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Programmer Steve Losh has written a lengthy explanation of what separates good documentation from bad, and how to go about planning and writing documentation that will actually help people. His overarching point is that documentation should be used to teach, not to dump excessive amounts of unstructured information onto a user. Losh takes many of the common documentation tropes — "read the source," "look at the tests," "read the docstrings" — and makes analogies with learning everyday skills to show how silly they can be. "This is your driving teacher, Ms. Smith. ... If you have any questions about a part of the car while you’re driving, you can ask her and she’ll tell you all about that piece. Here are the keys, good luck!" He has a similar opinion of API strings: "API documentation is like the user’s manual of a car. When something goes wrong and you need to replace a tire it’s a godsend. But if you’re learning to drive it’s not going to help you because people don’t learn by reading alphabetized lists of disconnected information." Losh's advice for wikis is simple and straightforward: "They are bad and terrible. Do not use them."

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Jacob Kastrenakes

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One of the biggest personal data collectors around is getting ready to open its vaults to the public. According to Forbes, you'll soon be able to request your personal files from Acxiom, a marketing company that holds a database on the interests and details of over 700 million people. That database reportedly holds information on consumers' occupations, phone numbers, religions, shopping habits, and health issues, to name a few. That data has traditionally been given only to marketers — for a fee, of course — but Acxiom has decided to let consumers peer into its database as well. Whether individuals will have to pay too is still up for debate, but it's been decided that a person can only view their own file.

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Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange

This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites.

Java developer Stijn Geukens is working with 10 developers, and nearly every dev has his own style. That's about to change, as the company may soon impose a standard code format upon all developers. They'll be using Eclipse to help facilitate the change. But is forcing consistency upon the team more trouble than it's worth? See the original question here.

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Carl Franzen

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It's tough to be a parent of an adolescent these days. Just as parents have caught on to the fact that some of their precious youngsters may be using Snapchat to send each other sexts, it turns out the teens have already moved on to another potentially scary online service, called...Ask.fm? That's at least the picture painted by a new report from CNET, which profiles Ask.fm, a Formspring-like question-and-answer site, and its 57 million unique users, half of whom are under the age of 18. The content users post reveals many typical teen-oriented topics, from inside jokes and gossip to puerile questions about sex. But like many other semi-anonymous places online, Ask.fm also features more troubling material, including posts on self-harm,...

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Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange

This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites.

Consistency vs. best practice: they are two competing interests any time a dev is working on legacy code. If LINQ hasn't been used previously, should it be used today? "To what extent are patterns part of code style," Robert Johnson asks, "and where should we draw the line between staying consistent and making improvements?"

Robert Johnson continues: "With the hypothetical LINQ example, perhaps this class doesn't contain it because my colleagues are unfamiliar with LINQ? If so, wouldn't my code be more maintainable for my fellow developers if I didn't use it?"

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Jacob Kastrenakes

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The FDA is investigating the safety of a surgical robot that was used in 367,000 procedures last year, following the documentation of a slew of potentially dangerous errors, reports the Associated Press. Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci system, a three- or four- armed robot remotely controlled by surgeons, is now in nearly a quarter of US hospitals, but an increasing number of reported potential mishaps — about 500 since last year — has caught the FDA's attention. Though there's no official results of the investigation yet, an FDA spokesperson told the AP that the increased quantity of incident reports may simply be a matter of better practices by doctors as they become more aware of the new tool. We've reached out to Intuitive Surgical...

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Aaron Souppouris

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Using a new TV, smartphone, or computer for the first time can be a disorienting experience for a lot of people — the modern gadget has so many functions, buttons, and options to memorize and master, novice users don't know where to begin. In an article for Fast Company, designer Philip Battin draws inspiration from videogames to pitch a novel system with an achievement / XP paradigm to help people get to grips with their electronics. Giving the example of a Samsung Smart TV, Battin proposes only giving people access to a select few functions at a time. Starting with basic volume-changing and channel-switching targets, users would gradually be introduced to the program guide, wi-fi settings, app installation, and DVR functions....

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Making a good mix for a party or workout is serious, time-consuming work, so why not throw some data analysis and computing power at the problem? MixShape takes Spotify’s vast music library and couples it with some heavy data analysis from The Echo Nest to give you a graphical representation of the high-energy peaks and down-tempo valleys of a given playlist. Once you have a base to work from (either your own Spotify playlist or one that’s automatically created for you), you can tweak the "flow" and duration of the mix, and Mixshape will automatically add, subtract, and rearrange songs to give you what it thinks you want to hear. The project is sponsored by Microsoft, which created a custom touch interface for it on IE10, although...

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