I posted a note a while back about an upcoming workshop at Microsoft Research on computational education for scientists. If you read the call for papers, you’ll discover that there aren’t any instructions on how to submit material; nor is there any contact information, other than the generic “contact us” link the bottom corner that gives you nothing more than Microsoft’s generic 1-800 number (“press 1 for Windows Vista support…”). After bouncing around for five minutes, I got a human being who told me that she couldn’t give out any phone numbers, but I was welcome to fax my question to them…
On the bright side, Microsoft is running another computational science conference this fall (in North Carolina).
…as I’ve been reading it I’m struck once again by the theme of narrating the work. Of the chapters I’ve read so far, three are especially vivid examples of that: Karl Fogel’s exegesis of the stream-oriented interface used in Subversion to convey changes across the network, Alberto Savoia’s meditation on the process of software testing, and Lincoln Stein’s sketches (”code stories”) that he writes for himself as he develops a new bioinformatics module.
Although this is a book by programmers and for programmers, the method of narrating the work process is, in principle, much more widely applicable. In practice, it’s something that’s especially easy and natural for programmers to do.
I hadn’t run across the phrase “narrating the work” before, but it’s an apt description of what developers really want in high-level documentation: a story that will lead them into the heart of the code, so that they can understand its view of the world. It also explains why such documentation is so rare: telling stories well is a difficult art.
A couple of months ago I gave the OLM team a copy of Steve Souders’ book High Performance Web Sites. Since then, they’ve improved OLM‘s performance several times over, in part based on Souders’ advice. Last week, one of the team told me about YSlow, a Firefox plugin that implements Souders’ rules. (See here for the OSCON announcement.) That led to a discussion of whether tools like Eclipse and DrProject would one day merge. Personally, I think that future is already here: it’s still just very unevenly distributed…
Must… get… organized:
- Spend time with my family.
- Create and teach CSC301 — I know what’s going to be in the lectures (more or less), but I still have to decide what the extended exercise will be.
- Get my three graduate students (Samir Abdi, Jeremy Handcock, and Carolyn MacLeod) started on their research.
- Lose the 6 kg. I’ve put on in the last fourteen months (moved up from #10 at Sadie’s “suggestion”).
- Get more research funding.
- Put together a full proposal for a professional master’s degree in Computer Science at U of T.
- Get the new ticketing system integrated into DrProject.
- Help David Crow with DemoCamp (and try to run at least one on campus, in the afternoon, so that more U of T folks can attend).
- Finish the “CS-1 in Python” book I’ve been working on with Jennifer, Paul, and Jason.
- Talk someone into putting together a sequel to Beautiful Code.
- Read at least a few of the items on my wish list.
On a semi-related note, the Toronto Board of Trade is doing a survey of Information and Communication Technology companies in the GTA to find out more about their needs:
Simply visit http://www.whatsyouropinion.ca, enter “TORCAMP” in the field marked Survey Code and follow the easy steps through a short questionnaire which should help us identify issues and opportunities within Toronto’s growing ICT community.
For providing us your feedback, we’ll send you the aggregate results and analysis, but you’ll also be eligible to win a video iPod or tickets to upcoming Technology Innovators Breakfasts at the Toronto Board of Trade.