Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programmers

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Monday, February 26, 2007

FOSDEM / GNUstep photos

Just came in on #gnustep. Many photos of the GNUstep booth, dev room and of course the famous GNUstep dinner.

posted by Graham Lee at 15:20  

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Apres ca, le FOSDEM

It appears that I’m sat in Terminal B of L’Aeroporte Nationale de Bruxelles, waiting for my flight to board. While there are wirelesses around, the ones to which I can connect seem not to be offering much in the way of DHCP so this update will come in later than it was written (which was at 13:35), as I will probably post it while I’m on the bus between Heathrow and Oxford. [Update: actually not until I got home]

Irrelevancies such as that aside, I had a great FOSDEM! In fact, a great half-FOSDEM, as I did my tourism today. I met a load of people (of which more below), went to some inspiring talks and discussed many exciting and interesting projects (in multiple languages – I spoke to one person in English, Dutch and French sometimes in the same sentence). It was a good exercise to see who wasn’t present as much as who was – for instance RedHat didn’t have an official presence although the Fedora Project had a booth (next to the CentOS one ;-), similarly Novell (one of the big sponsors) was absent but the OpenSUSE project had Yet Another Small Table. Sun were conspicuously present in that the OpenSolaris and OpenJDK table was being manned seemingly by Sun’s salespeople rather than user group members…although maybe that’s just my interpretation.

The overriding feeling I got was that the conference was running on l’espirit d’anarchie and that the resulting adrenaline and enthusiasm drove the conference on. The keynote speeches were really the only regimented aspect of FOSDEM – a necessity given the size of the auditorium and that was packed to the rafters with FLOSSers. I didn’t go to the final keynote on open-sourcing Java as I was manning the GNUstep booth, but learned a lot on software patents and Free Software and Jim Gettys’ description of the technical challenges in creating OLPC was very insightful.

So, GNUstep. GNUstep, GNUstep, Etoile [I’ll add the accents in in a later update…this keyboard doesn’t have dead keys :-(]. For a start it was great to meet all the other GNUsteppers, and have some good discussions and debates (as well as some good moule frites and Kwak beer). For anyone who doubts that GNUstep is still alive, the dev room at FOSDEM is one place to allay such suspicions with many developers, designers, users and supporters presenting their ideas to each other, asking each other questions and generally contributing to the GNUstep camaraderie. Even an improptu troll by Miguel de Icaza at the GNUstep booth wasn’t enough to make us all throw Project Center away and buy a book on C# ;-). Presentations on GNUstep-make v2 (which I’ve described here before…), the Cairo graphics back-end (which I don’t think Fred Kiefer was expecting to present, but made a very fine job of it anyway) and third-party use of GNUstep were all very useful and well-received…I expect today’s presentations were too but I didn’t get to go to them :-(. [Instead, I was significantly underwhelmed by the sight of the Mannekin Pis.]

posted by Graham Lee at 18:27  

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fairly cool update to GNUstep

GNUstep-make now supports arbitrary(-ish) filesystem layouts. While the default is still the /usr/GNUstep layout with the various domains, one of the bundled alternatives is to put everything in FHS-compliant locations. Once that hits a release (which I believe will be called gnustep-make 2.0), that should make newbie users and distributors much more comfortable with GNUstep. I also provided a NeXT-ish layout which doesn’t clone the NeXT directory hierarchy, but rather mimics it sensitively.

My work laptop just earned itself a reinstall (I’d been uncomfortable with CentOS for a while, but the facts that hotplug isn’t configured properly and every time I ‘yum update’ I have to fix a handful of drivers drove me over the edge), so when I re-create my GNUstep installation I’ll do it with the new-style make. I’m currently wavering on the side of installing Midnight BSD, but I might wimp out and dual-boot Ubuntu ;-)

posted by Graham Lee at 18:33  

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where are we going?

Recently, XML seems to have been playing an important role for me…I’ve been working with various XML-RPC frameworks, reviewing a book on XHTML (actually, a book on HTML 4 which occasionally reminds you to close elements) and also dealing with DocBook. For some reason, this means when I read something like Ten predictions for XML in 2007 I feel like I’m in a position to comment. Don’t worry, I don’t want to cover all ten points…

If I had to choose one big story for next year, it would be the Atom Publishing Protocol (APP). […] APP is the first major protocol to be based on Representational State Transfer (REST), the architecture of the Web. Most systems to date have only used a subset of HTTP, usually GET and POST but not PUT or DELETE. Many systems like SOAP and Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) have been actively contradictory to the design of HTTP. APP, by contrast, is working with HTTP rather than against it.

Well, this suits me…a complete bi-directional implementation of HTTP would certainly be pleasant to use. But the point is that you already can do bi-directional transactions with these ugly hack interfaces, which importantly are already in use. This isn’t like moving from rcp to HTTP to do your file uploads, this is like moving from HTTP to a version of HTTP which IE doesn’t recognise for doing your content publication. WebDAV might be ugly but it already allows people to run their Subversion or calendar (yes, I know…) servers over "the web". APP is good but the activation energy may be too high.

2007 is the make-or-break year for the Semantic Web.

s/make-or-//, I believe. I’ve talked to two people who considered themselves important in the world of the semantic web, and have attended a talk by Sir Tim on the subject. I still have yet to see anything beyond so-called blue skies proposals and views on how much better the web will be once everyone embraces semantics, which none of them appeared to have done. At least, there’s nothing yet which has convinced me that Semantic Web is some kind of killer app, and that what it can do can’t already be done with a bit of XML/XSLT and some good schemas. Maybe that’s the point, that traditional web will just slide into Semanticism by dint of XQuery, XProc and the rest of the X* bunch. I don’t think so.

2007 will be the first year in which almost every significant browser fully supports XSLT 1.0 […] I predict that this will render many of the debates about HTML 5 and XHTML 2 moot. Sites will publish content in whatever XML vocabulary they like, and provide stylesheets that convert it to HTML for browser display.

Yup, this couldn’t come too soon. I sorely hope that HTML 5 will be still-born; redundant as soon as it becomes available. I also hope that document-generating frameworks will become better at generating valid markup in the future (which is at least easier to do with XML than SGML)…of course if browsers really do make a good job of supporting XSLT then they won’t really be able to generate invalid markup as they’ll be doing it in their own format.

Apple will release Safari 3 along with Leopard. Although it will focus mostly on Apple proprietary extensions, Safari 3 will add support for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) for the first time.

That’s not much of a prediction, unless predicting things means reading the WebKit changelog. What would be good is for a couple of the more popular also-ran browsers to support MathML (I think Firefox already does in some fashion, WebKit is at the "we’re thinking about it" stage, and I really don’t know about any others) so that it has a chance of being adopted. I speak here as an ex-physicist who was annoyed at seeing academics putting DVI or PostScript files on the web, or (and this is just as bad if not worse) HTML with graphics of the equations. If LaTeX could be transformed into HTML+MathML and published on the web then we’d be somewhere approaching the original goal of the Nexus.

posted by Graham Lee at 23:02  

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

FAQ update

Just a warning about @defs not necessarily being a good idea, some code from Mike Ash to add polish to the forwarding example and…um…I’m sure I added something else. Oh yes, the fact that _cmd is the name of the SEL argument in method definitions.

I’m quite inclined to refactor the FAQ (because the source is basically the XHTML), as something like a DocBook FAQ Article, which might explain any (further) hiatus in updates. I haven’t started working on this yet but it seems more attractive, as I look at the horrendous car crash of formatting produced by a combination of different text editors I’ve been using.

posted by Graham Lee at 23:55  

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Why Java is so damned lame, part exp(I*M_PI)

Gah. Back when I used to work for Oxford University, I had to do the occasional bit of Java programming for a WebObjects app. Being quite a bit more familiar with ObjC than with Java, I always found this a bit of a headache…partly the way Java Foundation is semi-bridged with the "real" Java API meant I was constantly referring to my Tiger book (Java in a Nutshell, not Mac OS X Tiger), and partly because ironically Java required a lot more mystical casting voodoo than ObjC…seriously, if I never see the phrase Session session=(Session)session() again, I’ll be a happy man.

Today’s "gah, why can’t Java be as easy as ObjC" moment came courtesy of an algorithmic problem I was attacking at TopCoder, just for the hell of it. Problem is, to get to their problem definitions you have to use their applet thingy, and while I’m there I decided that I may as well type the code into their thingy after all Java’s not that bad is it? [They also accept VB, C# and C++ but my recollection of the C++ class syntax is slim and my knowledge of the STL is slimmer…I do know enough to try and avoid it though] So I think their problem definitions are proprietary, but suffice to say I wanted the ability to compare two strings, returning equal if the strings could be made the same by popping any arbitrary number of characters off the front and shifting them onto the back (i.e. treating them like rings of characters).

Well, that’s simple isn’t it? In ObjC I’d subclass NSString, override isEqual: and Robert is your parent’s sibling. I even know how to do that in Java:

class CircularString extends String {
public boolean equals(Object otherObj) {

Only…no. You’re not allowed to do that, because for some unfathomable reason Gosling and the boys at Oak decided to inflict on us another voodoo keyword…final. This seems to have one purpose in existence: to stop me from subclassing the String class. In the words of Points of View, Why oh why oh why oh why?

posted by Graham Lee at 23:17  

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