Scribbling in the margins

Reference books, like “Java in a Nutshell” are so yesterday! We should be downloading secure digital content which augments our development environment. Most “nutshell”-like books are just annotated reference manuals some comments and examples in additional to the raw reference material. Well, I’d like to have my reference material hyperlinked and embedded in my development environment so it’s available in context, and therefore I’d also like the additional commentary to be embedded in my development environment too. Sun might supply the raw API documentation, and then third-parties like O’reilly could supply useful annotations. But let’s not have it on paper …

Now I want electronic margins to scribble in. Why is API documentation usually treated as read-only? I’m much more efficient when I’m using a highly personalized development environment. But most development environments won’t let me scribble on the API docs. It’s like the system assumes that the docs are the pinnacle of perfection and therefore don’t need to be altered. I can imagine that the margin notes from an experienced programmer would be worth their weight in gold.

Digital Life

I’m fermenting two digital-camera inspired programming ideas at the moment. I saw a commercial program for digitizing whiteboards by photographing them and post-processing. The company charges something like $250, which is pretty steep for a 2d warp, some filtering and a bit of color quantization. So I’ve been working on my own version, written in ocaml.

The second idea is to do OCR using a digital camera instead of a scanner. Clearly, if it works then it’ll be cool because cameras are much faster than scanners. Normally, OCR programs only need to correct for rotation (if you scanned the page squint) before splitting the page up into characters and matching them. If you’re working from a photograph, you might have to correct for perspective and non-flat pages too. There’s very few open-source OCR packages out there, so that’ll be an impedement to getting started on this project.

Gee, just think of the digital shoplifting implications!

Better Future With Better Tools

When you realise that the contents of your ASCII text file is just one particular representation of the “Platonic Ideal” version of your code, you start wonder if it’s a good representation, or if it’s a load of rubbish.

I was lying on the grass in Holyrood Park this evening, having returned to my hobby of finding new ways to fall off mountain bikes (by cycling backwards, or doing no-handed trackstands). The first thing I noticed was that I usually think of the sky as “that thing above the horizon”. That’s very two dimensional of me. When you’re lying on your back, the sky becomes this big circle all around you. I then spent a while trying to change my point of view from “I’m lying on the ground and the sky is above me” to something more like “I’m stuck to the earth by gravity and ‘up’ and ‘down’ are just convenient notation rather than being the whole truth”. And then I got onto software engineering ..
Continue reading “Better Future With Better Tools”

Squeaking towards ICFP 2003

I am waiting for the ICFP programming contest to start. I’ve even managed to remember that we’re currently in BST, and the contest starts at 0:00 GMT. What posessed them to start a contest at this time? This is taking geek obsession with zero-based numbering schemes to new levels of stupidity.

Anyhow, I am using this contest to test Squeak “in the real world”. I’ve done lots of small-scale programming using Squeak recently, but now I want to see if it stands up to a 24 hour coding frenzy (I’m only entering the lighting division). So, first and foremost this is a Squeak coding exercise, and if I eventually submit an entry that’ll be a bonus. I wonder if they’d given bonus points if I managed to submit working entries in five different languages?

I’ve been playing around with recording my desktop with vncrec. I briefly thought about recording the whole of my ICFP effort so I could review it later. It’s really trippy watching yourself programming. You notice how inefficient current GUI’s are. I’ve just watched a recording of myself trying to click a small button, and it takes several attempts to get just the right position. The same problem occurs when positioning the insertion point before typing. No wonder Apple’s magically zooming application launcher is such a good thing for mouse users, and no wonder that I prefer to keep my hands on the keyboard. I don’t like the way that keyboard shortcuts in Squeak change their meaning depending on which window you’ve got highlighted. I’d like alt-B to always bring up a browser, regardless of where the pointer is.

On a seperate topic, I intend to later add a ‘autocomplete selector’ feature to the Inspector window. Since smalltalk is dynamically typed, you don’t really get the same sort of autocompletion which is available in IntelliJ or Visual Assist. However, if you’re entering code in an Inspector window, you do know what type ‘self’ is, so you can do better than the command-Q shortcut which just autocompletes using every single selector in the world. Most of the time, I’m typing “self foo” into Inspector windows, so it’ll be useful for me.