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Showing posts from March, 2009

On the Value of Tools

Maybe to a fault, I tend to think that tools play a big role in the success of a software development projects. The benefits can largely be summarized under the following categories: leverage or force multiplication positive reinforcement or behavioral modification The first one is the primary reason for using tools ever since early hominids started to pick up rocks or sticks and using them as tools. They allow us to go beyond the immediate capacity of our hands or our brains. Even though according to hacker folklore, Real Programmers need nothing but cat > a.out to write code, but the days of writing programs in raw binary form by flipping switches or by punching cards are over. High-level languages and interactive programming - i.e. using a computer workstation to write, compile and test programs in quick iterations, have brought such a leap in programmer productivity, that without it, we could hardly manage the complexity of some of the software systems we are working on today.

Essential Startup Software Development Infrastructure - 2000 Edition

When we started a company in early days of 2000, I spent some time setting up what should become our minimal IT infrastructure and software development environment (That's how I ended up with UID 500...). Since we did not have any money (yet), it had to be free/open-source software, and since we did not have any time for evaluation or in-depth research, we tried to go with what seemed to be the most obvious, conservative or mainstream choice at the time for each piece of the solution. Initially our entire server infrastructure was based on a single Linux box from Penguin Computing since that was about all we could afford with an empty bank account. In the hope there would soon be more machines to come, it was running a NIS and NFS server for a centralized network wide login, DHCP and DNS (bind) servers for IP network configuration, a http server (apache) as the intranet homepage and SMTP (sendmail), POP and IMAP servers for basic email service. Many of these initial choices were

FIRST robotics competition

I was volunteering today at a robot competition for high-school age kids organized by FIRST , a non-profit to promote interest in science and engineering among high-school students. They organize a series of robotics tournaments, where teams of middle-school or high-school age students have to build a robot in 6 weeks to compete in a particular challenge. The teams work with adult mentors, who are typically real-life engineers or scientists. I was impressed by the quality of the work the students brought to today's NY regional competition at the Javits convention center. Most of the robots where highly functional and held up well through multiple rounds of competition. With the disappearance of the industrial middle-class in the US, education has become the single biggest factor in economic success (other than simply being born rich). The service economy consists of at one end of the spectrum of gold-color jobs which typically require advance college degrees and McJobs at the oth

SMS Remote Control for Android Apps

I wanted to add an remote control feature to the NoiseAlert application for Android, where menu options could be triggered remotely by sending an SMS to the phone. SMS messages should be delivered to the application only if it is running and the commands should be executed by the foreground activity. Instead of registering a BroadcastReceiver globally in the AndroidManifest.xml file, the following object can dynamically register and unregister itself for receiving all SMS during the time it is active. All incoming SMS are passed to the objects onReceive method, encoded as an Intent in slightly obscure ways: public class SmsRemote extends BroadcastReceiver { Boolean mActive = false; Context mContext; @Override public void onReceive(Context context, Intent intent) { Bundle bundle = intent.getExtras(); if (bundle == null) return; Object pdus[] = (Object[]) bundle.get("pdus"); for (int n = 0; n < pdus.length; n++) { SmsMessage message = S

Source-Code Samples in Blogger

Blogger makes it a bit hard to include properly formated source-code snippets in postings as it does not have a mode for entering raw pre-formatted text, which should not be molested by any of the further processing and rendering. You can always use the raw HTML edit mode, but then all the all the html and xml-isms have to be escaped before pasting in the code sample. Fortunately there is a convenient online service at formatmysourcecode.blogspot.com which does just that. Here is an example of how the resulting output looks: main() { printf("hello, world"); }

The other Benefit of Open-Source

Software development must be one of the fields where the gap between best practices and average practices is the widest. A poll in 2001 showed that only about two thirds of software development teams are using version control and only about one third use some kind of bug tracking system. C'mon people how many high-rise window cleaning crews are working without a safety harness? Open-source projects with many collaborators distributed throughout the world generally need to adopt solid collaborative development practices and often build themselves the tools to support collaboration at such a large scale. With the popularity of open-source software, an increasing number of people in the technical community have been exposed to the ways these projects operate and to the tools they use. Today, it is a lot harder to find fresh college grads who would not find it completely naturally to use version control, after all this is how you get the pre-release version of "insert-your-favo