Noise reduction

  • Post category:Principles
  • Reading time:2 mins read

The principle of noise reduction in software systems improves software systems by removing inessential parts and options and/or making them invisible or only visible to selected users.

Reducing the options in a software solution increases usability. This goes for user interfaces as well as technical interfaces. We decide what an interface looks like and stick to it. All-too-famous examples of noise reduction are the Apple iPod and the Google search page.

Adding features for selected users means adding features and under-the-hood complexities for all clients.

Reducing options also makes the software more robust. If we build fewer interfaces, we can improve them. We can focus on really doing well with the limited set of interfaces.

In practice, we see hardware and software tools have many options and features. That is not because software suppliers desperately want to give their customers all the options but because we, their customers, are requesting these options. Software suppliers may view all these requests more critically. Some do.

Let’s aim to settle for less. We shouldn’t build more every time we can do with less just because we can. Also, we shouldn’t ask our suppliers to create features that are nice to have.

There are always more options, but let’s limit the options to 4 or better: 1.


  • Post category:Principles
  • Reading time:2 mins read

Some companies have made a business model out of technology hypes. These are the same companies that tell the market what it needs by asking the market. Of course, this comes with an invoice mentioning generous compensation. These companies write classy reports with colorful graphics in which they advise organizations to do what the organizations tell them to do.

But hypes are for techies. Techies may feast on technology, but for organizations, jumping on hypes can be a risky and costly pastime.

There are two types of hypes. Hypes can be about something new. Other hypes are just reformulations of existing things, recycled ideas.

But hypes are hypes: they will go away. The vast majority of hypes disappear into thin air. The techie may have learned from them. Some remain. It might be valuable if a technology is still around after a few years. But usually, the stuff will not be as groundbreaking and revolutionary as predicted when announced by the hype cycle company, that is, by the market itself.

Blockchain, anyone?

Some hypes are recycled ideas. We have no memory, and we don’t read textbooks. SOA, AI, microservices, and technical advancements are wrapped in shiny new names and gift papers, so they appear to be a gift from your software supplier or consultancy company.

Think Globally, Act Locally applied to IT

  • Post category:Principles
  • Reading time:1 mins read

Solution architects should consider the enterprise impact of architectural decisions.

Solution architects must ignore enterprise directions if these lead to local inefficiencies or have other predominantly negative local effects.

There is a significant difference between the clean 30000-foot view (sometimes referred to as the air castle) and the muddy reality on sea level.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Photographers tend to suffer from Gear Acquisition Syndrome. They believe they will make better pictures with new gear and buy new lenses, cameras, and flashlights.

Then they find their work does not improve.

In IT, we do the same.

We have our old relational database management system.

But now we have this great Spark, MongoDB, CouchDB, or what have you. (I’m just taking a not-so-random example.) So now everything must be converted to Spark or Mongo.

We even forget that this old technology, the relational DBMS in this example, was so good at reliably processing transactions. It worked!

The new database is massively scalable, which is great. Unfortunately, it does not improve the reliability of processing our transactions.

But it’s hot, so we want it—because Google has it. Errr, but will you also use it to process web page indexes? Ah, no. You want to store your customer records in it. So, is it reliable? No. But it is satisfying our GAS.

Aesthetics and quality

  • Post category:Uncategorized
  • Reading time:3 mins read

Beautiful things are easier to use.

We can also apply this to technical designs. This often surprises a non-technical audience, but techies will recognize the beauty that can be present in technical solutions.

For example, symmetrical diagrams not only give a quick insight into an orderly, robust solution but are often also very appealing to the eye.

Symmetrical and well-colored diagrams are easier to read and understand.

Old PowerPoint presentations using the standard suggested colors were horrendously ugly, and I am sure the people using these colors did not want to be understood. (Nowadays, PowerPoint comes with more pleasing color schemes)

The success of the Python programming language is not in the least its forced readability. No crazy abbreviations as in C that make code unreadable (but programmers look very smart).

Beautiful code (yes, such a thing exists) is easier to read and understand.

If a
Then b
Else If c
Then d
Else If e
Then f


Case a
Case c
Case e

It is pretty evident.

But do we care about the quality and beauty of code nowadays? Throw-away software is abundant. Software systems are built with the idea to throw them out and replace them within a few years.

Ursus Wehrli
Image by Ursus Wehrli

That is the idea. But the Lindy effect tells us differently.

Good programming is a profession that should be appreciated as such. Bad coding may be cheap, but only in the short run.

We don’t hire a moonlighter to build our house. We employ an architect and a construction professional who can make a comfortable house that can be used for generations.

Chris Verhoef debunking myths about legacy and COBOL

  • Post category:COBOL
  • Reading time:1 mins read

Last week, the De Technoloog, a BNR program, had a very nice interview with Professor Chris Verhoef of VU University. The interviewers, Herbert Blankesteijn and Ben van der Burg, were surprised to find that COBOL is not bad and is very good for programming administrative automation processes. Legacy is not an issue. Not allowing time for maintenance is a management issue. He mentioned the Lindy effect which tells us that the life expectancy of old code increases with time. The established code is anti-fragile.

The Andon Cord

  • Post category:Uncategorized
  • Reading time:2 mins read

Anyone in the product chain can pull the Andon Cord to stop production when he notices that the product’s quality is poor.

The andon cord

Stopping a system when a defect is suspected originates back to Toyota. The idea is that by blocking the system, you get an immediate opportunity for improvement or find a root cause instead of letting the defect move further down the line and be unresolved.

A crucial aspect of Toyota’s “Andon Cord” process was that when the team leader arrived at the workstation, they thanked the team member who pulled the Cord.

The incident would not be a paper report or a long-tail bureaucratic process. The problem would be immediately addressed, and the team member who pulled the cord would fix it.

For software systems, this practice is beneficial as well. However, the opposite process is likely the practice we see in our drive for quick results.

We don’t stop the process in case of issues. We apply a quick fix, and ‘we will resolve it later’.

The person noticing an issue is regarded as a whistle-blower. Issues may get covered in this culture, leading to even more severe problems.

When serious issues occur, we start a bureaucratic process that quickly becomes political, resulting in watered-down solutions and covering up the fundamental problems.

The backward compatibility conundrum

  • Post category:Uncategorized
  • Reading time:5 mins read

In software systems, backward compatibility is a blessing and a curse. While backward compatibility discharges users from mandatory software updates, it is also an excuse to ignore maintenance. For software vendors, omitting backward compatibility is a means to get users to buy new stuff; “enjoy our latest innovations!”.

1980s software on 64-bit hardware

DS Backward compatilibility
DS Backward compatibility

You can not run Windows 95 software on Windows 11.

You can not Run MacOS X software on a PowerBook G4 from 2006.

You can not use Java version 5 software on a Java 11 runtime.

You can, however, run mainframe software compiled in 1980 for 16-bit hardware on the latest z/OS 64-bit operating system and the latest IBM Z hardware. This compatibility is one of the reasons for the success of the IBM mainframe.

Backward compatibility in software has significant benefits. The most significant benefit is that you do not need to change applications with technology upgrades. This saves large amounts of effort and, thus, money for changes that bring no business benefit.

The dangers of backward compatibility

Backward compatibility also has very significant drawbacks:

  • Because you do not need to fix software for technology upgrades, backward compatibility leads to laziness in maintenance. Just because it keeps running, the whole existence of the software is lost out of sight. Development teams lose the knowledge of the functionality and sometimes even the supporting business processes. Minor changes may be made haphazardly, leading to slowly increasing code complexity. Horrific additions are made to applications, using tools like screen scraping, leading to further complexity of the IT landscape. Then, significant changes are suddenly necessary, and you are in big trouble.
  • Backward compatibility hinders innovation. Not only can you not take advantage of modern hardware capabilities, but you also get stuck with programming and interfacing paradigms of the past. You can not exploit functionality trapped inside old programs, and it is tough to integrate through modern technologies like REST APIs.

The problem may be even more significant. Because you do not touch your code, other issues may appear.

Over the years, you will change from source code management tools. During these transitions, code can get lost, or insight into the correct versions of programs gets lost.

Also, compilers are upgraded all the time. And the specifications of the programming languages may change. Consequently, the code you have, which belongs to the programs running in your production environment, can not be compiled any longer. When changes are necessary, your code suddenly needs to catch up with all these changes. And that will make the change a lot riskier.

How to avoid backward compatibility complacency?

Establish a policy to recompile, test, and deploy programs every 2 or 3 years, even if the code needs no functional change. Prevent a pile of technical debt.

Is that a lot of work? It does not need to be. You could automate most, if not all, of the compilation and testing process. If nothing functionally changes, modern test tools can help support this process. With these tools, you can automate running tests, compare results with the expected output, and pinpoint issues.

This process also has a benefit: your recompiled code will run faster because it can use the latest hardware features. You can save money if your software bill is based on CPU consumption.

Don’t let backward compatibility make you backward.

Assembler to get name of current address space

  • Post category:Assembler
  • Reading time:2 mins read

Assembler program that gets the name of the current address space from the PSA’s current ASCB block.

Documentation: PSA description and ASCB description.

ASCBNAME CSECT                                                          
         SAVE  (14,12),,TST/NDG/&SYSDATE/&SYSTIME/               
         LR    R12,R15                 LOAD BASE REG WITH ENTRY POINT   
         LA    R14,SAVE                GET ADDRESS OF REGISTER SAVE     
         ST    R13,4(0,R14)            SAVE CALLER'S SAVE AREA ADDR     
         ST    R14,8(0,R13)            SAVE MY SAVE AREA ADDRESS        
         LR    R13,R14                 LOAD SAVE AREA ADDRESS           
INIT     DS    0H                                                       
         OPEN  (OUT,(OUTPUT))
DOE      DS    0H                                                       
         SR    R1,R1                   R1 = 0
         USING PSA,R1                  ADDRESS PSA
         L     R2,PSAAOLD              GET ADDRESS CURRENT ASCB
         DROP  R1                      RELEASE PSA ADDRESSING
         USING ASCB,R2                 ADDRESS CURRENT ASCB
         DROP  R2                      RELEASE ASCB ADDRESSING
         MVC   ADDRSPC,0(R1)           GET NAME
         PUT   OUT,OUTREC              SCHRIJF                          
RETURN   DS    0H                                                       
         CLOSE OUT                                                      
         SLR   R15,R15                                                  
         L     R13,4(R13)              LOAD CALLERS SAVE AREA ADDRESS   
         RETURN (14,12),RC=(15)        RETURN TO CALLER                 
         DC     C'**********   ************* WERKGEBIED ******'
SAVE     DS    18F
         ORG   OUTREC
REST     DC    CL72' '
OUT      DCB   DDNAME=OUT,                                             *
               DSORG=PS,                                               *
         END   ,                                                        

ABENDIT – simple assembler to create an ABEND

  • Post category:Assembler
  • Reading time:1 mins read

Not sure what I used it for, but here is a simple program in assembler to create an ABEND with a completion code of your choice.

Look here in the IBM manuals for more specifics on the ABEND macro.

         LR    R11,R15                 LOAD BASE REG WITH ENTRY POINT
         LA    R14,SAVE                GET ADDRESS OF REGISTER SAVE
         ST    R13,4(0,R14)            SAVE CALLER'S SAVE AREA ADDR
         ST    R14,8(0,R13)            SAVE MY SAVE AREA ADDRESS
         LR    R13,R14                 LOAD SAVE AREA ADDRESS
*        Business Logic
         ABEND 4321                    4321 or some other code up to 4096
*        Epilogue
         L      R13,4(R13)
         RETURN (14,12)                RETURN TO CALLER
SAVE     DS     18F
         END ABENDIT

Happy ABENDing!