An error in a spreadsheet or Web page calculation sounds harmless enough, unless youre the person whose retirement funds, credit history or medical treatment rely on decisions based on that calculation. A six-campus team of computer scientists led by Margaret Burnett at Oregon State University is working to help exterminate the bugs that infest the spreadsheets and other "programs" created by millions of computer users.
You may not think of yourself as a programmer, but thats just what you are if youve ever created a simple Web application that grabs data, such as current weather conditions, from another site, entered a formula in a spreadsheet or automated a repetitive task in your e-mail client or word processor. Experts estimate the number of these so-called "end-user programmers" to reach 55 million by 2005, and the same experts suggest that nearly half of the programs created by these end users have nontrivial bugs.
"For end-user programmers, software engineering isnt their job and it shouldnt be," said Burnett, a professor of computer science and director of the End Users Shaping Effective Software (EUSES) project. "Programming is a means to an end. They consider themselves successful when theyve won new business through their Web site or completed a budget analysis. The problem, in part, is motivating them and focusing their attention on their programming errors amid other matters."
In addition to Oregon State, EUSES involves researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Cambridge University. The project is supported by a five- year, $2.6 million Information Technology Research award from the National Science Foundation.
Some of the first results from EUSES were recently presented at CHI 2004 in Vienna, Austria. In their CHI 2004 paper, Burnett and colleagues at Oregon State described a study of how best to tell spreadsheet programmers they may have created some buggy code. The Oregon State team compared immediate interruptions (such as pop-up error messages that demand immediate attention) with "negotiated" interruptions (similar to a word processor underlining a misspelled word).
By every measure, the negotiated interruptions were superior. The spreadsheet users learned more about the tools they were using, caught and corrected more errors and had a better idea of how well they had done. "We learned: Stay out of their way, give them hints to explore and theyll get more done," Burnett said.
In a separate paper, EUSES collaborators Andrew Ko and Brad Myers of Carnegie Mellon University described a novel environment that allows programmers to zero in on bugs by asking questions about "why did" or "why didnt" something happen. The new debugging interface helped programmers find bugs eight times faster and make 40 percent more progress in the programming task."Its an incredible scandal that the tools used today for debugging are the same ones available in the 1940s," said Myers. "Its time that new tools made their way into all programming environments so end-user and professional programmers wont have to suffer the way we still suffer now." Myerss work is also supported by a separate $1.2 million NSF award to provide better tools for developing and debugging programs.
The two papers are part of the EUSES effort to develop new techniques and tools for debugging and testing, as well as to apply more behind-the-scenes intelligence for coaching programmers along the way. The work to create more effective tools also includes projects led by Martin Erwig and Gregg Rothermel of Oregon State, Sebastian Elbaum at Nebraska and Mary Shaw of Carnegie Mellon. These projects reason behind the scenes about the program itself, the data being processed and the edits the user makes to the program to keep potential errors out and to help the user track down the sources of errors that may already be present.
Another aspect of EUSES involves efforts to get inside end- user programmers heads and understand the best ways to help them. Mary Beth Rosson of Penn State, Susan Wiedenbeck of Drexel University, Curtis Cook of Oregon State and Alan Blackwell of Cambridge University are leading efforts to observe end-user programmers in their natural habitats, watching as they debug simple web applications, surveying their attitudes and concerns and learning why people choose to use (or not use) the tools available to them.
"Our first principle in EUSES is Do no harm-no matter what fancy features we add, we dont want to get in the way," Burnett said. "For experienced users, though, we want to encourage good testing habits and support quality control. The system will know about software engineering techniques and help the user monitor the dependability of what theyve programmed. We want to provide the user with a willing collaborator in the system."
A third track in EUSES, led by Maggie Niess and Ellen Ford of Oregon State, focuses on education. With participation from K-12 teachers, Niess and Ford are developing summer workshops for both teachers and students with follow-up in the classroom. This work is being done in partnership with Saturday Academy, directed by Ford. Saturday Academy is a non-profit cooperative that provides intensive, hands-on, after-school study opportunities in science and technology for middle- and high-school youth in both urban and rural Oregon communities. Besides considering education as a testbed for EUSES concepts, Niess and Ford are developing changes to how technology is taught, so that quality control is part of the learning process, not an afterthought.
The general concepts behind EUSES may also eventually find their way to almost any programming-like activity, such as programming a VCR, digital thermostat or home security system. Rather than risk making an error, many people skip that sort of programming altogether. According to Burnett, EUSES may uncover reasons for this avoidance and lead to systems that encourage people to safely take that leap.
Terahertz wireless makes big strides in paving the way to technological singularity
19.02.2019 | Hiroshima University
Gearing up for 5G: A miniature, low-cost transceiver for fast, reliable communications
19.02.2019 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, a so-called jet, emerging from the only gravitational wave event involving two neutron stars observed so far. With its high sensitivity and excellent performance, the 100-m radio telescope in Effelsberg played an important role in the observations.
In August 2017, two neutron stars were observed colliding, producing gravitational waves that were detected by the American LIGO and European Virgo detectors....
Up to now, OLEDs have been used exclusively as a novel lighting technology for use in luminaires and lamps. However, flexible organic technology can offer much more: as an active lighting surface, it can be combined with a wide variety of materials, not just to modify but to revolutionize the functionality and design of countless existing products. To exemplify this, the Fraunhofer FEP together with the company EMDE development of light GmbH will be presenting hybrid flexible OLEDs integrated into textile designs within the EU-funded project PI-SCALE for the first time at LOPEC (March 19-21, 2019 in Munich, Germany) as examples of some of the many possible applications.
The Fraunhofer FEP, a provider of research and development services in the field of organic electronics, has long been involved in the development of...
For the first time, an international team of scientists based in Regensburg, Germany, has recorded the orbitals of single molecules in different charge states in a novel type of microscopy. The research findings are published under the title “Mapping orbital changes upon electron transfer with tunneling microscopy on insulators” in the prestigious journal “Nature”.
The building blocks of matter surrounding us are atoms and molecules. The properties of that matter, however, are often not set by these building blocks...
Scientists at the University of Konstanz identify fierce competition between the human immune system and bacterial pathogens
Cell biologists from the University of Konstanz shed light on a recent evolutionary process in the human immune system and publish their findings in the...
Laser physicists have taken snapshots of carbon molecules C₆₀ showing how they transform in intense infrared light
When carbon molecules C₆₀ are exposed to an intense infrared light, they change their ball-like structure to a more elongated version. This has now been...
11.02.2019 | Event News
30.01.2019 | Event News
16.01.2019 | Event News
22.02.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
22.02.2019 | Materials Sciences
22.02.2019 | Life Sciences