Feedback to Murphy's Bookshelf - Murphy's Law, Oct' 2003
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You said: "Gray makes
many references to engineers getting the opportunity to build something
that didn't have a military objective. Many of these engineers spent
their careers designing jets for the U.S. military and, therefore,
were much more motivated to build something with a more altruistic
Don't most engineers believe
that the defense of America is beneficial (benefits others)? Living
in San Francisco I am bombarded with this kind of thinking -- that
work done in defense of the nation is a low form of work. I think
it is the highest!
Altruism = "devotion to
the welfare of others" Let's drop our defenses and see what happens
to the condition of our welfare!
Thanks for your feedback, and I appreciate that your opinion on
military work differs from mine. Part of the quote y0ou refer
to was motivated by a point in the book where Harrison is trying
to recruit an old friend and he says "They are going to let us
build something that does not have guns on it." (I do not have
the book to hand here so my quote may not be exact). Anyways,
I was trying to reflect that feeling from the book that struck
a chord with me - so I was trying to reflect a message from the
book as distinct from expressing my own opinions. Having said
that my own slant would be also fairly anti-military.
Bear in mind that I
live in a neutral country, Ireland, so from my point of view the
"defence of America" generally means one country holding a lot of
power over smaller countries. While most Americans believe that
they are entitled to develop any and every sort of technology in
their own defence, they deny that right to other countries - you
may say that some of those countries are run by nutters, but the
engineers in those countries think Bush is a nutter, so working
on Iraqi defence weapons is just as honourable a goal as working
on US weapons. For my own part I would not choose to work on "defence"
or military projects for any country, including my own- I figure
if you have lots of bombs around, some of them are bound to go off,
and bombs going off is, on average, a bad thing for someone.
I lived in San Fran
briefly myself, and I see your point that opinions there are very
different to the rest of the US - however if you lived outside of
the US, you would find that the opinions in SF are more similar
to those in the rest of the world. The US used to receive a certain
amount of respect as the "policeman of the world", but Bush has
lost that respect, and it will take decades to fix the damage.
Sorry if all this makes
me sound like a pinko-commie-surrender-monkey. I generally avoid
this topic in my columns, since it is a forum for technical, rather
than political, discussion, but on this one I let my colors show.
In the "Murphy's Bookshelf"
section when reviewing "The Code Book" you said: "...One of Alan
Turing's greatest achievements was the cracking of the German
Enigma machine during World War II..." I would like strongly object
to your comment as it discrimantes the historical achievements
of polish cryptoanalysts that actually cracked the Enigma Code
in the 1932!!! Turing merely was given the chance to continue
their work and contributed in a very limited way.
Or maybe Turing invented
"Reverse Polish Notation" as well? Why not, lets go and rewrite
the whole history again... Best regards,
Adam Czaplinski Senior
Embedded Software Engineer
You make a fair point and history will always be written with
a slant towards one's one. In fairness to "The Code Book"
it does give a lot of attention to the Polish work on Enigma,
though I did not refer to this in my article.
Hello, I enjoyed your
article from 09/04/03 on embedded.com
I am aware of the effect
you are talking about and illustrated with your seaweed example.
"I have had to
struggle with this issue on many occasions in my career and have
come to the conclusion that new techniques can fail if they are
hard to debug."
Nowadays, I use C
and C++ everyday with nice source level debuggers that have a
lot of shared knowledge about what the compiler has created but
I remember the pain of adopting C early or C++ early and (in the
case of C) stepping through code that was both hard to follow
but painfull to witness as a natural born optimizer.
The Standard Template
Library, is a counter example. In this case, I cannot avoid using
the STL just because it is a huge pain to debug, because the productivity
benefits are amazing. I eagerly await debugging technology to catch
Now, I have a jaundiced
eye not because of the 'seaweed effect' but because I know that
newer techniques (especially ones grown in-house) can carry large
burdens when put into practice. Our company has recently returned
to C++ from an 1 1/2 year excursion into Python. Not only was Python
much more difficult to debug, its performance really became an issue.
Our company recently went
down the road of interface based architecture. Similar to COM or
CORBA we now have a unified system of defining interfaces using
an Interface Description Language (IDL). The problem is, the system
as designed adds layers(s) of abstraction around every object and
call. The IDL we are using has only encompasses a fraction of C++.
Every object now requires dynamic casting through every return value
because the IDL only supports a few simple types. We now have this
self perpetuating mess seeping into every aspect of our work. It's
increddibly difficult to debug because the debugger has no way to
know to what a pointer is pointing. It makes gratutitous use of
templates and thus is harder to debug than the STL but with almost
no benefit that I can determine.
But because I am afraid
that I just "don't get it" and am like the people of Aran, I don't
want to completely write off a new technique. I certainly dislike
this system because of the difficulty with debugging.
So, I in summary, often
in the rush to more productive methods, the debug cycle is overlooked.
It should be an important part of the design and no techique should
be considered finished until debugging is fully addressed. I don't
know if/where this fits in with the seaweed anology...