Sunday, April 06, 2008

Solid smoke

Joe Kittinger (the guy who jumped out of a balloon at 102,800 feet) was honored at the National Air and Space Museum. ABC did a nice interview. Also honored was the NASA Stardust team who flew aerogel through the tail of a comet. Aerogel is weird stuff, I bought tiny pieces on ebay. These pictures from JPL are amazing: a real brick looking like it is floating on smoke, and crayons insulated from a flame, demonstrating aerogel's thermal properties.

Changing the subject, Dr. Dobb's Journal published an article about Byzantine faults. We spent a lot of time in graduate school thinking about Byzantine agreement while formally specifying systems. The topic comes up when you have distributed critical systems that need to agree.

Speaking of agreement, an idea behind mutation testing is that programs written from the same specification should produce the same answers. In high school I was the operator for a payroll system that was replacing manual procedures. Unfortunately, the payroll software was being written while we were using it every week to cut $100,000 in payroll checks. Because of round-off, the software was not getting the same answer the parallel paper-and-pencil process. As this post in Risks says, there was "huge panic, much headless chicken behaviour" (the follow-up Risks post is also good). Our accountants did not like being a few cents off each week :)