Inside 206-105

Existential Pontification and Generalized Abstract Digressions

Software Engineering

The fundamental problem of programming language package management

Why are there so many goddamn package managers? They sprawl across both operating systems (apt, yum, pacman, Homebrew) as well as for programming languages (Bundler, Cabal, Composer, CPAN, CRAN, CTAN, EasyInstall, Go Get, Maven, npm, NuGet, OPAM, PEAR, pip, RubyGems, etc etc etc). "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a programming language must be […]

  • August 21, 2014

Plan 9 mounts and dependency injection

“Everything is a file.” [1] This was the design philosophy taken to its logical extreme in Plan 9. Any interface you could imagine was represented as a file. Network port, pixel buffers, kernel interfaces—all were unified under a common API: the file operations (open, read, write...) Plan 9 used this to eliminate most of its […]

  • November 8, 2012

Killer mutants attack (mutation gone wrong)

This is a collection of WTFs due to misuse of mutable state. We'll start off with some Java. What do you expect this snippet of code to do? Sensor Accel = sm.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER); Sensor Orient = sm.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_ORIENTATION); sm.registerListener((SensorEventListener) this, Accel, sm.SENSOR_DELAY_FASTEST); Ostensibly, it registers the current object to receive just accelerometer updates. But what if I […]

  • March 9, 2011

On cargo culting and hacking

two inflammatory vignettes The term to cargo cult is one with derogatory connotations: it indicates the act of imitating the superficial exterior without actually understanding the underlying causal structure of the situation. The implication is that one should try to understand what one is doing, before doing it. There is, however, an ounce of truth […]

  • February 28, 2011

Multi-day debugging

Most of my hacking cycles right now are going towards debugging the new code generator for GHC. The code generation stage of GHC takes the Spineless Tagless G-machine (STG) intermediate representation (IR) to the C-- high-level assembly representation; the old code generator essentially performed this step in one big bang. The new code generator is […]

  • February 25, 2011

Semi-automatic testing

When programmers automate something, we often want to go whole-hog and automate everything. But it’s good to remember there’s still a place for manual testing with machine assistance: instead of expending exponential effort to automate everything, automate the easy bits and hard-code answers to the hard research problems. When I was compiling the following graph […]

  • February 21, 2011

On checked exceptions and proof obligations

Checked exceptions are a much vilified feature of Java, despite theoretical reasons why it should be a really good idea. The tension is between these two lines of reasoning: Well-written programs handle all possible edge-cases, working around them when possible and gracefully dying if not. It's hard to keep track of all possible exceptions, so […]

  • February 18, 2011

Medieval medicine and computers

This is a bit of a provocative post, and its impressions (I dare not promote them to the level of conclusions) should be taken with the amount of salt found in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Essentially, I was doing some reading about medieval medicine and was struck by some of the similarities between it and […]

  • November 8, 2010

Don’t Repeat Yourself is context dependent

I am a member of a group called the Assassins’ Guild. No, we don’t kill people, and no, we don’t play the game Assassin. Instead, we write and run competitive live action role-playing games: you get some game rules describing the universe, a character sheet with goals, abilities and limitations, and we set you loose […]

  • October 22, 2010