Ask Steve!

Have a query about software? The Institute can help! Does your software-related research need a kickstart? We can help with that too! Orginally called the AskSteve! blog, this service has been moved to our main site and now includes not only Steve Crouch's considerable expertise but advice from the rest of the Institute and its many experts on software and research. So, if you have a question, contact us now.

Whenever we have a software problem at the Software Sustainability Institute, we simply ask Steve. He’s our in-house software architect and all-round guru of code. Then we got to thinking: it’s selfish to keep such a valuable resource  to ourselves, we should make Steve’s knowledge available to everyone.

AskSteve has covered quite a few topics on general software development, but I recently received an interesting query about portal-based development in particular:

“We’ve been developing sets of portlets which gather information from different sources, run simulations and display the results in a variety of map and graph based methods. These have been developed using the Sakai portal infrastructure but we’d like to be able deploy the portlets in LifeRay and other platforms.

What should we be aware of when trying to port to another portal infrastructure,…

Last month Mike Jackson and I were tutors at a Software Carpentry event at Newcastle University. If you haven’t heard of the Software Carpentry project, it’s a great idea. It teaches scientific researchers a core set of useful, software-development skills, and uses short, intensive workshops followed by self-paced online tutorials. Anyway, during one of the practical sessions, the issue of when to optimise code came up. In other words, at what point should you optimise your code to make it run faster?

At a previous Software Carpentry course run by it’s project lead Greg…

It’s such a joyous time becoming a parent! Your software’s been conceived and is now going through an exciting and healthy period of development. You’ve fought your way through bouts of sickness and the odd craving (I’ll write it in… Malbolge*!!!), but everything’s on schedule. But wait… the delivery date is next week! Stay calm, remember your breathing and follow these top tips for delivering something wonderful into the world.

1 – Always release software with a licence – without a birth certificate, no one will know who the parents are.

2 – Waiting isn’t going to make…

We mention things you should do when developing software quite a bit. But we were asked an interesting question at the Software Sustainability Institute’s Collaboration Workshop this year: what things shouldn’t you do when developing software?

Come on, there has to be some. And there are – many! But let’s focus on five of the big ones…

1. Don’t develop code you can’t maintain

This has got to be high on the list. Code can turn into spaghetti from out of nowhere, and it’s always worth avoiding. Best to get into good habits early on in the…

Security in complex systems is always a tricky business. Consider production Grid infrastructures as an example. The intricacies of establishing working trust relationships between the users and the infrastructure, and between the systems themselves, is a mammoth task. Solving problems with such systems is also very tricky, as I’ve previously found when developing EU-wide Grid interoperability demonstrators of open standards. They appear like dragons: huge, daunting, and difficult to defeat…

“Programming is 10% science, 20% ingenuity, and 70% getting the ingenuity to work with the science.” – Anon

One of the big problems with research, particularly in these austere times, is finding the money to travel to all those great conferences. You miss opportunities to present your work, and you can miss out on discovering first hand what is afoot in your research field.

The great news is that if you use software in your research and you have a good understanding of what’s happening in your field, funding is available from the Software Sustainability Institute

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