if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras

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pages: 509 words: 92,141

The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt, Dave Thomas

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A Pattern Language, Broken windows theory, business process, buy low sell high, c2.com, combinatorial explosion, continuous integration, database schema, domain-specific language, general-purpose programming language, Grace Hopper, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, index card, loose coupling, Menlo Park, MVC pattern, premature optimization, Ralph Waldo Emerson, revision control, Schrödinger's Cat, slashdot, sorting algorithm, speech recognition, traveling salesman, urban decay, Y2K

He spent weeks writing work-arounds, which, for some odd reason, didn't seem to fix the problem. When finally forced to sit down and read the documentation on select, he discovered the problem and corrected it in a matter of minutes. We now use the phrase "select is broken" as a gentle reminder whenever one of us starts blaming the system for a fault that is likely to be our own. Tip 26 "select" Isn't Broken Remember, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras. The OS is probably not broken. And the database is probably just fine. If you "changed only one thing" and the system stopped working, that one thing was likely to be responsible, directly or indirectly, no matter how farfetched it seems. Sometimes the thing that changed is outside of your control: new versions of the OS, compiler, database, or other third-party software can wreak havoc with previously correct code.

pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

A more complicated hypothesis might be that two meteorites simultaneously arrived from outer space, each ricocheting off one tree, felling the trees in the process, and then the meteorites collided head on with each other and vaporised, thereby accounting for the lack of any material evidence. Applying Occam’s razor, you decide that the storm, rather than the twin meteorites, is the more likely explanation because it is the simpler one. Occam’s razor does not guarantee the right answer, but it does usually point us towards the correct one. Doctors often rely on Occam’s razor when diagnosing an illness, and medical students are advised: ‘When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.’ On the other hand, conspiracy theorists despise Occam’s razor, often rejecting a simple explanation in favour of a more convoluted and intriguing line of reasoning. Occam’s razor favoured the Copernican model (one circle per planet) over the Ptolemaic model (one epicycle, deferent, equant and eccentric per planet), but Occam’s razor is only decisive if two theories are equally successful, and in the sixteenth century the Ptolemaic model was clearly stronger in several ways; most notably, it made more accurate predictions of planetary positions.

pages: 1,758 words: 342,766

Code Complete (Developer Best Practices) by Steve McConnell

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Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, choice architecture, continuous integration, data acquisition, database schema, fault tolerance, Grace Hopper, haute cuisine, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, index card, inventory management, iterative process, late fees, loose coupling, Menlo Park, place-making, premature optimization, revision control, slashdot, sorting algorithm, statistical model, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Turing machine, web application

Most construction errors are the programmers' fault A pair of studies performed many years ago found that, of total errors reported, roughly 95% are caused by programmers, 2% by systems software (the compiler and the operating system), 2% by some other software, and 1% by the hardware (Brown and Sampson 1973, Ostrand and Weyuker 1984). Systems software and development tools are used by many more people today than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, and so my best guess is that, today, an even higher percentage of errors are the programmers' fault. If you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras. The OS is probably not broken. And the database is probably just fine. —Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas Clerical errors (typos) are a surprisingly common source of problems One study found that 36% of all construction errors were clerical mistakes (Weiss 1975). A 1987 study of almost 3 million lines of flight-dynamics software found that 18% of all errors were clerical (Card 1987).

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