Another summer is over. The maples in my neighborhood are changing color and we just finished our third Google Summer of Code (GSoC) participation, the best ever. Like the previous two editions, GSoC has been a catalyst beyond the five project slots generously allocated to us by Google. GSoC has been more than money. More than an opportunity to attract fresh contributors and get things done. It has been first and foremost a transformational opportunity, making an inherently insider organization an open and outward looking one.
Google generously allocated five slots to us and this year we decided to allocate one of them to a smaller Open Source project. It seems to me that there is an ideal mentoring organization size (or at least minimum size) for GSoC participation. Smaller mentoring organizations require a similar amount of administrative effort as larger ones. Sharing is a way of enabling smaller projects to participate while limiting the burden on Google’s Open Source Programm Office.
There are many small Open Source projects in our related field, and in talks I had with them most expressed interest. I decided to work with Professor Sébastien Roy’s Vision 3D Lab at Université de Montréal and his LightTwist project for a few reasons:
- I needed to make a case to our community that sharing is in our interest. Indeed there was a very short discussion about LightTwist’s relevance to the Hugin community.
- Meetings and contacts between members of the Hugin community and of the Vision 3D Lab go back to Libre Graphics Meeting (LGM) 2007. We share a similar culture / attitude.
- Last but not least, I was looking for more academic contacts to promote GSoC recruiting efforts.
The experience worked better than expected. We even organized a joint display of Hugin artwork projected with Lighttwist at LGM 2009. I warmly recommend other organizations to do the same: Next year give a lift to a smaller project!
This was my biggest deception this year. I did put a lot of effort upfront – contacting professors at relevant faculties in my region and beyond. The turnout – at least for us – was zero. Recruiting is indeed our bottleneck. This year again we had more mentors than allocated students, so we rotated mentoring responsibilities. Our recruiting needs improvement.
One of the biggest question was to hire new students or returning ones? I am thankful to my fellow mentors for changing my mind on this one, and I hope our faithful returning students will forgive me. Initially I even convinced one of last year’s students to participate as a mentor. Then I asked him to submit a project proposal. Thank you, Tim, for your flexibility! Student’s life is IMO the most beautiful period in one’s lifetime, enjoy it while it lasts!
Three months are a short period. To make the most out of it candidates must be up to speed from day one. Following the lead of other mentoring organizations, we introduced qualification tasks. Despite some controversy amongst a few vocal students, it has worked well for us. Our goal was to determine basic proficiency with the tools. Other organizations, notably x264, have put more effort in the qualifying tasks so that they also determine if the candidate has the skill to complete the task. It may be more work, but it is definitely best practice IMO, and we should consider putting in this upfront effort.
Remote collaboration works better after a physical handshake. I interviewed all serious candidates by phone and try to organize as many face to face meeting with community members as possible. More by lucky circumstances than by design we managed to meet all students this year: two at LGM in Canada and three at a dedicated meeting in the UK. These meetings have been very productive. Even face to face meeting did not prevent us from failing one student, but they are useful and we should try to bridge physical distance in the future as well.
Our two returning students did not have to get up to speed with the code base and could take on more ambitious projects. And indeed they did, beyond my dreams and expectations.
James Legg, mentored by Bruno Postle, refactored code deep into the core to implement his new layout model. The model works. Minor quirks in specific situations will be fixed. This project corrects a design weakness, unintended heritage of the pre-HDR time.
Tim Hugent, mentored by Tom Sharpless, produced an automatic lens calibration tool. The calibrated lens model still need a lot of validation work through practical use in the field. The potential benefits are improved precision and, beyond panorama making (and Hugin) better images from less than perfect lenses. This project was the first step in an exciting new direction.
Lukáš Jirkovský, mentored by Andrew Mihal, brought deghosting (the removal of moving artifacts from multiple exposures) to the next level and made it available to enfuse, the preferred choice for photo realistic exposure bracketing. Also this project will continue after the end of GSoC.
Yulia Kotseruba, mentored by Sébastien Roy, added new blending algorithms to LightTwist, making it possible to extend the projection surface vertically and opening up new fields of uses such as dome projection or, given enough wall space, a low-cost high-resolution IMAX replacement. Work continues and will be published in a scientific review.
Last but not least a word about Dev Ghosh, mentored by Daniel German. Unfortunately we had to fail Dev because he had not achieved the agreed (and revised) milestone. To his credit he got the mathematics right – his MatLab implementation works. Chances are that the code will be implemented in our code base, sooner or later.
A big THANK YOU to all the students for their effort and dedication!
Update: The only reason to fail Dev was quantity. The quality of his work was excellent. Daniel has implemented it in Libpano and it may become the first chunk of 2009 code to be officially released, with the upcoming libpano 2.9.15.
We found the right recipe for this last year and we recidivate. During GSoC students focus on implementation. They will integrate their code after GSoC. As an encouragement, they will be sponsored a panoramic head from Nodal Ninja, an industry leader that sees the benefits of supporting Open Source software that drives sales of its hardware. At the time of writing, the first project has been already integrated in trunk. Thank you, Bill Bailey, marketing director for Fanotec.
On this year’s mentoring organization application form there was one interesting question about “criteria used to select community members“. This lead to some introspection, following which I drafted this community charter. Thank you, Google Open Source Program Office, for giving us food for thoughts.
GSoC projects have accelerated the pace of development. Our sequential development process with trunk freezes and long release cycles was no longer adequate. I’ve taken it upon myself to re-engineer it and at the time of writing we’re getting ready to release for the first time under the new, parallel process. I hope we can integrate and release all the code developed for GSoC 2009 before Christmas, and that our project team will increase it’s capacity to absorb and release code changes.
After graduating university I was offered a job at a company that I still admire (I accepted another job because it gave me the opportunity to expatriate). That company had a three year cycle: the first year you’re hired as a junior and trained on the job. if you did it well the second year your boss moves on and you put your imprint on the job, adding to it what you have learned. On the third year, you train a junior to replace you and if everything went well you’re promoted to the next job. This helped the company stay nimble and up to date. We need a similar attitude in our project. People come and go, and we need to groom the next generation of committers before the current generation fades out; and to document our processes and know how for the perusal of the next generation. GSoC has been a great recruiting ground and our next project leader may be amongst this year’s GSoC students.
Before our GSoC participations, joining Hugin was a steep learning curve. Still today we get consistent feedback from GSoC candidates and students that getting up to speed with the code base is the biggest hurdle they face. Things have improved. In 2007 with an SDK for Windows developers. In 2008 with the equivalent for OSX developers and with build documentation for different platforms. This year it was the release process, and there is more on the plate for the years to come – much of this thanks to GSoC. Thank you, Google!
Filed under: enfuse, Google Summer of Code, hugin, libpano, Lighttwist Tagged: | Andrew Mihal, Bruno Postle, Daniel M. German, Dev Ghosh, James Legg, Lukáš Jirkovský, Sébastien Roy, Tim Nugent, Yulia Kotseruba