Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ada is not nearly as dead a language as Latin

Posted by John McHale
The Ada programming language has been said to be an obsolete language for years. However, it is still used throughout the defense and avionics communities and still taught in the schools, although it is not as popular a course selection as C or C++.

Ada is mostly a higher-course level subject at universities, Greg Gicca, director of safety and security at AdaCore in New York, told me during the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston last week. It would be nice if it could be offered as a 101 course to students because it would give them a better understanding of software fundamentals, object-oriented programming, etc., than say C or C++, he adds.

Adacore works with many colleges and universities across the country, educating new students in Ada code, Gicca says. The military and avionics world keeps Ada alive and provides a steady revenue stream for companies like AdaCore, he adds.

It is the professors who are driving the ada course load, but there is plenty of interest from students as well, Gicca says.

DDC-I, a designer of Ada products in Phoenix, also provides education services to universities such as Georgia Tech, says Greg Rose, vice president of marketing at DDC-I.

The Ada language was created for the U.S. Department of Defense about 30 years ago to better handle safety-critical programming in mission-critical military systems and since then has also become a staple of commercial avionics software programs.

According to Wikipedia it was named after, Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace also known as Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of the Poet Lord Byron. She is considered by some to be the world's first computer programmer after writing what is considered to be the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine -- for her work on an early mechanical general-purpose computer, designed by Charles Babbage, according to her Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Archie Bunker, counter-terror expert

Posted by John McHale
On a JetBlue flight to Phoenix this week, I took a break from a story I was writing on software defined radio and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and caught a couple episodes of "All in the Family" playing on JetBlue's in-flight entertainment system.

You only see shows like that on cable or premium channels like HBO, the language and Archie's very un-PC rants scare networks away. Exemplified in the first episode I watched on the flight where Archie was arguing with his son-in-law Mike (Meathead), about gun control. They had just seen a local TV station manager give a speech on gun control and Archie demanded equal time.

Archie's premise was that if more people had guns there would be less crime. Then he delivered this bit of counter-terrorism advice: "you could end sky-jacking tomorrow by arming all the passengers. The airline would hand out guns at the beginning of the flight, then collect them all when they land."

Just as he said this the flight attendant was coming by with headphones... weird.

Some 88-year-old woman had a break-in at her house, and Archie argued it wouldn't have happened if she had a gun.

Mike: "How would 88-year old walk around carrying a gun?!"

Archie: "I don't know, maybe put in her stocking next to her varicose vein!"

Some more lines: Archie's daughter, Gloria, shouts out statistics about how many people are killed by guns. Archie: "Would it make you feel any better if they were pushed outta windows, little girl?"

Mike mentions Supreme Court rulings in favor of gun control. Archie responds with "the Supreme Court ain't got nothin to do with the law!"

Fun stuff, although I left out the more ethnic-oriented comments from Archie -- thought it best to stay away from those. However, there was some funny dialogue from the other episode on the flight, which had Archie and his wife Edith visiting cousin Maude (Bea Arthur). Maybe this was the episode that launched that show -- "Maude."

Some exchanges:
Maude: "I happen to be a Hubert Humphrey Democrat."
Maude's daughter Carol: "What does that mean?"
Maude's husband Walter: "It means she's not against anything."

One more!

Walter to Carol: "Why are you wearing white for your wedding?"
Maude chimes in: "Because white has always been a symbol of innocence and purity in marriages."”
Walter: "Married before ... multiple affairs ... so how did she manage that tricky u-turn back to innocence and purity?"

Those shows made the flight ... lotta laughs.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Executive layoffs at Boeing, Lockheed Martin signal tough times ahead

Posted by John McHale
Boeing and Lockheed Martin leaders call it re-aligning, focusing on core competencies, better positioning for the future, empowering the younger generation, yadda, yadda, yadda... but what they really mean is that the Obama Administration's next Department of Defense budget is likely to be a lot smaller than in years past and the big primes want to hoard their cash now by eliminating high-level executive salaries -- about 600 in the case of Lockheed Martin.

I'd heard rumblings in my travels this summer from defense electronics suppliers that there could be trouble in the defense market. These recent announcements from behemoths -- Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- are probably only the beginning. It's not that hardware and software solutions won't be needed it's just that there will be fewer opportunities.

The growth areas will continue to be unmanned systems and electro-optics for unmanned and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. Electro-optical companies should still see steady growth. A sign of this might be the recent acquisition of electro-optical systems and multispectral sensors specialist OASYS Technology LLC in Manchester, N.H., by BAE Systems.

As one system integrator told me at the AUVSI unmanned systems show this summer in Denver "we know there will be unmanned platforms getting funding, but guessing the right one will be the trick."

Do not fear Lockheed Martin and Boeing are not in trouble and they are still cash cows, but they are letting go of some experienced good people and that is unfortunate to say the least.

This reminds me of something someone once told me when there were layoffs at a publishing company I'm somewhat familiar with. A long-time manager was let go not due to cause or because his property was performing poorly, but rather to maintain the property as a cash cow -- that at the end of the day it's all about maintaining cash cowness.

I hope that someday I find my own cash cowness...