Category Archives: Professional

Professional

Mapeando Seúl con OpenStreetMap

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Hace años si querías ver un mapa de un lugar te tocaba abrir el atlas, ese libro con mapas del mundo. O, alternativamente, los mapas cartográficos del ejército. Pero con la llegada de internet, pronto apareció la versión electrónica de la Guía Michelin, y luego Google Maps y similares.

Hoy en día todo el mundo usa Google Maps, que a nivel de usuario suele satisfacer las necesidades. Sin embargo, Google ya es malvado y tras cerrar otros servicios, está capando poco a poco el acceso gratuito a su Maps. Por ejemplo, si tu blog es popular y usas muchos mapas de Google, que no te extrañe que un día dejen de funcionar (pusieron un tope de visitas por dominio)… a menos que pagues.

Por otro lado, Google Maps solo es una fuente “visual”, ya que no ofrece muchos datos más puros; por ejemplo, no hay forma de conseguir las coordenadas de todos los tramos de la carretera N-30.
seoul watercolour
La alternativa totalmente libre se llama OpenStreetMap. Es como wikipedia, pero en lugar de artículos, editas mapas. Puedes agregar desde calles a buzones de correos. Por otro lado, a nivel técnico, puedes hacer peticiones con las capas de información que quieras… eso lo puedes procesar libremente como quieras. Por ejemplo, para generar un mapa “estilo antiguo” de Seúl (en la imagen), o incluso un mantel con el mapa de tu barrio.

O simplemente lo puedes usar para mirar mapas, o poner mapas en tu sitio web (mirar leaflet o switch2osm). Lo bueno es que, al igual de la wikipedia, te garantizan que es libre. Hay webs como Flickr o Foursquare que ya se han pasado a OpenStreetMap, por ejemplo.

En el caso de Seúl, todavía falta mucha información. Por eso hace unos meses decidí probar a agregar algunas calles. La manera más fácil es bajarse la app “OSMTracker” para usar el GPS de tu móvil y generar trazas. La app es un poco rústica, pero es fácil de entender. Luego importas las trazas en la web de OpenStreetMap y agregas las calles. Bastante fácil. También hay opción de usar una imagen de satélite como referencia, pero suele estar desplazada por lo que no te recomiendan usarla.

En definitiva, hay quien sale a correr y hace trazas de sus carreras para mejorar su físico o ego, y hay quien además usa trazas para hacer un mapa colaborativo en internet.

Links about quality website development

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Just for reference, here I’m writing down some interesting links I’ve recently seen about quality while developing and maintaining websites.

That’s enough to keep me busy for months. But these days I’m also trying ideas, using CSS3 and HTML5 features, so I’m using a lot what it could be the best website with compatibility features.

Deal with soft SPAM

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Adverts are everywhere. And they try to get your focus at all prices. I hate that. Even these days, that in theory they send you proper tailored adverts matching your needs, I get annoyed… because actually you just get SPAM.

Moreover, in Internet we have something that I call “soft SPAM“, that basically doesn’t sell you anything but disturb your focus. I’m speaking, for example, about the “Who to follow” block in twitter or “Recommended pages” in facebook. It might be useful when you create a new account, but it is totally disturbing in your normal live activity.

Do you want to remove the “who to follow” block on Twitter? Just use Addblock (a plugin for Firefox, Chrome, etc that you MUST have) and create a new filter, with the following line:

twitter.com##div.js-recommended-followers

In case you want to remove Facebook’s “Recommended friends/pages” block, just use:

facebook.com##div.ego_section

After that, you live will be a bit easier 😉

Good password trick

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

· You shouldn’t use the same password in different places.
· You should change your password from time to time.

Despite these 2 basic rules, most people has just 2 or 3 passwords, and use them everywhere. So I’d like to share the following trick, that I heard from my former boss:

good password = your usual password + first character of the website/place’s name + last digit of the year

For example: if your usual password is “sadshoes”, and you are setting it on facebook, your new password should be “sadshoesf3” (“f” from facebook and “3” from 2013).

This will be far more stronger than just “sadshoes”, and if somebody breaks your password, he will only be able to enter in facebook. This will also force you to change your password every year.

Other stuff about passwords:
· Do not think that somebody will try “manually” to break your password; nowadays a bot will try to break your password using a long list of common words used as passwords.
· Never use pure words, or concatenated words, alone: bots also try these.
· Moreover using common text-to-digit translations, like “LOVE” to “L0V3”, is not secure: bots also try these!

10 years to master

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

You need 10 years to become an expert on a field. No more, no less. 10 years of continuous effort. Think about a famous musician, a famous athlete or even a professional Go player. There is at least 10 years of hard-work in almost all cases before he becomes a star.

Looking at this video, I imagine those 10 years he spent improving his technique:

When you start with a subject, you experience different statuses, from novice to expert. But there is a key point that only an expert can do: he makes it look easy. As if you can take your bike and do same things showed in the video. Actually I could say I have 8 years of experience on Go, and perhaps 10 years on PHP, but I feel there is still a lot to learn. Despite sometimes people see that expert magic on me.

I wonder which new expert skills I’ll have in 10 years. Things that you start now doing often can become key points of your life. Things that perhaps you don’t really consider, like gardening or doing DIY. So, be sure to avoid wasting your time, and focus on practicing interesting skills. We’ll see what happens in 10 years.

Telecommuting: when good forms are forced

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Pouchong TeaCurrently I’m working for a company, at home. It’s a small company: my boss is located in Mexico, I’m (project leader) here in Spain, and there are 3 developers in India. We just use Skype, Google Docs and email, and we have no big problems, just the ones related to the time zones.

“When you work remotely you work less”, they say. Actually this is the usual excuse for bosses to avoid telecommuting, because they feel they can control you less. But this idea is totally wrong!

Let me explain an interesting effect. Imagine a man working in a office with fixed time (like 9am to 5pm); when he sees the clock marking 5pm he stops working and runs home (except just in case of a final deadline for a project). That is, he doesn’t really take care about finishing the job. Perhaps he has not done a lot of it, and instead he spent a couple of hours with minesweeper! Meanwhile, I don’t have a really daily schedule: but I usually do something like 9am to 6pm, with some stops. The thing is that when I see 6pm in the clock, I do NOT stop, just think “is the task (scheduled for today) done?”. Usually it’s not done, so I work a couple of hours more. Of course it depends on each person, but usually remote working make you more implicated with the job.

On the other hand, the company is forced to have a really good system to schedule tasks. Other methods to control the work that everyone is doing are welcomed as well. Things like an updated calendar for tasks, good version control system and code reviews, ways to verify the quality of software, job reports, etc. The company has to firmly use methods of control in order to survive. But this is a good thing: the work is better organized! In my case, we usually have a meeting on Friday (evening, morning) to set the tasks for each single day of the next 2 weeks, and review the tasks done during the current week.

So, the real benefits of telecommuting, from the company’s perspective: no need to rent an office (and no need to pay its bills), better organization of the work, and happier employees. Sounds good, specially nowadays with a economic crisis around. The only real problem is the communication with the team, but with video-conferences you can reach a just enough level of interaction. However, this doesn’t work for all kind of people, but you can train them (even remotely!) to work with the discipline needed to telecommute effectively.

Software metrics (PHP focused) part 2

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

In part 1 I spoke about lines of code and average of lines per day. Two indexes that are quite naive. Let’s see some better metrics, most of them object oriented programming focused.

Third stop: Tests and code coverage
If you have unit tests you can easily control that nothing vital is broken in each contribution. A unit test stress a class, so if there is some change in it, you can verify that the expected behavior remains the same. Moreover you can get an analysis of which lines of the code are actually executed in a test suite: that is, the code coverage of the test. You will see high values in well tested classes and low values in classes that need more tests.

Tools? Of course, PHPUnit, with the help of xdebug to get the code coverage.

Four stop: Cyclomatic complexity
Cyclomatic complexity is just the amount of different paths the execution can go throughout. For example, in our main project we have a total of 3048 paths. This value can be interesting to detect places in code that have become too complex and maybe need some cleanup.

Five stop: Pure OO software metrics
There are some interesting software metrics for object oriented code organized in packages, used basically to value which packages (groups of classes) are of better quality than others. Values that show the relation among classes, dependences, the resilience to change, etc.

Last stop: Ratios
Combining some of the previous values you can get interesting ratios. For example:
– Cyclomatic complexity per lines of code: 0.2, a very good value.
– Lines of code per method (class function): 22.02, a normal value that we have to lower.
– Method per classes: 8.25, a good value.
– Average number of extended classes: 0.4, a good value.
– etc…

Tools? The excellent pdepend is used here. Have a look at the end of its example page to see the amount of data (and funny but interesting diagrams) you can get.

Finally, all those values and tests are compiled each single time a programmer sends a commit to our code repository, and I get a mail with all the details, including the lines added, the author’s name, and all the values that change. So with a quick look I can assure that the contribution is ok, or there is some code to improve. I wonder how many companies (which develop in PHP) use something like this. I bet less than 100 in the world!

Software metrics (PHP focused) part 1

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Managing a software project with various programmers and around 10 contributions per day is a complex thing.
How can we measure the quality of every single contribution?
How can control the work of the programmers?

First stop: Lines of code

The easiest thing to measure in a project is the source lines of code it has. For example, the main project we are developing at work has ~30k lines (k=1000). That is, 24k of pure code and 7k of comments (and I’m counting only pure PHP OO code, without HTML, CSS or javascript).

Is this that simple to count? No, it’s not. The main problem is that programming is brain work, where creativity, skills to solve problems, and smartness are put in play. It’s like writing a novel: can you say that one novel is better than other just counting the pages it has? Can you say a Boeing 717 is worse than a 747 because it weights less? As the Wikipedia’s article says, only this metric can be useful when comparing 2 projects with different order of magnitude. However, the ratio comments per lines of code (in my case 1 comment every 4 lines) usually is a good index of quality.

Second stop: Average lines per day

Calculating the average lines of code per day can be tricky as well. At my job, a senior developer usually does ~50 lines per day, but a junior programmer does ~130 lines. Is that much? Well, having a look at some metrics about a similar project, phpMyAdmin, in Ohloh (a website with metrics for open source soft), and doing some maths, it’s suggestion is just 17 lines per day! On the other hand, if you google for “lines of code per day” you will get really wide values, from tops of 1k (using code generators: tricking) to normal less-than-100 values. Moreover, the deviation from this average value is actually huge: one day I can do 2 lines, other day I can do 200.

Senior does 50 lines, junior 130… is the senior one a slacker? Of course is not… usually the code from the senior one is better: less prone to errors, more adaptable, more concrete function’s names, more elegant, and does more things in less lines. The more the better? Actually the less code needed to solve a problem, the better. About this topic, I recommend reading the article : Code is your enemy!.

Tools? We use phploc for counting lines of code, and phpcpd for detecting cases of duplicated code. Both tools are developed by Sebastian Bergmann, the author of PHPUnit (the most popular testing framework for PHP).

Next, in part 2 of this post, I’ll be speaking about other metrics, like code coverage, cyclomatic complexity and some interesting ratios based on software package metrics.

Holidays

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

Which one is better?
a) Use all (or most) of your free days in a row. You totally disconnect from work issues, but when you come back your’ll have a flood in your mail inbox.
b) Use them little by little, so do small breaks during the year. You don’t totally forget about work things, but you recover some energy several times.

Basically the thing depends on how many days do you need to reach a real disconnect status. And this also depends on what are you going to do during holidays: if your holidays include a lot of activities, you don’t need a lot of time to remove any track of work from your mind, but if you’re going to spend your time at home or next to your office, you’ll sure need more days.

Then, the key is to find the average amount of days you need to disconnect, and do as many breaks as you can with this length… if your employee lets you so.

Looking for quality content in the web 2.0

NOTICE: Find more in my tech blog: liopic.me.

How can we induce users to participate more in our website?
For sure a lot of people have this question in their minds. Since the arrival of the Web 2.0 the value of a web is based on its users and the content they create. The more quantity and quality of the user’s created content, the more value of the website.

The first step is to simplify the UI as much as possible, to help users overcome their laziness and participate. The state of art includes clever AJAX tools, browser plugins, and desktop applications. In some websites they go one step further, and reward somehow the most valuable users, like the stackoverflow.com’s badges (a website for programmers), where you get medals for doing things (like “silver medal for good answer”: voted up 25 times).

But what about the quality of the content?
If you help users to add content, that doesn’t mean you will have a great content, just a lot of content. In some cases you can finish with a website flooded by low quality content (read “Facebook”). This is not a bad thing per se, as happens on quite a lot of TV channels: despite their low quality, people continue watching them. But seems that specific (or thematic) websites have better quality than generic websites (this also works on TV channels). Just compare the ratio interesting-content / total-content in Flickr vs. Facebook : of course you can find some bad pictures on Flickr, but meanwhile you can find tons of uninteresting content on Facebook. On Flickr you are somehow induced to publish only good pictures, on Facebook you are just tempted to publish a lot.

So, the balance between quantity vs. quality rules the net as it does in other places. The thing is, as website creator, find the most profitable ratio (regarding personal satisfaction and/or monetary ROI).

Lately I’ve been thinking about resurrecting an old pet project, a website for creating and playing games. Is that specific group (the gamers) enough to pay the bills or just to pay some caprices? Is the “create game” part too specific, or just what I need to make the difference? How could I work effectively on this project while keeping my day job?… too sunny to think!