Too Many Points of Failure (at Theranos)

I just finished reading John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, which presents the story of the rise and fall of one-time Silicon Valley unicorn Theranos through his eyes as the journalist who broke the story. In case you missed it: Theranos was a healthcare company promising to sell a machine that could perform quickly and reliably a large number of blood tests needed by medical doctors to aid their patient care. The hitch: The technology never worked and Theranos managed to hide this from investors and the public for a long time.

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When @GLS_Ireland Lost my Parcel

When? Well: Right after picking it up. The only funny thing is that it took GLS two months to pick it up in the first place.

In a nutshell, I ordered pick-up of a parcel at a warehouse in Ireland and shipment to Germany. However, GLS was unable to pick-up the parcel. I got various inexplicable explanations always followed by a “next time it will work”. They finally succeeded, two months after I had put in and paid the order.

Only to tell me that they lost the parcel right away.

I’m now in the second phase of being ridiculed, where I ask them to find my parcel. When asking, I get the promise they’ll go find it right away, only to never hear from them again. I provided instructions on how the parcel looks like, but the search parties always seem to go missing in action themselves.

I am at a loss of words for this incompetence. Sadly, I also don’t know how to finally get my parcel. I’d appreciate hearing any ideas about what to do about it!

Happy New Year, The Second Amendment, And Private Messaging

There is wisdom in the second amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. A key motivation was to allow people to defend themselves against an oppressive government. Back when it was formulated, self-defense meant bearing firearms, which seems quaint today given that a government could came after you with tanks and drones. So, beyond a narrow U.S. legal interpretation, the amendment needs interpretation in a modern context. As such, it is of relevance to the world at large.

What does the right to self-defense against a potentially oppressive government mean?

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What Software Vendors Don’t Seem to Understand About University Teaching

I often get approached by software vendors with the suggestion that I teach a course using one of their product tutorials. There are plenty of open source databases, operating systems, and cloud computing solutions who want to make it into my curriculum. Of course, vendors don’t always call their product tutorials by that name, but use labels like college-level courses or the like, but this doesn’t change the content: They are still product tutorials. I can’t teach those and no self-respecting professor will ever do this. Let me explain.

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My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (3/3)

The most important long-term trend, and my number #3 for the foreseeable future, is the sponsorship and management of open source software development by users, not vendors. The trend towards ubiquitous digitalization is leading users of software to take their software fate into their own hands, establishing informal communities or incorporating as non-profit user consortia to manage the development of the software they need. The Eclipse Foundation has been picking up this trend, supporting it with what they call Industry Working Groups; the Linux Foundation is also supporting this. Open source like this will not remove the need for commercial support, but it will reduce the effects of vendor lock-in, because products that are built on community open source can be switched more easily. Continue reading “My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (3/3)”

My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (2/3)

Trend #2 for 2019 in my book is making single-vendor open source, also known as the open core model a.k.a. neo-proprietary open source, work in the world of cloud computing. In this model, a software vendor goes to market using an intellectual property strategy that combines open sourcing of the product with an aggressive copyleft license. This approach nudges potential customers to moving from the free version to a paid-for proprietary version. In 2018, it visibly broke down when industry consensus emerged that cloud providers aren’t affected by copyleft licenses. Software vendors are now working on licenses that close this (so perceived) loophole. Thankfully, the Open Source Initiative remains the main arbiter of what constitutes a valid open source license. While some scoff at this business model, I think it is an important part of the overall open source community as it is the main way to channel venture capital into the creation of open source components.

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My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (1/3)

Trend #1 that took root in 2018 and will continue in 2019 is the clean-up of the open source supply chain. According to some lawyers, there is little legally valid software left, mostly because of unclear copyright and licenses of open source code in products and components. To clean up this mess, all open source code that makes it into products needs to be labeled and tracked correctly along the supply chain, so that the final product has a chance of being license-compliant. The OpenChain and related projects of the Linux Foundation are trying to do this. This mess is less plastic (pardon the pun) than the garbage pile in the pacific and on our beaches, but probably equally big.

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How my Ph.D. Students Work With Supporting Students (Hint: Not Scrum)

As mentioned in a previous blog post, my Ph.D. students are often experienced software developers who take on the role of a chief programmer in the development of the software system supporting their research. In this work, at any point in time, each of my Ph.D. students is typically supported by 2-7 Bachelor and Master students who contribute to the system under development. Taking a long-term perspective, my Ph.D. students develop quality software rather than throw-away prototypes.

The chief programmer idea is key to making such work successful. While I usually conceive and direct the research, the size of my group has led me to let my Ph.D. students take care of any actual development themselves. (Usually…) In this role, as the chief programmer, they become the central point of coordination and integration of engineering work. In academia, this is a necessity, because an engineering dissertation is typically a multi-year project, while final thesis students, the main source of junior programmers supporting the chief engineer, are only around for six months. Thus, the chief programmer becomes the central technical hub and provider of sustained knowledge of the system under development.

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