The Vitruvian Triad & the Urban Triad

From Andrés Duany’s “Classic Urbanism“:

From time to time there appears a concept of exceptional longevity. In architecture, the pre-eminent instance is the Vitruvian triad of Comoditas, Utilitas, e Venustas. This Roman epigram was propelled into immortality by Lord Burlington’s felicitous translation as Commodity, Firmness and Delight.

It has thus passed down the centuries and remains authoritative, even if not always applied in practice; Commodity: That a building must accommodate its program; Firmness: That it must stand up to the natural elements, among them gravity; Delight: that it must be satisfying to the eye, is with the aberrant exception of the tiny, current avant garde, the ideal of architecture. …

Let me propose the urban triad of Function, Disposition and Configuration as categories that would both describe and “test” the urban performance of a building.

Function describes the use to which the building lends itself, towards the ideal of mixed-use. In urbanism the range of function a first cut may include: exclusively residential, primarily residential, primarily commercial or exclusively commercial. The middle two being the best in urban performance although the extremes have justification in the urban to rural transect. An elaboration should probably differentiate the function at the all-important sidewalk level from the function above.

Disposition describes the location of the building on its lot or site. This may range from a building placed across the frontage of its lot, creating a most urban condition to the rural condition of the building freestanding in the center of its site. Perhaps the easiest way to categorize the disposition of the building is by describing it by its yards: The rearyard building has the building along the frontage, the courtyard building internalizes the space and is just as urban, the sideyard building is the zero-lot line or “Charleston single house” and the edgeyard building is a freestanding object closest to the rural edge of the transect.

The third component of the urban triad is Configuration. This describes the massing, height of a building and, for those who believe that harmony is a tool of urbanism, the architectural syntax and constructional tectonic. It can be argued that the surface of a building is a tool of urbanism no less than its form. Silence of expression is required to achieve the “wall” that defines public space, and that reserves the exalted configuration to differentiate the public building. Harmony in the architectural language is the secret of mixed-use. People seem not to mind variation of function as long as the container looks similar. It is certainly a concern of urbanism.

Vitruvian Triad terminology

From “Good Architecture“:

In ‘building architecture’, for comparison, we have the 3 classic Vitruvian qualities to which ‘GoodArchitecture’ aspires:

‘Firmitas, Utilitas and Venustas’ (Marcus Vitruvius Pollio ‘The Ten Books of Architecture’ 1st C AD).

These qualities may be translated as: ‘Technology, Function and Form’ (C St J Wilson ‘ArchitecturalReflections?; Studies in the Philosophy and Practice of Architecture’ 1992 ISBN 0-7506-1283-5

or, in the slightly more familiar but antique: ‘Firmness, Commodity & Delight’

— MartinNoutch

Bruce Schneier on phishing

From Bruce Schneier’s “Phishing“:

Phishing, for those of you who have been away from the Internet for the past few years, is when an attacker sends you an e-mail falsely claiming to be a legitimate business in order to trick you into giving away your account info — passwords, mostly. When this is done by hacking DNS, it’s called pharming. …

In general, two Internet trends affect all forms of identity theft. The widespread availability of personal information has made it easier for a thief to get his hands on it. At the same time, the rise of electronic authentication and online transactions — you don’t have to walk into a bank, or even use a bank card, in order to withdraw money now — has made that personal information much more valuable. …

The newest variant, called “spear phishing,” involves individually targeted and personalized e-mail messages that are even harder to detect. …

It’s not that financial institutions suffer no losses. Because of something called Regulation E, they already pay most of the direct costs of identity theft. But the costs in time, stress, and hassle are entirely borne by the victims. And in one in four cases, the victims have not been able to completely restore their good name.

In economics, this is known as an externality: It’s an effect of a business decision that is not borne by the person or organization making the decision. Financial institutions have no incentive to reduce those costs of identity theft because they don’t bear them. …

If there’s one general precept of security policy that is universally true, it is that security works best when the entity that is in the best position to mitigate the risk is responsible for that risk.

Word of the day: cunctative

Cunctative: Cunc’ta*tive, a. Slow; tardy; dilatory; causing delay.
Cunctator: Cunc*ta’tor, n. [L., lit., a delayer; — applied as a surname to Q. Fabius Maximus.] One who delays or lingers.

From Wikipedia’s “Fabius Maximus“:

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (c. 275 BC-203 BC), called Cunctator (the Delayer), was a Roman politician and soldier, born in Rome around 275 BC and died in Rome in 203 BC. He was consul five times (233 BC, 228 BC, 215 BC, 214 BC and 208 BC) and was twice dictator, 221?–219 BC, and 217 BC. His nickname Cunctator (akin to the English noun cunctation) means “delayer” in Latin, and refers to his tactics in deploying the troops during the Second Punic War. His cognomen Verrucosus means warty, a reference to the wart above his upper lip. …

Fabius was well aware of the military superiority of the Carthaginians, and when Hannibal invaded Italy he refused to meet him in a pitched battle. Instead he kept his troops close to Hannibal, hoping to exhaust him in a long war of attrition. Fabius was able to harass the Carthaginian foraging parties, limiting Hannibal’s ability to wreak destruction while conserving his own military force.

The Romans were unimpressed with this defensive strategy and at first gave Fabius his nickname as an insult. The strategy was in part ruined because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army: Fabius’ magister equitum, Minucius, was a political enemy of Fabius. … Minucius had been named a co-commander of the Roman forces by Fabius’ detractors in the Senate. Minucius openly claimed that Fabius was cowardly because he failed to confront the Carthaginian forces. Near the present-day town of Larino in the Molise (then called Larinum), Hannibal had taken up position in a town called Gerione. In the valley between Larino and Gerione, Minucius decided to make a broad frontal attack on Hannibal’s troops. Several thousand men were involved on either side. It appeared that the Roman troops were winning but Hannibal had set a trap. Soon the Roman troops were being slaughtered. Fabius, despite Minucius’ earlier arrogance, rushed to his co-commander’s assistance and Hannibal’s forces immediately retreated. After the battle there was some feeling that there would be conflict between Minucius and Fabius. However, the younger soldier marched his men to Fabius’ encampment and he is reported to have said, “My father gave me life. Today you saved my life. You are my second father. I recognize your superior abilities as a commander.”

At the end of Fabius’ dictatorship, the command was given back to the consuls Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Marcus Atilius Regulus. In the following year, the new consuls Paullus and Varro were defeated at the battle of Cannae, and the wisdom of Fabius’ tactic was understood. Thus Cunctator became an honorific title. This tactic was followed for the rest of the war, as long as Hannibal remained in Italy.

… Later, he became a legendary figure and the model of a tough, courageous Roman. According to Ennius, unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem – “one man, by delaying, restored the state to us.” While Hannibal is mentioned in the company of history’s greatest generals, military professionals have bestowed Fabius’ name on an entire strategic doctrine known as “Fabian strategy.”

Architecture & the quality without a name

From Brian Hayes’ “The Post-OOP Paradigm“:

Christopher Alexander [a bricks-and-steel architect] is known for the enigmatic thesis that well-designed buildings and towns must have “the quality without a name.” He explains: “The fact that this quality cannot be named does not mean that it is vague or imprecise. It is impossible to name because it is unerringly precise.”

A very brief history of programming

From Brian Hayes’ “The Post-OOP Paradigm“:

The architects of the earliest computer systems gave little thought to software. (The very word was still a decade in the future.) Building the machine itself was the serious intellectual challenge; converting mathematical formulas into program statements looked like a routine clerical task. The awful truth came out soon enough. Maurice V. Wilkes, who wrote what may have been the first working computer program, had his personal epiphany in 1949, when “the realization came over me with full force that a good part of the remainder of my life was going to be spent in finding errors in my own programs.” Half a century later, we’re still debugging.

The very first programs were written in pure binary notation: Both data and instructions had to be encoded in long, featureless strings of 1s and 0s. Moreover, it was up to the programmer to keep track of where everything was stored in the machine’s memory. Before you could call a subroutine, you had to calculate its address.

The technology that lifted these burdens from the programmer was assembly language, in which raw binary codes were replaced by symbols such as load, store, add, sub. The symbols were translated into binary by a program called an assembler, which also calculated addresses. This was the first of many instances in which the computer was recruited to help with its own programming.

Assembly language was a crucial early advance, but still the programmer had to keep in mind all the minutiae in the instruction set of a specific computer. Evaluating a short mathematical expression such as x 2+y 2 might require dozens of assembly-language instructions. Higher-level languages freed the programmer to think in terms of variables and equations rather than registers and addresses. In Fortran, for example, x 2+y 2 would be written simply as X**2+Y**2. Expressions of this kind are translated into binary form by a program called a compiler.

… By the 1960s large software projects were notorious for being late, overbudget and buggy; soon came the appalling news that the cost of software was overtaking that of hardware. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., who managed the OS/360 software program at IBM, called large-system programming a “tar pit” and remarked, “Everyone seems to have been surprised by the stickiness of the problem.”

One response to this crisis was structured programming, a reform movement whose manifesto was Edsger W. Dijkstra’s brief letter to the editor titled “Go to statement considered harmful.” Structured programs were to be built out of subunits that have a single entrance point and a single exit (eschewing the goto command, which allows jumps into or out of the middle of a routine). Three such constructs were recommended: sequencing (do A, then B, then C), alternation (either do A or do B) and iteration (repeat A until some condition is satisfied). Corrado Böhm and Giuseppe Jacopini proved that these three idioms are sufficient to express essentially all programs.

Structured programming came packaged with a number of related principles and imperatives. Top-down design and stepwise refinement urged the programmer to set forth the broad outlines of a procedure first and only later fill in the details. Modularity called for self-contained units with simple interfaces between them. Encapsulation, or data hiding, required that the internal workings of a module be kept private, so that later changes to the module would not affect other areas of the program. All of these ideas have proved their worth and remain a part of software practice today. But they did not rescue programmers from the tar pit.

Object-oriented programming addresses these issues by packing both data and procedures—both nouns and verbs—into a single object. An object named triangle would have inside it some data structure representing a three-sided shape, but it would also include the procedures (called methods in this context) for acting on the data. To rotate a triangle, you send a message to the triangle object, telling it to rotate itself. Sending and receiving messages is the only way objects communicate with one another; outsiders are not allowed direct access to the data. Because only the object’s own methods know about the internal data structures, it’s easier to keep them in sync.

You define the class triangle just once; individual triangles are created as instances of the class. A mechanism called inheritance takes this idea a step further. You might define a more-general class polygon, which would have triangle as a subclass, along with other subclasses such as quadrilateral, pentagon and hexagon. Some methods would be common to all polygons; one example is the calculation of perimeter, which can be done by adding the lengths of the sides, no matter how many sides there are. If you define the method calculate-perimeter in the class polygon, all the subclasses inherit this code.

Four principles of modernity

From “Relativity, Uncertainty, Incompleteness and Undecidability“:

In this article four fundamental principles are presented: relativity, uncertainty, incompleteness and undecidability. They were studied by, respectively, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. …

Relativity says that there is no privileged, “objective” viewpoint for certain observations. … Now, if things move relative to each other, then obviously their positions at a given time are also measured relative to each other. …

Werner Heisenberg showed that if we built a machine to tell us with high precision were an electron is, this machine could not also tell us the speed of the electron. If we want to measure its speed without altering it we can use a different light but then we wouldn’t know where it is. At atomic scale, no instrument can tell us at the same time exactly where a particle is and exactly at what speed it is moving. …

If this system is complete, then anything that is true is provable. Similarly, anything false is provable false. Kurt Gödel got the intuition that traditional mathematical logic was not complete, and devoted several years to try to find one thing, a single thing that was inside the mathematics but outside the reach of logic. … Gödel’s incompleteness means that the classical mathematical logic deductive system, and actually any logical system consistent and expressive enough, is not complete, has “holes” full of expressions that are not logically true nor false. …

Turing’s halting problem is one of the problems that fall in to the category of undecidable problems. It says that it is not possible to write a program to decide if other program is correctly written, in the sense that it will never hang. This creates a limit to the verification of all programs, as all the attempts of building actual computers, usable in practice and different from Turing machines have been proved to be equivalent in power and limitations to the basic Turing machine.

Tim O’Reilly’s definition of open source

From Tim O’Reilly’s “Lessons from open source software development”, Communications of the ACM 41 (4): 33-7:

Open source is a term that has recently gained currency as a way to describe the tradition of open standards, shared source code, and collaborative development behind software such as the Linux and FreeBSD operating systems, the Apache Web server, the Perl, Tcl, and Python languages, and much of the Internet infrastructure, including Bind (The Berkley Internet Name Daemon servers that run the Domain Name System), the Sendmail mail server, and many other programs. … [But] open source … means more than the source code is available. The source must be available for redistribution without restriction and without charge, and the license must permit the creation of modifications and derivative works, and must allow those derivatives to be redistributed under the same terms as the original work.

A definition of fascism

From Salon:

Robert O. Paxton, a former professor of social sciences at Columbia University and longtime historian of the political movement, sets out to formulate a working definition in his new book, The Anatomy of Fascism. … Only at the end does Paxton reveal what he’s settled on as an acceptable definition. Here it is:

“… a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Word of the day: aposiopesis

Today’s word: aposiopesis: n., pl. -ses [Lat. <Gk. aposiopesis <aposiopan, to become silent: apo- (intensive) + siopan, to be silent <siope, silence] A sudden breaking off of a thought in the middle of a sentence, as though the speaker were unwilling or unable to continue.

Definitions of extranet

From Justin Hibbard’s “Lack of distributed object development delays extranets” in Computerworld (17 March 1997):

An extranet extends an intranet to trading partners, suppliers and customers via a secure Internet link.

From Robert Hertzberg’s The Raw Power of an Idea: in WebWeek (31 March 1997):

The extranet … revolves around the notion of business partners opening up their intranets to one another.

Or here’s another definition:

Internet: open access
Intranet: company access
Extranet: company, clients, partner access