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
$112.94
Apple Inc.
+1.16
MSFT
$47.98
Microsoft Corpora
+0.32
GOOG
$524.87
Google Inc.
+8.52

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

NeoOffice 2014.6 - Mac-tailored, OpenOff...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.5.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
CleanApp 5.0.0 Beta 5 - Application dein...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.2 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
NetShade 6.1 - Browse privately using an...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
calibre 2.13 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

This Week at 148Apps: December 15-19, 20...
Happy Holidays from 148Apps!   How do you know what apps are worth your time and money? Just look to the review team at 148Apps. We sort through the chaos and find the apps you’re looking for. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out... | Read more »
New Version of Tempo Smart Calendar Help...
New Version of Tempo Smart Calendar Helps You Plan Your Day Without Opening the App Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Sparkle - Advanced Cross-Synthesis (Mus...
Sparkle - Advanced Cross-Synthesis 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Sparkle is a tool for advanced spectral hybridizations made of several algorithms that operate on frequency... | Read more »
DICETINY is coming to iOS in 2015
DICETINY is coming to iOS in 2015 Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Fakedice has announced that they’re bringing their digital board game DICETINY to iOS. | Read more »
It Came From Canada: The Witcher Battle...
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may still be a few months away, but very soon players will be able to get a new taste of the acclaimed Polish RPG on their mobile devices with The Witcher Battle Arena. While it trades open-world exploration for compact... | Read more »
The Babies Get Lost Again in the New Azt...
The Babies Get Lost Again in the New Aztec Ruins Update for Light in the Dark Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Living Room 3D for IKEA Makes All In-App...
Living Room 3D for IKEA Makes All In-App Purchases Free Until 2015 Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William...
Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William Tell Review By Lee Hamlet on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: MISSES THE MARKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Crossbow Warrior details the entertaining adventures of legendary... | Read more »
A New Update Races onto Asphalt 8: Airbo...
A New Update Races onto Asphalt 8: Airborne Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simpl...
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simple Review By Campbell Bird on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: GO WITH THE FLOWUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad This powerful app lets users accomplish multiple tasks at touch of... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro (Apple refu...
The Apple Store has previous-generation Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pros available for $999. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.4GHz/... Read more
Apple resellers offer free overnight shipping
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
Holiday sales continue: MacBook Airs for up t...
 B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
Holiday sale continues: 13-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has new 13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro: $979 save... Read more
Holiday sale continues: 15-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Holiday sale: 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air for $...
 Best Buy has the 2014 13-inch 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99, or $150 off MSRP, on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price valid... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Best Buy has lowered their price on the 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro to $1149.99 on their online store for a limited time. That’s $150 off MSRP and the lowest price available for this... Read more
Kodak Returns to CES With New Consumer Produ...
Former photography colossus Kodak is returning to CES for the first time in three years where the Kodak booth (#21818 South Hall 1) will showcase a wide range of innovative, imaging-related products... Read more
Invaluable Launches New Eponymously -Named A...
Invaluable, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace, hhas announced the official launch of the Invaluable app for iPad, now available for download in the iTunes App Store. Invaluable... Read more
IDC Reveals Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Appli...
International Data Corporation (IDC) last week hosted the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Applications and Solutions 2015 Predictions Web conference. The session provided organizations... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Store Leader Program (US) - Apple, I...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on experience, Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and 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
*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
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.