Martin's Blog

Lessons from Sygneca

Posted by Martin Orr on Wednesday, 26 September 2007 at 10:11

I spent the summer working at Sygneca in Basingstoke. This was an interesting experience as, while I have developed some web-based projects for school and contributed the odd bit to open source projects, I have never worked on software development in conjunction with other people. Nevertheless each person mostly worked independently on separate projects. So long as the projects are small enough for this to be feasible, it definitely seems to be the most efficient way to develop: it is important when programming to be able to hold the entire project in your head at once (the details of bits you have already done can be dropped once you are satisfied they work), and this is hard if someone else is doing bits of it. When multiple people work on a project, each person's piece should be as separate as possible from the rest, with a strictly defined (and simple) interface. This worked well on a couple of occasions where a project required a component not only separate from, but different in nature to, the main project.

Sygneca does its development in a language called Scala which is a language developed at a Swiss university. It is an active research project, or set of research projects, so contains a lot of cutting-edge features; however it is actually very easy to use, and you can gradually pick up the more advanced features. It incorporates functional programming and a rich type system, both pieces of computer science with a strong mathematical content which I had never explored before.

no comments Tags basingstoke, programming, scala, sygneca, tech

2005 weeks 24 and 25

Posted by Martin Orr on Wednesday, 29 June 2005 at 16:36

I never got around to posting anything last week, so I shall have to do two weeks at once. And despite that I still don't have that much to say. Clare tells me I write far too much anyway so perhaps this will help.

In the last two weeks, I have done exams in Russian, Computing, French and Chemistry. Nothing particularly difficult in any of them except one question in the Chemistry paper. Plus I had my last prefect duty which was probably one of my least enjoyable.

When I haven't been revising for all those exams, I have spent most of my time on my computer. I have now got a wireless router, so I can use the Internet from my bedroom on my laptop (as I am doing now), and stop getting in the way of the rest of the family by using the computer downstairs.

I have got my DNS and email (for the martinorr.name domain) moved off the school servers, since for one thing I will be leaving the school and for another our Internet connection will be going, replaced with one via C2K. If you are interested, my DNS is hosted at EveryDNS.net (for free) and my email at Tuffmail (who seem to offer a very good service for my requirements). I have also been trying Thunderbird as my MUA (having previously always used text-mode MUAs). I'm not sure that has the mailing list support I require so I may soon be moving back to mutt.

-- Martin

no comments Tags alevels, hosting, laptop, mua, tech

2005 week 23

Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 13 June 2005 at 10:32

Pushkin

Well this week began with some rather unusual activities. On Monday our Russian class went up to the folk museum to show some Russians round. We (especially me since I had been in England when it was organised) had very little idea who they were. Anyway there were 10 girls and 2 boys of around 15 from a school in St Petersburg, who had come to perform at the Waterfront at the Pushkin Trust's 18th birthday celebration. This is probably the first time I have spoken to foreigners whose native language I speak better (or at least as well as) they speak English. We spoke mostly in Russian and it was great fun although sometimes of course difficult to make yourself understood. It is so much easier to speak Russian in the classroom!

I should explain what the Pushkin Trust is in order that you are not as confused as I was - I only found out gradually. It was established by Sacha, the Duchess of Abercorn, to encourage creativity (primarily creative writing) in schools across Ireland. Pushkin was a Russian poet in the 19th century, and an ancestor of the Duchess. We met her briefly as we were leaving the folk museum although I did not know who she was - just someone called Sacha.

Then on Tuesday I went to their performance at the Waterfront - still not really knowing what to expect. Ever been somewhere where you had no idea what was going on or why you were there? Anyway there was an exhibition of the written projects and artwork several schools involved in the project had produced on the theme of Threads, then a number of schools gave a performance. Each school had written a poem, then worked with professional composers and choreographers to produce a music/dance setting of the words of the poem, which they performed. Due to the link with Pushkin (who worked much of his life in St Petersburg), several Petersburg schools had also participated this year, and one of them was selected to come over and perform their dance as well.

Laptop

On Tuesday evening my new laptop arrived and I have spent much of the week playing with that - I am using it to write this. Also, sarge (the latest release of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution) was finally released on Monday - hurray! We can stop arguing about release dates and move on to coding for the next release. So I bittorrented the CD and installed that on my laptop, removing the pre-installed Windows XP as quickly as possible. It is an amd64 laptop, but so far I am only using it in 32-bit mode. Amd64 is not yet officially part of Debian, but there is an unofficial port which I will install this week. Also, I will not be getting a wireless router for a couple of weeks so accessing the Internet from the laptop is rather awkward at the minute - I have to bring it downstairs, set it on the desk beside the desktop PC and transfer the Ethernet cable from the desktop. Plus the cable modem has to be rebooted every time you change the card it is connected to.

Yearbook Photo CD

Besides setting up my laptop, I have been involved in another major computer project this week. You may know that I was responsible for all the IT stuff for the school Yearbook. This was finally despatched to the printers about 2.5 weeks ago and I thought that was the last I would have to do with it. Well I suppose it was the last I have had to do with the printed book.

There was also a plan to put together a CD of assorted photos that could be distributed with the Yearbook. As far as I remember, this was put forward as a vague idea at one of the early committee meetings but nothing then happened on it for quite some time. Eventually a notice went up in the Sixth Form Centre asking for people to give photos to Peter Wasson or Becky Webber. This was at the same time that there were lots of Yearbook posters in the Centre, about articles, profiles and photographs that were to be taken (e.g. Fullerton/Downey/Stranmillis alumni, the Ginger Society) - on one particular day I counted seven different Yearbook-related posters. Given the amount of work I did on the printed Yearbook, especially technical formatting work after all the editorial stuff was done, I am quite glad that putting this CD together was not my responsibility although it would have helped if they had coordinated with me occasionally. Some people did assume I was responsible for it and gave me photos, which I simply passed on to Peter.

Mr Slater took a look at the photo CD, as he took a look at the printed book, for censorship reasons, and decided he wanted nothing to do with it. Based on what he said at our meeting and on having looked at every photo on the CD myself, I believe it was a single photo that caused him to take this decision. Whether people were originally informed that the CD would be included in the price of the Yearbook I am not sure but the position now is that it is entirely unofficial. Incidentally on financial grounds I am unsure whether the price would have covered CDs - my calculations suggest that the Yearbook is only just above break-even. I suppose 300 CD-Rs do not cost that much.

So Peter and Becky announced that they would burn and distribute the CDs themselves, and make a charge to cover expenses. Alan then had the idea of using BitTorrent to distribute these CDs, running our own tracker on henry.methody.org. The school's 2MBit symmetric bandwidth gives a good start for downloads, but clearly if 100 people try to use it to download 532 MB it takes a long time. So we get other people to seed as well, and generally use all the advantages of BitTorrent. (Note: this is on our legacy network; it would clearly be impossible on C2K. This Internet connection will stop at the end of June, and this is almost certainly the only time we will use a significant part of its upstream bandwidth.) I have quite a while learning about BitTorrent, how to run a tracker and seed a torrent, plus we had to get the thing uploaded to henry to start with. This was hampered by the fact that after we thought we were ready, Peter and Becky decided to revise the CD and give more sensible names to a number of files. However, we knew better what we were doing with the second CD. On the other hand we were hampered by Internet connection failures (my own connection has been down for most of the afternoon for the past several days). When I had nothing else to do, I amused myself writing convoluted shell scripts - for example to figure out which files had been renamed by matching up file sizes and copy files across from the old directory tree to the new, thereby getting 99% of the torrent even while off-line. We now have at least 3 (I think 4) seeds plus another downloading, and are planning a general announcement tonight.

Exams

The majority of my A-levels are on or after 21st which is why I have so much time to spend on computer stuff at the moment. Nonetheless it is necessary to squeeze in a few exams: on Thursday I had Computing modules 1 and 2 (I am doing both AS and A2 Computing this year). I only even started reading the syllabus for this on Tuesday, but I know the vast majority of it anyway so the exams were quite easy. The one thing I am not 100% clear on is communication systems, and the difference between bit rate, baud rate and bandwidth. A question did of course come up on this. They give you far too much time for these exams - not just me but most other people were finished in half the time. The exams are 90 minutes each so went on until 1630; Mr Welshman was apologising at 1620 that he had to keep us another ten minutes, and suggested people might check through their work in order that the time would pass more quickly.

An altogether more daunting prospect was my piano diploma on Friday. For this I was playing J. S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 No. 2), Mozart's Sonata in B flat K.333, Schumann's Arabeske Op. 18 and Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. The rag is my best piece; I played it for my Grade 8 a year ago, although not then particularly well. The Bach I can also play well and the Mozart mostly so - there are one or two bits that give technical difficulties. The Schumann is not great and a week ago I could not keep the main theme steady at all. For the Bach and Mozart I had trouble getting a decent dynamic range out of the exam piano - it seemed rather different from my piano at home. By the Schumann I was getting used to it, and I think I played that well, including conquering my pulse difficulties; the exam piano was perhaps more suited to this piece than mine. The rag of course was good but I don't think I did well on the sight-reading. Still that is over now, probably the last serious piano playing I will do - I want to learn the violin next year.

-- Martin

no comments Tags alevels, debian, languages, laptop, methody, music, tech, yearbook

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