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"The only frontiers are in your mind"
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Get Blogged by JoKi

Jochen Kirstaetter (2014)

The only frontiers are in your mind, welcome to my blog sphere. Your host at is Jochen Kirstätter aka JoKi.

Dive into the weird world of a professional Software Craftsman and follow his daily victories and struggles with modern technology at IOS Indian Ocean Software Ltd. Although living on a tropical island, I'm a business owner and entrepreneur in different industry sectors. Mainly operating in the development of tailor-made software solutions since more than 15 years, I also venture into the world of beauty and body care. You can either meet me at the weekly Code & Coffee meetups of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community or reach me on Twitter @JKirstaetter

This blog is also about Flic en Flac and the beautiful island of Mauritius, my home.

Sincerely, JoKi



Learn to Code in Swift: The new language of iOS Apps by Kevin McNeish
Recension 28 February 2016 - 

As a subscriber of a mailing list curated by Kevin McNeish I received his call to action around begin of December last year,

 Call for action: Review Kevin's book "Learn to Code in Swift"
Call for action: Review Kevin's book "Learn to Code in Swift"

and following his request I sent him an email that I'd be interested to read and review his title. Luckily, I was among the first 20 to respond and after some quick exchange of emails I had his book title "Learn to Code in Swift: The new language of iOS Apps" on my Kindle device.

Today, I left the following review on Amazon:

Solid content delivery of the concepts of Swift - Easy to understand

Frankly, I know Kevin since more than a decade, attended one of his five-days workshop, and he simply keeps on delivering solid, high quality content that is logically structured, easy to read and to understand. Despite being a seasoned software developer in other programming languages I was very pleased when Apple introduced their completely renewed and well-designed programming language Swift. And although I'm more focused on using C# on Xamarin to develop smartphone and mobile application I always like to keep an eye on other technologies. As Swift is surely one of them I thought to give Kevin's book a shot... And he has delivered as expected.

Only by looking at the table of content I knew that this is going to be a fun read. The book is actually structured like a set of full-day classes or better said a training workshop for beginners in Swift. It starts with the basic elements of Swift, then covers code workflow and finishes of with more advanced topics like closures and error handling. Throughout the chapters there are some samples which have some hidden gems (for those knowing Kevin, his family and friends more closely). Those samples put a smile on my face and gave me a couple of chuckles, like in chapter 10 when Kevin explains the handling of arrays in Swift using "well-known" names as array elements.

Unfortunately, I'm giving a 4 stars rating only for two reasons:

  • The amount of either typographic, grammar or contextual errors. The book version I had at the time reading had at least an error in every chapter. Some of them are quite obvious just by reading through the chapters, others are a bit trickier, ie. explanations in text don't match the illustrations or diagrams. Surely, the quality in this area could be better with a little bit of editorial activities.
  • Formatting issues and display of images or videos. Actually, I read the book using three different devices - a classic Kindle, an iPad mini using the Kindle app, and the web edition of the Kindle app. First, on the classic e-ink-based Kindle some of the images either didn't load at all or the display was too blurry or too dark to enjoy the visual appearance. Same applies to videos which wouldn't even play (but this could be due to my low-bandwidth internet connection). Second, after finishing 'Chapter 22: Generics in the Real World' you'll get the Amazon book rating screen despite two more chapters and appendices to read.

Luckily, these issues are easy to fix, and I hope that Kevin is going to provide an update soon.

I'd like to close my book review with a paragraph from the 'About the author' chapter which sums it up beautifully: "I learned that writing software is a very creative process. In just a matter of hours, I could conceive an idea, create a software design and have it up and running on a computer."

This book on learning how to write software in Swift is highly recommended.

Eventually, you might be interested to give it a shot right here and check out the free book preview of Learn to Code in Swift by Kevin McNeish.

Even though I develop mainly in C# and using Xamarin to develop iOS apps I have to admit that reading Kevin's book was very informative and helped me to get a better insight intormation to iOS application development in general.

   

 
Mauritius Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA)
User Rating:★★★★★ / 1
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General 07 November 2015 - 

Workshop on Open Data Readiness Assessment for Mauritius organised by the Ministry of Technology, Communication and InnovationAlthough Open Data is around since several years in other countries and has been initiated in Mauritius already back in 2012, it is only this year that there seems to be more momentum towards an Open Data initiative. Back in May 2015 I was kindly contacted by Alla Morrison, Program Officer at the World Bank, in regards of showing genuine interest in open government data for members of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community (MSCC).

Initial information and workshop on Open Data

As founder of a local IT community and representative of more than 250 software craftsmen I was positively surprised by this, and the message was circulated immediately. During the second week of June, the Open Data team of the World Bank held several public sessions. Actually, I managed to attend two sessions relevant for developers.

The first event was conducted at the Prime Ministers Office in Port Louis and focused mainly on the ideas, concepts and benefits of Open Data in general. The given use cases and success stories around Open Data were impressive, and it was very interesting to see that solid solutions can be provided by anyone interested to solve a specific problem.

Attendees of various IT user groups and communities in Mauritius at the workshop with the World Bank on Open Data in Mauritius
Attendees of various IT user groups and communities in Mauritius at the workshop with the World Bank on Open Data in Mauritius

Delegation of the World Bank during the workshop with local IT user groups
Delegation of the World Bank during the workshop with local IT user groups

During the second get-together, which was more like a workshop, the team wanted to know exactly what kind of open government data and datasets would be of interest for IT folks here on the island. Based on our requests and the talks to the various ministries in Mauritius the team at the World Bank conducted their Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA).

Open Data Readiness Assessment - Findings

Fast-forward to end of October, the Open Data team of the World Bank completed their assessment, and members of the MSCC and other organisations were again invited to receive information about the findings and the suggestions first-hand. This time the event was held at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre in Bell Village, and surprisingly there were fewer IT people this time. Nonetheless, it felt a bit like a press conference and taking notes as well as pictures during the various presentation had a touch of journalism... Even though I'm quite late on blogging about the topics I got a lot of answers to my questions and the general outcome of the assessment for Mauritius is positive. Surely, there are areas of improvement but overall it looks very promising for us developers to get our hands on open government data soon.

Other attendees like Ish and SM published their thoughts already earlier, so I won't repeat myself with those details but just give you a brief summary on the topics I'd be most interested in within the next couple of months. Frankly, here is what I asked Alla upfront via email:

"I started with the preparations of the Developers Conference 2016 - http://www.devconmru.org/ - recently, and I'd like to see whether it would be possible to have access to any datasets of Open Data in April/May next year in order to schedule a hackathon or app challenge during the conference days."

And the signs within the government of Mauritius are looking good based on the findings of the World Bank and seeing the increased commitment of the Ministry of Technology, Communication and Innovation (MTCI) makes room for a solid corporation and platform of exchange. Currently, there are 15 data-sets of Open Data already available from the Mauritian Government in a machine-readable format and properly licensed. An Open Data committee will be in place soon. Various activities to provide and promote Open Data are already planned.

Explanation of findings in the Open Data Readiness Assessment and Q&A session
Explanation of findings in the Open Data Readiness Assessment and Q&A session

In regards to provide access to open government data the World Bank has implemented a 5* rating of Open Data Formats. The Mauritian Government is on a firm way to a 3* rating as some datasets are already available in machine-readable, neutral open formats: CSV, XML, JSON, etc. First, publish "as-is" and then engage with the dataset users in order to improve the quality of information and optional the format(s) over time. Later on, adapt international-recognised data exchange formats based on the domain of information.

Advantages named by the World Bank

General public access and free available data sets of open government data carry these attributes forward:

  • Economic value: new business opportunity
  • Transparency / accountability: easy to analyse and reproducible reports
  • Data exchange across government: simplified access across governemnt departments
  • Data-informend policy making: decision are made based on applicable, relevant data

The team of the World Bank also reported about GDP improvements in other countries between 0.4% and up to 4% per annum by giving people access to Open Data.

ODRA findings

Mauritius is already well placed to implement an Open Data initiative. The government has commitment to provide open data and there is a strong demand by developers, private sector and researchers. Technically, the government already has a good fundament to publish statistical data in an open data format

Following are the findings in the 8 pillars of the ODRA

  1. Senior leadership: green/yellow
  2. Policy Framework: yellow  
    Concerns based on the activities of DPO since 2004 but no Freedom of Information (FOI) act. No clear information on policies and licensing of data. Cost of printed data and no clear handling of data release. Lack of clear guidance by the government.
  3. Institutional Structures & Capabilities: green
  4. Data Management Policies and Procedures: yellow  
    Lack of a comprehensive inventory of governmental data across the ministries. Statistics Mauritius has real capabilites and data management (also requested additional training)
  5. Demand for Open Data: green/yellow  
    Over 300 people have requests to develop apps using Open Data. Strong expressed data demand. ;-) Difficult to get access to Open Data from the government, ministries and agencies. Lack of engagement between the various entities. Improved interaction and active engagement by the ministries towards the user groups.
  6. Civic Engagement & Capabilities: yellow  
    Universities and colleges offer programs for ICT inclusive Big Data Absence of data journalism; no social media engagement Apps economy is at an early stage
  7. Finance: green/yellow  
    Although there are strategy plans to include Open Data there is no concrete, specific funding allocation of money for Open Data in place yet. The Smart Mauritius budget should cover those aspects and the government should consider to move towards using open Source Software.
  8. National Technology and Skills Infrastructure: yellow  
    Even though there is a technology infrastructure and high mobile penetration but with high broadband tariffs and ICT skills not meeting the market needs the findings have some reduction.

Implementation of Open Data in Mauritius

Working towards an Open Data Portal could / should be based on leadership by the MTCI; each ministry should opt for an "implementation cell" working closely with a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and the users of Open Data. The development of detailed policies "open by default" and exceptions, licensing, changes to charges and schedules is inevitable. Clear strategies for audience growth and users engagement are recommended within a short period. Also, the assessment suggests a release of so-called "quick win" datasets onto the existing portal early and the stimulation of hackathons or app challenges organised together with local user groups.

Datasets that could be made open data quickly by the government of Mauritius
Datasets that could be made open data quickly by the government of Mauritius

Those datasets could be ready in a couple of months and usable for any kind of coding challenges and hackathons. Crossing fingers that it will be. Of course, there are more datasets of interest and it will be our responsibility to ask for such information in a healthy dialog with the corresponding public bodies, mainly the Ministry of TCI.

The findings of the ODRA suggests to the government that any kind of data should be "Open by default" including clear definition of restrictions to restricted and sensitive data. Obviously, personalised information have to be anonymised by the ministries prior to grant general access. The necessary competence does already exist within the Ministry of TCI according to the commitee of the World Bank. Additional training among ministries could be conducted and a general guideline for all institutions could be defined, too.

The Open Data Readiness Assessment differentiates between access to information and access to Open Data
The Open Data Readiness Assessment differentiates between access to information and access to Open Data

The recommended license for Open Data is based on international best practice:

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Get free access to data, be able to share it freely, just give proper attribution of the source of the dataset. Existing data is to be included in the Open Data initiative even though it might have been "published" previously under closed data formats or inconvenient licensing. Sounds pretty good actually.

Let your users become your advocates... clear recommendation by the World Bank towards the Mauritian Government to provide open data and datasets in the right format(s) and to clarify the various demands by the private sector Strong encouragement towards hackathons and pro-active advertisement/notification of the OD portal and activities on OD datasets.

Various ways of capacity building:

  • Internships in the government
  • data journalism
  • bootcamps
  • data skills on all levels of the eductional system (primary, secondary and tertiary)
  • Big data concepts in curriculum of universities

Resources for OD users:

  • School of Data
  • Check the Open Government Data Kit of the World Bank
  • TED talks

Samples of active Open Data user groups:

  • Data{Meet}
  • Open Data Labs
  • Cafe de Data
  • OpenStreetMap
  • Code for Africa - a 'federated' umbrella organisation. @Code4Africa on Twitter
    • Data Liberation: "Scrape-a-thons" to collect and provide more data
    • Data Fellowships
    • Data Skills
    • Data Tools

What about "Code for Mauritius"? Idea for a new community around Open Data?

Outlook for Mauritius and MSCC

The findings of the readiness assessment of the World Bank were informative but brief. The full report is with the government and will be presented to the Cabinet during the next couple of weeks. Hopefully it will be published publicly in the near future. As for the MSCC, I had several conversations with key persons at the Ministry of TCI and the National Computer Board about ways of how Open Government Data could be helpful for future activities of the MSCC and how we can improve the dialog with public bodies in regards of more transparency and nourishment of local IT talent. The samples of success story from other countries were really inspiring and I'm very confident that similar results can be produced here in Mauritius. Given that data-sets will be available for free and under the right license anything is possible.

 
Launch Event: Windows 10 and Visual Studio 2015
Community 06 August 2015 - 

The month July 2015 marked two more great milestones in the history of Microsoft. First, on the 20th of July Visual Studio 2015 has been released and second, just a couple of days later on the 29th of July was the global launch of Windows 10. Both latest incarnations of world-wide known and used products coming from Redmond. Back at the begin of June I already got in touch with our local Technical Evangelist asking whether there might be any plans regarding those two activities. And the following weeks I bumped my questions here and there in order to see what's going on here on "Cyber Island". Finally, on the 21st of July I got an official invitation to attend the Windows 10 Launch:

Windows 10 official event invitation at Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands & French Pacific
Windows 10 official event invitation at Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands & French Pacific

No question whether to attend or not... 

Windows 10, Visual Studio 2015 and... Visual Studio Code

Yes, you read it correctly - Visual Studio Code, Microsoft's newly launched cross-platform text editor for quick and easy access to redefined code editing features. Surprisingly, Arnaud got in touch with me just some days prior to the event asking whether it would be suitable to actually do a presentation on Visual Studio Code - best running it on Linux, too. As I just wrote an article regarding an enhanced experience of using Code on Linux I agreed and all was set for the event to happen.

T - 30 minutes...

Even though it's officially after office hours and therefore after the usual rush hour in Port Louis, I didn't want to gamble on being late and left a bit earlier. Luckily, the short trip to the capital went smooth and it was quite fluid to drive, even in Port Louis itself. At approximately 18:00 hrs I finally arrived in front of Dias Pier Building at the Caudan Waterfront, and more or less bumped into fellow tweeter Cedric. Most interestingly it was the first time ever that we met "offline" but we recognised each other on the spot. Well, off to the Microsoft office then...

Some of the Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) were already around and it seemed that another technical session on C# development was still in full swing. Great, lots of geeks and familiar faces around. Next, I spoke to Arnaud and we checked the schedule of sessions for the evening quickly. Cool, my session on Visual Studio Code is going to be the sugar icing on top of a promising evening - last one! As there was still plenty of time we went to check the available equipment for the presentation, and the fun started. As I'm using an older HP laptop running on Xubuntu 15.04 with a VGA output only but the projector didn't want to accept this input source we had to look for alternatives in order to give the audience some first hand experience with this awesome editor. Well, using an USB-HDMI converter based on DisplayLink wasn't properly recognised by the kernel and I didn't want to go through some of the pain I had with an external USB display, I suggested that I'm going to run the demo on a virtualised environment on my main machine. Luckily, I still had a freshly installed Xubuntu 14.04 as an image. Based on my own step-by-step guide and after transferring some source code folders I was ready for prime-time.

Lots of professional networking and expert exchange during the Windows 10 event
Lots of professional networking and expert exchange during the Windows 10 event

Networking before, during and after the presentations

Honestly, it's always great to attend social events for software developers, eh craftsmen. Those unique opportunities to meet with other geeks in the field are undeniable and there should be more events like this throughout the year. Apart from getting introduced to new peeps and got quite a number of questions regarding the past and future Developers Conference. Surely, the event back in April was a great success and personally I'm very pleased with the outcome especially after a short preparation time of less than 4 months. Right now, there are already plans and small preparations in the pipe for 2016, more to come soon.

Also, please read the blog articles from other fellows attending:

They wrote a bit more about the details of the sessions of the evening. I'm going to spare you with that one... ;-)

Talking about Visual Studio Code

Well, it was more or less just a cameo session of roughly 20 minutes. Actually, I went quickly through the steps of acquiring Code from the official website, gave some details about the nature of the application. Code itself is written in TypeScript using web-based technologies which are then hosted in the cross-platform compatible Electron shell which runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems. Next, there were the steps from my guide, and after showing the shortcut entry in the main application menu it was time to fire up Code itself.

Showing source code of an AngularJS web app with controller and partial view next to each other in Visual Studio Code
Showing source code of an AngularJS web app with controller and partial view next to each other in Visual Studio Code

Thanks to the high quality even at this early stage of Code there were no surprises and I showed some features, like the usual syntax highlighting capabilities of a variety of programming languages, the builtin image and icon display, as well as the neat integration of git client. Using the AngularJS source code and the partial views in HTML of the website of the developers conference I also demo'd the split view feature of Code. Which is actually pretty handy to have controller and view source code next to each other while developing your web sites or web applications.

And last but not least, I switched virtual desktop and showed the last two, three features in Visual Studio Code on Windows, too. Just to demonstrate that the UI and user experience is identical between operating systems. Code is surely a great tool for mixed teams of software and web developers. Eventually, you might also have a look at the options to customise your key bindings - just to make it more comfortable to your personal taste.

Thanks

After the launch event of Windows 8 back in October 2012 where I met Arnaud Meslier first time there had been some great development in terms of ICT here in Mauritius. Apart from the activities of the Linux User Group of Mauritius (LUGM) and the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community (MSCC) there are more and more opportunities for like-minded people to meet and exchange offline. Apart from the introduction of great products and tools this evening, it was a pleasure for me to have a wide range of chats with other geeks.

Thanks, and the next event is hopefully staged already... ;-)

 
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