There is a well-known ratio in engineering; 80:20. This ratio crops up in software engineering too and refers to several rules-of-thumb that sound a bit flippant but in my experience are valuable real-world guides when managing software development projects. This is also called the ‘Pareto Principle‘.
At the organisation where I am a software engineer, discussions and debates about software development methodologies and tools (such as UML, Agile, XP etc) has gone on for a long time. There is a general feeling that these are a Good Idea, and that we should embrace them, but variety and complexity seem to be big barriers to actually implementing them for real and changing the way we do things.
Yesterday I climbed to the summit of Ben Starav, in Glen Etive, at 1078m (photographs here). The walk starts at sea level and goes straight up to the summit via a 3km rocky ridge, so is a relatively hard slog. I’d tried to get to the top of this mountain two years ago, in January 2005, but had to give up about 50m below the summit due to a boulder field that was layered with thick verglas. Stupidly, I did not have my crampons with me that time but made sure I had them this time. However, I did not need them nor did I need an ice-axe. There was only a thin coating of snow above about 1000m, which is very unusual for this time of year. The snow that fell in January over the mountains appears to have almost completely gone, potentially making this winter a real non-event for any winter mountaineering activities.
In the software team where I work there is a strong focus on using Java as the language of choice for building web-based applications. Now, Java has many strengths. In an environment where many software engineers are working on the same code, and the purpose of that code is to interface with diverse data sources and deliver an enterprise-scale application via a web-based interface (i.e. an HTTP browser), then its usage is a no-brainer.
There’s been a lot of talk on the news recently about safety in the mountains, prompted by several deaths in the past few months in the Coire an t-Sneachda area of the Cairngorm mountains. Yes, there’s no question that people die in the Scottish mountains, especially in winter, and even if they have all the right equipment, experience and training. But the arguments and discussions seem to lack perspective. People die doing all sorts of things, from riding a bike to painting their house. To remove all risk from one’s life is utterly pointless.
I’m currently taking a detailed a look at what it means to make a website completely ‘secure’. This is a bit of an unattainable concept really, given that there are so many hackers and spammers out there, and there are so many ways they can cause havoc. However, there are a few basic things that people working on web-based applications can do that will make their website 80-90% secure, and hopefully dissuade all but the most determined intruders.