Older blog entries for chromatic (starting at number 151)

The Noble Chamois:

Generally found on less steep or severe mountains than Thar, Chamois are never the less capable of traversing steep and difficult terrain at high speed. They have excellent hearing, eyesight and sense of smell.


I also like the Latin name Rupicapra rupicapra.

16 Jan 2003 (updated 16 Jan 2003 at 04:08 UTC) »


I'm not a language purist by any means. I consider myself pragmatic, but realize I'm often idealistic. It's hard to reconcile those two ideas, though.

Consider polymorphism. I've most often seen it explained in terms of inheritance. I'm not a big fan of strong typing in general (at least as C and its descendants do it), but mixing polymorphism with the typing system seems... really wrong. Part of the reason Test::MockObject works is because polymorphism isn't limited to objects that share a common ancestor.

The secret is, objects which share a common interface are isomorphic.

Okay, it's not a very well-kept secret. Still, I've seen (and written) too much Perl code that relies on isa(). (Hey, at least I'm way over checking ref() so often!)

I'd like to see that Perl 6 doesn't encourage falling into that trap. At least, I'd like to see that Perl 6 encourages composition and delegation as well as it encourages inheritance. (Having failed to convince Allison completely through mad rhetorical skills, I resorted to code.)

In that light, I present Class::Interface. Please see the discussion at Perl Monks for more information.

As always, I may be way off track here. Once I figured out the way things really ought to work, though, they made a great deal more sense.


I'm on holiday this week, visiting my parents. Part of being on holiday means not doing my day job. (Those of you who've seen me work or who have seen the output of my work know that this is pretty rare.) I do have most of my work resources with me -- my laptop, my phone, a notepad, and an Internet connection, but this week is devoted to something besides writing and editing.

One of my goals this week was to do more work on Everything. Though the company's long since out of business, it's still viable software. There are still plenty of improvements to make, and I'd like to use it for a couple of projects in the future.

To aid in my goals, I decided to write yet another standalone web server. Being a smart (read lazy) programmer, I used HTTP::Daemon. I could install Apache and mod_perl on my laptop and work through the configuration there, but this allows other people to debug Everything on their laptops and will help with a future goal.

HTTP::Daemon and CGI.pm have never played well together. With the GET request method, it's not difficult to populate %ENV appropriately. It's harder with POSTed parameters. One solution is to tie *STDIN. I've done it before. Another idea is to write your own CGI parser. Good luck. (I've done that too.)

This time, I took a two-pronged approach. Since Gisle had already explained the wonders of headers_only last July (thanks, Gisle!), I didn't have to work around HTTP::Daemon having already read the entire request. First, I modified Everything slightly so as to pass an initializer filehandle to the CGI constructor. Then, I overloaded the iterator (readline, basically) in HTTP::Daemon::ClientConn. With a few lines of code to read a line at a time (respecting buffers and reading from sockets), CGI now gets something it expects.

GET works, POST works, images work (and can be generalized to regular files easily), and cookies work. I'm pretty sure uploads work, but I haven't tested them. All of this in a hundred and thirty lines of readable code: EVServer.

That was a big boost to my mood. As it turns out, though, I was coming down with a nasty, nasty head cold. That explains why I've been wanting to sleep twelve hours a day for the last week.


Warning, tangentially technical.

I'm starting to think there's a tendency towards depression or melancholia that's associated with some of the other traits that make gifted system administrators and programmers. The correlation to musical or linguistic ability is pretty evident. Likewise, there are trends toward problem solving, logical thinking, and medium to strong introversion.

It's tempting to simplify, but I have a hard time picking one of the options. Is this personality type drawn very strongly to this industry? Does the state of the industry magnify latent traits? Is adolescence prolonged in the types of people drawn to computers and technology? Does participating in these activities prolong adolescence?

For example, patching systems that must have perfect uptime during business hours means working after hours or on weekends. The creative energy it takes to solve a thorny programming problem can strike anytime: during a walk, a shower, or in the middle of a dream. Sometimes it takes wrestling with a bit of software or an API for several hours before it starts to make sense. A great deal of free software is written on non-bank hours.

Let's also not forget the sense of play -- online debates and flame wars -- that take up so much time and energy. Granted, I see part of that as normal masculinity (in the C. S. Lewis sense), but there are lots of "debates" that lack some of the simpler social skills.

I bring this up because I worry sometimes about my ability to relate to other people. I suffer from insomnia and the lack of a set schedule takes its toll on me pretty quickly. I've done a lot of travelling in the past couple of years, had a few really big life changes, and live in a land of overcast, rainy winters. I've been really edgy lately, and have lost a lot of motivation.

Granted, worrying if I'm crazy is a pretty good sign that I'm not... but sometimes I care a great deal about what kind of a world I'm helping to build. I want to make a place of peace, a place of learning, a place of healing, and a place that helps people to become better and more complete. It's a huge goal, and the best way I know of is to be a good example.

I don't feel like the best example right now... but I'm trying. Here's my list of goals for the next little while.

Eat more fruit and vegetables. Drink lots of water. Go to bed early. Get up early and go for a walk. Clean out your inbox. Call your parents. Tell the people you love and appreciate one more reason you feel the way you do. Teach someone else to do these things.

If you're like me and haven't been feeling fully-charged lately, play along at home.

Back to Java:

When I returned to computer programming during my senior year of college, I chose Java. The Internet was the Big Thing back then, and applet programming looked pretty interesting. I'd dabbled in C++, but it was a lot more than I wanted back then.

In my subsequent job as a printing and imaging guru (color laser printers), I wrote a couple of in-house apps in Java. This was where and how I really got into Linux -- my brother was a fan and showed me how much easier development was than on a Windows (especially 3.11) machine.

I realized that Java wasn't meeting all of my goals when one of my projects could have been implemented in a 10-line shell script instead of several times that much Java. This was back in the 1.1 days, before the 1.2 beta, and part of my dissatisfaction was also in the awkwardness of AWT. Of course, it was also before the language was retargeted at desktop development, then server-side development, and before Linux had "official" support.

After several years of Perl, I'm brushing up on Java again. Why? Secret work project.

I don't know that I'd do a big project in Java, but it's always good to exercise the ol' computer science brain by exploring some of the Other Ways To Do It.

Perl 6:

Having been nominated as a Perl 6 Testing Guy, I spent some time trying to get new Perl 6 tests to work. In the process, I edited some documentation and fixed some bugs in the debugging framework. My tests are still not working, but at least what the documentation promises is now available. Tomorrow, I'll have a better chance of tracking down what's wrong.

The moral of the story: developers cannot rise above the quality of their tools.

More Parrot Hacking:

With a little more research today, a little more hacking, and a lot of debugging help from my roommate ("wait, is that a void pointer?"), I now have two animated smiley faces bouncing across the screen. Here's the relevant Parrot assembler:

    new P0, .SDLAnim
    new P1, .SDLAnim
    set I0, 0
    set P0["filename"], "smile.bmp"
    set P0["blankfile"], "blank.bmp"
    set P1["filename"], "smile.bmp"
    set P1["blankfile"], "blank.bmp"
    set I1, 320
    eq I0, 320, LAST
    inc I0
    dec I1
    set P0["x"], I0
    set P0["y"], I0
    set P1["x"], I0
    set P1["y"], I1
    branch LOOP

LAST: end

I have several enhancements to make before I release the code. First, I need to separate the window creation from the actual image objects. That's easy -- just create another PMC and make a way to associate the images with the screen. I have a pointer reserved just for that purpose. Second, I'd like to figure out how to add a new function to the PMC. Currently, the PMC redraws the image on each coordinate assignment. That's not so good for speed. I think this has something to do with the 'invoke' opcode, but I'm not sure.

Finally, I'd like to figure out how to make my new PMCs work without having to be core PMCs. Yep, I'm running a hacked version of Parrot. If I can figure out how to load a PMC dynamically, I'm good to go.

This has been a good learning experience (and I'm very glad to have gdb at my disposal). It's also been a little frustrating, as my C is rusty when it's not ignorant. Besides that, I have a feeling I'm at the very fringe of Parrot development here.

It's nice to do something no one else has ever done, though, and to get it to work.

More Testing:

Moving sucks. Five weeks later, there are still boxes and books lying all over my office. At least my housemates aren't any better. It's really cut into my motivation and coding abilities, though. Let's not talk about non-day-job writings, either!

This was a productive week, though. I've published and obtained several excellent articles. I've written an article about building online communities to be published on Monday, and think it's pretty good stuff. (It's very similar to chapter 8 of the book, which was quite fun to write.)

Development-wise, I've started on testing the hard bits of CPANPLUS. Autrijus is extremely smart; he just wanted a couple of examples and he understands the technique I'm using to make it easier. In return, he helped me get Module::Signature working correctly. (Or I helped him, either way. :)

I've also added several more tests for Everything. With new features coming in, now's the time to get people used to testing. Stopping development until we had complete coverage didn't work so well, as Zenon and I both seemed to burn out. Adding tests for new features and bugfixes will hopefully work better. My current task is to test the base SQL interface so I can simplify and improve it -- mostly done.

The other coup was having my first patch accepted into Parrot. Okay, it was a documentation patch, but I can't seem to pass a document that needs editing without fighting the urge to do some editing. It was productive. Nothing wrong with that...

A little introspection, if you please:

One of my last acts at my current job is writing a server that speaks SOAP and/or XML-RPC. Another developer is writing the client, in Python. I've used XML-RPC before, but hadn't done more than read through the docs for SOAP::Lite (and reviewed a couple of chapters for the upcoming Programming Web Services with Perl book). It's quite impressive, though.

For performance reasons during development, we switched our internal protocol to XML-RPC. Writing a server to handle that was also very quick and easy with SOAP::Lite. Writing a forking server is not difficult, either. Where the Python client is multi-threaded, I'm using multi processes as Unix intends!

Since several users can use the application at the same time, we're implementing access controls. Different user accounts exist, with different permissions. Some accounts only have read access, others can update, and still others can delete.

I like the way SOAP::Lite automatically dispatches requests to a specified package, but building in access controls to every method is too much work.

I created a proxy object (and not in the Matt Sergeant sense) to which SOAP::Lite autodispatches. The real work is done in the server object. The proxy object actually implements the access controls, creating user sessions, checking magic cookies, and testing if the user has the proper credentials to perform each operation.

The remaining issue was to identify the accessable methods in the server object and to mark them with the permissions they need. Maintaining a separate list somewhere struck me as too much work -- I'd have to keep updating code in two places. That's insufficiently lazy.

What I did was to use Attribute::Handlers to create a 'Publish' attribute. Now any method I want to be publicly available needs that attribute. Publish also takes an argument, the necessary permissions. The attribute handler stores the name of the method, a reference to the method, and the permission string. The proxy object calls get_methods(), receiving this data structure. It installs wrappers around each of these methods in the proxy object itself. That way, they're visible to the SOAP::Lite dispatcher, and I only have to resume a user session and check permissions once.

Through this all, I'm pleased to note that my decompisition skills are improving. The Once and Only Once principle really pays off -- if you get in the habit of factoring out common code, it's amazingly easy to add new features. Nearly everything that is reusable is reused.

Finally, a legitimate reason to use attributes and typeglobs in the same program.


I'll quickly admit to having tasted the Software Development Kool-Aid. Having worked for big companies and small companies, as well as for myself and with other free software developers, I've never even seen a project approach the levels of organization, documentation, and reliability that standard "best practices" prescribe. (Here, I'm thinking of just about everything that isn't Agile. ISO-9001 made busy work for two or three people out of 60 in the manufacturing group, and everyone else just ignored it until the auditor came around. Why would that be different with programmers?)

It is, of course, hubris to think that books, articles, and example code will make the entire culture of developers pick up better habits. I believe in peer pressure, and I believe most people do want to do things well, but I don't buy the Manifest Destiny undertones of some of the "open source" discussions. I do have several metaphors (relating the education of my particular subgroup of programmers to software testing -- my focus this past year) which seem to be writing themselves. I do plan to continue to write (oh, the plans!), because that is having some positive effects.

Looking at the state of programming in general, I see a couple of trends. There are people who program as a job, and people who program as a passion. Neither class is intrinsically immune from panic mode, where things spiral out of control. There are also people who've had training (whether formal computer science, vocational mentoring, or classes) and people who've trained themselves. I've seen mediocre code and shoddy development practices along both axes, so I won't credit formal study any more than necessary. It's not as if you have to swear to use proper encapsulation to pass your midterm.

Looking further, there are people who ought to know better and should be reminded that Quality Counts, and there are people who've never heard that things can be improved and need to be evangelized. I want to reach both groups.

This is one of those jobs that no one really wants to do, though, even if they know how. Of course, there are plenty of people who want to contribute back to their community, but don't necessarily know how. It's a good match.

The trick, as I see it, for Perl and QA is this. How do we:

  • Make mistakes and take the arrows once and only once
  • Learn the principles of good QA from those mistakes
  • Induce those principles into the minds of the community
  • Develop good tools to make everyone else much more productive
  • Spread the wisdom to other communities

One of Schwern's goals for Perl 5 QA was to work out our bugs with Perl 5 so we'd have a better idea how to handle Perl 6. I think it's time to start in on Perl 6 with vigor. Hopefully, we'll get a warm reception. (No, this entire, poorly-organized personal journal was not all just an excuse for that photo. It's a nice benefit, though.)

Yes, I have scary plans... stay tuned.

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