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Software and Return on Investment
What Are We Investing In?
by Gregg Wonderly
April 7, 2003
Summary
Everything we do is an investment in time, money, brain space and the like. When we choose a particular API or platform to write software in/on, we are investing time, brain space and most likely money to learn or fight with the issues of that platform.

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I started my investment in software development with a TRS-80 model I, level 2 computer system. It wasn't my machine, but belonged to a friend on the same floor as me, in the dorms at the college. We wrote action response software to time how fast you could push a key after the screen flashed up a big "GO".

Some of you might remember these types of games from college bars. They were meant to pass time, but also gave you a hint into how much alchohol you had been absorbing! In basic, the program was a poor performer. It was rediculously slow, and had unpredictable responses. We had made a poor investment in API choices by choosing basic.

Assembly for Christmas

I had no practical computer training at that time, and my friend, who was an EE major, said to me, you need to learn assembly language, that would make it much faster. So, I bought Bill Barten's TRS-80 assembly language programming book, and absorbed it over christmas break.

I came back all gung-ho to make a much better application. I had learned how to poll the keyboard matrix, draw from buffers, with the graphics characters using the LDIR (load increment and repeat until zero) Z-80 instruction and call assembly language from basic.

I did have to work out all the details in actuality, but within a week or so, I had it working. I had to hand assemble the instructions, and bury them into basic data statements. I used loops and the poke command, in basic, to put them into memory. It was a true learning experience about how computers worked!

What a difference assembly made. I had invested 3 weeks of reading and 1.5 weeks of programming to fix problems with software that had taken 1 day to write in basic.

RET NZ?

And, some of you might consider this a pretty worthless investment. I mean, that application had little real value right? Well, that was what led me away from the field of Architecture, into the world of Computer Science. It was an investment that I have come to appreciate in many ways.

Later, I was able to use an assembler development environment, and I wrote many other assembly language programs. When I wrote those assembly language programs, I used labels, and variable names made up out of the blue. I did not use things like 'loop', or 'top' or 'buf_G' and 'buf_O'. Instead, I use labels and variable names like 'fred', 'dave', 'joe', 'what' etc.

You see, I had no idea what I should use for labels. I just wanted line numbers like I had in basic, and I was a little miffed when I had to make up something that the programming environment should have been providing me! Some of the labels include some pretty good explitives because I was tiring of labels.

JR NZ,where

Well, as I moved on to more complex programs, I soon discovered that there was a need for very real labels and variable names. Functional coherency became very obvious to me. I also came to recognize many other things that I learned from those initial assembly language days.

For me, those days were the ultimate investment. They gave me a very real education that I could not have gotten from a classroom. In the classroom, you don't get to make so many mistakes, and waste so much time because you don't know what you need to know, or where to find out what you need to know.

Now days, I continue to look for those ultimate investments. I am very weary of spending (if not wasting) my time writing useless or poor performing software.

I will use this forum to expand on areas where I think the good investments are.

Stay tuned...

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About the Blogger

Gregg Wonderly graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1988 with an MS in COMSCI. His areas of concentration include Operating Systems and Languages. His first job was at the AT&T Bell Labs facilities in Naperville IL working on software retrofit for the 5ESS switch. He designed a procedure control language in the era of the development of Java with similar motivations that the Oak and then Java language development was driven by. Language design is still at the top of his list, but his focus tends to be on application languges layered on top of programming languages such as Java. Some just consider this API design, but there really is more to it! Gregg now works for Cyte Technologies Inc., where he does software engineering and design related to distributed systems in highly available environments.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2003 Gregg Wonderly. All rights reserved.

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