15.280 heisenbugs & other evidence of wit

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Wed Oct 03 2001 - 04:24:29 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 280.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Wed, 03 Oct 2001 09:20:18 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: heisenbugs & other evidence of wit

    Should anyone wish to have evidence at hand for the linguistic
    inventiveness and wit of the propeller-heads among us, I would think there
    could be no better source than Eric S Raymond, comp., The New Hacker's
    Dictionary, 3rd edn. (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1999). Like many of you, I
    suppose, I plant various kinds of books in crucial locations throughout my
    house so that when detained in one of these I can reach for a suitable
    book. Thus I have spent much time in small bits in the last month or so
    delighting in the wit of techies, e.g.

    creationism n. The (false) belief that large, innovative software designs
    can be completely specified in advance and then painlessly magicked out of
    the void by normal efforts of a team of normally talented programmers. In
    fact, experience has shown repeatedly that good designs arise only from
    evolutionary, exploratory interaction between one (or at most a small
    handful of) exceptionally able designer(s) and an active user population --
    and that the first try at a big new idea is always wrong. Unfortunately,
    because these truths don't fit planning models beloved of "management",
    they are generally ignored.

    heavy wizardry n. Code or designs that trade on particularly intimate
    knowledge or experience of a particular operating system or language or
    complex application interface. Distinguished from "deep magic", which
    trades more on arcane theoretical knowledge. Writing device drivers is
    heavy wizardry; so is interfacing to "X" (sense 2) without a toolkit. Esp.
    found in source-code comments of the form "Heavy wizardry begins here".
    Compare "vodoo programming".

    heisenbug /hi'zen-buhg/ n. [from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in
    quantum physics] A bug that disappears or alters its behavior when one
    attempts to probe or isolate it. (This usage is not even particularly
    fanciful; the use of a debugger sometimes alters a program's operating
    environment significantly enough that buggy code, such as that which relies
    on the values of uninitialised memory, behaves quite differently.) Antonym
    of "Bohr bug"; see also "mandelbug", "schroedinbug". In C, nine out of ten
    heisenbugs result from uninitialised auto variables, "fandango on core"
    phenomena (esp. lossage related to corruption of the malloc "arena") or
    errors that "smash the stack".

    sucking mud [Applied Data Research] adj. (also "pumping mud") Crashed or
    "wedged". Usually said of a machine that provides a service to a network,
    such as a file server. The Dallas regionalism derives from the East Texan
    oilfield lament, "Shut 'er down, Ma, she's a-suckin' mud". Often used as a
    query. "We are going to reconfigure the network, are you ready to suck mud?"


    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

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