Happy Ada Lovelace Day

Wednesday was Ada Lovelace Day! (UPDATE: Apologies for the late post.)

In a nutshell, March 24 is set aside to promote the achievements of women in IT and software engineering.  And we can start by looking toward the achievements of Ada Lovelace.  Ada Lovelace-the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron-was the first computer programmer and worked with Charles Babbage on the theoretical underpinnings of computing.  Without her contribution, modern computing probably won’t exist today.

Now I’m not into the whole feminist movement.  I don’t think the movement really represents what the majority women think or want. And the feminist equation of “woman == man” doesn’t make sense.  Neither does any equation that tries to equate one person with another.  All humans should have the right to own their own bodies and not being owned by others.  And I won’t get dragged into a libertarian versus non-libertarian political theoretical debate here.  However I was brought up thinking that women can think as well as men can.  Therefore women can do engineering, mathematics and computing as well as men can.  (<flamebait>Maybe even better.</flamebait>)  So I want to acknowledge in this post, women who I highly regard and who have achieved great things in IT.

@Home: Mom

OK so my mom doesn’t work in IT.  She in fact dislikes computing in general.  We still disagree over the fact that I chose software development as a career.  However I regard her highly and without her work I would of never been able to work as a software developer.  Mom not only brought me into existence, she also taught me.  She as someone with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering, she could of worked on engineering amazing structures. For various she gave that up, to teach and raise me and my brother.  When two public school boards gave up on me ever reading or writing, Mom taught me.  She taught me mathematics and gave me a solid base that carried me well into university level math.  And she always would point out how weird it was that Canada didn’t have as many female engineers as Poland did.  While there are many reasons why that was the case, it was Mom who taught me to believe that women can and should be engineers if that was their calling.  So while she doesn’t work in IT or software development, Mom brought up a pretty decent (IMO) software developer.

@Work: Jennifer Chung, Salina Behera , Safa Siddiqui & Monika Schigel

I am privileged to work with the above ladies at my current workplace, VisionMAX Solutions.  Jennifer and Safa works as developers.  Salina is one of our talented DBAs.  And Monika works in that dark, arcane magical realm known as data modelling.  Not only are they great people to interact with, they also possess a wide body of knowledge.  Jennifer is a whiz at Java and ExtJS, and I often find myself asking her for advice on how to solve various tricky problems.  Monika has a way to cheering people up and I’ve never seen her without a wide grin on her face.  Also she and Tom, our two intrepid data modeller have been initiating me into the dark art of data modelling and the business of retail and mobile telecos.

@University: Katarina Halan & Megan Foote

While studying Computer Science at the University of Toronto, I had the opportunity to study and work with these two incredibly talented ladies.  We helped each other out on assignments.  I can not stress how well they understood the various aspects of computer science.  Also they introduced me to some interesting parts of Japanese culture, namely anime and DDR.

In the Open Source Community

Finally, two ladies that inspire me to get more involved with the open source community as a whole are: Emma Jane Hogbin and Celeste Lyn Paul.  Emma works on creating and managing documentation at various open source projects.  Celeste is a HCI expert who helps make KDE applications have the best user experience of any desktop related project.   I’ve only had the opportunity to meet Emma in person at Ontario Linux Fest 2009.  But Emma, you sure inspired me to look at the various components of documentation.  And yes documentation can be sexy.  I don’t get the ponies though.  Celeste on the other hand inspires me to one day get back into university and work on getting a human-computer interface design.  Her work inspires me to improve the UIs and workflow of any piece of software I am involved with.

To all these ladies, I’d like to personally say thank you.  You made me a better software developer.  And you are an inspiration for all women in or thinking of working in IT and software development.  Thanks!

Reaching for the Stars

I’ve always dreamed of going to space.  I remember watching space shuttle launches and the Astronomer series on TV, when I was much younger.  Those inspired me to hopefully one day go out into the cold void of the cosmos.  My dreams unfortunately so far have kept me away from celestial matters.  I have few chances of physically flying into orbit as an astronaut.  I’d have to first become a millionaire, cause I doubt I will join the air force as a pilot or work as a researcher/payload specialist.  Professionally, I could steer my way to getting into robotics and be involved with a unmanned space mission with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories.  Or I could get into astronomy, keeping my feet on my ground and my eyes focused on the cosmos.  Right now however, I can always drive up north.  Leave the big city and its luminous glow, into the wilderness and just enjoy a clear night sky full of stars.

Well maybe as the Matt Aslett of the 451 Group points out: maybe open source will get us into space.  I won’t hold my breathe, but I hope one day I’ll be closer to be out there.

(Aside: Now you can imagine why I enjoy writing a science fiction novel.)

Mental Shards: Ninjas, Stacks and Menus

I’m a huge fan of checking out RSS planets, especially with the technologies I love to use.  Now I use Google Reader to aggregate and handle these hundreds of stories.  Every so often, a story grabs my attention and gets me thinking.  I’ve starred hundreds, only to never look for them again.  I found that even thought I can e-mail myself these stories, they get lost in the giant abyss known as my e-mail.  So for fun, I’ll post the blogs that caught my attention in a new section on my blog: Mental Shards.  (Yes, you guessed it… it is a play on the name of my upcoming novel.)

Lydia Pintscher writes about dealing with people who communicate in various forms and degrees.  I’d probably fall into the communication ninjas group.  In fact at one point thanks to my Internet tablet, anyone could reach out and touch me over instant messenger.  This became terribly distracting, and even thought I could the same with my cellphone… I’d rather not.  Well actually in theory if I acclimatized people to the concept of on MSN, but may not respond in an instant we’d be good.  Still it is a good reminder, that not everyone feels compelled to feel embedded into the Internet cloud at all times.

Oops… I forget which KDE developer mentioned the Stack Overflow site.  This looks like an excellent resource for developers, especially when dealing with open source technology.

Richard Dale, another KDE contributer writes about the GCDS talk about Moblin.  Here’s a thought: menus are useless.  I’m a bit reluctant to agree.  Most menus are huge and a pain to navigate around.  I’d prefer a flexible tool/toolbar system.  Maybe not quite a ribbons design though.  I am a strong believer in keeping UIs simple, clear and pleasant to use.  However menus seem a necessary evil, for large complex applications.  However the argument, on why do we need large complex menu-driven applications rather than smart intelligent, flexible ones those hold much merit.

Congrats to Celeste Lyn Paul for winning the KDE Akademy Award for Best Non-technical Contribution.  Her work and writing inspires me to one day get into usability, user interface design and (human-computer interaction) HCI myself.  Once things settle down in my life, I plan on looking into doing a Masters in HCI.

And on Phoronix we have: News of a Game Going Free Culture.  Should be an interesting experiment, I wish the developers luck.

Spreading Linux as a Scientific Endeavour

I just read Vlad Dolezal’s blog entry about why Linux doesn’t spread. The debate about the reasons why people don’t adopt Linux and a free open source desktop, has gone on for years. Vlad just dredged up the old its free therefore not useful argument. An easy counterexample are what mobile providers: get a free cellphone, pay for the service. Most Linux/open source companies make money from Saas (software as a service) too. In fact most large scale enterprise deployed software firms, do SaaS or SOA (service-oriented architecture). So while I wish Vlad luck with selling copies of Linux, a far more interesting comment turned up.

One commenter on Vlad’s site mentions their luck with “selling” the idea of a free open source Linux desktop as a scientific endeavour. Linux and software libre started off as ventures of interest only to computer scientists. Look here is a neat little OS I wrote on top of Minix (Linus Torvalds). And look here is a way we can run a UNIX system without NDAs, and restrictions of proprietary vendors (Richard Stallman). It was only until Eric S. Raymond started working on convincing developers and business decision people, that free software named as open source, that Linux started into its present course of wider adoption. A good chunk of open source projects are initiated by academics in computer science and communication fields.

The term open source was invented to defeat the argument which Vlad reiterates. Read Eric Raymond’s book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar for more about the idea behind “open source”. Removing the word “free” helps to lift the semantic confusion around the term free software. And treating the open source eco-system as part scientific community, part computer hobbyist club, and part client-oriented commercial paradigm, will all help remove the negative aura that sometimes surrounds Linux and the open source desktop.

The idea of getting involved in a grand experiment in science, appeals to some individuals. But probably only to those affiliated with academia, or in love with the romantic vision of science. Neither this idea of Linux a child of “computer science love” or any one thing will increase Linux adoption overnight. There will not be any mass exodus from Windows to Linux. However we can lower the cost of entering into the world of Linux.

Far more difficult issues face Linux and the open source desktop other than what Vlad mentions. The open source desktop lacks in ease of use, marketing and third party support. Dealing with these issues, will lower the cost of entry to the open source desktop for more computer users. More about this in future articles.

Menacing Migraines Ahead

Scientist should start classifying migraines in scale based on the pain inflicted upon an individual. Perhaps they should count number of perceived neuron deaths. At least I think they should. I rate mine a 4 out of 5.

But my headaches can not be as severe as the ones in Redmond. Since everyone (and their pet dog) has a prediction of what the potential takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft means, I decided to add my own opinion to the mess. As Matt Assay points out, lots of money will be thrown around for this acquisition. But rather than the high risks, it sounds like Microsoft has a waken up to a painful realization: no one actually cares about operating systems. This acquisition may actually signal Microsoft’s weakness.

Just look at the way Linus Torvalds views Linux. An operating system should be invisible to a user. The user shouldn’t care about what the operating system does, only that it works. Users only start caring when something goes wrong, software or hardware wise. If it works great.

Hardware manufacturers don’t care either. And the open sourceness of Linux lends well with manufacturers too. Here is a stable ready made platform, not controlled by any organizations. No need to pay per device royalties. No need to purchase expensive development kits to write drivers for. If the manufacturer decides to open source their drivers, they get the added benefit of the community donating fixes too.

Now Microsoft have a problem. They can’t compete with Linux on price. They can’t compete on developer freedom. So they get no love from manufacturers. And most user surf the web most of the time anyways. Almost everyone hates Vista anyways. Some users even find installing Linux sounds less painful than using Vista daily.

In fact this past year has been a headache for Microsoft. The lack luster performance of Vista. Nintendo trouncing both Microsoft and Sony with their Wii. Resistance of the ISO to standardize OOXML. And the year ahead does not look much nicer.

So what to do? Buy Yahoo. Try gaining solid dominance of the web in terms of personal web services. And hope that the cash cows called Windows and Office hold out against the steady march of open source and the web. Maybe the evil smiling duo of Google and Tux will go away by themselves.

Suddenly my migraine does not seem as a bad.

Radical Site Makeover

I need a change. A change from the mundane, ordinary and usual. Same goes for my blogging. I dedicate this blog for this point to documenting my thoughts about open source gaming. Most people might see this funny or even odd. The truth is that the open source movement has existed in gaming for a while, but no one thought of it as extraordinary.

I want to document the progress, history and future of open source, gaming and blending of both.
Hence, I am redesigning the website in the next few days. This redesign will retouch the appearance, articles and overall feel of the journal.


Why Open Source Projects Make Sense Career Wise

Greetings Earthlings! (OK enough silliness for one day, back into the pocket you go Martian.) Once again I have to bring up the sort of lame excuse of being too busy to blog earlier. Well yes, it was lame too much work. Actually I killed my “1337” Gentoo box doing an update. So I basically installed the new Ubuntu 6.06, and I am in the process of setting things up. More on the new Ubuntu tomorrow.

Today’s rant is why open source projects make sense. At least from a university student’s point of view. Undergrad in CS to be exact. All other information from me will have to be extracted via torture, slyness or greasing of palm. 😉

Back to the topic, I am in the process of finding an internship position for the next 12-16 months. So far my own personal experience has mostly unsuccessful. The interesting part is that for the two interviews I have received, my interviewers were most interested in my open source projects. They glossed over my “work” experience, if you can call it that in my case. University courses were not even mentioned. Nope, the thing that stood out were the two projects I am currently actively involved in. For those in the unawares, I actually have 3 open source projects in the works. While initially I thought that working on these projects would be fun and simply educational, it turns out that they mean more than that.

There are three main reasons why I believe employers are interested. These being experience, portfolio and marketing. When you work on a project you have to not only have a grasp on the technology but also on the subtilties of team relationships, and organization. Any open source project will showcase your performance as a developer and/or project leader. The final product is interesting in itself. A look into your source code will reveal your work ethic, organization, knowledge, talent and creativity. Finally comes marketing, which applies mostly to the employer and sometimes to yourself. The words “open source” currently flow with the hype and buzzwords of the business world. By hiring an open source developer, the company gains a zen and almost messanic reputation of by part of what the business world sees as the future. Personally I think open source means plain old fashioned politeness and embraces the ethics of old (the “new” standard of “Western” ethics is quite dissettling). In some rare cases if the project is successful enough, the product becomes a brand onto itself. Any developer of said project also gains a certain amount of worth and can use this to his or her advantage when looking for work.

Well that is all great and everything but how can one gain these advantages. Simply put start a project for something that you need or want. Treat if it were a real life product to sell not just a “pet” project. This is how many open source companies themselves started out. Show your professionalism throughout the process. Try new things, and over time maybe that project will pay off in hard, cold cash.

Till tomorrow,