One of the things I wanted to do after moving on from Refractions was get back into technology in a “hands on” way again, and the place I most want to get my hands dirty is with PostGIS. It’s all very nice to be a technology evangelist, but very frustrating to have to depend entirely on others to get things implemented. I have to be my own staff now, and that means if I want to play with the guts of PostGIS, I have to learn C.

So that’s what I’m doing. I have my book. I work through exercises. I read the PostGIS code. It’s a slow process, but rewarding as my understanding grows.

For those of you who, like me, have mostly worked in higher level languages, I want to share my C “wow” moment for the week. C has arrays. The syntax is the same as (surprise) all those other languages (Java, Perl, Javascript, PHP) that ape C syntax. Want to iterate through an array? No problem, very familiar, we print out the contents of our array:

for( i = 0; i < sizeof(array); i++ ) {
   printf( "%d\n", array[i] );

Now, I knew C pointers were much less abstract than Java pointers, they actually point to memory addresses. Even so, there’s knowing and then there is KNOWING. This routine, that also prints the contents of the array, blew my mind:

for( i = 0; i < sizeof(array); i++ ) {
     printf( "%d\n", *(array + i) );


First, it turns out that the value of the bare “array” variable is just a pointer to the front of the array (how efficient). But the icing on the cake is that you can do math on the pointers! I add 1 to the pointer, and now it’s pointing at the next element, so when I dereference the pointer (with that *) out pops the next value!

All you CompSci majors can have a laugh at my expense (“technopeasant!”), but I’m self-taught, and I have been living in other people’s (Perl, Java, PHP, Avenue (!!!), Javascript) interpreters for many years. This stuff is too cool.