Posts Tagged ‘library’

Dead trees have been replaced by a paywall

April 29th, 2013 2 comments

Every now and again I see a reference to that looks like an interesting paper that was published before the Internet age (i.e., pre last 90’s and not available for free download). I keep a list of such references and when I am near a university with a good library I stop off to look them up; unless there is an urgent need this is very much a background task and before last week my last such visit was over three years ago.

Last week I dropped by Reading University, where I sourced much of the non-Internet available papers for my last book. The picture below illustrates what I found, periodicals are being removed to make way for desktop space, so students can sit typing away on keyboards.


I imagine the librarian is under pressure to maximise the efficient use of his large building and having row upon row of journals, many older than most of the students, just sitting there waiting for somebody like me wanting to look at perhaps a dozen or so of them cannot be said to be that efficient.

Everything is going digital, the library catalog was full of references to where journals could be found online. The problem is that the digital content is licensed to the University and only available to members of the University (e.g., students and lecturers). Without a logon id the journals are unavailable to non-academic users. Reading are continuing their open policy to external users by offering guest accounts (“where licence conditions permit”, I will find out what is available on my next visit).

Those readers who don’t have much interaction with the academic world may not be aware of the very high rates many publishers charge for access to published papers (that are provided to them free by academics) or the large profits made by these publishers.

Academics are starting to react against the high cost of journal subscription; I’m please to see that a boycott is gathering steam.

Boycotts are very well meaning, but I suspect that most academics will continue to keep their head down and go with existing practice (young academics need to get papers published in established to move up in their world).

We the tax payers are funding the research that discovers the information needed to write a paper and paying the salaries of academics to write the papers. Why are we the tax payers providing money to university libraries to subscribe to journals whose contents we have paid to create? If the research is tax payer funded we should not have to pay to see the results.

How do we remove the paywall that currently surrounds much published research? As I see it the simplest solution is to stop providing the funding that university libraries use to pay for journal subscriptions. Yes this will cause disruption, but the incentives are for most academics to continue with the current system and or course no company is ever willing to give up on a cash cow.

What can you do? If you are in the UK you can write to your MP to make him/her aware of your views. If readers have any other ideas please make use of the comments to tell others.

What language was an executable originally written in?

April 11th, 2010 No comments

Apple have recently added an unusual requirement to the iPhone developer agreement “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript …”. As has been pointed out elsewhere the real purpose is stop third party’s from acquiring any control over application development on Apple’s products; the banning of other languages is presumably regarded as acceptable collateral damage.

Is it possible to tell by analyzing an executable what language it was originally written in?

There are two ways in which executables contain source language ‘signatures’. Detecting these signatures requires knowledge of specific compiler behavior, i.e., a database of information about the behavior of compilers capable of creating the executables is needed.

Runtime library. Most compilers make use of a language specific runtime library, rather than generating inline code for some kinds of functionality. For instance, setjmp/longjmp in C and vtables in C++.

The presence of a known C runtime library does not guarantee that the application was originally written in C; it could have been written in Java and converted to C source.

The absence of a known C runtime library could mean that the source was compiled by a C compiler using a runtime system unknown to the analyzer.

The presence of a known Java, for instance, runtime library would suggest that the original source contained some Java. This kind of analysis would obviously require that the runtime library database not restrict itself to the ‘C’ languages.

Compiler behavior patterns. There is usually more than one way in which a source language construct can be translated to machine code and a compiler has to pick one of them. The perfect optimizing compiler would always make the optimal choice, but real compilers follow a fixed pattern of code generation for at least some language constructs (e.g., initialization of registers on function entry).

The presence of known code patterns in an executable is evidence that a particular compiler has been used; how much depends on the likelihood it could have been generated by other means and how many other patterns suggest the same compiler. In the case of the GNU Compiler Collection the source language might also be Fortran, Java or Ada; I don’t know enough about the behavior of GCC to provide an informed estimate of whether it is possible to recognize the source language from the translated form of constructs shared by several languages, I suspect not.

The fact that an executable can be decompiled to C is not a guarantee that it was originally written in C.

Some languages support source language constructs whose corresponding machine code is unlikely to ever be generated by source from another language. The Fortran computed goto allows constructs to be written that have no equivalent in the other languages supported by GCC (none of them allow statement labels appearing in a multi-way jump to appear before the jump test):

10    I=I+1
20    J=J+1
       goto (10, 20, 30, 40) J
30    I=I+3
40    I=I*2

The presence of a compiled form of this kind of construct in the executable would be very suggestive of Fortran source.

Apple are famously paranoid and control freakery. It will be very interesting to see what level of compliance checking they decide to perform on executables submitted to the App Store.

On another note: What does “originally written” mean? For instance, many of the mathematical functions (e.g., sine, log, gamma, etc) contained in R were originally written in Fortran and translated to C for use in R; this C source is what is now maintained. Does this historical implementation decision mean that R cannot be legally ported to the iPhone?