A Cavern of Black Ice is a huge 769 page long book, but only the beginning of a story that happens in a fictional realm of feudalism and magic. You just have to have the classic hero journey, starting with a young man torn from the world he knew and was comfortable to him, partially mentored by a wise and hitherto unknown relative, given a reason to trek on a perilous journey and beset by powerful, yet strangely ineffectual enemies. Of course, Deus ex Machina abilities that help him and his quarry escape tight situations are also there.

  But there is more: various clans living in a cold inhospitable North, the ambitious ruler of a city coveting the resources of said clans, a mysterious and powerful entity chained by the ruler, a strange and magical race of people even further north, a secret sorcerous society, female assassins that you can't quite remember what they look like, a dark realm where dangerous creatures await release and so on and so on.

  The thing to understand here is that J. V. Jones set to create a vast universe in which multiple interests clash to create a captivating story. The writing is good, the characters are decent, but there is something missing and while I can't quite put my finger on it, I suspect it involves editing. There is too much text for what the story wants to say and when characterisation is concerned, some actions or even complete characters are just pulled out of a hat. And remember, this is just one of at least four books in the Sword of Shadows series and it barely scratched the surface of it all.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, but not so much as to be absolutely certain I will continue to read the rest of the series. When I finished reading it I felt actual relief. If you want to spend some time immersed in a fantastic fantasy universe, this might be a good fit for you.

  It's very rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a book as I has to The Shallows. A combination of high expectations from the people who recommended it and the ironically poor quality of the book almost forced me to stop reading it. It gives me a great and perverse pleasure to summarize this book into a single paragraph: the Internet is bombarding us with information and stimuli, therefore training our brains to skim the surface of things and depriving us of the ability to "deep read", meaning slowly digesting large blocks of text and fully processing what we read is now difficult to impossible for most people. That is it! There is nothing else in this book. And the reason why this book was bad is that it brings nothing more to the original idea explored by the author in an Atlantic Monthly cover story than quotes from other people who agree.

  Nicholas Carr decries (and cries and cries) the way the medium of the information we digest is changing the way we process that information. He uses page long paragraphs filled with big words meant only to make him look well read to repeat the same things over and over again, all the while complaining about people skipping to the juicy parts. I mean, I've been known to use a few pompous words myself, but I don't think I've ever went out of my way to use complicated expressions when simpler ones would do.

  The multitude of citations from people ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to Artificial Intelligence scientists are cherry-picked to make his case of the demise of the "deep read" in favor of meaningless web skimming. Carr makes the correct case that too much information trains us to not completely absorb the content of the things we read, but he completely misses the mark on why that happens, ironically made evident by his style of writing: boring, pompous, long, verbose. In a classic (by now) bubble effect, he writes a book about his fears that no one but people who share those fears would actually be able to read.

  Also ironic is that he makes some predictions (in 2010) about artificial intelligence and how people will use the various (and nefarious) web services like Google Wave that now make one laugh out loud.

  The point, Carr, is that people who are bombarded with lots of information learn to quickly categorize that information, then send it in the correct bin. You skim an article, see that it is mostly word filling around a central idea, you extract that idea, then move on. There is no deep reading because there is no deep writing. It happens with books, too. One is quick to determine when one book is captivating, engaging and well researched rather than repetitive, single-sided and written for the pleasure of reading oneself and looking smug rather than for knowledge sharing or the pleasure of others. The point (made clearer by research in how AI systems designed after brains function) is that this is how brains have always worked: filtered out as much as possible of the meaningless and tried to absorb as quickly as possible the meaningful. It is literally a search for meaning, you buffoon!

  So, yes, no one finds the time to laboriously study a book, annotate it, keeping well received paragraphs and quips in notebooks they carry with them. But that is because there is more information out there that brings more value through its diversity. In a very sad way, The Shallows reminds me of those religious people who complained about how laic books made people not study the Bible and absorb its teachings.

  Now, the book is not completely without merit. It's just very annoying. The way we use our brains does change the abilities we later have. It's what brains are meant to do: adapt.

  Would it hurt to regularly take a break from distraction, reading something that we have decided is important and high quality, then taking the time to think and absorb and maybe reread what we thought was valuable? No, of course not. I am intimately familiar with the restlessness that comes when trying to spend more than an hour doing the same thing or keeping my attention focused on one thing only. In this, Carr is not wrong. But in assuming that slowly and carefully navigating an avalanche of information is possible, he is definitely going too far.

  Instead of complaining about how we don't absorb meaning because we are too busy filtering out noise, one could be optimistic about the ability of people, helped by technology and not despite it, to improve the way they separate chaff from wheat. Instead of decrying the size and complexity of the information that one must use, making it impossible to hold it all in one brain, why not enjoy the ability to collaborate, network and share that makes it possible for that information to be well processed by groups of people?

  Bottom line: the ideas explored in this book are conservative in nature, fearful of change, focused on what drives that change yet blind on where it takes us. It is the intellectual pompous version of the old man wagging his cane in the air, shouting in anger at young people. It is a book that examines one phenomenon without bringing one any closer to an understanding of it. Woe betide things will change! Well, duh!

  It was more than two years ago when I was reading the first four books in the series and not being very impressed. Then there was a long break in which I wasn't really interested in reading the fifth and last: The Dark Talent. But I am a big fan of Brandon Sanderson so I finally read it. It's very short, pretty pointless and ends badly. And by badly I mean written in a bad way, which is quite unexpected, but even worse, it ends in a cliffhanger, pending a sixth book.

  The entire series is tonally all over the place, but I remember for the first books it kind of grew on me, even if it was funny one moment, tense the next, breaking the fourth wall immediately after. The Dark Talent, though, I hated! I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, I found the jokes elaborate yet dull and the twists were obvious chapters before.

  I guess Sanderson can't do only good. He has to vent the silly and the bad and the weird in order to write the good ones like The Reckoners and Elantris. I am pretty sure I will not read any of the books in this series.

  The first 20% of Gods of Jade and Shadow has nothing to do with anything fantastic. Since I have a large collection of books and choosing which to read more or less at random, I was afraid that I chose one of those young girl coming of age stories, because basically the first fifth of the book is a Cinderella story. Nothing wrong with that, just I didn't feel like reading such a story then and I almost stopped reading it. But a few days later I kept going.

  And the book picked up, with the introduction of Mayan gods, only that afterwards it all turned into one of the watered down episodes of American Gods from the TV show (not the book, which was great!). It's a big road trip, with enough information to basically know where the characters will end up and in what state they will get there. The only unknowns were the bits of Mayan mythology, which were nice, but not nearly comprehensive, and the final chapter. And the final chapter is full of symbolism, only I felt that it didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the book. Worse, a lot of the characters introduced in that first 20% were basically abandoned for the rest of the story. It was like Silvia Moreno-Garcia started to write something, then she thought of a cool ending and then she abruptly veered off and filled in the space to get to that ending.

  Bottom line: it was decent writing and perhaps in a more receptive mood I would have "got it", but as it is, I didn't. It seemed an attempt for something that the book never got to be, instead I got something fractured that didn't feel neither original nor magical.

  You can consider this an interview question, although to be fair if someone did ask me this for an interview I would say they are assholes. What is the difference between the pre-increment operator and the post-increment operator in C#?

  They look the same in C and C# and Javascript and Java and all the languages that share the curly bracket syntax with C, but in fact they are slightly different. Slight enough to make someone an asshole for asking the question as if it were relevant, but important enough for you to read about it. One of the most common interpretations of the syntax is that x++ is incrementing the value after the operation, while ++x is incrementing it before the operation. That is wrong.

  In fact, for C++ the return values are different between pre and post operators. I am not a C++ dev, so I give you this reference link: "Pre operators increment or decrement the value of the object and return a reference to the result. Post operators create a copy of the object, increment or decrement the value of the object and return the copy from before the increment or decrement." So one returns an object, the other returns a reference to an object. It is also possible that the assignment be done after the value was produced in C or C++. In C# the assignment must be done before any value is returned.

  In C#, to paraphrase Eric Lippert, "Both pre and post operators determine the value of the variable, what value will be assigned back to storage and assign the new value to storage. The postfix operator produces the original value, and the prefix operator produces the assigned value." So it's (kindda) like this piece of code:

int Increment(ref int x, bool post) {
  var originalX = x;
  var newX = x+1;
  x = newX;
  return post ? originalX : newX;
}

  So why the hell does it matter? I mean, it's a rather meaningless difference between the programming languages and the before/after mnemonic is making the code pretty clear, doesn't it? OK. Let's try some code and let me see how fast you come up with the answer. Remember, this is supposed to be simple, so if you are thinking too much about it, it doesn't matter you get the correct answer. Ready?

  1. Any difference between x++ and ++x if the resulting value is not used?
  2. var a=1; var b=++a; What's the value of b?
  3. var a=1; var b=a++; var c=++a; What's the value of c?
  4. var i = 0; for (i=0; i<5; ++i) Console.Write(i+" "); Console.WriteLine(i); What is printed at the console?
  5. var i = 0; for (i=0; i<5; i++) Console.Write(i+" "); Console.WriteLine(i); What is printed at the console?
  6. var a=1; a=a++; What's the value of a?

And all of this was about the increment operator as normally used for integer values. There is a big part about operator overloading in there, but I believe less relevant in the context of differences between pre and post increment/decrement operators.

There is one important part to discuss, though, and that is best code practices. When to use post and when to use pre. And they are really easy: separate statements from expressions! Statements execute code with side effects, they should return nothing. Expressions return values without side effects. If you never use the value of an increment or decrement and instead use it as a statement with side-effects, there is no difference between ++a and a++. In fact one doesn't need the preincrement/predecrement operators at all! In this context, the answers for the questions above is 1. No 2,3,6: You are using it wrong! 4,5: the same thing, since without getting the value we have scenario 1.

Just for reference, though, here are the answers:

  1. No
  2. 2
  3. 3 (b is 1)
  4. 0 1 2 3 4 5
  5. 0 1 2 3 4 5
  6. 1

Hope that makes you think.

 Intro

  When I was a kid, computers didn't have multithreading, multitasking or even multiple processes. You executed a program and it was the only program that was running. Therefore the way to do, let's say, user key input was to check again and again if there is a key in a buffer. To give you a clearer view on how bonkers that was, if you try something similar in Javascript the page dies. Why? Because the processing power to look for a value in an array is minuscule and you will basically have a loop that executes hundreds of thousand or even millions of times a second. The CPU will try to accommodate that and run at full power. You will have a do nothing loop that will take the entire capacity of the CPU for the current process. The browser would have problems handling legitimate page events, like you trying to close it! Ridiculous!

Bad solution

Here is what this would look like:

class QBasic {

    constructor() {
        this._keyBuffer=[];
        // add a global handler on key press and place events in a buffer
        window.addEventListener('keypress', function (e) {
            this._keyBuffer.push(e);
        }.bind(this));
    }

    INKEY() {
        // remove the first key in the buffer and return it
        const ev = this._keyBuffer.shift();
        // return either the key or an empty string
        if (ev) {
            return ev.key;
        } else {
            return '';
        }
    }
}

// this code will kill your CPU and freeze your page
const qb = new QBasic();
while (qb.INKEY()=='') {
 // do absolutely nothing
}

How then, should we port the original QBasic code into Javascript?

WHILE INKEY$ = ""

    ' DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

WEND

Best solution (not accepted)

Of course, the best solution is to redesign the code and rewrite everything. After all, this is thirty year old code. But let's imagine that, in the best practices of porting something, you want to find the first principles of translating QBasic into Javascript, then automate it. Or that, even if you do it manually, you want to preserve the code as much as possible before you start refactoring it. I do want to write a post about the steps of refactoring legacy code (and as you can see, sometimes I actually mean legacy, as in "bestowed upon by our forefathers"), but I wanted to write something tangible first. Enough theory!

Interpretative solution (not accepted, yet)

Another solution is to reinterpret the function into a waiting function, one that does nothing until a key is pressed. That would be easier to solve, but again, I want to translate the code as faithfully as possible, so this is a no-no. However, I will discuss how to implement this at the end of this post.

Working solution (slightly less bad solution)

Final solution: do the same thing, but add a delay, so that the loop doesn't use the entire pool of CPU instructions. Something akin to Thread.Sleep in C#, maybe. But, oops! in Javascript there is no function that would freeze execution for a period of time.

The only thing related to delays in Javascript is setTimeout, a function that indeed waits for the specified interval of time, but then executes the function that was passed as a parameter. It does not pause execution. Whatever you write after setTimeout will execute immediately. Enter async/await, new in Javascript ES8 (or EcmaScript 2017), and we can use the delay function as we did when exploring QBasic PLAY:

function delay(duration) {
    return new Promise(resolve => setTimeout(resolve, duration));
}

Now we can wait inside the code with await delay(milliseconds);. However, this means turning the functions that use it into async functions. As far as I am concerned, the pollution of the entire function tree with async keywords is really annoying, but it's the future, folks!

Isn't this amazing? In order to port to Javascript code that was written in 1990, you need features that were added to the language only in 2017! If you wanted to do this in Javascript ES5 you couldn't do it! The concept of software development has changed so much that it would have been impossible to port even the simplest piece of code from something like QBasic to Javascript.

Anyway, now the code looks like this:

function delay(duration) {
    return new Promise(resolve => setTimeout(resolve, duration));
}

class QBasic {

    constructor() {
        this._keyBuffer=[];
        // add a handler on every key press and place events in a buffer
        window.addEventListener('keypress', function (e) {
            this._keyBuffer.push(e);
        }.bind(this));
    }

    async INKEY() {
        // remove the first key in the buffer and return it
        const ev = this._keyBuffer.shift();
        // return either the key or an empty string
        if (ev) {
            return ev.key;
        } else {
            await delay(100);
            return '';
        }
    }
}

const qb = new QBasic();
while (qb.INKEY()=='') {
 // do absolutely nothing
}

Now, this will work by delaying for 100 milliseconds when there is nothing in the buffer. It's clearly not ideal. If one wanted to fix a problem with a loop running too fast, then the delay function should have at least been added to the loop, not the INKEY function. Using it like this you will get some inexplicable delays in code that would want to use fast key inputs. It's, however, the only way we can implement an INKEY function that will behave as close to the original as possible, which is hiring a 90 year old guy to go to a letter box and check if there is any character in the mail and then come back and bring it to you. True story, it's the original implementation of the function!

Interpretative solution (implementation)

It would have been much simpler to implement the function in a blocking manner. In other words, when called, INKEY would wait for a key to be pressed, then exit and return that key when the user presses it. We again would have to use Promises:

class QBasic {

    constructor() {
        this._keyHandler = null;
        // instead of using a buffer for keys, keep a reference
        // to a resolve function and execute it if it exists
        window.addEventListener('keypress', function (e) {
            if (this._keyHandler) {
                const handler = this._keyHandler;
                this._keyHandler = null;
                handler(e.key);
            }
        }.bind(this));
    }

    INKEY() {
        const self = this;
        return new Promise(resolve => self._keyHandler = resolve);
    }
}


const qb = new QBasic();
while ((await qb.INKEY())=='') { // or just await qb.INKEY(); instead of the loop
 // do absolutely nothing
}

Amazing again, isn't it? The loops (pun not intended) through which one has to go in order to force a procedural mindset on an event based programming language.

Disclaimer

Just to make sure, I do not recommend this style of software development; this is only related to porting old school code and is more or less designed to show you how software development has changed in time, from a period before most of you were even born.

  I didn't want to write about this. Not because of a false sense of security, but because everybody else talked about it. They all have opinions, most of them terribly wrong, but for me to join the fray and tell the world what I think is right would only put me in the same category as them. So no, I abstained. However, there are some things so wrong, so stupidly incorrect, that I can't maintain this silence. So let's begin.

  "The flu", "a cold" are not scientific, they are popular terms and they all relate to respiratory infectious diseases caused by a variety of viruses and sometimes bacteria or a combination thereof. Some of them affect us on a seasonal basis, some of them do not. Rhinoviruses are the ones most often associated with the common cold and they are seasonal. However, a whooping 15% of what is commonly called "a cold" comes from coronaviruses, thus named because of their crown-like shape. Influenza viruses, what we would normally call "flu" are a completely different type of virus. In other words, Covid-19 is more a common cold than a flu, but it's not the seasonal type. Stop wishful thinking that it will all go away with the summer. It will not. Other famous coronavirus diseases are SARS and MERS. The SARS epidemic lasted until July, the MERS epidemic spreaded just fine in the Middle Eastern summer weather. This will last. It will last for months from the moment I am writing this blog. This will be very important for the next section of the post.

  Also, there is something called the R-naught (R0), the rate with which a virus spreads to other people. It predicts, annoyingly accurate, how a disease is going to progress. This virus has an R0 probably twice as high as that of the influenza virus, which we all get, every fucking year. Draw your own conclusions.

  The only reason we got rid of SARS and MERS is because they are only infectious after the symptoms are apparent and the symptoms are pretty damn apparent. Covid-19 is very infectious even before the first cough, when people feel just fine. Surely masks will help, then? Not unless they are airtight. Medical masks are named so because medics use them in order to not cough or spit or breathe inside a patient, maybe during surgery. The air that the doctor breathes comes from the sides of the mask. So if you get sick and you wear the mask it will help the people that have not met you while you had no symptoms yet.

  Washing the hands is always good. It gets rid of all kind of crap. The primary medium of spreading Covid-19 is air, so you can wash your hands as often as you'd like, it helps very little with that. Stopping touching your face does little good, either. There is a scenario when someone coughs in their hand, touches something, then you touch it, then you pick your nose. Possible, so it's not all worthless, it's just statistically insignificant. What I am saying is that washing your hands and not touching yourself decreases the probability a very small amount. That being said, masturbation does increase the activity of your immune system, so be selective when you touch yourself.

  The idea that old people are the only ones affected is a myth. Age statistically correlates with harsher symptoms because it also correlates with negative health conditions. In other words, people with existing health conditions will be most affected. This includes smokers, obese people, people with high blood pressure, asthma and, of course, fucking old people. The best way to prepare for a SARS-Cov-2 virus (the latest "official" name) is to stay in good health. That means healthy food, less alcohol, no smoking and keeping a healthy weight. So yes, I am fucked, but at least I will die happy... oh, no, I am out of gin!!

  Medically, the only good strategy is to develop a vaccine as soon as possible and distribute it everywhere. It will lead quicker and with less casualties to the inevitable end of this pandemic: when more people are immune than those who are not. This will happen naturally after we all get infected and get healthy (or die). All of the news of people who got sick after getting healthy are artefacts of defective testing. All of it! Immunity does not work like that. You either got rid of it and your body knows how to defend itself or you never had it or you had something else or somebody tested you wrong.

  That being said, fuck all anti-vaxxers. You are killing people, you assholes!

  Personally, the best you can do is keep hydrated and eat in a balanced way. You need proteins and zinc and perhaps vitamin C (not sure about that). Warm bone broths will be good. Zinc you get from red meat and plant seeds. There was a report of drinking green tea being negatively correlated with influenza infections (different virus, though). And don't start doing sport now, if you haven't been doing it already, you can't get the pig fat one day before Christmas. Sport is actually decreasing the efficiency of your immune system.

  This is the end of the medical section of this post. There is nothing else. Probiotics won't help, Forsythia won't help, antibiotics will certainly not help. The only thing that fights the virus right now is your immune system, so just help it out. If there was a cure for the common cold you wouldn't get it each year every year.

  But it's not over. Because of people. When people panic, bad things happen. And by panic, I mean letting their emotions get the better of them, I mean not thinking people, not zombie hordes, although sometimes the difference is academic.

  Closing schools and workplaces and public places has one beneficial effect: it makes the infection rate go down. It doesn't stop the spread, it doesn't stop the disease, it just gives more time to the medical system to deal with the afflicted. But at the same time, it closes down manufacturing, supply chains, it affects the livelihood of entire categories of people. So here is where governments should step in, to cover financially the losses these people have to endure. You need money for medical supplies and for keeping healthy. Think of it as sponsoring immune systems.

  The alternative, something we are seeing now in paranoid countries, is closing down essential parts of national economies with no compensation. This is the place and time for an honest cost vs. gain analysis. Make sure the core of your nation is functioning. This is not one of those moments when you play dead for a few minutes and the bear leaves (or falls down next to you because he really likes playing that game). This is something that needs to work for months, if not a year or more. This is not (and never was) a case of stopping a disease, but of managing its effects. Some people are going to die. Some people are going to get sick and survive. Some lucky bastards will cough a few times and go on with their day. Society and the economical system that sustains it must go on, or we will have a lot more problems than a virus.

  Speaking of affected professions, the most affected will be medical personnel. Faced day in and day out with SARS-Cov-2 infections they will get infected in larger numbers than the regular population. Yes, they will be careful, they will wear masks and suits and whatever, but it won't help. Not in a statistical way, the only way we must think right now. It's a numbers game. It's no longer about tragedies, it's about statistics, as Stalin used to say. And these people are not regular people. They've been in school for at least a decade before they can properly work in a hospital where Covid-19 patients will be admitted. You lose one of these, you can't easily replace them. Especially in moron countries like my own, where the medical system is practically begging people to leave work in other countries. The silver lining is that probably, at the end of the outbreak, there will be a lot more medical people available, since they went through the disease and emerged safe and immune. But there is a lot of time between now and then.

  Closing borders is probably the most idiotic thing one can do, with perhaps the exception of countries that had real problems with immigration before. If sick people don't crowd your borders in order to take advantage of your medical system, closing borders is just dumb. The virus is already in, the only thing you are stopping is the flow of supplies to handle the disease. Easter is coming. People from all over the world will just move around chaotically to spend this religious holiday with their family. It will cause a huge spike in the number of sick people and will probably prompt some really stupid actions taken by governments all over the place. One could argue that religion is dumb at all times, but right now it makes no difference. It's just an acceleration of a process that is already inevitable, Easter or no Easter.

  Statistics again: look at the numbers and you will see that countries get an increase of 30% in infected cases every day. It's an exponential curve. It doesn't care about your biases, your myths, your hopes, your judging. It just grows. China will get infection cases as soon as travelling restrictions relax. Consider the ridiculous situation where one somehow protected their country against infection when the whole of the world went through a global pandemic. It doesn't even matter. It's not even healthy, as sooner or later that virus will affect only them. The best they can do is manage the situation, bottleneck it so that the medical system can cope with it.

  Do you know what the most important supply chain is in this situation? Medical supplies. A lot of countries get these from China and India. Because they are cheaper. So they can sell them to you at ten times the prices and make those immense profits that generated the name Big Pharma. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's common knowledge. What do you think happens when you close your borders with China and India?

  In this situation, the globally economy will stagger. It will be worse than the 2008 crisis. But while that was a crisis generated by artificial and abstract concepts that affected the real economy, that of people working for other people, this one comes as real as it gets, where people can't work anymore. That means less money, less resources, scarcity of some resources, less slack to care of the old and sick in your family. It's a lose-lose situation: the most affected by the pandemic will be affected either by people not being able to care for them or people giving them the disease while caring for them because they must make much more effort and human contact to get the supplies needed. Now, some countries can somehow handle that by employing a healthy transport infrastructure and care system, but in others, where they can barely handle normal quantities of sick people that come to hospitals themselves, they will never be able to cover, even if they wanted to, the effort to give supplies to previously affected people.

  So does that mean you have to go to the supermarket and get all the supplies you might need for months to come? I am afraid to say that it does. The reasonable way to handle this is for the governments of the world to ensure supply and financial support for everybody. Then people wouldn't need to assault shops to get the last existing supplies. If you can trust your government to do that, by all means, trust you will always have a nearby shop to sell you the goods you need to stay alive and health. But I ask you this: if you got to the farmacy and bought their entire stock of some medicine that you might need and then you hear your neighbor, the person you greeted every day when you got to work, died because they couldn't get that medicine, what then? What if you hear they need the medicine now? Will you knock at their door and offer it to them? Maybe at five time the price? Or maybe for free? What if you are the neighbor?

  And you hear that some country has isolated the virus and are making a vaccine. Oh, it's all over, you think. But before they even start mass producing it, they need to test it. People will die because of how overcautious and bureaucratic the system is. People will die when corners are cut. People will die either way. It will take time either way. This thing will be over, but not soon. After they make it, you will still have to get it. That means supply chains and money to buy things.

  Bottom line: it's all about keeping systems going. In your body, the immune system has to be working to fight the disease. In your country, the economy must be working in order to handle the effects of the disease. Fake cures and home remedies are just as damaging as false news of the crisis not being grave, getting over soon or going away by itself.

  Here is a video from a medical professional that is saying a lot of the things I've listed here:

[youtube:E3URhJx0NSw]

  One more thing: consider how easy it was for this panic to lead to countries announcing national emergency, a protocol that gives extraordinary powers to the government. A few dead here, a few sick there, and suddenly the state has the right to arrest your movement, to detain you unconditionally, to close borders, to censor communications. Make sure that when this is over, you get every single liberty back. No one it going to return freedom to you out of their own good will.

Summary

Once you finished with the foundation, it doesn't matter who you call to architect your house or fix problems you might have. Businesses and software are exactly like that. Think hard about your foundation, it will save you a lot of effort later on. I've been working in a lot of different places and was surprised to see they didn't know there are other ways of doing things. I distill the foundational principles one needs for a good software solution and maybe not just software:

  • Separation of concerns - processes, components and people should be able to function in isolation. If you can test they work when everything else is shut down, you're good. People should only do what they are good at. Components should do only one thing.
  • Cleanliness - keep your code readable rather than efficient, your process flow intuitive, roles and responsibilities clear. Favor convention over documentation, document anything else.
  • Knowledge sharing - Allow knowledge to be free and alive in your organization by promoting knowledge sharing, collaborative documentation, searchability.

Intro

  I am not the greatest of all developers or architects, but I am good. I know how things should be and what they should do in order to reach a goal. When people ask me about software, my greatest gaps are around specific software tools or some algorithm, not the general craft. That is because of several reasons: I enjoy my work, I've been really enthusiastic in my youth and sponged everything I could in order to become better and I've worked in many different types of organizations so I know multiple ways in which people have tried to do this. As I grow older, the last one may be my most valuable skill, but I am yet to find the employer to realize this.

  You see, what I've learned from my career so far is that most businesses live in a bubble. Used to not only learn software development as I am working on some task, but also network with other people in the craft from all across the business, I kind of expected every other developer to be like that. Or at least the senior devs, the dev leads and architects, maybe some managers. But no, most of the time, people are stuck in their little position and never stray from it. They may invoke life work balance, or they are just burned out, or they just don't care enough, but more often, they haven't even realized what they are missing. And that's the bubble. A bubble is not a prison, is just a small area in which people stay voluntarily and never get out of.

  This is why gaming development is so different from business app development. That is why development in an administrative business with a small software department is so different from development in a software company. It is why development in small shops is so different than in large software companies. Sometimes people, really smart people, have worked for a long time in only one of these ecosystems and they only know that one. They can hardly conceive of different ways to do things.

  So this is why I am writing this post, to talk about the foundations of things, that part that separates one from the other, forever, no matter what you do afterwards. And this applies to business, people organization, but especially well to large software projects. You see, if you start your solution badly, it will be bad until you rewrite it. Just like a building with a weak foundation. It doesn't matter you bring the best workers and architects afterwards, they will only build a wonderful house that will fall down when the foundation fails. You want to make a good thing, first plan it through and build the greatest foundation you can think of and afford. It's much easier to change the roof than the foundation.

  And you wouldn't believe how many times I've been put in the situation of having to fix the unfixable. "Hey, you're smart, right? We started this thing a million years ago, we thought we would save some money, so we got a bunch of junior developers to do it, and it worked! But then it didn't anymore. Fix it!" And I have to explain it to them: you can't scale duct tape. You can go only so much with a thing held together by paper clips, chewing gum and the occasional hero employee with white hair and hunched back and in his twenties.

  Now of course, to an entitled senior engineer like me any software evokes the instinct to rewrite it in their own image. "Also, get some juniors to carve my face into that hill over there!". Sometimes it's just a matter of adapting to the environment, work with what you have. But sometimes you just have to admit things are beyond salvation. Going forward is just a recipe for disaster later on. It's the law of diminishing returns when the original returns were small to begin with. And you wouldn't believe how many people agree with that sentiment, then declare there is nothing that can be done. "They won't give us the budget!" is often muttered. Sometimes it's "We only need this for a few years. After that we start from scratch" and in a few years some "business person" makes a completely uninformed cost and gain analysis and decides building up from existing code is cheaper than starting over. But don't worry, they will suuuurely start from scratch next time.

  Sometimes the task of rewriting something is completely daunting. It's not just the size of it, or the feeling that you've achieved nothing if you have to start over to do the same thing. It's the dread that if you make the same thing and it takes less effort and less money and it works better then you must be inferior. And it's true! You sucked! Own it and do better next time. It's not the same thing, it's version 2.0. You now have something that you couldn't have dreamed of when building version 1.0: an overview. You know what you need, not what you think you will need. Your existing project is basically the D&D campaign you've played so many times that it has become a vast landscape, rich with characters and story. You've mapped it all down.

  This post is an overview. Use it! To be honest, reaching this point is inevitable, there will always be a moment when a version 2.0 makes more sense than continuing with what you have. But you can change how terrible your software is when you get to it. And for this you need the right foundation. And I can teach you to do that. It's not even hard.

Separation of Concerns

  Most important thing: separation of concerns. Components should not be aware of each other. Compare a Lego construction to a brick and mortar one. One you can disassemble and reassemble, adding to it whatever you need, the other you need to tear down and rebuild from zero. Your foundation needs to allow and even enable this. Define clear boundaries that completely separate the flow into independent parts. For example a job description is an interface. It tells the business that if the person occupying a job leaves, another can come and take their place. The place is clearly defined as a boundary that separates a human being from their role in the organization.

  Software components, too, need to be abstracted as interfaces in order to be able to swap them around. And I don't mean the exact concept of interface from some programming languages. I mean that as loosely as one can. A web service is an interface, since it abstracts business logic from user interface. A view model is an interface, as it abstracts the user interface logic from its appearance. A website is an interface, as it performs a different task than another that is completely separated. If you can rewrite an authorization component in isolation and then just replace the one you have and the application continues to work as before, that means you have done well.

  Separation of concerns should also apply to your work process and the people in it. A software developer should not have to do much outside developing software. A manager should just manage. People should only be in meetings that bring value and should only be in those that actually concern them. If the process becomes too cumbersome, split it up into smaller pieces, hire people to handle each of them. Free the time of your employees to do the job they are best suited for. 

  One important value you gain from isolating components is testing. In fact, you can use testing as a force towards separation of concerns. If you can test a part of your application in isolation (so all other parts do not need to be working for it), then you have successfully separated concerns. Consider a fictional flow: you get on the bus, you get to the market, you find a vegetable stand, you buy a kilo of tomatoes, you get back to the bus, you come home. Now, if you can successfully test your ability to get on a bus, any bus, to get anywhere the bus is going, in order to test that you can buy tomatoes from the market you just test you can find the stand and buy the tomatoes. Then, if you can test that you can buy anything at any type of stand, you only need to test your ability to find a stand in a market.

  It seems obvious, right? It feels that way to me. Even now, writing this post, I am thinking I sound like an idiot trying to seem smart, but I've seen droves of developers who don't even consider this. Businesses who are not even aware of this as a possibility. "We have testing teams to make sure the application is working end to end, we don't need unit testing" or "We have end to end automated testing. For each new feature we write new tests". When you hear this, fight it. Their tests, even if written correctly and maintained perfectly, will take as long as one needs to get on a bus and go to the market. And then the other test will take as long as one need to get on a train and get to the airport. And so on. End to end testing should exist and if you can automate it, great, but it should be sparse, it should function like an occasional audit, not something that supports your confidence in the solution working correctly.

  So go for testable, not for tests. Tests often get a bad wrap because someone like me comes and teaches a company to write tests, then they leave and the people in the company either skip testing occasionally or they change bits of the application and don't bother to update the tests. This leads to my next point: clean code.

Cleanliness

  Cleanliness applies to everything, again. The flow of your solution (note that I am being as general as possible) needs to be as clear as possible, at every level. In software this usually translates in readable code and builds up from that. Someone looking at the code should be able to instantly and easily understand what it does. Some junior developers want to write their code as efficient as possible. They just read somewhere that this method is faster than the other method and want to put that in code. But it boils down to a cost analysis: if they shave one second off a process you run ten times a day, they save one hour per year; if another developer has to spend more than one hour to understand what the code does, the gain means nothing.

  Code should be readable before being fast. Comments in code should document decisions, not explain what is going on. Comments should display information from another level than the code's. Component names, object names, method names, variable names should be self explanatory. Configuration structures, property names, property values, they should be intuitive and discoverable.

  And there is another aspect to cleanliness. Most development environments have some automated checks for your code. You can add more and even make your own. This results in lists of errors, warnings and notifications. On a flow level, this might translate to people complaining about various things, some in key positions, some not. Unit tests, once you have them, might be passing or failing. It is important to clean that shit up! Do not ignore warnings or even notifications. You think a warning is wrong, find a way to make it go away, not by ignoring it, but by replacing the complaining component, marking it specifically in the code as not a valid warning and document why, run all the tests and make sure they are green or remove the tests that you think are not important (this should not happen usually). The reason is simple: in a sea of ignored warnings you will not see the one that matters.

  To be perfectly clear: by clean code I don't mean code that follows design patterns, I don't mean documentation comments on every property and method, I don't mean color coded sections (although that's nice). What I mean is code clean enough to read without cringing or having to look in ten other places to figure out what it does. If your hotdog falls on that code you should be comfortable enough to pick it up and continue eating it.

  Cleanliness should and must be applied to your work process. If the daily meeting is dirty (many people talking about unrelated things) then everybody is wasting time. If the process of finishing a task is not clear, you will have headless chickens instead of professionals trying to complete it. If you have to ask around where to log your hours or who is responsible for a specific job that you need done in order to continue, you need to clean that process. Remove all superfluous things, optimize remaining ones. Remember separation of concerns.

  Cleanliness extends to your project folder structure, your solution structure, your organizational structure. It all has to be intuitive. If you declare a principle, it should inform every query and decision, with no exception. "All software development people are at the fifth floor! Ugh... all except Joe". What if you need Joe? What if you don't know that you need Joe, but you still need him? Favor convention over configuration/documentation, document everything else. And that leads me to the final point: knowledge sharing.

Knowledge Sharing

  To me, knowledge sharing was always natural. In small companies there was always "that guy" who would know everything and couldn't work at all because people came to ask him things. In medium companies there was always some sort of documentation of decisions and project details. In large companies there were platforms like Confluence where people would share structured information, like the complete description of tasks: what they are about, how decisions were made, who is responsible for what, how they were split into specific technical tasks, what problems arose, what the solutions were, etc. And there were always your peers that you could connect to and casually talk about your day.

  Imagine my surprise to find myself working in places where you don't know what anyone else is doing, where you don't know what something is and what it is supposed to do, there are no guidelines outside random and out of date Powerpoint files, where I am alone with no team, brought in for problems that need strong decisions in order to fix but no one is willing to make them, and already I have no idea who should even attempt to. I solve a common problem, I want to share the solution, there is no place to do that. People are not even in the same building as me. Emails are come and go and no one has time to read them.

  Knowledge should live freely in your company. You should be able to search for anything and find it, be able to understand it, contribute to it, add more stuff. It should be more natural for the people in your company to write a blog post than go for coffee and complain. It should be easier to find and consume information from people that left the company than to get it from colleagues at the desk next to you. And maybe this cannot be generalized to all departments, but it is fucking important: people in the office should never need to open Microsoft Office (or any similar product suite). I can't stress that enough.

  You should not need printed documents, so no need for Word. Excel files are great for simple data tasks, but they are not specific. If you need something done repeatedly and you use Excel sheet, it is probably better to build a tool for it. Don't reinvent the wheel now, but use the best tool for the job. And there are better and more modern tools than Powerpoint files, but I will allow the use of them because, in the context of knowledge sharing, everyone should feel free and confident enough to make presentation for the team. My tenet still stands, though: the Powerpoint file would be used in a presentation. Hardly anyone else should need to open it. I mean, there would be a video of the presentation available, right?

Vision

  Imagine a park. It is sunny, birds are singing, there are people walking on hardened dirt walkways, cyclers biking on their asphalted bike lanes, benches everywhere, with a small notepad attached to them that people can just pick up and read or write their own notes. Places in the park are clearly indicated with helpful arrows: children playground, hotdog stand, toilet, football field, bar, ice ring. Everything is clean, everybody is doing what they do best, all is good. You feel hungry, you see the arrow pointing towards the hotdog stand, you walk there calmly and ask for one. The boy there give you a bun and a wurst. He is new, but he has a colleague that knows exactly how much mustard and ketchup to put on the hotdog. He even asks you if you want curry on it. 

  Imagine a park. It is sunny, birds are singing. Some walkways start of as asphalt, then continue as dirt. Some stop suddenly or end in a ditch. There is a place that serves hotdogs next to a toilet. You have to ask around to find out where to find it. You get lost several times, as some people don't know either, but they still come with an opinion, or they are just misinformed. You get tired, but you can't sit on a bench, they are all taken and there are so few of them. You have to look both ways several times before you walk to the stand, because of cyclers. You stand in a line, then order a hotdog. The boy there gives you a bun with a wurst in it. You ask for mustard, but the boy is new and it takes him a while to find it after looking for some paper that tells him where it is. You have to dodge a football that was coming at your head. Someone flushes the toilet.

  I don't remember why I thought this would be a good book to read. Perhaps because it was one of those "gothic novels" and I had just read one that I liked a lot. The Owl Service is a short novel, but it took me ages to finish it. Whenever I had the time to read/listen to it I always found something else to do. I think Alan Garner wanted to do right by the story, which is a reimagining of a traditional Welsh legend, but it ended up an opaque and pretentious mess with characters that you cannot stand. If at least the writing had called to me. Garner is not a bad writer, but the style of writing didn't capture my attention. I had to make efforts to stay in the story and not let my mind wander.

  The plot revolves around a valley in Wales where a British family owns property and where the locals are treated as uneducated peasants. The family comes to spend the summer and weird things start to happen. But they are either completely random or, when it comes to be some sort of possession or empowerment, there is always someone near to break the spell or destroy things in fear and righteous anger, which made it all rather boring. At no point there was anyone saying "Oh, that's peculiar, let's dig into it!" or "Hey, I can make books fly by themselves, let's see if I can solve world hunger or space exploration".

  The worst part was the characters, all entitled twats. Every single one of them believes he can order other around, force things upon them or do and say whatever the hell they want. And I mean everyone, including the Welsh help. If they don't insult you, force things upon you or treat you like scum just because you are different, they smack you upon the head with indignation for not having done what was rudely ordered to you. And that's the maid doing it!

  Bottom line: as a scholar of Welsh legend and the literary interpretation of myth in British literature I... hell, no! Just leave this book be! It's just bad.

I know I am shooting myself in the foot here, but, to paraphrase some people, staying quiet doesn't help anyone. I've come to love Dev.to, a knowledge sharing platform aimed at software developers, because it actually promotes blogging and dissemination of information. It doesn't do enough against clickbait, but it's great so far. So, hungry for some new dev stuff, I opened up the website only to find it spammed with big colorful posters and posts supporting female devs. It was annoying, but it got me thinking.

  I like women in software! I too can honestly say I support them. I've always done so. I worked with them, mentored them, learned from them, worked for them, hired them. I want them to get paid what they are due, just like any other person: quiet, happiness, money, respect, understanding. I support their right to tell me when they hate (or love) something I do or say and I am totally against assholes who would pray on them or belittle them. Not because they are women, but because they are human, and no one should stand for stupid little people who only think of themselves and have a chip on their shoulder.

  And yes, women need more support than men, because they traditionally did not have it before. For them it is an uphill battle to fit into communities that contain few females. They have to butt in, they have to push and struggle and we need to understand their underdog status and protect them through that. But not because they are some fantasy creature, or perpetual victims or some other thing, but because they are people. This applies to them, to minorities, to majorities, to every single person around you. I would feel the same about some guy not getting hired because he is too muscular as for some woman who won't get a job because she's bland looking.

  So ask yourself, are you really supporting women, or are you just playing a game? Are you the one shouting loudly in the night "Night time! Everybody go to sleep!"? Are you protecting women or singling them out as something different that must be treated differently? Are you actually thinking of people or just doing politics? Because if you decide to annoy devs on behalf of women, you'd better do a good job supporting them for real.

Intro

  This post will take you on an adventure through time and sound. It will touch the following software development concepts:

  • await/async in Javascript
  • named groups in regular expressions in Javascript
  • the AudioContext API in Javascript
  • musical note theory
  • Gorillas!

  In times immemorial, computers were running something called the DOS operating system and almost the entire interface was text based. There was a way to draw things on the screen, by setting the values of pixels directly in the video memory. The sound was something generated on a "PC speaker" which was a little more than a small speaker connected to a power port and which you had to make work by handling "interrupts". And yet, since this is when I had my childhood, I remember so many weird little games and programs from that time with a lot of nostalgic glee.

  One of these games was Gorillas, where two angry gorillas would attempt to murder each other by throwing explosive bananas. The player would have to enter the angle and speed and also take into account a wind speed that was displayed as an arrow on the bottom of the screen. That's all. The sounds were ridiculous, the graphics really abstract and yet it was fun. So, as I was remembering the game, I thought: what would it take to make that game available in a modern setting? I mean, the programming languages, the way people thought about development, the hardware platform, everything has changed.

  In this post I will detail the PLAY command from the ancient programming language QBASIC. This command was being used to generate sound by instructing the computer to play musical notes on the PC speaker. Here is an example of usage:

PLAY "MBT160O1L8CDEDCDL4ECC"

  This would play the short song at the beginning of the Gorillas game. The string tells the computer to play the sound in the background, at a tempo of 160 in the first octave, with notes of an eighth of a measure: CDEDCD then end with quarter measure notes: ECC. I want to replicate this with Javascript, one because it's simpler to prototype and second because I can make the result work in this very post.

Sound and Music

  But first, let's see how musical notes are being generated in Javascript, using the audio API. First you have to create an AudioContext instance, with which you create an Oscillator. On the oscillator you set the frequency and then... after a while you stop the sound. The reason why the API seems so simplistic is because it works by creating an audio graph of nodes that connect to each other and build on each other. There are multiple ways in which to generate sound, including filling a buffer with data and playing that, but I am not going to go that way.

  Therefore, in order to PLAY in Javascript I need to translate concepts like tempo, octaves, notes and measures into values like duration and frequency. That's why we need a little bit of musical theory.

  In music, sounds are split into domains called octaves, each holding seven notes that, depending on your country, are either Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Si or A, B,C, D, E, F and G or something else. Then you have half notes, so called sharp or flat notes: A# is half a note above A and A♭ is a half note below A. A# is the same as B♭. For reasons that I don't want to even know, the octaves start with C. Also the notes themselves are not equally spaced. The octaves are not of the same size, in terms of frequency. Octave 0 starts at 16.35Hz and ends at 30.87, octave 1 ranges between 32.70 and 61.74. In fact, each octave spreads on twice as much frequency space as the one before. Each note has twice the frequency of the same note on the lower octave.

  In a more numerical way, octaves are split into 12: C, C#, D, E♭, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, B♭, B. Note (heh heh) that there are no half notes between B and C and E and F. The frequency of one of these notes is 21/12 times the one before. Therefore one can compute the frequency of a note as:

Frequency = Key note * 2n/12, where the key note is a note that you use as a base and n is the note-distance between the key note and the note you want to play.

  The default key note is A4, or note A from octave 4, at 440Hz. That means B♭ has a frequency of 440*1.059463 = 466.2.

  Having computed the frequency, we now need the duration. The input parameters for this are: tempo, note length, mode and the occasional "dot":

  • tempo is the number of quarter measures in a minute
    • this means if the tempo is 120, a measure is 60000 milliseconds divided by 120, then divided by 4, so 125 milliseconds
  • note length - the length of a note relative to a measure
    • these are usually fractions of a measure: 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc
  • mode - this determines a general speed of playing the melody
    • as defined by the PLAY command, you have:
      • normal: a measure is 7/8 of a default measure
      • legato: a measure is a measure
      • staccato: a measure is 3/4 of a default measure
  • dotted note - this means a specific note will be played for 3/2 of the defined duration for that note

  This gives us the formula:

Duration = note length * mode * 60000 / 4 / tempo * dotDuration

Code

  With this knowledge, we can start writing code that will interpret musical values and play a sound. Now, the code will be self explanatory, hopefully. The only thing I want to discuss outside of the audio related topic is the use of async/await in Javascript, which I will do below the code. So here it is:

class QBasicSound {

    constructor() {
        this.octave = 4;
        this.noteLength = 4;
        this.tempo = 120;
        this.mode = 7 / 8;
        this.foreground = true;
        this.type = 'square';
    }

    setType(type) {
        this.type = type;
    }

    async playSound(frequency, duration) {
        if (!this._audioContext) {
            this._audioContext = new AudioContext();
        }
        // a 0 frequency means a pause
        if (frequency == 0) {
            await delay(duration);
        } else {
            const o = this._audioContext.createOscillator();
            const g = this._audioContext.createGain();
            o.connect(g);
            g.connect(this._audioContext.destination);
            o.frequency.value = frequency;
            o.type = this.type;
            o.start();
            await delay(duration);
            // slowly decrease the volume of the note instead of just stopping so that it doesn't click in an annoying way
            g.gain.exponentialRampToValueAtTime(0.00001, this._audioContext.currentTime + 0.1);
        }
    }

    getNoteValue(octave, note) {
        const octaveNotes = 'C D EF G A B';
        const index = octaveNotes.indexOf(note.toUpperCase());
        if (index < 0) {
            throw new Error(note + ' is not a valid note');
        }
        return octave * 12 + index;
    }

    async playNote(octave, note, duration) {
        const A4 = 440;
        const noteValue = this.getNoteValue(octave, note);
        const freq = A4 * Math.pow(2, (noteValue - 48) / 12);
        await this.playSound(freq, duration);
    }

    async play(commandString) {
        const reg = /(?<octave>O\d+)|(?<octaveUp>>)|(?<octaveDown><)|(?<note>[A-G][#+-]?\d*\.?)|(?<noteN>N\d+\.?)|(?<length>L\d+)|(?<legato>ML)|(?<normal>MN)|(?<staccato>MS)|(?<pause>P\d+\.?)|(?<tempo>T\d+)|(?<foreground>MF)|(?<background>MB)/gi;
        let match = reg.exec(commandString);
        let promise = Promise.resolve();
        while (match) {
            let noteValue = null;
            let longerNote = false;
            let temporaryLength = 0;
            if (match.groups.octave) {
                this.octave = parseInt(match[0].substr(1));
            }
            if (match.groups.octaveUp) {
                this.octave++;
            }
            if (match.groups.octaveDown) {
                this.octave--;
            }
            if (match.groups.note) {
                const noteMatch = /(?<note>[A-G])(?<suffix>[#+-]?)(?<shorthand>\d*)(?<longerNote>\.?)/i.exec(match[0]);
                if (noteMatch.groups.longerNote) {
                    longerNote = true;
                }
                if (noteMatch.groups.shorthand) {
                    temporaryLength = parseInt(noteMatch.groups.shorthand);
                }
                noteValue = this.getNoteValue(this.octave, noteMatch.groups.note);
                switch (noteMatch.groups.suffix) {
                    case '#':
                    case '+':
                        noteValue++;
                        break;
                    case '-':
                        noteValue--;
                        break;
                }
            }
            if (match.groups.noteN) {
                const noteNMatch = /N(?<noteValue>\d+)(?<longerNote>\.?)/i.exec(match[0]);
                if (noteNMatch.groups.longerNote) {
                    longerNote = true;
                }
                noteValue = parseInt(noteNMatch.groups.noteValue);
            }
            if (match.groups.length) {
                this.noteLength = parseInt(match[0].substr(1));
            }
            if (match.groups.legato) {
                this.mode = 1;
            }
            if (match.groups.normal) {
                this.mode = 7 / 8;
            }
            if (match.groups.staccato) {
                this.mode = 3 / 4;
            }
            if (match.groups.pause) {
                const pauseMatch = /P(?<length>\d+)(?<longerNote>\.?)/i.exec(match[0]);
                if (pauseMatch.groups.longerNote) {
                    longerNote = true;
                }
                noteValue = 0;
                temporaryLength = parseInt(pauseMatch.groups.length);
            }
            if (match.groups.tempo) {
                this.tempo = parseInt(match[0].substr(1));
            }
            if (match.groups.foreground) {
                this.foreground = true;
            }
            if (match.groups.background) {
                this.foreground = false;
            }

            if (noteValue !== null) {
                const noteDuration = this.mode * (60000 * 4 / this.tempo) * (longerNote ? 1 : 3 / 2);
                const duration = temporaryLength
                    ? noteDuration / temporaryLength
                    : noteDuration / this.noteLength;
                const A4 = 440;
                const freq = noteValue == 0
                    ? 0
                    : A4 * Math.pow(2, (noteValue - 48) / 12);
                const playPromise = () => this.playSound(freq, duration);
                promise = promise.then(playPromise)
            }
            match = reg.exec(commandString);
        }
        if (this.foreground) {
            await promise;
        } else {
            promise;
        }
    }
}

function delay(duration) {
    return new Promise(resolve => setTimeout(resolve, duration));
}

One uses the code like this:

var player = new QBasicSound();
await player.play('T160O1L8CDEDCDL4ECC');

Note that you cannot start playing the sound directly, you need to wait for a user interaction first. An annoying rule to suppress annoying websites which would start playing the sound on load. And here is the result (press multiple times on Play for different melodies):

Javascript in modern times

There are two concepts that were used in this code that I want to discuss: named regular expression groups and async/await. Coincidentally, both are C# concepts that have crept up in the modern Javascript specifications when .NET developers from Microsoft started contributing to the language.

Named groups are something that appeared in ES2018 and it is something I've been using with joy in .NET and hated when I didn't have it in some other language. Look at the difference between the original design and the current one:

// original design
var match = /(a)bc/.exec('abcd');
if (match && match[1]) { /*do something with match[1]*/ }

// new feature
const match = /(?<theA>a)bc/.exec('abcd');
if (match && match.groups.theA) { /*do something with match.groups.theA*/ }

There are multiple advantages to this:

  • readability for people revisiting the code
  • robustness in the face of changes to the regular expression
    • the index might change if new groups are added to it
  • the code aligns with the C# code (I like that :) )

My advice is to always use named groups when using regular expressions.

Another concept is await/async. In .NET it is used to hide complex asynchronous interactions in the code and with the help of the compiler helps with all the tasks that are running at the same time. Unfortunately, in C#, that means polluting code with async keywords on all levels as async methods can only be used inside other async methods. No such qualms in Javascript.

While in .NET the await/async system runs over Task<T> methods, in Javascript it runs over Promises. Both are abstractions over work that is being done asynchronously.

A most basic example is this:

// original design
getSomethingAsync(url,function(data) {
  getSomethingElseAsync(data.url,function(data2) {
    // do something with data2
  }, errorHandler2);
},errorHandler1);

// Promises
getSomethingAsync(url)
  .then(function(data) {
    getSomethingElseAsync(data.url);
  })
  .then(function(data2) {
    // so something with data2
  })
  .catch(errorHandler);

// async/await
try {
  var data = await getSomethingAsync(url);
  var data2 = await getSomethingElseAsync(data.url);
  // do something with data2
} catch(ex) {
  errorHandler(ex);
}

You see that the await/async way looks like synchronous code, you can even catch errors. await can be used on any function that returns a Promise instance and the result of it is a non-blocking wait until the Promise resolves and returns the value that was passed to the resolve function.

If you go back to the QBasicSound class, at the end, depending on if the sound is in the foreground or background, the function is either awaiting a promise or ... just letting it run. You might also notice that I've added a delay function at the end of the code which is using setTimeout to resolve a Promise. Here is what is actually going on:

// using await
console.log(1);
await delay(1000).then(()=>console.log(2));
console.log(3);
// this logs 1,2,3


// NOT using await
console.log(1);
delay(1000).then(()=>console.log(2));
console.log(3);
// this logs 1,3,2

In the first case, the Promise that was constructed by a one second delay and then logging 2 is awaited, meaning the code waits for the result. After it is executed, 3 gets logged. In the second case, the logging of 2 is executed after one second delay, but the code does not wait for the result, therefore 3 is logged immediately and 2 comes after.

What sorcery is this?! Isn't Javascript supposed to be single threaded? How does it work? Well, consider that in the delay function, the resolve function will only be called after a timeout of one second. When executed, it starts the timeout, then reaches the end of the function. It has not been resolved yet, so it passes control back to the engine, which uses it to execute other things. When the timeout is fired, the engine takes back control, executes the resolve function, then passes control back. All of this is invisible to the user, who gets the illusion of multithreaded behavior.

Already some standard out of the box APIs are async, like fetch. In order to get an object from a REST API that is called via HTTP the code would look like this:

// fetch API
let response = await fetch('/article/promise-chaining/user.json');
let user = await response.json();

Conclusion

I spent an entire day learning about sounds and writing code that would emulate QBASIC code from a billion years ago. Who knows, maybe my next project will be to port the entire Gorillas game in Javascript. Now one can lovingly recreate the sounds of one's childhood.

Other references:

Gorillas.BAS

QBasic/Appendix

Generate Sounds Programmatically With Javascript

Musical Notes

Gorrilas game online

  We are all racists. We belittle dinosaurs for getting extinct, we pump our chests and declare we are the highest pinnacle of evolution and they are inferior, failed experiments of nature, we, mammals, are clearly the superior product. Yet they existed and flourished and ruled every ecosystem on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Even today the number of species of birds, the direct ancestors of dinosaurs, is more than double the number of species of mammals. Kenneth Lacovara starts his book with a similar assumption: Einstein was a schmuck! Every one of his great achievements means nothing because, in the end, Einstein died. If that idea is ridiculous for him, how come we still use it for dinosaurs?

  Why Dinosaurs Matter is a short book, one in the TED Books series, and it pretty much adds detail to Lacovara's TED talk, like all of the TED books. Frankly, I am not very happy with the series, as it often adds little to the ideas summarised in the talks themselves. Some people are spending a lot of effort to summarize existing books into 15 minutes bite size media and TED books do the opposite, adding fat onto already fleshed out ideas. That doesn't mean this book is bad. It is well written, it has a lot of useful information, but it felt disjointed, like a combination of an opinion piece and a history book of discovered fossils. It gets its point across, but that's about it.

  And the point is that we can learn a lot from dinosaurs, from how they spread around the world, adapted to all kinds of environments and the biological innovations they brought on with this. We can learn from their apparently absolute dominion and their immediate and humiliating downfall. Being at the top of the food chain is not only a matter of prideful boasting, but also a fragile spot with multiple dependencies. Once the natural order is disrupted, the top of the pyramid is the first to topple.

  Bottom line: it is a nice introductory book in the world of dinosaurs, but not more than that. It's short enough to read on a long train ride or plane flight and it can be easily read by a child or teenager.

  On the SQLite reference page for the WITH clause there is a little example of solving a Sudoku puzzle. Using SQL. I wanted to see it in action and therefore I've translated it into T-SQL.

  You might think that there is a great algorithm at play, something that will blow your mind. I mean, people have blogged about Sudoku solvers to hone their programming skills for ages and they have worked quite a lot, writing lines and lines of how clever they were. And this is SQL, it works, but how do you do something complex in it? But no, it's very simple, very straightforward and also performant. Kind of a let down, I know, but it pretty much takes all possible solutions and only selects for the valid ones using CTEs (Common Table Expressions).

  Here is the translation, followed by some explanation of the code:

DECLARE @Board VARCHAR(81) = '86....3...2...1..7....74...27.9..1...8.....7...1..7.95...56....4..1...5...3....81';
WITH x(s,ind) AS
(
  SELECT sud,CHARINDEX('.',sud) as ind FROM (VALUES(@Board)) as input(sud)
  UNION ALL
  SELECT
	CONVERT(VARCHAR(81),CONCAT(SUBSTRING(s,1,ind-1),z,SUBSTRING(s,ind+1,81))) as s,
	CHARINDEX('.',CONCAT(SUBSTRING(s,1,ind-1),z,SUBSTRING(s,ind+1,81))) as ind
  FROM x
  INNER JOIN (VALUES('1'),('2'),('3'),('4'),('5'),('6'),('7'),('8'),('9')) as digits(z)
  ON NOT EXISTS (
            SELECT 1
              FROM (VALUES(1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(6),(7),(8),(9)) as positions(lp)
             WHERE z = SUBSTRING(s, ((ind-1)/9)*9 + lp, 1)
                OR z = SUBSTRING(s, ((ind-1)%9) + (lp-1)*9 + 1, 1)
                OR z = SUBSTRING(s, (((ind-1)/3) % 3) * 3
                        + ((ind-1)/27) * 27 + lp
                        + ((lp-1) / 3) * 6, 1)
	)
	WHERE ind>0
)
SELECT s FROM x WHERE ind = 0

  The only changes from the original code I've done is to extract the unsolved puzzle into its own variable and to change the puzzle values. Also, added a more clear INNER JOIN syntax to replace the obnoxious, but still valid, comma (aka CROSS JOIN) notation. Here is the breakdown of the algorithm, as it were:

  • start with an initial state of the unsolved puzzle as a VARCHAR(81) string and the first index of a dot in that string, representing an empty slot - this is the anchor part
  • for the recursive member, join the current state with all the possible digit values (1 through 9) and return the strings with the first empty slot replaced by all valid possibilities and the position of the next empty slot
  • stop when there are no more empty slots
  • select the solutions (no empty slots)

  It's that simple. And before you imagine it will generate a huge table in memory or that it will take a huge time, worry not. It takes less than a second (a lot less) to find the solution. Obviously, resource use increases exponentially when the puzzle doesn't have just one solution. If you empty the first slot (. instead of 8) the number of rows is 10 and it takes a second to compute them all. Empty the next slot, too (6) and you get 228 solutions in 26 seconds and so on.

 The magical parts are the recursive Common Table Expression itself and the little piece of code that checks for validity, but the validity check is quite obvious as it is the exact translation of the Sudoku rules: no same digits on lines, rows or square sections.

  A recursive CTE has three parts:

  • an initial query that represents the starting state, often called the anchor member
  • a recursive query that references the CTE itself, called the recursive member, which is UNIONed with the anchor
  • a termination condition, to tell SQL when to end the recursion

  For us, we started with one unsolved solution, we recursed on all possible valid solutions for replacing the first empty slot and we stopped when there were no more empty slots.

  CTEs are often confusing because the notation seems to indicate something else to a procedural programmer. You imagine doing this without CTEs, maybe in an object oriented programming language, and you think of this huge buffer that just keeps increasing and you have to remember where you left off so you don't process the same partial solution multiple times and you have to clean the data structure so it doesn't get too large, etc. SQL, though, is at heart a declarative programming language, very close to functional programming. It will take care not only of the recursion, but also filter the rows by the final condition of no empty slots while (and sometimes before) it makes the computations.

  Once you consider the set of possible solutions for a problem as a working set, SQL can do wonders to find the solution, provided you can encode it in a way the SQL engine will understand. This is just another example of the right tool for the right job. Hope you learned something.

  One Word Kill starts off like an episode of Stranger Things. You've got the weird kid, his weird friends and the mysterious girl who is both beautiful, smart and hangs out with them to play D&D, all set in the 80's. Then the main character gets cancer and his future self comes to save... the girl. There is also a school boy psycho after them. But that's where the similarities end... the rest of the story is just... nothing. People explain things that needed little explaining and make no sense, good kids and their parents run around from a school boy, as psychotic as he could possibly be, without involving police or gang member allies and, in the middle of all the drama: cancer, psycho killer, future self, time travel... they play Dungeons and Dragons, a game that promotes imagination and creativity that then the protagonists fail to use in any amount in their real life.

  Having just read Prince of Thorns, I really expected a lot more from Mark Lawrence. Instead I get a derivative and boring story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It's reasonably well written, I guess, but nothing Wow!, which is exactly the reaction reviewers seem to have about this book. Have I read a different story somehow?

  Bottom line: I am tempted to rate this average, on account of other raving reviews and on the fact that I liked another Mark Lawrence book, but I have to be honest with me and rate this book alone, which I am sorry to say, is sub par.

  This is something that appeared in C# 5, so a long time ago, with .NET 4.5, but I only found out about it recently. Remember when you wanted to know the name of a property when doing INotifyPropertyChanged? Or when you wanted to log the name of the method that was calling? Or you wanted to know which line in which source file is responsible for calling a certain piece of code? All of this can be done with the Caller Information feature.

  And it is easy enough to use, just decorate a method parameter with an explicit default value with any of these three attributes:

The parameter value, if not set when calling the method, will be filled in with the member name or file name or line number. It's something that the compiler does, so no overhead from reflection. Even better, it works on the caller of the method, not the interior of the method. Imagine you had to write a piece of code to do the same. How would you reference the name of the method calling the method you are in?

Example from Microsoft's site:

public void DoProcessing()
{
    TraceMessage("Something happened.");
}

public void TraceMessage(string message,
        [System.Runtime.CompilerServices.CallerMemberName] string memberName = "",
        [System.Runtime.CompilerServices.CallerFilePath] string sourceFilePath = "",
        [System.Runtime.CompilerServices.CallerLineNumber] int sourceLineNumber = 0)
{
    System.Diagnostics.Trace.WriteLine("message: " + message);
    System.Diagnostics.Trace.WriteLine("member name: " + memberName);
    System.Diagnostics.Trace.WriteLine("source file path: " + sourceFilePath);
    System.Diagnostics.Trace.WriteLine("source line number: " + sourceLineNumber);
}

// Sample Output:
//  message: Something happened.
//  member name: DoProcessing
//  source file path: c:\Visual Studio Projects\CallerInfoCS\CallerInfoCS\Form1.cs
//  source line number: 31