Boston University Computer Science Building Celebrates Modern Software Architecture

This is the Boston University Center for Computing & Data Science, to open in 2022.

Rising above Central Campus, the 19-story structure will house our mathematics, statistics, and computer science programs, as well as the renowned Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. It’s just the latest commitment to data sciences by a university already acknowledged as a leader in this booming field.

The 345,724-square-foot building, resembling a giant stack of books, will be completely fossil-fuel free, making it one of the most energy-sustainable buildings in all of Massachusetts.

To me, it is evocative of the “software stack” of today’s systems and the close and elegant integration of their disparate components.


As always, xkcd is here to clarify things: xkcd: Dependency


The Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford ought to look like this. At random times, it should change its colour to blue and lock all of the doors for five minutes before changing back.


@jdougan - I love the cartoon. I am not very computer literate, but as I look at the cantilevered structure and apply (naively, perhaps) some mathematical and computer principles I have learned here (and made visually explicit by your cartoon), I cannot help but wonder about ultimate stability of the structure in all circumstances. Catastrophic failure also happens with software, n’est-ce pas? Thus, while the BUCSB’s likelihood of structural failure is surely quite low, I don’t suppose the statistical probability is absolutely zero, say, following a1000 year wet snowfall accumulation (from global warming!) and an unusually large earthquake in New England.


Hoo boy.

The offset boxes and variously oriented slats first made me think they were evoking the parallel lines illusion. Then @jdougan got it right. :slight_smile:

The building definitely conjures an accurate mental image of the artifacts of the discipline soon to occupy it. I’m sure Peter Thiel would again remind us to be suspicious of disciplines that add “science” to their names.


That is part of the point of the cartoon. If some hacker in Nebraska is the dev and project owner of key infrastructure software, what happens if he is hit by a bus? Or less dramatically, retires, or changes jobs and no longer has the time to devote to it? Unfortunately these are much more common events than the 1000 year snowfall.

The other part has to do with serious issues in the software. eg. The 2012-2014 Heartbleed security bug which made every one that used the OpenSSL cryptography library vulnerable. Which at the time, was pretty much everything that was secured.

The good news is that generally these projects are Open Source licensed, so someone can grab a copy and continue development and fixes. The bad news is it can take some time to get back project management to where it was and since these are often invisible unpaid labour-of-love projects, it can be difficult to find a successor. In Open Source, the reputational benefits can sometimes be great, but there are plenty of cases where the project is unnoticed. eg. Dave Taht, in the process of preventing the congestion collapse of the Internet (from bufferbloat) worked himself into ill health.

There have been efforts to fix this but so far nothing entirely satisfactory:

  • Internet Civil Engineering Institute -
    • Organization to collect funds from sponsors and distribute them to load bearing people.
    • Shutdown because recruiting people who are both willing and entirely competent to run an organization like this is difficult.
  • Open Source Security Foundation (formerly Core Infrastructure Initiative)
    • is more concerned with security issues, was in part a response to Heartbleed
  • Loadsharers

This is a pretty good non-technical exposition from 2014 on the Heartbleed problem, causes and issues.

The Internet Is Being Protected By Two Guys Named Steve


Unbelievable. If I understand correctly, open SSL’s desire to remain open source runs up against its success in near-universal adoption, economics and government regulations. This is due to both free riders (basically everyone who uses the internet) and free regulators (wanting, undoubtedly, their own back doors). What is astounding is that the mega-corporations, so busy making billions while deplatforming those who disagree with them, have not offered amounts of money which, for them, is the equivalent of change lost in seat cushions. As I began - unbelievable!

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