Global Variables vs. Safe Software

Stephen Friederichs December 9, 2015

It seems that Reddit's programming and technology subreddits have only recently caught up to 2013. If you take a look, you'll find plenty of discussion and controversy surrounding a 2013 blog post from Safety Research & Strategies Inc. regarding the software failings behind Toyota's unintended acceleration problems. 

The article is a good overview, but for full credit you should read the writeups, presentations and testimony from 


Coding Step 4 - Design

Stephen Friederichs November 25, 2015

Articles in this series:

The last article in this series discussed how to write functional high-level requirements: specifications for what your software is supposed to do. Software design is the other side of the coin....


Practical CRCs for Embedded Systems

Stephen Friederichs October 21, 20157 comments

CRCs are a very practical tool for embedded systems: you're likely to need to use one as part of a communications protocol or to verify the integrity of a program image before writing it to flash. But CRCs can be difficult to understand and tricky to implement. The first time I attempted to write CRC code from scratch I failed once. Then twice. Then three times. Eventually I gave up and used an existing library. I consider myself intelligent: I got A's...


Coding Step 3 - High-Level Requirements

Stephen Friederichs August 18, 20152 comments

Articles in this series:

If this series of articles has been light on one thing it's 'coding'. If it's been light on two things the second is 'embedded'. In three articles I haven't gotten past Hello World on a desktop PC. That changes (slowly) with this article. In this article I'll...


Dark Corners of C - The Comma Operator

Stephen Friederichs July 23, 20158 comments

I've been programming in C for 16 years or so and the language has existed for much much longer than that. You might think that there'd be nothing left to surprise me after so long - but you'd be wrong. Imagine my surprise the first time I saw a line of code that looked something like this:

if (!dry_run && ((stdout_closed = true), close_stream (stdout) != 0))

My mind couldn't parse it - what's a comma doing in there (after...


Coding Step 2 - Source Control

Articles in this series:

When I first started out in programming, version control was not an introductory topic. Not in the least because it required a 'server' (ie, a computer which a teenaged me couldn't afford) but because it seemed difficult and only useful to teams rather than...


Coding Step 1 - Hello World and Makefiles

Stephen Friederichs February 11, 20156 comments

Articles in this series:

Step 0 discussed how to install GCC and the make utility with the expectation of writing and compiling your first C program. In this article, I discuss how to use those tools we installed last time. Specifically, how to use GCC to compile a C program and...


Coding - Step 0: Setting Up a Development Environment

Stephen Friederichs November 25, 20145 comments

Articles in this series:

You can easily find a million articles out there discussing compiler nuances, weighing the pros and cons of various data structures or discussing the  optimization of databases. Those sorts of articles are fascinating reads for advanced programmers but...


Project Directory Organization

Stephen Friederichs August 21, 20142 comments

A recent question on Reddit’s C Programming sub asked what sort of directory structure people use for their projects. Perhaps not unsurprisingly this didn’t elicit a flood of answers - maybe there are no organizational schemes that people are happy with or perhaps few people consider it a glamorous topic (not that the C Programming subreddit is filled with glamorous people -no offense I love you all). Personally I find it to be a very interesting topic. Organization and process are...


Short Circuit Execution vs. Unit Testing

Stephen Friederichs July 7, 20141 comment

The key to effective communication is to say what you mean and avoid ambiguity.  Words and phrases with multiple meanings can confuse your audience and hinder communication. That’s why so many programmers prefer writing code to writing specifications: written human language introduces ambiguity and subsequently, confusion. Code only has one interpretation, period. This doesn’t, however, ensure that the right message is getting through. Code can, indeed, only do one thing,...


Data Hiding in C

Stephen Friederichs April 21, 201317 comments

Strictly speaking, C is not an object-oriented language. Although it provides some features that fit into the object-oriented paradigm it has never had the full object-oriented focus that its successor C++ offers. C++ introduced some very useful concepts and abilities that I miss when I’m developing in ANSI C. One such concept is protected member variables and functions.

When you declare a class in C++ you can also declare member variables and functions as part of that class. Often, these...


Implementing State Machines

Stephen Friederichs January 18, 20145 comments

State machines are a great way to design software but they can be difficult to implement well.To illustrate this I’ll develop a simple state machine then increase the complexity to demonstrate some of the difficulties

We’ve all washed dishes before - it’s easy isn’t it? Scrub, rinse, dry, scrub, rinse dry. Scrub the dish until all of the gunk is off of it, rinse until the soap is off, put it in the drying rack. If you want to design software to implement this you...


Endianness and Serial Communication

Stephen Friederichs May 21, 2013

Endianness is a consideration that is easily overlooked in the design of embedded systems. I myself am amply guilty of this oversight. It’s something you don’t ever have to worry about if you’re only working with a single processor or two processors that have the same endianness.  You can even avoid it if you have two processors that have different endianness but never transmit data between themselves that consists of more than one byte.  It’s easy to lull...


Unit Tests for Embedded Code

Stephen Friederichs March 6, 201411 comments

I originate from an electrical engineering background and my first industry experience was in a large, staid defense contractor. Both of these experiences contributed to a significant lack of knowledge with regards to software development best practices. Electrical engineers often have a backwards view of software in general; large defense contractors have similar views of software and couple it with a general disdain for any sort of automation or ‘immature’ practices.  While there...


Coding - Step 0: Setting Up a Development Environment

Stephen Friederichs November 25, 20145 comments

Articles in this series:

You can easily find a million articles out there discussing compiler nuances, weighing the pros and cons of various data structures or discussing the  optimization of databases. Those sorts of articles are fascinating reads for advanced programmers but...


Coding Step 1 - Hello World and Makefiles

Stephen Friederichs February 11, 20156 comments

Articles in this series:

Step 0 discussed how to install GCC and the make utility with the expectation of writing and compiling your first C program. In this article, I discuss how to use those tools we installed last time. Specifically, how to use GCC to compile a C program and...


Coding Step 2 - Source Control

Articles in this series:

When I first started out in programming, version control was not an introductory topic. Not in the least because it required a 'server' (ie, a computer which a teenaged me couldn't afford) but because it seemed difficult and only useful to teams rather than...


Code Metrics - SLOC Count

Stephen Friederichs August 20, 2013

Many programmers will start having flashbacks at the title of this article because it contains the words 'metrics' and 'SLOC'.  Newer programmers are probably wondering what all of the fuss is about - most probably have no negative connotations with the term 'code metrics' and some may not even know what SLOC is.  While there is much baggage associated with metrics and SLOC you shouldn't be afraid to gather fundamentally useful data such as SLOC count from your programming projects...


Global Variables vs. Safe Software

Stephen Friederichs December 9, 2015

It seems that Reddit's programming and technology subreddits have only recently caught up to 2013. If you take a look, you'll find plenty of discussion and controversy surrounding a 2013 blog post from Safety Research & Strategies Inc. regarding the software failings behind Toyota's unintended acceleration problems. 

The article is a good overview, but for full credit you should read the writeups, presentations and testimony from 


Dark Corners of C - The Comma Operator

Stephen Friederichs July 23, 20158 comments

I've been programming in C for 16 years or so and the language has existed for much much longer than that. You might think that there'd be nothing left to surprise me after so long - but you'd be wrong. Imagine my surprise the first time I saw a line of code that looked something like this:

if (!dry_run && ((stdout_closed = true), close_stream (stdout) != 0))

My mind couldn't parse it - what's a comma doing in there (after...