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I apologize to Stan Shebs and to RISKS readers for not having sufficiently exerted my responsibility as moderator regarding the Shebs/D'Ippolito exchange. Sorry. Occasionally one slips by. Rich D'Ippolito's message was less than circumspect. I probably should have let them try to agree on a counterposition and a rebuttal before troubling you all. However, there are some important issues raised. A response from Stan Shebs follows, along with four other commentaries.
I didn't expect such a violent reaction to my comments on cruise missile software that appeared in RISKS-8.86, but several of my remarks really ought to be clarified. First off, I worked on ALCM 1981-82, fresh out of Texas A&M, with no programming experience outside of research projects, and my only education in software engineering having been to read "The Mythical Man-Month". Boeing did not require any training in their software methodology (they probably offered some, but I don't remember), we just learned on-the-job. (Friends who are still there tell me that things have improved in the past several years.) My original article was written as personal impressions, for a non-expert audience, and unfortunately Jon's quoting couldn't make it into more of a learned treatise. > From: rsd@SEI.CMU.EDU > In RISKS 8.86, Jon Jacky quotes Stan Shebs: <> We supposedly had a "model" software engineering methodology; what I <> remember most clearly is that half the work was done on one flavor of IBM <> OS, and the other half done on a different flavor, and file transfer <> between the two was tricky and time-consuming. > The coupled clauses are unrelated, a compositional practice Mr. Shebs is > apparently quite fond of. In this case, it was a subtle (clearly too subtle) literary device; there was almost no relation between the official methodology and daily practice. The process of conforming to the DoD's requirements resulted in a fanatical adherence to the letter of the standards, with almost no concern for actual quality. I had written some tricky code and proved its correctness; it got thrown away because it was "too general". We had an independent auditor that checked over the documentation and found missing commas, while completely ignoring the parts of the program design that parroted Fortran code without saying anything about its structure. I could go on, but this is supposed to be a clarification, not an independent message. > [...] > Of course the program design should have been documented beforehand, but > recognizing that it is necessary to have for testing and maintenance > purposes is not stupid. I have seen many systems where the software is very > old (or inhereted) and must be re-documented to current standards. What was > the case here? The software was about a year old I believe; probably the same standards were in effect then, but I can't say for sure. It was written under considerable time pressure and almost entirely free of comments. The experience of trying to puzzle out the workings of 30k lines of mixed Fortran, Cobol, and assembler was truly horrible. Management knew it was all a sham, but they just asked us to go along with it. (Funny, 30k lines doesn't seem like a lot anymore - times change...) <> (Regarding) statistics on software quality, the closest thing we had was <> maybe a count of problem reports (hundreds, but each report ranged from <> one-liners to one-monthers in terms of effort required). > Sigh. There is no mention here whether this applies to _delivered_ product > or corrected production errors. Is this his view of what constitutes > quality? I believe the numbering of software problem reports started after delivery of the first version, but I don't know for sure. The whole setup seemed pretty disorganized; for instance, there was no formal system for module-level testing, before or after delivery, and regression testing was limited to rerunning a set of standard flight paths, which weren't complicated enough even to test all the paths in the program code, let alone boundary cases. > This article was posted to illuminate "the accuracy/quality of strategic > weapons guidance systems", presumably by offering a coherent and reasoned > exposition. Instead, it presents jokes, innuendo, and unsubstantiated > charges and conclusions in indefinite (and sloppy, such as the 1/2 inch > diameter missile) language such as: It never occurred to me that anybody could possibly misinterpret "6 meters long and 1/2 in diameter", but it must be possible. For the record, it's 1/2 *meter* (actually more like 2/3, but who cares). <> The difficulty of all this apparently didn't occur to anybody until after <> the missile was working... This was what I heard from the people who were there at the time. They may not have been entirely accurate, but the objective evidence and the history of the ALCM program support this. Old documents seem to assume that laying out a mission by hand in the traditional way is good enough. In actuality, the missile is so sluggish that it has to begin climbing long before it reaches a hill, or it will end up plowing into the side (this actually happened during testing). <> ...error accumulation over 2000 km is immense,... We had graphs of just how bad inertial navigation gets over long distances. The actual numbers are probably classified, but in general an inertially guided missile would be useful only against cities; silos and other hardened sites require much more accurate navigation techniques. > Rich D'Ippolito stan shebs firstname.lastname@example.org
I found the comments of Rich D'Ippolito in RISKS 9.1 ("A 'model' software engineering methodology") to be unconvincing and ill mannered. Mr. D'Ippolito is offended by a some anecdotes posted in RISKS 8.86 which reflect poorly on the design and implementation of a cruise missile ( John Jacky, quoting Stan Shebs). The points which Mr. D'Ippolito references are: 1) The development was carried out on 2 incompatible development platforms --- file transfer between the 2 systems was ``tricky and time consuming". 2) The "Program Design" was written after the program was written. 3) There failure conditions of the program seemed to have been poorly planned for, e.g, error accummulation over a long flight path, and the effects of snowfall on topography. 4) Program quality was measured by raw count of problem reports without reference to the complexity of the reported problems. These are all significant problems, which cannot be dismissed by the ad hominem arguments presented by Mr. D'Ippolito. Mr. Shebs is not the first person to point out instances of sloppy software engineering in D.O.D. projects, but I found his story interesting and informative. Mr. D'Ippolito argues in the mode of a press secretary, rather than as a scientist. Comments such as: >Really, if Mr. Shebs's rambling demonstrates anything, it shows that the >greatest risk is hiring inarticulate and confused programmers like himself >who don't have the faintest idea what software engineering is. are out of place and offensive. Victor Yodaiken
In the 6 July Risks Mr. D'Ippolito somewhat justifiably takes Mr. Shebs to task about his criticisms of the Cruise Missile project Mr. Shebs was a part of. However, one comment relating to producing the design specification after coding was completed brought back my memories of being one of the senior staff during the mid-80s for the Navy's version of this missile, called Tomahawk. In the view of the project's mangement, the required documentation was an unnecessary burden placed on us hardworking developers by government bureaucrats. An example was the spec. which provided an English description fo the guidance software line-by-line. It was essentially useless. The guidance software had been developed in the usual atmosphere of intense deadline pressure, with the highest priority given to making the thing work. As a result, the code was not a textbook example of modularity and understandability. In fact, the documentation probably was irrelevant, since the engineers and computer scientists used simulations of the guidance system and software models of the guidance equations to develop the system. My point is that these projects are examples of the fact that industry is just beginning to recognize the size of the investment they are making in software, and the technologies needed. Most defense contractors (there is a Carnegie-Mellon survey on this) are only now coming out of the Stone Age of focusing on coding in marathon sessions to produce software while producing reams of documentation. However, it is by no means clear that applying what we think of as state-of-the-art that we will do much better.
I think a large part of the comments by email@example.com, in the 6/Jul/89 Risks-digest, were personal attacks on Stan Shebs; such attacks are relevant to risks only to the extent that they discourage whistle-blowers, lest the ayatollahs attack them too. Was that the intention of these remarks? Gideon Yuval, gideony@microsof.UUCP, 206-882-8080 (fax:206-883-8101;TWX:160520) Paper-mail: Microsoft, 16011 NE 36th way, Redmond, Wa., 98073-9717
In RISKS Digest 9.1 a certain gentlemen responds and quotes liberally from another gentleman's experiences in software engineering for missile guidance systems. The jist of the article seemed to be that the original poster was incompetent and that his remarks were irrelevant, derogatory, and totally without merit. Ahem, Isn't this just possibly another example of shooting the messenger because of the message??? I once worked for a defense contractor who manufactured submarines for the U.S. Navy (There are only two in this country, take your pick.) Quite often there was a tremendous difference between The Way It Is and The Way It Is Supposed To Be. Sometimes design and manufacturing errors were found. Sometimes they were buried. But usually, the reputation (of the company and the Navy) was more important that the viability of the product. The RISKS involved are probably as old as engineering itself; that is, creating an absurd or impossible situation, and then deriding the first person who brings attention to the problem. Where would the Emperor be today if someone had not pointed out the 'design flaw' in his new clothes? If we cannot learn from our mistakes, we just rename them; "Success". (1/2 :-) Jon Loux The University of Connecticut Flames? Go ahead, bake my Cray.
Sean Mathews brings back shades of when I was working on flight projects. Dicey stuff. All examples he documents (starting with no dynamic memory [I was amused by starting with this]) are all standard operating procedure (so believed in the defense and aerospace arenas). These ideas date back decades (not just years). Since NASA was mentioned (and projects differ), I should mention that the policy of explicitly reading machine code is from the days of smaller memories. The Agency is trying to get away from this. The code is still generated (I know where this example comes from) by HAL/S computers for the shuttle (HAL, BTW does not have dynamic memory, or any of the features [no multiprocessor support, etc.]). Sean's posting does raise quite a few other questions: Is there explicit range checking? Are there comments on performance? Are there specifications on clocks and interrupt handling? Etc. For the classic summary to Sean's misgivings of the merchants of killing and mayhem. It was Andy Mickel at U. Minn. who in the early days of Ada published: "Reliable software must kill people reliably." [Pascal News]. --eugene miya
Here are some comments on Sean Matthews's posting: >1. There should be no dynamic memory allocation (This rules out explicit >recursion - though a bounded stack is allowed). As a practical matter, this requirement rules out all real software systems. Also, I do not see why this makes software safer. I think this will result in less safe software, since there will be arbitrary limits on the length of everything. All last names must be 30 chars or less, all place names must be 40 chars or less, etc. Long buffer sizes will lessen the impact, but take up more space. >2. There should be no interupts except for a regular clock interupt. >3. There should not be any distributed processing >4. There should not be any multiprocessing. As a practical matter, these requirements rule out most (all?) real systems. Also, I do not see why software which does none of these things is safer than software which does all of them. These requirements seems to be designed to compensate for the (huge) limitations of current program verification techniques. >10. No optimising compilers will be used. What is an optimising compiler? This is a serious question. GCC with no arguments provides better code than PCC or Sun's CC, does that make it an optimized compiler? What if you give it a -O1 option, or a -O3 option (which turns on more optimization). All compilers do some optimization. Point 10 should say something like "All compilers used must be verified to the same level of certainty as the programs they are compiling." It is kind of useless to verify a program and then run it through a compiler which is not verified. Of course writing a compiler which does not use dynamic memory (see point 1) would be an interesting exercise! Overall, I found these standards funny, not useful. My conclusion is that no safety critical software can not be written in the UK since points 1 and 2 will mean that none of it will be up to standard. Joshua Levy firstname.lastname@example.org work:(408)734-9822 home:(415)968-3718
Sean Matthews writes of the UK safety-critical software standard: > 2-4 seem to leave no option but polling. This is impractical, > especially in embedded systems. No one is going to build a fly by > wire system with those sorts of restrictions. Polling is absolutely the safest and most-used method for programming embedded systems for saftey-critical applications. It is a commonly held fallacy that the essence of a real-time embedded system is FAST response to external stimuli -- that interrupts are therefore important. The essence of real-time embedded systems is a GUARANTEE of a specified, finite response time to EACH stimulus. Many embedded systems divide real time into a hierarchy of time slots, and execute fixed subroutines in each time slot (i.e. "polling"). This makes it relatively easy to verify that the program can meet all response time requirements. Stimuli requiring slower responses are handled by routines that run less often, and routines running more often handle stimuli requiring faster response. Every routine can be proven to run in less time than the length of one time slot. Additional advantages: The trivial scheduling algorithm makes the interaction between the routines vastly easier to write and verify than is the case in a system that can switch tasks at random times. Response time bottlenecks can be identified and addressed early in the development cycle. It is easy to match the requirements of the sources/sinks of stimuli/responses and the capabilities of the embedded computer. And on and on ... In short, when a life depends on your system ... KISS (Keep It Simple [,|and] Stupid) Norm Finn Ultra Network Technologies, 101 Daggett Dr., San Jose, CA 95134 (408) 922-0100
While the previous posting in RISKS didn't mention this, the "destroyed files" regarding the Exxon oil spill were apparently actually simply the routine recycling of a month-old (or older) backup dump tape. Exxon has continued to state that they believe all files are still online or in paper form. Obviously the correct procedure would have been to explicitly order the preservation of those dumps, and nobody wants to condone Exxon's handling of this whole affair, but it is worth noting that the deletion in question was apparently the result of routine computer center operations common to many environments, not some "explicit" act of destruction.
Today's (09 July 89) Washington Post has several articles about the latest trend in foods: Frequent Shoppers Programs. For those of you not aware of this, it is similar to Frequent Flyer Programs used by the airlines. When you buy an item at your local mega-chain supermarket, your purchase is noted in a large customer database and you are given a credit on your account, and when your account reaches certain defined levels, you receive coupons for various foodstuffs. Simple right? Wrong. First, the markets are proposing to record more than a purchase of so many dollars and cents. They intend to record the specific brands and items you bought. Based on this information and your address information, markets want to start targetting mailings of flyers and coupons to you. If their records show you have started to buy baby food recently, the AI routines that examine the data base will note this, and flag your record to be sent coupons on other baby products, such as diapers and lotions. This is in fact not a terrible thing. If markets want to spend money send paper in the mail to people who may or may not use them, there are far more useless ways to spend money. The problem is the second application. It seems that the markets want to sell this information to the manufacturers (the Campbell Soups, the Nabiscos, the General Foods, and so on) for use by their own marketing people. This also raises the traditional right to privacy issues. I wonder how much longer it will be till I will not be able to go into my local Giant Food and buy a bag of flour, because their demographic survey shows that no one eats in my apartment building.
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