SolydX: Can it replace your XP?

At some point in my Linux-user career, I realized that my “perfect distro” setup (currently Arch with Awesome WM) – while great for me – was about as far removed from “average user” territory as you can get. So from time to time, I like to check out distributions that might be good to recommend to new users who want to find out what this Linux thing is all about.

With all the hubbub this month about Windows XP’s end-of-life, I thought I’d do a review of a relatively new distribution that has caught my eye as a possible contender for both users and hardware accustomed to the newly-legacied OS. (more…)

Python 3.4.0!

Just noticed that Python 3.4 is released as of yesterday.  I don’t normally pay much attention to Python releases, since the language more or less has done what I needed for some time; but bringing pip into the default distribution will make Windows deployments a bit easier.   The new Pathlib module looks pretty sweet too (no more mucking about with os.path).

Good job Python team!

Omega Hymnal improvements

Since uploading Omega Hymnal to Github ten days ago, I’ve made numerous improvements.  It almost seems like it’s time to slap a version number on it and call it a release.  Here’s a rundown of the features and fixes:omegahymnal-ss-2014-1-22

  • The utility links (import/export/settings/etc) are all grouped under a “Tools” submenu
  • I removed the default DB file from the source, so if you happen to use the default settings I won’t clobber your database when you “git pull”.
  • Omega Hymnal can initialize a clean database if you don’t have one, or you can reinit your database if you want to start clean.
  • I fixed a lot of nuttiness in the auto-text-sizer on the song screen. It’s more consistent now.
  • I added the capability to manually insert pagebreaks in the lyrics using the [pagebreak] tag. This is an alternative to manually shuffling things between text boxes.

Not sure where to go next, hopefully I can convince some others to start using this and get some good ideas. I’d love to figure out a way that I can make lyrics + chord entry a lot easier and less geeky (the world apparently doesn’t share my love of markup languages), though my ideas so far either go beyond the limits of JS or just over-complicate the problem.

Introducing Omega Hymnal

I’d like to announce the availability of a new program that I’ve been writing, Omega Hymnal. Omega Hymnal is a lyrics display program for informal worship settings.

omegahymnal_ss_1.png omegahymnal_ss_2.png

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On programming, kids, and game development

As many parents of boys can tell you, the dream careers of “Fireman” and “Astronaut” have long since been supplanted by “Video game programmer” (and “Lego designer”, but that’s another article…). Pretty regularly I hear from other parents that their son has an aspiration to learn programming so that he can make video games, and my own boys are no exception. This isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Kids want to make games because they understand games, and for many of them games are the most compelling thing they do on a computer. It’s not a bad way to get started in computer programming; frankly, anything that motivates you to write code is a good way to get started in programming. If that thing is games, so be it; if it’s a loan amortization calculator, that works too. Far be it from me to discourage any aspiring programmer from coding whatever gets his or her brain ticking.

Even so, there are three morsels of food-for-thought that young people and their encouraging parents should chew on when a child sets his (or her) sights on a career in video game design.

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Reviving your old PC with Linux, Part VI: Building your own lightweight remix

In the previous article of this series, I covered a variety of “remix” distributions of Linux aimed at older computers, and posed the question “why not build our own”? In this article, we’ll look at doing exactly that.

Our goal will be to set up a basic desktop system, using only the necessary components, such that it will run reasonably well on a roughly ten-year-old computer.

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When you mention Emacs on the Internet

When you mention Emacs on the Internet – be it on a blog, forum, mailing list, IRC channel, reddit thread, or tweet – certain responses must inevitably follow.

You were just sharing a bit of news, or asking a question about a feature, or plugging your new webkit-buffers.el library that allows Emacs to really browse the web (somebody write this, please?); but it doesn’t matter. The same responses must always follow:

  • Someone must say “Emacs is a great OS. It just needs a good text editor.”
  • Someone must post a link to the XKCD comic about Emacs. You know, the “M-x butterflies” one. No, I’m not giving you a link to it.
  • Some obviously lost and confused person who has been raised on Visual Studio / Eclipse / XCode or some other bloated IDE wonders incredulously that people still use “those old text editors” for serious development.

And then, of course, the Vi(m) users descend. I don’t know why. I have never, as an Emacs user/fan, butted into a discussion of Vi(m) stuff with my sanctified opinions about it, but like turkey vultures to a possum carcass, Vi(m) fanboys descend on every mention of Emacs with predictable regularity. Their comments vary:

  • Some post lengthy walls of text about how they once tried Emacs and it gave them boils which were only cured by switching to Vim.
  • Some just say pointless junk like “Vim is better” or “Vim FTW!”
  • Some just type “Vim” or “Vi”. Nothing else, no explanation, just that. I don’t get this; it’s as if balance can only be achieved if every mention of Emacs is countered with a mention of Vim. Or maybe it’s some kind of insect-brained knee-jerk response: “I see word Emacs. Must type word ‘Vim'”

bb_emacs_vim.jpg

If anyone takes the bait (and someone usually does), flame wars ensue that span the gamut from Richard Stallman’s personal hygiene issues to RSI horror stories to “the year of the Linux desktop”.

Then some clever person comes along and posts a link to that rant about “ed”, at which point the thread is locked, comments are disabled, or everyone just agrees they’ve got better things to do.

LIFTS: the Large Internet File Transfer System

Some time back, I wrote a little utility at work using CherryPy called EasyLIFT. The idea was to reduce the number of large files that were being sent as email attachments without having to resort to the tedium of setting up FTP accounts or a big complex CMS system.

EasyLIFT allowed users to login through their LDAP credentials, upload a file to a public-facing web server, and dispatch an email with the download location to recipients. The interface was minimal and quick to use, and was a real success at work.

Recently, I was looking for an open source project to keep my coding skills sharp, so I decided to do a clean re-implementation of the EasyLIFT idea using Flask instead of CherryPy. I dubbed the project LIFTS for “Large Internet File Transfer System”. No, we aren’t transferring “Large Internet Files”, or transferring Files over the “Large Internet”, but ILFTS is kind of goofy and not memorable, so there you have it.

The project is fairly young and not fully functional yet, but if you’re interested in pitching in or just checking it out, head on over to github and grab it from the repo: https://github.com/alandmoore/lifts.

More news to come, hopefully!

Python Code completion in Emacs — at last!

I’ve been coding Python in Emacs for years now, and for the most part it’s been a satisfactory experience. After experimenting with various python modes and utilities, I’ve had a pretty good environment that marries Emacs editing to syntax highlighting, real-time error highlighting, the ipython shell, linting tools like pylint and pep8, and various other goodies. But the one hole, the one sore spot in the whole works, was code completion. Something even idle can do out-of-the-box was simply beyond my ability to get functional in Emacs.

I’d tried just about every solution the internet could offer: PyMacs, company-mode, anything-mode, ipython completion, standard autocomplete-mode. Everything I tried either gave unacceptable results (like autocomplete-mode, which just scans the current buffer for completion information), or just flat-out didn’t work no matter how many tutorials I followed.

Here lately I’ve been trying to work a lot more on my Pythoning, so I decided to see if the state of the art has caught up with this need. Echo base, I’ve found it. Repeat: I’ve found it.

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Tkinter: not dead yet!

If you follow my posts or projects much, you know that, when it comes to GUI toolkits for Python, I’m a confirmed PyQT guy. QT is arguably the most advanced, polished, complete, and powerful GUI toolkit do-everything programming library out there, and a treat to use. But sometimes it’s overkill, and when I have to put together something quick for certain legacy OS that lack decent package management, having to load in Python and extra libraries just to get a couple text fields and a button doesn’t make sense1.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a really simple, easy to use, lightweight graphics toolkit built right in to the standard Python libraries, so you could pop together those little one-window GUIs without loading in extra stuff? Well, hey, what’s this dusty thing over here in the corner? It looks like… Tkinter!?!??

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