Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  Staying inside the lines.
When it comes to dealing with binary data, especially binary packets from public interfaces, you can't take any chances. C was built a long time ago when doing things safe was very expensive, and so they chose speed. For a very long time I built systems where speed was essential as well (in computer graphics an extra instruction can be multiplied by a billion), but I eventually moved into more general computing problems, and at the same time computers got thousands of times faster.

In a modern system, random memory access is now the killer. The CPU has cycles to burn. Some of the lessons I've learned on performance recently taught the exact opposite of what was true twenty years ago.

To that end, a modern style of dealing with containers has to be bounded. You need to know where you are, and what your limits are. There's some issue with what operator++() should do when you reach those limits, but the one answer for sure is that it can't just go stepping past and start stomping on whatever's next. To that end, my current libraries have the following concepts for both buffers and containers:

A Range is a beginning and and end.

These never own the storage, they just indicate where it is. This can be used for both the available space to write to, and for the used space containing data within a buffer or container.

A cursor is a range + an iterator.

This is where I've gone a bit past all the other work in C++ containers, but I think this is important. Modern iterators (at least the fun ones), are bidirectional or random access. That means the beginning is as important to keep track of as the end. And copying a cursor should not narrow you to the space you had left, but should allow the copy to head backwards to the front just as easily as progressing to the end.

This also gives us a great data structure for those algorithms like std::rotate() that operate on three iterators.

There have been a lot of people banging around on this for some time. Andrei Alexandrescu wrote a great paper On Iteration that had lots of stuff to say about his implementation of containers and interators for D.

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  The fractured pieces of C++
A lot of early programming in C++ was simply objects and polymorphism. This was pretty powerful stuff for those of us used to C, and we build some pretty big things with it. But after implementing linked lists several times, we began wondering about that other odd uncle in the toolbox: templates.

What I and many others ended up with after diving in there was encumbered lists. This is generally frowned upon by advanced C++ people who point out that there is a standard library with a number of "high quality" containers in them. But we arrived at encumbered lists, because we were making lists of polymorphic objects. The STL containers are all made for uniform types.

To provide a bridge, the boost people threw the PIMPL hammer at it.

As I understand it, the original use of PIMPL was to "hide" full class definition from users of the class (usually at library boundaries), and also to significantly speed up compile times for large systems. Compiling has never been an instantaneous process (sadly). Over my career, I've had to deal with more than one system that took hours to rebuild, so knocking time off is more than an academic curiousity.

Applied to the problem of polymorphic objects in containers, you end up with a PIMPL front-ing object, with a hidden implementation behind an abstract interface. Throw in a smart pointer as well to manage life-cycle and you suddenly have problem of memory coherency, because for your first object allocated you get:

And heaven help you if you have a string or something else dynamic in your object.

I think there's a better way, but its a shame that no one else has actually built anything that gives you the power of containers, the algorythms, but plays well with polymorphic objects.

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Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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