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Student projects for 2016/2017

This is the time of year when students have to come up with an idea for their degree project. I thought I would suggest a few interesting ideas related to software engineering.

  • The rise and fall of software engineering myths. For many years a lot of people (incorrectly) believed that there existed a 25-to-1 performance gap between the best/worst software developers (its actually around 5 to 1). In 1999 Lutz Prechelt wrote a report explaining out how this myth came about (somebody misinterpreted values in two tables and this misinterpretation caught on to become the dominant meme).

    Is the 25-to-1 myth still going strong or is it dying out? Can anything be done to replace it with something closer to reality?

    One of the constants used in the COCOMO effort estimation model is badly wrong. Has anybody else noticed this?

  • Software engineering papers often contain trivial mathematical mistakes; these can be caused by cut and paste errors or mistakenly using the values from one study in calculations for another study. Simply consistency checks can be used to catch a surprising number of mistakes, e.g., the quote “8 subjects aged between 18-25, average age 21.3″ may be correct because 21.3*8 == 170.4, ages must add to a whole number and the values 169, 170 and 171 would not produce this average.

    The Psychologies are already on the case of Content Mining Psychology Articles for Statistical Test Results and there is a tool, statcheck, for automating some of the checks.

    What checks would be useful for software engineering papers? There are tools available for taking pdf files apart, e.g., qpdf, pdfgrep and extracting table contents.

  • What bit manipulation algorithms does a program use? One way of finding out is to look at the hexadecimal literals in the source code. For instance, source containing 0x33333333, 0x55555555, 0x0F0F0F0F and 0x0000003F in close proximity is likely to be counting the number of bits that are set, in a 32 bit value.

    Jörg Arndt has a great collection of bit twiddling algorithms from which hex values can be extracted. The numbers tool used a database of floating-point values to try and figure out what numeric algorithms source contains; I’m sure there are better algorithms for figuring this stuff out, given the available data.

Feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

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