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Sam Newman's site, a Consultant at ThoughtWorks

Posts from the ‘Books’ category

After some badgering by “Simon”:http://www.brunningonline.net/simon/blog/, I’ve decided to start posting the occasional book review. As a voracious collector (and sometime reader) of books, I feel it is a duty to impart my knowledge on some matters, whilst at the same time whoring myself for a potential paid gig. Either that or to inflate my own sense of self importance, whatever.

Anyway, first up for treatment is Kent Beck’s “Test-Driven Development by Example(Test Driven Development – The Addison-Wesley Signature Series )”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0321146530/qid=1077822818/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_11_1/026-5985556-2226861. A rather slim tome in the context of computing books (which tend to value content over quality), it aims to describe the process of Test Driven Development (TDD for TLA fans) by a series of, you guessed it, examples. The first half shows the process being applied to solving a relatively straightforward use case. It succeeds well in managing to introduce the core processes of TDD, but at times the tone of false modesty Kent uses can really annoy me. I know enough of Kent Beck’s work to know that the guy cannot be as mediocre a programmer as he claims in the book, and for him to claim otherwise irks me somewhat.

The other problem the first section has is that in order to simply explain the TDD process, he has to use simple, small steps, which of themselves seem trivial and do not really help show some of the power of TDD. This can often be a problem with trying to describe computing technologies – by the time you’ve got an example simple enough to explain a technology, you’ve removed the need for using the technology in the first place.

Some of the early points are very well made however, this description being the single best argument for test cases I think I’ve ever seen:

In teaching TDD, I see this situation all the time – excellent software engineers spending 5 to 10 minutes reasoning about a question that the computer could answer in 15 seconds. Without the tests you have no choice, you have to reason. With the tests you can decide whether an experiment would answer the question faster. Sometimes you should just ask the computer.

At no stage during the first part is any guidance for setting up a TDD environment given. In addition, whilst JUnit is mentioned as the testing framework several times, no information is forthcoming as to how to run the tests yourself. This can be a bit frustrating to people who want to follow along with the examples from the beginning. This begins to be readdressed in the second part, where by way of a more advanced example, Kent decides to implement a JUnit type system using a TDD approach. In it you get a feel as to how JUnit works, but you still don’t actually know how to download, install and run it.

By choosing an advanced sample such as the implementation of a unit testing framework, Kent is clearly trying to kill two birds with one stone – describe JUnit and give a more advanced TDD example. He does of course make a rod for his own back – he is using the Unit testing framework he is creating (called xUnit) as the test framework itself. I’m sure many computer scientists get a hard-on for this self-referential coding but for my mind it needlessly complicates things.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this middle section of book is the change in programming language. The testing framework he develops is a written in Python. No doubt a boon for Python coders out there, this can’t but help make things a little awkward for those who picked the book up, saw the early sections are written in Java and thought this was the book for them. Likewise Python programmers may have some trouble understanding the Java examples in the initial sections, which would be required in order for them to follow the later Python code.

The real pay dirt for this book can be found in the final section. Here, Kent details a series of test patterns expanding on the early examples which give a fantastic overview of what you should test and how. For me, I found myself skipping much of the early stuff and focusing my attentions on these more complex topics, however I obviously lost out a little – I frequently found myself referring to the earlier chapters to better understand the topics being addressed.

Conclusion

All in all, Test-Driven Development can quite quickly explain to you what TDD is, and what its promises are. It does its best to extol its virtues, but I can’t help thinking that the only way to really be converted to TDD is to use it yourself. The lack of discussion on how to implement a TDD environment for yourself is disappointing, and the brief foray into Python confusing, however all in all this book is well worth a read for any of you interested in the topic.

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I try to keep my blog relatively on-topic, and make sure its at least partially related to technology issues. However something has come to my attention that requires airing in public, before I explode in a towering rage. Hellblazer, perhaps my favourite all time comic series is being made into a film. For those who don’t know, Hellblazer tells the story of John Constantine, a Londoner mystic who spends his life drinking, pissing people off and messing around with the occult. John Constantine first appeared in Alan Moore’s run in Swamp Thing, and since getting his own comic has been written and drawn by such greats as Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello and Warren Ellis. Noted for sharp humour, occasionally shocking material I look forward to each release of the graphic novels with genuine delight.

At the best of times the results of comics can be very varied – from the good (Batman, From Hell, Spiderman) to the bad (Batman and Robin). Fans of the source material are notoriously picky when it comes to translations of their beloved material. When I heard they were making a film, I thought I should try and keep an open mind. “Who is making it?” I ask. “Warner Brothers”. Hmm…ok…”Who is the director?.” “Francis Lawrence” I hear. Who? Turns out this is his film directorial debut. Credits to date include music Videos for Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and P.O.D. Admitidly Spike Jonze’s only experience prior to Being John Malkovich was directing videos, so perhaps all is not lost. “Where is it set?” I ask again. “America” came the reply. Now I’m really worried. So much of John Constantine’s charm comes from the pithy Londoner in him – such much of the excellent backdrops to the stories being London itself. Then I remember High Fidelity, which survived the translation to America relatively intact. Now the big question. “Who is playing John Constantine” I ask? ” Keanu Reeves” comes the, frankly unbelievable reply.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For the love of god, what were they thinking…

More information on this potential abomination in waiting can be found over at “Straight To Hell”:http://www.insanerantings.com/hell/movie/, probably the best Hellblazer fan site.

My occasional aid package from Amazon arrived today. Along with a copy of “Panda Anti virus Platinum”:http://www.pandasoftware.co.uk/ and some graphic novels (the latest “Transmetropolitan(Transmetropolitan – The Official Feedsite)”:http://www.transmetropolitan.com/ and “Hellblazer”:http://www.insanerantings.com/hell/) was the latest “Trust The DJ”:http://www.trustthedj.com/ compilation by “Giles Peterson”:http://www.trustthedj.com/GillesPeterson/ and the new “Coral(The Coral’s website)”:http://www.thecoral.co.uk/ album, Magic and Medicine. I haven’t liked the Trust The DJ stuff as much as Peterson’s excellent Worldwide compilations, but its worth picking up all the same if your a jazz-head, a hip-hop fan or a little strange. For a taster, listen to his Radio 1 “Worldwide”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/urban/peterson/ show, which you can listen to on the web assuming you have “RealPlayer”:http://www.real.com/ installed. The Coral album on the other hand is no-where near as diverse as their original (no sea-shanties!) but does seem more focused, if at the same time sounding a little more dreamy (think: stoned out on a beach dreamy). Very enjoyable all the same, Liezah being my favourite so far.

A few “new and upcoming”:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/new.html books at “O’Reilly”:http://www.ora.com/ caught my eye:

* Oracle Regular Expressions Pocket Reference covers the Regular expression support in Oracle 10. Too bad I’m stuck with Oracle 8 at the moment
* “Even Grues Get Full”:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/grues/ is the fourth collection of “user friendly”:http://www.userfriendly.org cartoons
* “TiVo Hacks”:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/tivohks/ covers all kinds of neat tricks with what I consider to be the greatest use of Linux in the home, the godlike “TiVo”:http://www.tivo.com
* In a similar vein, “iPod: The Missing Manual”:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/ipodtmm/ details all kinds of information concerning the “iPod”:http://www.ipod.com/ipod/, the second greatest gadget I own after the aforementioned TiVo.