All the outstanding minor corrections to the Software Carpentry notes have now been made; there are still 21 diagrams outstanding, but they should be in by Sunday. My thanks to everyone who provided feedback—especially Adam Goucher and his very sharp eyes.
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Yes, the web lets Them watch Us, but it also lets Us watch Them…
The University of Toronto hosted DemoCamp 5 last night. It went well: 143 people showed up, the Bell Kids Help Phone team gave a fault-free presentation, and the folks at Molly Bloom’s took good care of us afterward (so good, in fact, that I’m going to let people who don’t have hangovers cover the details).
The most interesting part of the evening for me, though, came when I asked how many people were using Ruby on Rails, and almost half the hands in the audience went up. Afterward, Blake Winton asked me why the university was using Python instead of Ruby for teaching. Like me, he’s a long-time Pythoneer; like me, he thinks that educators have a responsibility to prepare students for the real world. I mumbled about Python not having dollar signs, about there being more books (although if even half the projects I know about come to fruition, that is going to change in the next 12-18 months), and about us already having developed lots of course material that we can’t afford to rewrite. It was a clear choice three years ago, but today? I dunno, and the fact that I don’t is why I’m still going on about this.
But enough dark clouds: 143 people had a good time last night, lots of useful new connections were made, and Joey played his accordion. It’s a good life.
Regular readers will know that one of my interests is entry-level modeling tools — i.e., modeling tools that undergraduate students can learn in an hour or two, and that they will believe actually improve their productivity after using on just one assignment. I’ve come across two more candidates: Dependency Structure Matrices, as embodied in Lattix LDM, and the more traditional odds and ends in Structure101, from Headway Software. I’d be interested in opinions, feedback, and what have you from people who’ve used either.
(And for those of you who once wore a Nevex shirt: gosh, but the matrices in the Lattix tool look familiar, don’t they?)
…that Python’s fragmented response to Ruby on Rails doesn’t matter, or is even somehow a good thing, when you see these statistics: Python books sales this quarter are up 43% compared to last year, while Ruby’s have grown a whopping seven times. I don’t know what the absolute numbers are—publishers and bookstores don’t share that data—but I’m still waiting for someone to tell me exactly how Python 3000 is going to have any impact on the shapes of these curves.
I first heard the term “grand challenge” used in the 1980s to describe the kinds of big projects that would give an entire generation of scientists a focus for their work—something on the scale of putting a person on the moon, or sequencing the human genome. The phrase has since been applied to many other things, most recently DARPA’s autonomous vehicle program.
So, here’s a grand challenge for the open source community: build a comprehensive library of file differencing tools, so that I can usefully put things other than flat text under version control. If someone modifies an image, a PDF, or a Word document, I ought to be able to pull up a view of the changes, just as I would for source code or a README file. And if someone adds a couple of attributes to a <table> element in an HTML page, show me that, not the hundred and one places where your editor rearranged the order of pre-existing attributes in ways that aren’t semantically meaningful. If I could see what you’ve added to our project’s use cases or class diagrams, I might just use UML more often; if I could visually merge Gnumeric spreadsheets, I might use them to store grades, rather than tab-separated text files.
There’s lots of research to be done here, lots to be invented. I have a hazy notion of how a diff tool for images might work, but what about sound? Or video? Is there some “deep structure” that unites AutoCAD and VHDL, or some unified algorithm capable of handling all vector graphics formats? Even if there isn’t—even if we only wind up able to handle the hundred most common file formats—we’ll have made our lives much, much better.
Here are three
on the Information and Technology Cluster (ITC) presentation at MaRS last
night. Mayor David Miller opened; lots of suits were present; some interesting
claims were made. The report itself is also online: