GSoC 2015 application
Octave's application for GSoC 2015.
GNU Octave is a free numerical computing environment largely compatible with Matlab. John W. Eaton began the project in 1992 and remains the primary maintainer. Development is quite active with more than 20 volunteers currently involved. Octave is also widely used in teaching, industry, and research. It has gained attention as the recommended tool for a number of distributed online courses such as Stanford's machine learning course.
GNU Octave has an extensive core of functions useful for computations in several fields, such as numerical analysis, optimisation, signal and image processing, and control theory. Its sister project, Octave Forge, develops and releases packages with even more specialized functions. In addition, it helps in speeding up development, increasing user contributions, and testing code before it is included in GNU Octave's core set of functions.
Recent and ongoing improvements include a GUI and just-in-time compilation capabilities, both of which started as GSoC projects.
c++, mathematics, math, numerical, matlab, scientific, computing
Organization home page url
Logo: http://hg.savannah.gnu.org/hgweb/octave/raw-file/155d8e90ee1f/doc/icons/octave-logo.svg (generate 256x256 PNG with Gimp)
Main organization license
If you chose "veteran" in the checkbox, please summarize your involvement in Google Summer of Code and the successes and challenges of your participation. Please also list your pass/fail rate for each year.
Our first year in GSoC as an independent organization was 2014 and we had 3 participating students, who pursued work in approximate matrix factorization, efficient handling of sparse matrices, and finite element methods for solving partial differential equations. While there were some challenges related to mentor availability in one case, all 3 of the students passed and made contributions which have been incorporated into Octave. We also had one student enrolled under ESA Summer of Code in Space (SoCiS) who successfully improved Octave's ordinary differential equation solvers.
In addition, we also mentored GSoC and SoCiS students on the years 2011, 2012, and 2013 under the umbrella of the GNU project. In total, counting both GSoC and SoCiS, we have mentored a total of 16 students. Students working with us have made valuable contributions which are live and in our main source tree. These contributions improving Octave's usability and functionality in many different areas, from low-level instrument control and just-in-time compilation, to new algorithms for processing N dimensional images and least-squares spectral analysis. The Octave GUI started as a GSoC project and its further refinement has been the major feature of the last Octave release. Several of the students continued their involvement with the project and the community, four have become core developers, and two have become mentors for new students.
The challenges include managing very diverse problem domains and finding people who are competent in all of them. We have not had trouble keeping students interested, although we have seen lulls in their productive output at times, which were always thankfully remedied with a little prodding.
Summarizing, we have previously mentored a total of 16 summer students, all of them having educational experiences which created useful code for the project and community. Because of this, we believe that Octave is a suitable organization for GSoC with the capability to mentor students and benefit from their contribution.
If you chose "new" in the dropdown above, have you applied in the past? If so, for what year(s)?
Why is your organization applying to participate in Google Summer of Code? What do you hope to gain by participating?
We hope to establish collaborations with talented new contributors. We also want to raise awareness of Octave in the free software community.
Google Summer of Code represents a unique opportunity to bring new perspectives to the Octave community. As a somewhat older project, we benefit from having new and younger contributors among our developers. We have been able to retain several GSoC participants as contributors to the Octave project and we hope to improve in the future by engaging more effectively with students during both the application and mentoring processes, setting clear standards for what is required for acceptance, and maintaining those standards throughout the project.
What is the URL for your Ideas page?
What is the main development mailing list for your organization?
What is the main IRC channel for your organization?
How many potential mentors do you have for this year's program? What criteria did you use to select them?
We have about 10 contributors who are potential mentors. They have participated in previous SoC projects, either as students or mentors, and are all active participants in the Octave community. All have previously contributed code, have commit access to either the Octave or Octave Forge source tree, and are active in the mailing lists. Many also keep a constant presence in the IRC channel.
Each project will include at least one core Octave developer as mentor. These are proven, veteran members of the project, active in its development, and familiar with the code base. Also, GNU Octave is a project with applications in very diverse domains so each project should include mentors with expertise in the relevant field.
What is your plan for dealing with disappearing students?
Disappearing students haven't been a problem for us in previous years. To prevent disappearances, we aim to make all reasonable efforts to accommodate students and make them feel welcome. We will engage students frequently by email and IRC, provide prompt response to student queries, and expect periodic reports from mentors about the project status. We will also encourage the students to participate on the public mailing list and IRC channel, with or without the mentor. Their progress should be regularly applied to our source tree, if necessary in a side branch. All of these have shown to be effective with students.
Should this fail and a student disappears (which we hope will be very unlikely, since it has never happened before and nobody vanishes without good reason), make reasonable attempts to contact them via alternative channels up to a private phone number. If more than 2 weeks have passed without a response, we will consider the student as having dropped out and analyse the code submitted thus far for integration into our source tree.
What is your plan for dealing with disappearing mentors?
Distribute the workload among the remaining mentors. The mailing list is active enough and questions almost never go unanswered. Reassign the student to a backup mentor. In the worst case, the project admin can become a mentor for the student until another mentor is found.
This situation has been infrequent, and we hope to make it even less likely by selecting mentors with proven involvement in Octave and free software and by aligning project topics with the priorities of the core developer team. The vast majority of our mentors have been involved in Octave development for several years, and new mentors will be paired with more experienced ones.
What steps will you take to encourage students to interact with your project's community before and during the program?
We will encourage them to join us on our IRC channel and mailing list. We will set clear expectations on the minimum frequency of email progress updates of every two to three days. Students also set up a blog for longer updates which is aggregated at http://planet.octave.org
Everything should be completely open. Almost all interactions with the student should be public, e.g. contacting the mentor should happen in the public IRC channel or copy the maintainers mailing list.
Our annual conference, OctConf, is held in the summer. Students will be invited to attend and present on their work. Previous OctConfs had several such student presenters.
For some projects, there may be a way to bridge directly with industry interests. We hope that we can increase student participation this way.
What will you do to encourage that your accepted students stick with the project after Google Summer of Code concludes?
We will constantly merge their code into our codebase. GNU Octave is a project with many tester-users who give constant feedback on new features and report bugs. As participants in the mailing lists and bug tracker, students get the feeling of doing something that is being used by others and that is useful to the community from the very start.
In addition, many GSoC students will likely use Octave during their academic year and in their professional careers. As such, they are prone to stay involved with its development, even if at a lower level than during the summer.
Finally, we organize a developers' summit during the summer and have in previous years provided support for GSoC students to attend. This strengthens relationships between community members and the new students. In fact, several previous SoC students have continued with regular contributions to GNU Octave, and most remain available to help us with any problems related to the code they wrote for the project.
Are you a new organization who has a Googler or other organization to vouch for you? If so, please list their name(s) here.
Yes, GNU can vouch for us.
Are you an established or larger organization who would like to vouch for a new organization applying this year? If so, please list their name(s) here.