Brad Feld

Category: Technology

Dan Bricklin has a great essay on his site today titled Software That Lasts 200 Years. Dan is indubitably one of the world’s great software visionaries and his thoughts are always worth reading.

This essay was especially poignant for me since the first significant custom software application I wrote is still in use today. I wrote the Bellflower Dental System (a patient management, scheduling, and insurance billing system) for a large dental practice in 1985 and deployed it in 1987 (amazingly, their phone number is the same as it was in 1985, except the area code has changed from 310 to 562). Bellflower Dental Group is a large practice (at the time, they had over 50,000 patients) and the system was incredibly complex. My first company – Feld Technologies – continued to do work on it through 1993 when I sold the company to AmeriData. AmeriData continued to support the application until I left in 1995 since by that time I was pretty much the only person around that could modify the software without breaking everything. Once a year, until about 1999, I got a call from my friends at Bellflower and made a trip out there to tune things up. In 1999, we had to modify a bunch of the system for the year 2000 bug (yes – we had it everywhere – who would have thought that this would still be working 15 years later in 1985). I hired Dave Jilk – who was my partner in Feld Technologies and between gigs – to do this since I simply didn’t have time to do it. After this experience, we finally hooked them up with some local consultants that knew DataFlex – the language the system was written in (amazingly DataFlex – is still around today) and the software – as far as I know – has continued to work. Twenty years is a long time for any software system – especially the first one I actually created.

Now – a dental billing system is not an example of what Dan calls Societal Infrastructure Software (SIS), but it is an example of Software Durability, which is one of the tenants of Societal Infrastructure Software. In his essay Dan states, “We need to start thinking about software in a way more like how we think about building bridges, dams, and sewers. What we build must last for generations without total rebuilding. This requires new thinking and new ways of organizing development. This is especially important for governments of all sizes as well as for established, ongoing businesses and institutions.”

Dan’s argument for the need for Societal Infrastructure Software includes:

  • Meet the functional requirements of the task.
  • Robustness and long-term stability and security.
  • Transparency to determine when changes are needed and that undesired functions are not being performed.
  • Verifiable trustworthiness of all three of the above.
  • Ease and low cost of training for effective use.
  • Ease and low cost of maintenance.
  • Minimization of maintenance.
  • Ease and low cost of modification.
  • Ease of replacement.
  • Compatibility and ease of integration with other applications.
  • Long-term availability of individuals able to train, maintain, modify, determine need for changes, etc.

Dan uses the analog analog of civil engineering in his essay. The first formal computer science classes I took at MIT was Course 1.00: Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving so the analog struck close to home. Dan is clear that these ideas are only for one part of the software world. He specifically is responding to his thoughts as a result of writings and actions of the Massachusetts State Executive Office for Administration and Finance as it deals with its Information Technology needs.

The essay is definitely worth reading if you are in the software industry.

We’ve been struggling with the explosion of social networking software and our perception of its usefulness for a while. David Hornik from August Capital has a priceless post on the Churchill Club’s event last night called Blogging and Social Networking: Who Cares?

A brief except of the full post follows:

“Welcome blah blah blah relationship capital blah blah blah social contracts blah blah blah media businesses blah blah blah identify the rabid fans of the iPod blah blah blah utility media blah blah blah this is the future of the web blah blah blah RSS blah blah blah Spam blah blah blah killer app blah blah blah business model blah blah blah advertising model blah blah blah is this a product or a feature blah blah blah a feature doesn’t make a business blah blah blah leveraging relationships blah blah blah decentralized system blah blah blah privacy concerns blah blah blah profiling people blah blah blah social networking is blogging dumbed down for the masses blah blah blah…”

Thanks David – that was a good one.

I’m on an airplane from Denver to Philadelphia blissfully listening to U2 on my Ipod using my new Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones.

These things are awesome. What took me so long to discover them? If you fly more than once a month, I command you to save your soul and go buy a pair now. Buy them on the Bose site and I get nothing, buy them on the Amazon site and I get enough money to buy a pizza.

I’m as happy as one can be on an airplane. United forgot my Asian Veggie meal again, but who cares – I can’t hear them because my headphones are cancelling out their noise.

My partner Gary Rieschel was recently part of a Time Magazine roundtable that has shown up in an article titled Start-Up Your Engines! One of the topics that came up was social networking. Judith Meskill wrote about the exchange in her post on The Social Software Weblog titled Social Networking Glut = Greater Than Four.

To date, my personal experience with social networking services (yes – I’m a member of many of them – just to see how they work) is that it’s content enhanced spam. For example, so far I’ve received about 300 linkedin request and have accepted 108 requests (hence – having 108 connections). From these connections (directly or indirectly), I’ve received about 10 actual requests for something with only two of them either (a) appearing remotely interesting or (b) from people I felt comfortable hooking up. So – there have probably been 1000 emails involved in this experience, at least 300 visits to the linkedin web site, and absolutely no value to me.

My conclusion is that the current construct of social networking is a feature of a product. So – the concept of a “social networking company” doesn’t make sense to me. When combined with something like a blog search engine, you start to get somewhere. David Sifry from Technorati and I were talking about this today – you can start to see where my network, combined with what I’m interested, who I’m interested in, and who I’m connected to starts to become more interesting.

Now, I know that Tickle was just acquired by Monster Worldwide for about $90m and that ZeroDegrees was acqured by InterActiveCorp (although I don’t know the price). While Tickle had a very nice ad revenue business (the press release says TTM was $25m), you can see that Monster bought Tickle not for the ad revenue (although that helps), but for the “Online Assessment Testing” feature for Monster’s onlne recruiting product.

So – look for the feature of “social networking” evolving into something broader as the cross product of two other constructs (thing-of-real-value = social-networking x something-else).

I hate spam (who doesn’t). While I was running this morning, it dawned on me that spam was ruining the english language. “Huh – you ask?”

I noticed a handful of emails yesterday that had perversions of cuss words (I grew up in Texas – we called them “cusses”, not swears or curses.) All of a sudden, one of my partners is saying “shite” instead of “shit” and I’m seeing “f*ck”, “fcuk“, and “b*st*d” in casual emails to me. Oh – and there’s a preponderance of “frig”-related words (frig, friggin, frigging).

A simple spam blocking technique is to block messages with “dirty words”. Many people (me included) have no ability to eliminate profanity from their thoughts (and subsequently what comes out of their mouths or off their fingers). My mom tried to help solve this problem when I was young, but she failed, and now she’s proud of my shameless cussing (ok – I’ve convinced myself of that – maybe she just ignores me.) So – now critical email isn’t getting through because spam filters can’t figure out that when I type something like “That idea is a pile of shit.” that I mean “What a bad idea”. Or – when I type “fucking awesome man!” I’m simply trying to emphasize how excited I am.

Hence – the downfall of the english language. We have to either (a) go back to using non-profane adjectives, nouns, and verbs, (b) pervert the cusses, or (c) improve the spam filters.

Damn spam.

Google weighed in on the Spyware problem with a recent Google-blog on the issue. While it’s obviously self-serving based on Google’s core advertising business being competitive with the revenue model for most Spyware companies (at least those that are not in the business of also selling Anti-Spyware software), it’s thoughtful and well articulated. John Battelle decomposed it effectively.

Google references Lavasoft and Spybot. Given that I was in Spyware hell last night (fighting with my home machine for three hours – I learned way more than I wanted to about my Registry), I found Lavasoft’s freeware product Ad-Aware to be the most effective thing I’ve found so far.

I’m amazed by this problem. I’ve been dealing with it for a while, but have noticed a recent spike across all medium (spam, spim, blam, spyware) – and it’s obviously making me nuts.

Ok – it’s been out of control for a while. Spam continues at epidemic proportions. Spim (IM Spam) is starting to emerge. Blam (Blog Spam) has exploded on the scene. Spyware is everywhere. Anti-Spyware – which is supposed to eliminate Spyware – is being sold as a solution by the Spyware players.

Blam is the first problem that’s bugging me today – fortunately I haven’t been nailed by it yet (although I’m sure I will as a result of this post). To see real pain from the recently blammed, take a look at Jeff Nolan’s post on comment spam. Jeff’s trying a homegrown IP blacklist, which won’t work (it didn’t work for Spam very well – it won’t work for Blam). Dave Sifry from Technorati wrote a good post on various approaches to Blam. I expect this area to evolve rapidly, especially as the email security folks (Brightmail, Postini, etc.) notice the problem.

Spyware is next. I’ve been using Spybot for a while and it works pretty well. A local company – Webroot – is doing great – so I gave it a try. I was fascinated by the difference – within 24 hours I had a different set of persistent problems then I’d had with Spybot. No matter how hard these guys try, the bad guys move faster.

I heard a rumor recently that spyware vendor 180Solutions, the guys behind Ncase are out shopping for an anti-spyware vendor to add to their product mix after their recent venture financing from Spectrum Equity. XOFTSPY has a scam going also – here’s a great rant on it.

I’m just bewildered by all of this. Haven’t we already seen this movie from the massive proliferation of viruses and spam? The government is getting involved now – oh goody.