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Showing posts from 2017

To pin or not to pin dependencies: reproducible vs. reusable software

We recently had a very interesting conversation in our lab about how to describe software dependencies (libraries one needs to install) for a software project in the context of research. One camp was proposing explicitly listing which version of a dependency is required (a scheme also referred to "pinning") and the other camp was more in favor of either not specifying version at all or specifying the minimal required version. Luckily both camps agreed on the importance of specifying dependencies, but what's the big deal about pinning vs not pinning?

Advantages of pinning dependencies When you pin a dependency (for example by saying "numpy==1.1.3") you explicitly point to a version of a library that a) you know works with your script b) was used to generate the result you present in your paper. This is very useful for people trying to replicate your results using your code as well as yourself attempting to revisit a project that was put aside for a while (for e…

Forever free: building non-profit online services in a sustainable way

In the past decade, we have seen a big switch from client run software to online services. Some services such as scientific data repositories were a natural fit for a centralized online implementation (but one day we can see a distributed versions of those). Others, such as Science-as-a-Service platforms, were more convenient and scalable versions of the client/desktop based software. One thing is certain - online platforms, available 24/7 via a web browser have proven to be very convenient in a range of tasks such as communication, sharing data, and data processing. Non-profit sector (such as projects funded by scientific grants) has also entered this domain. There are countless examples where modern web technologies based on centralized services can benefit scientists and general public even if the service they provide is not part of a commercial operation. This is especially true due to increased trend to share data and materials in science. Those outputs need to be stored and made …

Sharing academic credit in an open source project

We live in truly wonderful times to develop software. Thanks to the growth of the Open Source movement and emergence of platforms such as GitHub, coding became something more than just an engineering task. Social interactions, bonds between developers, and guiding new contributors are sometimes as important as sheer technical acumen. A strong and healthy developer community revolving around a software tool or library is very important. It makes the tool more robust (tested in many more environments), sustainable (the progress does not depend on a single person), and feature rich (more developers == more features). Even though there exist some excellent guides on how to build a welcoming and thriving community they miss out on one aspect that is specific to software development performed by academics - academic credit. For those not familiar with how things run in academia a quick refresher: the main currency of science is papers (manuscripts) and the number of times they are referenced …