Did Bell Labs initially try to hide that C was based on BCPL?

olvemaudal from Geektalk

During research for my talk “History and Spirit of C and C++” (pdf, 11Mb) I realized that the reference manual Ken Thompson wrote for B in 1972 (pdf) was in parts a verbatim copy of the reference manual that Martin Richards wrote for BCPL in 1967 (pdf) (in particular look at page 6 in both documents or see slide 118-126 in my presentation). I guess that is fair as B is semantically basically the same language as BCPL. However, the odd thing is that in the more official reference manual for C dated 1974 (pdf), BCPL is not even mentioned at all.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Perhaps this is just another kudos to Bell Labs, but I certainly found it interesting. It has to be said though that in all the interviews and later writings I have seen by members of Bell Labs, including Ritchie and Thompson, they are very open about BCPL being the main inspiration for B and C.

Call for Papers: C++ track at NDC Oslo 2015, June 17-19

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There was a lot of interest for the very strong C++ track that we did at the NDC conference in Oslo last summer. Here is a summary I wrote after the event, including links to the videos that we recorded.

We are repeating the success this year, June 17-19. A few big names has
already been signed up, but we also need your contribution. If you
would like to be part of the C++ track this year, please submit your
proposal soon. The CFP closes February 15. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about the C++ track.

Videos from C++ track on NDC 2014

olvemaudal from Geektalk

As the chair for the C++ track on NDC Oslo, I am happy to report that the C++ track was a huge and massive success! The C++ community in Norway is rather small so even if NDC is a big annual conference for programmers (~1600 geeks) and even with names like Nico, Scott and Andrei as headliners for the track, I was not sure how many people would actually turn up for the C++ talks. I was positively surprised. The first three sessions was packed with people (it was of course a cheap trick to make the three first sessions general/introductory on popular topics). All the other talks were also well attended. The NDC organizers have already confirmed that they want to do this next year as well.

NDC Oslo is an annual five day event. First two days of pre-conference workshops (Andrei did 2 days of Scalable design and implementation using C++) and then 9 tracks of talks for three full days. As usual, NDC records all the talks and generously share all the videos with the world (there are 150+ talks, kudos to NDC!).

I have listed the videos from the C++ track this year. I will also put out a link to the slides when I get them. Enjoy!

Day 1, June 4, 2014

  • C++14, Nico Josuttis (video)
  • Effective Modern C++, Scott Meyers (video)
  • Error Handling in C++, Andrei Alexandrescu (video)
  • Move, noexcept, and push_back(), Nico Josuttis (video)
  • C++ Type Deduction and Why You Care, Scott Meyers (video)
  • Generic and Generative Programming in C++, Andrei Alexandrescu (video)

Day 2, June 5, 2014

  • C++ – where are we headed?, Hubert Matthews (video)
  • Three Cool Things about D, Andrei Alexandrescu (video)
  • The C++ memory model, Mike Long (video, slides)
  • C++ for small devices, Isak Styf (video)
  • Brief tour of Clang, Ismail Pazarbasi (video)
  • Insecure coding in C and C++, Olve Maudal (video, slides)
  • So you think you can int? (C++), Anders Knatten (video)

With this great lineup I hope that NDC Oslo in June has established itself as a significant annual C++ event in Europe together with Meeting C++ Berlin in December and ACCU Bristol in April.

Save the date for NDC next year, June 15-19, 2015. I can already promise you a really strong C++ track at NDC Oslo 2015.

A final note: Make sure you stay tuned on isocpp.org for global news about C++.

A CppQuiz a day, keeps the debugger away!

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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)

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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++)

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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

olvemaudal from Geektalk

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!