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.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Macs Fan Control 1.4.7.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
MacFamilyTree 8.1.3 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: modern, interactive, convenient and fast. Explore your family tree and your family history in a way generations of chroniclers before you would have loved.... Read more
Boom 2 1.5.2 - $14.99
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.4.7.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
Boom 2 1.5.2 - $14.99
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more
MacFamilyTree 8.1.3 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: modern, interactive, convenient and fast. Explore your family tree and your family history in a way generations of chroniclers before you would have loved.... Read more
WhiteCap 6.6 - Visual plug-in for iTunes...
WhiteCap is a sleek and sophisticated music visualizer and screensaver that features futuristic, wireframe mesh visuals with dynamic backgrounds and colors. WhiteCap contains thousands of visual... Read more
VOX 2.8.14 - Music player that supports...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more
Paparazzi! 1.0b2 - Make user-defined siz...
Paparazzi! is a small utility for OS X that makes screenshots of webpages. This very simple tool takes screenshots of websites which do not fit on one screen. You specify the desired width, minimal... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.13 - Easy-to-use...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more

Stickman Surfer rides in with the tide t...
Stickson is back and this time he's taken up yet another extreme sport - surfing. Stickman Surfer is out this Thursday on both iOS and Android, so if you've been following the other Stickman adventures, you might be interested in picking this one... | Read more »
Z-Exemplar (Games)
Z-Exemplar 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
5 dastardly difficult roguelikes like th...
Edmund McMillen's popular roguelike creation The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has finally crawled onto mobile devices. It's a grotesque dual-stick shooter that tosses you into an endless, procedurally generated basement as you, the pitiable Isaac,... | Read more »
Last week on PocketGamer
Welcome to a weekly feature looking back on the past seven days of coverage on our sister website, PocketGamer. It’s taken a while for 2017 to really get going, at least when it comes to the world of portable gaming. Thank goodness, then, for... | Read more »
ROME: Total War - Barbarian Invasion set...
To the delight of mobile strategy fans, Feral Interactive released ROME: Total War just a few months ago. Now the game's expansion, Barbarian Invasion is marching onto iPads as a standalone release. [Read more] | Read more »
Yuri (Games)
Yuri 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It's night. Yuri opens his eyes. He wakes up in a strange forest.The small, courageous explorer rides on his bed on casters in this... | Read more »
Space schmup Xenoraid launches on the Ap...
10Tons Xenoraid is out today on the App Store, bringing some high-speed space action to your mobile gadgets just in time for the weekend. The company's last premium title, another sci-fi game titled Neon Chrome, did quite well for itself, so... | Read more »
Star Wars: Force Arena Beginner's G...
Star Wars: Force Arena joined the populous ranks of Star Wars games on mobile today. It's a two-lane MOBA starring many familiar faces from George Lucas's famed sci-fi franchise. As with most games of this nature, Force Arena can be a little obtuse... | Read more »
Mysterium: The Board Game (Games)
Mysterium: The Board Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The official adaptation of the famous board game Mysterium! | Read more »
Sonny (Games)
Sonny 1.0.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.4 (iTunes) Description: Reimagined for iOS, cult-hit RPG Sonny brings challenging turn-based combat that requires strategy and mastery of each new skill to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

CalcTape for macOS 1.2 Adding Machine App for...
schoettler Software has announced CalcTape 1.2, an update to their desktop calculator for macOS. When it comes to adding long columns of numbers, doing complex calculations or playing around with... Read more
New MacBooks And MacBook Pros WIth Kaby Lake...
Digitimes’ Joseph Tsai cites a Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) report that unnamed market watchers are predicting Apple MacBook shipments to grow 10 percent in 2017, and projecting 15... Read more
New 2016 13-inch MacBook Pros on sale for up...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.9GHz/512GB Touch Bar MacBook Pro... Read more
New 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock a...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 15″ Apple Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
Opera Announces Neon Concept Browser For Mac
Opera is inviting users to get a glimpse of what Opera for computers could become with its Opera Neon browser concept. Each Opera Neon feature is described as “an alternate reality” for the Opera... Read more
Tellini Releases TabView 3.0 Missing Tool fo...
Tellini has announced the release of TabView 3.0. TabView has been the first macOS viewer for PowerTab tablatures. PowerTab is a well-known and widely adopted tablature editor for Windows systems and... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Overstock.com has the 1.6GHz/128GB 13″ MacBook Air on sale for $130 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MMGF2LL/A): $869.99 $130 off MSRP Their price is the lowest... Read more
12-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for $55 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $744.44 $55 off... Read more
9-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for $...
B&H Photo has the 9.7″ 32GB Space Gray Apple iPad Pro on sale for $549 for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. Read more
Apple iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP,...
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2199 $100 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (Multi-L...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* & PC Desktop Support Technician...
Apple & PC Desktop Support Technician job in Stamford, CT We have immediate job openings for several Desktop Support Technicians with one of our most well-known Read more
*Apple* macOS Systems Integration Administra...
…most exceptional support available in the industry. SCI is seeking an Junior Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Read more
*Apple* Premier Retailer - Service Technicia...
DescriptionSimply Mac is the largest premier retailer for Apple products and solutions. At Simply Mac we are all Apple , all the time. Same products. Same prices. Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.