Older blog entries for apenwarr (starting at number 213)

2006-12-08: Dedication


I think I would like to work for a company where people actually make the effort to come in to work even when the rest of the city gives up completely because they received half the average annual snowfall in a single night.

Hmm, it seems that I do. And there's lots of room in the parking garage today, because of all those other, lamer companies.

Syndicated 2006-12-08 15:39:04 from apenwarr's log

2006-12-06: So, how was your day?; REST is searchable

So, how was your day?

Today I volunteered to save a $50mil deal by solving a math problem. Banks are surreal. Having worked at a software company that I deliberately tried to make as insane as possible, I really didn't think I'd ever find myself saying that.

Say hello to the "real/actual expert!" Oh yes, my Elite Management Science skills are rusty, but not yet gone.

REST is searchable

pphaneuf doesn't believe me when I say that REST interfaces are indexable without special plugins. I currently think they are, although it wouldn't have occurred to me until I read STREST (Service-Trampled REST by Duncan Cragg.

Basically, the idea is this: REST is a design model that uses URLs in a particular way. The key thing about it: browsing the contents of a service should always be harmless and doable using just GET; if that's true, then the GET requests will respond with URLs that point to other GETtable data, and so on. Even if it can't understand exactly what the content is, Google will be able to index it. And that's very cool.

Contrast that with a SOAP service that has a getListOfFiles() function you need to call; Google doesn't stand a chance. (Though now that I've said it, watch them try to prove me wrong. You know who you are, former NITIites. Trying to make me look bad!)

Syndicated 2006-12-07 03:48:58 from apenwarr's log

2006-12-05: Not a Java rant; Not a C# rant; Balance of Implicity

Not a Java rant

Today I used J2ME ("Micro Edition", for handheld computers, etc) for the first time.

I have a whole rant in me about how stupid it is. But writing it won't help, because more than enough people have already ranted about Java, and it didn't help them either.

So I'll just say this: the class library that comes with J2ME is *significantly* less useful than the ANSI C standard library. And that's saying something, because my Crackberry wastes 64 megs of flash doing it.

Not a C# rant

I have a similarly short-winded statement for C#:

Yes, it looks almost exactly like Java. But the difference is *huge*. If anyone ever wants to do a study about how "the devil is in the details," this should be your sample data.

Balance of Implicity

I've decided that your ability to quickly communicate(*) depends entirely on how much of the communication can be made safely implicit. The compromise tends to be between making things implicit (which I'm pretty good at) and making things safe (which "typical" engineers like to do).

It's easy to see why saying things implicitly instead of explicitly makes it go faster: implicit things don't actually have to be said, so they're zero work compared to non-zero work. And it's also easy to see why that makes things less safe: if you don't say it explicitly, how do you know the other person (or the computer, for that matter) has assumed what you hoped they would assume?

Once you're thinking in terms of safe vs. implicit, it becomes easier to talk about various aspects of design. For example, stable, long-lived public APIs (eg. Win32) tend to be highly explicit, because they don't assume anything about what exactly you'll want to do. That way, they seldom have to change. On the other hand, internal APIs can assume much more about how they'll be used, because if the assumptions are wrong, you can just fix them on a whim; and you should do it that way, if not too many people depend on your APIs, because it'll save you vast amounts of time in the long run.

On a completely different note, legalese has the same problem for a different reason. Lawyers are paid to deliberately misunderstand anything that's left implicit in a contract, which is how they can help you weasel out of one. To be implicit requires understanding; if it's not in people's best interests to understand, then you'll have to just make everything explicit. And that's why a simple one-page agreement can bloat to 200+ pages if you pay enough lawyers to look at it.

I think the best answer, if you can pull it off, is to be safely implicit: don't state the obvious, because it's obvious. But you have to be really good to know what's obvious, and if you screw it up, you would have been better off just saying it outright.

(The really expensive lawyers know what they can leave out and still have it be legally indisputable; they write shorter, more readable contracts that are just as enforceable. But will that make you feel more safe, or less safe?)

Specialized jargon is a very interesting example of "safe implicity." When you use a particular unusual term ("Feature Pusher" like we used to say at NITI) instead of the more usual one ("Project Manager" like we now say at NITI), it makes people stop and examine their assumptions. If they don't know what a Feature Pusher is, they have to go look it up somewhere, and the answer suddenly becomes explicit. If they did already know what it was, they don't need to look it up, and you've included a huge amount of information implicitly.

But be careful! You usually have to invent whole new terms if you want that to work, because when people see a term they've seen before, it has a whole lot of baggage attached to it. A Feature Pusher at NITI wasn't the same as a Project Manager; now, after the name change, suddenly it is, which is why it works so much more poorly.

When lawyers write contracts, they solve this conundrum by using Capitalized Words like "Person." (Quite often, a Person in a contract isn't actually a real person at all, but the capital letters are a signal to other lawyers that they need to look back in the definitions section to find out.)

* Communication also includes all of programming, since programming is just communicating to a computer and/or any human who reads your code later.

Syndicated 2006-12-06 02:03:11 from apenwarr's log

2006-12-01: Novel, yes; widespread, no; Old news, new acronyms: REST vs. SOAP

Novel, yes; widespread, no

That's right, kids, November is over and while my novel isn't "done," it did indeed pass 50000 words. I have a tiny bit of work left to completely wrap up the story, and a little bit more tweaking before it's up to my usual questionable quality standards (as opposed to its current "unquestionable" quality). That should only take a few more days.

And after that, you, yes, you, the one and only, will still not have access to read it, because I'm not currently planning to post it publicly anywhere, lest Google reveal to all the world that I'm an idiot. But I'd probably send you a private copy if you asked.

Old news, new acronyms: REST vs. SOAP

I've been seeing news in random places around the web lately announcing the official death of Web Services and SOAP in favour of REST, or was it XML Schemas in favour of RelaxNG, or whatever bad things the people in question don't like in favour of whatever good things the people in question do like. You can find many of these links by following links from Tim Bray's Ongoing.

And then comes the inevitable reply, They Can't Hear You, explaining that these so-called "deaths" are rather overstated, because all of the supposedly "bad" technologies are still very much in use in big companies everywhere, and moreover, most people in those companies haven't even heard of the so-called "good" technologies.

Now, of course I'm always totally in favour of a good flamewar, but if the flamewar is good enough, then I prefer to confuse the issue rather than resolving it. Thus, I bring you my considered opinion:

Yes, it seems those bad things really are dead. But they're not. Except where they are.

You see, declaring SOAP dead in favour of REST is equivalent to declaring Windows dead in favour of Unix. No, no, not "just as stupid." I mean equivalent. If one was true, the other would probably also be true. And you may have noticed that Unix has totally prevailed. But it hasn't. Except in the places where it has.

A while ago at NITI I did a presentation about functionality vs. elegance. Basically, I argued that people often treat them as a single continuum, sacrificing features for beauty or vice versa according to their priorities. But really they're two independent dimensions, and a small few things are functional and elegant.

In my example at the time, I showed how Windows isn't elegant (well duh) but it is highly functional; you can make it do anything. Unix, on the other hand, was an amazing achievement in its heyday because it was highly functional and highly elegant. Because this was originally true, people experience the beauty of Unix and then tend to believe that "the Unix way" is the best way to solve all their problems.

Unfortunately, original Unix was designed for processing text on a command line. Its elegance came from clever, well-executed simplifications like the unified filesystem, devices-as-files, pipelines, and everything-as-text. Unfortunately, none of those things have anything to do with graphical user interfaces. X11 is anything but elegant, and none of the various Unix widget toolkits are earth-shatteringly great like Unix was. Furthermore, trying to map elegant command-line stuff into GUIs has been a consistent, horrible failure; compare a Windows-based IDE debugger to any GUI wrapper on top of gdb, and just try to tell me I'm wrong.

To make something both highly functional and highly elegant, you need what we call a simplifying assumption. In the command-line world, the credit typically goes to the invention of Unix pipes, which let you easily link small tools together to accomplish a big job. Windows has no such magic (well it does, but they forgot to support it in the shell), and so it predictably sucks at text processing. But Unix has no simplifying assumption in its GUI. So they have to trade off between functionality and elegance. In typical Unix fashion, this means there are a zillion half-baked alternatives, each at different points along the tradeoff continuum.

But there are places where Unix's traditional elegance is still a win, and that happens to be the world of Internet servers. The web works because it mostly just paraphrases Unix's cleverness. It has a unified filesystem (er, URI space), devices-as-files (er, CGI scripts generating content), and everything-as-text (html). Sadly, its UI mostly sucks, except for the AJAX stuff where we basically hack the hell out of Javascript and CSS to mangle it into a decent UI, at the cost of almost all the operational elegance. That's because what's missing from the web model (and the Unix GUI, for that matter) is an analogue for Unix's pipelines - I can't easily connect one little thing to another little thing to generate a high-quality big thing.

The fancy modern name for that is a component system. Unix pipelines are one kind of component system, although people who talk about Component Systems as if they had Capital Letters would probably gasp at my saying so. That's because those people design the second kind of component system: things like COM. You know: the way Windows does it.

So here's the thing. In the world of the web, there are two competing ideas for component systems: REST and SOAP. And these correspond almost exactly to Unix and Windows, or in other words, pipelines and COM. Pipelines contain squishy (nowadays Web 2.0 people would say "mashable") text in which the format is flexible and implicit and probably being parsed only 99% correctly. That sounds to me exactly like REST and microformats and RSS and friends.

Meanwhile, there's SOAP and SOA and WS-Whatever and XML Schemas. They're just like COM: useless unless your syntax and semantics are exactly right, semi-easily checkable for valid syntax, and purportedly self-describing in an essentially useless way (except for syntax checking purposes). Self-describing or not, Google will never be able to index your SOAP service without a special plugin, just like Google Desktop can't index any of your binary document formats without special COM plugins, one per format.

Phew. Okay, so that was the background information. Here's my point: yes, the whole Internet runs on Unix philosophy. But businesses sure don't. The big problem comes up in my description of pipelines up above: they only parse about 99% correctly, which is fine for your idiotic comments about YouTube videos, but pretty nasty when you mangle critical business data. And when the business dudes get involved, they'd rather do anything than mangle their critical business data. You hear me? Anything!

If it keeps the data from getting mangled, they'd happily sacrifice searchability. Or developer hours. Or the ability to use off-the-shelf software. Or millions of dollars in licensing fees (because at least they'll accurately know how many millions).

Pay attention, because that attitude is exactly why Windows is so strong, why the vast majority of developers prefer to develop on Windows, and why the vast majority of users prefer to use Windows. It may be gross, and adding new features or libraries may be a lot like stabbing yourself repeatedly with a fork (which, tragically, is not itself included in Win32), but Windows works consistently. So does SOAP. But not Unix or microformats or REST.

It would be awesome if someone could find a way to satisfy both camps (the Internet people and the Enterprise people) at once. Then maybe one or the other set of technologies could finally die. But I'm not counting on it. Until then, one or the other technology is effectively dead, but which one it is depends who you are.

Syndicated 2006-12-02 03:55:27 from apenwarr's log

2006-11-24: I made the Fido lady cry

I made the Fido lady cry

This evening I got a "customer satisfaction survey" call from Fido. She assured me that the call wasn't going to use any of my cell phone minutes, and then asked a simple leading question:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank your current satisfaction with Fido?"

"Current? As in, not historically?"

"Right. How do you feel about the service you're getting right now?"

"Well, about a 6."

"Err... well, that's pretty low. Can I ask you why?"

So I got it all off my chest. The ever-increasing fees (increasing? What kind of technology is this?). The annoying people who phone me when I'm a few days late on a payment because I've been travelling and haven't picked up my bill. (I mean, charge me a late fee if you must, but *phoning* me for being three days behind? Yeesh.) The lately incessant calls to sign onto a multi-year contract, which shows they no longer care about "real" customer loyalty (I've been a customer for about 10 years, no contract required). The way their ads aren't so innocent anymore: they used to be just cute dogs while everybody else would use salamanders (what?) or cute girls; now they're cute dogs with cute girls, and it's only a matter of time until the dogs won't even get equal billing. And of course, my actual problem, which is that I'm out of town so much lately that I pay long distance charges for almost every incoming call minute.

In short, I used to recommend Fido to all my friends because of its awesomeness compared to other cell phone companies. But since Rogers bought them, they've been in steady decline. The lady on the phone rightly pointed out that they're still "better and less expensive than all the other companies!" Well, fine. It's not like I'm saying I'm planning to switch because I found a better deal elsewhere, because I didn't. I just don't care about you anymore. So if I did find a better deal elsewhere, then I suppose I'd probably switch.

And this is where the whole conversation got kind of weird, because she was totally horrified by this attitude. She asked if she could put me on hold to check with everyone else to see if there's a plan I could be on to fix my long distance problems (there wasn't). She checked to see if signing onto a multi-year contract would help me somehow (it wouldn't). She checked all over to see if I could adjust anything to save money given my admittedly weird calling and travel patterns (there wasn't). She discovered that I was currently entitled to a free new handset (I don't need one).

But here's the thing. She kept me on the phone for 20+ minutes as she went through everything she could think of to try to solve my problems, even after I assured her I wasn't planning to switch or cancel my service. That can't have been part of her job description. She was taking her "customer satisfaction" job really personally, to the point where she thought of it as a personal failure if I wasn't happy with my Fido service.

Which is silly, of course, because it's not her fault Fido's recent policy changes suck. It's Rogers' fault, and perhaps the fault of the almighty dollar (rumour has it that Fido was losing money at the time they were bought; I don't know if that's true).

It seems to me I've talked to this particular lady before when I've called Fido support. I think she might have been working for Fido almost as long as I've been a customer. That means that she's been through the days of rave reviews, successful word of mouth marketing, and sensible management. The management was indeed sensible to hire all those great, loyal, dedicated people in customer service. Strangely, those loyal people are still there, and still really care just as much as they used to. They just don't have the power to make the customers happy anymore.

I didn't really make her cry. Only almost. But I think she will if I ever cancel.

Syndicated 2006-11-25 02:40:07 from apenwarr's log

2006-11-13: Novelling vs. My Sanity

Novelling vs. My Sanity

"I need to attract more customers so I can get promoted or at least demoted so I don't have to wear this squid anymore. It's a long story."

Final score: Novelling:1, My sanity:0

Syndicated 2006-11-14 06:15:18 from apenwarr's log

2006-11-06: The Brave New World of Schedulation; The Google Factor

The Brave New World of Schedulation

Schedulator is the software project management system we originally developed at NITI to solve a simple problem: I'm a programmer, and I ended up as a manager, and I didn't want to spend all my time doing management.

It's essentially a fancy automated implementation of Joel Spolsky's Painless Software Schedules, where each developer can manage his/her own schedule. By combining the results generated that way, you can produce an accurate schedule for the whole team.

Schedulator isn't very many lines of code, but it's the result of years of tweaking of the Schedulation process, which actually works pretty well, and has a lot of advantages over "normal" software scheduling. As part of my new job, I've been redoing major portions of the Schedulator to make it more flexible: it now supports bug tracking systems other than FogBugz, for example (although that one's still my favourite :)), and no longer requires GracefulTavi (as much as I like wikis, doing it that way led to a pretty inflexible design).

The new Schedulator isn't packaged up nicely, and may never be because it has a pretty limited audience. But it should be much easier to get up and running with the new version than the old one, because it has far fewer prerequisites (and the parts that have prerequisites are now optional plug-ins).

I did, however, write some extensive documents explaining the theory and practice of Schedulation. My favourite is the first one, Schedulator Philosophy. Read it, and maybe find out if Schedulator is right for you.

The Google Factor

Not long ago, pcolijn wrote about Google's development process and compared it with Schedulator. I generally agree with his analysis. The problem is that most of the problems Peter identified were not problems with Schedulator, per se: they were problems with the general team atmosphere and management. (I'm allowed to say that, because I was one of the managers.) Schedulator is very compatible with the "Agile development style" done at places like Google. Okay, so Schedulator doesn't come with any index cards included, but it does do a lot of the grunt work of arranging those index cards - particularly when there are hundreds of them in your bug tracking system and they all seem important - for you.

As much as Google is indeed awesome, hires a lot of great people, produces a lot of great things, and makes an awful lot of money in the process, I sometimes caution people against taking their experiences at Google too seriously. People in highly successful companies are prone to an attribution bias, much like people are in unsuccessful companies. That is to say, no matter what your team does at Google, Google is still going to be making billions of dollars. And no matter what your team does at some unsuccessful or dying company, you probably can't pull it out of the toilet. In both places, the consequences of your actions are disconnected from reality. (Bill Gates called this the honeymoon phase.) At Google, raises and bonuses for everyone. At the unsuccessful company, even great people get laid off sometimes because there's no money to keep paying them.

For example, the article that Peter was responding to had this very important paragraph:

    Another incentive is that every quarter, without fail, they have a long all-hands in which they show every single project that launched to everyone, and put up the names and faces of the teams (always small) who launched each one, and everyone applauds. Gives me a tingle just to think about it. Google takes launching very seriously, and I think that being recognized for launching something cool might be the strongest incentive across the company. At least it feels that way to me.

Sure, this is a great incentive for people to work harder, and Google's very wise to do it. But do the math: every single project that launched? Always small teams? But Google employs thousands and thousands of programmers! They can't all be on the big screen. In fact, most of them can't. But Google's still successful.

Which kind of team are you on? How can you tell? Statistically speaking, you're probably on the unsuccessful kind. And beware of logic that sounds like, "my team did this, and we weren't too late" or "their company did it this way, and went three years overtime." There's a correlation there, but there could easily be no causality. Super-ultra-smart people could do their project plan on stone tablets and still get their projects done an order of magnitude faster than complete boneheads.

That said, I used (and still use) Schedulator, and it works great for me :)

Syndicated 2006-11-06 22:05:56 from apenwarr's log

2006-10-30: Programmer Replacement

Programmer Replacement

As a programmer, there are two main ways to make yourself irreplaceable. One is to write code that nobody else can possibly understand, so they can't figure out how to get rid of you. One is to write code so great that nobody could ever want to get rid of you.

The best way to be replaceable is to be somewhere in between.

Syndicated 2006-10-30 15:38:12 from apenwarr's log

2006-10-27: Six Words

Six Words

apm linked to a series of "six word short stories" by famous people in Wired Magazine. Many are quite excellent.

I'm not famous, but this sounded like fun, so here I go:

    Who's that bioengineered lapdog eating *now*?

(This is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to real CorporateDogs is purely coincidental.)

Woo hoo! Only 49,994 words left!

Syndicated 2006-10-27 13:20:50 from apenwarr's log

2006-10-24: A day in the life of power management

A day in the life of power management

Hmm, it seems the expected flamewar is flaming even better than expected. hub chimes in to say that power management has been working just fine on Linux since 1999, thank you very much. Um, yes, well... sit back and relax, because I have a story to tell. Like all my favourite stories, it involves a lot of stupid people doing stupid things. It doesn't have a happy ending. If you're easily depressed, you should stop reading right now. That means you, Pierre.

Once upon a time there was APM, or "Advanced Power Management." As with most fancy-named specifications, its name certainly doesn't imply that there was an earlier "Totally Simple Power Management" that it replaced. The way APM worked was it used a kind of "super supervisor mode" in the x86-series CPUs to actually run some BIOS code above the operating system layer in an invisible way so the kernel couldn't detect it (except for the bad BIOS coding that would result in lost clock ticks and random interrupt latency). This BIOS code would do things like detect presses of the laptop's suspend button and forcibly suspend the system whether the operating system liked it or not. If your operating system supported APM, which was by no means necessary in order for suspend/resume to work, it could get a notification from the BIOS that it was about to suspend. In later APM specifications, they added a way for your software to reject the suspend operation in progress. However, because of BIOS bugs, this didn't really work so well. Also, if you took too long to service the notification, the BIOS would just give up on you and suspend anyway. Ah, those were the days.

Oh, also, because the BIOS writers for a laptop always knew exactly which hardware devices were in the particular laptop, the APM BIOS could always know exactly how to suspend and resume all the devices in your laptop transparently to the kernel. And yes, it actually worked just fine. Even the video mode was saved and restored correctly on most systems, all behind the scenes.

But that was a long time ago. To give you an idea of how obsolete APM is, my apmd page seems to be the fourth hit in a Google search for APM - and it's the first one about power management. And let me tell you, that's not because I'm such a popular guy.

There were two perceived problems with APM. First of all, it was highly x86-specific, which annoyed the people at Intel who were trying to make and sell a non-Intel-compatible processor. (Remember that failed experiment? Me neither.) Secondly, operating systems programmers correctly noted that all BIOS programmers are crackheaded morons who can't implement an API correctly to save their lives. The way things tended to work was this: Windows didn't come with native APM support at the time, and the BIOS programmers would screw up the APM implementation horribly, but that was okay! Because every motherboard had to include a special APM driver for Windows anyway, and this APM driver would just implement the broken APM calls that the BIOS required, and so nobody would know the difference. Sure enough, nobody (er, well, no Windows users) did, and the world of power management was a fine place. For Windows users.

Linux users had a bit of trouble because they had to independently discover all the stupid BIOS bugs in various laptop APM implementations. But they mostly sorted this out eventually. In any case, one popular way to make your problems go away and have suspend/resume work mostly right was to simply disable the Linux APM altogether and just have your BIOS do it transparently.

So anyway, back to those people who wanted to fix what wasn't particularly broken. They invented ACPI, and I want to kill them. Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.

ACPI stands for Advanced Control and Power Interface. Now, I have two things to say about that. First of all, there was no "Delightfully Simple and Straightforward Control and Power Interface," although ACPI actually makes APM seem that way in retrospect. And secondly, ACPI has nothing at all to do with APIC, the Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller. The only comparable thing between the two is that they both have Linux kernel boot-time options to disable them because they both have buggy Linux drivers that cause your computer to crash a lot.

Now where was I? Oh, right, ACPI. So, the idea of ACPI was to get the BIOS developers out of the way on a normally-running system by turning around the power interface: instead of the BIOS running things and just occasionally notifying the kernel when something happened, the kernel would run things and just ask the BIOS to do stuff occasionally, like power down various hardware and blink the lights and so on. That would mean BIOS bugs wouldn't be so harmful. Oh! And while we're here, because we're insane, why not implement the whole thing using Forth-like bytecode instead of real assembly language, so it can also run on that new (doomed) 64-bit processor we've been working on? Forth-like bytecode is super simple and can be implemented in a couple of kbytes, so it won't cause much overhead, and suddenly everything will be portable. It'll be great!

Because I like foreshadowing, I'll give you the quick version of what I'm about to say. To my total amazement, they managed to fail totally on all counts. How's that for consistency?

First of all, ACPI completely and utterly fails to remove the BIOS from the picture: in fact, you're calling back and forth to it far more than you ever did with APM. And because you're calling it from your context instead of it having its well-known super-supervisor context, it's more likely to get confused by the funny way you do your stack or registers or memory protection modes. And there are so many ways to call into ACPI, because they broke it into tiny pieces so your kernel can control exactly what it wants to when it wants to... except that the BIOS manufacturers didn't actually test what happens when you call their stuff in random order, so actually you have to reverse engineer exactly what order is safe to call things in, or your system crashes horribly.

Oh, also, the bytecode thing went awry somewhere, because the Linux ACPI implementation runs to hundreds of kbytes and is filled with all kinds of weird and very complicated special case drivers for obviously totally dissimilar APIs like fans (it goes fast! it goes slow!) and CPUs (it goes fast! it goes slow!) and LCD backlights (it gets bright! it gets dark!). And naturally, ACPI, being a big horrible pile of crap, was never adopted on any non-x86 platforms, so its CPU independence doesn't help.

(Around the time all this garbage was being invented, people were trying to make non-x86 platforms run PCI video cards, which was tough because the video card initialization code was written in x86 assembly. The XFree86 group and other groups solved this problem unilaterally in a less elegant-sounding but actually working way. To this day, video BIOSes are still in x86 machine code, not bytecode.)

But that's not all!

Remember, the OS developers wanted to get the BIOS developers out of the picture, because BIOS developers are indeed crackheaded morons - I think we can all agree on that. Unfortunately, while they completely failed to do this - and in fact, ACPI makes things much worse - they also made it so the BIOS developers can happily just disclaim any responsibility for whatever parts of power management they don't want. Once upon a time, in the golden age of APM, the BIOS had to support all your devices because it was the BIOS whose @#$! responsibility it was to suspend and resume everything. Now, however, the OS is expected to pick up wherever the BIOS leaves off - which is almost everywhere. That means most ACPI BIOS implementations don't actually handle any parts of the suspend/resume process properly, often including even the CPU speed. Certainly they're not smart enough to suspend your ethernet chip. And heaven help you if you want your video mode to be restored! My now-stolen last laptop, a Sony Vaio, actually had an ACPI interface to control the LCD backlight... but it didn't do anything. There was a totally different non-ACPI backlight control elsewhere in the system, and the BIOS developers simply didn't bother to take out the ACPI one leftover from a previous laptop model. The OS has to know this, based on the laptop model number, and deal with it.

But that's okay! Because the Windows driver programmers, sitting right next to the BIOS programmers or maybe the hardware designers, can simply compensate for all this stuff. The CD that comes with every laptop contains modified drivers for all the broken stuff the hardware and BIOS designers did wrong when building your system in the first place, so everything is fine! For Windows users.

Now, Linux certainly didn't have it all easy in the days of APM, but things had a pretty good chance of working because they were relatively simple. With ACPI, everything is just a total disaster. You have to implement suspend-to-disk all by yourself, and it's doomed to suck because the stupid BIOS does its time-consuming and useless initialization before you're even allowed to start. You have to implement power saving features in every single driver, where with APM you didn't have to do it in any driver. Linux developers are notoriously bad at handling exception conditions, which power management is, so the power management code for most drivers is almost-untested barely working garbage. And of course, you do still have to call into the mostly-but-unfortunately-not-totally-useless ACPI BIOS, which for some reason takes hundreds of kbytes of source code to do and requires talking to a horrendously buggy BIOS. That means you need an exception table listing every laptop anyway to tell the kernel which bugs you need to work around at which time.

And if you do all that stuff correctly, your laptop will suspend and resume properly!

And you know what? Even then, it'll still suck, because that's just what you have to do to make it barely work at all. If you want to, say, bypass the stupid BIOS POST phase to make it boot faster, or do what Apple does and actually save to disk and memory at suspend time, then resume from memory whenever possible, or have the system suspend to memory and then suspend to disk if you stay suspended for a long time, or any of that other complicated stuff: that's all extra. Meanwhile, most hardware developers are a bunch of slackers and even when you do suspend the bloody thing properly, the battery dies in a few hours anyhow.

So kudos to the Linux developers for making it almost work. I'm sure that was really hard. Yay team.

Compared to that, Apple cheated like crazy. But I still like my Mac, because it actually works.

(And I have Ubuntu running constantly in a virtual machine because I mostly hate Darwin, but that's another story.)

Syndicated 2006-10-24 01:39:02 from apenwarr's log

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