Is it as fun as it used to be?

Global Warming Game

Here’s a video that puts forward an argument that is difficult to wriggle out of.

The form of the argument is fairly obvious to me, and I doubt that I’m unique, but I also know that a lot of people are totally unaware of the technique or the concepts behind it — you’d think this would be public school stuff. Try this variation:

  insurance   no insurance
no house fire:   pay premium   no premium
house fire:   pay premium  
on the street

So. What are you going to do?


Written by hutch

March 14, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Society

Toronto Lisp Meetup, 3 April 2008

This is the third Toronto Lisp Meetup (of the modern era). I am really going to have to make it out to this one. I missed the last two for various annoying reasons.

ALU Wiki: toronto: Toronto Lisp Meetup – 3 April 2008, after 6pm

Bloor St. Fox and Fiddle

Toronto Lisp Mailing List

All Common Lisp, Scheme and Smalltalk programmers are welcome! Haskell, Ruby, Python and even Java programmers are welcome too!

Look for the table with the Lisp flyer on it.

Located at 280 Bloor St, the Fox and Fiddle has free wireless Internet and, $3 cocktails and bar rails on Thursdays and Fridays.

There’s a ( event, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Written by hutch

March 13, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Posted in Lisp

Toronto Lisp Meetup

There’s going to be another attempt at a lisp user meetup in Toronto:

The Announcement

This has been tried at least once already, but it fizzled out.

The meetup is open to anybody interested in lisp, not just people using lisp. So if you’re curious…

Unfortunately for me, I won’t be able to make it this time (I’m supposed to be in Waterloo that evening, so at least now there’s an upside should there be a winter storm :-)

Written by hutch

December 13, 2007 at 7:40 am

Posted in Lisp, Ruby

A Little Unnecessary Smalltalk Envy

In A Little Head Trauma…: Returning None is Evil, Mark Derricutt provoked a brief moment of Smalltalk envy.

(self doSomethingThatMightReturnNil)
  ifNotNil: [val | val doSomethingWithNoHassle].

In addition to what Mark was actually responding to, it is an annoyance that I’ve had repeatedly in Ruby but never really considered fixing. Until now.

The annoying code:

tmp = doSomethingThatMightReturnNil
tmp.doSomethingWithNoHassle if tmp

Just look at those tmp variables.

This is the ‘cure’:

class Object
  def if_not_nil(&blk)
    yield(self) if blk

class NilClass
  def if_not_nil(&blk)

I like monkey patching.

And now I can write:

doSomethingThatMightReturnNil.if_not_nil { | v | v.doSomethingWithNoHassle }

Which is so much nicer [UPDATE: and nicer still after Sean prompted me to actually get Mark’s example right].

That really does look like Smalltalk, doesn’t it?

Written by hutch

November 22, 2007 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Ruby

Bad Unix Jokes

In csh:

hutch% got a light?
csh: got: No match.

A long time ago it used to say “Sorry. No Match.” — things are a little ruder these days.

Sorry about that. Some kind of flashback I think.

Written by hutch

September 11, 2007 at 11:22 am

One of the Web’s Little Mysteries

Why do people think content management is not possible for static websites?

And another related mystery:

Why do people think dynamic site generation is superior to a static website even when the site does not allow for any kind of reader contribution?

And, I suppose if you know me, there’s a third mystery:

So… why on earth do you care Hutchison? Eh?

Well, maybe I’ll start with the last mystery. I do happen to care. For a couple of reasons.

First, it turns out that I’m biased. I’ve been working on a program called Raconteur for the last few years. Until recently I’ve been in denial, unable to admit that it is, in fact, a content management system — well, I’d admit it was like a CMS but would deny it was a CMS. This lead to painful and prematurely technical discussions of what it does, usually by explaining what it doesn’t do. Ever try to describe something by describing what it isn’t? Sigh.

So last week I think, I tried out the phrase “CMS for static websites”. Good grief! Saying that totally eliminated the need for any of that painful and frustrating conversation. What it did do was introduce a couple of questions, but they don’t come up until much later and when do they aren’t asked very hard (so to speak) — the person I’m talking to already knows the answer they just can’t quite believe it.

You know, sometimes I’m appalled how I miss the obvious. The only defence I’ll offer is that there are well over 100 people using Raconteur and not one of them saw this either.

Those questions that get asked later, after a little reflection and googling, lead to the first two mysteries.

The second reason I care about this is because of the unintended disservice done to the clients of those web professionals who hold the views with mysterious origin. I understand holding those views since they contributed to my denial that Raconteur is a CMS. But they are wrong!

A Fact: Raconteur provides a very comprehensive capability for building and maintaining a large static website that anyone would acknowledge is just like a CMS.

A Fact: Raconteur is not the only software that does this, though the club is very very small compared to the total number of CMSs out there. There are thousands upon thousands of commercial and open source CMSs, and some huge but unknown number of ‘home-built’ CMSs. I know of less than six that do what Raconteur does — I expect that there must be more, but I can’t find them, probably because they are overwhelmed by the other CMSs. [UPDATE: I had intended to link to one of our most interesting competitors: Big Medium]

A Fact: contrary to popular belief, static websites don’t get unmanageable at 20-50 pages. Raconteur’s very first live site was around 4000 pages, every last one of them static. Updates to the website can be made in minutes (if you are daring or foolish, you can do it in well less than a minute).

A Fact: static websites are the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to deploy a website. How often do you get those three things at the same time?

A Fact: — well, this is really an opinion but I’m saying it’s a fact — most ‘dynamic’ websites out there would benefit by being static, and the rest may well benefit by separating the read-write part from the read-only part.

A Recommendation: think very hard about what ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ mean, be especially alert to logical conclusions being drawn by inadvertently using synonyms of those two words (this is where I think the second mystery originates).

I’ll go into a few more aspects of this later.

This is going to sound like an advertisement, well maybe it is kind of: Raconteur is in production, though currently most people come to it by word-of-mouth, and every one of them knows that they are ‘early adopters’ and what that means. It isn’t really in ‘stealth’ mode, more like a silent presence. The documentation is, at best, sparse. Even so there are more than 100 websites using it. If you want to know more we’d be more than happy to talk to you. We expect to have the documentation completed sometime in August, at which point we’ll be opening Raconteur to a wider audience.

Written by hutch

August 3, 2007 at 11:37 am

Posted in Raconteur™, Ruby, webapps

Making Raconteur go Vroom

So I was reading this article Making Rails go Vroom by Charlie Savage and thought maybe I’d profile a few of the more frequent actions in Raconteur, which is written in Rails.

The instructions provided in other posts by Carlie are perfectly clear and easy to follow but, inevitably, they don’t work for versions of Rails that don’t implement the alias_method_chain method.

This is the definition of that method:

class Module
  def alias_method_chain(target, feature)
    aliased_target, punctuation = target.to_s.sub(/([?!=])$/, ''), $1
    yield(aliased_target, punctuation) if block_given?

    with_method, without_method = "#{aliased_target}_with_#{feature}#{punctuation}", "#

    alias_method without_method, target
    alias_method target, with_method

       when public_method_defined?(without_method)
         public target
       when protected_method_defined?(without_method)
         protected target
       when private_method_defined?(without_method)
         private target

You can stick it anywhere that gets loaded early enough by Rails. I put it into the profiling.rb file that comes with the ruby_perf Rails plugin.

It turns out that there was a call to a method that was not strictly necessary, but it had the possibility of touching the database. So I removed that call, and got a fairly significant speed up. Which I thought was interesting. So I poked about some more and discovered that the culprit was the XML escape routine (the one that replaces “<" with "<" and so on). This was really quite bad. I managed in this specific case to avoid the problem, but sometimes it must be run. I think I'm going to have to find a faster implementation of that, maybe even written in C.

Written by hutch

August 3, 2007 at 7:43 am

Posted in Ruby