Private / Semi Private Offices vs Team Spaces

What’s your experience? Lots of management books etc say that private offices are super important for software engineers. The basic argument usually goes that engineers need to concentrate and be uninterrupted. That it takes them 30-45 minutes to get “in the zone”. If they are interrupted for anything (phone call, conversation, question, distraction from the cube next to them, someone else’s cell phone ringing) they don’t just lose the 5 to 10 minutes for the interruption, they instead need another 30-45 minutes to get back into “the zone”. To get their mind back around the problem they were solving. So, if they are constantly or even often interrupted they will never get in the zone and never really get any real work done.


RockBand woes

There are some seriously bad issues with setting up RockBand. If you want to continue with your band apparently you have to plug in the exact same instruments into the same USB ports you original had them. Each instrument has to be assigned to the same xbox live profile. Get even one thing wrong and RockBand will not let you play your saved game.

You even have to make sure all the instruments are plugged in BEFORE you turn on the 360. If you turn on your 360 with just one or two plugged in then later plug the rest in the 360 may assign the instruments to different players. In other words player 1 might be the drums instead of the mic even if you assign the drums and the mic to the correct profiles RockBand will refuse to let you play.



So I went crazy and picked up RockBand, special edition for 360 with the guitar, drums and mic AND… I went and got Guitar Hero 3 and the XPlorer Guitar. This was all mostly for a thanksgiving party. In total that’s like $340 basically just for 1 game!

But, I gotta say Rockband is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game. We had a blast playing all afternoon and late into the night.

A lotta issues came up though.


Best Buy S.N.A.F.U.

So, I went to Best Buy today to pick up Super Mario Galaxy and they claimed it wasn’t coming out till tomorrow 11/13. So I called Gamestop. They have it. I checked Nintendo’s website it says 11/12. So I give this info to the robots at Best Buy hoping I don’t have to drive across town to get it. Nope, their computer says 11/13 so they are not putting them out on 11/12 even though they have them. I’m curious what the story behind that is. Stupid mix up at Best Buy HQ or some other reason they are not allowed to put it out on release day. Oh well, Best Buy loses my sale. Worse for them, I was going to buy COD4 and the Ratatouille blu-ray but I’ll get them all somewhere else.

Self Documenting Names

You’d think this would be obvious but it’s surprising how often I run into source code that doesn’t use self documenting names. Many developers will use the shortest names possible. I’m sure plenty of my old code is this way. Some of you may have asthetic reasons for short names. I’d argue asthetics should come after logic and practicality. You’re goal should be to write code fast with as few complications and bugs as possible. Code that is easy for others to understand so that they also don’t get confused and run into bugs.

Let me attempt to point out some examples of self documenting names and non-self documenting names and the problems they cause.

void DrawLine(float x, float y, unsigned int color); // <- bad

This looks like a straight forward function except what is color? Is it in the format 0xAARRGGBB or 0xRRGGBBAA or 0xAABBGGRR or maybe something else entirely. Any time wasted looking up what it’s supposed to be is one more reason you’re going to be sitting at your desk late at night instead of out and about.

void DrawLine(float x, float y, unsigned int colorRGBA); // <- better.

Now it’s very clear. Color is 0xRRGGBBAA format so 0xFF0000FF would give you 100% red.

Someone might suggest instead of the type being unsigned int, maybe it should be custom type. That’s fine, just name the type something clear. typedef unsigned int ColorRGBA not typedef unsigned int Color

void DrawLine(float xPixels, float yPixels, unsigned int colorRGBA); // <- best

Ah ha!, x and y are in pixels.

How about this one.

void copy(thing* a, thing* b); // <- bad.

does this copy a->b or b<-a?

void copy(thing* a, const thing* b); // <- better.

That helped beacuse obviously we can’t copy a->b if b is const but assume the copy function is 100 lines long. Maybe it’s copying an array of something and inside there’s something like copyarray(a.m_arrayData, b.m_arrayData). Again, looking at that single line I’d have to go reference the definition of a and b to know which side is the source and which is the dest.

void copy(thing* dst, const things* src); // <- best.

This one obviously we copy src->dst, no parsing the code required. And lines like this copyarray(dst.m_arrayData, src.m_arrayData) inside copy will now be readable without having to reference anything else.

Here’s some others:

float rotationAmount; // <- bad
float rotationAmountInRadians; // <- better, we know they are radians
float rotationAmountInRadiansPerSecond; // <- best, we know 100% what it is

vector3::velocity; // <- bad
vector3::velocityInMeters; // <- better
vector3::velocityInMetersPerSecond; // <- best

void Update(float elapsedTime); // <- bad
void Update(float elapsedTimeInSeconds); // <- good, ah, it's in seconds.

I heard one programmer object that time wasn’t always in seconds because sometimes (bullet time) he slowed down the game. That’s pretty much irrelevant though, in his game all calculations are done as though the time passed in is in seconds. It’s good to know the time is in seconds, not in frames or some other unit. Name it!

Note that it’s okay to shorten or abbreviate. Just be consistent MPerSec or InSec or use a prefix secsElapsed, mpersecVelocity. A very good article that also deals with similar issues this Joel’s “Making Wrong Code Look Wrong

These ideas are not about being a code nazi. They are about being efficient and avoiding bugs. Every one of these has bitten me before. I’ve had to dig through levels of library code to find out which is source and which is dest in a function. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out why something did not appear on screen because I was passing radians when the function in question wanted degrees but because the docs just said “rotation” and because the argument was just called “rotation” it didn’t even cross my mind until hours of tracking down the issue.

Another common excuse some programmer will bring up is because their editor shows the help or function signatures or has other kinds of helpful features that they don’t need to follow these guidelines. That might be true if you’re a one man team. On anything larger other programmers are likely to be using different editors which may or may not bring up the same help. I know that in my current project I use both Visual Studio and Visual Slickedit and neither bring up all our help.

So, help out your fellow programmers and automatically document your code by choosing variable names that make the code easier to understand. If I had followed these rules I’d have had to work less, gone home to be with my girlfriend, or moved on to the next feature instead of wasting time figuring out things or tracking down bugs that could be avoided by simply naming things better.