Archive for March, 2009

File List Applet – now with more autotools!

I decided that before I did any more work on the applet, I would improve its installation process to make it easier for people to try it out. So, the process to get and build the source now looks like this:

Download

  • Browse source here.
  • Download the source: bzr branch http://stevenbrown.ca/src/FileListApplet

Install

  1. Install dependencies (Ubuntu package names given): sudo apt-get install python-xdg python-gnome2-desktop python-gtk2 python-pyinotify
  2. Branch the source using the bzr command, above.
  3. cd into the directory.
  4. ./configure --prefix=/usr (the prefix is important!)
  5. make
  6. sudo make install
  7. If the applet does not show up in your Add to Panel menu, try restarting the bonobo-activation-server: killall bonobo-activation-server.

Autotools

Autotools is pretty much the standard in source package management on linux. Except for the name, there is nothing automatic about autotools. Every encounter I’ve had with autotools has usually defeated me and left me frustrated and leaving whatever I was working on to do something else. For me, because I had labeled it the next step, it basically stalled the entire project for a while. Most people tend to copy and paste other projects’ autotools setup, but I figured that was overkill for my purposes and I didn’t find anything that quite suited me. I looked at gnome-blog, but it seemed like some stuff wasn’t quite working properly and some was completely unnecessary… in fact, this seemed to be a trend when looking at the autotools stuff in projects. Why is this? Autotools is not simple and due to this simple fact, I think it fails completely on many levels. Developers massage it enough to get it working, but few actually understand it all – I know I sure don’t! So please forgive the sloppiness and feel free to send patches. 🙂 I gave up doing a couple things, like getting the revision number (bzr revno) and including it in the version string (see configure.ac). I know it’s probably something super simple, but I couldn’t seem to pass a variable containing a string as the version….

I feel that GNOME, as a platform for development, could seriously benefit from some kind of frontend to autotools that handled GNOME development nicely and hid as much as possible from the developer (including all those nasty config files that pollute the package tree). Anyway, I did not have an enjoyable time grappling with autotools, but I’ll end this mini-rant here.

Laptop’s New Life

My laptop has had its fair share of problems, mostly because it’s aging; I bought it nearly 6 years ago!! I’m actually impressed it’s aged so well! A few days ago, the display started to flicker with increasing frequency and become distorted shortly after turning it on. Here’s a video showing the problem: (Warning: contains a little bad language – woops…)

(Link to video here if embedded object doesn’t show up.)

Last night, I took it apart and tried wiggling every LCD-related wire I could find, hoping to affect the display’s output and conclude it was a fixable loose connection.

Laptop in Pieces

Nope. Fine. Who needs a screen anyway?

Screenless Laptop

I now have a very compact desktop – it even includes wireless, keyboard, mouse and speakers! It just needs a monitor. I haven’t decided whether I will make it a pseudo media PC to stream things from my desktop to the TV (a little work), or just to have it replace the family computer (almost no work!). The family usually gets my computer hand-me-downs. 🙂

Anyway, looks like I’ll need a new laptop sometime soon. I vowed to go smaller with my next laptop, but I’m not sure if a netbook would suffice. Of course, I would like it to run Linux (Ubuntu?), have long battery life, reasonable storage, support WPA2, have a built-in 1.3MP camera, and all that good stuff. Bluetooth would be nice, too. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Reading – XP and Design Patterns

I got a few books out from the library, recently, which I’ve been reading on the bus. I’m currently alternating between Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change and The Joy of Patterns: Using Patterns for Enterprise Development. I wish I had read the XP book before being project manager for my Software Engineering project at University, a couple years ago. But perhaps having gone through that experience allows me to relate to the material more directly. It’s easy to read and the author, Kent Beck (one of the fathers of XP), identifies the reasons behind the development methodology, and the problems they help solve. I’ve always had this feeling of agreement with XP practices, many of which seem like common sense, but haven’t always been able to articulate the reasons. Thankfully, the author does not have this problem. 🙂 I’m about 50 pages in, and it’s quite good, so far.

I picked up the Design Patterns book because the one I wanted, Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software, wasn’t there. (The library has 3 copies of it, but it’s always out with a wait-list of people requesting it. This list now includes me. 🙂 ) Anyway, the one I picked up is extremely terse. There are UML diagrams provided, sample code, and a problem description… but not much in way of explanation. It’s format is kind of like this: there’s this problem, how do we address it? Boom, here’s a pattern. Boom, here’s a diagram. Done. Next. Or… but we could improve on this pattern with this other pattern. Boom, another diagram. Why? Figure it out.

This book is fine if you’ve been exposed to the patterns previously, and need a refresher, but it is not a good source to learn from. I’m familiar with some of the patterns, but even then, they may be called something different, or implemented slightly different, and it’s been a while, so it takes me longer to understand than if there was more explanation. Looking forward to picking up the other patterns book. If you have not been exposed to design patterns before, or are a relative beginner programmer, and definitely if you are not familiar with UML diagrams, avoid this book. It’s a book on design patterns (not a simple topic) that’s less than 200 pages, so you can’t really expect a thorough resource. I’m about half way through it. On one hand, I’m curious what such a small book has to offer, but on the other, I’m not sure I’ll finish it. I’ll probably concentrate on the XP book, for now.

Work and Stuff

I meant to go snowboarding at Cypress today, but I went to sleep at 4am (thanks to the time change and my laptop), so I’ll take a lazy Sunday to provide a few much needed updates. (If you’re reading this and also thinking about squeezing a little out of the remaining ski season, hit me up and lets see if we can go together!)

Work

At the beginning of April, I will be returning to the government office I worked at previously, but this time as a full-fledged civil servant! Exciting, I know. 🙂 I worked there previously as a casual employee, and the person I primarily worked with will be going on maternity leave, so I’ll be filling her shoes while she’s gone. The work is not exactly what I’d like to be doing, but I’m hoping I can work on personal projects and keep my mind tuned to my other interests. (However, I know I have trouble doing this, as regardless of the job, I like to relax afterward.) This is also my proverbial foot-in-the-door, so I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for other job postings of potential interest. Right now, the security and benefits that come with a government job are quite welcome.

Additionally, over the last few weeks, I’ve been working as an ESL tutor, and I will continue to do so until I start the new job. Actually, I really enjoy tutoring! It’s fun working with different people all the time. And if I decide to teach English abroad at some point (a very acceptable means of travel) this is great experience. It’s good to know I might actually enjoy the work, as well. It’s just not a job that can sustain much of a life, in Vancouver, at the moment. 🙂