Answers to Those Pesky Programming Problems


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We’ve all done it. Been 90% through a project only to find that we’re stuck. The libraries don’t work like they should or some dependency problem rears its ugly head. You ask friends, look up programming books and, of course, ask Google. Nothing works.

As Joel Spolsky puts it in his blog Google gives you:

  • A bunch of links to discussion forums where very unknowledgeable people are struggling with the same problem and getting nowhere,
  • A link to a Q&A site that purports to have the answer, but when you get there, the answer is all encrypted, and you’re being asked to sign up for a paid subscription plan,
  • An old Usenet post with the exact right answer—for Windows 3.1—but it just doesn’t work anymore,
  • And something in Japanese.

Spolsky and Jeff Atwood (from excellent blog Coding Horror) have tackled this problem with, a programming site with questions and, more importantly, answers. As the answers are voted on by the members you get much better replies than with traditional searches.

StackOverflow has just come out of beta and looks like it’s going to be great. Give it a go.

Stack Overflow

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Plus Ca Change


Image via Wikipedia

I’m indebted to Word Magazine for reminding me that it is fifty years since the untimely passing of Geoffrey Willans, creator of the indefatigable Molesworth.

If anyone has not yet been introduced to the delights of Down with Skool!, illustrated with aplomb by Ronald Searle, then stop reading at once and go pick up a copy of The Compleet Molesworth.

How does this impact educationally? Well, one of Molesworth’s quotes is

It is a funny thing, but headmasters are always very keen on conferences, committees etc when they discuss how to educate boys chiz tho it does not seme to make much difference we are all IGNORANT.

In my darkest hours that is exactly the feeling I take away from the various conferences I have myself hosted.

Word Magazine


OtherInbox Redux


Those nice people at OtherInbox (see previous post) wrote to remind me that they are still in beta and that those who tried to sign up following my post may have been disappointed.

Fear not! Simple email me at for your beta invitation. I’ve got 25 to give away. First come first served.

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PIs in Computing

The conference organised by the SFEU addressing the continued problems with Computing performance was fascinating.

Speakers, including representatives of the SQA, HMIe, SCQF and SFEU, presented irrefutable evidence that Computing as a subject requires to address its problems, and sooner rather than later.

It was interesting that during the One Minute Challenge ™ where participants were asked to name the one thing that would make the biggest difference to the subject we received many tremendous suggestions although none were reflected inwards at the practitioners.

What do you think? Are Computing staff perfect and the problems lie firmly at the door of, for example, SQA for course design or HMIe for unfair inspection techniques; or are the problems closer to home?

SQA Computing blog: Computing performance problems

Other Inbox


Image by Getty Images via Daylife

One of the nastiest side effects of using e-mail is the potential for abuse. We’ve all been there; you sign up to some web service or other and shortly you are bombarded with spam from destinations far and near.

OtherInbox addresses(!) this problem by giving you your own sub-domain, such as You then create as many e-mail addresses as you can eat like, and These addresses are then automatically sorted into folders in your OtherInbox web interface. If you start receiving spam simply block that address. The addresses don’t need to be pre-assigned and you can create a new address for every web site without setting it up beforehand.

This is a cheap way of managing your e-mail. And yes, I know that you can use the same trick with your own domain (I’ve done it myself for a couple of years) but this takes away the technical knowledge required and makes it available for everyone.

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Google Book Viewer


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There are times when you might want to let students on your VLE have a glimpse into recommended books. This is where the Google Book Search APIs come into use.

Simply put the APIs allow you to embed Google Book Search into web pages, either as a button or, as previewed here, as a complete book viewer on your web page.

Even better there are many public domain books that can be shown in their entirety. Bet you wish you were reading one of them instead of this right now…

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This is How Graphics Should be Taught


Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

The Mythbusters crew, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, appeared at nVision 08 with a demonstration of using CPUs versus GPUs. While I’m not convinced of the science behind the demo it is still the best (read most entertaining) explanation of parallel versus serial operations that I’ve seen.

Watch the video on Nvidia’s site.

Mythbusters at NVISION 08 the Complete Presentation PT. 1

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Last Call for Computing Conference


Image via Wikipedia

Following on from the SFEU‘s Computing Conference in June, (what do you mean you weren’t there – it was great!) this Thursday, the 18th of September, sees an event focussed on Recruitment, Attainment and Retention in Computing.

We have speakers from the SFEU, SQA, HMIe and the University of Strathclyde together with plenty of workshops on the programme.

Hopefully you’ll leave bristling with new ideas to make your department as successful as it can possibly be.

Registration closes soon so get moving and I’ll see you on the 18th.

From the SFEU website: The challenges facing computing staff in all of Scotland’s 43 colleges have never been greater, with continuous demands on lecturing staff to keep abreast of an evolving curriculum, emerging technologies and new computing subjects. In addition, staff members need to consider the profile of their learners and their varying expectations, the fact that performance indicators continue to be low compared to other areas across the sector, and that computing recruitment is slipping. Despite such challenges, there is an abundance of good practice and success stories in computing. It is important to harness such practice and help practitioners implement these successes elsewhere. To achieve this, it is essential that computing practitioners work together with learners, policy holders, awarding bodies and employers.

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Google Get Into Browsers

Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

Google live on the Internet and so it makes sense that they would want to influence the nuts and bolts of web browsing. To that end they have introduced their own browser, Chrome.

Some of the choices made in creating the browser such as multiple processes, secrecy mode and a brand new Java interpreter are interesting to say the least and are well explained in the accompanying comic. (It’s Google, of course it’s a comic!)

You can download the browser here (Windows only at the moment, Mac and Linux to follow). It’s certainly worth a look and, as the code has been open-sourced, it’s only a matter of time until at least some of the ideas appear elsewhere.

Browser wars in 2008. Who’d have thought?

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