Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Good Bye, Dr. Dobb’s

Today comes the shitty news that Dr. Dobb’s (…Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia) is shutting down.

I would not have had the career I have had without DDJ: first as an inspiration, then as a competitor, and then as the last torch of technically rigorous, personally-voiced but professionally edited high-quality programming articles.

DDJ was the last of the great programming magazines and was, probably, the greatest. Only Byte could, perhaps, have an equal claim to the crown. All the rest of ours, an entire industry, envied their columnists, technical editors, and authors. Even the standouts (Microcornucopia, Programmer’s Journal, C/C++ Programmer’s Journal, Unix Review, PC Techniques, WinTech Journal, and, … hell, it’s my feed… Computer Language, Software Development, and Game Developer) could only occasionally match their quality.

Perhaps what I admired most about Dobb’s was that it never wavered from being a programming magazine. In the early 90s, I decreed that Computer Language would never again refer to our profession as “programming,” it would only be referred to as “software development.” We published articles about management, about architecture and design, we boasted (boasted) of how little source code we published (because we talked about “the real issues”). And while I think there was a valid point to be made, the truth is that programming — the infinitely challenging alchemy of turning sparks traveling through blocks of sand into computation and information  — is what drew me to the profession, why I will code when I retire, and why I would have a computer under the floorboards if programming were illegal. Dr. Dobb’s understood, and celebrated, that mysterious joy. Perhaps that is why it out-lasted all the rest.

Now, it seems like, if our industry has a face, it’s the face of an arrogant Silicon Valley douchebag who knows everything about monetization, socialization, and micro-localization and nothing about algorithms, memory models, and programming languages. Dr. Dobb’s wasn’t a magazine for venture capitalists or “Digital Prophet”s or “Brand-Story Architect“s. It was a magazine for hard-core coders, people who could appreciate the trade-offs in the design of a macro preprocessor, get an “ah-hah!” moment from reading an assembly language listing for a chip they didn’t know, or  grasp the theme of an implementation discussed over a year of columns.

It will be missed.

For Immediate Release…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

NEANY Inc. to Exhibit Unmanned Solutions at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2013

~ Arrow UAV, Ground Control Station, and Unmanned Surface Vehicle will be on display~

Hollywood, MD – August 07, 2013 (myPressManager.com) –

NEANY Inc., an industry leader in providing time-sensitive tactical solutions for a variety of missions, is a proud supporter at this year’s AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2013 in Washington, DC August 12 – 15. Conference attendees will see firsthand NEANY’s flagship UAS, the Arrow, integrated with Raytheon’s Pyros™, a UAS weapon specially designed for tactical level missions, and the aXiom™ 9000 Series, Tachyon’s state-of the-art Beyond Line-of-Site communications system. NEANY’s display will also feature its latest autonomous surface vehicle, the DragonSpy, equipped with the ARES Inc. 7.62mm Externally Powered Gun (EPG) mounted on L-3 Communications IOS’s Advanced Remote Weapon Station (ARWS). The DragonSpy is ideal for providing rapid response capabilities in maritime/littoral environments. In addition, visitors will have the opportunity to operate one of NEANY’s signature ground control stations to further experience the capabilities of these systems.

NEANY Inc. is a minority-owned, SBA 8(a)-certified research, design, test and evaluation engineering firm specializing in unmanned systems with integrated payloads supporting a variety of global missions. These missions include homeland defense and security, border and port patrol, urban mapping, counter-narcotics applications, disaster preparedness, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). In addition to unmanned systems, NEANY’s expertise includes ground control stations, systems integration, rapid prototype fabrication, pilot training, and theater deployment and logistics. NEANY continues to demonstrate unprecedented in-theater expertise that includes deployment-to-extraction logistical support as nearly 50% of NEANY’s personnel are currently forward deployed. In a period where financial resources are limited, NEANY is confident in its ability to offer cost-effective unmanned solutions capable of supporting national and international defense applications.

NEANY will have literature and personnel on hand to demonstrate and discuss our full line of available products and systems. Please take time to visit NEANY at booth #2103.

For more information on the NEANY advantage, please visit www.neanyinc.com.

For more information on AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2013, please visit

How many programmers are there?

According to Evans Data, the worldwide developer community will reach 29M by 2019. The largest growth is expected to come from China and, to a lesser extent, other developing economies.

I tend to be very skeptical about quantitative analysis of the developer community, and more-so when it comes to global analysis and forecasting, but I have no prima facie reason to criticize those numbers.

As always, I turn my attention to questions of the distribution of developer productivity. Is the distribution of talent among these 29M more like:

curves

A normal distribution would imply that the most effective team structures would be fairly democratic.

The “superprogrammer” distribution, in which an elite (but not vanishingly small) population is vastly more productive than median would imply the most effective team structure as being one structured like a surgical team (the team is structure in service to the elite member).

The “incompetent” distribution, in which a good number of exceptionally bad programmers manage to stay employed, implies that instead of seeking out “rockstars” and “ninjas,” teams should take a satisficing approach. In this world, the median professional programmer is pretty darn good, but sees a lot of unacceptable crap.

A belief in the “superprogrammer” distribution is prevalent, but the “incompetent” distribution best explains the world I’ve seen over the past 30 years.

How Many Python Programmers Are There?

Giles Thomas makes the case that the Python programming community numbers in the low millions. This seems right to me: that’s a large community, but it’s not quite at the level of the most popular programming languages. That size is supported by this chart, which has impressed me as “feeling right” when it comes to the popularity of various languages.

One point, though, is that Python has made very significant inroads in the scientific community, which I believe is a key influencer and leading indicator: the libraries that scientists build become building blocks for future work. When you look at the history of programming languages, you see that scientists and engineers were clear driving forces behind FORTRAN and although C and C++ were broadly popular, their performance benefits made them extremely popular in labs as well.

I’m not sure that the popularity of Python in labs is going to be captured by metrics that focus on the professional programming community, so if anything, I suspect that the Python community might even be a moderate amount larger than Giles suggests.

Alaska Bear Adventures

Yes, it’s worth it.

It’s a pity that the phrase “…in their natural habitat,” is so boring. The difference between this:

and this:

is the difference between a pixel and the Sistine Chapel.

Deciding to spend the money on this trip was the hardest part of our Alaska trip. My wife DALOR (Did A Lot Of Research) and there can be no guarantees about what you’ll see. Our day highlighted that: we had thin ground-fog that limited visibility to a couple hundred yards. If the air was three degrees cooler, it would have been soup and we might not have seen anything; if it had been three degrees warmer and the fog burned off, we would have seen more and my photos would be twice as sharp.

One thing we learned was that Alaska Bear Adventures has the best reputation for fair-dealing in the case of weather cancellations and so forth. But, on the ground, I don’t think anyone can guarantee “You’ll get within X yards of Y bears.” As it was, I’d say we approached this bear within 40 yards:

And the Momma and her cubs within 60 yards:

We flew to Hallo Bay, the site where the Discovery Channel’s “Great Bear Stakeout” was filmed. It’s apparently within a few bays of where Timothy Treadwell of “Grizzly Man” was killed. So, as far as locations go, this is the right place.

We visited in late May, and were a little concerned about whether the bears would have come down yet, but as you can see, we had no problem approaching two on the ground. From the plane we spotted another bear, a large male, that we could not find in the mist and not seeing a dominant male was the only “disappointment” of the day. On our return flight we flew over another bay and spotted four bears.

Our pilot and guide was Jarrod, who was great. He’s a young guy, but flies delivery and mail into the Alaskan interior in Winter, so extremely competent. He was very knowledgeable about the bears and their biology but it was his enthusiasm that really set him apart. Imagine flying and walking around with a happy Edward Norton and you’ve pretty much got the picture.

We had excellent flying weather (we had zero turbulence, which I have to think was unusual, given the mountains) and the flight-seeing was great. We flew over snow-covered volcanoes with lava-heated lakes at their peaks and steam coming from vents and spilling down their sides, over glaciers spotted with brilliant azure melt-ponds, and saw a lone wolf trotting along a driftwood-covered beach.

The plane was tight, naturally, but heated and everyone had a window (1 in the co-pilot seat, and then 2 rows of side-by-side). There’s a short but thorough safety briefing as well as a briefing on the protocol for hiking with the bears. Everyone is given a pair of hip waders and almost all the time on the ground is spent walking over mudflats, which is very easy. The hardest part is that, when viewing the bears, you kneel for long periods of time. The mud’s soft, but you get pretty stiff!

The benefit is that the bears really, really don’t seem to worry about you. With both adult bears we saw them take notice of us, and I’d say that the mother avoided us initially (she took her cubs into some brush) but once they started feeding (the mother on clams, the other on lichen) they hardly glanced at us. We were close enough to hear the scraping of their claws and not just the squabbling of the cubs, but their growling complaints that it was time to be nursed.

I honestly have no idea how long we were on the ground — a few hours anyway — and probably 80% of the time we were viewing bears.

The thing that will either work for or against you is the environment: if you’re going to be disappointed by anything but highlight-reel footage of bears battling on two legs, maybe you’ll be disappointed. If it’s enough for you to closely watch magnificent animals in a magnificent setting, it may be the highlight of your trip.

Can’t Alert Health Insurance to Possible Fraud

The other day I’m doing the bills and I get one of those healthcare “This is not a bill. It describes services.” things. You know, the sort of things that 90% of the world throws out without reviewing. But I look at it and check with my wife if she went to the dentist that day. “No! Absolutely not.” I Google the doctor and they’re in Florida, 6000 miles from where we live.

Now the worrisome thing is — this is billed to my wife, associated with my healthcare account, etc. — so there’s the hint of identity theft or fraud.

So now Tina’s been on the phone with the health insurance company for 45 minutes and they say “We can’t take any steps.” They can’t take any steps about the potential fraud we’re alerting them to. So now Tina calls the phone number I Googled up for the dentist and is talking to them, and probably they’re fine people but if they aren’t, WTF?

Review “The Wasp Factory”

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very well written. First-person account of a psychopath or maybe a sociopath living deep inside a metaphor in Scotland. Very unsettling, with a narrator who’s clearly unreliable, so one is always wondering if incidents or even entire characters are imaginary. Although certain twists were heavily foreshadowed, the denoument was still quite tense. My only qualm is that I think the final few pages spelled out too much — it would have been more haunting if the narrator didnt become suddenly insightful and deconstruct the metaphor.

Havent been so compelled to turn pages in a while.

View all my reviews

via Goodreads | Larry Obrien Kailua Kona, HIs review of The Wasp Factory.

Tap 7 Times to Enable Developer Options in Android Jelly Bean

How to enable developer settings on Android 4.2 | Android Central.

I just got myself a Nexus 4 for cross-platform development, but it didn’t initially appear as a device in Xamarin Studio. Initial Googling and SO’ing indicated a non-existent “Settings->Application->Developer” route to enable debugging on the phone.

Instead, the correct sequence is “Settings->About phone->{tap 7 times} Settings->Developer Options”

The Governor vs. Boyd Crowder

The Justified finale had a scene that summed up one of it’s greatest strengths: Raylan, the putative hero, and Boyd, the putative villain, demonstrate how parallel they are to each other: Raylan points to Boyd’s career and sneers at the thought that Boyd imagines himself anything other than “the bad guy.” Boyd points to Raylan’s actions and sneers that Raylan thinks he’s any different. Perfect: They are different, and make different choices, but both focus on different aspects, highlighting the ambiguity of the moral dilemmas that, taken one way, lead to acclaim and promotion in the US Marshall’s Service and, taken another, lead to universal contempt and jail.

Which they’d similarly set up with the Governor and Rick in The Walking Dead. Rick crazily hung on to the voice and visions of his dead wife while making the fateful decisions necessary for survival, the Governor hung on to the physical body of his dead daughter while doing the same. While the hard truth is that both are in the business of ordering the brutal actions that are necessary to make their group survive, Rick soothes himself by wallowing in guilt based on pre-zompocalypse morality. The Governor steels himself by sitting and staring at decapitated heads in fishtanks that are still gnawing to get at him. But why do people dwell on things? To bolster their weak spots: Rick’s belly-aching about morality implies that he needs to remind himself to not let it disappear, while the Governor’s zombiequarium implies that he needs to remind himself to never let himself relax. A similar point was made when the Governor said that, had he acted forcefully from the beginning, his daughter would fear him, but be alive. Meanwhile, we saw that Rick’s son is a little disdainful of his Dad’s morality.

But instead of developing the theme of parallelism between Rick and the Governor, they just put the Governor on the crazy train. Oh, he wasn’t just brutal, he was a sadist. He wasn’t just committed to pre-emptive murder, he was a psychopath. And most frustratingly of all, in the finale, he wasn’t a competent leader. And not only wasn’t he a competent leader in his assault on the jail, he apparently had never been competent in training his people to have the proper level of paranoia and response to deal with sneak attacks.

And just at a basic dramatic level, they cheated us of a final confrontation between the Governor and one of our protagonists. Instead, he slunk off with his A-team baddies and will now be a possible occasional appearance. Very disappointing for a show whose greatest strength is its willingness to kill off established characters.

Hungarian Monadic Notation: Call Me Maybe

Update: this is an April Fool’s joke. It’s the most incoherent, illogical thing I could think of. It’s a bad idea, it wouldn’t work, and it misses the point of everything.

Hungarian Monadic Notation: Call Me Maybe()

Update: This was an April Fool’s joke. If you are interested in monads and are a C# or Java programmer, I strongly suggest this series of posts by Eric Lippert, which explains monads in a very pragmatic way.

If you follow the world of software development at all, you know that there has been a big uptick in discussion about “functional programming languages,” a type of language that emphasizes immutability and composition of functions to achieve higher reliability and, arguably, higher productivity.

On the other hand, functional programming languages look like Klingon, but with math:

instance Monad[] where
   return x = [x]
   xs >>= f = concat (map f xs)
   fail _ = []

WTF, ammiright? (And for extra points, it’s not a right-shift, it’s “bind.” Because arcana.)

The most laughable claim of the functionistas is that functional code is easy to comprehend and debug. Lemme’ tell ya, bud, I’ve been a dozen lambdas deep trying to figure out behavior and this whole “functional code is stateless,” is more full of crap than an Oklahoma feedlot at slaughter time.

Functional programs have every flutter of state that an imperative program has, just not in any convenient stackframe. Or — and this is awesome to debug — it’s not yet in the stack frame — what’s in the stack frame is a bunch of goddamn function pointers and not-yet-enough parameters to call them. Sometimes the thing you’re stuck on is a dozen lambdas down and it’s building a goddamn function pointer that will calculate the parameters (Excuse me! I mean calculate exactly one parameter!) to another goddamn function pointer. Thank heavens you don’t have to struggle with the mind-numbing complexity of an if branch (“Oh my God! The code could go this way or it might go that way! What kind of cephalopodic mind could comprehend this tangle‽”).

And don’t get me started on compilation speed. I love this idea that the “compiler finds certain errors.” What they don’t say “And it does this in a mere several minutes. So don’t worry about missing one of those show-stopping narrowing conversions! We’ll take a look at it every goddamn time you want to fix a typo in a different source file.”

But, nonetheless, there are a few things that the FP world does that actually make sense once you machete away all the obfuscatory mathematical rigor.

Maybe Something Functional Does Right

The biggest practical thing, on a day-to-day basis, is that functional code doesn’t have to deal with null values. If you have some complex object that may-or-may-not initialize properly (let’s say a camera which may or may not be available on your phone), you are probably used to writing code that looks more or less like this:

var theCamera = AttemptCameraInitialization();
if(theCamera == null){ 
   DealWithNoCamera(); 
}else{ 
   var aPhoto = theCamera.TakePhoto();
   if(aPhoto == null)
   {
      DealWithNoPhoto();
   }
   …etc…
}

Or maybe:

try{
    var theCamera = AttemptCameraInitialization()
    var aPhoto = theCamera.TakePhoto();
}catch(npe){
    DealWithNullPointerException(npe);
}

And while the try-catch style isn’t nearly as wordy as the constant-error-checking style, it’s a little harder to debug and good coding style says that one ought not to rely on exceptions to deal with common alternatives. Contrast this with what one might see in the functional world (exact names and syntax differ between functional languages, so I’ll use Scala, whose Klingon-y parts can be swept under the rug, and can actually be comprehended by humans):

 val theCamera = AttemptCameraInitialization();
 val thePhoto = theCamera.TakePhoto();

And even if there was a problem during AttemptCameraInitialization(), no exception would be thrown. Instead, theCamera would be represented by a None object and, when a function is called on a None object, that None object simply returns another None.

So this may look like no big deal with a couple lines of code, but if you have an A that has a B() function that returns a B that has a C() function that returns a C that…a Y that has a Z() function that returns a Z, you can write code like:

var myZ = a.B().C().D().….X().Y().Z(); 

Which is much more readable than putting a bunch of checks-for-null between every method. And in this situation, you just are ploughing along nicely through your functions until one returns a None, in which case every function subsequent to that returns a None. (So how much fun is it when you’ve stepped your debugger up to that one line of code? But put that aside for now…)

So, talk to a functional guy about what’s going on and BOOM he drops the “M” word. Of all the gatekeeper-words in the mystical arcana that guard the entrance to the D&D den where all the cool functional kids are hanging, none has the power of “Monad.” It evens sounds like something that Gandalf would warn you about: “Beware the realm of endofunctors, for there, monoids become monads!”

Lemme’ tell ya’, I’ve been There and Back Again and monads are no big deal. They’re just goddamned parameterized types with a handful of easy semantic rules. Seriously. That’s it. The reason that they’re confusing is that the semantics are so stupidly underwhelming that you keep thinking “Yeah, okay, but what else?” It’s like the gate to your vast underground treasure-city being guarded by the word “friend,” a fact which is conveniently documented on the transom.

Anything Monads Can Do, Inheritance Can Do Better

So how are we gonna’ do this? Easy! Let’s say we start with a couple classes that look like this:

class Camera 
{
    Photo TakePhoto() { … etc…}
}

class Photo
{
    Bitmap GetImage() { … etc… }
    Exposure GetExposure() { …etc… }
   …etc…
}

All you have to do is define the interface to these objects, so that we can implement simple alternative “None” classes. But to help future maintenance programmers, we’re going to use a little invention of mine called “Hungarian Monadic Notation” to indicate our intent:

interface MMaybeCamera 
{
    MMaybePhoto TakePhoto();
}

interface MMaybePhoto
{
    Bitmap GetImage();
    MMaybeExposure GetExposure();
}

The way this works is that we indicate that a class or interface has this monadic intention by prefixing it’s name with an “M”. But because there are a lot of different monad patterns, you specify which monad in particular you’re talking about as the next part of the name. So in this case we have MMaybeCamera indicating that we’re looking at this particular pattern. Ditto for MMaybePhoto but you could also have, like, MEitherPhoto or MStateCamera etc. The possibilities are endless! And it’s super-easy to do and doesn’t introduce any of those stupid compilation errors!

Now that you’ve used HMN to name your interfaces, you just change your original implementations to implement the HMN interface:

class Camera : MMaybeCamera{ … original code… }

class Photo : MMaybePhoto { …original… }

But in addition, you also implement the alternative “empty” objects:

class NoneCamera : MMaybeCamera 
{
    MMaybePhoto TakePhoto()
    {
        return new NonePhoto();
    }
}

class NonePhoto : MMaybePhoto
{
    MMaybeExposure()
    {
       return new NoneExposure();
    }

    Bitmap GetImage() 
    {
       throw new MonadException("This is a none,son.");
    }
}

Isn’t that inspiringly clean code? When you call a function on a None{x} class, it just returns another new None{y} object! Or, when you need to break out a real class, you just throw a MonadException. (The details of MonadException are left as an exercise.)

Naturally, you kick this all off with a MMaybeCameraFactory to initialize your original MMaybeCamera.

Future Work

Although Hungarian Monadic Notation and it’s implementation patterns are agile best practices worthy of the enterprise, it’s true that there’s a certain amount of boilerplate code that’s associated with implementing each of the functions in the base interface.

In a future post, we’ll cover the answer:

Reflux: The Monadic Reflection Dependency Injection Framework

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