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Why we use reStructuredText and Sphinx static site generator for maintaining teaching materials

Yesterday I was asked by Edvin Močibob, a friend and a former student teaching assistant of mine, the following question:

You seem to be using Sphinx for your teaching materials, right? As far as I can see, it doesn't have an online WYSIWYG editor. I would be interested in comparison of your solution with e.g. MediaWiki.

While the advantages and disadvantages of static site generators, when compared to content management systems, have been written about and discussed already, I will outline our reasons for the choice of Sphinx below. Many of the points have probably already been presented elsewhere.

Enabling HTTP/2, HTTPS, and going HTTPS-only on inf2

Inf2 is a web server at University of Rijeka Department of Informatics, hosting Sphinx-produced static HTML course materials (mirrored elsewhere), some big files, a WordPress instance (archived elsewhere), and an internal instance of Moodle.

HTTPS was enabled on inf2 for a long time, albeit using a self-signed certificate. However, with Let's Encrpyt coming into public beta, we decided to join the movement to HTTPS.

Celebrating Graphics and Compute Freedom Day

Hobbyists, activists, geeks, designers, engineers, etc have always tinkered with technologies for their purposes (in early personal computing, for example). And social activists have long advocated the power of giving tools to people. An open hardware movement driven by these restless innovators is creating ingenious versions of all sorts of technologies, and freely sharing the know-how through the Internet and more recently through social media. Open-source software and more recently hardware is also encroaching upon centers of manufacturing and can empower serious business opportunities and projects.

The free software movement is cited as both an inspiration and a model for open hardware. Free software practices have transformed our culture by making it easier for people to become involved in producing things from magazines to music, movies to games, communities to services. With advances in digital fabrication making it easier to manipulate materials, some now anticipate an analogous opening up of manufacturing to mass participation.

The academic and the free software community ideals

Today I vaguely remembered there was one occasion in 2006 or 2007 when some guy from the academia doing something with Java and Unicode posted on some mailing list related to the free and open-source software about a tool he was developing. What made it interesting was that the tool was open source, and he filed a patent on the algorithm.

Free to know: Open access and open source


Reposted from Free to Know: Open access & open source, originally posted by STEMI education on Medium.

Q&A with Vedran Miletić

In June 2014, Elon Musk opened up all Tesla patents. In a blog post announcing this, he wrote that patents "serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors." In other words, he joined those who believe that free knowledge is the prerequisite for a great society -- that it is the vibrancy of the educated masses that can make us capable of handling the strange problems our world is made of.

The movements that promote and cultivate this vibrancy are probably most frequently associated with terms "Open access" and "open source". In order to learn more about them, we Q&A-ed Vedran Miletić, the Rocker of Science -- researcher, developer and teacher, currently working in computational chemistry, and a free and open source software contributor and activist. You can read more of his thoughts on free software and related themes on his great blog, Nudged Elastic Band. We hope you will join him, us, and Elon Musk in promoting free knowledge, cooperation and education.

I am still not buying the new-open-source-friendly-Microsoft narrative

This week Microsoft released Computational Network Toolkit (CNTK) on GitHub, after open sourcing Edge's JavaScript engine last month and a whole bunch of projects before that.

Even though the open sourcing of a bunch of their software is a very nice move from Microsoft, I am still not convinced that they have changed to the core. I am sure there are parts of the company who believe that free and open source is the way to go, but it still looks like a change just on the periphery.

All the projects they have open-sourced so far are not the core of their business. Their latest version of Windows is no more friendly to alternative operating systems than any version of Windows before it, and one could argue it is even less friendly due to more Secure Boot restrictions. Using Office still basically requires you to use Microsoft's formats and, in turn, accept their vendor lock-in.

Put simply, I think all the projects Microsoft has opened up so far are a nice start, but they still have a long way to go to gain respect from the open-source community. What follows are three steps Microsoft could take in that direction.

AMD and the open-source community are writing history

Over the last few years, AMD has slowly been walking the path towards having fully open source drivers on Linux. AMD did not walk alone, they got help from Red Hat, SUSE, and probably others. Phoronix also mentions PathScale, but I have been told on Freenode channel #radeon this is not the case and found no trace of their involvement.

AMD finally publically unveiled the GPUOpen initiative on the 15th of December 2015. The story was covered on AnandTech, Maximum PC, Ars Technica, Softpedia, and others. For the open-source community that follows the development of Linux graphics and computing stack, this announcement comes as hardly surprising: Alex Deucher and Jammy Zhou presented plans regarding amdgpu on XDC2015 in September 2015. Regardless, public announcement in mainstream media proves that AMD is serious about GPUOpen.

I believe GPUOpen is the best chance we will get in this decade to open up the driver and software stacks in the graphics and computing industry. I will outline the reasons for my optimism below. As for the history behind open-source drivers for ATi/AMD GPUs, I suggest the well-written reminiscence on Phoronix.

On having leverage and using it for pushing open-source software adoption

Back in late August and early September, I attended 4th CP2K Tutorial organized by CECAM in Zürich. I had the pleasure of meeting Joost VandeVondele's Nanoscale Simulations group at ETHZ and working with them on improving CP2K. It was both fun and productive; we overhauled the wiki homepage and introduced acronyms page, among other things. During a coffee break, there was a discussion on the JPCL viewpoint that speaks against open-source quantum chemistry software, which I countered in the previous blog post.

But there is a story from the workshop which somehow remained untold, and I wanted to tell it at some point. One of the attendants, Valérie Vaissier, told me how she used proprietary quantum chemistry software during her Ph.D.; if I recall correctly, it was Gaussian. Eventually, she decided to learn CP2K and made the switch. She liked CP2K better than the proprietary software package because it is available free of charge, the reported bugs get fixed quicker, and the group of developers behind it is very enthusiastic about their work and open to outsiders who want to join the development.

What is the price of open-source fear, uncertainty, and doubt?

The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (JPCL), published by American Chemical Society, recently put out two Viewpoints discussing open-source software:

  1. Open Source and Open Data Should Be Standard Practices by J. Daniel Gezelter, and
  2. What Is the Price of Open-Source Software? by Anna I. Krylov, John M. Herbert, Filipp Furche, Martin Head-Gordon, Peter J. Knowles, Roland Lindh, Frederick R. Manby, Peter Pulay, Chris-Kriton Skylaris, and Hans-Joachim Werner.

Viewpoints are not detailed reviews of the topic, but instead, present the author's view on the state-of-the-art of a particular field.

The first of two articles stands for open source and open data. The article describes Quantum Chemical Program Exchange (QCPE), which was used in the 1980s and 1990s for the exchange of quantum chemistry codes between researchers and is roughly equivalent to the modern-day GitHub. The second of two articles questions the open-source software development practice, advocating the usage and development of proprietary software. I will dissect and counter some of the key points from the second article below.

Joys and pains of interdisciplinary research

In 2012 University of Rijeka became NVIDIA GPU Education Center (back then it was called CUDA Teaching Center). For non-techies: NVIDIA is a company producing graphical processors (GPUs), the computer chips that draw 3D graphics in games and the effects in modern movies. In the last couple of years, NVIDIA and other manufacturers allowed the usage of GPUs for general computations, so one can use them to do really fast multiplication of large matrices, finding paths in graphs, and other mathematical operations.