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Just after sundown on Halloween night, a hardy, fleece-clad group of brave souls led by electrical engineer Dale Joachim ventures forth into the pitch-dark woods of central Connecticut. To the uninitiated, the setting brings to mind scenes from any number of horror films, along with the fleeting thought that no rational person would have picked such a night to stray so far from the beaten track. But Joachim is completely focused on the task at hand: placing a call to any nearby screech owls from his cellphone and seeing whether they will answer.

No, he’s not crazy. Joachim is out to prove that cellular telephones can be used to remotely monitor and communicate with birds and other animals. When he and his group finally reach their woodland destination, at the edge of a dirt road between two stands of trees, they quickly set up several tripods, some with cellphones attached to loudspeakers, others with cellphones attached to receivers and recording equipment. Joachim then takes out a handset not much different from the one you’d use to call a friend or client, and he dials into a Web site housed on a server in his Cambridge, Mass., office. The site lets Joachim plan the evening’s investigation: which of the dozen cellphones with loudspeakers will emit the series of whistles and chirps that faithfully replicate the birds’ calls, how long the digi­tal bird calls will last, and when the receivers, which will listen for any responding bird calls, will switch on.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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