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Computational Legal Studies

The Freedom to Tinker blog (a good read in its own right) points to a fascinating new blog where two University of Michigan grad students are applying computational information analysis and complex systems thinking to issues of law and government; this visualization of US Code Title 11 (the law governing bankruptcy) is just one nifty example.

Computational Legal Studies




We have become interesting in visualizing the structure of the law including its components and subcomponents. In reduced form, statutes, regulations and certain other units of the law can be characterized in graph theoretical terms. While we do not make deep inroads on the content of this above graph, we do generate a tree traversable visualization for its structure.

Much of my training in law school particularly in the so called “code-based” classes was focused upon developing mental models for the structure and content of graphs such as the one displayed above. In my case, I believe the usage of such a visualization early in a code-based course would have been beneficial. Thus, we offer this traversable visualization to the world for not only its research value but also for pedagogical purposes.

There are some fascinating ideas in government transparency popping up these days, mostly driven by individuals and small groups taking advantage of whatever information does manage to worm its way out into public view. Sort of the opposite of “Munge” (mash until no good), these folks mash until *good*.

Hopefully this will lead to expanded publishing of government data in tractable formats, and perhaps even a new acronym for Greg: how about CSCPS (Computer Supported Collaborative Political Science)?

Excellent article on the agile Product Owner role

Thanks to Adam for twittering a link to:

The product owner and the product-shaped hole – Why what the product owner needs to worry about isn’t in the product backlog

Everybody needs to read this – business folks for guidance as to what those crazy agile developers are asking you do do, and developers for what you need to help your business folks do.

I particularly like the quote

I happily served my time on this XP project as a developer. Although I felt the product concept and release strategy was flawed, it wasn’t my problem, the hole was in their side of the boat.

I think that’s one of the biggest problems with the silo-structured organization – all your incentives are to make sure the hole isn’t in your side of the boat, rather than keep the whole thing afloat.

Twitter twitter tweet tweet?

Anyone still listening, and using twitter? I realize it’s very 2008, but since when did I arrive for something early?

Hey! Anybody want a job?

I just managed to get a couple of positions posted for entry-level Java programmers. If you’re interested in working in health care, hop on over and apply:

If you know me, send a copy of your resume directly to me as well.

How can we tell when we’re done?

One of the key guidelines for an agile development team is that everyone agrees on what it means to say a particular task (typically a user story implementation) is “done”. I really like the definition given in InfoQ: Version Control for Multiple Agile Teams (via Jurgen Appelo)

So when a team member says that a story is Done and moves the story card into the Done column, a customer could run into the room at that moment and say “Great Lets go live now”, and nobody in the team will say “no, but wait”.

The rest of the article is a good model of how to manage branches in a medium-complex development environment; well worth the read for anyone working in a group.

Real World Requirements Gathering

I’m going through almost exactly this process right now: “<ping> Irving, I want you to build a Provider Portal…”

via Street Prophets: News from the Net
Noah and the Ark. Bill Cosby…

Pascal Meunier on Teaching Secure Programming

CERIAS Weblogs » Speculations on Teaching Secure Programming

Security is somewhat of a habit, an attitude, a way of thinking and life. You won’t become a secure programmer just because you learned of a new vulnerability, exploit or security trick today, although it may help and have a cumulative effect.

Interesting meditation on the festival of Las Posadas

I really should have posted this before Christmas.

Paxpdx, writing over at Street Prophets:

In Mexico tomorrow, families and neighbors will begin the traditional novena (nine days) in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, Las Posadas. For each of the next nine nights, the faithful will reenact Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to spend the evening so that Mary could birth Peace among us, Jesus Christ. Los peregrinos – the pilgrims – will go from home to home, only to be turned away at two homes before reaching the third, where they will be invited in.

The third entry had me sitting at my desk crying. It’s easy to say it’s “their problem” from up here in Canada, but we slam plenty of doors here to. This winter it was one of the seasonal farm workers that keep the farming economy of southern Ontario alive. He was diagnosed with cancer this past summer, and allowed to stay in Canada for treatment. However, when his children tried to get permission to spend one last Christmas together with him, his son’s request was denied. Fortunately, in this case, the media storm caused officials to reconsider and allow both children to visit.

The door is open wide for residents of the “first world”; they would not have needed a visa to begin with (though they still could have been arbitrarily denied entry by the border agent).

Nat Pryce has some good ideas about writing test code

Nat Pryce over at Mistaeks I Hav Made has an interesting series on writing test code, starting with Test Data Builders and then enhancing the technique with

This is the kind of stuff that makes me feel good about programming as a craft – the equivalent of having a master carpenter sit down with you and explain how to make a really clean dovetail joint.

Of course, the techniques he describes aren’t just for test code. I enjoy reading and maintaining applications designed with this sort of literate, readable structure.

Astronomy Pictures of the Year for 2007

The Astronomy Picture of the Day site continues to make the world a better place.

APOD: 2007: Astronomy Pictures of the Year for 2007

And they now have an RSS feed of their own (though it only shows thumbnails of the pictures):