Yearly Archives: 2014

The Mythical Man-Month

The Mythical Man-Month cover

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering is a classic book about software engineering, and project management. It was written 40 years ago, and most part of it is obsolete, but at the same time some parts are still valid.

Very interesting observation made by the author is that Software project management is not much different than project management in other disciplines, because it is all about the people, their skills, communication, scheduling, and time estimation.

Because this book was written 40 years ago (based on the project accomplished 50 year ago!), most chapters describe Software Development based on waterfall methodology (the best way of making software at that time). Additionally, 40 years ago most of software was written in Assembler. Author mentions High-Level languages as possible future of Software Development. Besides that, I recommend this book. It shows that instead of 50 years past, we still have very similar problems (communication, error-prone software, estimation issues etc.), and we still struggle with finding “The Silver Bullet”.

I recommend to read last 4 chapters first:

  • 16 – No Silver Bullet – Essence and Accident
  • 17 – “No Silver Bullet” Refired
  • 18 – Propositions of The Mythical Man-Month: True or False?
  • 19 – The Mythical Man-Month after 20 Years

This will give you an overview of “no longer valid” facts. Then start reading from the beginning, keeping in mind what is no longer true.

Chapters 1 and 2 are good introduction to this book, but (especially chapter 2) currently obsolete. Chapter 4 (Aristocracy, Democracy, and System Design) is still actual. Chapter 7 (Why Did the Tower of Babel Fail?) is about communication in Software Projects, and IMO still worth your attention.

In general I would recommend this book as a history lesson. Not necessary as a must-read book for programmers.


ScreenToGif – Record part of you screen and save as gif

ScreenToGif is an application that allows you to record part of your screen and save it as a gif.

It’s very handy especially if you want to demonstrate something really quick.

It is going to the list of my tools after using it for 1 time, because it’s awesome!

ScreenToGif


Windows 10 on VirtualBox – resolution problem

If you are running Windows 10 on VirtualBox you may experience limited resolutions availability.

To solve this problem, you can add CustomVideoMode (VirtualBox has to be closed at this time):

.\VBoxManage.exe setextradata "VM-Name" CustomVideoMode1 1600x900x32

To confirm it is set, use getextradata command:

.\VBoxManage.exe getextradata "Win10" CustomVideoMode1

Or list all settings:

.\VBoxManage.exe getextradata "Win10" enumerate

VirtualBox commands

Remember that VirtualBox has to be closed at the time when you execute these commands. If everything went smoothly, you should see new resolution after Virtual Machine restart:

Windows 10 resolutions on VirtualBox

 

* This might be also an issue with other versions of Windows.


Why programmer should have a blog

Recently a few people were asking me why I have a blog. Some of them were not programmers. It reminded me about the draft of this post, which I have for more than a year now. I planned to extend it, but I think keeping it short, and maybe edit in the future would be a better solution.

The reasons why I have a blog:


Programming Pearls

Programming Pearls

Just as natural pearls grow from grains of sand that have irritated oysters, these programming pearls have grown from real problems that have irritated real programmers.

I just finished reading Jon Bentley’s book: Programming Pearls. I read this book after Scott Hanselman’s and Jeff Atwood’s recommendations.

The problems analyzed in this book are still actual. However, I think that today programmers face slightly different challenges. Most of the problems described in this book are already solved in the libraries, or not often existing anymore (e.g., pretty printing on the console). I read the 2nd edition published in 1999, and most of problems require update to nowadays environments. For example: variable naming suggest the need to save the memory. E.g., l, u, x.

int binarysearch1(DataType t)
{	int l, u, m;
	l = 0;
	u = n-1;
	for (;;) {
		if (l > u)
			return -1;
		m = (l + u) / 2;
		if (x[m] < t)
			l = m+1;
		else if (x[m] == t)
			return m;
		else /* x[m] > t */
			u = m-1;
	}
}

In the interview (“Epilog to second edition”), the author argues that programming style he used should not be used in large software projects. Let’s take this excuse.

Book overview

Part I is a set of useful, general advises how to tackle programming problems. One caveat: nowadays we use unit testing instead of assertions and “scaffolding” (described in chapter 5). However, it might be useful in some environments with some particular circumstances.

Part II is about performance. Chapter 6 describe different optimization techniques. Although the tips are useful, today we are doing optimization on higher levels. I wonder if at least 1% of today programmers would be able to improve program performance, by rewriting assembly code. Anyway, this chapter shows that performance improvements can be done on different levels: algorithms, data structures, system architecture, underlying software, and even hardware. I like chapter 9, where author presents some very sophisticated tricks.

Part III (Columns 11-15) is about algorithms. Although it shows interesting analysis and fundamental algorithms (for sorting, and searching), I would rather recommend some solid algorithms book (e.g. Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen et al).

Summary

Programming Pearls shows which parts of software development changed, during last 15 years, but some parts of this book still remain valid. Moreover, this book is a good history lesson showing by example the advancement in software and hardware.

This book has many references to Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, and The Mythical Man-Month. These books are on my to-read list for some time, and I will definitely read them in the near future.