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A Rebuttal For Python 3

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Zed Shaw, of Learn Python the Hard Way fame, has now written The Case Against Python 3.

I’m not involved with core Python development. The only skin I have in this game is that I like Python 3. It’s a good language. And one of the big factors I’ve seen slowing its adoption is that respected people in the Python community keep grouching about it. I’ve had multiple newcomers tell me they have the impression that Python 3 is some kind of unusable disaster, though they don’t know exactly why; it’s just something they hear from people who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Then they actually use the language, and it’s fine.

I’m sad to see the Python community needlessly sabotage itself, but Zed’s contribution is beyond the pale. It’s not just making a big deal about changed details that won’t affect most beginners; it’s complete and utter nonsense, on a platform aimed at people who can’t yet recognize it as nonsense. I am so mad.

The Case Against Python 3

I give two sets of reasons as I see them now. One for total beginners, and another for people who are more knowledgeable about programming.

Just to note: the two sets of reasons are largely the same ideas presented differently, so I’ll just weave them together below.

The first section attempts to explain the case against starting with Python 3 in non-technical terms so a beginner can make up their own mind without being influenced by propaganda or social pressure.

Having already read through this once, this sentence really stands out to me. The author of a book many beginners read to learn Python in the first place is providing a number of reasons (some outright fabricated) not to use Python 3, often in terms beginners are ill-equipped to evaluate, but believes this is a defense against propaganda or social pressure.

The Most Important Reason

Before getting into the main technical reasons I would like to discuss the one most important social reason for why you should not use Python 3 as a beginner:

THERE IS A HIGH PROBABILITY THAT PYTHON 3 IS SUCH A FAILURE IT WILL KILL PYTHON.

Python 3’s adoption is really only at about 30% whenever there is an attempt to measure it.

Wait, really? Wow, that’s fantastic.

I mean, it would probably be higher if the most popular beginner resources were actually teaching Python 3, but you know.

Nobody is all that interested in finding out what the real complete adoption is, despite there being fairly simple ways to gather metrics on the adoption.

This accusatory sentence conspicuously neglects to mention what these fairly simple ways are, a pattern that repeats throughout. The trouble is that it’s hard to even define what “adoption” means — I write all my code in Python 3 now, but veekun is still Python 2 because it’s in maintenance mode, so what does that say about adoption? You could look at PyPI download stats, but those are thrown way off by caches and system package managers. You could look at downloads from the Python website, but a great deal of Python is written and used on Unix-likes, where Python itself is either bundled or installed from the package manager.

It’s as simple as that. If you learn Python 2, then you can still work with all the legacy Python 2 code in existence until Python dies or you (hopefully) move on. But if you learn Python 3 then your future is very uncertain. You could really be learning a dead language and end up having to learn Python 2 anyway.

You could use Python 2, until it dies… or you could use Python 3, which might die. What a choice.

By some definitions, Python 2 is already dead — it will not see another major release, only security fixes. Python 3 is still actively developed, and its seventh major release is next month. It even contains a new feature that Zed later mentions he prefers to Python 2’s offerings.

It may shock you to learn that I know both Python 2 and Python 3. Amazingly, two versions of the same language are much more similar than they are different. If you learned Python 3 and then a wizard cast a spell that made it vanish from the face of the earth, you’d just have to spend half an hour reading up on what had changed from Python 2.

Also, it’s been over a decade, maybe even multiple decades, and Python 3 still isn’t above about 30% in adoption. Even among the sciences where Python 3 is touted as a “success” it’s still only around 25-30% adoption. After that long it’s time to admit defeat and come up with a new plan.

Python 3.0 came out in 2008. The first couple releases ironed out some compatibility and API problems, so it didn’t start to gain much traction until Python 3.2 came out in 2011. Hell, Python 2.0 came out in 2000, so even Python 2 isn’t multiple decades old. It would be great if this trusted beginner reference could take two seconds to check details like this before using them to scaremonger.

The big early problem was library compatibility: it’s hard to justify switching to a new version of the language if none of the libraries work. Libraries could only port once their own dependencies had ported, of course, and it took a couple years to figure out the best way to maintain compatibility with both Python 2 and Python 3. I’d say we only really hit critical mass a few years ago — for instance, Django didn’t support Python 3 until 2013 — in which case that 30% is nothing to sneeze at.

There are more reasons beyond just the uncertain future of Python 3 even decades later.

In one paragraph, we’ve gone from “maybe even multiple decades” to just “decades”, which is a funny way to spell “eight years”.

Not In Your Best Interests

The Python project’s efforts to convince you to start with Python 3 are not in your best interest, but, rather, are only in the best interests of the Python project.

It’s bad, you see, for the Python project to want people to use the work it produced.

Anyway, please buy Zed Shaw’s book.

Anyway, please pledge to my Patreon.

Ultimately though, if Python 3 were good they wouldn’t need to do any convincing to get you to use it. It would just naturally work for you and you wouldn’t have any problems. Instead, there are serious issues with Python 3 for beginners, and rather than fix those issues the Python project uses propaganda, social pressure, and marketing to convince you to use it. In the world of technology using marketing and propaganda is immediately a sign that the technology is defective in some obvious way.

This use of social pressure and propaganda to convince you to use Python 3 despite its problems, in an attempt to benefit the Python project, is morally unconscionable to me.

Ten paragraphs in, Zed is telling me that I should be suspicious of anything that relies on marketing and propaganda. Meanwhile, there has yet to be a single concrete reason why Python 3 is bad for beginners — just several flat-out incorrect assertions and a lot of handwaving about how inexplicably nefarious the Python core developers are. You know, the same people who made Python 2. But they weren’t evil then, I guess.

You Should Be Able to Run 2 and 3

In the programming language theory there is this basic requirement that, given a “complete” programming language, I can run any other programming language. In the world of Java I’m able to run Ruby, Java, C++, C, and Lua all at the same time. In the world of Microsoft I can run F#, C#, C++, and Python all at the same time. This isn’t just a theoretical thing. There is solid math behind it. Math that is truly the foundation of computer science.

The fact that you can’t run Python 2 and Python 3 at the same time is purely a social and technical decision that the Python project made with no basis in mathematical reality. This means you are working with a purposefully broken platform when you use Python 3, and I personally can’t condone teaching people to use something that is fundamentally broken.

The programmer-oriented section makes clear that the solid math being referred to is Turing-completeness — the section is even titled “Python 3 Is Not Turing Complete”.

First, notice a rhetorical trick here. You can run Ruby, Java, C++, etc. at the same time, so why not Python 2 and Python 3?

But can you run Java and C# at the same time? (I’m sure someone has done this, but it’s certainly much less popular than something like Jython or IronPython.)

Can you run Ruby 1.8 and Ruby 2.3 at the same time? Ah, no, so I guess Ruby 2.3 is fundamentally and purposefully broken.

Can you run Lua 5.1 and 5.3 at the same time? Lua is a spectacular example, because Lua 5.2 made a breaking change to how the details of scope work, and it’s led to a situation where a lot of programs that embed Lua haven’t bothered upgrading from Lua 5.1. Was Lua 5.2 some kind of dark plot to deliberately break the language? No, it’s just slightly more inconvenient than expected for people to upgrade.

Anyway, as for Turing machines:

In computer science a fundamental law is that if I have one Turing Machine I can build any other Turing Machine. If I have COBOL then I can bootstrap a compiler for FORTRAN (as disgusting as that might be). If I have FORTH, then I can build an interpreter for Ruby. This also applies to bytecodes for CPUs. If I have a Turing Complete bytecode then I can create a compiler for any language. The rule then can be extended even further to say that if I cannot create another Turing Machine in your language, then your language cannot be Turing Complete. If I can’t use your language to write a compiler or interpreter for any other language then your language is not Turing Complete.

Yes, this is true.

Currently you cannot run Python 2 inside the Python 3 virtual machine. Since I cannot, that means Python 3 is not Turing Complete and should not be used by anyone.

And this is completely asinine. Worse, it’s flat-out dishonest, and relies on another rhetorical trick. You only “cannot” run Python 2 inside the Python 3 VM because no one has written a Python 2 interpreter in Python 3. The “cannot” is not a mathematical impossibility; it’s a simple matter of the code not having been written. Or perhaps it has, but no one cares anyway, because it would be comically and unusably slow.

I assume this was meant to be sarcastic on some level, since it’s followed by a big blue box that seems unsure about whether to double down or reverse course. But I can’t tell why it was even brought up, because it has absolutely nothing to do with Zed’s true complaint, which is that Python 2 and Python 3 do not coexist within a single environment. Implementing language X using language Y does not mean that X and Y can now be used together seamlessly.

The canonical Python release is written in C (just like with Ruby or Lua), but you can’t just dump a bunch of C code into a Python (or Ruby or Lua) file and expect it to work. You can talk to C from Python and vice versa, but defining how they communicate is a bit of a pain in the ass and requires some level of setup.

I’ll get into this some more shortly.

No Working Translator

Python 3 comes with a tool called 2to3 which is supposed to take Python 2 code and translate it to Python 3 code.

I should point out right off the bat that this is not actually what you want to use most of the time, because you probably want to translate your Python 2 code to Python 2/3 code. 2to3 produces code that most likely will not work on Python 2. Other tools exist to help you port more conservatively.

Translating one programming language into another is a solidly researched topic with solid math behind it. There are translators that convert any number of languages into JavaScript, C, C++, Java, and many times you have no idea the translation is being done. In addition to this, one of the first steps when implementing a new language is to convert the new language into an existing language (like C) so you don’t have to write a full compiler. Translation is a fully solved problem.

This is completely fucking ludicrous. Translating one programming language to another is a common task, though “fully solved” sounds mighty questionable. But do you know what the results look like?

I found a project called “Transcrypt”, which puts Python in the browser by “translating” it to JavaScript. I’ve never used or heard of this before; I just googled for something to convert Python to JavaScript. Here’s their first sample, a demo using jQuery:

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def start ():
    def changeColors ():
        for div in S__divs:
            S (div) .css ({
                'color': 'rgb({},{},{})'.format (* [int (256 * Math.random ()) for i in range (3)]),
            })

    S__divs = S ('div')
    changeColors ()
    window.setInterval (changeColors, 500)

And here’s the JavaScript code it compiles to:

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(function () {
    var start = function () {
        var changeColors = function () {
            var __iterable0__ = $divs;
            for (var __index0__ = 0; __index0__ < __iterable0__.length; __index0__++) {
                var div = __iterable0__ [__index0__];
                $ (div).css (dict ({'color': 'rgb({},{},{})'.format.apply (null, function () {
                    var __accu0__ = [];
                    for (var i = 0; i < 3; i++) {
                        __accu0__.append (int (256 * Math.random ()));
                    }
                    return __accu0__;
                } ())}));
            }
        };
        var $divs = $ ('div');
        changeColors ();
        window.setInterval (changeColors, 500);
    };
    __pragma__ ('<all>')
        __all__.start = start;
    __pragma__ ('</all>')
}) ();

Well, not quite. That’s actually just a small piece at the end of the full 1861-line file.

You may notice that the emitted JavaScript effectively has to emulate the Python for loop, because JavaScript doesn’t have anything that works exactly the same way. And this is a basic, common language feature translated between two languages in the same general family! Imagine how your code would look if you relied on gritty details of how classes are implemented.

Is this what you want 2to3 to do to your code?

Even if something has been proven to be mathematically possible, that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean the results will be pretty (or fast).

The 2to3 translator fails on about 15% of the code it attempts, and does a poor job of translating the code it can handle. The motivations for this are unclear, but keep in mind that a group of people who claim to be programming language experts can’t write a reliable translator from one version of their own language to another. This is also a cause of their porting problems, which adds up to more evidence Python 3’s future is uncertain.

Writing a translator from one language to another is a fully proven and fundamental piece of computer science. Yet, the 2to3 translator cannot translate code 100%. In my own tests it is only about 85% effective, leaving a large amount of code to translate manually. Given that translation is a solved problem this seems to be a decision bordering on malice rather than incredible incompetence.

The programmer-oriented section doubles down on this idea with a title of “Purposefully Crippled 2to3 Translator” — again, accusing the Python project of sabotaging everyone. That doesn’t even make sense; if their goal is to make everyone use Python 3 at any cost, why would they deliberately break their tool that reduces the amount of Python 2 code and increases the amount of Python 3 code?

2to3 sucks because its job is hard. Python is dynamically typed. If it sees d.iteritems(), it might want to change that to d.items(), as it’s called in Python 3 — but it can’t always be sure that d is actually a dict. If d is some user-defined type, renaming the method is wrong.

But hey, Turing-completeness, right? It must be mathematically possible. And it is! As long as you’re willing to see this:

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for key, value in d.iteritems():
    ...

Get translated to this:

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__d = d
for key, value in (__d.items() if isinstance(__d, dict) else __d.iteritems()):
    ...

Would Zed be happier with that, I wonder?

The JVM and CLR Prove It's Pointless

Yet, for some reason, the Python 3 virtual machine can’t run Python 2? Despite the solidly established mathematics disproving this, the countless examples of running one crazy language inside a Russian doll cascade of other crazy languages, and huge number of languages that can coexist in nearly every other virtual machine? That makes no sense.

This, finally, is the real complaint. It’s not a bad one, and it comes up sometimes, but… it’s not this easy.

The Python 3 VM is fairly similar to the Python 2 VM. The problem isn’t the VM, but the core language constructs and standard library.

Consider: what happens when a Python 2 old-style class instance gets passed into Python 3, which has no such concept? It seems like a value would have to always have the semantics of the language version it came from — that’s how languages usually coexist on the same VM, anyway.

Now, I’m using Python 3, and I load some library written for Python 2. I call a Python 2 function that deals with bytestrings, and I pass it a Python 3 bytestring. Oh no! It breaks because Python 3 bytestrings iterate as integers, whereas the Python 2 library expects them to iterate as characters.

Okay, well, no big deal, you say. Maybe Python 2 libraries just need to be updated to work either way, before they can be used with Python 3.

But that’s exactly the situation we’re in right now. Syntax changes are trivially fixed by 2to3 and similar tools. It’s libraries that cause the subtler issues.

The same applies the other way, too. I write Python 3 code, and it gets an int from some Python 2 library. I try to use the .to_bytes method on it, but that doesn’t exist on Python 2 integers. So my Python 3 code, written and intended purely for Python 3, now has to deal with Python 2 integers as well.

Perhaps “primitive” types should convert automatically, on the boundary? Okay, sure. What about the Python 2 buffer type, which is C-backed and replaced by memoryview in Python 3?

Or how about this very fundamental problem: names of methods and other attributes are str in both versions, but that means they’re bytestrings in Python 2 and text in Python 3. If you’re in Python 3 land, and you call obj.foo() on a Python 2 object, what happens? Python 3 wants a method with the text name foo, but Python 2 wants a method with the bytes name foo. Text and bytes are not implicitly convertible in Python 3. So does it error? Somehow work anyway? What about the other way around?

What about the standard library, which has had a number of improvements in Python 3 that don’t or can’t exist in Python 2? Should Python ship two entire separate copies of its standard library? What about modules like logging, which rely on global state? Does Python 2 and Python 3 code need to set up logging separately within the same process?

There are no good solutions here. The language would double in size and complexity, and you’d still end up with a mess at least as bad as the one we have now when values leak from one version into the other.

We either have two situations here:

  1. Python 3 has been purposefully crippled to prevent Python 2’s execution alongside Python 3 for someone’s professional or ideological gain.
  2. Python 3 cannot run Python 2 due to simple incompetence on the part of the Python project.

I can think of a third.

Difficult To Use Strings

The strings in Python 3 are very difficult to use for beginners. In an attempt to make their strings more “international” they turned them into difficult to use types with poor error messages.

Why is “international” in scare quotes?

Every time you attempt to deal with characters in your programs you’ll have to understand the difference between byte sequences and Unicode strings.

Given that I’m reading part of a book teaching Python, this would be a perfect opportunity to drive this point home by saying “Look! Running exercise N in Python 3 doesn’t work.” Exercise 1, at least, works fine for me with a little extra sprinkle of parentheses:

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print("Hello World!")
print("Hello Again")
print("I like typing this.")
print("This is fun.")
print('Yay! Printing.')
print("I'd much rather you 'not'.")
print('I "said" do not touch this.')

Contrast with the actual content of that exercise — at the bottom is a big red warning box telling people from “another country” (relative to where?) that if they get errors about ASCII encodings, they should put an unexplained magical incantation at the top of their scripts to fix “Unicode UTF-8”, whatever that is. I wonder if Zed has read his own book.

Don’t know what that is? Exactly.

If only there were a book that could explain it to beginners in more depth than “you have to fix this if you’re foreign”.

The Python project took a language that is very forgiving to beginners and mostly “just works” and implemented strings that require you to constantly know what type of string they are. Worst of all, when you get an error with strings (which is very often) you get an error message that doesn’t tell you what variable names you need to fix.

The complaint is that this happens in Python 3, whereas it’s accepted in Python 2:

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>>> b"hello" + "hello"
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: can't concat bytes to str

The programmer section is called “Statically Typed Strings”. But this is not static typing. That’s strong typing, a property that sets Python’s type system apart from languages like JavaScript. It’s usually considered a good thing, because the alternative is to silently produce nonsense in some cases, and then that nonsense propagates through your program and is hard to track down when it finally causes problems.

If they’re going to require beginners to struggle with the difference between bytes and Unicode the least they could do is tell people what variables are bytes and what variables are strings.

That would be nice, but it’s not like this is a new problem. Try this in Python 2.

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>>> 3 + "hello"
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for +: 'int' and 'str'

How would Python even report this error when I used literals instead of variables? How could custom types hook into such a thing? Error messages are hard.

By the way, did you know that several error messages are much improved in Python 3? Python 2 is somewhat notorious for the confusing errors it produces when an argument is missing from a method call, but Python 3 is specific about the problem, which is much friendlier to beginners.

However, when you point out that this is hard to use they try to claim it’s good for you. It is not. It’s simple blustering covering for a poor implementation.

I don’t know what about this is hard. Why do you have a text string and a bytestring in the first place? Why is it okay to refuse adding a number to a string, but not to refuse adding bytes to a string?

Imagine if one of the Python core developers were just getting into Python 2 and messing around.

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# -*- coding: utf8 -*-
print "Hi, my name is Łukasz Langa."
print "Hi, my name is Łukasz Langa."[::-1]
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Hi, my name is Łukasz Langa.
.agnaL zsaku�� si eman ym ,iH

Good luck figuring out how to fix that.

This isn’t blustering. Bytes are not text; they are binary data that could encode anything. They happen to look like text sometimes, and you can get away with thinking they’re text if you’re not from “another country”, but that mindset will lead you to write code that is wrong. The resulting bugs will be insidious and confusing, and you’ll have a hard time even reasoning about them because it’ll seem like “Unicode text” is somehow a different beast altogether from “ASCII text”.

Exercise 11 mentions at the end that you can use int() to convert a number to an integer. It’s no more complicated to say that you convert bytes to a string using .decode(). It shouldn’t even come up unless you’re explicitly working with binary data, and I don’t see any reading from sockets in LPTHW.

It’s also not statically compiled as strongly as it could be, so you can’t find these kinds of type errors until you run the code.

This comes a scant few paragraphs after “Dynamic typing is what makes Python easy to use and one of the reasons I advocate it for beginners.”

You can’t find any kinds of type errors until you run the code. Welcome to dynamic typing.

Strings are also most frequently received from an external source, such as a network socket, file, or similar input. This means that Python 3’s statically typed strings and lack of static type safety will cause Python 3 applications to crash more often and have more security problems when compared with Python 2.

On the contrary — Python 3 applications should crash less often. The problem with silently converting between bytestrings and text in Python 2 is that it might fail, depending on the contents. "cafe" + u"hello" works fine, but "café" + u"hello" raises a UnicodeDecodeError. Python 2 makes it very easy to write code that appears to work when tested with ASCII data, but later breaks with anything else, even though the values are still the same types. In Python 3, you get an error the first time you try to run such code, regardless of what’s in the actual values. That’s the biggest reason for the change: it improves things from being intermittent value errors to consistent type errors.

More security problems? This is never substantiated, and seems to have been entirely fabricated.

Too Many Formatting Options

In addition to that you will have 3 different formatting options in Python 3.6. That means you’ll have to learn to read and use multiple ways to format strings that are all very different. Not even I, an experienced professional programmer, can easily figure out these new formatting systems or keep up with their changing features.

I don’t know what on earth “keep up with their changing features” is supposed to mean, and Zed doesn’t bother to go into details.

Python 3 has three ways to format strings: % interpolation, str.format(), and the new f"" strings in Python 3.6. The f"" strings use the same syntax as str.format(); the difference is that where str.format() uses numbers or names of keyword arguments, f"" strings just use expressions. Compare:

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number = 133
print("{n:02x}".format(n=number))
print(f"{number:02x}")

This isn’t “very different”. A frequently-used method is being promoted to syntax.

I really like this new style, and I have no idea why this wasn’t the formatting for Python 3 instead of that stupid .format function. String interpolation is natural for most people and easy to explain.

The problem is that beginner will now how to know all three of these formatting styles, and that’s too many.

I could swear Zed, an experienced professional programmer, just said he couldn’t easily figure out these new formatting systems. Note also that str.format() has existed in Python 2 since Python 2.6 was released in 2008, so I don’t know why Zed said “new formatting systems“, plural.

This is a truly bizarre complaint overall, because the mechanism Zed likes best is the newest one. If Python core had agreed that three mechanisms was too many, we wouldn’t be getting f"" at all.

Even More Versions of Strings

Finally, I’m told there is a new proposal for a string type that is both bytes and Unicode at the same time? That’d be fantastic if this new type brings back the dynamic typing that makes Python easy, but I’m betting it will end up being yet another static type to learn. For that reason I also think beginners should avoid Python 3 until this new “chimera string” is implemented and works reliably in a dynamic way. Until then, you will just be dealing with difficult strings that are statically typed in a dynamically typed language.

I have absolutely no idea what this is referring to, and I can’t find anyone who does. I don’t see any recent PEPs mentioning such a thing, nor anything in the last several months on the python-dev mailing list. I don’t see it in the Python 3.6 release notes.

The closest thing I can think of is the backwards-compatibility shenanigans for PEP 528 and PEP 529 — they switch to the Windows wide-string APIs for console and filesystem encoding, but pretend under the hood that the APIs take UTF-8-encoded bytes to avoid breaking libraries like Twisted. That’s a microscopic detail that should never matter to anyone but authors of Twisted, and is nothing like a new hybrid string type, but otherwise I’m at a loss.

This paragraph really is a perfect summary of the whole article. It speaks vaguely yet authoritatively about something that doesn’t seem to exist, it doesn’t bother actually investigating the thing the entire section talks about, it conjectures that this mysterious feature will be hard just because it’s in Python 3, and it misuses terminology to complain about a fundamental property of Python that’s always existed.

Core Libraries Not Updated

Many of the core libraries included with Python 3 have been rewritten to use Python 3, but have not been updated to use its features. How could they given Python 3’s constant changing status and new features?

What “constant changing status”? The language makes new releases; is that bad? The only mention of “changing” so far was with string formatting, which makes no sense to me, because the only major change has been the addition of syntax that Zed prefers.

There are several libraries that, despite knowing the encoding of data, fail to return proper strings. The worst offender seems to be any libraries dealing with the HTTP protocol, which does indicate the encoding of the underlying byte stream in many cases.

In many cases, yes. Not in all. Some web servers don’t send back an encoding. Some files don’t have an encoding, because they’re images or other binary data. HTML allows the encoding to be given inside the document, instead. urllib has always returned bytes, so it’s not all that unreasonable to keep doing that, rather than… well, I’m not quite sure what this is proposing. Return strings sometimes?

The documentation for urllib.request and http.client both advise using the higher-level Requests library instead, in a prominent yellow box right at the top. Requests has distinct mechanisms for retrieving bytes versus text and is vastly easier to use overall, though I don’t think even it understands reading encodings from HTML. Alas, computers.

Good luck to any beginner figuring out how to install Requests on Python 2 — but thankfully, Python 3 now comes bundled with pip, which makes installing libraries much easier. Contrast with the beginning of exercise 46, which apologizes for how difficult this is to explain, lists four things to install, warns that it will be frustrating, and advises watching a video to help figure it out.

What’s even more idiotic about this is Python has a really good Chardet library for detecting the encoding of byte streams. If Python 3 is supposed to be “batteries included” then fast Chardet should be baked into the core of Python 3’s strings making it cake to translate strings to bytes even if you don’t know the underlying encoding. … Call the function whatever you want, but it’s not magic to guess at the encoding of a byte stream, it’s science. The only reason this isn’t done for you is that the Python project decided that you should be punished for not knowing about bytes vs. Unicode, and their arrogance means you have difficult to use strings.

Guessing at the encoding of a byte stream isn’t so much science as, well, guessing. Guessing means that sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes that’s what you want, and I’m honestly ambivalent about having chardet in the standard library, but it’s hardly arrogant to not want to include a highly-fallible heuristic in your programming language.

Conclusions and Warnings

I have resisted writing about these problems with Python 3 for 5 versions because I hoped it would become usable for beginners. Each year I would attempt to convert some of my code and write a couple small tests with Python 3 and simply fail. If I couldn’t use Python 3 reliably then there’s no way a total beginner could manage it. So each year I’d attempt it, and fail, and wait until they fix it. I really liked Python and hoped the Python project would drop their stupid stances on usability.

Let us recap the usability problems seen thusfar.

  • You can’t add b"hello" to "hello".
  • TypeErrors are phrased exactly the same as they were in Python 2.
  • The type system is exactly as dynamic as it was in Python 2.
  • There is a new formatting mechanism, using the same syntax as one in Python 2, that Zed prefers over the ones in Python 2.
  • urllib.request doesn’t decode for you, just like in Python 2.
  • 档牡敤㽴 isn’t built in. Oh, sorry, I meant chardet.

Currently, the state of strings is viewed as a Good Thing in the Python community. The fact that you can’t run Python 2 inside Python 3 is seen as a weird kind of tough love. The brainwashing goes so far as to outright deny the mathematics behind language translation and compilation in an attempt to motivate the Python community to brute force convert all Python 2 code.

Which is probably why the Python project focuses on convincing unsuspecting beginners to use Python 3. They don’t have a switching cost, so if you get them to fumble their way through the Python 3 usability problems then you have new converts who don’t know any better. To me this is morally wrong and is simply preying on people to prop up a project that needs a full reset to survive. It means beginners will fail at learning to code not because of their own abilities, but because of Python 3’s difficulty.

Now that we’re towards the end, it’s a good time to say this: Zed Shaw, your behavior here is fucking reprehensible.

Half of what’s written here is irrelevant nonsense backed by a vague appeal to “mathematics”. Instead of having even the shred of humility required to step back and wonder if there are complicating factors beyond whether something is theoretically possible, you have invented a variety of conflicting and malicious motivations to ascribe to the Python project.

It’s fine to criticize Python 3. The string changes force you to think about what you’re doing a little more in some cases, and occasionally that’s a pain in the ass. I absolutely get it.

But you’ve gone out of your way to invent a conspiracy out of whole cloth and promote it on your popular platform aimed at beginners, who won’t know how obviously full of it you are. And why? Because you can’t add b"hello" to "hello"? Are you kidding me? No one can even offer to help you, because instead of examples of real problems you’ve had, you gave two trivial toys and then yelled a lot about how the whole Python project is releasing mind-altering chemicals into the air.

The Python 3 migration has been hard enough. It’s taken a lot of work from a lot of people who’ve given enough of a crap to help Python evolve — to make it better to the best of their judgment and abilities. Now we’re finally, finally at the point where virtually all libraries support Python 3, a few new ones only support Python 3, and Python 3 adoption is starting to take hold among application developers.

And you show up to piss all over it, to propagate this myth that Python 3 is hamstrung to the point of unusability, because if the Great And Wise Zed Shaw can’t figure it out in ten seconds then it must just be impossible.

Fuck you.

Sadly, I doubt this will happen, and instead they’ll just rant about how I don’t know what I’m talking about and I should shut up.

This is because you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you should shut up.

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CrystalDave
17 days ago
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sirshannon
16 days ago
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As someone new to python, the people fighting against python 3 make me think the python community is a bit insane.
codersquid
16 days ago
:D
zwol
17 days ago
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It took me about two weeks to get used to Python 3(.4, at the time) and now I find it mildly irritating whenever for some reason I have to use version 2. 3 really is a better language and I would argue that it is _easier_ to learn if you're starting from scratch. There's only one kind of object! Lazy iteration is the norm, not something you have to remember to ask for! The standard library is much better organized! You don't have to jump through cryptic hoops to use Unicode text! The only thing I really _miss_ from 2.x is `"6920616d206865726f".decode("hex")` and that's mostly because I was playing a lot of _The Talos Principle_ at the same time as I was trying to get used to v3.
Mountain View, CA

redcap3: copperbadge: kimije: copperbadge: Did you guys know...

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redcap3:

copperbadge:

kimije:

copperbadge:

Did you guys know they make straight-up sheets of non-triangle-cut canned crescent roll dough now? I figured everyone knew but I told my mum and it BLEW HER MIND so I figured I should probably tell the internet, just in case. 

I can’t hold it in any more WHY WHY IS THE DOUGH IN A CAN AMERICA THE LAND OF THE CANS WHY WHAT IS THIS CANS ARE FOR THINGS THAT YOU LEAVE AT THE BACK OF THE CUPBOARD FOR 6 YEARS AND THEN THROW OUT WHEN YOU MOVE OR PIE FILLING I’LL GIVE YOU THE PIE FILLING BUT DOUGH? MEAT? YES THEY PUT MEAT IN CANS TOO! HEATHENS!

Canning has a long tradition in America, going back to the colonization of the east coast and later of the west, where isolated farmhouses might go weeks without access to a dry goods store and had no access at all to fresh food in the winter (barring winter hunting, which could not get you fruits and veg). Canning was a common practice to make sure you had some kind of plant food to survive the winter months. 

During the early 20th century, when industrialized food preservation and production was picking up (especially because long-term preservation was necessary for feeding troops in combat) canned food became commonplace, including in poor urban areas where refrigeration wasn’t available. Canned meat, because of mass production, might be more available and less costly than fresh meat, and would certainly last longer. (It’s now considered subpar to easily available fresh meat, but many people still have a can in their pantry or two, just in case, and canned tuna is a quite popular way to keep fresh cooked fish around for snacking without dealing with the smell). For households with two working parents or with only one parent, canned food was a convenient way to stock the larder for the week and still be able to provide your family with a decent meal. During the war, women who worked during the day and had a husband off in combat (or had a husband who had died in combat) still had to come home and feed their families, but without the eight hours a day they normally had to shop, prepare, and cook a meal (and do the laundry, and clean the home, and the million other unpaid labor activities that are always overlooked in homemakers and took a lot longer before industrialization).

After WWII, canned food was a major sub-industry because of all this, but with improved shipping speeds and preservation methods, it was also on the decline as an in-demand product; we started getting seasonal fruit and veg year-round which put the demand for canned food, sold next to said fresh food, on the decline. Marketing offices for canned food producers turned to aggressively marketing quick-cook recipes as a method of selling more product – if you can empty a can of condensed cream-of-mushroom soup into a dish instead of chopping and sauteeing fresh mushrooms and adding a cream-soup base, you’d save at least forty to fifty minutes of your time, you wouldn’t have to worry about buying mushrooms and cream (neither of which keep long, even in refrigeration) and you’d get a meal that was still pretty tasty. Particularly for boomers, who were raised on this method of cooking, it’s a totally normal flavor in prepared food. Keeping a can of cream-of-mushroom soup in the pantry was standard, and we used them in our house with regularity. The only reason I don’t keep one in my own pantry is that I have a dry soup mix that just requires adding mushrooms, and I have pre-chopped mushrooms available to me within two blocks of my apartment, plus the time, money, and able-bodiedness to procure them. You can get five or six cans of cream of mushroom soup for the cost of a pint of cream and a container of mushrooms, and you don’t have to walk from the veg aisle on one side of the store to the dairy aisle, usually on the opposite side. 

Also in the 1950s, canned food was a common stockpile item against nuclear winter. Cold-war thinking bred two generations, the Boomers and the older GenXers, who wanted lots of food on hand in case we ended up nuked by Russia. Preparation for the Cold War honestly is the reason that people freak out about natural disasters and end up buying tons of fresh food, because those two generations were indoctrinated into the idea that any disaster means lack of available food. 

And canned food in the pantry means if you get home at the end of the day and you’re exhausted, you don’t have to drive to a supermarket (remember that in the US there are very few corner groceries outside of major urban areas anymore, and many urban areas contain “food deserts” with no groceries at all). You can open a can, pour it into a pot, maybe dress it up a little, and have a decent hot meal. Making baked beans from dried beans, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, takes hours even if you do have a slow cooker; making baked beans from a can takes either 30 minutes (if you have plain canned beans; this also requires tomato sauce or ketchup or bbq sauce, plus brown sugar or molasses) or 10 minutes (if you have canned pork and beans, which might enjoy some added mustard and bbq sauce but don’t require them). And it’s a reasonably nutritious, filling meal. 

Canned bread dough has to be refrigerated. It’s a sub-luxury food – it’s cheap and convenient but still needs to be bought relatively fresh and requires some, but not much, labor to prepare. It’s a nice dressing on the table if you have extra energy, or a fun meal to make with your family that doesn’t involve hours in the kitchen. Rolling little sausages up in Pilsbury dough takes maybe half an hour, but it doesn’t take the hour and a half to two hours it would if you had to make the dough from scratch. And in our culture where “quick cook” is aggressively marketed to sell convenience foods, there’s some competition to be had in terms of who can come up with the most imaginative use of this food – what’s the best thing to stuff into the bread, how do you cope best with the triangular shape, how delicious can you make this essentially convenience food. 

So, in short (too late) canned food in this country arises from need and continues to cater to it, influenced by a combination of Madison Avenue, the military-industrial complex, and the shrinking quality of life for the middle and working class. 

This is brilliantly explained food and economic history right here.

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CrystalDave
20 days ago
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Seattle, WA
bibliogrrl
20 days ago
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Chicago!
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Easy Come …

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The Ironman Heavymetalweight wrestling championship operates under 24/7 rules, meaning that the titleholder must defend it at all times against all comers. This has bred some chaos, with the belt changing hands more than 1,170 times. English wrestler Laura James won the belt in June and lost it the same day to her cat, Bunny (above). Other notable winners:

  • a monkey
  • a miniature Dachshund
  • a Hello Kitty doll
  • a baseball bat
  • three different ladders
  • a chicken doll
  • a poster
  • a ringside mat
  • a pint of beer
  • a steel chair
  • two inflatable love dolls
  • Vince McMahon’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • an “invisible wrestler”
  • three elementary school girls
  • the entire audience of Beyond Wrestling’s Americanrana ’16

Heroically, the belt itself became the 1,000th champion. Sanshiro Takagi, the 999th titleholder, was attempting to retire when Poison Sawada knocked him out with the belt, which fell on his chest, “pinning” him. The referee counted him out.

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CrystalDave
23 days ago
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Patron Saint Bluebell

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ursula-vernon:

Hey, listen. I know the world’s on fire. But listen.

I’ll tell you a thing.

On the day after the election, when everything was worst and all I could do was go numb or cry hysterically, do you know what gave me the most comfort?

It wasn’t the words of Lincoln or Gandhi or Maya Angelou, it wasn’t Psalms or poetry, it wasn’t my grandmother, it wasn’t contemplating the long arc of history. It wasn’t even hugging the dog.

It was the Twitter account @ConanSalaryman.

This is a joke account. It’s somebody who narrates as if Conan was working in an office. Tweets usually sound like “By Crom!” roared Conan. “You jackals cannot schedule a mere interview without gathering in a pack and cackling?!” or “Conan slammed his sword through his desk. Papers and blood rained through the office. Monday was slain.”

I followed it awhile back and have found it funny. (I’m not a huge Robert Howard fan inherently, but whoever is writing these does the schtick well.) But if it had not posted once that day, no one would have noticed at all.

Instead, Conan the Salaryman posted something inspirational. And then replied to dozens of people replying to him, for hours, in character, telling them that by Crom! it was only defeat if we did not stand up again, that the greatest act of strength was to keep walking in the face of hopelessness, that the gods have given the smallest of us strength to enact change, that we must all keep going as long as Crom gave us breath, and tyrants frightened Conan not, but we must look to those unable to fend for themselves. (“Though by Crom! We must hammer ourselves into a support network, not an army!”)

I have no idea who is behind that account. But it was the most bizarrely comforting thing I saw all day, in a day that had very little comfort in it. There was this weight of story behind it. It helped me. I think it helped a lot of people. If only a tiny bit–well, tiny bits help.

I have been thinking a lot lately about Bluebell from Watership Down.

There’s absolutely no reason you should remember Bluebell, unless, to take an example completely and totally at random, you read it eleven thousand times until your copy fell apart because you were sort of a weird little proto-furry kid who loved talking animals more than breath and wrote fan fic and there weren’t any other talking animal books and you now have large swaths memorized as a result. Ahem.

Bluebell is a minor character. He’s Captain Holly’s friend and jester. When the old warren is destroyed, Captain Holly and Bluebell are the last two standing and they stagger across the fields after the main characters. By the end, Holly is raving, hallucinating, and screaming “O zorn!” meaning “all is destroyed” and about to bring predators down on them. And Bluebell is telling stupid jokes.

And they make it the whole way because of Bluebell’s jokes. “Jokes one end, hraka the other,” he says. “I’d roll a joke along the ground and we’d both follow it.” When Holly can’t move, Bluebell tells him jokes that would make Dad jokes look brilliant and Holly is able to move again. When Hazel, the protagonist, tries to shush him, Holly says no, that “we wouldn’t be here without his blue-tit’s chatter.”

I tell you, the last few days, thinking of this, I really start to identify with Bluebell.

I am not a fighter, not an organizer, certainly not a prophet. Throw something at me and I squawk and cover my head. I write very small stories with wombats and hamsters and a cast of single digits. I am not the sort of comforting soul who sits and listens and offers you tea. (What seems like a thousand years ago, when I had the Great Nervous Breakdown of ‘07, I remember saying something to the effect that I had realized that if I had myself as a friend, I would have been screwed, because I was useless at that kind of thing. And a buddy of mine from my college days, who was often depressed, wrote me to say that no, I wasn’t that kind of person, but when we were together I always made her laugh hysterically and that was worth a lot too. I treasured that comment more than I am entirely comfortable admitting.)

But I can roll a joke along the ground until the end of the world if I have to. And increasingly, I think that’s what I’m for in this life. Things are bad and people have died already and I am heartsick and tired and the news is a gibbering horror–but I actually do know why a raven is like a writing desk.

So. First Church of Bluebell. Patron Saint.

Keep holding the line.

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CrystalDave
25 days ago
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The Conan the Salaryman response really was something to see
Seattle, WA
bibliogrrl
25 days ago
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Chicago!
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Your Digital Pinball Machine

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I've had something of an obsession with digital pinball for years now. That recently culminated in me buying a Virtuapin Mini.

OK, yes, it's an extravagance. There's no question. But in my defense, it is a minor extravagance relative to a real pinball machine.

The mini is much smaller than a normal pinball machine, so it's easier to move around, takes up less space, and is less expensive. Plus you can emulate every pinball machine, ever! The Virtuapin Mini is a custom $3k build centered around three screens:

  • 27" main playfield (HDMI)
  • 23" backglass (DVI)
  • 8" digital matrix (USB LCD)

Most of the magic is in those screens, and whether the pinball sim in question allows you to arrange the three screens in its advanced settings, usually by enabling a "cabinet" mode. in a "cabinet" mode:

Let me give you an internal tour. Open the front coin door and detach the two internal nuts for the front bolts, which are finger tight. Then remove the metal lockdown bar and slide the tempered glass out.

The most uniquely pinball item in the case is right at the front. This Digital Plunger Kit connects the 8 buttons (2 on each side, 3 on the front, 1 on the bottom) and includes an analog a tilt sensor and analog plunger sensor. All of which shows up as a standard game controller in Windows.

On the left front side, the audio amplifier and left buttons.

On the right front side, the digital plunger and right buttons.

The 27" playfield monitor is mounted using a clever rod assembly to the standard VESA mount panel on the back, so we can easily rotate which allows you to easily lift it up to work on the inside as needed.

If you need the monitor all the way out, detach the power cord and the HDMI connector. Then you have complete access to the interior.

Notice the large down-firing subwoofer mounted in the middle of the body, as well as the ventilation holes. holes on the bottom. The PC "case" is just a back panel, and the power strip is the Smart Strip kind where it auto-powers everything based on the PC being when the PC is powered on or off. The actual power switch is on the bottom front right of the case.

Powering it up and getting all three screens configured in the pinball sim of your choice results in … magic.

It is a thoroughly professional build, as you'd expect from a company that has been building these pinball rigs for the last decade. It uses real wood, real glass, and authentic wood and real metal pinball parts throughout.

I was truly really impressed by the build quality of this machine. Paul of Virtuapin said they're on roughly version four of the machine and it shows. It's Due to all the wood, metal parts, and tempered glass, it's over 100 pounds fully assembled and arrives on a shipping pallet. I can only imagine how heavy the full size version would be!

That said, I do have some tweaks I recommend:

  • Make absolutely sure you get an IPS panel as your 27" playfield monitor. As arrived, mine had a TN panel and while it was playable if you stood directly in front of the machine, playfield visibility was pretty dire outside that narrow range. I dropped in the BenQ GW2765HT to replace the GL2760H that was in there, and I was golden. If you plan to order, I would definitely talk to Paul at VirtuaPin and specify that you want this IPS display even if it costs a little more. display. The 23" backglass monitor appears to be IPS already so no need to change there.

  • The improved display has a 1440p resolution compared to the 1080p originally shipped, so you might want to upgrade from the GeForce 750 Ti video card to the just-released 1050 Ti. This is not strictly required, as I found the 750 Ti an excellent performer even at the higher resolution, but I plan to play only fully 3D pinball sims and the 1050 Ti gets excellent reviews for $140, so I went for it.

  • Internally everything is exceptionally well laid out, the only very minor improvement I'd recommend is connecting the rear exhaust fan to the motherboard header so its fan speed can be dynamically controlled by the computer rather than being at full power all the time.

  • On the Virtuapin website order form the PC they provide sounds quite outdated, but don't sweat it: I picked the lowest options thinking I would have to replace it all, and but they shipped me a Haswell based quad-core PC with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, even though those options weren't even on the order form.

I realize $3k (plus palletized shipping) is a lot of money, but I estimate it would cost you at least $1500 in parts to build this machine, plus a month of personal labor. Provided you get the IPS playfield monitor, this is a solidly constructed "real" pinball machine, and if you're into digital pinball like I am, it's an absolute joy to play and a good deal for what you actually get. As Ferris Bueller once said:

If you'd like you want to experiment with this and don't have three grand burning a hole in your pocket, 90% of digital pinball simulation is a widescreen display in portrait mode. Rotate To get a sense of whether you'd like it, rotate one of your monitors, add another monitor if you're feeling extra fancy, and give it a go.

As for software, most people talk about Visual Pinball for these machines, and it works. But the combination of janky hacked-together 2D bitmap technology used in the gameplay, and the fact that all those designs are ripoffs that pay nothing in licensing back to the original pinball manufacturers really bothers me.

I prefer Pinball Arcade in DirectX 11 mode, which is downright beautiful, easily (and legally!) obtainable via Steam and offers a stable of 60+ incredible officially licensed classic pinball tables to choose from, all meticulously recreated in high resolution 3D with excellent physics.

As for getting pinball simulations running on your three monitor setup, if you're lucky the game will have a cabinet mode you can turn on. Unfortunately, this can be weird due to … licensing issues. Apparently building a pinball sim on the computer requires entirely different licensing than placing it inside a full-blown pinball cabinet.

Pinball Arcade has a nifty camera hack someone built that lets you position three cameras as needed to get the three displays. You will also need the excellent x360ce program to dynamically map joystick events and buttons to a simulated Xbox 360 controller.

Pinball FX2 added a cabinet mode about a year ago, but turning it on requires a special code and you have to send them a picture of your cabinet (!) to get that code. I did, and the cabinet mode works great; just enter enable cabinet mode with your code, specify the coordinates of each screen in the settings and you are good to go. While these tables definitely have arcadey physics, I find them great fun and there are a ton to choose from.

Pro Pinball Timeshock Ultra is unique because it's originally from 1997 and was one of the first "simulation" level pinball games. The current rebooted version is still pre-rendered graphics rather than 3D, but the client downloads the necessary gigabytes of pre-rendered content at your exact screen resolution and it looks amazing.

Timeshock has explicit cabinet support in the settings and via command line tweaks. Position each window as necessary, then enable fullscreen for each one and it'll snap to the monitor you placed it on. It's "only" one table, but arguably the most classic of all pinball sims. a classic pinball sim, and I sincerely hope they continue to reboot the rest of the Pro Pinball series, including Big Race USA which is my favorite.

I've always loved pinball machines, even though they struggled to keep up with the arcade games of their day. In some ways I view my current project, Discourse, Discourse, as an analog to classic pinball machines attempting to bridge the gap to the modern day:

The fantastic 60 minute documentary Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball has so many parallels with what we're trying to do for forum software.

Pinball is threatened by Video Games, in the same way that Forums are threatened by Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Snapchat. They're considered old and archaic technology. They've stopped being sexy and interesting relative to what else is available.

Pinball was forced to reinvent itself several times throughout the years, from mechanical, to solid state, to computerized. And the defining characteristic of each "era" of pinball is that the new tables, once you played them, made all the previous pinball games seem immediately obsolete because of all the new technology.

The Pinball 2000 project was an attempt to invent the next generation of pinball machines:

It wasn't a new feature, a new hardware set, it was everything new. We have to get everything right. We thought that we had reinvented the wheel. And in many respects, we had.

This is exactly what we want to do with Discourse – build a forum experience so advanced that playing will make all previous forum software seem immediately obsolete.

Discourse aims to save forums and make them relevant and useful to a whole new generation.

So if I seem a little more nostalgic than most about pinball, perhaps a little too nostalgic at times, maybe that's why.

[advertisement] Building out your tech team? Stack Overflow Careers helps you hire from the largest community for programmers on the planet. We built our site with developers like you in mind.
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CrystalDave
38 days ago
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smadin
35 days ago
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this is kind of wild.
Boston
icepotato
34 days ago
holy god do i want this.
samuel
35 days ago
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Such a great writeup. I've never played digital pinball as an adult (save for back in the mid-90s on Windows) but I think it'd be pretty great after reading this.
The Haight in San Francisco
drchuck
35 days ago
"90% of digital pinball simulation is a widescreen display in portrait mode." That's what I do with Pinball Arcade on Steam, rotate my monitor 90 degrees and bam, instant pinball sim.
WorldMaker
32 days ago
@drchuck I wish Pinball FX2 was better at cross-platform unlocks because I have a bunch of Xbox table unlocks (from when the 360 was their best client) and there is a special magic to pulling up Pinball FX2 in portrait on a touch screen.

Security Lessons from a Power Saw

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Lance Spitzner looks at the safety features of a power saw and tries to apply them to Internet security:

By the way, here are some of the key safety features that are built into the DeWalt Mitre Saw. Notice in all three of these the human does not have to do anything special, just use the device. This is how we need to think from a security perspective.

  • Safety Cover: There is a plastic safety cover that protects the entire rotating blade. The only time the blade is actually exposed is when you lower the saw to actually cut into the wood. The moment you start to raise the blade after cutting, the plastic cover protects everything again. This means to hurt yourself you have to manually lower the blade with one hand then insert your hand into the cutting blade zone.

  • Power Switch: Actually, there is no power switch. Instead, after the saw is plugged in, to activate the saw you have to depress a lever. Let the lever go and saw stops. This means if you fall, slip, blackout, have a heart attack or any other type of accident and let go of the lever, the saw automatically stops. In other words, the saw always fails to the off (safe) position.

  • Shadow: The saw has a light that projects a shadow of the cutting blade precisely on the wood where the blade will cut. No guessing where the blade is going to cut.

Safety is like security, you cannot eliminate risk. But I feel this is a great example of how security can learn from others on how to take people into account.

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CrystalDave
52 days ago
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duerig
52 days ago
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This is interesting because I have had a lot of experience with mitre saws in the last couple of years.

The one piece of safety not mentioned is the possibility of a kickback and the consequent need for always clamping before you cut. Kickback is rare enough that many people avoid clamping their work. But it is potentially very dangerous when it does happen if things aren't clamped.

My slogan is "Who has two thumbs because he always clamps his work? This guy!"

But this also points to the difference between safety and security. There are a lot of more or less rare safety issues. But they are predictable because you are dealing with uncorrelated events. When you are dealing with a malicious agent instead, every tiny chink in the defenses is almost as bad as an open gateway.

The safety cover of a saw minimizes the time when a blade is exposed. But in security, even small time windows of exposure (access() then open() race conditions for example) are major flaws.
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