Newbies also contribute to open source!

Programmer at work
By Crew crew – https://unsplash.com/photos/4Hg8LH9HoxcImageGallery, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61684334

As a starter in programming, once one encounters the world of “open source”, it can be daunting, if not impossible to contribute to projects. Of course, you’re just starting out and can barely construct a working program in the language you are currently learning.

So, do I have to wait until I am proficient or an expert in my favourite programming language, before I can contribute to an open source project? How can I be a active in the community, and not an onlooker, from the very start?

Easy. Documentation.

I don’t know about others but from my experience, software documentation is often lacking in quantity and quality. I guess because programmers are focused first and foremost on developing working programs, the documentation, manuals, help files, etc. end up having quite a few mistakes, errors and inconsistencies.

So, if you’re new to programming, you may not be able to immediately submit code to that project, but you can always help to improve the documentation. I assure you, this is one area where you can really really make yourself useful, and distinguish yourself as one who brings some value to the table. ‘Cos the documentation is a very important part of any good project.

So, dig in. Clone that GitHub repository and fix any problems you find in the manual.

(Fix)TFM.

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I uninstalled the Twitter app

Twitter is a sinking ship.

Honestly I’m sick of it. The toxicity. The lies. The biases. The censorship. What started as a fun platform has turned into a daily, waking-hours nightmare.

I remember how I started out on Twitter, back in 2009. At the time, I and one of my friends on MySpace, who was an aspiring model, continued sharing our thoughts on the site. At the time, she wasn’t too sure of her looks and I assured her that she had what it takes to make a good career. And she did make it big time. But she’s since been suspended on Twitter — maybe for showing too much flesh. I won’t mention her name for obvious reasons.

Twitter has not been a very positive experience for me in 2020. The role it has played in silencing valid dissenting medical opinion on the COVID-19 response is what I found most repulsive. I am particularly offended by their censorship of tweets about valid research that do not fit a certain narrative.

The deliberate suppression of tweets on damning information on one of the U.S. presidential candidates is also unforgivable.

Frankly, I’m done. I’ve decided to pull back, first by removing the Twitter mobile app. I will remain active on the platform but on a more impersonal note. I don’t think the site can survive too long anyway. There is no trust anymore and even the beneficiaries of its antics know this.

I remember how we used to complain about porn and terror on Twitter. Nothing much was ever done about it – basically it boiled down to free speech and we just decided to live with it. “Face your tribe and ignore the stuff you don’t like” was the approach we followed. Nowadays, the woke brigade at Twitter will flag a tweet that says “only females can have cervical cancer”. Balderdash!

For me it’s time to scale down. Thank God I don’t have a million followers, so it’s going to be easy to disappear altogether, soon.

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You are You, no matter what may be

In the early days of my professional life, as a young clinical officer working for a private hospital group in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, I had this funny experience. The hospital had this doctor’s resting room, where we would catch a quick nap during night calls. The room was pretty cosy and had this wonderful air-conditioning unit that would hum ever so softly as it cooled both the body and the nerves (I hated night call duty so much).

Unfortunately for me, a cockerel also loved the air-conditioner, that is the warm section outside of the room. So every night he would cuddle there. Not that I cared. But as my nerve-racked self sought respite in my slavish condition, some time between 3 – 4 am, this Mister would begin to crow. And believe me, crow he could. The first day it happened I woke up with my heart pounding, because of the volume of the sound (this cockerel was pretty big), which was worsened by the proximity of the head of my bed to the air-conditioner. When I realized what was really making that awful noise, I ran outside and saw the huge bird perched on the rail of the air-conditioning unit and promptly whacked it with my slipper and chased it off.

Feeling good with myself, I returned to my chambers to continue my dream from where I was so rudely interrupted by my feathered friend.

Then “Cock-doodle-doooo”! It happened again, only, this time around, much louder (apparently he was just tuning up when he woke me up the first time). I ran out again. WHACK!!!

Suffice to say, I didn’t get to sleep again that night. Or the next time I was on night duty. Or the one after that. Until, I presume, the owner of Mr. Cck needed his presence for dinner…As I thought about this, three things came to my mind: Every creature, including we humans, is made for a purpose. Your purpose is defined by your potential. Your potential is expressed in your assignment, your passion. Your passion may be attacked but it cannot be extinguished by anything, including external threats as long as there is breath in you.

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Why you need your own space on the Web

The other day I encountered a tweet by a well-known Norwegian C++ programmer, Patricia Aas on Net Neutrality and we exchanged a few mentions regarding that very topic. She was trying to make a case for the use of web browsers over apps, citing serial abuse by app owners.

These days, social media platforms seem to have come to a head. The era of innocent social media fun and banter seems to be over. The violation of this innocence probably began with the Arab Spring, when Twitter rose to prominence as a powerful tool for political activism. During the rise of ISIL, and then ISIS, merchants of death began to make audacious appearances on the same site. Then came the US 2016 elections and the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica affair, which resulted in much hue and cry about election interference.

Social media is toast. All the same, we still flock to the watering holes, most of us oblivious of the crocodiles that lay in wait (or perhaps many are just too thirsty to even care).

Nowadays social media giants wield a lot of power, power that they derive from other people’s data. I am not saying that they are doing any thing wrong. I am convinced that the onus lies on the users not to do themselves a disservice when they totally trust and depend on these companies. It seems we are in a time where people simply refuse to accept responsibility for they own lives.

And this is why many have lost out. How many, like me, lost all their data after MySpace was sold? What about all the time invested in Google Plus? How many remember how Facebook vowed not to mash up WhatsApp data with that of the parent company, only to break that promise a few years later? Some people get banned or suspended for their harmless political views, simply because some “fact checker” at a company disagrees with them — does something have to be consensual before being accepted as a fact and how bland is social interaction without dissent?

Am I advocating the avoidance of social media sites? Absolutely not. That they have done us all a good service is not in doubt. After all, this post is written on WordPress.com, a social blogging site. What I am saying is that we, the consumers, need to start playing smart with our use of these services. There are 2 simple things I have started to do that could help:

  1. Have a strategy for regularly backing up ALL your data from social media sites.
  2. Develop your own space. Start off by buying a domain. Host your own website — and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy — and work to mirror your social media content

What do you think?

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

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Another Excel Horror Story

I was trying to create a list of officially approved Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) in Nigeria. After jotting down what data I wanted to collect and creating a schema, I paused to decide on how to initiate the approach. I wanted to first of all have it as a CSV file and then figured that the cheapest way to start would be to be “graphical” about it. I opted to go for MS Excel, since I could easily save the results in the desired format. After all, I’m an Office 365 subscriber, so why not give it a try?

If you know anything about me, you are probably aware of my aversion to Excel. After a long romance, our separation was both violent and traumatic. But today I said to myself that I would not be unduly nasty and give it a shot. I told myself, there is no doubt that Excel is a great application and it’s used my millions with great effect.

I found the website of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the page that lists the HMOs. Good. I could have two windows open, the web page on the left and Excel on the right, plug into some good music and in a few minutes of copy-pasting, I should be able to acquire the data.

After a few minutes — and when I got to the phone numbers — Excel started off with one of our old quarrels. Somehow, we could never get to agree on how to handle phone numbers. First, it turned the numbers into scientific notation. Then I tried to set the input type from “General” to “Text” to allow, leading zeros. Then I had to click on the action prompt to indicate that I didn’t want formatted text. Even though I applied my settings to the columns that were to accept phone numbers, whenever I hit the next row, I had to start all over again. Arrrrrgh!

I now chastised myself for thinking that Excel was a changed person. How stupid I was! So I had to vent…

Sometimes we do silly things but don’t know why. This was one of them. I’m reasonably comfortable with R, and practically kicked myself knowing that with the rvest package, and a little peeping around for HTML tags and/or CSS selectors using the SelectorGadget, I could more efficiently grab the data I so badly needed.

Here’s the code I eventually used to get the job done:

library(rvest)

nhisHtml <- read_html("https://www.nhis.gov.ng/hmo-contacts/")

tableTag <- html_nodes(nhisHtml, "table")
tblElements <- html_table(tableTag)
myDf <- tblElements[[1]]
write.csv(myDf, "data.csv")

What on earth was I thinking to even attempt using Excel for this task?

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