. “This validates that Gartner has both the ability to execute and also the completeness of vision to lead in the technology analysis market,” said a spokesperson...

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Intel demonstrated a new massively parallel version of its 64-bit Itanium processor, the first using Intel’s new 8nm Nebuchadnezzar architecture, which succeeds the Montecito, Montvale, Tukwila, Poulson and Kittson architectures. With 512 cores, peak interprocessor bandwidth of 12 TB/sec and peak memory bandwidth of 640 TB/sec, it is the fastest chip ever designed, and is literally decades ahead of anything you can do with an x86-64 processor. Analysts agree, however, that Nebuchadnezzar is not expected to gain many new customers for the slow-selling Itanium platform; nobody even showed up for the demo...

Social network giants Facebook and LinkedIn announced a merger. The new company, FacedInLinkBook, helps professionals share their most embarrassing college party videos with customers and prospective employers. Terms of the merger were not disclosed, pending the new company’s appearance in a Gartner Magic Quadrant...

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Big-brained computer engineers and software scientists from 154 countries attended the Rebooting Rebooting Summit, held in San Francisco last month. The purpose of the summit was to put our planet’s most brilliant minds onto the biggest unanswered question of our age: Why does it take so long for your computer to turn itself off when you select Shut Down from the Start menu?

Passive-Aggressive Design Patterns

Software engineers work with dozens of design patterns, but research shows that the most commonly encountered is the Passive-Aggressive Design Pattern. Known for its frustratingly obstructionist behavior, this design pattern can appear anywhere, but is most often found in applications deployed into unpleasant application servers or hostile data centers.

“This is one instance where some software definitely doesn’t play well with others,” said J. Marcus Wellington-Smythe IV, senior design pattern expert at the Institute for Software Behavioral Studies, speaking at a conference on April 1. “You code the module to execute a certain task or to carry out an operation using a specific algorithm, but instead you find that the module quietly just refuses to do its job.”

According to Wellington-Smythe, applications created using the Passive-Aggressive Design Pattern can be recognized by their many excuses about why things didn’t work out, as well as sincere assurances that things will be better next time. “You’ll see in the log that a buffer was full, or that there was a single-bit parity error. Perhaps a checksum didn’t match or network packets didn’t arrive. It doesn’t matter. There’s always something. The reality is that the routine doesn’t want to do its function, but won’t admit it to the CPU.”

In parallel-computing systems, the design pattern has been used to build multithreaded applications, with predictable results, says Wellington-Smythe. “Too often, a supervisor dispatches a thread to a core…and the thread simply never comes back, or returns much later without a good explanation and without the expected return code,” he said. “The supervisor might not even realize that the thread was simply stalling, just running out the clock.”

Wellington-Smythe pointed to a recent instance, where the Passive-Aggressive Design Pattern was used to architect a garbage collector for a virtual machine monitor. “Do you think that the garbage ever got collected? Yeah, right,” he moaned. “We had deallocated memory blocks everywhere, sitting around waiting to be picked up. You might call it learned helplessness, but all we heard from the collector was to trust it, it would get around to the task ‘soon.’ What a mess.”

Unfortunately, says Wellington-Smythe, once the Passive-Aggressive Design Pattern is in an application framework, no amount of refactoring will improve the software’s erratic behavior. “You can debug and profile and root-cause analyze until you’re blue in the face, but there’s no long-term cure,” he said. “It’s enough to drive you to abstraction.”

Taking software development on faith

TOPEKA, KANSAS, APRIL 1 – Speakers here at the Faith-Based Development Conference have demonstrated a software development methodology based on the concept that if you believe the code will work properly, it will work properly.

“All you have to do is believe, and we do this all the time,” said Ebenezer Scroom, CEO of Faith-Based Software Development Inc. (FBSDI), which sponsored the conference. “We turn the car key and believe that our engine will start… and it does. We push bread down into the toaster and believe that toast will pop out… and it does. We write thousand of lines of C# or Java, click the ‘Build’ button and believe the application will execute correctly the first time. In his heart of hearts, every developer believes this! The good news is that if you follow the principles of Faith-Based Development, your app will work the first time.”

Scroom cited anecdotal studies that demonstrate the power of Faith-Based Development to cut costs, shorten development cycles, improve software quality, and so on. “These results have been validated by industry analysts,” he said, “who were duly impressed when we hired them to author white papers and conduct webinars for FBSDI.”

There are four pillars of Faith-Based Development, explained Scroom, all of which can be easily implemented by tools sold by FBSDI. A project begins with Faith-Based Modeling, where architects use UML to document what Scroom calls “Faith Cases.”

Next, Faith-Based Coding relies on plug-in modules for Visual Studio Team System and Eclipse. “If you have faith that your syntax is right, then it’s going to be right,” he said.

The third phase is Faith-Based Testing. “This is perhaps the easiest part to learn.” Scroom said. “Developers are used to firing up their automated test suites, closing their eyes and praying. What we now know is that it’s the quality of the prayer, not the comprehensiveness of the test harness, that really matters.”

Finally, he said, it’s time for FBSDI’s Faith-Based Build and Deployment Services to bring together the final assemblies and push them out to the data center in one irrevocable operation.

“If you believe the software will be perfect the first time, there’s no reason to implement a phased rollout,” Scroom said. “If you have faith, you will succeed. If not… have I mentioned our professional services division?”

CLOUDBASIC opens computing paradigm to students, Mindy

DARTMOUTH, N.H., APRIL 1 — Hearkening back to the earliest days of computing education, a team of computer scientists have developed a special programming language to help students learn how to create mashups in the cloud. The language, CLOUDBASIC, was unveiled at Dartmouth College, home of the original version of BASIC.

“It’s been 47 years since John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz showed off Dartmouth BASIC,” said Sara dePragma, a graduate student involved with the programming initiative as part of her Masters in Computer Education. “Heck, I wasn’t even born then. Come to think of it, neither were my parents. Sheesh!”

According to dePragma, the eight design principles of CLOUDBASIC are:

1. Be so easy that total losers like her roommate Mindy could use it.
2. Be a general-purpose programming language suitable to use as both a dessert topping and a floor wax.
3. Allow advanced features to be added for experts (which, duh, would make the language unusable by Mindy).
4. Be interactive using things called “dialog boxes.”
5. Provide clear and friendly error messages when a rogue program brings down the entire cloud environment.
6. Respond quickly for small programs, such as “Hello, Cloud.”
7. Not to require an understanding of the cloud’s hardware, unless the server is using an AMD processor.
8. Shield the user from the cloud, because the cloud is very big and ethereal.

Prof. Angus McMushroom, dePragma’s advisor, was quick to point out that the use of the GOTO statement within CLOUDBASIC was not his idea. “It’s not my idea,” he insisted. “I just know that nothing good’s going to come of it. I can just imagine that Ed Dijkstra’s turning in his grave. Just don’t blame me, okay?”

At the Dartmouth announcement, representatives of major cloud and industry players were present to pledge their support for the language:

• Microsoft released the first Community Technology Preview of CloudBasic#.NET for Windows Azure and the unannounced Visual Studio Team System Cloud Edition 2012.

• Sun announced that the Java Community Process would begin a JSR to develop with a language that’s similar to CloudBasic#.NET, except incompatible in a few subtle ways, and which would be implemented in NetBeans.

• The Eclipse Foundation is trying hard to come up with an acronym for their own CLOUDBASIC project, which it says will have OSGi extensions that will render it subtly incompatible with what Microsoft and Sun are doing.

• Apple has released iCLOUDBASIC, available in the iTunes App Store as a US$0.99 download.

• Google showed off the public beta of Google CLOUDBASIC Web Services, which are expected to remain in public beta for the next 20 years.

• invited SD Times readers to purchase the Kindle version of “CLOUDBASIC for Total Losers Like Mindy” at a 25% discount. Use the code MINDYISALOSER at checkout.

• The Free Software Foundation released an angry statement warning that it and the Software Freedom Law Center will sue any organization that doesn’t refer to the language as either GNU/CLOUDBASIC or as gcb.

“I’m so delighted to see everyone adopting CLOUDBASIC,” said Dartmouth’s dePragma. “Now, who’s up for helping me design its debugger for my Ph.D. dissertation? Mindy?”