There’s An App For That And It Sucks

This is one of the biggest frustrations that I have as an IT professional and a Business Analyst. I’ve commented on this before, but I had a conversation just now that reminded me, and now I’m all foamy-at-the-mouth about it, so I’m going to vent.

The fine art of gathering requirements is just not getting the love it needs. In some cases it does, but most of the time we just leap right in and start spending money, either on software or on developers, and then we wonder why we don’t get what we expected. I hear terms bandied about from time to time like “analysis paralysis” that are meant to imply that we can spend too much time defining what we want, and that’s equally as dangerous, but when people use that term, it’s generally because they don’t understand the process or the reasons behind gathering requirements.

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When I Die, Please Don’t Upload Me To The Tubes

I just read a post at the Discover Magazine blogs site Science Not Fiction entitled The AI Singularity is Daed; Long Live the Cybernetic Singularity which I thought I’d share and then foam at the mouth a bit about the Singularity, or as I like to think of it, TEH SINGULARTY.

There are those Singularity people who believe that a time will come when we can live forever just by uploading our brains into computers. I am of the opinion that those people are wrong. The brain is such a ridiculously complicated organ with so many factors that to model it is, in my opinion, impossible. Or if it’s possible, we’re talking about something we won’t come close to being able to do in a very long time. To think that we could write software that would be capable of reproducing the human brain just seems like a huge pile of stupid to me.

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The Benefits Of Analysis

I don’t fix my leaky faucet. I’m sure I could, if it came right down to it, but it isn’t an area I have ever cared to be good at. That isn’t some sort of snobby notion implying that plumbing is beneath me; far from it, I think plumbing deserves respect. Without training, I would make as good a lay-plumber as I am sure I would a lay-surgeon, though I hope with a smaller body count. We all have things that we are good at, and I think it is fair to say that when we are good at things, we tend to value them a lot more than the things we suck at.

Where I excel is in analytical thinking. To me, this is one of the most important things a person can excel at because I’m good at it. I get that. I’m the quarterback calling his own number, but damn it, I’m the bloody quarterback and sometimes you just have to give yourself that praise. So here goes.

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Science And Computing

I had an interesting conversation this morning with a coworker. We were discussing how our team’s policies in a given area were about to come under scrutiny from other teams, something which I don’t consider to be a problem as our policies have in the past year become very regimented, sensible, and compliant with industry standards. That hardly means there isn’t room to improve, but it will be small comments rather than ZOMG UR TEEM IS STOPID missives. In truth, our policies a year ago wouldn’t have triggered this sort of reaction, but the point is, we’re doing well.

I made the comment that it is good for our policies to come under some scrutiny, and that any policy should be able to stand a little rigorous outside evaluation. I specifically avoided using the term “peer review” because it is so far removed from the computing industry these days, but my coworker surprised me by saying that peer review, while sometimes painful from a personal standpoint, was always a good measure of success. The reason this caught me by surprise is the general lack of scientific method in computing, at least in the industry I work in.

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Immortal Life Inside The Computer

It’s not a new idea, but there are still those who believe that before they die, they could download their brains into a computer and live on forever. Someone in a conversation with me not that long ago was talking about this, and I thought they were kidding, but there are still people who would actually consider this living forever. I guess the threads on Ray Kurzweil at Pharyngula have triggered comments that led in this direction, and PZ has a comment on the subject.

Naturally, I have thoughts on the subject. I don’t know that I agree with PZ about the idea of a brain scan that powerful literally pulling you apart at the molecular level, but what I would say is that I cannot in my mind fathom the idea that even a brilliantly more powerful computer would be my consciousness. Whatever may happen inside the computer is really nothing more than a simulation, even a terribly clever one that could imitate me for the rest of existence as we know it. But it would not be the me that is me.

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Your Doing It Wrong: Computer Brains Edition

PZ Myers has commented on this at Pharyngula already and it’s possible that this has already run it’s course, but as a computer nerd I simply had to weigh in on the topic. You see, Ray Kurzweil thinks that we’ll be able to reverse engineer the brain by 2020. Sadly, despite being an expert in artificial intelligence, Ray is dead bloody wrong.

His argument is based around the idea that we’ve horribly overcomplicated the nature of the brain. It’s big and puffy and full of stuff, but it’s also not necessary in reverse engineering the brain. All you need there is our good pal the Human Genome. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. A genome is not a brain, and it’s not even (for want of a cleaner analogy) a dehydrated brain. The genome carries within it instructions that will lead to creation of a brain, among many other bits that make us us. But a brain is much more complicated in much the same way that a chocolate cake with cherry icing and walnuts is more complicated than a listing of the order of mixing chemicals.

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I’m an avid listener of the Edmonton based podcast Skeptically Speaking, not only for the sultry tones of it’s host Desiree Schell, but also for the engaging discussions and interviews.

I loaded up Episode 56 in anticipation of the Baba Brinkman interview, but recieved a bonus bit of information about a skeptically focused news feed aggregator called Skepticator. This service pulls blog posts and news entries from skeptic and science feeds into one handy location. Skepticator features a fairly speedy search engine and if you’d like to subscribe to a single RSS feed with content from all 290 featured sources, Skepticator’s got you covered.

Of course I registered MeddlingKids with the service, so you have another option for keeping up to date with our ramblings as well.


Be Wary, Macintrash!

I was just reading a recent entry on 80beatsthat talks about the sudden appearance of malicious worms for the iPhone. It’s crazy to think that someones phone could give out such information, but it’s foolish to think that they couldn’t, and in theory it would be easy as hell to do. Personally, I don’t have an iPhone. I’m not against them, but when I went to buy my latest phone, they were not yet available on my cell provider’s network, so I got myself a BlackBerry instead. But the same holes are presumably open.

The other day, a friend of mine had a newer BlackBerry and was stunned when simply passing her phone over mine didn’t suck up my BBM PIN. The joys of Bluetooth open up so many doors. Why couldn’t I write a tool that sits on my phone and looks for other Bluetooth enabled phones and either transmits them malicious code or sees what it can snoop from them? I’ve never looked into the Bluetooth technology from a development perspective and presumably there are some checks and balances involved, but a dedicated hacker eats checks and balances for breakfast. I’m not suggesting everyone go back to the days of analog Nokia flip phones, or worse, those heavy-as-a-brick Motorolla gray jobbies, I’m just saying that like all other communications devices, we need to be aware that they are not guaranteed to be secure. Use your heads, people!

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When Hadrons Collide: A Thriller

Ok, does everyone remember what happened around this time last year? The world went bat-shit crazy over the fact that the LHC was about to create a giant black hole and eat the planet, or destroy the universe or make Sarah Palin Vice-President of the media of the USA!! GASP!

We’ll get your aluminum foil hats and Black Hole detection kits ready, cause it all about to go down again!

For the last few weeks CERN has been accelerating batches of sub-atomic particles faster and faster and this Friday they will enter the main chamber and collide. I expect the lunatics and fear mongers will have a heyday with this, however until then, read this great article explaining what they’re looking for, why it’s so cool and whether or not we’ll live to talk about it.


I’m A Dinosaur

As many of you know, I’m a computer programmer. I have a long resume of applications I have written for a variety of clients, and I’m very good at what I do. But for a long time I’ve been feeling like a dinosaur in terms of my profession, and this morning it occurred to me why.There is less and less science in my profession.

I’ve been saying for ages that we’re moving in a dangerous direction. As a Java developer, we’ve been focused more and more on turnaround and less on quality. We’ve built tools like Hibernate and Rails that infinitely improve the speed with which we can develop, but remove us further and further from the code we write. When errors occur, they are immensely difficult to track down and resolve because we don’t honestly know what is happening inside the box.

This is all in response to budget concerns from business. They want us to cut down on the costs of our development time. And we want to keep them happy, so we work with them. We come up with things like Agile and rapid application development and we use CASE tools to build our applications faster and better. But this is a Wal Mart approach. You end up building cheaper crap instead of proper products.

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