Data is ones and zeroes. Software is ones and zeroes and hard work. Welcome to the Third Bit.

Greg Wilson Welcome to Greg Wilson's personal blog.
Not all of my stories are true,
but this is a true story.
Jul 20, 2015 Git as GOTO
I am not a fan of Git. While some people may find it intuitive, I consider it one of the most complicated programs I have ever tried to teach. Some of that complexity comes from its inconsistent command syntax and needless jargon, but I realized a few days ago that there's a deeper cause. To explain it, I have to go all the way back to March of 1968, when Edsger Dijkstra's article "Go To Statement Considered Harmful" appeared in Communications of the ACM. In it, Dijkstra argued that arbitrary use of the GOTO statement led to programs that were...
Jun 19, 2015 Their Names Were
Cynthia Hurd was a public library manager. Clemena Pickney was a church pastor and state senator. Ethel Lee Lance had worked in the church for years. Depayne Middleton Doctor had worked for the government before retiring. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was a speech language pathologist and part-time pastor. Daniel Simmons Sr. was a retired pastor from another Charleston church. Myra Thompson was there to attend a Bible group. Susie Jackson had belonged to the church for years. Tywanza Sanders was just 26, and graduated from university two years ago.
Jun 14, 2015 Reverse Engineering CSS
Software Carpentry's lessons are written in Markdown, then transformed into HTML using Pandoc which is styled using Bootstrap with a bunch of custom styles layered on top. For a bunch of historical reasons, we translate Markdown that looks like this: > ## Learning Objectives {.objectives} > > * Learning objective 1 > * Learning objective 2 into sections that look like this: <section class="objectives panel panel-warning"> <div class="panel-heading"> <h2 id="learning-objectives"><span class="glyphicon glyphicon-certificate"></span>Learning Objectives</h2> </div> <div class="panel-body"> <ul> <li>Learning objective 1</li> <li>Learning objective 2</li> </ul> </div> </section> We'd like to simplify the HTML we generate to be: <blockquote class="objectives"> <h2>Learning Objectives</h2>...
Jun 13, 2015 Eroded Away
Little by little, the subversive features of the computer were eroded away. Instead of cutting across and challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation. — Seymour Papert, The Children’s Machine quoted in Audrey Watters, Lego Mindstorms: A History of Educational Robots
Jun 12, 2015 Learning in Both Directions
Last weekend, 30 people from a broad range of grassroots groups that are trying to increase diversity in tech got together in Boulder to compare experiences and swap best practices. The home page for the meeting has some background, but this storify does a better job of capturing the excitement. I hope this will help start a conversation that's long overdue. Too many people in tech speak and act as if knowledge only needs to flow one way — as if everyone who can't program should just show up and learn. The truth is, social change is a skill too,...
Jun 10, 2015 Ursula Le Guin on Capitalism
Jun  9, 2015 People You Don't Want On Your Team
I have been at least half of these people at different times in my life... Anna knows more about every subject than everyone else on the team put together—at least, she thinks she does. No matter what you say, she'll correct you; no matter what you know, she knows better. Annas are pretty easy to spot: if you keep track in team meetings of how often people interrupt one another, her score is usually higher than everyone else's put together. Bao is a contrarian: no matter what anyone says, he'll take the opposite side. This is healthy in small doses,...
May 24, 2015 ICSE 2015
I have just posted titles and abstracts from my favorite 24 papers from ICSE 2015 on the Software Carpentry blog. As I say there, just over half of these papers (13 of 24) had an easily-findable version online. I'm not going to do the experiment, but I confidently predict that those 13 will be more widely read, and more influential, than the other 11.
May  2, 2015 Selling Hope
Last summer, George Monbiot wrote: If we had set out to alienate and antagonise the people we've been trying to reach, we could scarcely have done it better. This is how I feel, looking back on the past few decades of environmental campaigning, including my own... Experimental work suggests that when fears are whipped up, they trigger an instinctive survival response. You suppress your concern for other people and focus on your own interests... Terrify the living daylights out of people, and they will protect themselves at the expense of others... I think a lot of advocates for open science...
Mar 30, 2015 A Base Case for Empirical Software Engineering Research
I've been saying for years that programmers ought to pay more attention to empirical studies of software engineering and base their practices on evidence rather than strong opinion. I was challenged on this yesterday when someone asked me to cite studies showing that a bug tracker is a better way to manage backlog than a shared spreadsheet. I couldn't, and still can't. I also can't find any studies showing that version control is a better way to manage software projects than mailing files around or dumping them in a shared folder. I "know" it's true—I wouldn't work on a project...
Mar 12, 2015 Goodbye, Terry
"It is often said that before you die you life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It's called living." — Terry Pratchett
Feb  3, 2015 Open Access and Computer Science
I was very pleased to see the announcement today of PeerJ Computer Science, an open access journal for my discipline with a stellar advisory board and over 300 topic editors. I've always thought it ironic that the people who made open access possible by building the Internet have been laggards in adopting it themselves; here's hoping that this new venue will help to finally change that.
Jan  5, 2015 Cathedrals, Bazaars, and In Between
Poul-Henning Kamp's article A Generation Lost in the Bazaar was doing the rounds on Twitter again last week. In it, he argues that the free-for-all "bazaar" model of open source has left us saddled with "a tangled web of haphazard dependencies that results in much code duplication and waste", and further that: ...the sorry reality of the bazaar Raymond praised in his book [is] a pile of old festering hacks, endlessly copied and pasted by a clueless generation of IT "professionals" who wouldn't recognize sound IT architecture if you hit them over the head with it. and that: the generation...
Jan  2, 2015 Books You May Enjoy
I didn't read (or re-read) much in 2014, but I enjoyed these: Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girls Elizabeth Green: Building a Better Teacher David George Haskell: The Forest Unseen Ben Hatke: Zita the Spacegirl (and its sequels) Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt: A History Peter Higgins: Wolfhound Century (and its sequels) Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism Richard Landes: Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millenial Experience Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice Philip Mansel: Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean Terry Pratchett: Going Postal, Night Watch, and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents Philip Reeve: Mortal Engines...
Jan  1, 2015 Things I Won't Do This Year
I've made and broken my share of New Year's resolutions, so this year I thought I'd do something different and make a list of things I'd like to do in 2015 but (almost certainly) won't. Turn Software Carpentry into a book. I promised Frank Willison I would do this more than a decade ago, and got as far as turning the existing lessons into a badly-formatted e-book last summer. I've never been satisfied with the results, but have never made time to revise it all. The good news is that Katy Huff and Anthony Scopatz have a book of their...
Nov 18, 2014 IP Communism
Back in August, the editor-in-chief of Communications of the ACM wrote an editorial in which he wrote, "It is regrettable, I believe, that the open access (OA) movement found itself in the IP communist camp." Before you dismiss this as out of touch, please go and read the comments on Mark Guzdial's post about the editorial, particularly this one, in which he points out that most of the SIGCSE community (i.e., most people studying computer science education) don't have research funding, and hence are reliant on the money raised by the ACM's paywall to support their activities. But please then...
Nov 10, 2014 Sarah Mei on Software Engineering Research
Sarah Mei tweeted this in response to news that researchers at Rice were getting $11 million for a souped-up autocomplete: These Rice University folks do realize that "coding" is about 5% of what software developers do. Right? Hope they can optimize the shit out of that 5% with their 11 MILLION dollars. That is surely a good use of my taxes. Academic research on software engineering has been a decade behind current practice since I've been practicing. Some contributing factors: 1) The folks with PhDs often haven't been practitioners for years (if ever). They don't know what state of...
Nov  5, 2014 Politics for Current Physicsts
Richard Muller's Physics for Future Presidents and its sequel Energy for Future Presidents are both really good books, even if you're not planning to be president. Each one explains the key scientific ideas behind a pressing everyday issue in a way designed to help people make informed decisions. They're everything good science popularization should be. After discovering how many kids in my daughter's school aren't vaccinated because their parents have bought into fashionable yuppie angst about autism, I'd really like a book called Public Health for Future Presidents (see also this tweet), but more than that, I'd like someone to...
Oct 27, 2014 Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship Application
I just submitted an application for a Shuttleworth Foundation fellowship, and as a believer in openness, I figure it's only right to post it here as well. If you're interested, you can watch the five-minute video, or get more details from the Q&A below it. Describe the world as it is. Scientists spend an increasing amount of time building and using software. However, most of them are never actually taught how to do this - they pick up bits and pieces by osmosis and good luck. As a result, it takes them weeks or months to do things they could...
Oct 22, 2014 Massuni Kickstarter Has Launched
I'm very excited that Massuni's Kickstarter has launched. They're bringing custom furniture design to the web: you can use an in-browser tool to design exactly what you need, and they then manufacture it using a mass customization process. I know I'm biased—its founder is a family member—but this is what the word "revolutionary" is meant to be used for.
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