Monthly Archives: April 2006

Free Code Here!

I just received this hilarious message: 

Thanks, you *****, for not responding to my Prim’s e-mail, and may you be cursed with the worst of success in Computer Science.



Every once in a while I get requests from people asking me for completed code. The purpose of my articles (and this blog) is to aid understanding, not provide wholesale code. My job keeps me plenty busy, I receive a LOT of e-mails every day, and I probably don’t have the fully-functional, runnable code that people are looking for anyway, when they can probably find it on the Internet.

That said, I have received numerous comments, specific questions, disagreements, kudos, and suggestions that I have warmly responded to.

What’s wrong with this code? – 1

What is wrong with the following code? 

struct Foo {
    public int id;
    public string value;
    public static readonly Foo Empty = new Foo(“”);

    public Foo(string val)
         this.value = val; = -1;


and elsewhere…

Foo m = new Foo(“Something”); 

if (object.ReferenceEquals(m, Foo.Empty))
    …//do something
} else



.Net Deprecation

A useful attribute in .Net is Obselete. When you mark a method with this the compiler will flag any line that accesses the method (or property, or whatever) with a warning (error is optional).

I recently used it for a framework that sits between a database and applications–I wanted to faithfully reflect the database design (since it’s too dangerous to change that), but I want to be warned away from using cetain functionality unless necessary.


[Obsolete(“You shouldn’t be calling this method!”)]
public void MyMethod()



The compiler will then say:

warning CS0618: [class…].MyMethod’ is obsolete: ‘You shouldn’t be calling this method!’

Benefits of using “as” in C#

The “as” keyword is very useful in managed code because it solves a very common problem.

Suppose you have this:

object o;

string s = (string)o;

but what if o is null? Then you will get a NullReferenceException. Sometimes this is ok, but often if o is null, you want s to be null as well.

Enter ‘as’. as is like a typecast that will return null if needed.

Your code would then be:

string s = o as string;

This is why you can’t use ‘as’ with value types (int, bool, structs, etc.)–they can’t take on the value of null in the first place. With .Net 2.0, however, the rules change…

Detecting database connection

I have a service that’s absolutely critical to business functions that relies on both Exchange and SQL Server. The problem is that the service’s existing code has a number of places where a failure to connect to the database will result in a dummy, “bad” value being returned from the data access layer. The business layer doesn’t know if the bad values came from bad input data or no database connection, and it assumes the former. This leads to data loss for the customer.

I see three possible solutions for this:

  1. Have an exception for when the database is inaccessible. This is complicated because it changes the code flow, which would not be easy. Every place it tries to access the database would have to handle the exception. I would also have to develop a mechanism to reprocess the data later.
  2. Have a known “bad” value that means database couldn’t be accessed. This is tricky (if not impossible) and would significantly decrease the readability of the code.
  3. Detect whether the database is alive or not before attempting any processing. This avoids the problem of reattempting processing at a later time. It allows more of the code to stay as is (thus fewer chances of new bugs).

I went with 3 because it is also conceptually closer to what should happen. If the database is unavailable, the service can’t possibly do any meaningful work so it should just stop until the database comes back up.

The code to detect a database disconnect is very simple:

static bool IsDatabaseAlive()
    SqlConnection connection = null;
string strConnection = ConfigurationSettings.AppSettings[“ConnectionString”];
using(connection = new SqlConnection(strConnection))
return (connection.State != ConnectionState.Open);
return false;


I run this code before running through the processing loops. If the database is alive I go ahead and process.  

Sleep and the length of days

Is it just a coincidence that humans require roughly the same amount of sleep as there are hours during the night?

In other words, is the amount of sleep that is “healthy” for us the result of long centuries of nurturing and tradition or is it biological?

In other words, if the day were 30 hours long, would we sleep more or work more?

This might keep me up at night…

Programmer’s Paradise

Joel of Joel on Software recently posted a good article on managing programmers in software companies. I liked this paragraph:

A programmer is most productive with a quiet private office, a great computer, unlimited beverages, an ambient temperature between 68 and 72 degrees (F), no glare on the screen, a chair that’s so comfortable you don’t feel it, an administrator that brings them their mail and orders manuals and books, a system administrator who makes the Internet as available as oxygen, a tester to find the bugs they just can’t see, a graphic designer to make their screens beautiful, a team of marketing people to make the masses want their products, a team of sales people to make sure the masses can get these products, some patient tech support saints who help customers get the product working and help the programmers understand what problems are generating the tech support calls, and about a dozen other support and administrative functions which, in a typical company, add up to about 80% of the payroll. It is not a coincidence that the Roman army had a ratio of four servants for every soldier. This was not decadence. Modern armies probably run 7:1.

 I have found that I am far more productive at home than in a cube. At home I have a private office, free drinks, a good computer (not great), two large screens, a perfect temperature, a good chair, and can listen to music out loud.

Programming is an exercise of the mind. The less you have to worry about your body the better your mind functions.

The web in a box

I was reading an interview of Gary Flake who works with MSN search. The following quote stood out to me:

 However, there is an even richer class of algorithms that can only be efficiently built on a 64 bit system because you essentially have to have a significant part of the web stored close to a single CPU. So, 64 bit systems pave the way for entirely new forms of relevance that look at how pages relate to one another.

That is just cool.

Microsoft announced recently that in a few months they would reveal a new search engine that is better than Google. This looks like part of it.