Tag Archives: CDOT

Summer 2016

Once again, it is almost that time of the year for school to start once again.  The summer has been an interesting one and this blog is a reflection on some of the things I did.

I had a good number of summer projects planned… but I only really got around to one of them.  This summer, I wrote a guide to using p5.js with my cousin Ben, who teaches at an international school in Hong Kong.  We wanted something that a teacher could use with their students in the classroom. We decided to write the guide using an online publisher named gitbook (I love gitbook for writing notes for my students.  Write it once with markdown, get it published to web, pdf, epub and mobi… awesome)

I had actually started this project back in February.  I got to about chapter 3 and I hated what I was doing with it.   I felt that it was very wordy, too much reading, not enough getting to the fun programming parts.  I remember learning to program when I was a kid.  I didn’t want to read about how things were done.  I didn’t care about the background of BASIC…  I just wanted to write programs to make my computer do things.

After talking things through with Ben, we decided to take a different approach to our project.  What is the minimum amount of background info/setup we need in order to get started?   How can we allow someone to write code with as little setup as possible? It turns out that we only need to write about 3 paragraphs, include a picture guide, add a link to a video and use an amazing web based editor.

Sometimes, I teach introduction to programming and the first week typically involves explaining how to set up the development environment.  It takes time to do this.  How to get the compiler.  How to get an IDE.  how to claim your unix account.  Where to find your text editor.  The joys of pico/nano (don’t laugh too hard…it was the first editor I learned how to use on unix…)…vi, emacs, gcc, vs, xcode… its a lot of setup.  I know a lot of us take this stuff for granted but think about what happens when you get a new computer… getting your dev environment set up is not a fast process.  So, how do we simplify this as much as possible?  How do we get to the fun parts as quickly as possible?

It starts by choosing tools that will minimize the setup.  p5.js is a JavaScript library.  To use it, you need to get the library files from p5js.org.  You need to set up an html page and you need a JavaScript file to write the script in.  After you set up your html page, you actually generally do not modify it.   You only need to edit your js file so even though you absolutely need the html page its not actually part of the program you are writing.  For tools you typically need a web browser and an editor. This is not a lot… but if you are first starting or if you are in an environment where what you are allowed to put on your machines is limited every extra thing you need to do before you start coding makes it that much harder to start.

To help simplify this setup, we decided to use Mozilla’s Thimble editor.  It is an html/css/js online editor.   It also allows you to publish your work. By doing this, we eliminate the text editor (and if you want to publish your work, we eliminated the webserver too).  Using Thimble means that the only application we need is a modern web browser.

Furthermore, and this is the really cool part, using Thimble means that we can actually setup the basic p5.js project.  Ben and I created an account on Thimble.  We then set up thimble project with all the files need (the p5.js lib file, the html file and a stubbed out  JavaScript file for people to write in).  The JavaScript file contains some starter code for the p5.js sketch.  Thimble also allows us to write our own tutorials.  Thus, we can write instructions on what to do inside thimble.  We then publish this project (one button inside thimble).  We get the link off of the Remix button from the published page and put that link into our project book.  Each chapter of our project book contains a goal (typically an image) to show what we are aiming for.  This is immediately followed by a link to the related thimble project remix.  The remix contains instructions (typically where to write the code, what to write).  In otherwords, all you need to get started is to click a link!  No other setup.

The guide then continues on with more detailed explanations for those who want to know the why for each of the topics covered.  Towards the end of the guide, I added the chapters about how to setup your own sketch outside of thimble and some background material.

There is still a lot of work to be done on our guide for sure.  Currently we have only one very basic project.  We will add more in the future but I’m pretty happy with what we have done so far.  You can access our guide here

On a more personal note, I started the summer by helping my parents out for a bit at their restaurant.  Its very different from my usual job to say the least.  My part of the work was not really hard but the hours are quite long.  All I can say is how much I respect my parents for doing it.  I know how hard  they have worked all these years to raise my brother and I.  I am forever grateful.
I am also continuing to decorate my new place.  This summer’s decorating involved the balconies, one of the best features of my new place.  I grew some strawberries, some herbs, and some cherry tomatoes (why are the leaves drying out ? there is plenty of water. help!). I even put in a couple of chairs.

I also made a few pieces of pottery this summer mostly for myself.   One of them is this garlic jar.  I am rather happy with it.

garlicjar2

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End of Summer – Thank you!

This summer was a big one at for CDOT (Centre for Development of Open Technology).  We had almost 30 RA’s working on many many different types of project.  Yesterday was our final cdot presentation day for the summer.

For those unfamiliar, CDOT is an applied research group within Seneca College.  Over the years we have worked on many different projects related to open technology in various areas.  I am one of the faculty members involved with CDOT.  Projects tend to run over the course of a semester or two.  Students are hired either while they are studying or just after they graduate.

My team worked on projects related to 3D web graphics.  This summer I had two projects.  The first was a project with Box, to implement a 3D data visualization tool.  The second was with a Gorilla Productions.  The project was to implement realistic cameras for three.js.  (cameras that behave as real world cameras do).  In total I had 4 awesome research assistants working for me (Andrii, Barbara, Dmitry and Koji).  They have done a fantastic job on their projects.

However, aside from my two projects, CDOT also hosted many other projects.  One of the reasons the reasons that CDOT exists is to provide experiential learning opportunities to our students.  A chance for them to work on real projects and develop skills.  One of those skills is the ability to talk about their work.  Thus, each Thursday was we have “Demos”.  During that time, the teams will talk about their project and what they have been working on, problems they encountered, solutions they found.  Yesterday, was the last day and everyone had a chance to talk about thoughts of on their summer’s work.

Generally the comments were all very positive. However, there did seem to be a few themes that were shared by multiple students.  These were:

  1. Being surrounded by other very smart people working on interesting projects has helped them develop as programmers
  2. Demo days helped them learn from other teams even when they were not working on remotely the same thing.
  3. Demo days made them less nervous about speaking in front of crowds
  4. CDOT provided opportunities to work on something important with a great amount of freedom to design and implement their work
  5. CDOT experience has helped them to either find a job (a couple of students will start in new positions right after labour day) or the confidence that they will be able to find one shortly.

I truly believe that CDOT is one of those places that are unique and special.  We have students that do very interesting work on a wide variety of projects.  Our students are very bright, and I have always admired their ability to exceed my expectation.  Many of you have taught me things I did not know.  To all the RA’s at CDOT, know that you are the ones that make CDOT special.  When I see what you do, when I see what you have accomplished, I am reminded of why I teach.   Thank you!

Using git and github in your classroom

I wrote this for the ACSE mailing list about year ago and have passed it onto my colleague when they ask about using github for their classroom.  At the encouragement of another colleague, David Humphrey (he did a really good talk on git and github for fsoss2015),I’m going to post it to my blog to make it more accessible.

Using git and github for your classes

Firstly it is important to distinguish between git and github.

git is the open source distributed revision control system used by the Linux project. It lets you create a history of all your code.  You can send git repository around as zip files if you like.

github is a company that creates a nice place for you to put these repositories into the cloud so that you can much more easily sync and share these repositories without having to set up servers or send around giant archives.  It also provides things like access control, issue tracking, wikis, activity graphs and so on.  Very handy.

As this post is long, I’ll start with some links for quick reference on where to find/get stuff.  After that I have a section specifically for dealing with github, working together and git itself.

git client download: http://git-scm.com/downloads
git tutorial: https://try.github.io/levels/1/challenges/1
github gui: https://help.github.com/articles/set-up-git
tortoise git: http://code.google.com/p/tortoisegit/

About Github

github  has 2 types of accounts: individual and organization.
As a teacher, will need to make for yourself an individual account and an organization account.  Any individual account can belong to zero or more organizations.  For myself, I have quite a few different organization accounts.  One for each of my courses and one for my research group.

It should be noted that both types of accounts are free to use if your repositories are open source.  I have been using github as a place to put my in-class examples for students…and that is open source so I don’t have to pay for doing that…you can check out the repo for my data structures and algorithms course here.  I use the repository itself for code examples, the wiki for assignments and course documents (minus the notes… I prefer gitbooks for that).  I have not yet tried to do this consistently but I think the issue tracker in this case can also serve as a notification and discussion board.  You can check out the repo here:

http://github.com/cathyatseneca/dsa555-w15
github makes money by essentially charging for privacy so under normal circumstances they would charge some amount for some number of private repositories.   You can see their pricing plans here:  https://github.com/pricing

However, as an educator, what you can do is request for an organization account with X number of private repositories at some discount.    You can do so at this site:

https://education.github.com/

Typically they will want info about your school, number of students and so on.  The number of private repositories depends on how many students and how you plan to use the repositories.  So for example, if you have 20 students and they work in groups of 4, then you will need 5 private repositories.  However, if you have 20 students and they are working individually you will want 20 private repositories.   If you want both team and individual repos for some group work and some individual work, then you would need 25.    I also suggest asking for a couple of extras for yourself or for class material that you don’t want to open source.  In any case what you want to do is set it up so that your organization can have some number of private repositories that will suit your needs.

Aside from you setting up an account, your students must each individually create a github account.  Once that is done, have them send you their github ids.  They can get a free one.  They don’t need to pay for it as the private repos will be given to them through the your organization account.

Once you have created your organization, you can go to your organization settings and create teams.  A team consist of 1 or more individual.  As the administrator of the organization you will be able to see all the repos so if you forget to add yourself its no big deal.  Each team also has different access permissions.  Typically I would set up a student team for write access but not admin access.  If you are only planning on doing group work then set up each team so that all members are part of that group.  If you plan to do individual work or a mix of team and individual work then you will want to set up a team for each student.

Once you have the teams set, you can then create private repositories.  You can initialize them with an empty readme (or push some code up by following the instructions).  In any case once you have created those repos, you can give access to 1 or more “teams”  by hitting the collaborator button in the settings tab.
Only teams with access to private repos can see that repo.  So its a great way for groups to all contribute to a project because you can limit who sees what.  As a teacher, if each student actually submits their own stuff (and not email around and have one person do it) you can actually see their commits down to the line they put in through the blame button.

About collaboration

Getting students to unlearn the code collaboration method they had been working with for years is a definite challenge.  Putting in some best practices may be a good idea.  Here is something I wrote up for the students in my research team to help them do this:

To ensure that we are not going to step all over each others code, these are the steps we will use when putting code into  the repository:

  1. All commits should be accompanied by an issue. If there is no issue for your commit, please make one first!
  2. All commits should be put into a branch matching the issue number. Thus, if the problem the code is solving is described in issue 2, then the branch should be named issue2
  3. before pushing your code to github make sure you merge in the most recent code on master to your branch and resolve any conflicts
  4. push your code into the remote issue branch (if you want to work off your own fork then thats fine but issue branch on your fork)
  5. submit a pull request for the code that you have submitted but DO NOT merge that code yourself.
  6. assign someone else to review your pull request
  7. if you are assigned a pull request, test out the pull request on your local machine BEFORE accepting it. Do not just click the button. If there are any problems, comment and let the submitter know and have them fix it. If all goes well accept the pull request to merge into master

There are other methods out there… but you probably will need to invest some time to teach whatever that method is.

About git and git clients

git is a revision control system and it is part of all linux distributions so if you are running linux, you already have git installed (unless it is a really really old linux release).  For OSX git is installed as part of command line tools for xcode (if I remember correctly… on mavericks the first time I tried to type git at the command prompt, it installed those tools for me).  For windows, you can download it from:  http://git-scm.com/downloads

The above are command line tools for using git… and this is all you need for git and github.

You can learn to use git with this interactive tutorial: https://try.github.io/levels/1/challenges/1

Everyone tells me that gui’s are awesome… so github does provide some fancy gui clients for git (https://help.github.com/articles/set-up-git
).

Tortoise git is what one of my student use to swear by… so that may be worth looking at (http://code.google.com/p/tortoisegit/)

I tend to prefer the command line myself so I can’t speak to either unfortunately.

Anyhow, hope this is useful to others trying to figure this out.  Let me know what would make this even more useful for you

Trying out Clara.io

This summer my industry partner and I presented on Clara.io at SIGGRAPH 2013. It was a project that we had prototyped in CDOT and one that I had found to be very compelling to work on. As with many projects that begin their life at an academic institution, the work to turn the prototype into a commercial product is done by the industry partner. The smoothing out of the bugs, the improvements to the feature set etc. etc. etc.

I had not really used Clara.io since preparing for the SIGGRAPH presentation this summer and I was curious as to the improvements that have been made since I last used it. A student of mine was creating a model of the Master Sword from Legend of Zelda. It inspired me, to try my hand at creating the same sword inside Clara.io.

I used this image that I found of the sword as my reference:

 

And here is my model (I don’t have materials yet though…). Too bad wordpress.com doesn’t allow iframes though… would have been neat to just stick the embed code right in my blog 🙂

http://clara.io/player/3f539c4f-b0d6-4391-bfff-c06fab6606aa

First I’ll start by saying that I’m not really a 3D artist so any ugliness in the model is all due to my lack of skill, not a problem with the application. It wouldn’t look different if I had used another tool. The application was fairly stable in july but now it is even more so. I really liked the way the frame selection option adjusted my viewport when I had to do detailed work. The ability to select loop edges was really handy for this shape (adding edge on blade, creating the groves on the hilt, etc.). One of the things that I have always loved about clara.io is the idea that this isn’t a toy project. It actually works in a manner similar to professional grade tools with features like subobject editing. I’m really amazed to see how much more so it has become in the last few months.