September 2006

 

Cross Compiling

Cross compiling software on a host platform to run on a different target used to be an exotic stunt to be performed by the brave and desperate. One had first to configure and build the compiler, assembler, archiver, and linker for the different architecture, then cross-build the other architecture's libraries, and finally the software. This week, while preparing a new release of the CScout refactoring browser I realized that what was once a feat is nowadays a routine operation.

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Choosing a Collection: A Discussion with Kent Beck

Recently I reviewed the mansucript of Kent Beck's upcoming book Implementation Patterns. I will certainly put it in the list of books any professional programmer should read. When discussing collections (containers in C++ STL parlance), Kent mentions that his overall strategy for performance coding with collections is to use the simplest possible implementation at first and pick a more specialized collection class when it becomes necessary. My view is that we should choose the most efficient implementation from the start. With prepackaged collections this doesn't have any cost associated with it, and it avoids nasty surprises when a dataset increases beyond the size the programmer envisaged. I added a comment to that effect in my review, and later I sent him an email with a supporting citation, which kindled an interesting exchange. I reproduce our email exchange here, with his permission.

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The Verbosity of Object-Oriented Code

As I refactored a piece of code from an imperative to an object-oriented style I increased its clarity and reusability, but I also trippled its size. This worries me.

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UML Class Diagrams from C++ Code

I needed a UML class diagram of the classes I use in the implementation of CScout refactoring browser. I drew the last such diagram on paper about four years ago, so it was definitely out of date. I always say that whenever possible documentation should be automatically generated from the code, so I decided to automate the task.

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NASSCOM Quality Summit 2006

Last week I attended NASSCOM's 2006 Quality Summit in Bangalore, India. There I gave a tutorial on tooling with open source software, and delivered a talk on Global Software Development in the FreeBSD Project. It was an edifying trip.

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Hardware and Software Debugging

Debuggging day. The MySQL 5.0 server I tried to run as part of a MediaWiki installation under FreeBSD, crashed during initialization, and a Tomy Walkabout digital baby monitor started emitting a low beeping sound. I solved both cases through educated guesses.

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Open Source and Professional Advancement

Doing really first-class work, and knowing it, is as good as wine, women (or men) and song put together.

— Richard Hamming

I recently participated in an online discussion regarding the advantages of the various certification programs. Some voiced skepticism regarding how well one can judge a person's knowledge through answers to narrowly framed multiple choice questions. My personal view is that the way a certification's skills are examined is artificial to the point of uselessness. In practice I often find solutions to problems by looking for answers on the web. Knowing where and how to search for an answer is becoming the most crucial problem-solving skill, yet typical certification exams still test rote learning. Other discussants suggested that certification was a way to enter into a job market where employers increasingly asked for experience in a specific technology. My reaction to that argument was that open source software development efforts offer us professionals a new and very valuable way to obtain significant experience in a wide range of areas. In this column I'll describe how we can advance professionally by contributing to open source projects.

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