Tag Archives: olm

Last Post Focused on Summer Work. Operation: Party Mansion Update!

Some good work this week.  Nelle, Severin and I have been hacking away at OLM, and little by little, it’s starting to shape up.

But I’ve decided something – I’m not going to post anything else about OLM on this blog.  That stuff will go on the official OLM blog, that all of us developers have access to.

You can view that blog, and my latest post on it, here.

So, I guess that more or less finishes my “summer work” posts.  I’ll use this blog to post about other stuff going on with me.

Stuff like Operation: Party Mansion.

Remember Operation: Party Mansion?  I mentioned it a while back, but I’ll recap for those of you who don’t know.

I’ve got two friends:  Julian Rabideau, and Joel Beck.  These two friends of mine are looking to buy a house in downtown Toronto.  They’re going to renovate, and improve the house, and I (with a few other friends) will rent under them while it’s going on.

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it?

I know what you’re thinking – “Big talk!  Good luck!”  But hold your horses:  there’s been a flurry of progress over the last week.  Joel and Julian have already managed to secure a sizable mortgage from the bank, and already have their eyes set on a property that meets/exceeds their requirements.

In terms of renovation, Julian is a certified Red Seal carpenter, and he’d been flipping houses for years in St. Catharines before coming to Toronto.  Renovation-wise, he knows what he’s doing.

Both have solid jobs, and already have tenants waiting to rent under them.

Did you pull a stunt like that when you were only 23?  I can’t think of anyone else I know our age who’s even remotely close to trying it.  Kudos to these two – it’s a big project, with big numbers, but so far it seems to be working their way.

Anyhow, the open house on the property was this weekend.  Photos were taken, and schematics were photocopied. All interested parties seem to be digging the proposed house.

Bids go in later this week.  Will they land the house?

I’ll let you know.

Summer Work: Week 1

For this summer, the Computer Science Department at UofT has hired me to continue my work on the OLM project.  Click on that link, or check out my other post about OLM to see what it’s all about.

I just finished my first week of work, and it finished with a long weekend.  Not bad.

And I’ve got a great team – I’m working with Severin Gehwolf and Nelle Varoquaux, both excellent thinkers, programmers, and collaborators.  Severin is a UofT student like myself, and Nelle has flown in specially from France (!) to work with us.  They’re great, and we’re going to get a lot done.

So what have we to show for our first week of work?

Well for starters, we’ve gutted the entire database schema of OLM.  We started right from the bottom, and worked our way through every component of the database, trying to figure out what we could cut, trim, expand, and refactor.

And there was plenty to do.  This version of OLM has been in the works for a while now, and there have been plenty of awesome people working on it – but there’s been a variety of Ruby/Rails/JavaScript experience, and the cracks show.

I, myself, came into this project with no Rails experience whatsoever, and while I think I now more or less get the drift, I’m still by no means an expert.  Anyhow,  I’m looking at my old code too, and kind of grimacing.

But the ideas are all there.  It’s like a big hunk of marble that a whole lot of people gnawed and chiseled at for a little bit, trying to make a sculpture.  After the big DB schema refactor, I think the whole team can sort of see the rough form of what this thing is trying to become, and now we just need to carve it out.  Luckily, instead of a few hours per week like the last few semesters, we get a full summer to focus on it.

So, with the DB refactor done, the first thing has been to redesign the models/controllers to play nice with our new database tables.  It was scary, because after the refactor, everything broke – but we’re working on it, and it’s slowly starting to come back.

We’ve also decided to switch the file storage back-end.  Up until now, we were using Ruby to organize a file system back-end to do simple versioning of submitted files.  One of our goals this summer, is to build an abstraction layer that will allow us to choose different options for this versioned storage back-end.  In particular, we aim to support Subversion.  That’s right – a web-based Subversion front-end that supports commits, and catches (but doesn’t resolve) conflicts.  It’s a fun thought.

I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting part of our project, and I’ll probably report on it more as it develops – but as it stands, it’s still being conceived on wipe-boards and scrap paper.

Anyhow, I’ll try to keep this blog up to date with what we’re doing.  Or maybe I’ll keep this blog up to date.  I’m conflicted.

Who knows, maybe this will be my last blog post of the summer.  I won’t lie – after working 8 hours on a computer, the last thing I want to do is come home and write a blog post.  If anything, my posts will probably wait until the weekends.

But we’ll see.

Hello Graduate School

Well, it’s official.  Today, I handed in my acceptance form for Graduate Studies here at the University of Toronto in the Computer Science Department!

Now I just need to keep my cGPA above 3.2…

Assuming that I get my B.Sc. without incident (because who knows, maybe the University will fight me for it…citing missing courses, insufficient credits, etc.  I’ve checked all of this with New College and the Drama/CS departments, but I’ve been here too long not to be ready for bureaucratic tom-foolery…), I think I’ve got an interesting year or so ahead of me.

This summer is already looking quite busy, but here’s what I’m looking forward to next year:

Interesting Courses

I’ve been leafing through the Graduate course calendar, looking for courses that sound good and fulfill my breadth requirement.  Here are the courses I’ve underlined as “interesting”.  Note that I haven’t checked the timetable at all to see if these conflict with one another.  They just sound interesting:

  • 2125H – Software Development Tools and Practices:
    This course is an introduction to software consulting practices. Students will be paired with clients whose problems require advanced knowledge of computer science to solve, and will then work under the direction of the course instructor to develop and deliver useful results. Topics will include requirements elicitation, scope negotiations, deployment concerns, and disaster recovery.
  • 2412H – Computer Algebra
    Algebraic theory that underlies symbolic and algebraic manipulation by computer. Chinese Remainder and interpolation theory, fast algorithms for computations with integers, polynomials and power series. Newton and Hensel iteration, polynomial and integer gcd algorithms, factorization of polynomials, the fast Fourier transform, solving systems of polynomial equations, Gröbner bases. The Maple computer algebra system.
  • 2426H – Fundamentals of Cryptography
    Rigorous definitions of security for pseudo-random generators, digital signature schemes, secure hash families, and public-key encryption.. Methods (including number-theoretic conjectures) for constructing these secure cryptographic primitives. Methods for using secure primitives to achieve secure session-key exchange and secure sessions.
  • 2511H – Natural Language Computing
    Introduction to techniques involving natural language and speech in applications such as information retrieval, extraction, and filtering; intelligent Web searching; spelling and grammar checking; speech recognition and synthesis; and multi-lingual systems including machine translation. N-grams, POS-tagging, semantic distance metrics, indexing, on-line lexicons and thesauri, markup languages, collections of on-line documents, corpus analysis. Python software.
  • 2529H – Computer Animation
    The primary focus of this course is on kinematic and dynamic techniques for character animation. Topics include physical modeling and simulation, motion planning, control and learning algorithms, locomotion, motion trajectory optimization, scripting languages, motion capture, and motion editing. Students will implement algorithms and interactive animation tools and then use these to produce motion for animations.
  • KMDI1001 – Fundamental Concepts in Knowledge Media Design
    Knowledge media are systems incorporating computer and communications technology that enhance human thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, and learning. Examples include the Web, email, instant messaging, knowledge management systems, digital libraries, collaborative virtual environments, video conferencing environments, and webcasting systems.
    This course reviews the emerging field of knowledge media design, and the use of digital media for communications, collaboration, and learning.

I’m also looking into the possibility of hopping (back) over to the Computer Engineering Department to see if I can take ECE568H1 – Computer Security.  My general dislike for engineering courses notwithstanding, this still sounds like an interesting possibility.

(Note to self:  the word “notwithstanding” just felt right to put there, but is that correct usage?  I have no idea…)


Well, it’s no surprise – a Master’s student is expected to produce a paper in order to graduate.  I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing my thesis on, but the number of possibilities is exciting.

It’d be nice to somehow merge Drama and Computer Science into a thesis – and I think it’d be an appropriate finale for my career here at UofT.  It’s something to mull over while I have time, anyhow.

Launching OLM

OLM is going up in the fall.  Whether or not I work on it this summer, as a TA, I’ll probably be using the software to mark and return student code.  “Eating one’s own dog-food” might be appropriate here – though I prefer, “eating the sandwich I just helped to make”.


A lot of my friends from the Drama department are either graduating in June, or staying on for one more year.  A bunch who are graduating are staying in the city, and the prospect of doing some work with them outside of school is exciting.

We’re all very spoiled here at the UCDP – modest budget, multiple rehearsal spaces, etc… working on our own stuff outside of school might be a very humbling experience.  Humbling as in, rehearsing in alley ways or rooftops, and using an audience holding flashlights instead of our own lighting grid.  Cool.

Operation: Party Mansion

This one is still in the works.  Some buddies of mine from highschool (who are also my roommates) are looking to buy some property in, or around downtown Toronto.

This may sound ambitious, foolhardy, and naive, but we’re serious, and a lot of legwork has already been done in order to get this moving.

Ideal scenario?  Next year, I’ll be living in a big house with my highschool buddies.  And isn’t that living the dream?

Anyhow, as I was saying, my Grad school papers are in, so my brain is going to put that on the backburner for a while.  Now I have to focus on my CSC301 midterm for this Wednesday, and an evidentiary analysis on CIA/JFK Assassination links for INI304.

OLM: What is it?

I’ve mentioned the OLM project a few times, and more than once, I’ve been asked:  “What is this OLM thing you keep talking about?”

So that’s what this post is for:  to provide a plain-English explanation of what OLM actually is/does.

Note: I can’t guarantee that the history of OLM is entirely accurate – I’m assembling this from hearsay, and personal accounts.  If there are any corrections to be made to this post, please comment or email me.

Part 1:  How it Used to Be

Computer Science students, at one point or another, have to computer programs for their assignments.  These programs are written in a myriad of languages (Java, Python, C, the list goes on…), and have to be marked by teaching assistants.

Originally, after students submitted their completed programs, the TA’s would print off the source code and write on the printouts to give feedback on how the code was written.  They would also use a rubric to grade the overall assignment based on predetermined criteria – which isn’t at all unusual in grading student work.

That’s how it used to be.

Part 2: The Birth of OLM

One day, the Computer Science Department at UofT decided that they wanted to write a web application for instructors to manage assignments, and to receive student submitted code.  They also wanted TA’s to be able to log in, and mark the code, almost as if they were doing it on paper.

So OLM (On-Line Marking) was born.  It was written in a web framework called TurboGears by a group of undergraduate students.

And it wasn’t bad.  It’s still used in the department to this day.

Part 3:  OLM is Reborn as…Checkmark…or OLM…or something

The original OLM has a few deficiencies.  The instructors who actually use it could probably rattle off plenty of stories about how, sometimes the client-side of the interface doesn’t entirely agree with the server, or little glitches that require diving into the database to fix.

Plus, the code-base is kind of a hodge-podge.  Not easy to extend, not easy to maintain…the framework that OLM was written on was no longer the “hot framework”, and there was little in the way of support.  Something needed to be done.

So it was decided that OLM would be recreated from the ground up, and would be an evolution based on the lessons learned from the original implementation.  It was going to be rebuilt in Ruby on Rails, and it was going to be awesome.

It was also going to be renamed.  The name “Checkmark” has been bounced around, but should really be more considered as a code-name.  The project is still referred to as OLM, or Checkmark.

(Just came up with a name idea:  MarkUs.  Note to self:  send name idea to supervisor…)

Part 4:  As it Stands

The new implementation of OLM is actually in pretty decent shape.  There are plenty of bug-fixes and unimplemented features, but a lot of the hardest stuff seems to be over – at least, in terms of matching the feature list of the original OLM.

And that’s important, because our supervisor wants this thing polished, tested, and deployed for the Fall term – and it’s got to at least match the original feature set of OLM, if not exceed it.

Part 5:  Want to See It?

If you want to see this thing, you have three choices:

  1. Catch me in person, and ask to see it.  If I have my laptop, I’ll give you a demo.
  2. Get it from our Subversion repository, and get it running on your own machine.
  3. Enroll in a CS undergrad course in the Fall, and who knows…maybe you’ll end up using it.

Anyhow, if there are any OLM related questions, or even some name ideas, please don’t hesitate to post.