"Clean Specs"

uche.ogbuji at fourthought.com uche.ogbuji at fourthought.com
Mon Feb 8 02:36:12 GMT 1999

> The spec is not an introduction. How many people here learnt C++
> by reading the ANSI spec?  How many people here learned to tune a
> radio by reading the international specifications for radio
> frequency allocation?

I keep reading these challenges, first aboout Java, and now about C++.  Well, 
just as I first learned Java from Sun's specs, I also happened to have mostly 
learned C++ from Stroustroup's Annotated Reference Manual, which is as close 
as C++ had to a spec for quite a while.

Now true enough, as Paul Prescod points out, it is quite another matter to 
learn a completely foreign language from a spec: I was already very familiar 
with C, Smalltalk and somewhat familiar with Objective-C before tackling C++, 
and I was very conversant with C++ before tackling Java, but I don't think 
it's at all freakish to learn a language or system from a well-written spec.

I happen to like formalisms, and although  it probably takes me much longer to 
learn a new system as the seven days of the "dummies" books, I am happier in 
my masochism.

Here's an example: I've just spent a good part of today and yesterday wading 
through the spec for the CORBA object transaction service for implementation 
in a project (we're using an ORB that doesn't support OTS).  My brain might be 
about to explode, but I think I can get some useful work done now.  I'm sure I 
could have found an intro from Orfali and Harkey somewhere with cute cartoons 
of aliens explaining the protocol for a two-phase commit, but I'm usually 
doubtful about what I really know after such tutorials.

So in short: there is nothing wrong about trying to learn from a well-written 
spec.  My problem with some W3C specs is not complexity (in fact, they are 
probably the most straightforward specs I've read).  It's more typically, as 
I've said before, inconsistency, incompleteness, and unclearness (in the sense 
of "ambiguity" rather than "abstruseness").

Uche Ogbuji
FourThought LLC, IT Consultants
uche.ogbuji at fourthought.com	(970)481-0805
Software engineering, project management, Intranets and Extranets
http://FourThought.com		http://OpenTechnology.org

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