17 December 2010

RIP Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet, a / k / a "Captain Beefheart", has died.

He was a friend and collaborator of Frank Zappa's, and a pretty far out, if you will, musician in his own right.

Damn you, SyFy

I don't pretend that anyone in the position to change these things reads what I'm putting out here on the Internet, but this is my forum, I chose the color scheme, so I'm going to blow steam, even if no one is listening. At least I'll have registered my displeasure in the open.

08 December 2010

americano

I think it's been well established herein that I love me some coffee.
I recently went without for a few days recently while I got over a sore throat, suffering through with tea
To celebrate my return to black gold in a cup, (and inspired by this post*) here is how I order my americano:

When at Starbucks, I keep it simple: triple short americano, with room.  Yes, this amounts to 3 shots of espresso with a splash of water, but that splash is important.  It's like a splash of water in your scotch - allows you to enjoy the flavors of the beverage that much more.

When at other coffee shops, like our favorite Higher Ground in Hagerstown, MD (On the Dual Highway, check them out, good stuff, promise),  I get the smallest possible with an extra shot and ask them to leave some room.

But why room?  you ask.  Because the barrista dumps in the hottest water she can find, and I don't like my coffee hot enough to power space probes, so leaving room means less steel-melting water poured in.

I should probably just ask for room temperature water, but I don't want to be a pain.




*I'm not a normal reader of the linked blog (yet?), but that post was called out special for me by @smplnerd.

Nature vs NASA

     The recent announcement of arsenophilic bacteria discovered by NASA is being increasingly refuted.
 
     I know the entire mechanism for research has become entangled with getting media attention for your work so that when it comes time for more dollars to continue your work you can point to something in print that will impress the purse-holders, but I would consider it a superior and inherently more logical course for research be conducted, analyzed, and published in a scholarly journal.

     With publication other researchers could then attempt to replicate the experiment a few times, and only after this process is complete, and assuming that the initial results are still correct,  this information can be fed to science journalists so that lay persons such as myself with a dilettante's interest in these things gets an accurate picture.  Not NASA trumpeting from the hills that we have met ET and he is us only to be refuted (see above) within days.

     That's just embarrassing, folks.

     On an entertainment level, I know where to get all the SF I want; only pull me up for air when the science has been proven.

     On an academic / professional level, we're facing the same problem that plagues too much of our thinking as a society - the short term.  What do you have for me now, in 6 months, 18 months?  What damage are we doing to ourselves as a species that out current dominant mechanism for progress (money) is applied in a manner that so often neglects the long term?

18 October 2010

Zero to Negative Growth

I'm thinking of instituting a 0-growth policy on my T-Shirts (or even negative) For every T-shirt I acquire, one must be discarded. I say this because my TheOatmeal.com t-shirt is arriving in the mail this afternoon, and it's glory must mean the passing of a shirt whose time has come and gone. Will it be my Kelly Bell shirt that has shrunk maybe just a little too much? (I love me some Kelly Bell Band. Need to catch a show soon) Maybe the M*A*S*H t-shirt I grabbed at Target.
It sure as Hell won't be any of my Batman t-shirts. You never know when you might need to go fight crime, and you need to be properly attired:


I fear I may have said to much.

But seriously, my new Bearodactyl shirt is going to kick a lot of ass.

28 September 2010

I-270: Wherein I attempt to make a coherent statement

I'm approximately near my wit's end.  I've been to my wit's end before, it's not a pleasant place.  I try not to visit there, but apparently to get there requires driving on I-270.  During Rush Hour.  Sometimes after a rain, during rain, during snow, when it's sunny, when it's dark - I've dealt with a number of conditions, and I've driven long enough to know that some reduction in speed is prudent and life-saving when conditions are sub-nominal (99.999% of the time), HOWEVER, "reduction in speed" DOES NOT EQUATE TO MOVING AT LESS THAN FIVE MILES PER HOUR FOR SEVERAL MILES.

MDOT, FHA, whomever, I am done.  I need to use your road to get to work in the morning, and so do plenty of other people.  No, check that: I need to get to work (read: the Metro station for leg 2 of my commute), and so do many other people (of varying driving skill levels, as is made painfully clear).  I'd pay an extra dollar or two a day for a toll lane.  I'd gladly ride a Red Line metro train from Frederick.  Don't wave the MARC in front of me; where I live it is not an option for getting into DC.

I, and thousands of other people, need a solution to the traffic problem on I-270.  I am well aware that gridlock is an international problem (see: China), but son of a ... Look, WMATA, for all their problems, gets me and plenty of other people a lot farther in a lot less time than it takes me to get from the top end of I-270 to Exit 9.

Here it is:  I will vote for any MD politician (state or federal) who offers a concrete plan to fix this quagmire.  I will vote AGAIN for this person if they are able to show real progress on the matter.
I'd like a solution to the problem when I wake up for work tomorrow, but I know that's not feasible, but something must be done.

Folks, if I'm missing the story (nothing has crossed my eyes on I-270 for some time, other than the dismal traffic reports every morning), kindly point me to where progress is being made, or where there are good people doing the work to resolve this problem so I can lend my meager support.

10 September 2010

Fantasy Football Revisited

As the NFL season is finally back, I thought I should write about Fantasy Football.
Turns out I already did.

Everything I said then holds true.  I might have used fewer double-quotes, though, had I written that now.
I fight that battle every day.

Hub Opera Ensemble Presents GF Handel's Ariodante



The Mrs. has a starring role in this production, and she and her fellow cast mates have been working their butts off getting this whole thing  together; not only that, but I've heard the majority of the cast sing, and I know they have the pipes as well as the acting chops.
Watching from behind the scenes, offering what help I can (graphic design work, web/social media configuration/cooking the occasional dinner for folks), I confess I am very excited to finally get to see the production.  I'm sure I'll get a sneak peek before opening night, as I am hopefully going to get to shoot some stills during dress rehearsal, but I'm still excited for the big night.  I know the cast and crew are, too.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out how Hagerstown Community College is being an amazing partner for them in all of this.
What am I driving at?  Come see this opera! You won't have a chance to see this much talent perform for such a reasonable price ... until their Spring production!

13 August 2010

App Folder Purchases

I'm noticing some tech sites putting together lists of essential iPhone apps, some categorized (travel, shopping games, etc.), some are lists of "must have" apps.
Since iOS now has folders, it'd be nice if we had to option to purchase an entire folder of related / essential apps, for less than you'd pay for them all separately.  It's like buying the album rather than all the tracks separately in iTunes.  There are already recommended apps, and with Genius for Apps a folder could be recommended for you.
New to iOS?  Grab the "essential Apps" folder.  Addicted to Tower Defense?  There's a folder for that.
You see where I'm going with this, probably came to the same conclusion after the first sentence.

Dear Mr. Jobs,

Please consider selling entire folders of apps.

Thanks,

Rob

04 August 2010

Vacation Observation: What the aliens must think.

If there's intelligent life observing us, and if they are paying attention to those of us relaxing along the shore line of tis fine planet, they must think we have some very interesting bathing rituals.
First, we begin our cleansing rite by dallying along the sandy shore, splashing, swimming, riding the waves, and invariably excoriating our skin on the aforementioned sand.  That same sand sticks to our skin and becomes helpfully lodged in all the important places that need a good cleaning: armpits, knees, toes, etc.
Secondly, we rinse from the ocean and often undergo a chemical dip in the pool, like so many bar glasses getting their trip through the sanitizer.  The behavior here may also involve some intermediate drying time in the sun.
Finally, we remove ourselves to our private quarters wherein we peel off our bathing costumes, shake out the excess sand, and proceed to scrub all our toes and knees and et cetera clean of dirt, sweat, chlorine, sand, and any small shells mixed in with the sand.
I had this thought after clumps of sand came falling out of my suit as I made for the shower, making sure all the sand was well out of my et cetera, remnants of my victorious shell hunting excursion in the surf.  Though buffeted and tossed by the unusually strong wave action I came away with some really neat shells.  Here's hoping my nephews like them.

01 August 2010

On OS X keyboard stuff

In compiling my inaugural Florida vacation post, I realized something really cool about the macbook's (OS X, really) keyboard:  when you press alt+[1-0] you receive a series of useful characters: ¡ ™ £ ¢ ∞ § ¶ • ª º

How cool is that?  I've been a mac user at home for about 6 years now, and I'm just discovering this.  I that about this OS, there's always something new and useful to discover.

Surprisingly useful also is the virtual keyboard in iOS.  I thought, when I first tried an iPhone on display that there was no way my fat fingers would ever be able to use that keyboard, but it's incredibly intelligent, that keyboard of air and light.

My favorite feature of the iOS keyboard is the auto-correction and the auto punctuation, largely adding the apostrophe so "Im" is automatically "I'm" without my having to manually add it.  It's useful more often than it's not, so I'm wondering:  When will we get this in OS X?   NeoOffice/OpenOffice.org have a word auto-complete option that is a poorer implementation of the word-replacement in iOS.  I want to be a lazy typist.  I want to get more WPM and OS X filling in the apostrophes for me (never mind hitting space twice to add the period and auto-capitalize the next letter)  will make me a faster typist.  If nothing else, making iOS style typing a keyboard option in Settings on OS X would be a very welcome addition.
I just checked and I didn't see it as an option, but if it's buried somewhere, I'd love a revelatory comment.  I'd love any comments that aren't spammers.  I'm interested in your opinion.

Vacating, Random thoughts

It's vacation week; I didn't so much need the vacation from work; to the contrary I love my job and enjoy spending the day with my co-workers.  I don't think any of them read this blog, so I'm not just saying that to suck up, either.  I need the vacation from driving down I-270 every morning.  Mind you, plans are in place to remove that portion of my commute, but for the present I'm forced to join the masses as we press our way to our jobs in and ner our Nation's Capital.  There's a lot to read by a lot of smart people on the topic of congestion on 270, so I won't bother with my driver's-side analysis.  I state the previous to impress upon you the one dark spot of my current daily existence.
But not this week!  Nay, friends, I am in sunny sub-tropical Jensen Beach, Florida.  I turn my head 60º to the right and peering through patio furniture I see shell-strewn beach and a wind-blown Atlantic caressing America's shore.  It's more like a lake than the ocean (as I know it) own here.  Most of my ocean experience is Ocean City, MD.  Way fewer shells, way more waves (but no waves good for real surfing as I understand it).
So I'm here on vacation with the Mrs. and some good friends.  I left my laptop and my DSLR at home.  We have the Mrs.'s macbook (until recently mine) with us.  I'm using my iPhone for almost everything, as I'm currently in my "year of iPhone photography" (unless someone wants to pay me to take pictures, in which case I do have the DSLR ready to go).  Yes, I'm typing this on the macbook because log entries from the iPhone are painful (because of the interface, not because of the virtual keyboard).  I'm partially unplugged for the week, but not entirely.  There's a path-style construct down here that resembles the USB icon from this vantage point.  I'll tweet an image later (unless I did that last night).  So I might be doing my best Pennsic impression trying to step away from the tech for the week, I still have tech on the brain.  I'm such a nerd.
So far so good.  I'll try to remember to share some thoughts and impressions over the week, since this is my first time in Florida.  For more in-the-moment commentary, keep a weather eye on my Twitter feed (recent tweets appear on the home page of this blog for your convenience).
I'd say "aloha" for now, but I think "later ya'll" or "hasta luego" is more appropriate here.

23 July 2010

One login to rule them all: The Facebook Hegemony

Author's Note:  I've dusted off and polished up this old post in light of the rumored Facebook IPO. 

"Here's a fun fact: Like every other online community before it and every one after it, Facebook will eventually lose favor with its users and wither. Will it reach a billion users? Maybe, but probably not."
--From "Fun facts about Facebook's half-billion users" Comments

     Comments on articles and articles themselves prophesying the demise of Facebook from the Internet like 6-Degrees and  MySpace before it are as common as articles prophesying the imminent demise of a certain Cupertino-based computer company. However, there's one element of the page linked above that puts the lie to this prophecy: the button at the top of the comments section that reads "Connect with Facebook" (02Feb2012: and the now ubiquitous "like" button, which is slightly outside the scope of this essay, but must be acknowledged).

      Facebook is no longer just a social networking site, it's become an Internet Utility* a la Google for search, iTunes for music, or Amazon for books (and music, and even the kitchen sink).  It's become the Kleenex or Vaseline of social networking sites, much to the chagrin of those who didn't figure it out (see above) and those who just can't get it right (Google+ what's up).  For awhile now people have been pushing for a universal login a la OpenID, but that lacked the right PR, the right spice, and it didn't also come with pictures of old High School friends that make you feel bad about yourself.  Facebook has all of those things, and it enables you to log in somewhere to post comments without having to remember another password.  How much longer before you can pay for a "Facebook Premium" login that guarantees your security and rivals PayPal for online payments?  I think it's coming (02Feb2012: Facebook Credits, anyone?).

     The user base for  Facebook is going to continue to grow (02Feb2012: and has) because you can "Like" articles and sites, and just as the MacWorld article above demonstrates, who wouldn't want to simply click a button that confirms their Facebook login (mmm, cookies) to comment on an article rather than having to deal with the hassle of registering on that site, and then remembering that password.  Why not just have one login to rule them all?

     Personally, in the realm of website comments I'm all for it and I'm willing to bet a shiny James K. Polk Presidential Dollar that a significantly greater number than 500 million people will be, too (02Feb2012: 800 million+ if we're talking about all Facebook users).  Now before you get your privacy knickers in a twist, I recognize the need for anonymity on the Internet, and I also recognize the danger inherent in centralizing all that information about yourself, which is why I'm glad this sort of thing exists for rival sites like Twitter, Google+, etc.  I can think of any number of ways to anonymize yourself even using a Facebook login to post comments on articles, or do other things online (pay for stuff, see above), and it's up to us to make sure that we're never in a situation where such a thing becomes a problem.

     The 18 months that have transpired since I originally published this essay have only strengthened my point, and with a looming IPO, the reality is that Facebook isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  There's no reason it can't be used responsibly and there's every reason for us to remain vigilant and ready to call foul every time they do something stupid, but there's no use in wishing it away or ignoring it completely, because just like you blow your nose with a Kleenex, and you Google something on the Internet, soon you'll Facebook something or other.

*Has this been coined?  I want credit if it hasn't.

19 July 2010

In which I review "Inception", but do not summarize the plot

WARNING: Like with every movie review, I assume you've seen the movie, or don't care about spoilers. If these are not true, then go see it and come back to read.

I had an aversion to Leonardo DiCaprio when he was first famous, mostly from a misplaced sense of jealousy to how women reacted to him. No longer; I realized that he's become one of my favorite actors, because I believe him as the character, and don't spend entire movies distracted by who he is like I did when I would pay money to see Tom Cruise in a movie. The entire run of the film all I could think was 'that's Tom Cruise, that's Tom Cruise, that's Tom Cruise'. Thing is, "Inception" is not a great film because of Leo, not entirely. Yes, his performance is one important part, but "Inception" is a great film because it parlays each of its components so masterfully into a big-budget work of art that is rare in our contemporary film-culture of franchises. You know how "Avatar" is all visual with a transparent plot and 2 dimensional characters (how's that for irony)? "Inception" is like that, only with a good story and good acting; it makes you think, and I like movies that make me think. If you aren't paying attention it is easy to become lost in the multi-layered world that director Christopher Nolan creates for us with the driving soundtrack, afore-alluded stunning visuals, and amazing performances.

First I want to touch on the soundtrack, what I feel to be the only weakness in the film. Even then its weakness is not from quality, but from originality. It sounded a lot like my memory of the Nolan "Batman" soundtracks, both that I feel were perfect for the "Batman" movies. Much like Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, the reason for this sonic similarity is that it is the same composer who wrote the music for "Inception", the estimable Hans Zimmer. The point I ultimately want to make is that no matter how perfect the soundtrack was when it was called "Batman", it sounds like it was waiting to be re-written for "Inception". The driving beat, the blaring horn, the way the clock-ticking sound appears at certain intervals (to me this made me think that every time we heard that you were inside a dream), the film would not be the triumph it is without the soundtrack. Even if Batman had it first in an earlier incarnation. The music never distracts but enhances, especially the action scenes. In doing my research for this post (looking up Hans Zimmer on Wikipedia) I realized that he's written a LOT and some of my favorite films ("Lion King", "Crimson Tide", "Sherlock Holmes", the aforementioned Nolan "Batman" films) have been scored by him. Is it Nolan's influence that generates the similarity? It works, so maybe I shouldn't be so quick to complain or call it a weakness, but more of an observation.

There is a scene in the middle-level of the 3 explicit dream states our team are in where in dream level 1 they are in free-fall and therefore there is no gravity in the hotel. The zero-g fight scene felt inspired and fresh to me, in the same way that every fight scene after "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" felt derivative (I'm looking at you, " Charlie's Angels"). All the action sequences in our explicit dream worlds felt only partially contiguous, with characters moving from A to B faster than we would consider possible, and no clear tracking along a physical path. "Duh, Rob", you say, "it's a dream". 'I know', I reply, 'that's my point'. If you've seen the movie, you know of what I speak. The zero-g fight scene really stuck out for me, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in particular. I wonder how much of that was him versus CG versus stunt doubles?

Gordon-Levitt's overall performance was outstanding, beyond the fight scene. I know he's been working, but I don't recall watching him in anything since "3rd Rock from the Sun", and that was a few years ago. I'm easily entertained, but bad acting ("Twilight", dear God in heaven, "Twilight") can ruin a movie for me. Everyone in "Inception" was fantastic. Ellen Page is legit, folks. I'm still not sure why Cisco chose her to be their spokesperson, but she was good in this movie, by which I mean believeable. I bought who she was and what she was doing. I've already commented on how good DiCaprio is, and I'd be remiss without name checking Ken Watanabe. The rest of the supporting cast are all spot on as well. Tom Hardy is finally redeemed in my eyes, the stink of "Star Trek: Nemesis" nowhere to be seen on him. And Michael Caine! Nolan likes him some Michael Caine, folks, and we are all the richer for it.

The use of the top as plot device was masterful, our attention drawn to it without feeling beat over the head with the toy, and the closing scene truly feels like something the entire film had been leading us to, all tied to that damned top. How many takes of that top spinning did it require to get the wavering motion without falling down? Is our man Cobb still dreaming? Is this world real? I don't know. What I do know is that "Inception" deserves to win awards, or maybe I am still dreaming?


Oh! I remember what I wanted to add! They'll just let ANYONE run the machine that actually puts them into the dream state, won't they? Random Asian kid, Flight attendant ... People integrated with the macguffin; Does Dom Cobb look like a bitch?
Then why you tryin' to...


UPDATE 17 August, 2010:

Looks likes there is more to the score than I had at first realized.  Nicely played, Hans & Christopher, Nicely played.


21 June 2010

The Oatmeal does Legos

This guy is a genius. You should spend some hours going through his stuff.
Start here:

16 June 2010

Garden Ramble: In the Weeds

I find I have more to say on the matter of gardening.

I have window boxes affixed to the railing of our front porch; originally they held petunias that were meant to grow thick and lush, spilling down the sides to be an attractive component of our otherwise drab city porch. The petunias baked as the morning sun heated the brick of our house and tore the moisture from the air. I later tried numerous alternatives from my flower seed stock - I currently have an interesting mixture of seed planted in the front boxes that I couldn't recount, only to say that it was in my seed box and is about as likely as not to sprout anything. What I have done in the third box, however, is embrace weeds.

There is a weed that looks similar (though much less corpulent / robust in shape) to the jade plant, but with a reddish tint. I think it's a portulaca variety. I've been yanking it out of the cracks of my sidewalks for years, but always thought it looked nice. I have decided that since it is so hearty I will let it grow, heck, I'll water it and cultivate it, to see the result. So far the result is promising. I'm keeping an open eye for other interesting looking weeds that I might wish to cultivate. I recently learned that the blue flower I've seen growing from pavement cracks and abandoned lots for lo these many years is actually chicory! I am very excited to obtain a sample for cultivation and cooking (and drinking with / in place of) coffee. Any other weeds I should know about? If the "weeds" prove to be truly attractive, I will pursue that in the other boxes as well. The portulaca is appearing in other outdoor pots as well, so I may choose to cultivate it indoors as well.

In established plant news, my rubber tree plant has new sprouts at the base of each trunk, this is a sign to me that the plant is thriving, and I feel like it had kittens or puppies or something! The resurrected pepper plant is likewise flourishing, and I am hoping to have a pepper or two to enjoy this year. This plant is on my list to be moved to a new pot from its current plastic abode, since it appears that it will become a perennial.

I made a decision recently to more carefully curate the pots what hold my plants, as I move to a more container-based strategy ahead of our impending move. The Mrs. and I want the containers to be as decorative and pleasing as the plants. The plastic pots I have been using will be replaced with ceramic, metallic, and whenever possible inventive containers. That said I have a large collection of gently used plastic pots of varying sizes that have suddenly come available. So let me know if you need one.

I did use a chunk of those pots - 8 identical pots I bought some years back - to plant cuttings from my Swedish ivy. Keeping them moist, by Christmas I will have 8 wonderful little gifts to give! I might add in a snake plant cutting to the pot at some point, since I feel the two plants work well together: both require minimal water and can withstand a variety of lighting conditions.

Along the lines of pots and cutting, my sister's husband recently indicated that he wanted to add some house plants to their home. Luckily I heard him and let him know that I would provide him with cuttings to prevent an unnecessary expense on their part! I need to tackle that project ...

Finally, just when I thought it was safe to cut the grass, I took a walk down through the yard, and a volunteer tomato and a volunteer vine of another variety (cucumber, by the look of it, maybe cantaloupe?) has sprouted and grown with great speed. I intend to let them grow, and see what we get out of it. I won't provide much in the way of additional watering, but I also won't attack them with the trimmer. I can't do harm to those intrepid botanical treasures.

02 June 2010

30 Second Photography

Here's one from my old MySpace blog, from before I made the jump.

A friend of mine is looking into a camera for his Alaskan adventure, wants to use a DSLR, but doesn't know anything about the lenses &c. I decided rather than just turning him loose on Wikipedia I'd at least try to give him some basic knowledge to cling to once he goes looking for those more detailed answers. Following here is the 30 second breakdown I gave him. If anyone out there who really knows this stuff happens to look at it, please tell me if and where I got it wrong. I'm hoping I steered him right, and I really dig photography so I'm always looking to improve my knowledge and my skill. Thanks for reading!


F stop (f numbers)
  • The f-stop is how wide open your aperture is; the aperture is the iris/hole that controls how much light gets through to the film or sensor.
  • The bigger the hole the smaller the f number (i.e. f/11 is a small hole while f/1.8 is WIDE OPEN).
  • Something to remember is that the more open your aperture is, the smaller your depth of field is (Depth of field is how much stuff is in focus. Say there are 3 people, 1 10 feet away, 1 15 feet away, 1 20 feet away. A shorter DoF means that only one of these people is going to be in focus, but the more you close your aperture (bigger f number), the more depth you will have in your field.)


Shutter Speed (the 1/x numbers)

  • Simply put, it's how long the shutter lets light hit the film/sensor when you press the shutter button and take a picture.
  • This is measured in fractions of a second (e.g. a shutter speed of 100 is actually 1/100 or .01 of a second).
  • The longer you leave the shutter open (your exposure time), the more likely you are to have a blurry photo.



Lens size (the mm numbers)
  • Lenses are measure by their focal length, in millimeters (mm).
  • The shorter the focal length, the more zoomed-out (wider) you are.
  • About 50mm or so makes an object appear in your view finder about as big as it does to the naked eye.
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  • >50mm gives you zoom-in capabilities.




Bonus: ISO numbers (film grain)
  • The ISO number on a digital camera is how sensitive the sensor is to light; film has an ISO rating related to the size of the film grain that also tells how sensitive it is to light, which is where the numbers come from.
  • The ISO number is changeable in digital cameras.
  • The bigger the ISO number the more sensitive the sensor is to light (shoot ISO 200 in sunlight, but ISO 1600 in a dim room).
  • The drawback is that more noise / weird pixels creep into your images at higher ISO numbers. Many cameras have Noise Reduction (NR) technology to help with this, but only so much.

Iron Man 2: Don't Hate the Player

After my fawning review of Iron Man, you'd think maybe I'd hold Iron Man part deux up to a ridiculously high standard. You'd be sort-of right. I've read a lot of reviews that say it's not a good movie, lacking in whatever it is people who are paid to be critics and know a lot about movies like to complain is lacking from movies. I've also read it intimated that RDJ himself was less than happy with making this movie, artistically.
I enjoyed the movie (btw, guy sitting behind us? it's "Captain America", not "Mr. America". Mr. America is a DC Hero. You fail at being a comic book nerd. Hang your head in shame, dork) as did the Mrs. About the only movie I can remember NOT liking is that Twilight abomination fro ma few years back, but I'll go so far as to say I couldn't find anything to laugh at in the trailer for the upcoming installment of that fran ... I was talking about Iron Man. Sorry.
This feels like a set up movie. This feels like a movie that should have been about 30 minutes longer. I needed to see some more of Tony Stark really dealing with the fact that he was dying, in a fashion different from using a high tech glucose meter to check the level of his blood toxicity, and then mugging for the camera in the mirror (btw, did you catch the "mirror shot" where he lifts his hand and the "reflection" decides to join him in the new pose about a beat later? Hidden homage to the Marx brothers?).
What the first Iron Man and the 2 new Batman movies have shown us (and the Hulk movies have thus far failed to show us) is that movies based on comic books are a unique opportunity to explore the humanity of these characters beyond the page. Don't get me wrong, I love me some pew-pew and WHOOOSH and bang-smash clank VRRROOWWRRRR BOOOM!!
I think it's more that there was a missed opportunity here than a bad movie. The third Iron Man should be fantastic; all of the actors associated with the franchise are fantastic. Give them something to chew on, people. RDJ looks hungry.

Oh, and I still want JARVIS in the worst way. At least his interface. That sweet, sweet holographic interface.

01 June 2010

Total Personal Worth Formula

I can't believe I've let this one go so long without sharing. This came to me as I was pondering how difficult it is to offload an item because of a memory attached to it, or some perceived utility.

I came up with this back in January; maybe it will help you de-clutter. Maybe you can offer refinements or helpful criticism to make it better?

Garden Ramble: 2010 Special Edition

My garden rambles have always been centered around the doings of my vegetable garden. As the Mrs. and I are hoping to sell our house before the year is out AND my new commute eats up most of the time I would have used for vegetable gardening, I sacrificed my patch of hard-worked land to grass seed. So no vegetable garden this year. My herbs are growing like crazy - some volunteer basil and cilantro have even joined the party - and I planted all of the flower seeds I'd collected in years past into pots, a decent number of which have sprouted.

My efforts have largely turned to houseplants, and praying that the grass continues to fill in - this 4th Summer in our house and I feel like the yard is actually looking like a yard, not some guy's head in desperate need of Propecia. Houseplants because they are portable and year-round, and the yard because it's easier to sell a house with a decent looking back yard than a house with a back yard that, well, you already know. Bald spots. Also, I know that all-grass lawns are ridiculously bad for the environment, so I am pleased to report that there is a healthy "weed" component to the burgeoning lawn, and it looks fine when cut. Environmentally friendly AND aesthetically pleasing.

The most exciting news is that a plant I had thought dead and gone, and was only a bored Sunday afternoon away from the compost bin, has actually returned to life! My father gave me a hot pepper plant that I took to work with me when the weather turned foul and nursed it through the winter; the poor thing lost its last leaves some time in February or March. It has sat, a sad stalk, in its pot on my back porch (to the Mrs.' consternation) ever since. While watering the living plants yesterday I noticed that it looked suspiciously green. My friends, a miracle! The pepper plant has sprouted new leaves along the stem, and maybe by my birthday it could even sprout a pepper or two!

My birthday is in September.

Yes, every year.

So no lengthy commentary on how my squash are looking this year, but know that I am still keeping the thumb green, and that wherever we next call home, I plan to implement some form of vegetable garden. Some friends have one of those upside-down tomato grower gardens where you can plant stuff on top of the tomatoes, and it really works. Maybe that will be the next go-round; it all depends on how much room upon which I'll have to ramble.

21 May 2010

Metronaut

Every morning we load into metal tubes flying under Our Nation's Capital.

Oh say can you see,

Averting eyes and diverting thoughts we launch into the aether of existence, exploring the inner space of mind as we ride.


In that moment between acceleration and braking we are weightless.

Existential, solipsism: words to summarize that we are alone in a crowded room.


Metro Opens Doors ... to the soul.

11 January 2010

Software Maintenance and Free and Open Source Software: A Synergy for the Twenty-First Century

Author's Note: certain elements (tables of contents/tables/figures) have been removed for better web-log display. You may contact me if you'd like a PDF of the paper for reference, but please remember that plagiarism is bad.

Software Maintenance and Free and Open Source Software:
A Synergy for the Twenty-First Century

Robert C. Murray
University of Maryland University College


Abstract

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and software maintenance are fields that have interesting commonalities, and these likenesses indicate a synergy between the two topics. FOSS and software maintenance are first put into context and then discussed, as each is a component of the other. Research to demonstrate the presence of a synergy via plotting the average of the number of articles returned from four different academic search engines is presented, discussed, and analyzed, as the presence of a synergy is indicated by the results. Suggestions are offered for clearer results in future research.

- - -

Software Maintenance and Free and Open Source Software:
A Synergy for the Twenty-First Century

Software maintenance has enjoyed a renaissance in the decade from 2000 to 2009. Long considered nothing more than the unglamorous back end of software development, software maintenance long failed to obtain any focused attention per serious scholarly research (Pigoski, 1997). Over years research on the software development life cycle consistently reported that maintenance was the single largest expense in both time and resources related to a piece of software, consuming "...roughly 60 percent of the software life cycle."(Glass, 2003, p.115). This, coupled with the increase in legacy systems kept in use far beyond their originally intended life span, led to an increase in interest in software maintenance (Schneidewind, 1987). This growth in interest began in the mid-1990's, with text books like Pigoski's Practical Software Maintenance and the introduction of college courses devoted to software maintenance (Andrews and Lutfiyya, 2000). While text books written on the topic could afford to remain technology independent, course work and research on specific software maintenance practices and tools required software on which to work for their principles and effectiveness to be properly tested. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), itself already undergoing an increase in popularity in the mid to late 1990's, was precisely what those interested in software maintenance needed to complete their research. The ascendancy of the popularity of FOSS and the increased interest in serious academic research in software maintenance have formed a synergy that has produced improvements in these related fields throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Software Maintenance as of the Year 2000

Though this paper is concerned with the relationship between software maintenance and FOSS since the year 2000, it is important that the reader understand the status of software maintenance in the years leading up to 2000.
Schneidewind wrote "The State of Software Maintenance" in 1987, which documented the presence of the maintenance problem as a series of questions and answers; in fact the first question he puts to the reader is "Why Is There a Maintenance Problem?" (Schneidewind, 1987, p.303). Pigoski's 1997 textbook on software maintenance discussed the lack of research into software maintenance as well. In 2000 Andrews and Lutfiyya published a paper on their inaugural semester of teaching an undergraduate level software maintenance course, presented as a novel experience in their work. In 2000 Bennett and Rajlich published "Software Maintenance and Evolution: A Roadmap", wherein they indicate that the body of knowledge for software maintenance is still sorely lacking, that "...much more empirical knowledge about software maintenance and evolution is needed, including process, organization and human aspects." (Bennett and Rajlich, 2000, pp.85-86).
In the year 2000 software maintenance was beginning to be taught as a discrete subject in colleges, it had its own textbook, and there were papers published on the topic. But as Bennett, Rajlich, Pigoski, and Schneidewind all indicated, there was still much more work to be done. To accomplish the goals these researchers set forth for software maintenance, the discipline would need a tool that was freely available, easily accessed, and at the same time robust and widely used. FOSS would meet that need nicely.

Free and Open Source Software

History and Definition

The movement for FOSS arguably began in 1983, when Richard Stallman published his manifesto outlining the GNU is Not Unix (GNU) project. Stallman's thinking is that software should be as “free as air” (Stallman, 2007). In the document he considers the commercial sale of software to be a destructive force, and insists that people might only pay to either obtain support for or for the distribution of software. According to GNU, in a perfect world everyone has the right to freely create and modify the software they are using without the danger of violating any licensing agreements.

Almost a decade after the GNU project was begun, Linus Torvalds (a 21 year old from Finland) developed Linux, a FOSS Operating System (OS) based on Minix, itself a GNU licensed free version of Unix (Raymond, 2001). Since 1991 Linux has grown from one man's FOSS hobby project into a multi-million dollar industry that comprises dozens of distributions, all free and legal for the downloading (or installing from a friend's disc). Linux is by far not the only FOSS project in the world, but it could certainly be considered one of, if not the largest.
As stated FOSS is of course much more than Linux, but all FOSS conforms to specific criteria as indicated in
Table 1:

Table 1. Outline of Key Conditions of Open Source Definition (Feller and Fitzgerald, 2000, p.59)

Condition

Commentary

The source code must be available to user.

The software distribution must include the source code (i.e., the original programming language), or else the code must be made available by free, public Internet download.

The software must be redistributable.

The user of an [Open Source Software] release is given full rights to reproduce and redistribute the software, on any medium, to any party, either gratis or for a fee.

The software must be modifiable, and the creation of derivative works must be permitted.

All users are given the right to modify the software or produce derivative works. There is considerable variation among licenses regarding whether or not modifications must also be released publicly under an OSD compliant license.

The license must not discriminate against any user, group of users, or field of endeavor.

In an attempt to counter overtly ideological content in software licenses, the

OSD precludes any limitations on the possible uses of an [Open Source Software] distribution.

The license must apply to all parties to whom the software is distributed.

While some licenses might allow modifications to be released under a noncompliant license, an [Open Source Software] distribution cannot be “relicensed” by the user.

The license cannot restrict aggregations of software.

OSD compliant licenses cannot be limited to a particular distribution, nor can they seek to contaminate separately licensed software with which it is aggregated.

FOSS Research

As the twentieth century came to a close, researchers who had realized the potential of FOSS were calling for more research to be conducted on the paradigm so as to better understand as well as to improve it. Feller and Fitzgerald note this lack of academic inquiry in their 2000 paper "A Framework Analysis of the Open Source Software Development Paradigm", where they state "...we believe that rigorous academic inquiry into [FOSS] is sorely needed." This paper offered a basic framework upon which Feller and Fitzgerald hoped to both stimulate and direct further research into FOSS (Feller and Fitzgerald, 2000). Furthermore, Bennet and Rajlich wrote in 2000 that FOSS "may increase in importance" (Bennet and Rajlich, 2000, p.76).
As is demonstrated below in the Graphing the Synergy section, the opening decade of the twenty-first century did enjoy an overall growth in the amount of research conducted on FOSS. As major projects enjoyed greater success and the overall paradigm matured, the attention of major corporate entities like IBM was drawn (Capek, Frank, Gerdt, Shields, 2005). This corporate attention was coupled with what Feller and Fitzgerald had called for, additional academic research. Perhaps ironically, FOSS became a significant component in software maintenance research, as FOSS was found to be an excellent tool for successfully conducting this research.

Software Maintenance in FOSS Projects

As software maintenance is considered an unglamorous task by programmers working on commercial software products, software maintenance has been even more neglected in the FOSS community, where the members of the community (the widespread developers and user base of FOSS) are very likely to file problem requests -- known in the community as "bug reports" -- but are much less likely to take the initiative to work on a solution to these bugs (Mockus, Fielding, Herbsleb, 2000). Bug reports are the reality of software maintenance as it is found in FOSS, and are addressed by "massively parallel debugging"(Godfrey and Tu, 2000, p.3). This is an application of "Linus's Law", which states that "given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone" (Raymond, 2001, p. 30). While Linus's Law is apparently contradictory to the previously indicated community reluctance to fix the bugs they reported, it is important to note the scale of most popular FOSS projects, where thousands of individuals will file bug reports and hundreds will subsequently attend to these bugs (Mockus et al, 2000).
The adaptive and evolutionary components as defined in software maintenance are present and attended to in FOSS, but they have been absorbed into the shortened need-implement-use life cycle that is indicative of FOSS projects (Capek, et al, 2005). Indeed the author found in his literature review that this mutation of software maintenance in FOSS projects can be attributed to the "rapidly moving codebase" that is found in the continual release cycle of popular FOSS project (Andrews and Lutfiyya, 2000).
Some scholarly research has been conducted in the arena of software maintenance on FOSS projects. Koponen and Hotti detailed a software maintenance process framework for FOSS in 2005, and in the same year Yu, Schach, Chen, Heller, and Offutt conducted a detailed study on the maintainability of FOSS OSes. The former wished to provide a formal maintenance process for FOSS analogous to those found in various ISO/IEC standards (Koponen and Hotti, 2005). The latter research was conducted as a rebuttal to a challenge of prior research by the authors, but was also used to highlight a potential danger to the future maintainability of Linux relative to other FOSS operating systems, namely FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. (Yu, Schach, Chen, Heller, and Offutt, 2005).

FOSS - The Right Tools

Eric Raymond likened FOSS development as a bazaar, "...a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches...out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles." (Raymond, 2001, pp.21-22). By the start of the twenty-first century, this bazaar had brought forth a wealth of software, all of it free, with the creators and maintainers actively interested in having their work built upon and studied by others. This openness made FOSS ideal for academic projects from undergraduate coursework to graduate studies and ongoing academic research (Andrews and Lutfiyya, 2000). Another factor working in the favor of FOSS was the absence of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and other proprietary practices favored by commercial software creators (Hassan, Godfrey, and Holt, 2001). Because of this fundamental difference, and the ever-present label of free, these same commercial software creators viewed (as some continue to view) FOSS as nothing but competing software offered at no cost; the actuality is that the free in FOSS is meant in the context of free speech, and not simply zero-cost freeware (Feller and Fitzgerald, 2000). In fact, there are several forms of software licensing of which FOSS is only one.

FOSS in Software Maintenance Research

When software maintenance was finally receiving the serious academic attention it was due FOSS, as has been demonstrated, was recognized by software maintenance researchers as the best option to be the object of their research.
Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century many FOSS projects have been used as research subjects by investigators examining new theories or processes pertaining to software maintenance. While some like Rajlich and Gosavi (2004), or Hill, Pollock, and Vijay-Shanker (2007) used smaller-scope projects like Drawlets and the Eclipse integrated development environment (respectively), much software maintenance research has gravitated toward the higher-profile projects like Linux and the OpenOffice.org suite of productivity applications. The work by software maintenance researchers using these FOSS projects has been mutually beneficial, providing the researchers with needed insight and test data on their theories and providing the FOSS community with valuable insight and improvements to their projects.
The synergy was being realized as early as 2000, when Tran, Godfrey, Lee, and Holt published "Architectural Repair of Open Source Software", addressed the specific issue of architectural drift, and the method they had developed for repairing this drift. One of the FOSS projects used to test the method was Linux, specifically the Linux kernel (Tran, Godfrey, Lee, and Holt, 2000). Their research demonstrated the initial effectiveness of their theory, and also presented the Linux development community with an opportunity to have an easier time with future work on their project. The work has continued as indicated by the publication dates above. In 2008 Abd-El-Hafiz, Shawsky, and El-Sedeek published "Recovery of Object-Oriented Design Patterns Using Static and Dynamic Analyses", where their object of study included several of the individual applications that comprise the OpenOffice.org suite. All four studies that have been discussed as using FOSS to conduct software maintenance research have indicated initially positive results, with the need for future work to both confirm and extend the findings. These statements indicate that there is a synergy at work.

Graphing the Synergy

Concept

In performing the initial research for this assignment, it became apparent that while there was not enough to be located in the literature pertaining to software maintenance of FOSS projects to properly complete a scholarly paper on the topic, FOSS projects appeared with regularity in software maintenance research papers. In light of this insight, and with the evidence already presented, it was determined that a brief and informal piece of research should be conducted to determine if such a synergy exists.

Methodology

The methodology for conducting this experiment was basic. Four prominent academic search engines were selected by the author, chosen for their familiarity and for the likelihood of returning results for the search criteria indicated. Four search engines were chosen so that any unforeseen bias present in any one academic search engine might be mitigated by the absence of such in the other three. The academic search engines and the method of presenting the search criteria to them are listed in Table 2 below.
There were 2 sets of search criteria. For both sets was a year, from 2000 to 2009. For each of these years there were two exact phrases that were processed by the search engines: "Software Maintenance", and "Open Source". The number of returned documents for each phrase in each year for each search engine was entered into a spreadsheet, averaged, and then plotted on a line graph. The data collected can be viewed in Table 3 below, and the line graphs for the averages computed for both search phrases are presented in Figure 1 and Figure 2, below. One final note is that even though 2009 is not over, the year was included in the research to give as complete a picture as possible of the decade to date.

Results

In comparing the two line graphs one can see that from 2000 to 2006 there is a shared upward trend in published material for both terms, with there being a downward trend for both in the years following 2006. The results differ between the search terms by an order of magnitude, with the average number of results across all years for "software maintenance" at 43.83, while results for "open source" were an average of 626.

Table 2. Academic Search Engines Used to Generate Results

Search Engine

Method of Criteria Presentation

Google Scholar

Advanced Scholar Search using the exact phrase in the title, indicating each year, searching only articles in the Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics fields

IEEE Computer Society

Advanced Search using the phrase without quotes appearing in the title for each year. Of note is the lack of “exact phrase”, which was an option. Searching this way returned 100 results for each year, and was considered to be a less valid indicator for this research.

ACM Digital Library

Advanced Search for titles containing the exact phrase in the Abstract, considered a more valid indicator in this instance than the title field.

ProQuest

Searched for the phrase in the citation and abstract, specifying a date range from 01/01 of the year to 12/31 of the year.



Table 3a. Data Collected from Academic Search Engines for Search Term “Software Maintenance”.

Year

Google Scholar

IEEE Computer Society

ACM Digital Library

ProQuest

Maintenance Average

2000

56

9

16

58

34.75

2001

62

10

30

48

37.5

2002

53

8

38

55

38.5

2003

57

7

20

62

36.5

2004

50

15

41

102

52

2005

49

15

63

116

60.75

2006

52

18

63

79

53

2007

50

8

76

59

48.25

2008

66

6

72

28

43

2009

26

8

59

43

34


Table 3b. Data Collected from Academic Search Engines for Search Term “Open Source”.

Year

Google Scholar

IEEE Computer Society

ACM Digital Library

ProQuest

Open Source Average

2000

146

10

25

1330

377.75

2001

243

11

46

1058

339.5

2002

320

18

70

1022

357.5

2003

422

11

86

1336

463.75

2004

458

39

99

2051

661.75

2005

561

65

200

2666

873

2006

626

55

229

2962

968

2007

552

58

247

2254

777.75

2008

484

68

323

2571

861.5

2009

286

58

235

1739

579.5


Figure 1. Average Number of Published Material for Search Term “Software Maintenance”, from 2000 - 2009



Figure 2. Average Number of Published Material for Search Term “Open Source”, from 2000 - 2009

Analysis

Thoughts on Research

It was expected that the search terms would share a general trend, but the shared arc from 2000 to 2009 was an unexpected result that perhaps provides more correlative evidence to the presence of the synergy. Whether the downward trend from 2006 onward is indicative of this proposed synergy between these two fields, or of a reduction in information technology research in general, or of an even broader downturn in the amount of traditionally published literature is beyond the scope of this paper, but may warrant further investigation by interested parties. Another possible cause for the reduction in research into software maintenance may be the 2006 publication of the ISO/IEC 14764 IEEE Std 14764 (2006).
Though it is positive to note that 20 years after nothing was published, in 2005 more than 60 documents were published relating to software maintenance (Schneidewind, 1987), there was still an order of magnitude of difference between the two sets of search criteria. FOSS was an area of particular note at the end of the twentieth century, and continues to be very popular at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Any synergy between these two topics would mean that the celebrity of FOSS is only good for software maintenance.

Threats to Research

The research conducted was informal and demonstrative. As indicated in Table 3 the specific methods of criteria entry into the different academic search engines was not uniform across all four, and perhaps it may have been better if the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society results had been not included, rather than making the indicated accommodation. The author felt, however, that the auspicious nature of IEEE publications would lend credence to the research.
Another threat would be the search results themselves. The number of documents returned was recorded, but these results were not vetted for quality or academic nature. It is entirely possibly that results may have included unrelated materials or non-scholarly works. It is hoped that the average of the four search engines' results would help mitigate such confounding returns; however, future research conducted in such a manner should take measures -- perhaps random auditing of search results and a larger number of academic search engines -- to prevent superfluous results from entering the data pool.

Conclusions

The author's interest in free and open source software led him to conduct a literature review of software maintenance as it pertains to FOSS. Initially he sought to contrast and compare the status of FOSS software maintenance in the year 2000 to the present day, but instead discovered that while FOSS is an important component of software maintenance research, software maintenance as traditionally defined does not play quite so large a role in the typical FOSS life cycle. Instead, it was further hypothesized that there exists a synergy between FOSS and software maintenance, and that the two have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship throughout the past decade.
An informal research method was developed, searching for the terms "open source" and "software maintenance" appearing in published materials in each of the years from 2000 to 2009 in four different academic search engines. The results for each search engine were averaged by year for each phrase and then graphed to demonstrate that a synergy existed. The shared arc in results across this decade points to such a synergy, but future work may wish to delve more deeply into both individual papers on these topics as well as the development of more stringent and farther-reaching searches.
Ultimately, FOSS and software maintenance have only benefited by the presence of the other, and as both are fields that are maturing, they will continue to benefit from each other well into the twenty-first century.

References

Abd-El-Hafiz, S.K., Shawsky, D.M., El-Sedeek, A.-L., (2008). Recovery of object-oriented design patterns using static and dynamic analyses. International Journal of computers and Applications 30(3), pp.220-233.


Andrews, J.H., Lutfiyya, H.L., (2000). Experience report: a software maintenance project course.
13th Conference on Software Engineering Education & Training, 2000. Proceedings, pp.132-139.

Bennett, K.H., Rajlich, V.T. (2000). Software maintenance and evolution: a roadmap. Proceedings of the Conference on The Future of Software Engineering, pp.73-87.

Capek, P.G., Frank, S.P., Gerdt, S., Shields, D. (2005). A history of IBM's open-source involvement and strategy. IBM Systems Journal 44(2), pp.249-257.

Feller, J., Fitzgerald, B. (2000). A framework analysis of the open source software development paradigm. Proceedings of the twenty first international conference on Information systems, pp.58-69.


Glass, R. (2003). Facts and fallacies of software engineering. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.


Godfrey, M.W., Tu, Q. (2000). Evolution in open source software: a case study
. Proceedings of the International Conference on Software Maintenance, pp. 131-142.

Hassan, A.E., Godfrey, M.W., Holt, R.C. (2001). Software engineering research in the bazaar. Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Open Source Software Engineering at the 24th International Conference on Software Engineering.

Hill, E., Pollock, L., Vijay-Shanker, K. (2007). Exploring the neighborhood with dora to expedite software maintenance. Proceedings of the twenty-second IEEE/ACM international conference on Automated software engineering, pp.14-23.

ISO/IEC 14764 (2006) and IEEE 14764 (2006). International Standard: Software Engineering – Software Life Cycle Processes – Software Maintenance. New York: International Organization for Standardization and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Koponen, T., Hotti, V. (2005). Open source software maintenance framework. ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes 30(4), pp.1-5.

Mockus, A., Fielding, R.T., Herbsleb, J. (2000). A Case Study of Open Source Software Development: The Apache Server. Proceedings of the 2000 International Conference on Software Engineering, pp. 263-272.


Pigoski, T.M.. (1997). Practical software maintenance. New York, NY: Wiley Computer Publishing.

Rajlich, V., Gosavi, P. (2004). Incremental change in object-oriented programming. IEEE Software 21(4), pp. 62-69.


Raymond, E.S. (2001). The cathedral and the bazaar: musings on linux and open source by an accidental revolutionary. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

Schneidewind, N.F., (1987). The state of software maintenance. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering 13(3), pp.303-310.


Stallman, R. (2007). The gnu manifesto. Boston, MA: Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Tran, J.B., Godfrey, M.W., Lee, E.H.S., Holt, R.C., (2000). Architectural repair of open source software. 8th International Workshop on Program Comprehension, pp.48-59.

Yu, L., Schach, S.R., Chen, K., Heller, G.Z., Offutt, J. (2005). Maintainability of the kernels of open-source operating systems: a comparison of linux with freebsd, netbsd, and openbsd. Journal of Systems and Software 79(6), pp.807-815.

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