A CppQuiz a day, keeps the debugger away!

December 19, 2013

C++ is a difficult language to master. Very difficult. It does not take more than a few days away from the keyboard before you start forgetting some of the details that will bite when you visit the dark and dusty corners of the language (sometimes because you work with code written by others).

Last month, Anders Schau Knatten officially launched a great tool for practicing your C++ language skills:

http://cppquiz.org

I recommend that you visit this site once in a while to challenge yourself. A good score on this quiz does not make you a great programmer, but it does suggest that you have a deeper understanding of the language than most. Being fluent in a programming language makes it much easier to avoid the dark and dusty corners so that you can concentrate on writing high quality software instead of spending time in the debugger.


Hannametoden – slik løser du Rubik’s kube (som vist på TV2)

February 17, 2012

Her er en enkel beskrivelse på hvordan man løser Rubik’s kube (PDF). Jeg skrev den som en lærebok til min datter Hanna da hun var 8 år gammel – derav navnet Hannametoden. Det er en forenklet versjon av en metode som brukes av de beste i verden (CFOP / Fridrich). Hun brukte et par dager på å lære seg å løse kuben på egen hånd basert på denne “oppskriften”. Vi besøkte “God Morgen Norge” på TV2 den 17. Februar 2012 hvor blant annet denne metoden ble presentert (artikkel).

English summary: this is a very simple description on how to solve the Rubik’s cube. I wrote it to my then 8 year old daughter – hence the name of the method. It is a simiplified version and a strict subset of the method used by the best cubers in the world. It is in Norwegian, but since it is a visual guide you might enjoy it anyway. Click the PDF link above.


Deep C (and C++)

October 10, 2011

Programming is hard. Programming correct C and C++ is particularly hard. Indeed, both in C and certainly in C++, it is uncommon to see a screenful containing only well defined and conforming code. Why do professional programmers write code like this? Because most programmers do not have a deep understanding of the language they are using. While they sometimes know that certain things are undefined or unspecified, they often do not know why it is so. In these slides we will study small code snippets in C and C++, and use them to discuss the fundamental building blocks, limitations and underlying design philosophies of these wonderful but dangerous programming languages.

Jon Jagger and I just released a slide deck to discuss the fundamentals of C and C++ (slideshare, pdf).


The Champion, the Chief and the Manager

March 25, 2011

Successful product development projects are often characterized by having an enthusiastic product champion with solid domain knowledge, a visible and proud chief engineer, and a clever and supportive project manager. And of course, the most important thing, a group of exceptional developers. From an organizational point of view it makes sense to require that all projects should clearly identify these three roles:

The Champion: The product champion is a person that dreams about the product, has a vision about how it can be used and can answer questions about what is important and what is less important. The product champion is required to have a deep and solid domain knowledge and will often play the role of a customer proxy in the project. This position can only be held by a person that is deeply devoted and has a true passion for the product to be created. The product champion is the main interface between the project and the customer/users. (Sometimes also known as: Product Manager, Project Owner, Customer Proxy…)

The Chief: The chief engineer is a technical expert that has a vision of the complete solution and is always ready to defend this vision. At any time, the chief engineer should be able, and willing to stand up to proudly describe the solution and explain how everything fits together. He/she should feel responsible for technological decisions that the exceptional developers do, but also make sure that the solution is supporting the business strategy. The chief engineer is the main communication channel between this project and other projects. (Sometimes also known as: System Architect, Tech Lead, Shusa, …)

The Manager: The project manager is a person that leads a team to success by managing the resources on a project in an effective and sensible way. He/she will be responsible for actively discovering and removing impediments. The project manager is the main interface between the project and corporate management. (Sometimes also known as: Scrum Master, Team Leader, …)

Of course, for very small projects these three roles can be fulfilled by one person, but for projects of some size there should be three people filling these three roles: one product champion, one chief engineer and one project manager. These three people must work together as a team, form an allround defence (aka kringvern) around the project, while being available to the developers at any time. Their task is to “protect” and “promote” the project to the outside world so that the exceptional developers can focus on doing the job.

I believe that identifying these three roles is the only thing an organization needs to impose in order to increase the chance of success. Then the team of exceptional developers together with their servants decide everything else, including which methodology and technology to use.


Solid C++ Code by Example

April 15, 2010

Sometimes I see code that is perfectly OK according to the definition of the language but which is flawed because it breaks too many established idioms and conventions of the language. I just gave a 90 minute workshop about Solid C++ Code at the ACCU 2010 conference in Oxford.

When discussing solid code it is important to work on “real” problems, not just toy examples and coding katas because they lack the required complexity to make discussions interesting. So, as a preparation I had developed, from scratch, an NTLM Authentication Library (pal) that can be used by a client to do NTLM authentication when retrieving a protected webpage on an IIS server. Then I picked out a few files, the encoding and decoding of NTLM messages, and tried to write it as solid as possible after useful discussions with ACCU friends and some top coders within my company. Then I “doped” the code, I injected impurities and bad stuff into the code, to produce these handouts. At the ACCU talk/workshop the audience read through the “doped” code and came up with things that could be improved while I did online coding (in Emacs of course) fixing the issues as they popped up. With loads of solid C++ coders in the room, I think we found most of the issues worth caring about, and we ended up with something that can be considered to be solid C++, something that appears to have been developed by somebody who cares about high quality code. Here are the slides that I used to summarize our findings. Feel free to use these slides for whatever you want. Perhaps you would like to run a similar talk in your development team? Contact me if you want the complete source code for the authentication library, or if you want to discuss ideas for running a similar talk yourself. I plan to publish the code on githup soon – so stay tuned.

UPDATE June 2010: The PAL library is now published on github. A much improved slide set is also available on slideshare.


Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

February 12, 2010

As a programmer, you’ll find that working hard often does not pay off. You might fool yourself and a few colleagues into believing that you are contributing a lot to a project by spending long hours at the office. But the truth is that by working less, you might achieve more – sometimes much more. If you are trying to be focused and “productive” for more than 30 hours a week, you are probably working too hard. You should consider reducing your workload to become more effective and get more done.

This statement may seem counterintuitive and even controversial, but it is a direct consequence of the fact that programming and software development as a whole involve a continuous learning process. As you work on a project, you will understand more of the problem domain and, hopefully, find more effective ways of reaching the goal. To avoid wasted work, you must allow time to observe the effects of what you are doing, reflect on the things that you see, and change your behavior accordingly.

Professional programming is usually not like running hard for a few kilometers, where the goal can be seen at the end of a paved road. Most software projects are more like a long orienteering marathon. In the dark. With only a sketchy map as guidance. If you just set off in one direction, running as fast as you can, you might impress some, but you are not likely to succeed. You need to keep a sustainable pace, and you need to adjust the course when you learn more about where you are and where you are heading.

In addition, you always need to learn more about software development in general and programming techniques in particular. You probably need to read books, go to conferences, communicate with other professionals, experiment with new implementation techniques, and learn about powerful tools that simplify your job. As a professional programmer, you must keep yourself updated in your field of expertise — just as brain surgeons and pilots are expected to keep themselves up to date in their own fields of expertise. You need to spend evenings, weekends, and holidays educating yourself; therefore, you cannot spend your evenings, weekends, and holidays working overtime on your current project. Do you really expect brain surgeons to perform surgery 60 hours a week, or pilots to fly 60 hours a week? Of course not: preparation and education are an essential part of their profession.

Be focused on the project, contribute as much as you can by finding smart solutions, improve your skills, reflect on what you are doing, and adapt your behavior. Avoid embarrassing yourself, and our profession, by behaving like a hamster in a cage spinning the wheel. As a professional programmer, you should know that trying to be focused and “productive” 60 hours a week is not a sensible thing to do. Act like a professional: prepare, effect, observe, reflect, and change.

[This is a reprint of a chapter that I wrote for the newly released O'Reilly book 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know]


Solving a Rubik’s cube in less than 60 seconds

January 23, 2010

A couple of months ago I bought a Rubik’s cube in a nearby shop and after reading some guides on the net I learned how to solve it. A few hours later I could solve it in about 4 minutes all by myself. After a few days of practice I was down to about 2 minutes, but it was difficult to see how I could improve much further using the beginners method I started out with. My cube and dexterity does not allow me to do more than about 2 moves per second so I realized that I had to reduce the number of moves, rather than speeding up my fingers. After reading several websites about speedsolving techniques I set my self a tough goal – to become a sub-60 cuber. I was determined to study and practice the art of solving the cube until I could solve a Rubik’s cube in less than 60 seconds on average.

I can now often solve it in less than 60 seconds, but I am not stable enough to call myself a sub-60 cuber yet, but I am very close. Give me a few more weeks (or months) and I will get there. While playing with the cube on the bus, at work, at home, in the pub, basically everywhere, all the time, I sometimes meet other geeks that want to learn how to solve the cube fast as well. So I thought I should write up a guide about how to get started.

If you do not know how to solve the cube you need to study one of a billion guides that are available on the net. Here is a beginner solution by Leyan Lo that I recommend. Once you can solve the cube without referring to a guide, you can start to read more advanced stuff. The ultimate guide is written by Jessica Fridrich, but it is not easy to read. I found CubeFreak by Shotaro Makisumi to be the most useful site out there.

After studying these sites, as well as hundreds of other sites and watching plenty of youtube videos, I have ended up with a simplified Fridrich method with a four-look last layer. Here is what I do to solve it in less than 60 seconds:

1. Solve the extended cross ~5 sec (always a white cross)
2. Solve the first two layers (F2L) ~30 sec (keep cross on bottom)
3. Orient the last layer edges ~5 sec (1 out of 3 algorithms)
4. Orient the last layer corners ~5 sec (1 out of 7 algorithms)
5. Permute the last layer corners ~5 sec (1 out of 2 algorithms)
6. Permute the last layer edges ~5 sec (1 out of 4 algorithms)

My current focus is to improve the F2L step as I am still struggling to get under 30 seconds, but I am confident that with some more practice I will manage to get closer to 20 seconds and then I can label myself a sub-60 cuber.

For further inspiration, here is a video of a sub-120 cuber and a sub-10 cuber.

Happy cubing!