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    Ludovico Magnocavallo
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Dropline Gnome + Friday Theme

7 giugno 2003

Today, being Saturday and being my gf away until tonight, I finally managed to download Dropline Gnome and install it on my Slackware 9.0 notebook.

The dropline packages are a little more than 250Mb and they download and install flawlessly with the dropline installer. I do not know why I stopped using Slackware sometime in 1996 or 1997 for RedHat, it is so much faster and leaner.

Well, back to Dropline Gnome. After having downloaded everything, I dropped in single mode and got out to do some stuff. When I came back later all the packages had been properly installed. I only had to recompile freetype after enabling the bytecode interpreter, and everything is as it should be, only better than before. It’s really amazing how much Gnome keeps improving.

Friday theme

I also installed the new Friday theme I downloaded after following a news item on FootNotes instead of my usual Metabox theme, and I like it a lot. I took a screenshot of my plain (but uncluttered) desktop

Now if only I could get google search back in my Mozilla location bar….. =)

update: found a partial solution by inserting:

user_pref("keyword.URL", "http://www.google.com/search?q=");

to my prefs.js file. It works but in a different way from what I’m used to: instead of dropping down a list it goes straight to google…..

update2: grrrr when one is dumb……I only had to select a couple of checkboxes in the Advanced settings of the Location Bar.

Hurry Up!

6 giugno 2003

Looks like I really need to start coding on my alternative to pybloxsom. I took an instant dislike to pyblosxom when I sent a very small patch to make it run under mod_python to its author.

He made a few changes (not noticing that the content_type for the rss was set to text/html) and promptly posted a news item announcing the patch, saying that it was sent by a kind soul.

Well, this kind soul has a name, and is not so kind usually, or so people say about me. I do not need publicity, and it was just 6 lines of code, and kind soul takes less time to type than my name (which is pretty long, I agree), but credit should be always given, unless the person receiveing it decides not to.

The dislike was augmented (but this may be my usual wannabe hacker attitude that makes me want to rewrite 80% of the Web apps I stumble upon) by looking at the code.

Now I notice that all entries are displayed on the front page, or so it seems. Hmmmm better hurry with the coding =)

PyMeld

6 giugno 2003

Found a reference to PyMeld in a comment to a weblog entry discussing Web templating engines (which has been a favourite topic of mine ever since I started programming for the Web).

PyMeld is a Python templating engine for XML/(X)HTML that uses id attributes in tags to present them as objects to the programmer. Sounds too good to be true? Looks like it is.

The examples are self-explanatory, and the API is very simple and pythonic. It does not have the advanced functionality of, say, TAL and MeTAL but IMHO the dumber a templating engine, the better. Logic should stay in the code, not be hidden (often by conventions or layers of conventions) inside the template/templating engine.

One of the cases where the old Mies van Rohe saying less is more actually sounds true (though I do not like its mainstream interpretation on architectural principles and modernism).

update: It turns out that PyMeld is actually not less but more, a lot more. I briefly used it a while ago and realized something I have always known instinctively, templates should just digest code entities (variables, instances, etc.) and render them. PyMeld takes an attractive, but very impractical approach, forcing you to drive the rendering engine from the code. Contrast this with the beauty of TAL, where you (at least that’s what I do) toss the same entities you use for the logic of the program to the templating engine, and the templates knows what to do with them. In TAL you’re not forced to massage your data to have it rendered (well, maybe you need to add an attribute or two from time to time to your classes, but it’s a very different effort than say driving a table to create rows and cells from your code, urgh!).

J Editor

6 giugno 2003

One of the things that prevented me from switching to Linux full-time as my desktop os was the lack of a good all-around editor. I know VI (vim) and even like it but I just am not productive enough with it, and Emacs has always scared me and I never got around to learn it properly.

I tried Jedit for a while, but it feels too slow and Javish, tried Komodo from ActiveState (I even bought a license) but it’s even slower and crash-prone. Tried a number of Python IDEs like BlackAdder or WingIde but they feel clunky or use qt which I don’t like (I do not have KDE installed so it’s a waste to load qt just for my editor, and moreover qt has bad fonts defaults — I am VERY picky about fonts, my eyes are pretty sensitive to blurred/antialiased/badly designed fonts).

Then I read somewhere a comparison of Open Source Java editors where J came out pretty well, and decided to give it a try. I installed it and was instantly surprised by its user interface and speed, in contrast to Jedit which feels sluggish and bloated even on fast machines. So I fiddled a bit with the props file, played with J a while then forgot about it. About one month ago I started a new Python project here at work, and started using J as my main editor. Day by day I discovered some amazing features of this powerful, lean editor like CVS integration, ssh editing and directory navigation, HTML browsing of files, XML tree navigation, and many others.

Now I can’t live without it. It’s my default editor and I suspect that, as soon as its email and news features are completed, it will be my email client as well. Not only is J a great editor, but it’s lead developer Peter Graves is a very kind person and dedicates lots of his time to improving J (he is now working on J’s own Lisp interpreter) and resolving the few minor bugs posted on the devel list.

If you’re not an Emacs or VI only guy, give J a try.

update: I post my j configuration here, mainly so that I can retrieve when I’m working around on a new computer:

globalKeyMap=/home/ludo/.j/globalkeys
PhpMode.keyMap=/home/ludo/.j/PhpKeys
XmlMode.keyMap=/home/ludo/.j/XmlKeys
restrictCaret = true
autoNewline=false
autoSelectLine=false
dirSortDirectoriesFirst=true
enableExperimentalFeatures=true
highlightBrackets=true
highlightMatchingBracket=true
HtmlMode.upperCaseTagNames=false
showLineNumbers=true
sortBufferList=true
StatusBar.displayLineCount=true
StatusBar.displayLineSeparator=true
tabWidth=4
wrapCol=72
dialogFontName=verdana
dialogfontsize=11
gutterFontName=andale mono
gutterFontSize=8
textFieldFontName=andale mono
textFieldFontSize=11
style.comment=0
autoSelectLine=false
# mail preferences
enableExperimentalFeatures = true
enableMail = true
# Default "From" address information.
userFullName = Ludovico Magnocavallo
userMailAddress = ludo_at_asiatica.org
# The SMTP server to be used for sending mail.
smtp = zzz.zzz.zzz
inbox = {zzzzzz@zzz.zzz.zzz}inbox
bcc = ludo_at_asiatica.org

My USB Key

5 giugno 2003

Descriptors

5 giugno 2003

One of the latest Python-URL entries has a link to the How-To Guide for Descriptors by Raymond Hettinger, an interesting read if, like me, your Python ignorance makes you often wonder on the usefulness of new-style classes.

John D. MacDonald

5 giugno 2003

Last night when I left the office I stopped at my favourite English bookstore (The English Bookshop, via Mascheroni 12, Milano — they have a very nice if a bit too fat female Siberian Husky, pat her for me if you go there) to try and find something decent to read without having to resort to the Internet.

They don’t have that many books, but they have a good selection and they don’t limit their stock to bestsellers or new issues. After a while, I picked up a copy of John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue GoodBye, without expecting too much. The book was published in 1964, and I had to overcome my usual diffidence towards “old” mystery novels (though most of my favourite books are pretty old and I don’t like shops stocking only new issues lol).

I read about half the book last night, and if the rest of his novels are like this one I wonder why it took me so long to find him. Travis McGee reminds me somehow of Spenser (Robert B. Parker’s Boston detective), a private eye with a heart. Unlike Spenser Mc Gee is a kind of a social bum, and he is less macho and more introspective. A nice site dedicated to Travis McGee can be found at http://members.bellatlantic.net/~mwarble/slipf18/home.htm

On a side note, while checking the spelling of Spenser (what is the usual Spenser’s phrase for that? Spenser like the poet maybe…) I came upon The Spensarium, an interesting site devoted to all things Spenser (and more). For an Italian the name is a bit funny since it sounds a lot like names we use for hospitals or recovery homes for specific illnesses but the site is very nice, if you’re a Spenser or Robert B. Parker fan check it out.

Looking For Books on the Net

4 giugno 2003

As the only reader this weblog has ever had probably knows, I’m Italian and live in Italy. What he (yes, I’m not politically correct) probably does not know is that I mostly read English books, since translations into Italian from a non-latin language are usually awful.

I regularly scout the few English bookshops in Milan where I live, but they mostly only carry serious literature, school books and the latest books in print. To find any good book published more than a year back takes time, and luck.

So I started buying books from the net as soon as it was possible (I still remember telnetting to books.com in uhm 1993 or 1994), and later discovered that many books (well, a few if you don’t count technical or sf/fantasy books) are available on IRC to the great relief of my ever-empty wallet (but I try to buy the books I like in paper format anyway whenever I find them). I bought (well, bartered for a 1U rackmount server) a Compaq Ipaq and started reading e- books to save shipping costs and taxes, or the book price whenever I manage to find something on IRC.

One of the problems with buying on the net is that you can’t feel the books, which for me (as, I suspect, for everybody else) involves browsing the shelves, looking at the covers, reading a few pages. So I often find myself trying to coerce the Amazon recommendations engine into fetching decent results, then looking on IRC/Fictionwise/Amazon Ebooks. From time to time I come upon a good site or a good list.

A while ago I found (and posted as a comment on Slashdot earning a few karma points *rubs his hands*) the Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Works site, a huge collection of reviews cross-indexed by author, title, rating, etc.

Last night I spent a good twenty minutes reading the reviews on the Amazon list by mystery_ink (which, incidentally, is ranked 548th among the Top 1000 Amazon reviewers), and I agreed with many of them. The list features mostly hard- boiled mystery novels and is pretty extensive and very well done.