A Programming Project

A Programming Task for Someone Looking to Hack

The biggest thing that has helped me to program better is little programming projects. My first was a simple math tutoring program in GW-BASIC, written with the help of my dad back around third grade. I’ve almost always had a little project to keep me busy since then.Today, it’s creating an RDF library in C#.

I know that often people are looking for ideas for programs to write, so I thought I’d post a routine that someone might want to spend some time hacking. This is a mildly advanced routine, but anyway:

The goal is to parse an RDF/XML document using only XmlReader. That is, extract the RDF statements without loading the entire document into memory as an XmlDocument. As far as I know, this has never been programmed in C#, and it is really critical if semantic web applications are going to be built in .NET.

Getting the basics going isn’t too difficult a task. Getting the entire spec implemented is more of a challenge. But what’s life without challenges, eh? If you’re interested in taking a stab at this, drop me an email (tauberer@for.net).

A Design Suggestion

When I was riding the train back from D.C. to Philly last week, the speaker in the car I was in wasn’t working, so no one could hear the conductor’s announcements. Probably no Amtrak person noticed the problem.

It made me think that we often build things that don’t notice when they’re not working. Speakers should be built with microphones that realize when the speaker isn’t emitting the sound it should be, and when that happens it sends back a signal to… somewhere. Software should do the same thing. Applications should realize when things aren’t working right and, more importantly, send back a useful message that a problem occured.

Here’s a for instance. I plugged in a printer to my Linux desktop this week, but I couldn’t print a test page. The only message I got back was that I should increase the debugging level and inspect the output. Well, this is not a useful signal. Even with debugging on, the message I got was that the driver couldn’t be loaded. Pretty vague. It turned out the driver wasn’t even present on my system because I didn’t have the RPM installed. This is a condition that the printing system should have been able to detect and inform me of.

The failure here is there was no mechanism built into the system for passing back useful error messages to the user. If there was a useful message at some point, it was discarded before it reached me. Don’t write software like this.

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