The Breakfast Club (The Great Language Wars, Strong and Weak typing)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgIn the begining there was machine code, a series of ones and zeros that got entered directly into your computer in order to make it do useful stuff, but you need to take a step back in time to see how even that worked.

The fundamental operations of a general purpose computing machine are to accept a value, perform an operation on that value, and return the result.  Now the fact of the matter is that it’s complicated and tricky to get anything done with that since on this primitive level what you can mostly accomplish is turn 0s to 1s simply because they are 0s and vice versa.  On the other hand, since they can evaluate the input and produce a measurable result they are theoretically capable of solving any problem that can be solved by computation (see Alan Turing).

This is incredibly tedious.

The great break through is when you can work with more than one piece of information at a time, retrive and store the results and accept multiple instructions.  Both the instructions and the results are stored in what we commonly call memory and are loaded into the machine, operated on, and returned to memory.

Now there are all kinds of funny math tricks you can perform that look like addition and subtraction in a binary world as well as transformations based on values you examine, but a LOT of the instructions that even a simple computer will execute have to do with managing it’s work flow in terms of retrieving things from memory including the next action to perform.

The computer doesn’t care what its next activity is, in fact results, information yet to be processed, and instructions all look exactly the same so the prospect of writing instructions (self modifying code) based on previous processing is absurdly easy.

And you may think this is a good thing rather than a bad one because of course you want your computer to be responsive to the fact that the result of the previous operation was 4 rather than 5 but in practice a whole lot of programmers would forget just exactly they were trying to accomplish and the pointer that told the computer where to get the next instruction would end up directing it somewhere the value was not just wrong, but random.

So hardware came to make a distinction between programs and operational data, but because it is so damn useful sometimes to make an exception it’s more a guideline than a rule.

In the 50s, 60s, and 70s programming itself kind of branched between those who were mostly interested in getting the damn things to work at all and those who were more interested in practical results.  This led to the rise of symbolic languages of the types most programmers today would recognize like COBOL, FORTRAN, and BASIC.

All these seminal languages had the great virtue of seeming more like real English than POP and MOV and didn’t actually care how many registers you had or the exact bit width, and the instruction pointer was not easily spoofed (though try a recursive subroutine sometime, I dare you).

COBOL is in most implemetations a strongly typed language.  I remember an interminable amount of time being devoted to analyzing exactly what data would be needed to solve the problem and what types of values would be acceptable.

Because that is the BIG difference between a strongly typed and a weakly typed language.  Without specifically stating that you are going to transform your data from one type to another, from numbers you can add and subtract to characters you can alphabetize for instance, a STRONGLY typed language will reject your program and refuse to work at all if you attempt to perform a disallowed operation for that type of data.

FORTRAN and BASIC are weakly typed and BASIC doesn’t even require that you pre-declare variables.  It just assigns them on the fly based on what it thinks is appropriate.  They both operate on them whatever way you tell them you want and if you add ‘A’ and ‘B’ unless they are previously assigned values as symbols for a memory location (variables) your result will be 131 and if you subtract ‘A’ from ‘B’, 1.

This is incredibly handy for certain types of operations.

In the early 80s there was a great debate between supporters of COBOL strongly typed programming and weakly typed programming.  The standard bearers of strong typing were PASCAL and Modula 2, the champions of weak typing, BASIC and C (actually older than BASIC but not nearly as popular).

Looking back from a perspective of 30 years (and oh yes I have my news stand copy of the August 1984 Byte) I think we can declare weak typing the clear victor.

As a practical matter (and I have written and maintained hundreds of thousands of lines of code) with any of the “unstructured”, “weakly typed” languages you can be as structured as you want to be and I’m a great believer in structure.  But you don’t have to, and that is the beauty part of the craft languages as opposed to the academic ones.  The academic languages mitigate in favor of comprehensive analysis in advance of practical application and the craft languages…

Well, they solve problems.

Today, when I write poetry for machines, I do it in ‘C’ which has useful concepts like structures which are containers for disparate types of data and pointers which can point to anything from a value to a sub-routine.

And this big A?  It stand for Anarchist.

 photo 125px-Anarchy-symbolsvg.png

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.


Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History


Report Says American Psychological Association Collaborated on Torture Justification

By JAMES RISEN, The New York Times

APRIL 30, 2015

The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.

“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.

The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.

By June 2004, the Bush administration’s torture program was in trouble. The public disclosure of the images of prisoners being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison earlier that year prompted an intense debate about the way the United States was treating detainees in the global war on terror, leading to new scrutiny of the C.I.A.’s so-called enhanced interrogation program. Congress and the news media were starting to ask questions, and there were new doubts about whether the program was legal.

On June 4, 2004, the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet, signed a secret order suspending the agency’s use of the enhanced interrogation techniques, while asking for a policy review to make sure the program still had the Bush administration’s backing.

At that critical moment, the American Psychological Association took action that its critics now say helped the troubled interrogation program.

In early June 2004, a senior official with the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, issued an invitation to a carefully selected group of psychologists and behavioral scientists inside the government to a private meeting to discuss the crisis and the role of psychologists in the interrogation program.

Psychologists from the C.I.A. and other agencies met with association officials in July, and by the next year the association issued guidelines that reaffirmed that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the interrogation program.

“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” Mr. Soldz said by email. “Like clockwork, the A.P.A. directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the A.P.A. even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”

Taliban Gains Pull U.S. Units Back Into Fight in Afghanistan


APRIL 29, 2015

In justifying the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have insisted that the troops’ role is relegated to counterterrorism, defined as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who have assumed the bulk of the fight.

But interviews with American and Western officials in Kabul and Washington offer a picture of a more aggressive range of military operations against the Taliban in recent months, as the insurgents have continued to make gains against struggling government forces.

Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes – mostly drone missions – and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.

“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”

Some Western officials have privately expressed discomfort with the American role and questioned how prolonging the American strategy in Afghanistan would be more effective this year than it was in the past 13.

Many of the strikes described by officials had no discernible basis for force protection or terrorist hunting. One included an attack in Kunar Province that wounded two miners; another in Ghazni killed several “common Taliban fighters,” and, at most, one Taliban commander, according to the head of the provincial peace council.

This month, for example, an American Special Forces soldier was shot in the chest while advising Afghan commandos conducting an operation against the Taliban in restive Logar Province, according to the two Western military officials. The bullet struck the soldier’s body armor and he survived, the officials said.

But when confronted with reports of a re-expanded American combat role in Afghanistan, Obama administration officials have vehemently rejected the claims.

On Sunday, however, a spokesman at the National Security Council issued a statement that appeared to broaden the circumstances, saying that American forces may provide combat support to Afghan troops “in limited circumstances to prevent detrimental strategic effects to these Afghan security forces.”

Baltimore Leaders Try to Curb Expectations Over a Pending Police Report


APRIL 29, 2015

An edgy peace held sway here as a huge crowd took to the streets before a curfew Wednesday night and the mayor and the police sought to tamp down expectations that residents would learn details on Friday about how a young black man died after being injured in police custody.

Fears ran high that the end of the week could return this city to the violence spurred by the still-unexplained death of the man, Freddie Gray, 25 – particularly if people think they will get answers but do not. Speculation about the possible release of some or all of the findings has fueled expectations that the public will learn much more about the case that day.

But the mayor, the police commissioner, a large group of prominent clergymen and a lawyer for Mr. Gray’s family emerged from a meeting Wednesday to give a united warning against expecting any revelations Friday, when the Police Department has said it will turn its findings over to the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, who will decide whether to seek criminal charges. Six officers have been suspended in the episode.

“If you’re anticipating actions, the action will be turning the investigation over to the state’s attorney, and from there, they will take the ball,” Mr. Batts said.

The city has a long record of allegations of police brutality, resulting in millions of dollars paid out in lawsuits. But the April 12 arrest of Mr. Gray, parts of which were caught on video, drew a more heated reaction than any previous case.

Officers reported that Mr. Gray had not been suspected of a crime, but that he had made contact with one of them and then ran, and they pursued and caught him. Officers accused him of possessing an illegal switchblade knife, handcuffed him and put him into a van for a ride to a police station.

Freddie Gray: protests across US as Baltimore forced to free 100 suspects

by Nicky Woolf, Oliver Laughland and Steven W Thrasher, The Guardian

Thursday 30 April 2015 03.18 EDT

Wednesday, after a flurry of legal challenges, more than 100 people were freed from police custody, having been been held since Monday under what amounted to a suspension by Hogan of the writ of habeas corpus – the right to be released from an arrest made without lawful cause.

Natalie Finegar, the deputy district public defender in Baltimore City, told the Guardian that after 82 habeas corpus petitions were filed to the attorney general’s office, a decision was made to release those who were yet to have charges read against them.

Finegar said the decision to hold so many “without any respect for due process” could “further shake the confidence in the criminal justice system for those arrested”. She said many of those detained had complained of the harsh conditions in jail. Some said they went 18 hours without food and later were given inedible pieces of bread.

Baseball in an empty stadium: an eerie, uncomfortable thing to watch

by Jonathan Bernhardt, The Guardian

Wednesday 29 April 2015 19.22 EDT

The PA plays its usual mix of pop, hip-hop and classic rock for batting practice – sandwiched in between a string of Top 100 hits, the Orioles hit to Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks as Buck Showalter gives a somber pre-game presser in the bowels of the stadium – and in the press box, we murmur and mutter and tap away.

(T)he Baltimore Orioles host the Chicago White Sox in front of a paid crowd of zero, all the seats vacant, all the concourses dark. Camden Yards is closed, by recommendation of the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, but it is not empty. And it is not silent.

Part of the reason for that is us, of course. The media. The press box at Oriole Park sits up on the second and third levels, right behind home plate, and it’s standing room only. We’re not a quiet bunch, which is part of why we have the jobs we do: we’re trading crappy jokes about the stadium music, or we’re on the phone with our editors, or we’re recording inning-by-inning radio updates into our headset mics so loudly they can probably hear us down in both dugouts.

Our mood is looser than it might otherwise be. There are a lot of us, and the circumstances that have brought us together are bizarre and uncomfortable – a baseball game in front of an empty stadium? What does that even look like? So perhaps the gasps were a bit louder than they would have usually been when Orioles first baseman Chris Davis took the third pitch he saw from White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija hard to right field, straight through the empty flag court, rattling around against the tall, closed fences leading out to Eutaw Street. Perhaps the chatter is a bit more excited than it would usually be when the Orioles end the first inning up six runs. Perhaps the snickering is a little louder when we realize that whenever Baltimore play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne raises his voice, we can hear him calling the game loud and clear in the empty stadium.

It was a baseball game, that’s all it was on the scorecard; just another lopsided baseball game in an April that’s so far been full of them. It was everything around it that was wrong. Professional baseball without a crowd is an eerie, uncomfortable thing to watch, a half-measure, a strange compromise that adds nothing while robbing the sport of the very reason that it exists. That it happened at all is a testament to the crisis this city – and country – finds itself in. May it never happen again.

Bernie Sanders confirms presidential run and damns America’s inequities

Associated Press

Wednesday 29 April 2015 20.56 EDT

The self-described “democratic socialist” enters the race as a robust liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton and pledged to do more than simply raise progressive issues or nudge the former secretary of state to the left in a campaign in which she is heavily favored.

“People should not underestimate me,” Sanders said. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

“What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels,” Sanders said.

“This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans … You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.”

Sanders said he would release “very specific proposals” to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, as well as offer tuition-free education at all public colleges and universities. He touched on his past opposition to free-trade agreements, his support for heavier regulation of Wall Street and the nation’s banking industry, and his vote against the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a preview of his campaign.

Greece, Euro-Area Partners Target Deal by Sunday

by Jeff BlackKarl Stagno Navarra, and Eleni Chrepa, Bloomber News

11:35 AM EDT, April 29, 2015

With Greece facing a cash crunch in early May, both sides in a meeting of euro-area officials agreed to pursue intensive negotiations beginning on Thursday with the target of a preliminary deal by May 3, according to three people with knowledge of the talks. The aim would be for finance ministers to sign off on the accord by their next scheduled meeting on May 11, the officials said, asking not to be named because the talks are private.

A key factor in a potential breakthrough may be the decision by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to intervene and play a major role in the negotiations to help the process along. That gave the signal that his government may at last be willing to do what’s needed to unlock the stalled bailout.

An agreement could still stumble at opposition within Tsipras’s government. In a sign of the obstacles yet to overcome for a deal, Greece’s finance ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the government “retains red lines” in the negotiations, which include a sales tax on islands, pension and labor market reforms and asset sales.

Creditors have insisted that an agreement be reached on the full package of measures and once that’s done, Greece should be prepared to initiate talks on a third bailout after the end of June when the current program expires, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Tsipras’s Syriza party has opposed a new bailout.

SNP could win every seat in Scotland, according to new poll

Andrew Learmonth, The National

April 30th, 2015 – 12:09 am

THE SNP could win every seat in Scotland, according to a new poll which predicts that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives could lose all their Scottish seats at Westminster.

The poll by Ipsos MORI for STV showed the SNP up two points to a new high of 54 per cent with Labour dropping four points to 20 per cent.

This 34-point lead, the Electoral Calculus website says, would see the SNP win every single one of Scotland’s 59 constituencies.

The SNP’s Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie gave the poll a cautious welcome: “The SNP’s message to everyone in Scotland – people who voted No last year, as well as those who voted Yes, and people who are considering voting SNP for the first time – is that together we can unite to make Scotland stronger and the UK more progressive.

“By voting SNP, we can make Scotland’s voice heard like never before.

“This record poll shows that our positive campaign to make Scotland stronger at Westminster by electing a team of SNP MPs is gaining momentum, but we are working hard for every vote because we take absolutely nothing for granted.

“More anti-Tory MPs than Tory MPs in the House of Commons means that we can lock David Cameron out of Downing Street – so voting SNP delivers a strong voice for Scotland and progressive policies for the whole UK, including an end to cuts.” The poll was taken in a week where Labour’s campaign strategy focused on warning voters about the possibility of a second referendum. The message was repeated during the week with high-profile interventions from Gordon Brown and Ed Balls. Despite STV’s poll showing that this warning has had little impact on the electorate, the party still believe it is the key way to get voters to swing back behind Labour.

Responding to the poll, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Kezia Dugdale said: “The choice facing Scots next week is clear. We can vote for Labour to take the road to a fairer and better nation for working class families. Or we can back the SNP and go down the road to another referendum. When there is so much inequality in our country, the priority right now just can’t be another drawn out referendum campaign.

“A vote for anyone other than Labour makes it more likely the Tories will be the largest party across the UK and that Cameron will walk back into Downing Street.

The poll found 80 per cent of the Scottish electorate are certain to vote, up from 64 per cent in the 2010 general election.

Smaller parties hold key to UK elections

by Alasdair Soussi, Al Jazeera

April 30, 2015 2:00AM ET

At the heart of Britain’s changing political landscape is Scotland, where a referendum endorsing independence came unexpectedly close to succeeding last September. Next month, Scottish voters are expected to abandon their traditional support for Labour in favor of its bitter rival, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP). Polls predict that the SNP, which currently holds just six out of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary constituencies, is likely to win 20 to 50 seats, most of them currently held by Labour. And some of the most recent surveys suggest that in excess of 50 would not be beyond the nationalists’ reach – with one even forecasting that all 59 could go the way of the SNP.

Just as the SNP hopes to poach seats from Labour, UKIP wants to do the same to the Conservatives. Growing Euroskeptic sentiment has already forced the Tories to promise voters a referendum on EU membership. Against this background, the UKIP and its outspoken leader, Nigel Farage, could become a modest but effective force in Parliament – although its candidates’ tendency to indulge in racist and homophobic slurs will surely limit its appeal.

The Liberal Democrats, currently the third-largest party in the House of Commons, are unlikely to repeat the success they had in the 2010 general election. During their five years as junior partners in a Conservative-led government, the party has suffered a dramatic backlash from supporters who opposed the decision to form a coalition with the Tories, which is widely reviled in Scotland and swaths of northern England.

With polls showing that neither the Conservatives nor Labour can count on an outright majority, the SNP may end up determining the balance of power and dictating the terms of a coalition government or, at the very least, exerting some kind of U.K.-wide influence. This is a remarkable prospect for a party that operates only in Scotland, and the right-wing press has predictably tried to hold back the tide by decrying the SNP as nationalist bogeymen.

Obama trade bill in trouble

By Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Doug Palmer, Politico

4/29/15 9:24 PM EDT

The House is currently dozens of votes short of being able to pass legislation that would allow President Barack Obama to send trade deals to Congress for fast approval, according to senior lawmakers and aides in both parties, imperiling a top White House priority for the president’s final years in office.

At this point, upward of 75 House Republicans could vote against trade promotion authority if it comes up for a vote in the coming weeks, according to aides and lawmakers involved in the process. Some of the lawmakers fear job losses in their districts from free trade; others distrust Obama and oppose giving him more power.

Failing to pass TPA would be an enormous defeat for the major power centers in Washington – but especially for Obama, who has made this trade deal central to his second-term economic agenda. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is supportive of free trade and the TPA bill, which was shepherded by his close ally Ryan, and he is pushing for the legislation in closed meetings.

There isn’t much wiggle room. If Republicans can garner 200 votes – which many believe to be their ceiling for support – 17 Democrats would need to vote with Obama to pass the bill. Many Democrats think that might be tough. If the Democratic count gets too low, the president’s party will find it easier to oppose him than back him. Dwindling GOP support could also imperil the bill.



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