[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Wednesday, 2013-11-20

Peer Review Lessons from Open Source

Filed under: Programming — bblackmoor @ 09:43

I recently found an article in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of IEEE Software that sounded interesting, “Contemporary Peer Review in Action: Lessons from Open Source Development“. (Rigby, P., Cleary, B., Painchaud, F., Storey, M., & German, D. (n.d). Contemporary Peer Review in Action: Lessons from Open Source Development. Ieee Software, 29(6), 56-61.)

The authors examined the peer reviews of approximately 100,000 open source projects, including Apache httpd server, Subversion, Linux, FreeBSD, KDE, and Gnome. They compared these to more formal methods of software inspection and quality control, traditional used in complex, proprietary (non-open source) projects.

The open source reviews are minimal, and reviewers self-select what sections they will review. This results in people reviewing sections of code they are most competent to review (or at least, most interested in reviewing). The formal code inspections for proprietary projects are cumbersome, and the reviewers are assigned their sections, meaning they are often unfamiliar with the code they are reviewing. The peer reviews are completed more efficiently and are more likely to catch inobvious errors, but they lack traceability.

As a result of their research an analysis, the authors have five lessons that they have taken from open source projects which can benefit proprietary projects.

  1. Asynchronous reviews: Asynchronous reviews support team discussions of defect solutions and find the same number of defects as co-located meetings in less time. They also enable developers and passive listeners to learn from the discussion.
  2. Frequent reviews: The earlier a defect is found, the better. OSS developers conduct all-but-continuous, asynchronous reviews that function as a form of asynchronous pair programming.
  3. Incremental reviews: Reviews should be of changes that are small, independent, and complete.
  4. Invested, experienced reviewers: Invested experts and codevelopers should conduct reviews because they already understand the context in which a change is being made.
  5. Empower expert reviewers: Let expert developers self-select changes they’re interested in and competent to review. Assign reviews that nobody selects.

The authors go on to make three specific recommendations:

  1. Light-weight review tools: Tools can increase traceability for managers and help integrate reviews with the existing development environment.
  2. Nonintrusive metrics: Mine the information trail left by asynchronous reviews to extract light-weight metrics that don’t disrupt developer workflow.
  3. Implementing a review process: Large, formal organizations might benefit from more frequent reviews and more overlap in developers’ work to produce invested reviewers. However, this style of review will likely be more amenable to agile organizations that are looking for a way to run large, distributed software projects.

To be honest, I don’t have enough experience to have an informed opinion on these recommendations as they pertain to complex, proprietary projects. Virtually all of the projects I have worked on have been distributed, open-source projects, and nearly all of those had less peer review than I think they should have. That being said, the author’s recommendations and the “lessons” on which they’ve based them seem reasonable to me, and do not contradict with my own experience.

Saturday, 2013-11-16

Cult Movie Night — Johnny Mnemonic/Tank Girl

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 00:15
Tank Girl

The theme for Cult Movie Night this month was 1995 Ice-T movies. It’s a very specific genre. The first movie was Keanu Reeves’ first foray into cyberpunk, Johnny Mnemonic, which starred Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, and Takeshi Kitano. Fun fact! This was Dolph Lundgren’s last theatrically released film role until The Expendables. Lundgren’s street preacher is actually one of the high points of the film.

The second movie was Tank Girl, starring Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and Malcolm McDowell. Ice-T got second billing in this, but I do not know why: Naomi Watts and Malcolm McDowell both had more substantial roles. I am glad that we watched Tank Girl last. Lori Petty was perfectly cast as Rebecca, and the whole movie was really fun. And Naomi Watts has really nice teeth!

edit: Unfortunately, I made an error in the scheduling of this Cult Movie Night. The blu-ray special remastered “collector’s edition” of Tank Girl is released this coming Tuesday. So we watched the DVD version. Ah, well.

edit: The Blu-ray has arrived! I’ve watched all of the special features. I love the Lori Petty interview. She seems so fun! The Rachel Talalay interview is really interesting, too. Tank Girl was ahead of its time in so many ways. Shout! Factory has awesome extras on almost all of their DVD and Blue-ray releases. It really is worth buying.

Next month: a Patrick Swayze Christmas!

Thursday, 2013-11-14

Harry Potter review

Filed under: Books,Movies — bblackmoor @ 19:22
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone

I liked the first Harry Potter book and the first Harry Potter movie. The whole setting is nonsensical, but it was fun to explore this wacky nonsense world, and Harry was a sympathetic underdog. I liked each successive book and movie less, as they became progressively less fun and more dreary, while remaining completely nonsensical, and while Harry became progressively less sympathetic.

Dreary, nonsensical, and unsympathetic is not a recipe for a good movie (or book).

My favorite character is Snape, of course.

Wednesday, 2013-11-13

Remembering Xanadu

Filed under: Programming,The Internet,Work — bblackmoor @ 23:05
Xanadu

I was reminded recently of an interesting article from the June 1995 issue of Wired magazine. I subscribed to Wired back then: this was during the early days of the internet, while the 1990s tech bubble was inflating like gangbusters. The article is “The Curse of Xanadu“, by Gary Wolf.

It was the most radical computer dream of the hacker era. Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form. Instead, it sucked Nelson and his intrepid band of true believers into what became the longest-running vaporware project in the history of computing – a 30-year saga of rabid prototyping and heart-slashing despair. The amazing epic tragedy.

The article begins with a brief description of the mind behind Xanadu, Ted Nelson. He is described as a very smart man with many ideas, but who has difficulty finishing his projects. Later in the article, we learn that Nelson has an extreme case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

The article then goes on to describe the goals of the Xanada project, which Nelson began working on in 1965:

Xanadu was meant to be a universal library, a worldwide hypertext publishing tool, a system to resolve copyright disputes, and a meritocratic forum for discussion and debate. By putting all information within reach of all people, Xanadu was meant to eliminate scientific ignorance and cure political misunderstandings. And, on the very hackerish assumption that global catastrophes are caused by ignorance, stupidity, and communication failures, Xanadu was supposed to save the world.

Yet Nelson, who invented the concept of hypertext, is not a programmer. He is a visionary. He is also appearently immensely persuasive. He convinced people to spend millions of dollars on Xanada (long before the tech bubble made that irrational behaviour seem normal), and years working on it. And it does seem that Nelson was a true visionary. In 1969, he already foresaw that technology would “overthrow” conventional publishing, and that paper would be replaced by the screen (in his mind, it already had). But he was limited by the technology of his day. “Even [in 1995], the technology to implement a worldwide Xanadu network does not exist.” In the 1970s, “[the] notion of a worldwide network of billions of quickly accessible and interlinked documents was absurd, and only Nelson’s ignorance of advanced software permitted him to pursue this fantasy.”

In the early 1970s, Nelson worked with a group of young hackers called the RESISTORS, in addition to a couple of programmers he had hired. During this period, the first real work on Xanadu was accomplished: a file access invention called the “enfilade”. What the enfilade is or exactly what it does is a mystery: unlike another famous iconoclast, Richard Stallman, Ted Nelson did not believe that “information wants to be free”. The nature of Xanadu’s enflilade, what it does, and how it is implemented is a mystery: everyone who has worked on the project has been sworn to secrecy.

In 1974, Nelson met programmer and hacker Roger Gregory. According to the article, if Nelson is the father of Xanadu, Roger Gregory is its mother. “Gregory had exactly the skills Nelson lacked: an intimate knowledge of hardware, a good amount of programming talent, and an obsessive interest in making machines work. [...] through all the project’s painful deaths and rebirths, Gregory’s commitment to Nelson’s dream of a universal hypertext library never waned.” Gregory’s tale is a sad one: it’s difficult to see his involvement in Xanadu as anything other than a tragic waste of his life.

As the years go by and the 1970s become the 1980s, Nelson continued to work on Xanadu, and Xanadu continued not to be completed. By the late 1980s, the project team had dwindled and support for it was difficult to find. Nelson and Gregory would not admit failure, although Gregory struggled with thoughts of suicide. However, in 1988 Xanadu was rescued by John Walker, the founder of Autodesk. It seemed that Xanadu would at last have the benefit of serious commercial development. “In 1964,” Walker said in a 1988 press release, “Xanadu was a dream in a single mind. In 1980, it was the shared goal of a small group of brilliant technologists. By 1989, it will be a product. And by 1995, it will begin to change the world.”

It turned out that was easier said than done.

I find it interesting that one of the technical obstacles to Xanadu’s development was due to its profoundly non-free approach to the information it would make available.

The key to the Xanadu copyright and royalty scheme was that literal copying was forbidden in the Xanadu system. When a user wanted to quote a portion of document, that portion was transcluded. With fee for every reading.

Transclusion was extremely challenging to the programmers, for it meant that there could be no redundancy in the grand Xanadu library. Every text could exist only as an original.

In my opinion, this philosophy of restricting information is a key reason that Xanadu failed.

By the early 1990′s, control of the project shifted away from Gregory and the original development team, and all of the existing code was discarded. This also made Walker’s 18-month timeline explicitly unattainable.

John Walker, in retrospect, blames the failure of Xanadu on the unrealistic goals of the (new) development team.

John Walker, Xanadu’s most powerful protector, later wrote that during the Autodesk years, the Xanadu team had “hyper-warped into the techno-hubris zone.” Walker marveled at the programmers’ apparent belief that they could create “in its entirety, a system that can store all the information in every form, present and future, for quadrillions of individuals over billions of years.” Rather than push their product into the marketplace quickly, where it could compete, adapt, or die, the Xanadu programmers intended to produce their revolution ab initio.

“When this process fails,” wrote Walker in his collection of documents from and about Autodesk, “and it always does, that doesn’t seem to weaken the belief in a design process which, in reality, is as bogus as astrology. It’s always a bad manager, problems with tools, etc. – precisely the unpredictable factors which make a priori design impossible in the first place.”

In 1992, just before the release of Mosaic and the popularization of the World Wide Web, Autodesk crashed and burned, and the pipeline of funding that kept the Xanadu project going came to an end. Ownership of Xanadu reverted to Ted Nelson, Roger Gregory, and a few other long-time supporters.

A glint of hope appeared. Kinko’s (remember Kinko’s?) was interested in funding the project for their own use. But Nelson chose this time to attempt to seize control of the project. The programmers who had been subjected to Nelson’s attention-deficit management style resisted. Again, Nelson’s desire for control was destructive to the accomplishment of his dream. “By the time the battle was over, Kinko’s senior management had stopped returning phone calls, most of Autodesk’s transitional funding had been spent on lawyers fees, and the Xanadu team had managed to acquire ownership of a company that had no value.”

There was a brief respite from an insurance company, but that too soon ended in failure. After not being paid for six months, the last few developers took the hardware and quit. “With the computers gone, Xanadu was more than dead. It was dead and dismembered.”

As of 1995 (the date of the article), Nelson was in Japan, still pushing his idea of “transclusion”, still hostile to the very freedom and chaos that has made the World Wide Web the enormous success it is. I think he’s a perfect example of how someone can be both brilliant and utterly clueless.

In 2007, Project Xanadu released XanaduSpace 1.0. There is a video on YouTube of Ted Nelson demonstrating XanaduSpace. As far as I know, that was the end of the project.

Some other links that you might also find of interest:

http://xanadu.com/

http://xanadu.com.au/

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.09/rants.html

http://www.xanadu.com.au/ararat

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/

http://web.archive.org/web/20090413174805/http://calliq.googlepages.com/”Xanadu Products Due Next Year”

https://archive.org/details/possiplexvideo

Friday, 2013-11-08

World War Z review

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 23:43
World War Z

Just watched World War Z with Susan. It is not quite like any zombie movie I have ever seen. Sort of like Day Of The Dead meets DaVinci Code meets Outbreak. I enjoyed it, although from time to time we did shout at the screen when something was excessively stupid. For example, while sneaking through a medical facility and trying not to make noise, it seemed like the characters were going out of their way to step on broken glass, kick cans, bang their gear on metal cabinets, and just generally make as much noise as they possibly could. At any moment, I expected one of the characters to stumble into a huge stack of champagne glasses.

We tried following up with Doomsday, which I quite like but which Susan has not yet seen, but we aren’t even in Scotland yet and Susan is falling asleep. So I guess that will have to wait for another evening.

Doomsday_002

Saturday, 2013-11-02

The Royal Scam

Filed under: Politics — bblackmoor @ 09:28

It vexes me when people (regardless of whether they cheer for the “Democrats” or the “Republicans”) demonize the opposing “team”, claiming that their team cares about the common people, while the opposing team is composed of sneering, venal opportunists in service to their well-heeled masters.

They are all sneering, venal opportunists. None of them care about you. None. Zero. Nothing they do is motivated by what is good (or bad) for you. It’s about power: nothing else. They have it, they want to keep it, and they want more of it. They will say anything they need to to make you believe otherwise, but what they do is motivated purely by greed and a lust for power. The wealthy know this, which is why they fund the duopoly almost equally.

If the entrenched duopoly does something that appears to have a positive effect on ordinary people, that’s either a happy accident, or we have misunderstood the situation.

Friday, 2013-11-01

Ender’s Game review

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 20:22
Ender's Game

Just got back from seeing Ender’s Game (in IMAX!). I really liked it — enough to see again (when it comes to DVD or Netflix), which is quite rare for me. A couple of scenes felt a bit overwrought and artificial (conversation in car, conversation on raft), but other than that, I think the dialogue and the acting conveyed the characters very well. I sympathized with almost everyone.

My only complaint — and it’s a small one — is that this seemed too much movie to squeeze into the time allotted. The screenwriter did a splendid job of it, in my opinion, but I can’t help but think that, like Dune, this much story really needs to be a miniseries to be done justice (but not a series of movies, like The Hobbit, which is like too little butter spread over too much bread).

But that’s a minor criticism. Ender’s Game is really good movie, worth seeing in a theater (although maybe IMAX is overdoing it, what with the EXTREME CLOSE-UPS).

Happy Vixen

Filed under: Family — bblackmoor @ 12:50
Happy Vixen

Someone is really happy to have her cone off. :) It’s an animated GIF: click the image to see it full size.

Thursday, 2013-10-24

Russell Brand on voting and revolution

Filed under: Journalism,Politics — bblackmoor @ 08:58

Most of the time, we know Russell Brand as the goofball douche-monster best known for his (former) drug use, promiscuity, and obnoxiousness (oh, and his brief marriage to Katy Perry). But when the guy gets up on his soap box, he can be lethal, as these MSNBC anchors found at in June when he humiliated them on live television. The guy can display moments of pure brilliance, and when he gets a head of steam behind him on social and political issues, he’s one of the most charming, eloquent, and thoughtful guys in the entertainment industry.

Take, for example, this interview with Russell Brand with Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman on the BBC yesterday. Paxman basically tries to shame Brand for broadcasting his political opinions despite the fact that Brand doesn’t vote, and Brand does a brilliant job of upending his argument, demonstrating why voting in this system doesn’t amount of a hill of goddamn beans given all the injustice of the economic disparities we are facing.

(from Underestimate the Intelligence of Russell Brand at Your Own Peril, Pajiba)

I have been voting since I was old enough to do so, but I confess that I, too, have suffered from “weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.” I think he’s entirely too optimistic about the possibility of change, though. Power exists to perpetuate itself, and I am not aware of any effort to restructure society in a more egalitarian fashion that has been successful.

To me, voting is like trying to affect the trajectory of a bowling ball by leaning to one side while it rolls down the lane. It accomplishes nothing, but it makes me feel better.

P.S. Here’s a follow-up video shared with me by Roger Carden.

Saturday, 2013-10-19

Cult Movie Night — Burnt Offerings/Legend of Hell House

Filed under: Movies — bblackmoor @ 13:10
Legend Of Hell House

The theme for Cult Movie Night this month was “haunted houses”. The first movie was one of the films that scared me the most as a kid, Burnt Offerings, starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis. One of the things I really liked about Burnt Offerings is that (spoilers!) the haunted house wins. That’s pretty unusual, even today.

The second movie was Legend Of Hell House, starring one of my favorite actors, Roddy McDowell. I love Roddy McDowell in just about everything, and he really excels in this. He’s the only person who keeps his head together from start to finish, and he turns out to be the hero of the movie (although he doesn’t start out that way).

One of the things that I found really entertaining was how effortlessly he shrugged off the ghost-possessed sexual advances of the female cast. Of course, we know now that McDowell was gay, so those scenes have a level of irony that the director might not have intended. We don’t know whether whether McDowell’s character was gay (unless we’ve read the novel, which I have not), but when the ghost-possessed temptresses fail and fail and fail again in their attempts to seduce him, you can just imagine the ghost’s frustration at McDowell’s apparently indomitable willpower. (“What is it with this guy? Is he made of stone?”)

Next month’s theme: 1995 Ice-T movies! What’s that? You didn’t know that was a genre? Sure it is!

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