Friday, July 23, 2010

Waiting Until the Last Minute to Decide on NI Week 2010?

If you haven't registered for NI Week 2010 yet, here's a few reasons why you should:
  1. There are three days full of great technical presentations. These are the ones I want to see (including some I'll be presenting). Christina has a list, too.
  2. Lots of LabVIEW programmers will be gunning for me in the LabVIEW Coding Challenge. Maybe *you* can beat my 2-year win streak? ;)
  3. The Tuesday night LAVA/OpenG BBQ!
  4. The Wednesday night conference party!
  5. The fact that, since you're reading this blog, you can use the social media discount code "social2010" when you register for NI Week 2010 to get a discount.
And if the written word isn't enough to convince you, check out my blogger spotlight video on the NI Community page.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Changes to the CLA Exam

The Preparing for the CLA post is one of the most highly visited links on my blog, so I figured I should post some updates that I just learned about (thanks to JG's post on LAVA) to the way the CLA exam is now done. Much of the advice I gave in the aforementioned post is no longer valid, so I'd like to highlight some of the new features of the CLA Exam as described on the NI CLA prep website:
  • No more written portion - When I took the CLA exam, it contained a written portion that was 40% of my score. This part of the exam has been removed, which now makes the CLA a 100% practical exam.
  • Customize LabVIEW settings prior to exam start - When I took the exam, I had to spend the first few minutes after the clock started customizing LabVIEW (adding Quick Drop shortcuts, turning off auto wire routing, etc. etc.) before I even read the first question. But now, it seems you can ask your proctor to allow you to customize LabVIEW *before* starting the exam. The following is a direct quote from the new CLA Exam Preparation Guide (page 2) on ni.com: "Please note that you will not receive extra exam time to compensate for non-familiarity with the LabVIEW environment. If you need time to customize the environment, please make arrangements with your proctor to hold off on giving you the exam packet until you are ready to start the exam."
  • Sample Exam Available - There is now a CLA Practice Exam available...this is a great asset in CLA preparation that I highly recommend taking very seriously. There is also an exam solution available.
  • Requirements tracking - 30% of your CLA score is now determined by requirements tracking, the details of which are described in the practice exam and prep guide documents linked above. The exam graders will be using NI Requirements Gateway to verify requirement tracking in your VIs, so make sure you adhere to the [Covers: ] syntax described in the prep guide and sample exam. Note that knowledge of NI Requirements Gateway is *not* a requirement for the CLA.
Looking at the changes, I think they're probably for the best. I personally found the written portion of the CLA when I took it to be relatively easy and straightforward. But I know that written exams are notoriously hard to grade, and there might potentially be language barriers for some test takers. It looks like the test writers are expecting the additional requirements tracking to take roughly the same amount of time as the written portion of the exam, since the sample exam is very similar to the actual exam I took for my CLA, with the addition of the requirements tracking information.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Conclusions - The Diagram Cleanup Experiment

It's been just about a year since I embarked on The Diagram Cleanup Experiment. I attempted to use block diagram cleanup on just about every VI I wrote in LabVIEW 2009 this year. With such heavy use of the feature, I have come to the following conclusions:
  • Use it on moderately-sized diagrams - The majority of the VIs I write fit on one screen, and have relatively low levels of nesting. For these kinds of VIs, it is *way* faster to quickly write the VI, then press Ctrl-U to clean it up. The cleanup results in these cases, although not perfect, are acceptable. The diagrams are readable enough to avoid maintenance headaches down the road.
  • Don't use it on large diagrams - Diagram cleanup still has trouble with large diagrams. For top-level state machines, or similar architecture-level VIs, cleanup does not respect the arrangement of the diagram, which, for these VIs, is crucial to the understanding of the VI. I have decided that it is still best for me to arrange these diagrams myself.
  • Don't use it on heavily-nested diagrams - As I mentioned in my progress report, diagram cleanup completely explodes the diagram if there is heavy structure nesting. It simply can't figure out how to condense space in multiple frames simultaneously. Until it does, I will continue to arrange heavily-nested diagrams myself.
  • Mixed results with Tools > Options settings - I tried several times to tweak the settings in Tools > Options > Block Diagram > Block Diagram Cleanup to see if that would improve the cleanup arrangement, but I couldn't figure out a definitive collection of settings that always worked better. If anyone has any specific suggestions for settings that seem to improve the cleanup layout, let me know.
So what's next? I just posted the following idea on the LabVIEW Idea Exchange:

Tell Block Diagram Cleanup what "Clean" Looks Like

I think the easiest way to get diagram cleanup to arrange VIs to my liking is to show it VIs that I like. :) Please kudo the idea if you agree.

So that's pretty much it. In short--I like the feature, I will continue to use it because it helps me program faster, but it definitely has room for improvement.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My NI Week 2010 Plans

Once again, Christina beat me to the punch and already posted her NI Week 2010 plans. So after each morning's keynote, here's where you might expect me to be. The ones with "***" are the ones I will definitely be attending. All the rest I'm planning to see, but standard NI Week allowable distractions may apply:

Tuesday
  • State Machine vs. State Machine: 10:30, Room 12B.
  • ***LabVIEW Add-on Developer Lunch: 12:00, Ballroom C.
  • What's New in LabVIEW 2010: 1:00, Room 12B.
  • LabVIEW 2010 Idea Exchange Features: 2:15, Room 11A.
  • ***Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Development: 3:30, Room 12B. I am delivering this presentation.
  • Team-based LV SCC Development: 4:45, Room 12A.
  • Challenge the Champions: 6:00, Technology Theater.
  • ***LAVA BBQ: 7:00, Scholz Garden. Aww yeah!
Wednesday
  • ***Blogosphere's Best: 10:30, Room 11A. I was asked to show up to this, but I don't know what exactly I'll be doing, if anything.
  • Powering a Smarter Planet: 1:00, Room 16B. If I weren't a LabVIEW programmer, I'd probably be a solar power researcher. So renewable energy presentations are always very interesting to me.
  • Deployment of Large LabVIEW Apps: 2:15, Room 12A.
  • LabVIEW Web UI Builder: 3:30, Room 12B.
  • LabVIEW GUI Design: 4:45, Room 12B.
  • ***NI Week Conference Party: 7:00, somewhere cool.

Thursday
  • LabVIEW Classes - The State of the Art: 10:30, Room 12A.
  • ***LabVIEW Coding Challenge: 12:00, Technology Theater. I've won two years in a row. This will be the third.
  • LabVIEW Class Design Patterns: 1:00, Room 12A.
  • LabVIEW WSN Under the Hood: 2:15, Room 15. I studied wireless sensor networks a fair bit in grad school...I'm curious to learn about the LabVIEW WSN module.
And a few miscellaneous notes to round this out:
  • I will be tweeting out the wazoo about all the cool stuff I see at NI Week 2010. Make sure to follow me (@dnatt) if you don't already.
  • As is traditionally the case, things aren't quite right with my presentation in the NI Week 2010 schedule. The title of my presentation (Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Development) is correct, but the abstract incorrectly talks about speeding up VI performance. For those keeping track, my NI Week presentations the past few years have been:
    • 2007 - Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Development
    • 2008 - Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Performance
    • 2009 - Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Performance (with all new tips!)
    • 2010 - Tips and Tricks to Speed LabVIEW Development (with all new tips!)
    So this year we're back to development tips and tricks. Be warned: Quick Drop just *might* make an appearance... ;)