Andrew Channels Dexter Pinion

Wherein I write some stuff that you may like to read. Or not, its up to you really.

March 30, 2004

Fiddling Under the Covers

There's not a lot going on here at the moment. I am trying to concentrate on finishing some of the innumerable things that I have started over the last few months.

The first of these is reading Jeffery Zeldman's rather excellent Designing with Web Standards. I'll leave the reviews to other people but one result of reading the book has been to take a look at the way that this blog is put together. The design was definitely suffering from "div-itis" and so I've been dabbling with the template and style sheet to make my markup more semantic but the presentation the same. This is by way of saying that things may appear broken as I continue the journey towards the high standards that Mr Zeldman tells us we are all capable of.

The other tinkering I've been doing is to fix the link in the sidebar to my Technorati profile. Hopefully by the time you read this I will have achieved the honour of claiming that I own this weblog. Hmmm.

Posted by Andy Todd at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004


I installed the Debian package of pyblosxom last night. Which is nice. I was away and running writing posts, placing them in directories - which serve as categories - and feeling like a micro publishing genius.

But then I looked at the documentation, which is patchy to say the least. I'm aware that I am running a couple of versions behind the bleeding edge but people - it would be nice to at least be able to figure out how to affect the look and feel of my home page. It's the small things you know; like being able to specify a style sheet, removing the double <br /> after each post, making the post titles proper headings. You know, proper web standards type stuff.

Has anyone got any pointers? Or am I just being a little obtuse.

<Update>Thanks to the comment from Roberto and the new users wiki page I managed to work it out. Kind of. I'm still experimenting but I am making progress.</Update>

Posted by Andy Todd at 07:06 AM | Comments (5)

March 23, 2004

The Platform or the Package

In this post, Tim Bray talks about the 25-Year Value Proposition. He discusses the dilemma organisations face when replacing aging IT systems. The point he misses, I think, is that when mainframe systems reach the end of their lives they are replaced not by technologies (J2EE or .NET) but by packages (like SAP or Peoplesoft). Then you don't need to be sure that the technology will last, but that the package (or packages) you choose will.

Which means that you still have a dilemma, just a slightly different one.

Posted by Andy Todd at 08:22 PM | Comments (0)

Fix a Bug, Write a Test

A good piece by Steven Feuerstein on Cleaning Up PL/SQL Practices in OTN.

What struck me was a point he made about test driven development. In essence, he says that when you find and fix a bug write a unit test to ensure that your fix works. It's not a point I had come across before, but it's so blindingly obvious that I'm surprised I haven't figured it out. Well, alright, read it elsewhere.

It works on a number of fronts - if there was an existing test then this bug wouldn't have been raised, adding a new test to make sure your software does what it's supposed to do is always a good thing, and you are protecting your functionality against accidental breaks in the future.

Posted by Andy Todd at 08:17 PM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2004

String Substitution in Python 2.4

Prompted by AMK I took a quick look at the schedule for Python 2.4.

The features that look interesting to me are the decimal data type and, more immediately, simpler string subsitution. This proposes adding a new way of substituting a sequence of letters within a string, using '$' identifiers within the string which are replaced by the contents of a mapping or by objects from the local or global context. My first thoughts when looking at this was "When can I get this in a database module?"

Simple string substitution would make my code a lot cleaner and easier to read. It would be a boon for new users as well, given the recurring confusion about variable substitution on the db-sig mailing list.

Of course, it shouldn't work for non-string substitutions such as numeric ID values or dates. But this issue is currently glossed over in most database modules and they tend to accept '%s' simply as a placeholder, not as an indicator of string substitution. At least those that use the 'format' and 'pyformat' paramstyles (as defined in the DB-API) generally use 's' after the '%' regardless of the type of the argument you pass in and map the python data types to the database data types for you.

Perhaps the next version of the DB-API would benefit from a new paramstyle (perhaps called 'simple') which could follow the conventions of PEP 292 with the addition of support for more data types than just strings and mapping to native database data types.

Posted by Andy Todd at 08:43 AM | Comments (1)

March 13, 2004

VIM Outliner

Courtesy of this week's NTK - the VIM outliner project.

I may be a little busy for a while playing with this. Talk amongst yourselves whilst I'm gone.

Posted by Andy Todd at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2004

RSS Comment Feed

I've not had a lot of success setting up automatic notifications for either of my blogs. This is the feature of Movable Type that sends you an email when someone comments on one of your posts. Its not that I get a lot of comments, but I do get a fair few spam comments and I would like to remove them as quickly as possible.

So it's been part of my daily routine to check my blogs for comments, but its a pain and may result in the comment getting picked up by Google, which I certainly don't want. But no longer. Inspired by this post by Phil Ringnalda I have created my own comments feeds and subscribed to them in Bloglines. Works like a charm and it means that I can maintain my ignorance of SMTP.

Posted by Andy Todd at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

Multiple Workspaces in Debian/Gnome

Sometimes free software really gets my goat. The provocation today was the seemingly simple task of defaulting my Gnome desktop to four workspaces rather than the single one it insisted I have.

For the sordid details I refer you to this thread at the very excellent debianHELP. Suffice it to say it's possible but the means to change it is incredibly convoluted and really rather hard to find.

This is, I think, an example of what MPT complains about in his When good interfaces go crufty piece.

People, it really, really shouldn't be this hard. I was quite warming to Gnome but much more of this rubbish will have me removing it from my Debian box.

As it is I have spent all of my (not very copious) free time today chasing my tail with this when I could have been working on some code.

Posted by Andy Todd at 05:47 PM | Comments (6)