Saturday, June 01, 2002

Pen is mightier

There's a new free Lisp book available in PDF form, Loving Lisp, by Mark Watson.

Making it easy

I just did a small project with PHP and MySQL.

I used to be a professional Perl programmer. After a few years of that, I had pretty firmly decided that Perl wasn't a language I enjoyed using, thanks to several language design features that struck me as unaesthetic and the lack of a proper REPL.

Perl has been a big influence on the design of PHP, the similarities both in the syntax and in the logic of the language are numerous. This was only my second project with PHP, but I already notice that I don't like this language either.

However, there's one thing PHP is very good at: it makes the implementation of simple web sites very, very easy. I've worked with uncountable templating/embedding/specialtagifying systems during the last seven or eight years and implemented quite a few myself, and I have yet to meet one I'd consider really good. Usually they either lack power of expression (template engines which don't offer access to the underlying "real" programming language) or they aren't easy enough for the non-programmers (embedding real programming languages in the HTML with no easier syntax.) I don't care if non-programmers can't work on the stuff I do on my free time, but when trying to earn my pay that's often a viewpoint I must consider too. PHP seems to strike an adequate balance: it allows only embedding of code, but the programming language is rather simple and resembles many other languages web developers might be at least somewhat familiar with.

Lately I've been working on – among other things – a system for embedding Common Lisp in the HTML templates. It solves one of my needs: I can embed a powerful language I enjoy using in HTML documents. On the other hand, it doesn't allow your average web developer with little coding experience to modify the templates. That might be a problem, at some point, but I've decided to ignore it for now. I don't know if I can make it quite as easy as PHP, and should I even try – maybe something with a bit more structure wouldn't be a bad idea? And I'm still not quite sure should I build on top of Araneida or a servlet-like package I've been working on which uses mod_lisp (nice URL.) I guess I'll have to take a better look at Araneida to figure out if it's suitable. We'll see if I ever get this finished: reading the embedded code is the easy part, trying to make the framework sensible is more difficult :-)

BTW, the combination of Emacs 21 + mmm-mode (after making it recognize php-mode as a cc-mode derivate) + php-mode + psgml + css-mode made the editing of HTML with PHP and CSS almost nice. Almost. Still waiting for the day I'll be using an editor that doesn't need kludges like mmm-mode which really can't hide the brokenness of the system it's been built on.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Changing colours

[via mpt's blog] Bowie J. Poag is talking about System 26 (whatever it is, apparently yet another replacement) and telling "It'll be a day or so, but, support for AfterStep, Blackbox, E, Fluxbox, FVWM, IceWM, KDE, Sawfish and WindowMaker is right around the corner. And no, we won't be supporting GNOME. Its time for the Linux community to rally around one standard, and KDE team has proven their right to be that standard."

Not to mention the silliness of enumerating nearly a dozen window managers and then saying that the community should rally around a standard desktop environment, wasn't Bowie one of the geniuses tearing apart the gnome-gui list back in 1998, trying to, with very little success, to produce a GUI standard or something like that?

I wonder what changed his mind.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

No more wall

There's an interview with Stefan Seefeld of Berlin fame at Advogato.

Berlin is one of those projects which have been going on for ages, and still everyone's waiting for the thing get ready. I seem to remember it getting started as a "X11 sucks coz it's so slow" thing, in the dark ages of the mid-90s. It has luckily changed direction since then and from a technical stand point looks quite promising, although I'm not very much in love in CORBA.

The interview leaves out some interesting questions: do they have the momentum needed to make it usable? How many active developers do they have? Changing the name of the project seems to be one of those meaningless gestures of meta-activity that does nothing for the project. And Berlin is a cooler name than Fresco, anyway :-) But it's their call.

I wish them best of luck, and hope that someday their software will be a serious alternative to X11 (assuming we're not all in Aqualand by then.)
Hello, world - trying out blogger.el now...

All together now

Happy birthday to Jii!

Missing links

Anita Roddick's anecdotes about censored (well, not in the strict sense) ads are quite funny, in a sad way. However, this thing about Malkovich was a bit annoying: Roddick didn't give any links to the story about Malkovich wanting to shoot Fisk, only to Fisk complaining (for a good reason) about it. And of course, Fisk's story was from a newspaper, so there were no links there, either. Google to the rescue.

I wonder how long will it take for some subset of the major newspapers / news agencies to provide links in their articles. Three years? Ten? Most approach the web (or internet, if you will, no need to limit this just to HTML browsers) in an awfully newspaperish way, exploiting none of the possibilities, with the occasional exception of constant updates. The main reason seems to be inertia.

Helsingin Sanomat is probably the only halfway decent newspaper in Finland. They have a rather nice web presence, which they advertise too, saying it's one of the things you get when you subscribe to the paper. Only there's no need to subscribe, it's available for free for anyone. Oh yeah, and they recently scaled down some of their web operations, because it wasn't generating income. I think there's no need to go on.

Paul Graham and the Art of Language Wars

Everybody is blogging Paul Graham. Graham has written a lot lately about the relative power and succintness of various languages, mainly Python and Lisp. This is very much a continuation of his work on Arc (which seemed somewhat interesting, but flawed, from the first reading of the paper), a new dialect of Lisp.

I can see why he designed Arc; Common Lisp has its share of problems, and its progress has pretty much stalled. However, these papers about succintness look to me like a high-brow, pseudoacademic variant of mega-crossposted "my language is better than yours" usenet trolls, however much he tries to appear objective.

Everyone has the right to express their opinion, so I'm not going to question his reasons for writing those papers. But I'm going to state my opinion about their relevance: they are not going to make anyone switch languages, and their impact on people designing new languages will be quite small, too - when someone starts to design a programming language, for whatever reason, he will have his own ideas about what makes a good language and reading Graham's papers will not convince him to make it a Lisp (or less verbose than Python if he likes the language.)