Older blog entries for ralsina (starting at number 604)

The Steady State of Open Source

The Steady State Theory says, in rough terms that the universe has been and will be more or less as it currently is, because there are parallel processes of creation and destruction.

So, galaxies exhaust but then there are new galaxies, and the thing, as a whole, remains unchanged, in a way. Sure, it's not the same galaxy, and nothing that was in the old galaxy remains, but if you avoid specifics, things are the same.

I feel the same thing happens in the free software universe. The two forces are reaction and features.

Reaction is the creative force. Most, if not all, free software is reactive. It itches, I scratch, scratching is reactive. There are many examples:

  • There is no free desktop! Let's create KDE!
  • KDE is not the right kind of free, sort of! Let's create GNOME!
  • KDE and GNOME are too heavy, bloated and whatever! Let's create XFCE!
  • XFCE is not as lean and mean as before! Let's create LXDE!
  • LXDE is (we'll find something) let's create WHATEVER-DE!

This even happens within a project:

  • Hey, we created KDE!
  • KDE 1.x has no object model and GNOME does, let's do KDE 2.0 on CORBA!
  • Hey, that sucked, let's do KDE 2.0 on DCOP and KParts!
  • Well, that's old an crufty, let's do KDE 3.0 cleaner!
  • KDE 3.x looks old, let's throw all the UI away and do KDE 4!

And I am sure those familiar with any software product that has lived long enough to go through major rewrites and upheaval can do similar lists.

However, sometimes, the complains just don't go away.

  • Netscape 4.x is slow and crufty! We rewrote it as Mozilla!
  • Mozilla (SeaMonkey) is slow and crufty! We rewrote it as Firefox!
  • Firefox is slow and crufty! We wrote Chrome using webkit!

And guess what people say about Chrome? It's slow.

So, the lesson there seems to me that writing a lightweight, generally useful, web browser is impossible. Why? Because of features.

As projects age, they grow features. Like the strange ear and nose hair men start growing in their 30s, features are a fact of the lifecycle. And with features come code, because that's how you do features.

And code is a liability, as (I hope) you all know. The more code you have, the more expensive it is to add things, and to be swift about improving your application. Most successful projects die, or grow senescent, hobbled by the weight of their features.

So how does a project stay young? I can think of a few ways.

It may have a benign (or evil, for that matter) dictator, with the right amount of hostility towards features (Linux). It may be so exquisitely modular that features don't couple with each other (emacs). It may reinvent itself every 5 years and throw everything away (KDE). It may have a very clear focus on one feature and a culture around it (Bacula).

And for each of those mechanisms, there are incountable examples of projects with too annoying dictators, projects overengineered to absurdity, stalled rewrites that never release and absolute focus on a feature noone cared about.

Sorry, the universe is a tough place.

Syndicated 2012-08-31 09:47:52 from Lateral Opinion

Nikola: New Tag Index Pages

Short and sweet:

In Nikola my static site/blog generator, the Tag pages used to just be a big list of titles linking to the posts in the tag. Now they can (optionally) look just like the blog does, but filtered. Check it out.

Minor tweaks still needed (like, mentioning the tag somewhere in the title), but the basic functionality (filtering, pagination, layout, etc) is complete.

To enable it in your site, just use master from git and enable TAG_PAGES_ARE_INDEXES = True in your conf.py.

Syndicated 2012-08-27 22:09:23 from Lateral Opinion

The end of lateral.netmanagers.com.ar

This site has been lateral.pycs.net, lateral.fibertel.com.ar, lateral.blogsite.com, and has been, for several years, lateral.netmanagers.com.ar.

Well, I am slowly going to deprecate that URL, and the new URL will be http://ralsina.com.ar where you already can find it since a few months ago.

It will involve some work moving comments around and such, but nothing much should change, all old links should remain valid, and all comments should stay attached to the right post.

I will contact the various planets that aggregate it, but since the feed will remain constant thanks to feedburner, I expect not to lose anyone in transition.

Syndicated 2012-08-26 22:33:55 from Lateral Opinion

Qt Mac Tips

My team has been working on porting some PyQt stuff to Mac OSX, and we have run into several Qt bugs, sadly. Here are two, and the workarounds we found.

Native dialogs are broken.

Using QFileDialog.getExistingDirectory we noticed the following symptoms:

  • If you do nothing, the dialog went away on its own after about 20 seconds.
  • After you used it once, it may pop up and disappear immediately. Or not.

Solution: use the DontUseNativeDialog option.

Widgets in QTreeWidgetItems don't scroll.

When you use Widgets inside the items of a QTreeWidget (which I know, is not a common case, but hey, it happens), the widgets don't scroll with the items.

Solution: use the -graphicssystem raster options. You can even inject them into argv if the platform is darwin.

Syndicated 2012-08-25 14:24:36 from Lateral Opinion

Istanbul, The Lost Pictures


I will probably never take a better picture than this one.

I found a camera today at home, and then it hit me: this was the camera we took to Istanbul, dropped on the floor, never worked again, and I never found after we came back! And it still had the SD card in it!

So, here are the pictures (not even filtered), so family can see them.

Syndicated 2012-08-20 22:31:18 from Lateral Opinion

Cloud Atlas

Finished reading Cloud Atlas, gave it 5 starts. Here's a quick review:

I am not going to explain this book. It's enough, I think, to say I loved it, and that it's strange, and that it's a bit of a mistery.

Imagining a universe in which all the contents of the book could be real at the same time in a way that would allow all the pieces to be written as they are and yet, be, somehow, not the novel they are, but a found artifact, is both depressing and ellusive.

At the end, I felt something I can only describe as retrospective hope, the feeling that things were supposed to end up better, but that even as terribly as they did end, were it not by that earlier hope, they would have been more grim.

The control the author has over his own style is impressive. This book feels written by half a dozen completely different writers.

Some quotes (which may only make sense once you read the book):

"The sun was deaf'nin' so high up, yay, it roared an' time streamed from it."

"In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished, and by then it'll be too late"

"What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To posess, as it were, an atlas of clouds."

Syndicated 2012-08-17 22:45:41 from Lateral Opinion

Nikola 4 Released

I have just uploaded release 4 of Nikola my static blog/site generator. Here are some of the changes in this version:


  • Previous/Next post links
  • Teaser support
  • Support posts with HTML "sources"
  • Site checking script (nikola_check)
  • Maximum image size in galleries
  • Image descriptions in galleries
  • Image exclusion in galleries
  • Special "draft" tag
  • Pretty code listings ("code galleries")
  • Page descriptions
  • Easy theme tuning via Bootswatch
  • Support for WebAssets bundles
  • "Filters" for powerful file post-processing


  • Improved HTML output
  • Support multiple time formats in post metadata
  • Slugify tag names for URLs
  • Archive path and filename configurable
  • Galleries sorted by date (supports EXIF)
  • Rotate gallery thumbnails (EXIF)
  • Tag feeds in tag pages
  • Colorbox support in restructured text figures
  • Fix for content displaying too wide
  • Changelog

As usual, you can discuss bugs or make feature requests at the nikola-discuss group and I love to know of sites using Nikola.

Hope you like it!

Syndicated 2012-08-17 10:10:03 from Lateral Opinion

Trying out CloudFlare

It's not that I need a CDN in any way, since the traffic for this site is little and the way the site is built is light, but hey, it's free, easy to setup and easy to leave when I feel like it. And I expect to have significantly higher traffic eventually after I finish some not-so-secret projects.

What's CloudFlare's service? They take over your DNS, then put a reverse proxy between your site and the clients. That reverse proxy then uses a CDN to serve you the pages from a conveniently located server, and can rewrite the HTML/JS/CSS in some ways to make it faster/safer/nicer.

It also supposedly will protect my site from different kinds of attack (the only one that could possibly affect me was DOS attack, but thanks anyway ;-)

Also, they offer a platform so apps can provide services for me, like intruder detection, analytics, and others, which is a very cool idea.

So, I created an account at cloudflare.com and configured it so that http://ralsina.com.ar (which is this exact same site except for wrong comment counts) is served via cloudflare, and lateral.netmanagers.com.ar is served directly.

What I've seen so far:

  • Setup is very simple
  • It works, even setting up experimental features
  • It does seem very slightly faster, but that's not a surprise since the tiny server the site runs on has good conectivity and ample unused resources.
  • It does do a good job of automatically optimizing some things in ways that are generally accepted as a good idea (in other words, my pingdom and YSlow numbers moved up)

So: no pain, maybe some gain. I will probably move all sites into it tonight.

Syndicated 2012-08-13 17:12:37 from Lateral Opinion

Sometimes More is More

We all hear all the time that less is more. That simple is better, that complex is worse, that options are evil, that defaults are what matter.

And yes, that is about 90% true. Except when it is false, which I know because I bought a coat a few weeks ago.

This is a rather nice coat, and if you saw it without much care you would miss one of its best features: it has two pockets on each side.

Let's think about why we want pockets in the sides of coats:

  1. To put our hands when it's cold. Since this is a cold weather coat, that's important. In moderate climates like this one, gloves are more trouble than they are worth, and just sticking hands in pockets is enough.
  2. To put stuff that is not hands in them: keys, phones, money, candy, etc.

For the first use case, we want the pockets to be shallow angled, so that the hand goes in naturally, almost horizontally. Also, we want the access to be unobstructed, so no zippers, which also scratch the wrists.

For the second use case, we want things not to fall off. So we want either a vertical pocket (perhaps with a flap) or a zipper. Zippers suck because you can forget to zip them, and things fall off. Vertical pockets are awful to put your hands in.

So, my jacket has two pockets on each side, one with a zipper, one without. One for hands, one for things. Since it's a thick coat you don't see it unless you know what you are looking for, and it's trivial to use: everything goes in the zipped one, except my hand. I can even check the contents of the zipped pocket without getting my hands out of their pockets.

This is one case where more is more, complex is better, options are awesome, and defaults don't matter. Now, if you find a place in software where that's the case, that's an opportunity.

Syndicated 2012-08-11 15:33:06 from Lateral Opinion

Nikola: Filters & Bundles

Two upcoming features for the next release of Nikola, my static site generator, due sometime in August.


Filters let you postprocess your output. Think of it like instagram for websites, but useful. You can configure per file extension a series of python functions or shell commands, which will be applied in place to the output file.

For example, suppose you want to apply yui-compressor to your CSS and JS files:

    ".css": [filters.yui_compressor],
    ".js": [filters.yui_compressor],

There, filters.yui_compressor is a simple wrapper around the command so that it applies in-place to the output files.

If you use strings there (untested), they are taken as commands. The "%s" will be replaced by the filename, the usual crazy shell quoting rules apply:

    ".jpg": ["jpegoptim '%s'"],
    ".png": ["pngoptim '%s'"],

Keep in mind that the filters modify the output of Nikola, not the input, so your images, CSS, and JS files will not be touched in any way. And of course changing the filters applied to a file will force a rebuild, so you can experiment freely.


Having many separate CSS or JS files is usually a nono for performance reasons because each one may involve a separate HTTP transaction. The solution is to "bundle" those files in a single, larger file.

The reason not to do that is that usually it means having a huge, uncomfortable thing to handle. So Nikola tries to give you the best of both worlds, by letting you have separate files, and bundling them (or not) on build.

There is a new option, USE_BUNDLES that defaults to False, and there are some changes in the theme templates so that it uses the bundled version when needed.

This was only possible thanks to Webassets. However, if you don't have Webassets installed, or you don't enable USE_BUNDLES, this should cause no changes in the output.


These new features will allow Nikola users to improve their site's performance with minimal tweaking, which is always a good thing.

Syndicated 2012-08-10 20:06:54 from Lateral Opinion

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