Sep 18

HTML Sucks

Note: I wrote this 2 years ago when I was obvi­ous­ly hav­ing some issues with some web pages I was cre­at­ing. I’m post­ing it as-​is because it’s still true even it I haven’t had to deal with HTML direct­ly in years.

Years ago, Tim Berners-​Lee set out to make the shar­ing of research papers eas­i­er so he devised a sys­tem which led to our cur­rent web. He devised (or reworked some exist­ing ideas) a sim­ple text based sys­tem to trans­mit the text and includ­ed some struc­ture so the dis­play­ing pro­gram (the brows­er pre­de­ces­sor) could for­mat the text is a rea­son­able way. His goal was to cre­ate a sim­ple sys­tem for dis­play­ing text. But as time passed, and peo­ple start­ed to see the val­ue in link­ing pages, some got the idea that they could do more than just show text. More tags were added, CSS was cre­at­ed, and the sim­ple mod­el that Berners-​Lee cre­at­ed can hard­ly be seen any more.

All of this slow addi­tion of fea­tures, ideas, pro­gram­ming, and styling has led us to a point where one has no idea if a par­tic­u­lar “page” will dis­play at all let alone in the desired form. There is so much com­pli­ca­tion and so many browsers (includ­ing ver­sions and plat­forms) that it real­ly is impos­si­ble to have any idea what one will get.

Feb 14

I Miss Emacs

I miss Emacs1. Emacs was awe­some and fun and every­thing that I ever need­ed in an editor–at least that is what I thought.

For those who don’t know, Emacs is an edi­tor that is writ­ten in a form of Lisp called eLisp (it’s close enough to just con­sid­er it Lisp) which has been enhanced to include text manip­u­la­tion prim­i­tives. There is a Lisp engine that is writ­ten in C, but except for the text prim­i­tives every­thing else is writ­ten in Lisp. And I mean every­thing. This makes it extreme­ly easy to con­fig­ure and mod­i­fy to make it real­ly yours.

I spent years using Emacs and devel­oped a large body of cus­tomiza­tion and pack­ages to sup­port my work. I once worked for a guy who lit­er­al­ly did not need code to be for­mat­ted to read it so he would cram as much as he could onto the screen with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion for mod­ern ideas of read­abil­i­ty. I on the oth­er hand could not read this jum­ble of char­ac­ters. It was so bad that the code for­mat­ters that exist­ed could not han­dle his code, so I wrote a com­plex Emacs macro that would parse the file (this was C code) and refor­mat it to some­thing that the for­mat­ters could han­dle. To make him hap­py I also wrote the con­verse which would mash the code back into its com­pressed form (hey he was the boss).

There is no way I could do this with most of today’s edi­tors. On the oth­er hand, Emacs has not been able to keep up with the progress of most IDEs. Large scale refac­tor­ing is not real­ly pos­si­ble with Emacs. There are pack­ages to do some sim­ple refac­tor­ing but they are lim­it­ed. So gave up some years ago and moved to and IDE (at the time it was Eclipse but I’ve moved on to IntelliJ IDEA and friends). With all of the code com­pre­hen­sion tools built in to it I just can­not be as pro­duc­tive while using Emacs (or any straight edi­tor) any more.

But I still miss being able to look at a prob­lem and say “I can write a macro for that.” There is some­thing mag­i­cal about know­ing that you can bend the tool to your will rather that hav­ing to bend to its design. And you haven’t lived until you work with an edi­tor that some­one said “you know, this is Turing com­plete so I think I’ll add a new mode that sup­ports Vi inside of Emacs2.” One edi­tor inside of anoth­er just using the macro language–that is pow­er.

I still fire it up some­time when I need to work on a few files from the com­mand line and Vi/​Vim is not enough and I feel a bit of nos­tal­gia when my fin­gers auto­mat­i­cal­ly fall into famil­iar pat­ters: Ctrl‑S (incre­men­tal search), C‑X,C‑S (file save), Ctrl‑K (kill), Ctrl‑Y (yank), and all of the oth­er eso­teric key­strokes. Even after all of these years they are ingrained in my mus­cle memory–unfortunately, the mod­i­fi­er keys have moved around which slows me down. Why do we need a gigan­tic Caps lock but­ton in one of the prime loca­tions on the key­board? Seriously, do peo­ple real­ly need the Caps lock key?

I love IntelliJ and will have a hard time chang­ing if some­thing bet­ter man­ages to be cre­at­ed but it’s just not as fun as Emacs. Need to do a sequence of steps mul­ti­ple times? Just record it as a tem­po­rary macro and exe­cute it as often as nec­es­sary. Need to keep it? Just save it. Need to make it more robust, con­vert it to a code macro and edit it. And do this mul­ti­ple times a day because it is so easy.

I will always have a spe­cial place in my heart for Emacs.

Mar 01

Starting again

EDIT I back-​dated the I’m at Google post to reflect when it hap­pened so I’m back-​dating this post as it would look strange to say I’m restart­ing after I restart­ed,

It’s been a long time since I updat­ed this blog. I’m nev­er sure when I start whether I want to do it or not, and I keep restart­ing but it nev­er seems to go any­where. However, some very smart peo­ple who I respect say that doing a blog is a good thing and helps to solid­i­fy your own knowl­edge and gives you a record of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone. So I’ll try again.

May 05

Back Again

A while back my blog died. I had no idea what went wrong and I had no wish to spend what would most like­ly be days of time fig­ur­ing it out. Instead, I just let it lan­guish. Over the years I tried half-​heartedly to fix it but to no avail.

Things in my life have changed and I thought that I would at least try to extract the old posts and maybe move to anoth­er sys­tem. So I start­ed the long process of get­ting into the data­base that holds the blog and after reset­ting sev­er­al pass­words and installing a new SSL cer­tifi­cate man­aged to get into the data­base. I found the right table and man­aged to extract the post data into an XML file. Now that I had the old posts I could start to cre­ate a new blog.

However, while I was there I fig­ured I would try one more time to fix the exist­ing one. I start­ed by try­ing to update WordPress but that failed because of a pass­word prob­lem. I fig­ured out how to get past that one and was able to upgrade to ver­sion 3.9 and then sud­den­ly every­thing start­ed work­ing again. I still have no idea what went wrong or what upgrad­ing did to fix it but at least I don’t have to start over.

Everything appears to be back the way it was and I was even able to acti­vate some of the new­er fea­tures that WordPress has added. The look-​and-​feel of the pages may change over the next cou­ple of weeks as I adjust those new fea­tures and even play with a new theme (the one I’m using was called Classic sev­er­al years ago).

At this point I do not real­ly no where I’m going to go with this blog and I may give it up again–we’ll just have to see.

Jun 12

Back to it

I took a bit of a hia­tus due to some issues in my life. I now have a new job with a dynam­ic com­pa­ny called RockYou and I’m back in school going for my mas­ters. These and a fw oth­er things have kept me from even con­sid­er­ing work­ing on a blog. But I’m now going to try and work on it again. We’ll see if I do bet­ter than last time. Only time will tell