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Programmers' Question Time: Tiptoe through the tuples

Addressing the pro-horticulture/anti-nerdiculture bias

Stob When the BBC announced a rejig at Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, Stob hoped for a much more radical change of format than a mere replacement head composter.

The panel answers your nerdicultural questions

Chair: Hello and welcome to Programmers' Question Time, which this week comes from DevOps-on-Slack, where we are the guests of the Distressed Java Users Society.

On our panel today we have:

Jeffrey Waterfall, formerly deputy head of trailing edge systems at the Big Ex-Building Society Bank and author of The Jollity of Java Maintenance and The Modified Rapture of Agile;

Bob Scrumble, technical adviser to the recently re-cancelled British government High Speed Cloud 2 programme and the man who introduced the practice of putting emojis on email subject lines (even though you aren't six years old) to Northern Europe;


Professor Penny Parser, reader in Rust-as-a-second-language at the University of Web 3.2.19, but now perhaps even better known for her cultural essay Bran Stark, an Adric for the Modern Age? and its uncontroversial sequel Could Jaime somehow be revived to push Bran out of a much higher tower?

Audience: (Polite applause)

Chair: And I can tell you, panel, that a thin, chalky topsoil and poorly buried fibre cable mean that the typical broadband speeds around here are sub-20Mbps, and the 4G signal is weak-to-absent due to a prevailing northerly. Can we have our first question please?

Gwen Tracking-Cookie: Gwen Tracking-Cookie. We have inherited an ancient, well-established SVN repository that has around 19,000 revisions and a checkout size of around 900 gigs. Mostly C code, a few files written in assembly language.

Verity Stob gloved with pearls

30-up: You know what? Those really weren't the days


My husband would like to move the whole thing to GitHub. My question is: what would be the advantages and disadvantages of this?

Chair: Lady has legacy terabyte Subversion repo; should she move it to GitHub? Jeffrey?

Jeff Waterfall (exaggerated Yorkshirese): Nay, lass, tha' oughtn't do that.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Jeff Waterfall: Can I ask, madam, why you want move it? For example, do you want to cherry-pick it?

Gwen Tracking-Cookie (embarrassed): Well, as my husband says, it is rather a slow, and...

Jeff Waterfall: Are you using svn:// or http:// protocol?

Gwen Tracking-Cookie (doesn't understand): No, it's a Dell.

Jeff Waterfall (beginning to explain): Ah. But that's...

Bob Scrumble (interrupting): You do realise it is quite safe to prune Subversion repositories?

Prof. Penny Parser (dubious): Even mature repos? At this time of year?

Bob Scrumble: Especially mature repos.

Prof. Penny Parser (still dubious): Well, I agree with your husband, Gwen. The only really safe thing to do is to lop off the very top of the trunk, perhaps just a few branches too, and transfer your cutting to a GitHub repos.

Jeff Waterfall (irrelevant): Just remember what I always say: pruning is not a silver bullet.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Chair: I hope that's all cleared up for you, Gwen?

Gwen Tracking-Cookie: Um.

Chair (ignoring Gwen): Can we have our next question please?

Derek Race-Condition: Derek Race-Condition. I recently took over a website, and I found this unusual growth in it. I wonder if the panel could identify it for me. It has a peculiar aroma.

Chair (over sounds of rustling plastic): And Derek has brought us a sample, which he is just passing round the members of the panel.

Prof. Penny Parser (sniffing): Pooh! So I'm looking at a quite small code module, about 3,000 lines... It's a curly brackets language... I think it's PHP.

Jeff Waterfall: PHP? You've come the wrong place, lad. They're doing The Antiques Roadshow next door.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Bob Scrumble: Aha! I see what the problem is. It's got an embedded Flash object to display videos.

Jeff Waterfall: Flash video, eh? This is the ITV Hub and I claim the Westminster Gazette prize.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Prof. Penny Parser: One minute. Bob was quite right to point out the Flash, but if you look carefully here, you'll see we have a really deep class hierarchy.

Chair: So is that a problem, Penny?

Bob Scrumble: Oh, here we go.

Prof. Penny Parser: Since this is no longer 1992, yes, it is a problem. Why people still tolerate classical frameworks in this day and age, I just don't know. As the late, lamented Joe Armstrong once said...

Bob Scrumble (pretending to finish her quote): "Some people, when confronted with a problem, think 'I know, I'll use FP.' Now they have two problems..."

Bob Scrumble (again, struck by another witticism opportunity): Although actually they still think they've got one problem, because the problem counter is now immutable.

Audience: (Silence)

Jeff Waterfall: Uh-oh. I think there's a pachyderm in the parlour.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Prof. Penny Parser: Very funny, Jeff. But seriously, with just a little light top-refactoring of this code, and, yes, adhering to basic functional principles...

Bob Scrumble: Functional principles? In PHP? The world's least funky language! Pull the other one, sister, it's got monads on it.

Jeff Waterfall: Oh no! It's escaped! Now we've really got a jumbo among the geraniums.

Audience: (Polite chuckling)

Chair: So, Derek, that certainly gives you something to think about.

Derek Race-Condition: But that's...

Chair (cutting him off): And now it's time to go over to not-the-Met Office for the programmers' forecast with Simon Beard.

Jill Bland (post-recording insert with different resonance): Thank you, Kathy. Actually it's Jill Bland here. I've been hearing a lot of programmers say that it has been a very quiet season so far this year. But not any more – it looks like we're in for a bit of a rough one over the next few days. There will be a wide band of Russian scamware to come sweeping in from the east of the country, where on Tuesday it will it meet an area of high pressure caused by the very heavy precipitation of some unwieldy Windows patches. It's too early to say exactly what will happen, but stay tuned for the latest updates, and meanwhile you might want to get your embedded Windows boxes safely under cover.

Chair (picking up awkwardly after insert): Thanks, Simon. In a moment, we hear what happened when Jeff and Penny visited Clacks server farm, where they saw the slowest public JSP web server ever, still in operation! But I see we have time for just one more question.

Andrew Poisoned-Cache: Andrew Poisoned-Cache. Does the panel believe in threads?

Audience: (Light applause for directness of question)

Jeff Waterfall: Well, I've certainly never seen one!

Audience: (Prolonged gales of laughter. They may well injure themselves)

Chair (irritated by Jeff's success): Penny?

Prof. Penny Parser: Very funny, Jeff. But just to be serious for a moment, this is a very important question in modern design... ®

Verity Stob is the pseudonym of a software developer based in London. Since 1988, she has written her "Verity Stob" column for .EXE magazine, Dr. Dobb's Journal and, since 2002, The Register.

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