Category Archives: Technology

2019-01-09 Update

I recently attended the first meeting of the Austin Kotlin Meetup. I might keep going in the future. I am kind of on the fence about Kotlin. It is nicer than Java, at least Java as most companies use it today.

I get the impression there are a lot of teams using old versions of Java, and old versions of Spring. They might solve a lot of their pain by upgrading and not really have any need to go to a new language. I wish I knew a way to get teams to upgrade. When Java came out, it was the sleek language (vis a vis C++); now it is the old chestnut. Rails has gone through the same cycle. If companies have fallen behind on Java, and fallen behind on Rails, will going to Kotlin really make things better? Maybe Kotlin teams will get bogged down by legacy Kotlin in ten years. Do we need more languages? Why can’t we just be more intelligent about the languages we use? (And since languages seem to becoming more like Lisp, perhaps we should just go to some dialect of Lisp.)

At one point in the meeting, someone asked what makes a language a “functional language”. I thought a language is considered “functional” when a function can be sent as an argument to another function, or a function can return a new function. One person mentioned immutability. Another mentioned tail-call optimization.

I have been working a bit more on Simply Scheme. Chapters 9 and 10 dealt with lambdas and higher-order functions. I think I am understanding functional programming, but I do not feel like I am getting the enlightenment that people keep talking about. Perhaps this is because I have been exposed to these concepts for a while now.

One reason I doubt I am becoming enlightened is sometimes my answers are larger than other people’s. I can make something that works, but it is not always elegant and minimal.

Another reason I doubt my potential enlightenment is that I am not sure it is making me a better programmer at my job. We are running JDK 6, we are using XML to configure Spring, and there is logic in the views. I am not sure how understanding higher-order functions will help me improve things. There are a lot of things I cannot change. I think it should be re-written from the ground up. Perhaps I will get more insights when I finish Simply Scheme.

Frankly, I think a lot of people where I work do not understand a lot of this stuff and have not been exposed to a lot of these concepts. (Most people I talk to have never even heard of Lisp, or Smalltalk, or Erlang or Scala, or Ruby.) I was not exposed to it for a long time, and I did not understand it at first either. When you are surrounded by people who think that the Gang Of Four patterns are the height of technological sophistication, it is easy to think that is the way things should be done. Part of the issue is that the functional programming community does not explain a lot of this stuff very well. I do not think that state is bad, or that changing state is bad. And side effects are hard to avoid if you want a program to be useful. I/O is a side effect, and it is important. I think the real issue is that state changes and side effects can cause problems if they happen when you do not intend for them to happen, and it is better to explicitly control them.

I am considering taking another break from Simply Scheme and making some web apps in Clojure. Perhaps I should work on getting better in the technologies I want to work in, and go for enlightenment later.

The viability of web apps showed up on Hacker News a few times the past few weeks: “Start with a Website, Not a Mobile App” and “Ask HN: Is web development still a viable career choice?” I will look at these a bit and comment more later.

Going back to chapters 9 and 10 of Simply Scheme.: They showed a neat trick to use lambda to wrap a higher-order function that only takes one argument (like every, keep and accumulate, which are their versions of Clojure’s map, filter and reduce) and put it in an anonymous function so it can take two or more arguments. Pretty slick.

Note: To search the c2.com wiki, try the search page.

Thoughts On Apps And Devices

In my last post, I wrote about the future of devices and web apps versus AI. These topics have since come up again in conversation and during my web browsing.

A guy named David A. Wheeler wrote a post titled “Do not install or develop mobile apps unless you have to“. Granted, I wrote about AI, but he still had some good points.

He mentioned that a phone app can get a lot of info about you from your phone, and there are more privacy concerns than with a web app. Also, Apple and Google will take a cut of your revenue. Apple can remove apps from the app store.

If you make a web app, you have more control. And you have reduced costs. With mobile apps, you have to make one for IOS and one for Android. Since most companies make web and mobile apps, that is usually three apps. You have to make sure your app works with different versions of the OSes. When I was in Chicago, I knew a mobile developer who had a few dozen phones. Granted, there are some ways to make one app that can work on IOS and Android (Appcelerator Titanium, RhoMobile Suite, React_Native, Apache_Cordova, Xamarin). All you got to do is pick one. And hope it does not get discontinued. Or beholden to some company run by a guy who looks like a robot.

But if you go with a web app, you just have to make one. According to Dave Wheeler, the UK government has dropped mobile development. And they are soooo much happier. Less cost, more control.

At the Emacs meetup, someone mentioned that we might stop using laptops and desktops, and go with phones. One person said we might just plug our phones (or some future version of them) into terminals. I have heard this before, but I don’t know how it would work.

Would we run apps installed on our phones? As I wrote before, laptops have more memory and hard drive space. On a phone, the memory does double duty. I don’t think that the phones will ever be as powerful as laptops and desktops. Or would our phones authenticate us to our apps on the cloud, and load them onto the terminal? Or would we run them on the cloud?

And what OS would we use? Would we be limited to IOS and Android? Or whatever the cloud provider gives us? I like being able to run Linux on my local machine.

One problem with these scenarios is I have multiple laptops, but only one phone. How would I use more than one if I have to

I do not like the idea of my phone being my primary device. I know banks, brokerages and insurance firms offer mobile apps. I know phones and apps have security, but I am amazed at how often I hear about people losing their phones, or dropping them in the toilet. (Seriously? Why do people bring their phones into the bathroom?) I have seen quite a few phones lying around where I work. I generally do not lose my phone, but I do not like to use it to manage my money. That just seems like a bad idea.

Maybe we would have small, portable hard drives we would plug into terminals instead of plugging in phones. Granted, I just mentioned that portability can be bad. But maybe that would make it easier to get a better CPU, more memory, or a better monitor.

One device type that has become popular is the “all-in-one”, where the memory and hard drive are part of the monitor. I do not think you can add memory to these things. But I see them a lot. I had to upgrade my phone, and the store had these.

I still do not think the death of desktops is upon us. Gamers and artists love desktops. (They are called “desktops”, but a lot of people put theirs on the floor.) Laptops are still pretty common. I think these “all-in-one” computers are a new type of desktop. If you have a job that can be done at a desk, you will probably be using a laptop, desktop machine, or an all-in-one for a while.

I cannot remember who said this, but someone older than me pointed out that using a web browser to do everything on the cloud was similar to a dumb terminal connecting to a mainframe. We had come full circle. Perhaps at some point, the client-server model will come back.

2018-08-29 Update: Anonymous Functions and Kafka

I am still going through the tutorials on Purely Functional. It is taking longer than I thought. I might start going through Luminus at the same time as well. I think that building something while going through the lessons are a better way to learn.

In one of the lessons on Purely Functional, there is an interesting use of anonymous functions.

In version 3.17 of core.clj, we saw this in the function add:

We see a call to “cond”. It uses the type of the ingredient to decide which function to call.

In version 3.18 of core.clj, he adds a map with anonymous functions:

In version 3.19 of core.clj, he gets the functions out of the map and sets them equal to a symbol, replacing the cond:

I will also look into Apache Kafka. I went to the Apache Kafka meetup recently. I think it will be important going forward.

You’re welcome.

Thoughts On WordPress

A week or so ago I went to the Austin WordPress Meetup which featured a presentation about Gutenberg.

Gutenberg is the upcoming editor for WordPress. I admit I did not quite understand everything that was said. But it means there are some big changes coming up. It will allow WordPress to interface with many different types of systems that it cannot talk to today. At one point, the presenter theorized that in a few years WordPress may not use themes as we understand them today. This could put some people out of work; I think there are several companies that sell WordPress themes.

Gutenberg will be written with React. I do not like JS and try to avoid it as much as I can (too much churn and reinvention of wheels), but this might help solidify React’s ranking. As WP people love to point out, WP powers 20-25% of all web sites. The presenter said that Drupal will be moving to Gutenberg as well (although I later found out this is not a sure thing).

I have toyed with the idea of porting WP to another language, even though it would be a massive undertaking. A lot of developers do not like PHP. When I was getting into Ruby and Rails, I joined the mailing lists for local Ruby/Rails groups in about a dozen cities. About once a month, someone in one of the cities would ask about any blog or CMS frameworks written in Ruby. They had made a Rails app for a client, and now the client wanted a blog or CMS. A few replies would mention Radiant or Refinery, but it seems like most of the time the original poster would just go with WordPress. Once someone just posted the Most Interesting Man In the World meme. I did have a go at porting WordPress to Rails.

Eric Normand posted a video titled What Clojure needs to grow – a boring web framework and boring data science.  He said Clojure needs a default web framework. At one point he talks about WordPress. It made me think again about porting WordPress to another language. I have not had problems with WordPress, but some sites have, including Naked Capitalism.

It would also be nice to port the WordPress database from MySQL to Postgres. There is pgloader (written in Common Lisp). There is also pg_chameleon, which is written in Python. But the issue is that some people might not like a new system if it does not look and work just like WordPress, kind of like people do not like other office suites. Plus things might change a lot with Gutenberg.

That said, I think if “ClojurePress” becomes a thing, there are a few things it should do out of the box. There are some things that are pretty common that are handled by plugins. Sometimes multiple plugins, sometimes plugins that have not been updated in a while. Maybe some of these are things that only I want, but here is my list:

  • HTML Tables
  • Static HTML Export
  • Contact Page
  • Twitter intregration (posting AND archiving)
  • Facebook (Granted, Facebook could block this; see here and here)
  • Deleting Revisions
  • Move Comments

 

Reasons I Do Not Like Sharepoint

Here are some reasons I do not like Sharepoint.

First off, I think the underlying concept is wrong. Putting office files in on the web is just stupid.
The web started out at HTML files; even dynamic sites make HTML files. Trying to make the web into a viewer for Office files adds a layer of friction. It is also vendor lock-in. The web was intended to be open. And again, MS is trying to close it.

Speaking of files adding friction to the web: I also do not like PDFs on the web, especially multi-column PDFs.

Why are people putting stuff in Word files anyway? (Spreadsheets are another story.) Why not just use some kind of wiki? Or Atlassian Confluence? Or Drupal? Or Intranet DASHBOARD? Or Jive? Or MindTouch? Or anything on this list? (I think this list is a bit more up to date, but unordered.) WYSIWYG editors are not that hard to learn. Why pay for MS Word when you are not using all of its features? And yes, I know SP has a wiki. I have never tried it, and I have no desire to. It is probably terrible. SP is about trying to make proprietary Office files relevant in an open web-centered world. Making a decent wiki with SP would expose the absurdity of SP’s existence. Making proprietary Office files relevant in an open web-centered world is Microsoft’s problem. Not mine, and not yours either.

If you really need to print, I am sure there are other systems that can convert content to PDFs. There are systems that have single sign-on capabilities.

If you use files, why are you using an online system? The impedance mismatch causes problems. People still download the files and email them to each other and get out sync. And even though there is versioning, people will manually add different versions of files. I have seen files in folders like this: file.doc, file_002.doc, file_DECEMBER.doc
I think this is because SP tries to do some many things.

Another reason is almost everyone hates it. At least, almost everyone I have asked about it at companies where I have worked that have used SP have hated it. Maybe everybody tells the big shots they love it and everybody is lying to me, but I really do not have any decision-making authority. Why would people lie to me?

There are many developers who take a course that uses Lisp or Scheme, or get a job using Lisp, and they will rave about it years or even decades later. They will say that Lisp/Scheme changed their perception unlike anything else. That they learned more by using Lisp than they learned using anything else. Nobody really holds MS technologies in the same esteem. A lot of non-technical people love MS products because they are generally unaware of any alternative. We should use technologies that we admire, not simply out of ignorance.

We are always told on the technology side that we have to “learn to understand the needs of the business.” Why don’t they have to learn anything about technology? Or what is good technology?

The only people who seem to like SP are managers and SP consultants. I asked someone at my current employer why we used SP, and he told me that we got a good deal from our cloud provider. Not that we need it. Or that it is good at its intended purpose (whatever that is).

I have found that many things that are justified based on cost and not quality are usually not very good. When I was at BofA, we had to use some computer-based training. Everybody hated it, except our finance guy. When he was asked to justify it at a meeting, he said it was “cost-effective.” If the users hate it and nobody learns anything from it, how is it effective?

Another reason is that it is from MS. It’s the same old bait and switch. They sell it as something easy, and you don’t need an admin. But when you hit a wall, or want to do something advanced, then MS says you need an admin.

Some people have this weird blindness about MS. If you present them with another spreadsheet or word processor, they will reject it because it is not exactly like MS Office. But if MS changes the interface (like from a toolbar to a ribbon), people just go along with it.

Another reason is that the search capabilities in SP are terrible. This is important for something used to store documents. I have always gotten better search results on blogs and wikis. Content on wikis can be versioned, so why put stuff into SP? I think most businesses could replace SP with a wiki. I think a lot of wikis can do single-sign on, permissions, whatever. Bookmarks would not change. A lot of people love to move SP folders.

SP is a complex product sold as a simple product. It is a desert topping and a floor wax. If SP does not fit your business, you have two choices: change your life to fit SP, or replace SP. Desktop PCs, laptops, cel phones induced people to change their behavior and workflow. SP is not amazing enough for people to want to change for it.

At my current employer, search is so bad that a committee was started to come up with solutions. I went to one meeting, and I realized it was a waste of time. Someone suggested a SP site with links to all the other SP sites. For some reason, dropping SP was not considered. I do not get the hold SP has on some people. Yes, migrating would be expensive. But using it is expensive. And painful.

complex product sold as a simple product
impedance mismatch
vendor lock-in
bad search

You’re welcome.

2018-06-17 Update

I am still going through the tutorials on Purely Functional. There is nothing new to me in the intro videos, but I am getting practice with the REPL and emacs.

The project that I am on is downsizing. I might leave my employer and try my luck in the big, bad world. At one point I told my manager that I was interested in Lisp and Clojure. I probably mentioned that Lisp is one of the oldest languages and also not widely used. At a recent meeting, he said that I was interested in “legacy” technology. I plan on writing a post about why I am interested in Lisp and Clojure. While Lisp is one of the first programming languages invented, I don’t think it is appropriate to call it “legacy”. Lisp can adapt to any paradigm. “Legacy” has a negative connotation.

Part of the appeal of Lisp is that it seems like languages in the C family are becoming more like Lisp and Smalltalk over time. I have written this on this blog a few times. I mentioned it to some people once in Chicago, and they thought it was an interesting insight.

You’re welcome.

Command Line Passphrase Generation

I figured out another way to calculate passphrases, this time using the command line.

To cut to the chase, here is the command:

I found out about a command called “shuf” which according to its man page can “generate random permutations”. You can run this against a word list. Many Unix-based systems have a word list.

On my system, the word list is at /usr/share/dict/words, which is a link to /etc/dictionaries-common/words, which itself is a link to /usr/share/dict/american-english. You can also find one online here.

After you run the list against “shuf”, you need to put them all on one line. You can do this with the “tr” command (see man page here). You can use it to “translate or delete characters”. I want to replace the carriage return-new line combination with a space. In the command, we can represent that combination with either ‘\r\n’ or [:cntrl:]. I prefer [:cntrl:] because the only way to represent the space is with a space between single quotes, and I think using one less pair cuts down on ambiguity (“tr [:cntrl:] ‘ ‘” as opposed to “tr ‘\r\n’ ‘ ‘”).

Even though the word list is “american-english”, it still has some characters that we do not use, like vowels with umlauts or the letter “A” with a circle over it (I guess that is a “super-umlaut”). There are also a lot of words in there with an apostrophe followed by an “s”, words with upper-case letters and words with less than 4 characters. Taking out all of that takes us from a file with 100K words to one with about 26K words.

Here is the full grep sequence I used:

You’re welcome.

2018-01-07 Update

I took a few weeks off from doing anything productive. I went on a trip over the holidays, but now I am back.

I worked a bit on nftables. I went to the Austin Linux Meetup last week, and one of the attendees and I had a chat about firewalls. He was not too keen on things like ufw as a front to iptables, and felt it was just better to learn iptables. I think that the plan is for nftables to replace iptables.

I also worked a bit on some commands to do random passphrase generation on the command line. I will post about that soon.

I worked a bit on my lightning talk for Austin Clojure on HugSQL. I might not prepare too many slides, or I might not prepare any slides at all.

You’re welcome.

A Hacker News Comment About Emacs

I have started using emacs a bit more lately. I spent a bit of time upgrading packages and getting CIDER to work. I would like to share a comment that was left by someone  going by “maehwasu” (perhaps a disciple of Deganawida) on Hacker News on August 26, 2015 (or whatever day was 818 days ago from today).

OP is getting hate, but I write a lot of Clojure code in Emacs, and I find the following commands cover 97%+ of my usage, maybe more. For config I use Emacs Live out-of-the-box, and remap Command on OSX to be my Ctrl. That’s it.

C-a, C-e, C-b, C-f, C-p, C-n, C-v, M-v for line/screen maneuvering.

C-o for Ace-jump to go to the start of any words I see on the page.

C-d to delete. C-s to search for words not on the page.

C-k, C-y, and also how to use them with paredit to yank whole s-expression chunks.

Buffer switching and killing.

File saving and opening.

I teach the above to any friends who want to learn Emacs/Clojure/LISP, leaving out a few other features like whole word deletion and more advanced paredit. With halfway decent aptitude and a little practice, they become productive very quickly (within a few hours, which is a pretty good investment relative to “normal” text editors in my book).

You’re welcome.

2017-06-18 Update

Not much going on. I am still working slowly through Simply Scheme. I am at a point where they want you to diagram some functions. Like diagramming sentences in junior high.

There was an article on Bloomberg about quantum computing (Hacker News page here). That started me doing a lot of surfing about quantum computing. IBM has the IBM Quantum Experience, which allows you to try quantum programs on their quantum cloud.

There is a wiki about QC called Quantiki. One page is a page with a list of simulators. One of them is a page called Quantum Playground. I found a couple in Java: one by a guy who goes by the name ardeleanasm, and one called JavaQuil. JavaQuil is a port of pyQuil, an API for a project called Forest, which is another QC cloud. It is run by a company called Rigetti Computing.

You’re welcome.