User:Ben zen

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Hi, I'm Benjamin Lewis, a.k.a. ben_zen on Freenode; I'm a McGill student applying for GSoC 2012, and my public application's below.

GSoC 2012 Public application[edit]

A: An introduction[edit]

  • Please describe yourself in three sentences, one of them regarding your current studies.
    • Which languages do you speak?
    • What's your overall background?
  • Why do you want to participate in the Google Summer of Code? What do you hope to gain by doing so?
    • Please also describe your previous experience with the GSoC, if any.
  • Why are you choosing Octave?

I'm a mathematics major at McGill University, with a focus in applied mathematics and numerical analysis. I speak fluent English and French; in terms of computer languages, I understand Java and the Matlab/Octave M-file format. As for why I want to work on Octave and participate in Summer of Code, I adore the general philosophy of free software, I've advocated its use for years now, and I want to contribute in some way. I've not been involved before, but having read the timeline for SoC, it makes sense. With respect to why I picked Octave, I started using it in high school when I had a lot of numerical problems to work through, and now in college I'm seeing a lot more use for it when working on numerical analysis problems.

C: Contact[edit]

  • Please state the (unique and identical where possible) nick you use on IRC and any other communication channel related to Octave.
  • Which time zone do you live in? Will that change over GSoC duration?
  • Please state the timeframe (in UTC+0) when you feel most comfortable working during GSoC. Where are your time buffers?

On Freenode, I'm user blewis, with nicks blewis, ben_zen (my main) and zen_ben (when I'm not on my main computer). It is not an overestimation to say that I'm connected to IRC for ten hours a day. I live in UTC-5, and if I'm able to work on SoC, that's where I'll stay. As for when I'm comfortable coding, w.r.t. UTC+0, I'm comfortable working from (this will look odd) 14h00 to 0h00 (the next day, in UTC+0; 9h00 to 19h00 in local time) I'm also willing to code later, if I need to until 3h00 UTC+0. I really don't do well getting up (really) early and coding before my coffee, but for me 8h00 local time is early enough for coffee and getting started (so it's not like I'm talking about mid-afternoon here.)

E: Coding experience[edit]

This part is one of the more important ones in your application. You are allowed to be as verbose as you want, as long as you stay on topic ;-)

  • Please describe your experience with C++, Octave or Matlab m-scripts, OpenGL and Qt.
  • Please describe your experience with other programming languages.
  • Please describe your experience with being in a development team.
  • Please describe the biggest project you have written code for and what you learned by doing so. Also describe your role in that project over time.
  • Please state the commits and patches you already contributed to Octave.

In general, I'm lacking in experience in coding in a group of any sort; I'm somewhat new to programming, and before now I haven't been involved in a project either as a group or individually. When it comes to coding experience, I am unfortunately not knowledgeable in C++; I intend to learn what I can this semester — I already understand most basic programming skills, and how to manage objects, I simply (or not so simply) need to learn memory management. I have, however, used Octave and Matlab for a few years, and I know how to use m-scripts. My particular project is aimed more at m-scripts, so it shouldn't need as much C++ as it otherwise might; since I'm not working in graphics or interfaces, either, I don't think my lack of knowledge of OpenGL and Qt should be much of an impediment either. Most of my programming knowledge is focused on Java, and almost all working independently.

In short, I'm really really green at the serious development. I'm aware that this is a limitation, and I'm working as much as I can to overcome it; since my interests are focused almost entirely on implementing a solution method and not a core element of the software, however, I don't see this as being quite as much of an impediment to my work.

F: Feeling fine[edit]

  • Please describe (in short) your experience with the following tools:
    • IRC and mailing lists
    • Mercurial or other source code management systems
    • Mediawiki or other wiki software
    • make, gcc, gdb or other development tools
  • What will make you actively stay in our community after this GSoC is over?

I'm quite used to IRC/mailing lists and wiki/Mediawiki/etc. I'm not as up to speed on source code management as I've not worked on a large project before, but I think I can catch on fairly quickly. I've used make and gcc before; having worked mostly in Java I've not needed them too regularly, so I'll need to learn some more, but again, I don't think that will take much. Also, since my project is aimed at writing an Octave-Forge package, I don't think these tools will be as necessary. As for staying in the community, if I feel like I can contribute, I'll stay active if you don't chase me away with pitchforks! Otherwise I'll hang around, but I might not be super-active.

O: Only out of interest[edit]

  • Did you ever hear about Octave before?
    • If so, when and where? How far have you been involved already?
    • If not, where would you expect or advise us to do advertising?
  • What was the first question concerning Octave you could not find an answer to rather quickly?

I first heard about Octave waaay back in High School, when I was looking for something a little more powerful than my calculator to do a lot of matrix problems, and didn't want to buy an expensive software package. I've not been involved in the project before now, partially because I didn't feel I had anything to contribute until now. I've seen Octave mentioned in places like ##math on Freenode (was #math until recently), so I think there's some effective advertising already happening. As for quick answers, I haven't run into much that I don't find pretty rapidly. This may also be my biased memory, but I'm fairly sure it's not.

P: Prerequisites[edit]

I'm running Mac OS X 10.7 on my personal machine, and I can run pretty much any linux distro in LiveCD format, with enough available RAM to compile software effectively. I'm almost always within reach of the internet, and the only computer I'm working on right now is the one with all my active work. (So, ten hours at least, generally.) Otherwise, if I get an additional machine, I will try to keep them as close to in synchronicity as possible.

S: Self-assessment[edit]

  • Please describe how useful criticism looks from your point of view as committing student.
  • How autonomous are you when developing?
    • Do you like to discuss changes intensively and not start coding until you know what you want to do?
    • Do you like to code a proof of concept to 'see how it turns out', modifying that and taking the risk of having work thrown away if it doesn't match what the project or original proponent had in mind?

As long as there's more to a comment than just "this is wrong", it looks a fair bit like criticism as opposed to abuse. I won't be able to fix what's wrong if all I'm told is that there is something wrong—a suggestion about what to improve is always welcome, and if you don't know, tell me (so, in that case, just saying "this is wrong, but I can't offer a firm reason why" is fine, as long as I know that, it gives me something to work from!) Basically, give me a reason, not just abuse!

When it comes to how I like to work, I will variously want to discuss an approach before starting or just jump in. If the particular problem is a large one, I'm more likely to develop an approach to what I'm working on, sketching it out as pseudocode or a partial proof as opposed to just diving in. On the other hand, if it's just a small part of the problem, I'll throw a few possible solutions at it and see where I can improve, since (in my experience) it's in the small implementation details that the largest variations can show up.

Y: Your task[edit]

  • Did you select a task from our list of proposals and ideas?
    • If yes, what task did you choose? Please describe what part of it you especially want to focus on if you can already provide this information.
  • Please provide a rough estimated timeline for your work on the task.

I've decided to pursue the Least-Squares Spectral Analysis (here on the project ideas page) task for Octave-Forge. I don't think there's really a single part of it I can focus on; it'll mostly be a process of first reading up on the method, examining the C and R implementation, and bringing it into the fold.

I'm expecting to get up to speed on the relevant documentation and papers through late April, and after finals (which finish 25 Apr.) I'll be going on vacation for about two weeks; after that, I'll be available for pretty much the rest of the summer solid — I'll be going on vacation again near the end of August, but other than that I can expect three to four months solid of availability. (The suggested finishing date is the 13th of August; I'd expect to be able to make that deadline, possibly with a little time to spare. I won't be going on vacation until shortly after that.)

The largest initial point is going to be comprehending the C/R code; after that, probably most of my work will be in writing a safe package — the actual implementation shouldn't be very long, but let's call it a milestone too; the rest is making sure that the code will catch any errors in what data is fed into it (according to one source, the actual LSSA implementation can be about a printed page, but that was for a specific instance! It'll be a little more code to handle any inputs, and a lot more to make sure it's correct, but that is, of course, the rub.)