The end of pair programming ?!

Scott Ambler is looking at agile practices in companies, hundreds of them, and identifying what works and what does not. His talk can be seen at,

"Agile in Practice: What Is Actually Going On Out There?"
Scott Ambler
http://www.infoq.com/presentations/Agile-in-Practice-Scott-Ambler  

The big surprises are pair programming and test driven design (TDD). According to Scott, the number of programmers, who think that pair programming hurts user productivity, is consistently on the rise. Many organizations are also starting to harbor their reservations against it. As for TDD, Scott shows numbers that people are doing more modeling up-front than ever and they are getting less and less interested about the very un-organized test driven design approach. They don't want to feel like a bunch of hackers; instead they want to model design with (in decreasing order of popularity) high level diagrams, detailed diagrams, detailed documentation and acceptance tests.

Things like UI refactoring and database refactoring are also becoming out-of-practice, but these changes are easier to grasp than pair programming or TDD.

His talk also has some interesting numbers, that highlight the dichotomy between theory and practice. Perhaps, there are loopholes in his studies that produce some surprising results, but his work guides towards empirical studies and finding factual numbers, something that software engineering is badly in need of.

Real Life Security Lesson (Or How Sarah Palin's Yahoo Account was Hacked)

Perhaps, everyone knows about the story that Sarah Palin's Yahoo mail account was hacked a few days ago. Here's how.

1. The hacker first tried to access the account but he did not have the password. He tried a dummy password.
2. Yahoo gave the hacker an option to retrieve password. He said yes.
3. Yahoo asked three personal questions. First the birth date. This information available in the public domain, e.g. Wikipedia. It took 20 seconds.
4. The second question was the zip code of her birthplace. Alaska has only two zip codes. It took another 20 seconds.
5. The third one was tricky and supposed to be personal. "Where did you meet your husband?" Everybody knows that it was her high school. The hacker thought carefully and tried several options. Finally, "Wasilla High" was a hit.
6. The hacker got the password. He changed it to 'popcorn'.

It took 10-15 minutes of relatively easy work to get it all done.
This is how secure we are in the Internet !!!

Note. A possible solution for this would be an 'Account Lockout' mechanism. An attacker tries to guess someone's password, but after a  certain number of attempts the account gets locked.

Politically correct

My colleague Paul and I were highly motivated by the classic paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace". We wanted to identify many of the rhetorics that are perpetuated by researchers, but seldom used in practice. Our focus was on Web Services; what researchers wish would work, and what actually works. In order to do this, we studied a lot of Web Services to understand the design principles behind them. However, we failed to publish our papers, mostly because the researchers took them personally and lambasted our blasphemous attempt without providing any reason. Some of them, though, were kind to offer a reason that our language was very politically charged and what we should really do is to sugar-coat the truth in order to publish.

Then, I read the classic paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace" again. The neutrality in the writing was astounding considering the sensitivity of the topic (For those who have not read the paper, it is about big endianness vs little endianness in byte ordering). Like the real world, researchers believe that you cannot sound like a bigot when you are expressing your idea. But, this outlines another instance of dichotomy between theory and practice - in real world bigotry exists and it is even celebrated.

The findings of any research are bound to hit some nerves. If your effort is to study some long-standing beliefs, it will hit more. At one point, almost everything sounds politically charged. Perhaps, we are not as adept as D. Cohen to impose neutrality on our writing. But, that does not make our findings useless. As Galileo said about the rotation of earth, "But it does move."

Note.
D. Cohen. On Holy Wars and a plea for peace. IEEE Computer magazine, October 1981.

Note2.
We studied how people wrongly use HTTP protocol in practice, and its consequences. Another study was about the dichotomy in the theory and practices of Web services: how researchers concentrate on SOAP services remaining blissfully ignorant about the people in the industry building RESTful services.

Note3.
Reading the entry one final time, it appears that I am very emotional in defending our work. This bias is exactly what I should try to hide in my writings.

God's Great Secret

==Quote==
The cheering began at 8.32, when the first particles were detected snaking around the first three kilometres (1.9 miles) of the 27km (17mile) LHC ring. By 8.55, it was halfway around the track, which will soon be used to smash protons and lead ions against each other at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light. At 9.28, only 56 minutes after the start-up, came the champagne moment — the double trace showing that the beam had completed the first of countless trillions of laps that will explain many of the enduring mysteries of the Universe.
....
....
By recreating the environment of the dawn of time, the LHC will detect phenomena that have never before been observed. It should find the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” that theory suggests gives matter its mass, but which has never been found.
==End Quote==

Read more...
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article4727892.ece
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ie1A1GSWh-ov4mHFLYEoQvrsNKuwD93429FO1
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/09/10/scicern910.xml
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/cern-special-the-9-billion-dollar-question-924345.html

Second Wife

My appetite for good photographs started a couple of months ago; it was one of life's serendipities. What intrigued me was Dick Gabriel's advertisement of his new workshop at OOPSLA 2008. Titled "Extravagaria IV: Photographing Conferences", the intent of the workshop is to train a band of people into photography and collectively learning photo composition, exposing, and post processing. Incidentally, a couple of friends here were already into photography and I was seeing the good work that they were doing. But the real passion was ignited that afternoon with the post. I remember the afternoon; time flew as I was sitting in my living room browsing and trying to learn about cameras, exposure, composition, lens, filters and what not - all at the same time.

I bought a Nikon D80 a month later. By that time, I was a theoretical expert in photography - I have read a bunch of books without ever testing the theories. It took a few days to get comfortable with the camera, and I know that it will take a long time (and hard work) to be any good, but the passion that I feel talking about photography is unparallel. One of my friends told Farhana after I bought the camera, that it is almost similar to marrying a second wife. An exaggeration indeed, but the closeness that I feel to my camera and the accessories can only compare to the passion that I feel for my near and dear ones. And the photos are almost like my children - I want to make them as beautiful as I can and each of them is a favorite.

Note. It would be a sin to finish this post without a baby picture. I have started a photo blog in tumblr. Here is the plug.
http://munawar.tumblr.com/

Note2. Information about Dick Gabriel's workshop.
Extravagaria IV: Photographing Conferences
Oct 19, 2008
8:30 - 17:00
http://dreamsongs.com/Feyerabend/Extravagaria2008.html
http://www.oopsla.org/oopsla2008/program-overview/workshops.html#wks0000001
I would  not be able to attend the workshop, because I would be busy with other stuff. But I will be forever indebted to it because it pointed me to another love of my life.

Life without Bill

Today, Microsoft will have its first office day without Bill Gates at the helm. I wonder how it will be like to be a Microsoft employee? Perhaps, spend the day in freedom and contribute to a few more bugs...

Note. That was a cheap shot. I salute the achievements of Mr William H Gates.

Prediction - Euro 2008 Final

My prediction for the final today - today will finally be the Fernando Torres day that everyone has been expecting from the start of the tourney.

Final score:
I hope, Spain wins 2-1. (This is not a prediction though).

Loss

Every time a team loses in any sports, there are losses incurred at several levels. It seems difficult to measure the exact amount of the loss. But Polish experts managed to produce a ballpark figure of the loss -- 50 million zlotys (equivalent to 14.7 million euros or 23 million dollars). Here's the calculation appearing in the daily  Rzeczpospolita (Polish, English translation ?? [Help, anyone?]),

==Quote==
Poland's daily GDP is five billion zlotys. If you consider that the loss in productivity was 10 percent and that 10 percent of professionally active people are interested in football, you get that figure.
==End Quote==


Note. More on this,
http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=afp-fbleuro2008gpbgerpoleconomyreligion&prov=afp&type=lgns

Note2. Another take on the 10 percent is here,
==Quote==
"Psychologists and labor production experts estimated that each Polish football fan spent at least 15 minutes discussing Sunday's match, and the frustration of defeat lowered productivity by at least 10 per cent."
==End Quote==

Addicted to Spamming

Our university changed the domain name used for mails; xyz@uiuc.edu will now be identified by xyz@illinois.edu. I tried to think about the benefits of this shift, because they are spending a lot of money behind the effort. Frankly, I could not find any !!!

Then it came to me.

Our chancellor will be sending a number of massmails publicizing the change and its several phases. He is already famous for his very frequent massmails; the slightest thing happens in the campus and he pulls the trigger on another massmail. To think that the chancellor will go through all this just to send massmails sound ridiculous, but we all know what addiction makes out of you.