Developer Week in Review: Brother, can you spare $100 billion?

Wall Street "Likes" Facebook, Wikimedia has a Lua, and AT&T tried to copyright thin air.

In the old days, when modems came in wooden boxes and dinosaurs ruled the earth, kids would go door to door selling cookies for Girl Scouts or magazine subscriptions to raise money for a school trip. These days, partially because of safety issues with kids out on the streets by themselves, it’s usually the parents who end up bringing boxes of chocolate bars and cookie order sheets to work.

Long story short, my male-spawn’s 4-H group is planning a service project to Dominica and is trying to offset the significant costs involved in getting down there with some tax-deductible donations. I thought I’d pin a notice up on the virtual bulletin board, so if you’re curious, check out their video and other info. Consider yourself solicited …

Taking stock of Facebook

FacebookIn our continuing quest to be the last news outlet on the planet to report on breaking news, you might have heard that Facebook is now poised to launch a massive IPO, perhaps the largest in high-tech history. Expectations are that the company will settle in with a market cap of around 1×10^11 dollars once the stock launches midyear.

Information released in the IPO documents reveal that Facebook now has a mind-numbing 845 million users. To put that in perspective, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world (behind China and India). The fourth largest (that would be the United States) would clock in at a measly 312 million. It’s worth stepping back for a moment and considering the implications of that.

The Internet didn’t really become publicly and commercially available until the early 1990s. If we’re generous, the Internet has been around for 22 years. At the end of that short span, we find ourselves living in a world where a good portion of a billion people have voluntarily signed up with a single social networking site (albeit one of the first social networking sites). When I was working at MIT in the early ’80s, there was a lot of discussion on the nascent mailing lists like HUMAN-NETS about how the ARPAnet might morph into a ubiquitous WORLDNET (nice name, shame it didn’t stick), and what that would mean for society. Well, we’re there, and the jury is still out on what a post-Internet society is going to look like. Odds are, it’s going to involve a lot of Farmville, though.

I bet they picked it because it sounds Hawaiian

LuaFans of the Lua scripting language got a big vote of support from Wikimedia this week, as it was chosen as the new template scripting language. Lua is best known as a scripting language inside of video games, though it also has the distinction of being the only non-native, non-JavaScript language allowed to execute on iOS devices.

The selection of Lua for such a high-profile application runs against the prevailing JavaScript current, which has been strengthened significantly in recent months by HTML5. Lua is fast and small, something that can’t always be said for JavaScript. With it now set to live in the heart of wikis around the world, perhaps Lua’s star is finally rising.

Natural abhors a non-copyrighted vacuum

Copyrights are the appropriate way to protect source code, much more appropriate than patents on the things that the source code implements, at least in my opinion. But here’s a philosophical question for you: Can you copyright an empty file?

AT&T certainly thought so, as it placed a copyright header in the /bin/true shell command file shipped with Unix, a file that (other than the copyright) was completely empty. Let’s take a moment to consider this. If I use the “touch” command to create an empty file, I would be technically in violation of the copyright since it is textually identical, except for the copyright notice.

It’s likely a good thing that AT&T never tried to claim a copyright violation on all the empty files around the world, it probably would have caused a divide-by-zero runtime exception at the USPTO and dumped core into the Potomac.

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