Author

I am Joannes Vermorel, founder at Lokad. I am also an engineer from the Corps des Mines who initially graduated from the ENS.

I have been passionate about computer science, software matters and data mining for almost two decades. (RSS - ATOM)

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Wednesday
Oct182006

Blogosphere quatitative elements, a few slides

Being part of the Corps des Telecoms, I have been assigned for a modest blog study within the scope of a communication course. I have found the subject highly interesting because blogs open whole new directions of research and whole new methodologies. Indeed, contrary to most usual communication events (ex: person-to-person talks), it's potentially possible to retrieve most of the blogosphere content through web crawling intensive methods.

The slides of the talk have been uploaded. Disclaimer: don't take the content for granted, the professor in charge of the communication course was thinking that this talk was a big pile of stupidities from the first slide to the last. My personal opinion is quite different on this matter. Well, I can't make everybody happy.

Saturday
Oct142006

ResxEditor reloaded - version 1.2 released

They were a couple of long standing issues with ResxEditor. Most of them were actually reported as comments on the blog post of the initial ResxEditor release. All of those issues are now fixed. Bug fixes and new features are detailed on the ResxEditor page.

Special thanks to Nick Pasko for carrying most of the work and finding a solution to get rid of the previous cell saving behavior that was driving translators nuts.

Thursday
Oct122006

Finally, I am going to be a theology teacher

According to Jeff Atwood (Coding Horror), software development is a religion. Wow, frankly I hope not, because I am quite ignorant when it comes to theological matters. A major issue with human/social studies and practices is that it is so hard to get close to anything that would be considered as scientific knowledge and not pure erratic opinions. Yet, it's not because it's hard to produce science that it isn't worth trying.

The recipe of scientific knowledge production includes a very fundamental ingredient: reproducibility. If somebody else can't, providing enough time and efforts, reproduce what you have observed then there is no hope to produce any science. For software development, the current situation is quite troublesome. Indeed, the pace of change in software development is totally dwarfing the speed of scientific production. By the time, a scientist would be able to produce a rigorous scientific analysis of software development (5 to 10 years), the software world itself would have changed so much that the study, at the time it gets published, would be already totally obsolete.

The second factor that complicates the production of knowledge is that software engineering actors do have very strong interests to defend biased positions. Science involves publishing both positive but also negative results (see the Journal of Negative Results - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for example). Do you think that Microsoft, Google or [insert here your favorite IT company] are really going to publish anytime soon reports explaining how and why they failed miserably while developing some particular products? From a marketing viewpoint, you need to appear brilliant no matter how bad (or good) things might be in the office.

Tuesday
Oct102006

Wiki misuses (collaborative tools, part 1)

Great software development requires great tools; but tools do very little in themselves if the craftsman lacks the proper skills. In my (limited) experience, I have noticed that collaborative tools are often extremely useful (i.e. provide strong productivity boosts) while also being quite hard to master.

There are far too many collaborative tools to discuss for a single blog post; I will start with the wikis.

Why do you need a wiki?


There are many other ways to communicate and information within a development team, namely person to person talk, email conversations, source code comments, discussion boards, blogs, instant messengers, phone calls ... and the list goes on. There is no magic in wikis; they won't be a substitute for all that.

Let's start with some wiki misuses, i.e. the kind of things that does not work very well with wikis. I am not saying that it is not possible to use a wiki in the situations listed below (it always "possible"); but I feel that those situations are simply ill-adapted to be handled by wikis.

Wiki-based documentations are poor documentations (probability = high)


A wiki is not a substitute for proper reference documentation. In this domain, two of my poorest user experience while trying to get some reference documentation were the WordPress wiki and the JotSpot wiki although I am quite a fan of those two products. What's the problem here? Well, quite simply there is simply no reason for the consumer to contribute to the reference documentation (I say "consumer" to refer to whoever is consuming the documentation). Therefore, do not expect any interaction at that such level.

As a secondary point, it can also be argued that a reference documentation requires to be highly structured usually following closely the source code design itself); otherwise it's just a pain to navigate through. Wikis do not encourage (nor provide any automated mechanisms) to support such structures. In this respect, one of best software documentation that I have ever encountered is the ZeroC Ice documentation (but I am moving away from the topic of this post).

Wikis aren't that good for open diffusion (probability = high)


I know that Wikipedia is living counter-example of the title of this section. Yet, wikis are on average quite inappropriate for open diffusion. When I say open, I mean referring to a wiki that is not restricted to the development team.

A primary issue with wiki is that they aren't that much appealing in terms of layout and navigation. Yes, it is possible to customize the appearance and the navigation system of a wiki, but by doing so, you're going back to regular website development. The Math.Net open-source project is quite illustrative in this matter. Have a look at the Math.Net project page vs. the Math.Net wiki. Which one of those two pages looks better in your opinion? OK, I know you're not going to look at those pages, so just trust me.

A second issue with wiki is that the information is usually rougher and less structured compared to classic "static" page. This point is not an issue in itself, enabling some kind of fuzzy teamwork is actually one of the main benefits of the wiki. Yet your wiki is likely to act as information pollution for the occasional visitor.

The last issue with open wikis is that they are putting boldness requirements quite high. Indeed, a main challenge with wikis is to get people involved. This point is true for almost every collaborative tool. Self-confidence is one of the strongest hindering factors when it comes to wiki writing. By opening your wiki, you are putting quite a lot of pressure on your potential contributors compared to the internal wiki situation.

More on Good wiki management soon, stay tuned...

Friday
Oct062006

Typo hunting: get some weapons first!

It's just too hard to spell check your text by hand (or it requires an unreasonable amount of time). Before you actually get a spell checker, you might not even realize how many typos you produce. I have just downloaded today the FireFox RC1 that includes a web form spell checker. My first target for typo hunting was an intranet wiki I am working on. I feel that I won't ever go back to a browser that does not provide such a feature natively.

My second target for typo hunting was the source code of a Asp.Net application I am currently developing. Since Visual Studio 2005 does not provide a native spell checker (shame! such feature should have been implemented years ago), I have used the MailFrame CodeSpell product. CodeSpell has a really nice VS 2005 integration. On the minus side, the dictionary is a bit light at the present time (nchar or aspx not being part of the default dictionary for example) and I did experience of a few crashes while playing with the custom user dictionary.

A funny aspect of applying this source code spell-checker was to discover that 3rd party [*] XML documentations present in my .Net solution were no less typo-crippled than my own code. If automated spell-checking is not part of your development process, well, it should.

[*] Elmah and Telerik are both advised to get some spell-checking tools :-)