Hard and Soft Documentation

A good poker player polarizes his hands. This means that, for example, they might play a check-raise (this means you first refrain from betting and then come over the top on your opponent—This is normally done to give the impression that you have a strong hand) when they do have a very strong hand or when they completely missed the flop (they have very bad cards and are just bluffing). Intermediate hands are played differently [1]

I think good software documentation is often also polarized: you should have hard documentation and soft documentation, but nothing in the middle.

Hard Documentation

This is low level documentation, generally. This is of the kind that a Unix manpage gets you. This tells you exactly what each function and each argument does. If it is good, it will often be very succint.

Mahotas has always excelled at this level. Here is the sobel edge function:

def sobel(img, just_filter=False):
    '''
    edges = sobel(img, just_filter=False)

    Compute edges using Sobel's algorithm

    `edges` is a binary image of edges computed according to Sobel's algorithm.

    This implementation is tuned to match MATLAB's implementation.

    Parameters
    ----------
    img : Any 2D-ndarray
    just_filter : boolean, optional
        If true, then return the result of filtering the image with the sobel
        filters, but do not threashold (default is False).    Returns
    -------
    edges : ndarray
        Binary image of edges, unless `just_filter`, in which case it will be
        an array of floating point values.
    '''

This is because I can remember the general ideas behind each function, but I might like to look up the exact arguments. So, every little detail is documented.

Soft Documentation

Soft documentation are tutorials and other higher level guides. They do not pertain to a single function or a single object, but to the overall structure and thinking behind the software.

Mahotas has not had so much of these, but I have been trying to add some over the past few months (Finding Wally, for example). Some more mahotas blogging might also help.

The Intermediate Level

I don’t care so much for intermediate level documentation. I rarely find that level helpful. Unfortunately, this is the level at which too much bad documentation is written. Stuff like:

This function is part of the image segmentation pipeline. It can be used after pre-filtering or directly on the raw image data.

Ok, sort of helpful, but not really.

[1] The reason for the randomness is that if you always do a single thing, people will catch on and exploit it (if you bluff a lot, people will call it; if you always have a strong hand, then you won’t get the added benefit of having someone try to call your bluff and give you even more chips). Intermediate hands should not be played like this because if the opponent pushes back, they probably have something that beats your intermediate hand. As always in poker, YMMV.
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