on the edge

computers & technology, books & writing, civilisation & society, cars & stuff

Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

FQE30 at Qld Raceway 25 May 2003


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Worthy organisations

Amnesty International Australia — global defenders of human rights

global defenders of human rights

Médecins Sans Frontières — help us save lives around the world

Médecins Sans Frontières - help us save lives around the world

Electronic Frontiers Australia — protecting and promoting on-line civil liberties in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia


(Coming soon…)


(Coming soon…)


(Coming soon…)

Software resources

GNU Emacs


The FreeBSD Project

Thu, 29 Jul 2004

Erlang plus perl plus tcl plus tk

So I got around to installing the Erlang port on one of my FreeBSD development boxes; that’s when I discovered that it depended on Perl and Tcl and Tk. Wow. Why? No idea, but I had been quite pleased until today that I had managed to avoid those three large lumps of software. If the Lisp and Scheme packages that I installed could manage without that lot, why did Erlang require them? Sigh. Ah well, it’s all there now, so I might as well have a play.

And this is totally off-topic here, but I can’t be bothered starting something new. A couple of great quotes from one of Paul Graham’s recent papers, Great Hackers:

Working on nasty little problems makes you stupid.
VCs are mistaken to look for the next Microsoft, because no startup can be the next Microsoft unless some other company is prepared to bend over at just the right moment and be the next IBM.

Reliable software and other lies

At recent Humbug meetings, Andrae has teased me with references to Erlang—but so far I’ve been strong and avoided learning more. But now we have Martin drawing our attention to a Usenix paper about crash-only software and Andrae has taken the opportunity to direct us to Joe Armstrong’s PhD thesis Making reliable systems in the presence of software errors as a counter-point to the Usenix paper.

So I had a look at Armstrong’s paper—it turns out to be a 295-page PDF file that describes a large Ericsson project that resulted in the development of the Erlang language as its implementation tool. I haven’t read the whole thing, but Armstrong’s web site took me to a bunch of interesting things including the Erlang documentation and to the home of Yawsyet another web server—written in Erlang and with a facility to embed Erlang code in web pages, much the way PHP works.

I thought I might try Yaws and Erlang (although I really want to focus on Lisp and Scheme this month), just to give me a way to avoid having to play with Apache. But then I was worried that I might have to abandon a couple of important legacy applications I use that are written in PHP. Fortunately, I was clever enough to read the Yaws manual and so discovered that it has support for PHP as well. So, I plan to setup Erlang and play with Yaws.

I had been toying with the idea of writing a web server in Lisp or Scheme (and might still do that), but this one might save me some work in the immediate future. And anything that lets me do dynamic web pages while avoiding Apache just has to be a boon.

Why am I so down on Apache? Aren’t they the good guys? Well, no they’re not the good guys now, even if they were once. It seems that the Apache project has really taken on the Microsoft approach to software—or perhaps I should now call that the Microsoft/Java approach. In essence, these systems seem to be propelled by a desperate need to build bigger and more Byzantine software artifacts, regardless of their utility and despite the clear evidence that this way madness lies. I could go on at length on that topic, but I’m tired and so I’ll stop there for now.