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Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience

May 31st, 2011 05:11 admin View Comments

Mike Barnett, Manuel Fähnfrich, K. RustAn M. Leino, Peter Müller, Wolfram Schulte, and Herman Venter, Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience” Preprint of an article appearing in the June 2011 CACM.

CACM tagline: Can a programming language really help programmers write better programs?

Spec# is a programming system that facilitates the development of correct software. The Spec# language extends C# with contracts that allow programmers to express their design intent in the code. The Spec# tool suite consists of a compiler that emits run-time checks for contracts, a static program veri?er that attempts to mathematically prove the correctness of programs, and an integration into the Visual Studio development environment. Spec# shows how contracts and veri?ers can be integrated seamlessly into the software development process. This paper re?ects on the six-year history of the Spec# project, scienti?c contributions it has made, remaining challenges for tools that seek to establish program correctness, and prospects of incorporating veri?cation into everyday software engineering.

Spec# is, in some ways, quite similar to JML+ESC/Java2. But Spec# is a language rather than a set of annotations, which allows it to incorporate features such as a non-null type system and a very tight integration with the IDE.

Spec# was previously mentioned on LtU back in 2005.

Source: Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience

Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience

May 31st, 2011 05:11 admin View Comments

Mike Barnett, Manuel Fähnfrich, K. RustAn M. Leino, Peter Müller, Wolfram Schulte, and Herman Venter, Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience” Preprint of an article appearing in the June 2011 CACM.

CACM tagline: Can a programming language really help programmers write better programs?

Spec# is a programming system that facilitates the development of correct software. The Spec# language extends C# with contracts that allow programmers to express their design intent in the code. The Spec# tool suite consists of a compiler that emits run-time checks for contracts, a static program veri?er that attempts to mathematically prove the correctness of programs, and an integration into the Visual Studio development environment. Spec# shows how contracts and veri?ers can be integrated seamlessly into the software development process. This paper re?ects on the six-year history of the Spec# project, scienti?c contributions it has made, remaining challenges for tools that seek to establish program correctness, and prospects of incorporating veri?cation into everyday software engineering.

Spec# is, in some ways, quite similar to JML+ESC/Java2. But Spec# is a language rather than a set of annotations, which allows it to incorporate features such as a non-null type system and a very tight integration with the IDE.

Spec# was previously mentioned on LtU back in 2005.

Source: Speci?cation and Veri?cation: The Spec# Experience

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Airbnb’s Soaring Valuation Should Be A Wake-Up Call To Independent Hotels

May 31st, 2011 05:03 admin View Comments

Some months ago, before the company was worth a billion dollars, I shared some thoughts on Airbnb.

Specifically, in what some mischaracterized as an attack on the company, I criticized those whose worship at the altar of Disruption is so unconditional that they don’t think Disruptive companies should be hidebound by the law. If Disruptive entrepreneurs are so clever, I argued, they’ll find a way to either work within the law, or to lobby to have it changed, rather than simply flouting it.

In the case of Airbnb, the law being challenged was New York’s S68730-B/ A1008-B (aka the “illegal hotel bill”); a proposed piece of legislation designed to prevent slum landlords from scamming tourists into staying in hastily converted deathtrap SROs. Or, as the Disruption cultists saw it,a desperate attempt by the hotel lobby to drive the mighty Airbnb out of business.

Two recent developments have finally given lie to that delusion. The first is Airbnb’s recent boast that on any given night it books more rooms than the largest hotel in NYC. That impressive sounding claim actually puts into perspective the threat that Airbnb currently presents to traditional hotels. The largest hotel in New York City is the Hilton, with 1,980 rooms – meaning by their own reckoning Airbnb is Disrupting just 0.03% of total New York hotel rooms. This in the city with the highest average room rates in America.

Secondly, as CEO Brian Chesky admitted on stage at TC Disrupt, conversations with New York lawmakers soon revealed that the city had no idea Airbnb even existed, let alone that the proposed law – which was genuinely designed to clamp down on criminals – would negatively impact them.

Realising that the City of New York wasn’t trying to put him out of business, Chesky did some lobbying of his own. The result: legislators have proposed an alternative bill that suits everyone, Airbnb continues to go from strength to billion dollar valuation and Chesky isn’t going to jail any time soon. (By comparison, sharing the stage at Disrupt was Uber‘s Travis Kalanick who boasted that he’s currently facing 20,000 years in jail for his bold defiance of the law. Total number of Uber cabs available to NY Disrupt attendees: 0)

As a permanent hotel dweller, and the son of two hoteliers, I’m conflicted by Airbnb’s modest but undeniably growing impact on the hotel industry. On the one hand, anything that makes it easier for people to pack their entire lives into carry-on luggage and city hop their way around the world – which Airbnb demonstrably does – is a good thing. On the other hand, I love hotels and I want the industry to survive and thrive.

What doesn’t help resolve my conflict is how stubbornly my beloved hotel industry refuses to embrace the same Disruptive ethos that has driven Airbnb to its soaring valuation.

For example, it’s ridiculous that there’s no Airbnb for independent hotel rooms, especially given that smaller hotels have the most to lose from customers shifting to private room rentals. Such a site could foster the same feeling of community as is found on Airbnb while also facilitating better price elasticity: publishing a top line rate, but allowing for private negotiation when it comes to long stays, block bookings or repeat stays. It would also provide an alternative for travellers who want a more homey alternative to soulless corporate hotels but still prefer the peace of mind that comes from a professionally run establishment. (For all of Airbnb’s boasts that no-one has been murdered in one of their rooms, there are still a hell of a lot of freaks out there)

Broadening the disruptive scope still further, I also like the idea of a Zipcar-for-hotels where, for a fixed monthly fee, frequent hotel stayers have access to a set number of hotel nights in whatever city they happen to be visiting. Say, $200 a month for three nights in any city, rising to two or three thousand dollars a month which would allow you to live permanently in any – or all – of the site’s network of independent hotels. To be admitted in to the network, independent hotels would have to agree to honor a fixed rate across the month and to set aside a fixed number of rooms for members (to ensure there was always sufficient inventory). Equally importantly, they would have to offer certain features as standard: free wifi, no resort fees, late check out and flexible cancellation policies, for starters.

Obviously, in such simplistic form, each of those ideas probably deserves to live and die on the back of a paper napkin; there’s a reason why I’m not an entrepreneur any more. But my broader point stands: it’s inevitable that an equilibrium will eventually be found between sites like Airbnb and traditional hotels — that point will be reached far more quickly, though, once hoteliers start to take lessons from their Disruptive rivals.

Source: Airbnb’s Soaring Valuation Should Be A Wake-Up Call To Independent Hotels

On iCloud, Baby

May 31st, 2011 05:03 admin View Comments

Apple did something really odd today. Something they almost never do. They pre-announced the agenda for the keynote of one of their events, WWDC, taking place next week. Yes, they probably did this in an attempt to set expectations — read: no new iPhone coming — but in doing so, they also managed to do something even stranger: they outed a completely unreleased product. iCloud.

So what is iCloud? Apple only states that it’s their “upcoming cloud services offering.” Of course, a number of other details have been rumored for months now. I figured it was a good time to break down what we know — or what we think we know about what’s coming. Erick did a bit earlier. I’ll do a bit more.

Ultra Mega Datacenter

The talk about Apple’s cloud strategy really began when it was revealed that they were building a massive datacenter in North Carolina about a year ago. That datacenter only recently was completed and brought online. And it’s thought that Apple poured over $1 billion into it.

At 500,000+ square feet, it’s something like five times larger than Apple’s other datacenters. And yes, it is believed to be the main hub for iCloud (though they are thought to be building another large datacenter in California as well).

iTunes in iCloud

The most talked-about aspect of iCloud is definitely the music portion of it. Because Apple has been negotiating with the music industry for months — and because rivals Google and Amazon have as well, a number of things have leaked about this service.

Right now, it’s believed that Apple either has three or all four of the major music labels signed up for a service that would allow Apple to stream music from their servers to users’ computers, iPhones, iPads, etc. Unlike Google and Amazon (which don’t have the label deals yet), Apple’s service will apparently allow a program (likely iTunes) to analyze a user’s computer and see what songs they have on their hard drive. Those songs would then be mirrored in iCloud — meaning no uploading would be required, a hugely important detail.

Another potentially huge detail is the talk that Apple’s deal with the labels may even include non-iTunes-purchased songs in users’ iCloud. This means that music obtained through other means (read: piracy) may still work with the system. That would be a big win for Apple, and one you can bet they’re paying for.

But not so fast. While the label deals are signed (or will be this week), Apple still apparently does not have the publisher deals signed. While generally less talked-about than the label deals, the publisher deals are still vital for a full-fledged service. Apple may be able to get these done this week as well, or it may take a little while longer. After years of being pushed over, it seems the publishers are negotiating harder than usual this time.

We had originally heard that Apple’s plan was to launch their cloud music service at their annual music event in the fall. But now that we know for sure that iCloud is being formally unveiled at WWDC, it seems likely that they will at least mention it there, and probably preview it. But that doesn’t mean it will be ready to go. In fact, it may require iOS 5 (I have no actual details here, just thinking out loud), which also isn’t due until late summer or early fall (though it too will be shown off at WWDC).

iMovies in iCloud

Earlier today, CNet’s Greg Sandoval had a story about Apple’s hopes that the movie and television studios will also get on board with their iCloud offering. Unlike the music side of things, there hasn’t been much stated about this side of the coin. But it’s arguably even more important.

For years now, I’ve been complaining about the untenable model Apple has in place with regard to iTunes and films/television shows. The issue is that they take up way too much space on hard drives. If these services were as popular as Apple hoped, everyone would run out of hard drive space very quickly. There needs to be a cloud solution here.

Sandoval notes that while the sides are talking, and some are thought to be close, there are some big holdups. One is the idiotic HBO rule (where movies can’t be on sale online when they’re being aired on HBO). This rule is a hold-over from a different era and should be eliminated. But that’s Hollywood.

Another issue is, of course, piracy. Sandoval quotes Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes as talking favorably about a cloud solution for movie storage, but only with the Ultraviolet system in place. For those unaware, Ultraviolet is a new form of DRM that is backed by all the major studios and several device manufacturers and content sellers.

Unfortunately, Sandoval leaves out one key detail: the one company not on board with Ultraviolet is Apple. They have their own DRM system that they’d prefer to use. This is going to be a hold up — especially with studios like Time Warner. They have to know that if they back Apple and UV, it will undercut the latter. So do they try to force Apple on board with UV? That probably won’t work too well.

iDrive in iCloud

Presumably, iCloud will replace MobileMe (which itself replaced .Mac and iTools). At its most basic, MobileMe is storage space in the cloud (on Apple’s servers) and a syncing service. A main front-facing version of this is iDisk.

This system currently works fairly well, though for whatever reason, it’s not nearly as seamless as other third-party options like Dropbox. One can only assume that Apple will try to remedy that with iCloud. While there haven’t been many hints of it yet in OS X Lion, don’t be surprised if iCloud is tightly intertwined into the new OS. As well as iOS 5.

And expect the other MobileMe services (email, calendar, address book, Find my iPhone) to make the leap over the iCloud as well. And don’t be surprised if the most basic ones become free — more on that below.

And what about this: what if Apple offers developers some storage space on iCloud for their own apps? This could allow them to use Apple’s services rather than another third-party like Amazon A3. It’s pure speculation, but it doesn’t sound so crazy, does it?

Gallery in iCloud

One element that could get a larger revamp is the Gallery functionality currently baked into MobileMe. Some of it is good right now, but most of it is too clunky. While we know that Apple is going with deeper Twitter integration in iOS 5 to easily tweet out pictures (among other things), they likely want a better solution of their own as well. A revamped Gallery offering could do this.

One thing we’ve been hearing whispers about is that Apple is thinking about how best to share moments (pictures and images) with those people close to you. Think: Path instead of Flickr. Apple could do this via a new photo-sharing app, but it would probably be easier to bake it into the Photos app. There would then be a web-component to this, obviously.

Location in iCloud

Along those lines, another element that there have been whispers of for a while is a location service that Apple could offer. Think of it as “Find my iPhone” but for people. In other words, it could be something like “Find my child”, or “Find my friends“. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about this in recent weeks, but Apple was definitely working on something in this space. It could be a part of iCloud or it may not.

Voice in iCloud

Another aspect of iOS 5 that we’ve heard some talk about is the Siri integration. Apple acquired Siri last year, and is believed to have put that team to work on some new, cool services for iOS 5. Some of those may be based in iCloud, some may not. But one piece of underlying technology, created by Nuance, is definitely believed to be a part of iCloud.

Ever since the Siri acquisition, Apple is believed to have been in negotiations with Nuance on everything from an acquisition to a big-time partnership agreement. It’s now believed that the latter is in place and could be announced at WWDC.

From what we’ve heard, Nuance software is already running on Apple’s servers in their North Carolina datacenter. It’s believed that Apple could offer third-party developers access to this technology (which may or may not happen at WWDC). This could well be a vital part of the backend of Apple’s iCloud strategy.

Notifications in iCloud

We’ve also heard that the notification system in iOS is getting completely revamped in version 5. Apple famously took their time building their current Push Notification system — it took them about a year to complete it for iOS 3, months longer than anticipated.

The current system leaves a lot to be deserved and a revamping will be much welcomed. Presumably, this will now run over Apple’s new cloud infrastructure as well.

Activation/Syncing in iCloud

A wildcard for iCloud is if Apple will finally offer the ability to activate devices without tethering them to a computer? If that’s the case with iOS 5, it may also rely on Apple’s new server system. Also interesting could be app syncing, which you can do now, but it’s more of a manual process through the App Store. This would bring iOS closer in functionality to Android in this regard.

Pricing of iCloud

The big question about iCloud from a consumer perspective will be around pricing. Right now, MobileMe is $99 (or $149 for a family pack) for a year. For individuals, this includes 20 GB of space spread over all the various services. That won’t be nearly enough space if iCloud is to include music storage — let alone movie/TV storage.

But remember too that with mirroring, Apple isn’t actually storing many copies of individual songs for users. Instead they’ll have one (or a few) central repositories that users will access depending on their ownership rights. This will keep the costs lower for Apple and, in turn, for users.

Apple likes to keep things simple. Because of that, it seems unlikely that they’d offer a many-tiered plan for iCloud pricing. Instead, I suspect they may have two (or three) options. At the base may be a free option with Calendar, Address Book, Bookmarks, iBooks-sync, Find my iPhone, maybe even email. Above that may be a paid option at the $99 price point, or slightly higher (perhaps monthly?). This would presumably include iCloud music and perhaps more iDisk storage. Maybe they’d have another tier if they can get the movie/TV studios on board.

On iCloud

The fact that Apple is unveiling iCloud alongside major revamps to their two flagship OSes (iOS and OS X) suggests deep ties to those two OSes. And the fact that this is taking place at WWDC suggests that Apple will have plenty of new things for developers to work with in the cloud.

It still seems pretty likely at this point that all of this will just be a taste of what’s to come. This will be Apple previewing services to get developers a taste and teach them how to utilize these new tools. Don’t be surprised if new builds of both iOS and OS X Lion are released to developers with iCloud as well. Final releases for consumers would come later (in the summer for OS X and in the fall for iOS).

We’ll be there next week covering all of this live.

Source: On iCloud, Baby

Signs Of Twimg, Twitter’s Photo Hosting, In The Wild

May 31st, 2011 05:19 admin View Comments

More details have emerged since we originally reported on Twitter’s photo-sharing service, namely that Apple’s new iOS 5 will probably come with a baked in Twitter image sharing feature.

A tipster informs us that one trigger happy Apple iOS designer has already released a test link into the wild (which we’ve seen but are not replicating here). The tipster clued us into a http://a0.twimg.com/status_photos/ URL that appeared in his timeline, and then quickly disappeared.

While Twitter has hosted individual profile images on http://a1.twimg.com/profile_images/ for quite some time, the /status_photos/ appendage is new, or relatively so.

A little Googling finds three more signs of this: A test account posting photos on March 30th, a Google cache of the protected Twitter office account posting the above photo on March 31st, this bizarre account posting photos yesterday and a Tweetmeme cache of Twitter designer Coleen Baik posting this photo from her account, with the original tweet nowhere to be found.

If what we’re hearing is correct and the service is just a simple uploader to S3, then the above /status_photos/ links seem to make sense. However we’re expecting that these will eventually get reformatted to something cleaner, like Twimg.com/3dkd for example.

Image: TheTwoffice

Source: Signs Of Twimg, Twitter’s Photo Hosting, In The Wild

Eric Schmidt’s Gang Of Four: Google, Apple, Amazon, And Facebook

May 31st, 2011 05:19 admin View Comments

Every technology era has its four horsemen driving growth and innovation. In the 1990s it was Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and Dell. Today, there is anew “gang of four,” as Google chairman Eric Schmidt puts it. They are Google (of course), Apple, Amazon and Facebook, and they are behind the consumer revolution on the Internet today. Not only are all four companies “growing at incredible rates.”

Schmidt notes that all four are together worth about half a trillion dollars, they are all platforms in their own right, and they are all basically spreading their power where before there was only one company who had such influence: namely, Microsoft. But “Microsoft is not driving the consumer revolution,” Schmidt notes (although they still do well in the enterprise).

The Gang of Four compete and cooperate in various ways, but each has its own strengths: search (Google), social (Facebook), commerce (Amazon), and devices (Apple). Although relations with Apple are not as cozy as when he sat on its board, he notes that Google just renewed it maps and search partnership with Apple.

As far as Facebook is concerned, Schmidt says “Facebook has done a number of things that I admire. For years I’ve said we’ve missed something, which is identity.” Facebook is the first generally available identity system that works across much of the Web. Schmidt argues that “the industry would benefit from having an alternative.” Obviously, he wants Google to be that alternative. Also he tries to position Google’s upcoming social features as ways “to make our own products better” rather than trying to go straight up against Facebook. Schmidt made his remarks at the D9 conference.

Source: Eric Schmidt’s Gang Of Four: Google, Apple, Amazon, And Facebook

Google’s Eric Schmidt: We Just Renewed Maps Partnership With Apple

May 31st, 2011 05:03 admin View Comments

Today during a keynote interview at AllThingsD’s D9, Google Executive Chairman (and former longtime CEO) made a key announcement: Google has recently renewed its partnership with Apple over mapping and search. In other words, don’t look for a new version of Maps on iOS at next month’s WWDC.

So, why is this important? Apple has long shipped every iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad with a Maps application powered by Google. It’s great (though arguably not as good as its Android counterpart). But Apple and Google are competing fiercely in the mobile market, and every time someone runs a search using Maps from an iOS device, Apple is handing Google a little more data that could be used to further improve their local products.

Apple is rumored to be working on its own map service — it’s even admitted publicly that’s it’s building an improved traffic database — but it sounds like we won’t be seeing that yet. This is in line with a report from 9to5mac last week.

Source: Google’s Eric Schmidt: We Just Renewed Maps Partnership With Apple

Social Loyalty Platform PunchTab Raises $850K

May 31st, 2011 05:39 admin View Comments

PunchTab, a startup that offers a social loyalty platform for consumers and publishers, has raised $850,000 in seed funding from Mohr Davidow Ventures, Embarcadero Ventures, and angels Venky Harinarayan, Anand Rajaraman, and Nick Sturiale. PunchTab is the brainchild of YouSendIt founder Ranjith Kumaran.

The startup’s iPhone app, SolidPunch, serves as a rewards platform for your Facebook friends, allowing you to reward your friends for all the favors they do for you. You sign into the app via Facebook Connect and the app will automatically populate your friends. You can then punch your friends when they do you a favor. Did a friend buy you lunch? You can give them a punch. Similar to the way your Subway Club Card works, your friends earn punches. When they accumulate, 6 punches you can send them a reward or coupon from the PunchTab catalog for free (PunchTab makes money when a friend uses the coupon to buy an item).

PunchTab’s website also allows publishers to give reward points to users who check in to a site or blog every day. Visitors, which authenticate via Facebook Connect, can earn points for Facebook comments, WordPress comments and Facebook likes. Once a publisher rewards a user, the visitor can redeem the reward through the PunchTab rewards catalog. The startup says the integration is simple, only requiring a publisher to add a few lines of code.

So far over 350 websites have integrated PunchTab into their sites. Philip Seyfi, owner of Japanese language instructional site, NihongoUp.com, says his 40,000 members have responded well to his business’ new loyalty program created with PunchTab. The company reported a 15% increase in Facebook fan page Likes in the first few days of implementation.

Source: Social Loyalty Platform PunchTab Raises $850K

Mac OS Update Detects, Kills MacDefender Scareware

May 31st, 2011 05:28 admin View Comments

OS X

CWmike writes “Apple released an update for Snow Leopard on Tuesday that warns users that they’ve downloaded fake Mac security software and scrubs already-infected machines. Chet Wisniewski, a security researcher with Sophos, confirmed that the update alerts users when they try to download any of the bogus MacDefender antivirus software. Wisniewski had not yet tested the malware cleaning functionality of the update, but was confident that it would work. ‘It’s reasonably trivial to remove MacDefender,’ said Wisniewski. ‘It’s not burying itself in the system, not compared to some of some of the crap that we see on Windows.’ The update, labeled 2011-003, adds a new definition to the rudimentary antivirus detection engine embedded in Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, and also increases the frequency with which the operating system checks for new definitions to daily.”

Source: Mac OS Update Detects, Kills MacDefender Scareware

Vudu Taps Peter Gabriel’s The Filter To Power Its Movie And TV Recommendations

May 31st, 2011 05:54 admin View Comments

You may know Vudu as the startup bringing high definition movie rentals and rent-to-own services to set-top boxes like PlayStation 3 and the Boxee Box. And most TVs and Blu-ray players. Vudu recently became the second streaming service to receive its own dedicated button on Vizio’s remote controls, following Netflix.

You may also know Peter Gabriel, the British rocker who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a part of Genesis. Also the man responsible for Sledgehammer. What you may not know is that Gabriel is the front man and lead investor in a rapidly proliferating recommendation service called The Filter. Or that today The Filter is officially announcing that it has been tapped by Vudu to power its recommendation engine.

The Filter is already providing its recommendation technology to an impressive list of clients, including Sony Music, Nokia, Comcast, Warner Brothers, NBC — and now it’s added Vudu’s huge library of HD movies to the list. As my colleague Mike Butcher wrote last year, The Filter’s main business model involves becoming a white label personalization engine for mass audiences. As such, it needs partnerships like these to prove that its technology is able to scale into the billion-request level. Today’s announcement is further indication that the UK-based business is well on its way, considering it currently reaches more than 200 million unique users across multiple devices.

Through the new partnership, The Filter will offer Vudu subscribers a personalized video-on-demand experience based on customers’ previous viewing habits. The service is a little bit Amazon, a little bit Last.fm, and a little bit Netflix, serving its users with recommendations that are based on purchase data, consumption data, combining a wide array of statistical and rule-based analysis with artificial intelligence techniques that both learn and forget — all in an effort to provide smarter recommendations while protecting user privacy.

In the case of Vudu, The Filter’s recommendation engine will generate targeted and timely video recommendations from Vudu’s selection of streaming movies and TV shows. And seeing as the competitors in this space, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube included, collectively reach a massive audience and are trying to differentiate their services in an effort to provide the best streaming movie (and movie recommendation) option, The Filter is becoming a big part of the conversation.

Vudu was acquired by Walmart last year (for an estimated $100 million-plus), as a play into the Internet-ready TV sales market, so The Filter may now count Walmart as a channel through which to reach new users. And Walmart is, well, a larger-than-average corporation, that may one day sell its products (beyond movies and TV shows) through a service like Vudu, using The Filter to recommend everything from movies to a new pair of pants. Or a new rifle. Look out!

Source: Vudu Taps Peter Gabriel’s The Filter To Power Its Movie And TV Recommendations

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