Educating Verity

A breeze is riffling academia's pubic hair

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My analysis

So what did you make of that? I made nothing at all of it [like this]:

Open source projects that are too platform-specific aren't good either. [Use of 'either' here implies that the previous paragraph discussed an alternative - most likely open source projects that are NOT too platform-specific. It doesn't. Nothing remotely like it. I swear.] For example, [Aha, a clarifying example] many open source content management system developers have based their spawning, multiple (often competing), and derivative projects [Ooh goody, we're playing Pile Up Adjectives: spawning, multiple (often competing), derivative and ginger. Your turn] on a single platform [Still banging on about that single platform, I see. I bet we are going to find out why it is a problem in a moment. Pass me the chocs]. To develop them into useful applications [Sorry, are they not only spawning, multiple (often competing), derivative but also not useful? Where did that spring from? How did you sneak that one in?] requires excessive, code-based customization. While extensibility is important, [What? What? How did we start discussing extensibility? I thought we were discussing platform specificity. By the way, have we had the example yet?] customers expect to see the inclusion of core features, together with the ability to configure key settings. [So why won't their expectations be met? What is it about being platform-specific that has anything to do with the inclusion or otherwise of core features?]  Open source components with low code volatility, ['There's a funny smell in here!' 'Excuse me, it's my code. It's a bit volatile.' Yes, I know; but if they mean 'it doesn't change much', why not just say so, for heaven's sake?] high platform heterogeneity, [Hello - are we lapsing back to the nominal topic?] and high configuration and optimization space are the best choices. [Nope.] Robust test cases [Please tell: what is a 'robust' test case? As opposed to a 'delicate' test case, I suppose] and user credibility are other dimensions developers must consider to identify the right components. [First 'optimization space', now 'dimensions'. Giving us both barrels today.]

Protracted analysis of this and many other similar passages benefited me not at all. I began to panic. I printed Open Source Reuse out and spent hours reading it with furrowed brow and moving lips, and annotating its margins liberally with comments such as 'What?' and 'Eh?' and 'Huh?'. Didn't help. I experimented with its odd language in conversations with colleagues ('Your test cases are looking very robust this morning, Brian'), but they were baffled too. My OU tutor also blew me out; he volunteered that he hadn't 'read the paper in detail yet'.

You will think me silly, but I got really worked up about this. I began to wonder if I had not bitten off more than I could chew with this whole OU business. It seemed to me that if could not make head nor tail of more or less the first thing I had been given to read, I should perhaps give up and tackle something more my level - say GCSE Wii Computing for Media Studies.

So it was in the small hours of one morning that I began to Google phrases from Madanmohan and De''s paper. My idea - fairly desperate, but there you go - was to see if I could find somebody else using the same words, but in a comprehensible manner. I started off trying to discover if phrases that appeared in Open Source Reuse had a technical meaning not immediately apparent. I had no luck with this, so after a while I began googling longer sentences, including some from the passage I have just quoted to you. 

Always call it 'research'

I can't remember, now, the exact phrase that led me to Tony Byrne's article Open-Source CMS: Prohibitively Fractured? on the CMS Watch site. But something, perhaps 'spawning, multiple (often competing)', led me to this:

Many leading open-source CMS projects have resigned themselves to becoming development "platforms," spawning multiple (often competing) derivative projects to undertake the difficult work of actually fashioning products that will appeal to real business users. To be sure, building a good platform is hard, too. It takes a lot of architectural savvy, trial and error, and constant refactoring. (Certain Apache projects fulfill important lower-level functions and properly remain platforms rather than polished products.) But a platform doth not a CMS application make.

This trend is ironic, because much of the criticism of bloated or failed CMS projects has centered around the commercial products involved being too "platform-oriented" and therefore requiring excessive, code-based customization to convert into practical CMS applications. Extensibility is important, but savvy customers expect to see the inclusion of core features, together with the ability to configure key settings via simple browser interfaces.

It seems familiar, does it not? Except this time, the words are arranged in such a way as to convey meaning. 

For example, in Madanmohan and De', the phrase 'to configure key settings' is one of those dangling, sounds-as-though-it-means-something-but-not-quite-sure-what phrases with which their paper abounds. Tony Byrne's version makes things clear: you must be able to configure the damn software with your browser, rather than faff around with a text editor, or write more code. By deleting the key words 'via simple browser interfaces', Madanmohan and De' convert a straightforward observation into a non-committal abstraction. 

I should point out, because you are bound to be wondering by now, that Mr Byrne's article is dated May 2003, whereas Open Source Reuse was published in the November/December 2004 issue of IEEE Software. Mr Byrne is not cited in the Madanmohan and De' paper.

After this I got interested. The next paragraph in Madanmohan and De' turned out to be hacked out of another passage of Mr Byrne's, with a sentence in the middle bizarrely plucked from a much earlier paragraph. As before, the boys from Bangalore made an exemplary job of murdering the meaning, while allowing technical words to live.

I went back to the paper, and started googling other dubious-looking passages. A bizarre earlier section (although very readable by Madanmohan and De''s standards) caught my eye; it claimed that the surveyed companies used, among other things, artificial intelligence to locate open source code. 

Just think about that for a moment. 'Which open source programmer's editor do you recommend, K9?' 'I hear Notepad++ is very good, master. I have transmitted its url to the Tardis's browser.' 'Good dog, K9!'

I googled diligently, and discovered this pdf presentation. This (earlier, uncited) publication by a group of Spanish and Italian academics lists various techniques for locating open source code (with no claim that they were in commercial use). Madanmohan and De' present this list as their own - indeed as their own results, established by their survey.

Two hits felt like enough. I retired to bed, triumphant.

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