Wednesday, April 25, 2007

you'll probably tell me that Emacs already does this

In the future, my text editor will have an option to make it think of camelCaps and underscores_in_identifiers as word boundaries.

How useful would that be for you?

Monday, April 23, 2007

retrocomputing from the other side of the pond

Here's what I found out on my recent voyage through the wikipedias! Semi-vicarious nostalgia ahoy!

In the early 1980s, the BBC started an initiative called the BBC Computer Literacy Project, a major part of which was the production of the BBC Micro, a machine produced by Acorn Computers, complete with its own line of peripherals including expandable memory and various pluggable co-processors. There was an associated television show, The Computer Programme, which ran in various incarnations through the decade and featured music from Kraftwerk. The computers came with BBC BASIC, a rather more advanced system than the BASICs that were shipping stateside -- it had proper named subroutines and if/then/else, features most users on the MS-DOS side of things wouldn't see until QBASIC.

The mind-blowing part of the project was Telesoftware, whereby computer programs were sent embedded in the broadcast television signal, using Teletext, which is how the closed-captioning data was sent in Britain at the time. Analogue technology like broadcast TV feels so alien these days... but the Beeb was busy using it to send example programs to eager learners at home.

There seems to be a pretty active online community of BBC/Acorn enthusiasts out there, two and a half decades later.

You know how to use the Googles, of course, but here's another, more detailed overview of the BBC/Acorn system.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

java 6: apparently even less of a loss than java 5!

Java 6. It's so hot right now. Java 6.

Well, I'm excited anyway. The new Scripting API provides a standard interface for embedding other languages in Java and making calls between the two. See if there's already a project to handle your favorite language here -- there probably is, unless you like Common Lisp. There's even a mechanism for manipulating namespaces in the embedded language, pretty snappy.

Apparently recent releases of Jython already have hooks to support the new API. Maybe the next version of JES should be rewritten with that in mind, say once Jython 2.2 is stable. And perhaps we'll see ABCL ported to the new standard...

Also in Java 6, the built-in support for splash screens is kinda cute. And they're saying that the whole shebang is faster and prettier. Good job, guys!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

tools for blogging and reading

I had an idea for a tool today, one to keep track of links that you want to blog about, assuming you keep a buffer of a few links hanging around like I do. Usually, I have a bookmark folder set aside for the next batch of links, but it might be nice to have a special command that would let you right-click on a link and save it to somewhere. Later on, you'll be able to paste back your links (maybe with HTML link code) into arbitrary text boxes using another context-menu command. This probably wants to be a Firefox extension.

Graham suggests that this would be better with online storage -- it could sync up with your bookmarks and keep track of what you've already blogged about. Perhaps someday soon I'll be cool enough to use

Speaking of reading things on the web and managing one's reading -- please allow me to direct your attention to BibDesk and Skim, a pair of apps for the Mac designed with your reading pleasure in mind. The first is a bibliography manager that works with BibTeX format and has a lovely UI and lets you drag references around and whatnot, and the latter is for reading, highlighting, and annotating your papers, which is traditionally pretty difficult with a PDF.

The downside of these is that they're Cocoa apps and Mac-only, but they're pretty much what I'll want to build when I get around to putting together that cross-platform Python paper manager thing I've been thinking about...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

things that start with p

Programmable completion for bash (mentioned earlier) is still a pretty exciting idea. I came up against the first situation where I felt like it needed to be extended today, though.

I've taken to using jar to deal with .zip files, so I can use consistent tar syntax and don't have to remember how to use the zip options. But! The bash_completion file for Ubuntu doesn't include ".zip" as an extension that it looks for when tab-completing files for jar, oh noes!

Easy enough to fix, right? I pop open /etc/bash_completion and start searching for "jar". There's a section near the second occurrence that looks like:
         _filedir '?(e|j|w)ar'
After some fiddling, I change that one line to " _filedir '?(ear|jar|war|zip)' ". And it works! For reference, that the _filedir function looks like this. It's painfully obvious to everyone what this does, yes?

To be totally fair, there's some explanatory comments right above it... but it's obtuse things like this that make we want to switch to a shell with a more sensible scripting language. bash is often line noise. We claim that allowing users to modify their environments to fit their needs is one of the major benefits of Free Software, but are we doing enough to encourage that? How is your mom supposed to pick up bash script? It seems like scsh isn't meant for interactive use as your daily shell, but what if your everyday environment had a more modern language embedded in it? Are things like that already out there?

Also: speaking of Scheme embedded in things, JScheme is a dialect of Scheme with a very simple interface to Java, called the Javadot notation . It's by Peter Norvig and crew, fairly recently updated and feature-complete. Also on Peter's (fantastic) site, you can find his older "mercilessly small, easily modifiable version". I very badly to embed this in JES. Media Computation in Scheme ahoy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Alice wants him. Bob fears him. Charlie wants to be him.

Bruce Schneier not only has a Bruce Schneier Facts page devoted to him -- he's aware of it and has a favorite Bruce Schneier Fact.

My favorite so far: "Bruce Schneier writes his books and essays by generating random alphanumeric text of an appropriate length and then decrypting it." -- Bruce Schneier in the comments