Patrick (patrickwonders) wrote,
Patrick
patrickwonders

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Software Equillibrium

One of my friends gets hiccups far more often than most
people. I have probably had the hiccups less than half
a dozen times in the last ten years. This friend has had
them at least four times in my presence this summer.

I was wondering if there was something subtle about the
shape of his trachea or the volume of his lungs or his
metabolism that causes this.

So, then I was thinking that there are lots of little quirks
and differences between people. There is a huge amount
of lattitude in the term ``Healthy Adult.'' Being the math
geek that I am, I immediately thought, ```Healthy' must be
an stable, equillibrium point.'' You can perturb it pretty
darn far and it rolls right back down the valley and into
``Healthy''. The body is an incredibly complex set of systems.
It can still achieve perfectly acceptable levels of performance
despite all kinds of anomolies.

So, being the software geek that I am, I continued on to
thinking about complex software systems. Consider any
complex software system. There is a whole list of bugs
somewhere for it (hopefully documented). Those are the
bugs that people noticed, recorded, identified, and probably
are able to repeat. On top of this, there are a whole slew
of bugs that people never bother to record and a whole slew
of bugs that one hasn't yet been able to pinpoint, identify,
or repeat.

Everyone understands this. Everyone in software should
understand that software has bugs. Everyone in software
should understand that if the system is complex enough,
new bugs will continue to show up even though ``nothing's
changed''.

But, the whole hiccups/equillibrium thing got me to wondering
how many bugs float around under the surface in ways that
don't hinder anything. Are there all kinds of bugs in software
systems that even bolster the ``health'' of the system?

If you had a small problem with a few inches of your intestine
not being able to absorb certain sugars, would you ever know?
If your trachea were shaped in such a way that you were prone
to hiccups, would you ever even notice?

If your operating system had some oddity that made it so that
one of every 1000 attempts to open files that start with the
letter `J' would cause something to happen that caused the next
file deletion to take four times as long, would you ever notice?
If your sendmail(8) had a bug that made it send a copy of any
message to root@anywhere back to your machine before sending
it on to anywhere's mail server, would anyone ever notice? Would
you say it was broken?
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