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Showing posts from July, 2009

We Have Failed to Sufficiently Confuse our Users

Ran across this post. It’s a cute way of changing the color of your Firefox address bar.Like this: Which of course is not to be confused with this:  Or this:It seems like we haven’t yet sufficiently confused our users.We need to try harder.

Infrastructure – Security and Patching

An MRI machine hosting Confliker:“The manufacturer of the devices told them none of the machines were supposed to be connected to the Internet and yet they were […] the device manufacturer said rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that a 90-day notice be given before the machines could be patched.”Finding an unexpected open firewall hole or a a device that isn’t supposed to be on the Internet is nothing new or unusual. If someone asked “what’s the probability that a firewall has too many holes” or “how likely is it that something got attached to the network that wasn’t supposed to be”, in both cases I’d say the probability is one.Patching a machine that can’t be patched for 90 days after the patch is released is a pain. It’s an exception, and exceptions cost time an money. Patching a machine that isn’t supposed to be connected to the Internet is a pain. I’m assuming that one would need to build a separate ‘dark net’ for the machines. I can’t imagine walking around…

DOS, Backscatter, ATT and 4chan

If I’ve got the story straight, it goes something like this: 4chan.org is subject to a DDOS attack. 4chan attempts to block the DOS, and in the process, unintentionally DOS’s one or more of ATT customers. ATT ‘blocks’ 4chan. The world comes to and end. Forget network neutrality, evil empires, Haliburton, black helicopters and aliens from area 51. Let’s try for a simple explanation, assuming that nobody is evil and everyone is incompetent. It’s speculative, but has the advantage of holding to Occams Razor far better than the other speculative explanations floating around.4chan gets DDOS’d, presumably from spoofed IP addresses. For high profile sites, that’s a normal thing. For low profile sites with large address spaces (us), that’s a normal thing. The sun rises in the east, someone on the Internet gets DDOS’d from spoofed addresses. It’s been that way for a decade or so. Life goes on. Get used to it. If you think you can run a high profile site and not get DOS’d, they perhaps you need…

You have Moved an Icon on Your Desktop

Your computer must be restarted for the change to take effect.We used to joke about Windows 95 and it’s ridiculous reboot requirements.  The line we used was:“You have moved an icon on your desktop. Windows must be restarted for the change to take effect.” Those were not the days, and I thought that they were pretty much over. Apparently not:I can’t think of any circumstances where a reboot should be necessary to complete the installation of application software. That was last century. I’m OK with reboots for things like kernel updates, firmware updates, and perhaps even driver updates.But a browser? It’s possible that the reboot is being forced by non-Mozilla browser add ons – I don’t have any way of knowing. But if an add on to an application can force the application to force the operating system to reboot, then the application and OS design are both defective.

Off Topic: Stadium Construction Resumes (Update)

UPDATE: The Italian authorities have responded to the exposure of the corruption surrounding the construction of the stadium. The Minister of Stadiums has investigated the mismanagement and corruption, issued a report, and taken corrective action. The corrupt and incompetent officials have been identified, prosecuted and punished. Additionally, the authorities have agreed to resolve other outstanding issues that have prevented the completion of the project. PunishmentIn an unusual turn of events, the authorities have issued severe consequences for the perpetrators of the scandal. Here you can see the  gruesome results of this most effective punishment. The statues of the wives of the corrupt officials have been decapitated (NSFW).Shocking though it may be, this extreme punishment, reserved exclusively for the most severe offenses, has a long tradition in Italian culture. Over the millennia, many statues of spouses of famous officials have been similarly mutilated and placed for exhibi…

Off Topic: Stadium Construction Scandal

In the center of Rome are the remnants of large stadium. Tradition tells that the stadium was completed during the period of the Roman Empire and allowed to decay, unmaintained, during the centuries since construction.This photograph, taken with a special filter and timed exactly as the planets Venus and Mars intersected a polyline bounded by the vertices of the tops of the arches and extending in to space, clearly shows that we have been mislead about the true origins of the facility. Careful analysis of the photo shows that the stadium is not a decaying ghost of a once great stadium, but rather it is a uncompleted, scandal ridden construction project gone bad.By normal Italian standards, construction projects of this nature typically take decades. Corruption and mis-management are assumed, delays are inevitable.  But even by those standards, after nearly two millennia the stadium should have been completed. To give a comparative example, the construction on the shopping center in th…

nplus1.org – A Crash Course in Failure

One of the things we system managers dread the most is having the power yanked out from under our servers, something that happens far too frequently (and hits the news pretty regularly). Why? Because we don't trust file systems and databases to gracefully handle abnormal termination. We've all had or heard of file system and database corruption just from a simple power outage. Servers have been getting the power yanked out from under them for five decades, and we still don't trust them to crash cleanly? That's ridiculous. Five decades and thousands of programmer-years of work effort ought to have solved that problem by now. It’s not like it’s going to go away anytime in the next five decades.

In A Crash Course in Failure, Craig Stuntz discuses the concept of building crash only software – or software for which a crash and a normal shutdown are functionally equivalent.

Highlights:
“Hardware will fail. Software will crash. Those are facts of life.”
"…if you believe yo…

Error Handling – an Anecdote

A long time ago, shortly after the University I was attending migrated students off of punch cards, I had an assignment to write a batch based hotel room reservation program. We were on top of the world - we had dumb terminals instead of punch cards. The 9600 baud terminals were reserved for professors, but if you got lucky, [WooHoo!] you could get one of the 4800 baud terminals instead of a 2400 or 1200 baud DECwriters. The instructors mantra - I'll never forget - is that students need to learn how to write programs that gracefully handle errors. 'You don't want an operator calling at 2am telling you your program failed. That sucks.' He was a part time instructor and full time programmer who got tired of getting woke up, and he figured that we needed our sleep, so he made robustness part of his grading criteria.Here's how he made that stick in my mind for 30 years:  When the assignment was handed to us, the instructor gave us the location of sample input data file…

Sometimes Hardware is Cheaper than Programmers

In Hardware is Expensive, Programmers are Cheap II I promised that I’d give an example of a case where hardware is cheap compared to designing and building a more efficient application. That post pointed out a case where a relatively small investment in program optimization would have paid itself back by dramatic hardware savings across a small number of the software vendors customers.Here’s an example of the opposite.Circa 2000/2001 we started hosting an ASP application running on x86 app servers with a SQL server backend. The hardware was roughly 1Ghz/1GB per app server. Web page response time was a consistent 2000ms. Each app server could handle no more than a handful of page views per second.By 2004 or so, application utilization grew enough that the page response time and the scalability (page views per server per second) were both considered unacceptable. We did a significant amount of investigation into the application, focusing first on the database, and then on the app server…

Cisco IOS hints and tricks: What went wrong: end-to-end ATM

I enjoy reading Ivan Pepelnjak's Cisco IOS hints and tricks blog. Having been a partner in a state wide ATM wide area network that implemented end to end RSVP, his thoughts on What went wrong: end-to-end ATM are interesting.

I can' figure out how to leave a comment on his blog though, so I'll comment here:
I'd add a couple more reasons for ATM's failure.

(1) Cost. Host adapters, switches and router interfaces were more expensive. ATM adapters used more CPU, so larger routers were needed for a given bandwidth.

(2) Complexity, especially on the LAN side. (On a WAN, ATM isn't necessarily more complex than MPLS for a given functionality. It might even be simpler).

(3) 'Good enough' QOS on ethernet and IP routing. Inferior to ATM? Yes. Good enough? Considering the cost and complexity of ATM, yes.

Ironically, core IP routers maintain a form of session state anyway (CEF). On an ATM wide are a network, H.323 video endpoints would connect to a gatekeeper and re…