How to Design Programs: An Introduction to Programming and Computing

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How to Design Programs: An Introduction to Computing and Programming [Go to first , previous , next page; contents ; index ] Section 16 Development through Iterative Refinement When we develop real functions, we are often confronted with the task of designing a data representation for complicated forms of information. The best strategy to approach this task is apply a well-known scientific technique: ITERATIVE REFINEMENT . A scientist's problem is to represent a part of the real world using mathematics. The result of the effort is called a MODEL . The scientist then tests the model in many ways, in particular by predicting certain properties of events. If the model truly captured the essential elements of the real world, the prediction will be accurate; otherwise, there will be discrepancies between the predictions and the actual outcomes. For example, a physicist may start by representing a jet plane as a point and by predicting its movement in a straight line using Newton's equations. Later, if there is a need to understand the plane's friction, the physicist may add certain aspects of the jet plane's contour to the model. In general, a scientist refines a model and retests its usefulness until it is sufficiently accurate. A programmer or a computing scientist should proceed like a scientist. Since the representation of data plays a central role in the work of a programmer, the key is to find an accurate data representation of the real-world information. The best way to get there in complicated situations is to develop the representation in an iterative manner, starting with the essential elements and adding more attributes when the current model is fully understood. In this book, we have encountered iterative refinement in many of our extended exercises. For example, the exercise on moving pictures started with simple circles and rectangles; later on we developed programs for moving entire lists of shapes. Similarly, we first introduced Web pages as a list of words and embedded Web pages; in section 15.3 we refined the representation of embedded Web pages. For all of these exercises, however, the refinement was built into the presentation. This section illustrates iterative refinement as a principle of program development. The goal is to model a file system. A file system is that part of the computer that remembers programs and data when the computer is turned off. We first discuss files in more detail and then iteratively develop three data representations. The last part of the section suggests some programming exercises for the final model. We will use iterative refinement again in later sections. 16.1 Data Analysis (1 of 7) [2/5/2008 4:48:06 PM]
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