The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Congratulations, Senator!

For the first time in the institution's 229 years, a sitting U.S. Senator—from my own state, no less—has given birth:

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) gave birth Monday to a baby girl, the first time a sitting senator has delivered a child and one of just 10 female lawmakers to bear a child while serving in Congress.

Duckworth, 50, and her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, named their daughter Maile Pearl Bowlsbey after Bowlsbey’s great aunt. Pearl Bowlseby Johnson was an Army nurse during World War II. Duckworth is a double amputee from her service in the Iraq War as an Army helicopter pilot, getting shot down in 2006. The senator said that she and her husband consulted with former senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, who died last week, about the choice of name, just as they did with the birth of their first daughter, Abigail, four years ago.

Wait, she's 50? Wow. I can't decide which is more impressive, her age or her first-ever record. Either way, it's pretty cool.

Happy February 68th!

It's the 99th day of 2018, and I'm looking out my office window at 25 mm of snow on the ground. It was -7°C on Saturday and -6°C last night. This isn't April; it's February. Come on, Chicago.

The Cubs' home opener originally scheduled for today will be played tomorrow. This is the second time in my memory that the home opener got snowed out. I didn't have tickets to today's game, but I did have tickets to the game on 15 April 1994, which also got snowed out.

(Cubs official photo.)

Because it's Chicago. (Actually, there's a blocking mass of warm air to the east of us causing a bulge in the polar jet stream and pushing cool Canadian air down into the U.S. That sort of thing feels really nice in July; not so much in April.)

H is for Human Factors

Blogging A to ZThe Blogging A-to-Z challenge enters its second week with a note about you, the human.

Last week I discussed several topics that you probably thought were about computers. They weren't. They were about how you interact with computers.

Computers don't need programming languages. This is a perfectly runnable program for the 6502 microprocessor:

0600: a9 01 8d 00 02 a9 05 8d 01 02 a9 08 8d 02 02

The human-readable version looks like this:

$0600    a9 01     LDA #$01
$0602    8d 00 02  STA $0200
$0605    a9 05     LDA #$05
$0607    8d 01 02  STA $0201
$060a    a9 08     LDA #$08
$060c    8d 02 02  STA $0202

Imagine looking at that all day and trying to debug it. You'd go insane. I know, because back in the day, I wrote that kind of code for 6502 chips and, well, you have evidence about my sanity in these pages.

This is why we use high-level languages instead of low-level ones. We try to abstract away all the crap. Instead of writing for the machine to read, as you do with assembly language (and even there you have a thin abstraction layer), you write software for a human to read.

And the languages continuously improve. Here, below, is some of the first code I ever plagiarized wrote that lived in a production application. You might understand what it does from reading it:


   julian!=INT(365.2422# * year + 30.44 * (month-1) + day + 1)
   t1=month - 2 - 12 * (month<3)
   t2=year + (month<3)
   weekday!=INT(2.61*t1-.2) + day + t2 + INT(t2/4)
   weekday! = (weekday! + INT(t3/4) - t3 - t3 + 77) MOD 7 + 1
   t4=julian! - 7 * INT(julian!/7)
   day$=dow$(weekday!)+","+STR$(day)+" "+month$(month)+STR$(year)
   IF h<0 THEN julian!=julian!-1:_

That language is called QuickBASIC, which Microsoft published from 1985 until 1991, when Visual BASIC took over. It's a subroutine that converts a date into its Julian day number. I developed it because in QuickBASIC there was no way to do simple date calculations, but in astronomy, there was.

Here's the C# version:

public static double ToJulianDayNumber(this DateTimeOffset date)
   return date.ToOADate() + 2415018.5;

Forget that this is a naïve implementation, as there are a ton of special cases before the 19th century; and also forget that it uses a magic number that depends on understanding a bit of .NET and Windows internals (like, for example, that JD 2415018.5 is 30 December 1899, which is the epoch date for OLE automation).

The point is, I can abstract away all the calculations and create an extension method which allows me to get any Julian day number just by calling that method on any date-time struct:

var julian = DateTimeOffset.UtcNow.ToJulianDayNumber();

As a human, I'd bet you find that a lot easier to read and understand than the MDYTOJULIAN subroutine above.

But C# makes it even easier to calculate the difference between two dates, obviating the Julian day entirely, unless you're writing software specifically for astronomers:

var otherDay = new DateTimeOffset(2017, 01, 20, 17, 0, 0, TimeSpan.Zero)
var days = DateTimeOffset.Now.Subtract(otherDay).TotalDays;

Because really, you're trying to get the total days between two dates. The Julian day is a required abstraction when you don't have date arithmetic built in. But when you can just do date.Subtract(otherDate) to get a TimeSpan object, the code is a lot easier for humans to read.

Let the compiler worry about the machine. You worry about other humans.

Further reading:

Parker doing much better

Yesterday Parker got fitted for a new E-collar after I discovered that his long nose and long tongue were just long enough to lick his sutures. Fortunately the incision doesn't seem irritated or infected, probably owing to the massive doses of antibiotics we've got him on.

As for the primary injury, that seems to have healed remarkably well in the few days since his surgery. He's putting more weight on the leg, and has less trouble standing up. He still seems a little shaky in some postures, particularly squatting.

So Parker's biggest problems right now are bumping into things with his Cone of Shame, and the abject boredom of a smart dog getting only 15 minutes of walkies a day.

He's really going to hate this coming week, too. I've got rehearsals or performances every single evening, so he'll be alone most of the time. Poor dude.

(There is no A-to-Z post today because it's Sunday.)

G is for Generics

Blogging A to ZFor day 7 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, I'm going totally generic.

A generic in C# allows your code to "defer the specification of one or more types until the class or method is declared and instantiated by client code." In other words, you can declare a class that takes a type to be named later.

Imagine you have a program that represents a house. Your house has rooms, and the rooms have windows, doors, and in some cases, fireplaces. They also have furniture. And sometimes headless corpses. (Don't ask.)

If you were using C# 1.0, you'd need to design structures to hold all of these things, and you'd probably wind up using arrays, like this:

#region Copyright ©2002 Inner Drive Technology

using System.Collections;


namespace InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.WeekOne
	public class Window
		public void Close() { }
		public void Open() { }

	public class RoomV1
		public void Add(Window window)

		public IEnumerable Windows
				return new ArrayList(_windows);

		private readonly ArrayList _windows = new ArrayList();

The only problem don't really know for sure whether the things going into or coming out of the _windows array list are actually windows. That's because the System.Collections.ArrayList class only stores objects, not specific kinds of objects.

Generics allow you to impose type safety on the collection of windows through the use of a type parameter. Now you can do this:

public class Room
	public void Add(Window window)

	public IEnumerable<Window> Windows => new List<Window>(_windows);

	private readonly List<Window> _windows = new	List<Window>();

(Notice also the nifty shorthand on line 8 that eliminates the get method.)

This works because the List<T> class takes any object type for T, leaving it up to the compiler to work out what type it should contain. The prototype for the class looks something like this:

public class List<T>
	public void Add(T input) { }

The type parameter T can be anything. (You can restrict what T can contain, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader.)

Generics simplify a lot of programming tasks. But just wait until Tuesday when I show you how to make object-oriented designs really fly in C#.

Housekeeping note: The A-to-Z Challenge takes Sundays off. The next post in this series will be on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Parker update: day 3 post-surgery

Parker is both feeling a lot better and a lot worse.

In the "better" column we have his incision looking great, him putting more weight on the repaired leg, and him figuring out how to navigate with the Cone of Shame.

In the "worse" column we have listlessness, sleep disruption, and depression from the drugs, the lack of exercise, and the Cone of Shame. His surgeon followed up with me yesterday and said this is perfectly normal.

I'm still watching him closely, but I'm happy how things are going. He gets his sutures out and the cone off a week from Wednesday. I think he can make it fine.

F is for F#

Blogging A to ZWe're up to day 6 of Blogging A-to-Z challenge, FFS.

The last few days I've written about the two main object-oriented languages that come with Visual Studio and .NET: C# and VB.NET. Today I want to diverge just a little into Microsoft's functional language, F#.

At first glance, F# looks a lot like C#. It is, in fact, a flavor of C#; and as it runs on the .NET CLR, it uses .NET constructs. But as Microsoft says, "F# is a programming language that provides support for functional programming in addition to traditional object-oriented and imperative (procedural) programming." Part of this support is the ability to express functions as first-class values. That means you can pass functions around as variables, and do things with them, in ways you can't with C# or other object-oriented languages (sort of—C# can do this too as of 4.7).

Here's an example:

let celsius (f: float) : float = (f - 32.0) * (5.0 / 9.0)

let main argv =
    let c = 68.0
    printfn "%f Fahrenheit is %f Celsius" c (celsius c)

This is just one step up from "Hello World," in that it actually does something. Two interesting bits: (a) You don't actually need to run this using the EntryPoint identifier; you can run it interactively; and (b) More importantly, celsius is just a variable.

I would love to spend another hour on this post, but I can't do the topic justice. Scott Wlaschin, on the other hand, will show you how to use F# for fun and profit. I recommend his site if you want to learn more.

But here's the sad truth: it's not very practical yet. And C# allows you to pass functions as parameters, even anonymously, so F# no longer has a monopoly on functional programming.

Remember, these A-to-Z posts aren't meant to exhaustively describe the topics. I'm only hoping to outline them and provide some follow-up reading links. And with F#, after a 45 minutes on one post, that's about all I'm up for today.

Construction complication in Dunning

No, not the Dunning of Kruger fame; Dunning, the community area on the far northwest side of Chicago.

Workers building a new school in the neighborhood discovered that not only was it the former site of a poor house, but also that 38,000 people may be buried there:

“There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place,” said Barry Fleig, a genealogist and cemetery researcher who began investigating the site in 1989. “It’s a spooky, scary place.”

Workers have until April 27 to excavate and clear the site, remediate the soil and relocate an existing sewer line. The school is scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 academic year, though a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools would not say what type of school it will be.

Fleig said he’s “nearly certain” there are no intact caskets buried underneath the proposed school grounds — bodies were primarily buried in two formal cemeteries, though scattered human remains have been discovered during previous construction projects near the campus.

In 1854, the county opened a poorhouse and farm and gradually added an insane asylum, infirmary and tuberculosis hospital to the property. At its peak, a thousand people were buried on the grounds each year.

The state took over in 1912 and changed the official name to Chicago State Hospital. Buildings were shuttered in 1970 and operations moved west of Oak Park Avenue to what is now Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. 

In 1854, the site would have been a few hours' ride from the city. So I'm glad to see that the American tradition of dumping the poor in places where they can't possible thrive was as strong then as now. I'm a little shocked that a pauper's cemetery acquired so many corpses in sixty years, though.

E is for Encapsulation

Blogging A to ZWelcome to day 5 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge.

In object-oriented design, we talk about a number of basic concepts that make code easier for humans to read and maintain. Encapsulation is fundamental, by hiding the internal data of a class so that only the class can use it. To access data within the class, you can't just reach in and grab it; you need to use the public properties and methods of the class.

Here's a stupid class:

#region Copyright ©2018 Inner Drive Technology

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;


namespace InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.WeekOne
	public class Encapsulation
		public string Name { get; private set; }

		public void ChangeName(string newName)
			if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(newName))
				throw new ArgumentException("Name must have a value", nameof(newName));
			Name = newName;

		internal void Clear()
			Name = string.Empty;

		public IEnumerable<string> NameList => new List<string>(_names);

		private readonly List<string> _names = new List<string>();

Seriously, this is dumb. But it demonstrates some of the ways C# encapsulates data.

Line 12 creates a property called Name that any code anywhere can call, because it's public. But it also declares a setter method that is private, meaning only the Encapsulation class itself can set the value of Name.

Lines 14-22 show how this works. The ChangeName method first makes sure you are giving it a real value, then changes Name and adds the new name to a list of names that is itself private. So the only way to change Name is to use the ChangeName method. (There's another way to do this in the property setter, but I wanted to show how this works exactly.)

Lines 24-27 provide you a way of clearing Name, but the method is marked internal. That means only classes in the same assembly can use this method, which has consequences for our unit tests, below.

Line 29 does a nifty trick where, instead of actually giving outside code access to its private list of _names (line 31), it creates a copy of the list and sends that out. Otherwise, anyone would be able to change the contents of _names just by using the NameList property.

Now here's the unit test code:

#region Copyright ©2018 Inner Drive Technology

using System.Linq;
using InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.WeekOne;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.TestTools.UnitTesting;


namespace InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.UnitTests
	public class EncapsulationTests
		public void CanSetNameOfObject()
			var thing = new Encapsulation();
			//thing.Name = "This won't compile";
			//thing._names.Add("This won't compile either");
			Assert.AreEqual("Ernie", thing.Name);
			Assert.AreEqual(1, thing.NameList.Count());

		public void CanClearNames()
			var thing = new Encapsulation();
			Assert.AreEqual("Ernie", thing.Name);
			Assert.AreEqual(1, thing.NameList.Count());

			// thing.Clear(); // oops—won't compile!

			// Assertions fail!
			Assert.AreEqual(1, thing.NameList.Count());

The comments explain what's going on.

So how can we test the Encapsulation.Clear() method? By adding this line to the InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.WeekOne.AssemblyInfo.cs file:

[assembly: InternalsVisibleTo("InnerDrive.DailyParkerAtoZ.UnitTests")]

Now all of the objects, properties, and methods in the WeekOne assembly marked internal are visible to the unit test class, and the tests pass.

Cool, right?

As always, the growing Visual Studio solution is here. The ZIP file contains the complete Git log of the project, by the way. Enjoy.

Parker update: home but on drugs

Cone of shame, shaved leg, drugged out of his mind: that's my boy. But at least he's home:

As I've been saying, the next few weeks will be rough. But he's going to get lots of attention, especially between now and Monday.

And then there's this:

He has physical pain, I have psychic pain. All because he ran up some stairs too fast.

Again: ouch.