Archive for June, 2006

Firewall: everyone get behind it

June 30th, 2006

What is it with Harrison Ford getting into big trouble and having to bail himself out? First "The Fugitive", now this? In a way the two stories are similar, except.. they're not really. Very decent movie, this, it has my stamp of approval. I like how the story unfolds in the beginning, when there are some unfilled gaps that make you wonder "is this guy important? should I pay attention to his name?". But Harrison does a hell of a performance too, in fact overall the acting is very good. Well, the plot is generally very good, but at the end it comes apart a bit. First of all, there's only so many different ways to make stealing money seem novel, so they try to keep you waiting for quite a while wondering what's going on, which is great. But then once the cat is out of the bag, there isn't that much mystery left. As Plan A goes awry, that's a twist I don't quite buy. A guy as well organized and well-informed as Bill Cox should know about the merger and all that it entails. Then it takes a turn for the desperate where we go from "there's no way he can save his family to", "hey, maybe there is something he can do". That lack of direction lost me a bit, it seems a bit of a filler. In fact, most of the second half does. Inevitably, people die, there's shooting and finally a long fight scene where the good guy wins. I mean that kind of thing is done to death and it's a bit disappointing to come out of a story like this. Still, the strong intro keeps it level and I still appreciate the whole.

What's fun about this production is that they got most of the technical things right. Which honestly shouldn't be too hard, just walk into the building of a big company and take some shots. They do add certain features for effect though, like the green on black Unix terminals, make them look very 80s. One mistake I noticed was when he was mounting his cdrom, he typed "mount /dev_/cdrom /mnt_/cdrom -t iso9660" (I added underscores where he used spaces, those spaces shouldn't be there). Otherwise you got nice Dell flat monitor, the Dell servers in the data center, all looks kosher. The improvised scanner he uses to read off the account numbers off a screen is actually more MacGyver than hackerish, he takes an actual scanner and connects it to an ipod, not that hi-tec.

Paul Bettany does a good job as bad guy, even though I like his smug, bright side much more than his violent, desperate side, which isn't all that convincing. I just remembered where I've seen him before, a few years ago I was made to sit through an incredibly boring tennis movie called "Wimbledon". Credit to Paul then, had I placed him right when I started watching "Firewall", I wouldn't have bought his bad guy character.

The worst thing about this movie is probably.. the title. By now, everyone knows what a firewall is and why you should have one, so playing on that common knowledge doesn't seem terribly clever considering they don't really deal with firewalls in the movie. Going by the title, you would think it plays a crucial part.

And Jack, if you didn't work for a bank all your life I wouldn't believe you could type 24-character IBAN numbers that fast without even double checking.

Oh and good job not simply reproducing "Enemy of the state".

a first look at c#

June 29th, 2006

The first I heard of c#, Microsoft's flagship new language for seamless software development from 2000, one of the first reviews of c# came from some higher-up in the Java hierarchy of Sun. His conclusion paraphrased here for your convenience, was "c# is basically a botched ripoff off java". He was saying that what java had done right, c# had changed for the worse, otherwise it was pretty much the same.

As I got my first introduction to c# recently, I wouldn't entirely agree with that. I'd say c# is (as announced), indeed a hybrid java/c++ combo. At first sight, it looks like java, but certain things are basically ripped right out of c++:

  • pass by reference for primitive types
  • virtual methods
  • operator overloading
  • user defined copy constructors
  • namespace declarations

And some things are completely new and wacky:

  • properties defined implicitly with accessors (not unlike ruby)
  • overriding base class constructors in derived classes (what does this say of encapsulation? hm)
  • sealed (non-derivable) classes
  • structs (from c) as lightweight alternative to classes
  • foreach statement (similar to php)
  • delegates (a bit like function pointers in c++)

In a way it looks like c# went completely java, but they couldn't bare to leave behind certain features of c++. And that's reasonable, it becomes some sort of superset of the two and with a rich library. My impression so far is that it seems to be java without some of the pain.

libraries to applications ratio

June 27th, 2006

As I browse through Sourceforge, I can't help but get the impression that there seems to be a lot of libraries in development, as opposed to not as many applications. Is it because people have don't need as many new apps anymore, whereas technology keeps advancing and libraries for just about anything spring up, with bindings for c all the way to ruby?

Another thing is that while innovative or useful apps are pretty far between, the same things are often reproduced countless times. I cannot remember how many im chat clients I've seen over the years, meanwhile gaim remains the reference point. But even with so many clients, there hasn't been one that was actually great. So why do people start new im projects? And since they are, why aren't those new projects better than gaim and all the "old" apps we have? And how many CMSs do we really need? There isn't a forum system out there that rivals vbulletin on functionality (phpbb is primitive in comparison), but there are countless frontends for xinelib, even though they're all the same and still inferior to mplayer, which has been around for ages.

what does it mean to belong?

June 11th, 2006

I keep expecting to belong. Belong in my house, belong in my city, belong in my country. Maybe that is the error in my thinking right there, that I expect to. And it's not that I definitely don't belong. But neither do I convincingly belong. And that raises the question: what does it mean to belong? It's not the place alone, I know that much. I've been to Milano, Amsterdam and Paris in the last few years, all supposedly magical places, but I haven't felt the magic. And what is so special about the place where we live? Really just the fact that we live there. So what else is it? The people? Do friends make us belong, feel at home in a city? I've never found it easy to make friends. As a kid I wasn't good at it. And that's telling in a way, because it's easier to meet people now than it was then, but back then when I did make a friend, it was more likely to be someone I really got along with. Nowadays I can meet people all the time, but I don't necessarily enjoy spending time with them. I'm pretty picky at this and maybe it's just down to the fact that my standards are too high. But I just don't like spending time with people I can't really communicate with, people who don't get me. And I don't often meet people who do. Sometimes when I do I try too hard, get my hopes up and in the end it doesn't work out for one reason or another, that can be quite a let down.

I think back to being a kid and feeling that I belong. How did I feel coming home from vacation? What made me enjoy that? I'm not sure, I can't remember it specifically, it was just a feeling of belonging. Maybe it was school to some extent, feeling I belong in that class, with those people. I'm sure it was that among other things. But being part of a group has always been problematic for me. When I watch the World Cup now and I see these players playing for a team I can imagine how they travel together, train together, eat together, hang out in the hotel, all the stuff that goes with being in a group. When I think that I think "that's not for me, that's not who I am". Playing sports, sure it's fun, I've always loved that. But being part of a team, spending time with these people outside the game, I don't like them that much. That part was always a waste to me, I always used to wish in those moments that I was elsewhere. It's probably the reason I've never played on a team for a long time, it's probably what's keeping me from joining a team now.

In a sense it is a nagging feeling of "this not being all that it's supposed to be". I cannot say how many times I've felt that, felt content, felt happy, but not fulfilled. So when do I feel that it's all it can be. When I'm playing sports sometimes. When I have one of those long, meaningful conversations that go on for hours. When I'm working really hard on something just because I want to make it work, which is pretty much the feeling of hacking, making something work not because it's particularly useful, but because it matters then and there.

So where do I belong? And when will I start belonging?

and here it comes

June 9th, 2006

And so it begins, June 9 2006, the World Cup kicks off. Eight years ago we had "uno dos tres, allez allez allez", but this time it's a promise of being "the time of our lives". Can Toni Braxton keep that promise?

In the land of samba they call it "the Brazilian Cup", starring "the 3 R's", Ro-Ro-Ro, and "the two K's", Ka-Ka. On the guest list, there is a wide representation of European nations, Germany being the only permanent guest. But in Brazilian charitable fashion, they accept that the inherently Brazilian tournament is hosted all around the world, even if they're not thrilled about some of the regulations that have come into effect. The first R explains: "half my moves are gone in these moon boots, why can't we play barefoot, are there no beaches in Germany?"

But the Germans have a different tradition. In an undisclosed location somewhere in the Reich, a dark concrete basement is lit up by free standing lamps. In the very center of the room is a large table populated with chairs, where "coach" Klinsmann labors over big blueprints of the Allianz Arena battlefield, surrounded by engineers, drawing and sketching on the paper. Behind them on the wall is a big steel frame holding a life size portrait of the legendary Kaiser the Bunkerbuilder. The World Cup organizing committee has taken steps to avoid any misunderstandings, every participating stadium carries the official sticker in the player tunnel: "No tanks".

On the banks of the river Seine, a far cry from the German military tradition, a late night vigil in Notre Dame is underway. The congregation joins in chant "lord, without you we are nothing, bless us with your splendor". Among them, a pair of young men, David and Thierry, join hands in the final prayer and repent their sins. Behind the altar, a short, gray haired man in glasses holds up the chalice and then drinks from it. Behind him, a great banner of our lord, Zizou.

The Italians have different ideas altogether. Like the valedictorian who worked so hard on his speech and then forgot his notes at home, Italian coaches have a proud tradition of throwing away their notes before the tournament and "going with what's familiar". That is stocking a tight defence, crowding the midfield and sending the Big Man up front to score. A tactic that brought one Egil 'Drillo' Olsen so much fame and admiration. Meanwhile, the Azzurri faithful is almost done preparing their support banners to go on display in Germany. This time they have united under a common theme, choosing different ways of expressing the same sentiment to the world: "stop cheating us!"

Don't miss it, kickoff tonight at 18:00 CET.