September 30th, 2004 § Comments Off on Second blog anniversary § permalink
To keep with tradition, I forgot again about this blog’s anniversary. The day before yesterday marked two years since I started blogging. It’s been an interesting time, and, when I started, I didn’t believe it would last two years. So far, I’m still linking the experience.
Thanks to all of you who keep reading.
September 26th, 2004 § § permalink
A couple months ago, I was searching for a simple Wiki application that I could run locally to use as a notebook, a journal, and a general scrapbook. I had quite a few requirements, two of them being that it needed to support Markdown, and that it should run without a database. Although I have full development support in my home machine for the tools I use, I wanted something simple that would be easy to set up and that would make backup and restore a matter of copying files.
After a quick search, I found Instiki. I needed only a couple minutes to realize it was exactly what I was looking for. I downloaded it, run the main file, fired its main page on the browser, and started writing. And it did support Markdown. Instiki is written in Ruby and ships with a embedded Web server. It can also be used under Apache with Apache’s ProxyPass and ProxyPassReverse directives, and it’s fantastically adequate to my needs.
When I was reading about it, I noticed it was based on a Ruby framework called Rails. At the time, I didn’t pay notice to the framework because, except for the Wiki, I had no other interest in Ruby. Nonetheless, Ruby continued to be on my radar because of some readers and fellow bloggers. I knew that the language was considered to be powerful and productive, much like Python and Smalltalk, but I didn’t investigate further because it didn’t sound so attractive to me, semantically or syntatically, despite its apparent merits. Rails continued to be on my radar too, popping up here and there in blogs and articles.
A month or so later, I finally decided to take a serious look at it, and downloaded the introductory video. I must confess that it completely blew me away. Although I’ve researched, used, and developed a lot of Web frameworks, Rails really impressed me.
Rails is both a Web application framework and a persistence framework. It’s based on MVC, and it’s the first MVC framework I’ve seen that hides the complexities of developing that way. Even programmers who never heard or read about MVC would have no trouble understanding how Rails work, and how they could use it to create their own applications. Unexperienced programmers, I’m sure, would be quite productive, comparatively speaking, using the framework because it focus on what it’s really important, which is the application itself.
Unlike some frameworks like Borland’s WebSnap and Microsoft’s ASP.NET, it doesn’t bog the user down in a mire of configuration files, state keeping, and unnecessary relationships between parts of the application. Rails allows the user to express the logic behind the problem domain in a readable and intelligible way. The user is not forced to understand the inner details of the framework to avoid making mistakes.
Since it was written in Ruby, Rails is easy to deploy too. Many hosting provides have current versions of Ruby installed, and Rails will also run under the Ruby Apache module or under FastCGI.
A interesting fact about Rails is it’s size. Rails is a just little over one thousand lines of code in size, which is mininal for a framework that does so much. It hides development complexity so well that Basecamp, a project management package written using it (in truth, Rails was developed for Basecamp) has only four thousand lines of code (not including Rails) and was developed in two months by a single programmer.
As you can see, I’m thoroughly impressed with Rails. I will be using it in an application I started developing a couple weeks ago, and I’m sure I’ll be more productive that I would be if I were using PHP. I still have to get used to Ruby, but I don’t think I’ll have problems with it.
If you never heard of Rails before, take a look at the video. You will only need ten minutes of your time, and you’ll get to know a framework that, in the worst case, will be a worthy addition to your toolset in the next time you need to quickly create a Web application.
September 8th, 2004 § Comments Off on Zones of Thought § permalink
A few days ago, I finished reading Vernor Vinge’s two novels set in the Zones of Thought Universe, namely: A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep. I’m still completely overwhelmed by breadth of imagination displayed in both books.
Vinge is probably best known for his essay The Technological Singularity in which he argues that the growth in technology will lead to a singularity point where the growth has accelerated beyond the ability of humans to understand it. The concept is becoming a staple of modern science fiction with a new generation of writers repeatedly exploring such post-human scenarios in their novels — Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross being two notable examples.
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September 6th, 2004 § Comments Off on 404 § permalink
I broadcast myself through virtual worlds,
making of code my dwelling place.
I lose myself among a billions of references in the global network,
multiplying myself at the speed of light.
I am the mutated byte and the imperfect parity;
the lost datum and the incorrect information;
the fruitless search and the meaningless question;
the ending of what has not yet begun.
I am the broken link.
September 6th, 2004 § Comments Off on All the spam you can get § permalink
A friend of mine took a five-month hiatus from his blog. When he came back today, there were over 6100 comments waiting for him, 6000 of which were just spam. Since his blog runs on my server, on top of a MySQL database, I just deleted the whole lot of comments and rebuilt the pages. I may have deleted a few valid comments, so please don’t tell him that
When checking what comments to delete, I quickly scanned the comments list. I’m still in awe of the things that were posted on his comments other than the spam. His blog is about marketing, PR and similar subjects, and he talks a lot about companies and their practices. The number of people who thinks he somehow speaks for the companies he mentions is astounding.
There were people asking his help in college assignments, people querying him for the price of air fares (just because he commented on the daring marketing strategies of an airline company), people asking him to help them out of their financial troubles, people asking for him to help them to get a job on the marketing companies he mentioned, people asking him to introduce them to famous people he referred to, people thinking his entries were meant as a support channel, and, the most amusing of all, people wondering why the site featured so many long, boring, and strange comments.
Those comments reminded of a recent entry in Stuart Langridge’s blog about a similar problem. The cynic in me was surely amused at the perils of semantic markup.
What’s more interesting about the spam comments were that their URL were blocked from attaining Google juice by MovableType’s redirection script. Also, all the comments were submitted as HTML in a blog that prevents HTML from being rendered. As a result, no link was exhibited. All that spam for nothing.
I have since installed MT-Blacklist in my server. I don’t get much blog spam so I hadn’t realized the problem was so bad in the other blogs I host for my friends. Which is also why I deleted the comments by hand: I never had installed MT-Blacklist before so I didn’t know it could do that automatically even for older entries.
Anyway, MT-Blacklist has already blocked a lot of new spam posted today at my friend’s blog so it will save me a lot of trouble in the future — that is, supposing I remember to keep it updated. And the best thing is that I still get to read the weird comments people post over at my friend’s blog.
September 5th, 2004 § § permalink
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September 2nd, 2004 § Comments Off on Opening Hooks § permalink
Opening Hooks is an interesting site where people can enter the opening lines of textual fiction. Reading some of those openings, it’s hard to contain the urge to run to the nearest store and buy the books.
It’s not there, but I can’t help but remember the opening paragraphs of Dan Simmons’ Ilium, which it’s at the top of my buying list. It’s one of the best opening I have ever seen in SF&F:
Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, of Peleus’ son, murderous, man-killer, fated to die, sing of the rage that cost the Achaeans so many good men and sent so many vital, hearty souls down to the dreary House of Death. And while you’re at it, O Muse, sing of the rage of the gods themselves, so petulant and so powerful here on their new Olympos, and of the rage of the post-humans, dead and gone though they might be, and of the rage of those few true humans left, self-absorbed and useless though they may have become. While you are singing, O Muse, sing also of the rage of those thoughtful, sentient, serious but not-so-close-to-human beings out there dreaming under the ice of Europa, dying in the sulfur-ash of Io, and being born in the cold folds of Ganymede.
Oh, and sing of me, O Muse, poor born-again-against-his-will Hockenberry — poor dead Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., Hockenbush to his friends, to friends long since turned to dust on a world long since left behind. Sing of my rage, yes, of my rage, O Muse, small and insignificant though that rage may be when measured against the anger of the immortal gods, or when compared to the wrath of the god-killer, Achilles.
On second thought, O Muse, sing of nothing to me. I know you. I have been bound and servant to you, O Muse, you incomparable bitch. And I do not trust you, O Muse. Not one little bit.
September 1st, 2004 § § permalink
A couple weeks ago, Jonas Galvez waxed lyrical (Portuguese) about how Python made him feel like a hacker, about how the language was powerful and expressive. And he is right about Python. Among the languages in wide use today, Python is one of the most interesting and productive to work with. And when I think that the most used languages in Web development today are PHP, Perl and VBScript (ASP) — languages that are mainly procedural — Python appears as a beacon of light shining upon a dark world.
The choice of a programming language, by programmers, is something religious. Discussions about the topic almost always end in “my language is better than yours” arguments. I made use of this argument many times myself. By the way, have you ever heard about someone who left his daily job because he couldn’t stand the programming language used by the company anymore? Well, that’s what I did. Quality of life and all that. Language choice is religious.
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