Posts

Beauty In The Eye of the Coder

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In the book Beautiful Code, Jon Bentley describes beautiful code in a Zen-like way, where the most beautiful programs are sometimes, not there at all.

In a YouTube interview with Lex Fridman -- Bjarne Stroustrup: Recognizing Beautiful Code -- Stroustrup is less paradoxical, but equally thoughtful:
It's easier to recognize ugly than to recognize beauty in code. . . sometimes beauty comes from something that is innovative and unusual, and you have to sometimes think reasonably hard to appreciate that. On the other hand, the messes have things in common.
I've always endeavored to write neatly indented, correct code with intelligent defaults and consistent return values, but in terms of beauty, that is a low bar. Code that runs wickedly fast can be beautiful, but perhaps that is more of a measure of cleverness. A better indicator of beauty, however, might be how well the code stands up to time.
Requirements change, database fields are added, code is refactored by multiple authors. Tim…

Save and Restore Instance States in Kotlin

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When you rotate an Apple device, the internal state is maintained. When you rotate an Android device, however, the internal state is reset. To create the illusion of continuity, the developer needs to save the state before rotation, and restore the state after. That's not difficult to do, as Android provides two aptly named overrides: onSaveInstanceState() and onRestoreInstanceState(). But this does introduce a wrinkle in how to maintain design portability between the two platforms. How many other hidden differences might there be?Exploring the overrides, I found various helper functions to put and get native types such as boolean, int, double, strings, and more. The values are assigned to a key in the form of a string label. The code fragments below -- extracted from my app LuldCalc -- show examples, with special handling for enumerations because they are classes in Kotlin. Since I can't put a class object, I extract the ordinal value -- an int -- and save that instead. Simil…

Apple's 30% Dilemma

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Back in the day when Palm handhelds ruled, the major app stores were PalmGear and Handango. While it's become common knowledge the cut Apple takes from its App Store, the cut taken by PalmGear and Handango wasn't as well known. Regardless, we developers weren't exactly happy then either.

Comparing Apple to Palm risks comparing apples to oranges, but there are insights to be had. While the App Store is part of Apple, PalmGear and Handango were simply online software stores, and were not affiliated with the device makers Palm and HandSpring. Developers were free to sell elsewhere online, but PalmGear and Handango pulled in the majority of clicks. Unfortunately, these stores were as entrepreneurial as the developers and behaved like a startup -- that is, they spent aggressively for rapid growth. As a result, what started as a 30% cut slowly rose to 35% to 40%, with talk of 50%. And to make matters more painful, some developers were paid late.
I soon set up my own website and…

Bookshelf Classic: Peter Norton's "Inside the IBM PC"

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I'll take hexadecimal addresses for $200.

Answer: Hex B000
Question: What is the starting video address for the IBM monochrome display.

I'll take hexadecimal addresses for $400.

Answer: Hex B800
Question: What is the starting video address for the IBM graphics display.

August 12th marks the 39th anniversary of the IBM PC, making it a good time for a nostalgic look at Peter Norton's book, Inside the IBM PC. Before computers became personal, they were large machines housed in refrigerated rooms and guarded by stern, but good wizards in the tradition of Gandalf or Dumbledore. The PC, in contrast, sat on my desk, and without a gatekeeper, allowed me to explore, experiment, and crash the machine to my heart's content. Norton served as an excellent guide, and while the contents are mostly the stuff of trivia today, the book opened up a new world for me back then.

Of course there were other personal computers from that era, such as the Timex Sinclair, the Commodore 64, and t…

Bookshelf: The Deficit Myth

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Before the personal computer, there were minicomputers and mainframes. I understood them as large machines housed in refrigerated rooms and guarded by stern, but good, wizards (system administrators). The personal computer changed that. With a PC at home and sitting on my desk, the internals -- cpu, memory, graphics card, and disk drive -- became accessible. It was a revelation.

Reading The Deficit Myth gave me that same revelatory feeling, although in the field of economics. Before Dr. Stephanie Kelton's book, I understood that deficits were bad, while balanced budgets were good. That is, the government should manage its money like a household: spend only what you can afford, and avoid debt. The household budget approach was relatable, and sounded right. But there were nagging inconsistencies that a household budget approach could not explain. If deficits were bad, how did they successfully fund the space race to put a man on the moon? Or pay for wars (necessary or not)? How did…

Post Processing: Dark Mode Reconsidered, Inefficiency Revisited, and a Linked List Reversed

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I first shared my enthusiasm for dark mode in the post Automate Dark Mode in Apple OS Mojave.  Not everyone likes dark mode though, and Victoria Song of Gizmodo recently wrote a light hearted essay to Stop Using Dark Mode. She made some fair points.  Color themes for light mode have been around longer and their designs have had more time to evolve; the result is superior contrast and better readability than their dark mode counterparts.

I've also found dark mode limitations in Apple's Mail App. While Mail is dark mode capable, html email is rendered in light mode and the harsh contrast is painful to the eyes.

Where dark mode shines is when I'm using one application exclusively such as Xcode or Android Studio. The colors are consistent, and free of competing themes, the experience is immersive and harmonious.

Discussions of inefficiency continue to trend. I contributed with the post The Hidden Cost Of Efficiency, where resiliency is inversely proportional to efficiency.   …

Space, Time, and Imagination Have No Boundaries, But Your unsigned char Does

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When you order a new refrigerator, you:

a) measure the space it will occupy and you walk the delivery path to check the width and height of doorways, hallways, and entry ways.

b) OMG! Take the front door off its hinges!!

c) disassemble the refrigerator outside, and reassemble it inside.

Any answer other than "a" would suggest that you are possibly an overworked programmer who doesn't check boundary conditions.

It would also put you in the same company as the programmers who allowed a killer wallpaper to brick certain Android phones. When installed, this wallpaper would send the phone into an infinite loop, causing it to crash, restart, and then crash again. Even safe mode could not break the cycle.

YouTube tech reviewer, Mrwhosetheboss, played detective in this video, pursuing what he first suspected as malware, but then realizing it to be something more mysterious. He even bricked his own phone in the process.


In the end, it came down to one faulty pixel where the calcu…