archive for July, 2006

Hawaii Photos

I finally got around to uploading more of my pictures from our trip to Hawaii (or Hawai’i).  Enjoy.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Yet another review. This time of a book on punctuation: Eats, Shoots & Leaves. What’s that? I read a book on punctuation voluntarily? Yes. Yes, I did. You’re probably thinking it’s terribly dry and dull. On the contrary, it’s funny and interesting. Lynne Truss does a good job of covering virtually all of the rules of English punctuation.

My biggest complaint is that she felt the need to go overboard with examples in the narrative. I thought it was interesting at first, but then it really started to get on my nerves. Here’s an example from the chapter covering semicolons:

Sometimes — and I’ve never admitted this to anyone before — I adopt a kind of stream-of-consciousness sentence structure somewhat like Virginia Woolf; without full sentences; but if feels OK to do this; rather worrying.

Still, I was able to make it through, and I might have even learned something. If you’re interested in learning a little more about punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves isn’t a bad way to go. Of course, you can never go wrong with The Elements of Style either.

A Scanner Darkly

Yesterday, Jesse, John (a friend from work), and I went to see A Scanner Darkly.  My short review: I liked it.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to avoid discussing the plot.  It was a little confusing though.  I wonder if the original Philip K. Dick story was any clearer. The rotoscoping wasn’t too annoying and gave the movie a nice unique feel.

The Year's Best Science Fiction

I just finished the last story in the twentieth annual collection of The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Overall, it was pretty good. Being a collection, there’s really nothing in particular to criticize or praise. Most of the stories were good, and several were enjoyable and memorable. Here are some of my favorites from my first read:

Breathmoss by Ian R. MacLeod
Presence by Maureen F. McHugh
Halo by Charles Stross
Stories for Men by John Kessel
Winters are Hard by Steven Popkes
Singleton by Greg Egan
Slow Life by Michael Swanwick
Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

In making this list, I noticed two things. First, that most of these authors are not American. I don’t know if this is a bias of Science Fiction in general, the editors of the collection, or of my personal taste. Secondly, most of these stories (and many countless more) are available online. I like the medium of the book (especially for late-night reading in bed), but it’s good to note how much is available online for free.

$100 Hamburger

I finally got my $100 hamburger. Jesse and I flew over to Riverside and met my parents at the airport restaurant. The flight there went well. As always I messed up a few radio calls, but didn’t get lost or anything. It was pretty hazy all over Southern California, and we forgot the camera, so I don’t have any pictures this time.

The D&D Airport Cafe wasn’t bad. I liked my burger, and the prices were pretty good (better than at Santa Monica for sure). The service was friendly, but could have been a little faster.

The flight back went well, but I ran into a small problem at LAX. I was planning on using the mini route again, but LAX closed it at the last minute due to clouds. I was able to circle around and use the special flight rules area instead. Luckily it was still clear at Santa Monica, so I was able to land. We had a good time, but I don’t know if I’ll be going back to Riverside any time soon — there are just too many other airports to check out.

Back to Compton

This evening, I flew back to Compton — this time, solo. I had a chat with the plane captain and my old instructor when I was getting ready. They suggested that I take the mini route instead of the special flight rules area. I hadn’t used the mini route before, so I was a little nervous about trying it out, but it seemed like a good time to give it a shot. Now that it’s all over, I’m glad I did.

It’s really nice to know that you’re the only plane in the area and that the LAX tower is keeping an eye on you on radar. I messed up on a few things, but nothing bad. It was nice to make the flight for the first time on a quiet Thursday evening instead of a busy Saturday afternoon.

Compton was pretty quiet again. There was one helicopter ahead of me on the way in, and I was by myself on the way out. The setting sun and haze did make it tricky on my way back. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind in the future. I’m looking forward to exploring more to the south of LAX.

Air-Spacers Checkride

Last Saturday I took my annual checkride for Air-Spacers.  The checkride is a test and lesson in one.  We are given an “open book” written test to work on at home, and then spend some time with an instructor going over the test.  Once all of that is out of the way, we go up, fly to another airport, do some air work, and return.

For my flight, my instructor and made a quick hop over LAX to the Compton airport.  I’d never flown to Compton before, or any of the other airports in the area, so it was nice to learn more about the area.  After leaving Compton we headed to the practice area over the ocean near Palos Verdes, and from there back to Santa Monica.  Overall, I did OK.  I made plenty of mistakes, but nothing major.  It turned out to be an excellent learning experience.

The Mythical Man-Month

The Mythical Man-Month is a collection of essays on Software Engineering. The original edition was written by Frederick Brooks in 1975. Twenty years later, in 1995, he released an anniversary edition with four new essays. The title of the book comes from the second essay of the same name. It makes the case that people and months are not interchangeable.

A project that requires five team members, five months to complete (25 man-months) will not be able to be completed by a twenty-five person team in one month (also 25 man-months). In general, adding more people to a team will lower its efficiency. This falls under the well know Law of Diminishing Returns. Unfortunately, due to the nature of software, the efficiency drops very quick.

To solve the problems of building large software projects in reasonable amounts of time, Brooks makes several suggestions. The first is to organize the developers into small groups that are each organized like a surgical team. Each team should have one person that’s actually responsible for coding, the other members of the team are there to help that person do their job. This reduces the complexity of the problem by reducing the number of communications channels required between the developers.

Other suggestions for improving the development process include things such as: estimation and scheduling, documentation, tools sharing, modularization and abstraction of units of the systems, and the early release of alpha and beta versions for testing. These may have been new ideas at the time, but are now standard practices.

Overall, Brooks gets it right. The Mythical Man-Month does a good job of summarizing the major issues of Software Engineering. My only complaint is how dated the book has become. Some of the examples (i.e. dealing with kilobytes of memory) are laughable, but worse than that, many of the techniques for solving the problem have become obsolete. From email, to modern programming languages, to wikis, to Extreme Programming, to source control, etc… we have better ways of developing software than what is suggested.

This is not a criticism of Brooks, or even the original edition of the book. For its time, and for many years after, The Mythical Man-Month served as an excellent guide. I would have preferred that the 1995 edition had been a complete rewrite instead of just a re-release with a few added chapters. Even if a completely new version had been written in ’95, I’m sure it would be obsolete by now.  The field is still young and growing rapidly.

With that in mind, I can still recommend this book, especially to anyone without formal training in Software Engineering.  For those with a Software Engineering background, I recommend reading the book, both as a good look at our history, and as a common ground from which to build.