CanyonThere is a certain unsteadiness and ruggedness in the software world. Software development often feels like moving on a rugged landscape: sometimes it goes amazingly fast, but often you are just stuck and do not make progress for hours. Either you make a lot of progress in a few time, or you make no progress at all for a large time span. There are times when you make a few keystrokes and everything just works, for instance when you stick a few plugins together, make some function calls, add a few lines of code, and everything just works. These are the good times, when you think you have achieved world domination and can move an army of bits with a few keystrokes, when the programmers are like little gods in their little self-made binary universes.

And then there are times when things look desperate, when nothing works at all, and you do not know why, and can not figure it out. An exception has been raised, an error occurs, or something does not work, and you have no idea why. Plugins for instance are wonderful if they work out of the box, autmatically. But if they do not work, then it becomes cumbersome. The more automated a plugin or component is, the more annoying is it when it stops to work, because in this case you have no other options than examining it in detail, which means to drill down through the simple shell into the complex core where you understanding nothing at first.

Version conflicts and dependency hells can be very time-consuming and annoying, too. Ruby-on-Rails programs for example need the right combination of Ruby Version (for example Ruby 1.8.7 or 1.9.2), the right Ruby-On-Rails Version (2.3.8 or 3.2), and the right RubyGems Version (say 1.3.5). The gems or plugins have their own versions, too. The whole system only works if everything fits together. In the beginning this is no problem, for a new system usually everything is up-to-date. But then time goes on, and you have to update the Linux version, or the Ruby version, or the RubyGems Version. And suddenly the other versions no longer fit. It can be very frustrating to get the system working again in this case.

Software programs usually are not fault-tolerant systems at a basic level, there is no graceful degradation in machine language. On the lowest level in machine language or assembly the program works only if there is no error. A single error can be the system to a full stop. Either the computer program runs, which means you have to get every instruction right, or it hangs, throws an exception and stops completely. It is of course usually possible to figure the problem out, if you have enough time, but sometimes it takes a long time to understand what is going on in the various stages of debugging.

Photo Credit: tim caynes via Compfight cc

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