TweetFollow Us on Twitter

ESR, etc.

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Programming

Section 7

ESR, etc.

by Rich Morin

A multiplex review of a singular individual...

Eric S. Raymond (aka ESR) is best known for his activities in support of Open Source software. Several years ago, he convinced a group of key developers to adopt the term as a less-ambiguous and more "marketable" replacement for the existing term, "free software".

Note: The term "Open Source" was actually coined by Christine Peterson (President of the Foresight Institute; http://www.foresight.org). Also, the term "Free Software" still has its adherents; see http://www.fsf.org/philosophy.

Since that time, Eric has written extensively on topics related to Open Source software. His essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is probably the best known of these essays, but the others are also worth reading. See "The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Unix and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary" (O'Reilly; http://www.oreilly.com).

Two of Eric's essays, "A Brief History of Hackerdom" and "The Revenge of the Hackers" appear in the excellent collection "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution" (DiBona, et al; O'Reilly). If you want to understand hacker culture and the Open Source movement, both of these O'Reilly books would be excellent starting points.

Eric has also been busy on the organizational and legal sides of Open Source. He is President of the Board of Directors of the Open Source Institute (http://www.opensource.org). He has also published (and publicized) a number of internal Microsoft documents, weighed in on relevant lawsuits (e.g., the SCO unpleasantness), etc.

Other Publications

Eric writes extensively, covering a wide range of topics. His home page (http://catb.org/~esr) has links to essays on anthropology, economics, politics, science fiction, and many other areas. Even if you don't agree with Eric's opinions, you should find his writings to be interesting and thought-provoking.

As the long-standing steward of the Jargon File (http://www.jargon.org; also available as "The New Hacker's Dictionary" from MIT Press, http://mitpress.mit.com), Eric acts as an editor, lexicographer, historian, and (occasionally) anthropologist. The definitions tend to be far more interesting and enjoyable than one might expect from a conventional "dictionary".

The Art of Unix Programming

Over the past five years, Eric has been working on a distillation of the lessons that Unix has to offer the programming community. Taking his own advice ("Many eyes make all bugs shallow.") seriously, he brought in a number of Unix wizards as advisors. As a result, "The Art of Unix Programming" (Addison-Wesley; http://www.aw.com) is enjoyable, educational, and for the most part, authoritative.

Although the book doesn't address Mac OS X, in particular, it has quite a bit to say about the BSD side of the operating system. For instance, it talks at length about the Unix practice of encoding information in text files. OSX, with something like 100K text files, certainly seems to have adopted this idea.

It also discusses popular ideas such as object-oriented programming, threads, giving reasons why these might not be the best possible approach in all circumstances. All told, this book is the best introduction I can suggest for a Mac OS programmer who wants to understand the BSD (read, Unix) side of Mac OS X.

More can be less

True to Unix tradition, Eric extols the benefits of having many different tools. Again, OSX is right there, providing a plethora of programming languages and other useful utilities. I wonder, however, whether OSX (and the Open Source community, in general) may not be suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

In perusing leads for programming positions, many of us have noted the extreme diversity of skills that may be demanded for a single position. Applicants are expected to have several years of experience in each of several languages and tools. Often, it is hard to conceive reasons for using these languages and tools in a single project.

Ignoring the discouraging effect of such postings on prospective applicants, let's consider how the company managed to get into the position of needing this sort of polymath. Speculating, I propose that the company once had a number of programmers, each developing part of a complex system. Each programmer chose the "right tool for the job", in true Unix fashion.

The company now has far fewer programming positions, but it still needs to maintain a polyglot mass of software. Their job postings are totally unrealistic - no single programmer can have extensive skills in more than a few areas - but they are merely a symptom of a larger problem.

OSX has similar historical baggage. If you look in /etc, you will find numerous control files. Most of these are "flat files", employing newlines to separate records and some form of delimiter (e.g., colons or "white space") to separate fields. Unfortunately, the exact format varies, so programs (and administrators) must "understand" different syntax for each file.

The log files are in even worse shape. They may be written by multiple programs, so the format can vary from entry to entry. Because the entries were written for human consumption, they often provide no unambiguous way for a program to distinguish fields. This is a serious problem; if log files are too big for humans to read, and too messy for programs to read, exactly what purpose are they serving?

Moving on to OSX's "plist" files, we find two distinct formats in evidence. One, inherited from NeXT, uses a C-like syntax. The other, strongly encouraged by Apple's current documentation, is based on XML. Using the appropriate frameworks, an Apple programmer can read either file. An administrator, however, may need to be familiar with both.

Although I'm a big fan of YAML (YAML Ain't Markup Language; http://www.yaml.org), I sometimes wonder if I might be making some programmer or administrator's life more difficult, by introducing yet another data format. Sigh.

Programming languages are another area of concern. OSX is built out of C, C++, Objective-C, and a smattering of scripting languages. C is used for the "Core OS" (kernel, BSD libraries and programs), but C++ is used for the IOKit and most device drivers. Objective-C is used for the higher-level frameworks and applications. Finally, the scripting languages are used for all sorts of administrative glue.

Fortunately, few programmers write programs in all these areas. If you're writing GUI-based apps, you're unlikely to be writing device drivers at the same time. If you're a serious scripter, you may never look at any C (etc) code. Unless, as I am, you're using Perl, Python, or Ruby to build Cocoa-based apps.

For all my misgivings, however, I wouldn't want to be restricted to a single data format or programming language. XML is powerful and very "buzzword-compliant", but it's also verbose and a poor match for associative arrays. Objective-C is a tidy integration of OO into the base C language, but its memory management seems a bit awkward to my Perl-accustomed eyes.

Ockham's Razor ("Pluralitas Non Est Ponenda Sine Necessitate.") transliterates to "Plurality should not be posited without necessity", reminding scientists to remain parsimonious in imagining new mechanisms. It is also translated, however, as "Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity" and even "Keep It Simple, Stupid".

In short, our challenge as developers is to decide how to achieve simplicity (once we have decided what "simplicity" is, in a given context :-), while retaining the power and flexibility that our mixed programming heritage provides.

Eric's latest offering, like many of his earlier writings, helps to show us the way...


Rich Morin has been using computers since 1970, Unix since 1983, and Mac-based Unix since 1986 (when he helped Apple create A/UX 1.0). When he isn't writing this column, Rich runs Prime Time Freeware (www.ptf.com), a publisher of books and CD-ROMs for the Free and Open Source software community. Feel free to write to Rich at rdm@ptf.com.

 
AAPL
$100.96
Apple Inc.
-0.83
MSFT
$47.52
Microsoft Corpora
+0.84
GOOG
$596.08
Google Inc.
+6.81

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.3 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Airfoil 4.8.9 - Send audio from any app...
Airfoil allows you to send any audio to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, and even other Macs and PCs, all in sync! It's your audio - everywhere. With Airfoil you can take audio from any... Read more
WhatRoute 1.13.0 - Geographically trace...
WhatRoute is designed to find the names of all the routers an IP packet passes through on its way from your Mac to a destination host. It also measures the round-trip time from your Mac to the... Read more
Chromium 37.0.2062.122 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. FreeSMUG-Free OpenSource Mac User Group build is... Read more
Attachment Tamer 3.1.14b9 - Take control...
Attachment Tamer gives you control over attachment handling in Apple Mail. It fixes the most annoying Apple Mail flaws, ensures compatibility with other email software, and allows you to set up how... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.0 - Find and del...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator detects... Read more
jAlbum Pro 12.2 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code!... Read more
jAlbum 12.2 - Create custom photo galler...
With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly, with pro results Simply drag and drop photos into groups, choose a design... Read more
Quicken 2015 2.0.4 - Complete personal f...
Quicken 2015 helps you manage all your personal finances in one place, so you can see where you're spending and where you can save. Quicken automatically categorizes your financial transactions,... Read more
iMazing 1.0 - Complete iOS device manage...
iMazing (formerly DiskAid) is the ultimate iOS device manager with capabilities far beyond what iTunes offers. With iMazing and your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod), you can: Copy music to and... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

View Source – HTML, JavaScript and CSS...
View Source – HTML, JavaScript and CSS 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Utilities Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: View Source is an app plus an iOS 8 Safari extension that makes it easy to do one key web developer... | Read more »
Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail To The King: De...
Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail To The King: Deathbat is Coming to iOS on October 16th Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Just in time for Halloween, on October 16 Avenged Sevenfold will be launching | Read more »
Talisman Has Gone Universal – Can Now be...
Talisman Has Gone Universal – Can Now be Played on the iPhone Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Tap Army Review
Tap Army Review By Jennifer Allen on September 19th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SHOOT EM ALLUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Mindless but fun, Tap Army is a lane-based shooter that should help you relieve some stress.   | Read more »
Monsters! Volcanoes! Loot! Epic Island f...
Monsters! Volcanoes! Loot! | Read more »
Plunder Pirates: Tips, Tricks, Strategie...
Ahoy There, Seadogs: Interested in knowing our thoughts on all this plundering and pirating? Check out our Plunder Pirates Review! Have you just downloaded the rather enjoyable pirate-em-up Plunder Pirates and are in need of some assistance? Never... | Read more »
Goat Simulator Review
Goat Simulator Review By Lee Hamlet on September 19th, 2014 Our Rating: :: THE GRUFFEST OF BILLY GOATSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Unleash chaos as a grumpy goat in this humorous but short-lived casual game.   | Read more »
A New and Improved Wunderlist is Here fo...
A New and Improved Wunderlist is Here for iOS 8 Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Evernote Update for iOS 8 Adds Web Clipp...
Evernote Update for iOS 8 Adds Web Clipping, Quick Notes, and More Posted by Ellis Spice on September 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Apple Names Ultimate Productivity Bundl...
Apple Names Ultimate Productivity Bundle by Readdle as the Essential Bundle on the App Store Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 19th, 2014 [ permalink | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

iFixIt Tears Down iPhone 6; Awards Respectabl...
iFixit notes that even the smaller 4.7″ iPhone 6 is a giant among iPhones; so big that Apple couldn’t fit it into the familiar iPhone form factor. In a welcome reversal of a recent trend to more or... Read more
Phone 6 Guide – Tips Book For Both iPhone 6...
iOS Guides has announced its latest eBook: iPhone 6 Guide. Brought to you by the expert team at iOS Guides, and written by best-selling technology author Tom Rudderham, iPhone 6 Guide is packed with... Read more
How to Upgrade iPhone iPad to iOS 8 without D...
PhoneClean, a iPhone cleaner utility offered by iMobie Inc., reveals a solution for upgrading iPhone and iPad to iOS 8 without deleting photos, apps, the new U2 album or anything. Thanks to more than... Read more
Inpaint 6 – Photo Retouching Tool Gets Faster...
TeoreX has announced Inpaint 6, a simple retouching tool for end users that helps remove scratches, watermarks, and timestamps as well as more complex objects like strangers, unwanted elements and... Read more
Worldwide PC Monitor Market Sees Growth in To...
Worldwide PC monitor shipments totaled 32.5 million units in the second quarter of 2014 (2Q14), a year-over-year decline of -2.9%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide... Read more
Updated Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
Mac Pros available for up to $260 off MSRP
Adorama has Mac Pros on sale for up to $260 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: - 4-core Mac Pro: $2839.99, $160 off MSRP - 6-core Mac Pro: $3739.99, $260... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pros avai...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1379 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. Read more
Previous-generation 15-inch 2.0GHz Retina Mac...
B&H Photo has leftover previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros now available for $1599 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $400 off original MSRP. B&H... Read more
21″ 2.7GHz iMac available for $1179, save $12...
Adorama has 21″ 2.7GHz Hawell iMacs on sale for $1179.99 including free shipping. Their price is $120 off MSRP. NY and NJ sales tax only. Read more

Jobs Board

Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** At the Apple Store, you connect business professionals and entrepreneurs with the tools they need in order to put Apple solutions to work in their Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple Store is a retail environment like no other - uniquely focused on delivering amazing customer experiences. As an Expert, you introduce people Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** As businesses discover the power of Apple computers and mobile devices, it's your job - as a Solutions Engineer - to show them how to introduce these Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…Summary** As a Specialist, you help create the energy and excitement around Apple products, providing the right solutions and getting products into customers' hands. You Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.