Posts in 2010

 

Manifesto for Agile Government

I'm sure that many readers of this blog have read the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Having worked in government over the past year, I wondered how a similar manifesto for government, created by a group of people who would radically want to improve existing structures, would look like. Here is my take.

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Farewell to Disks

A classic web-comic illustrates how idle Wikipedia browsing can lead us from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Fatal hilarity (and worse). The comic doesn’t show the path leading from A to B, and finding it is an interesting challenge—think how you would engineer a system that could answer such questions. I believe that this problem and a solution I’ll present demonstrate some programming tools and techniques that will become increasingly important in the years to come.

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Synchronizing Thunderbird's Replied Flag

My main email client is Thunderbird, but I also use BlackBerry's and Apple's clients, all through the same IMAP account. Disconcertingly, email messages to which I have replied through the other clients don't show up in Thunderbird with the "replied" (replied icon) icon. This means that when I browse my email using Thunderbird, I waste time trying to remember whether I have responded to a particular message. Here is how I solved the problem.

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UML, Everywhere

flowchart, n.: The innumerate misleading the illiterate.

— Stan Kelly-Bootle, “The Devil’s DP Dictionary”

A mechanical engineer who sees the symbol ⊥ in a diagram will immediately realize that a feature is specified to be perpendicular to another. In contrast, a software engineer looking at a diagram’s line ending with the symbol ◊ will, at best, wonder whether it denotes aggregation (as in UML), or a “zero or one” cardinality (as in IDEF1X), or something else invented by a creative academic. Worse, many developers will simply scratch their head in bewilderment.

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Sane vim Editing of Unicode Files

Being able to use plain alphabeitc keys as editing commands is for many of us a great strength of the vi editor. It allows us to edit without hunting for the placement of the various movement keys on each particular keyboard, and, most of the time, without having to juggle in order to combine particular keys with ctrl or alt. However, this advantage can turn into a curse when editing files using a non-ASCII keyboard layout. When the keyboard input method is switched to another script (Greek in my case, or, say, Cyrillic for others) vi will stop responding to its normal commands, because it will encounter unknown characters. Here is how I've dealt with this problem.

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Batch Files as Shell Scripts Revisited

Four years ago I wrote about a method that could be used to have the Unix Bourne shell interpret Windows batch files. I'm using this trick a lot, because programming using the Windows/DOS batch files facilities is decidedly painful, whereas the Bourne shell remains a classy programming environment. There are still many cases where the style of Unix shell programming outshines and outperforms even modern scripting languages.

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Code Documentation

Technical prose is almost immortal.

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Impact Factor of Computer Science Journals 2009

The ISI Web of Knowledge recently published the 2009 Journal Citation Reports. Following similar studies I performed in 2007, 2008, and 2009, here is my analysis of the current status and trends for the impact factor in computer science journals.

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Email Analytics

During the past six months I've been drowning in email. I spend a large part of my day responding to email messages and filing incoming messages I consider important. Yet I'm falling behind and this affects the quality of my work: I sometimes delay responding to important messages. Followng Peter Drucker's dictum "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it", I decided to write a tool to analyze my incoming and outgoing email messages.

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Ron Heifetz on Crisis Leadership

Earlier today I had the privilege to attend a lecture on crisis management by the Harvard Senior Lecturer Ron Heifetz. Here is a list of points that struck me (in the form of slightly edited tweets), and my view of their relevance to software development.

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Email's Ten by Ten Law

I drown in email and my aspirations for handling it are becoming increasingly lame. In the 1980s my goal used to be an empty mailbox at the end of each session. During the 1990s the goal became to empty the mailbox by the end of the day. But tasks I couldn't complete within the day accumulated, so in the 2000s I just tried to have only so many messages as could fit in a window without a scrollbar, so that I could immediately scan what I had to do. Nowadays my modest goal is to keep the size of my mailbox below 100 messages, and I succeed in that only half of the time.

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Software Tracks

A generous car reviewer might praise a vehicle’s handling by writing that it turns as if it’s running on railroad tracks. Indeed, tracks offer guidance and support. When you run on tracks you can carry more weight, you can run faster, and you can’t get lost. That’s why engineers, from early childhood to old age, get hooked on trains. Can we get our software to run on tracks?

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Useful Polyglot Code

Four years ago I blogged about an incantation that would allow the Windows command interpreter (cmd) to execute Unix shell scripts written inside plain batch files. Time for an update.

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Become a Unix command line wizard
edX MOOC on Unix Tools: Data, Software, and Production Engineering
Debug like a master
Book cover of Effective Debugging
Compute with style
Book cover of The Elements of Computing Style
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