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tychoish/rhizome/ Erstwhile Programmer

Erstwhile Programmer

tychoish
15 December 2011

This is the story of how I occasionally realize I exist on the continuum of "programmers," rather than just being an eccentric sort of writer type.

Evidence

download-mail

I have this somewhat peculiar method of downloading email that I think works great. A few weeks ago, however, I was trying to compress things in "hot storage," and realized that I had a problem.

For a year or so, I had been automating commits to the git repository that held all my mail. In order to effectively archive and compress some mail, I needed to do some serious rebasing to not only remove a bunch of messages from the current repository but also pull that content from the history and flatten the history somewhat.

The problem was that I had 50,000 commits and there's simply no effective way to rebase that many commits in a reasonable amount of time, particularly given I/O limitations. So I gave up, started from (relative) scratch, and rewrote the scripts to be a little bit more smart... You know in an afternoon.

See the revised code here: download-mail

ikiwiki-tasklist

I've written about this before in my post on my new personal organization stuff, but it's no great announcement that I'm moving away from working in emacs' org-mode and doing more work with ikiwiki and some hand-rolled scripts. I think org-mode is great, it just ended up getting in my way a bit and I think I can get more of what I need to get done in other ways.

I have learned a great deal from org-mode. I made the biggest leap away from org-mode when I wrote ikiwiki-tasklist, which does all of the things I had been using org-mode's agenda for. It's not a complicated at all: look in some files for some lines that begin with specific strings and put them into a page that is the perfect task list.

See the code here: ikiwiki-tasklist

Common Lisp Weenie

"What Window Manager is that," he asked.

"StumpWM, it's written in Common Lisp," I said, launching into a 30 second pitch for Stump.

My pitch about stump is pretty basic: the Common Lisp interface allows you to evaluate code during run-time without restarting the window manager or loosing state; it's functionally like screen, which is very intuitive for window management; and it has emacs-like key-bindings, which I think work pretty well.

"So you're a Common Lisp programmer?"

"Well not really, I mean, I know enough to get by."

"Right."

"Right."

Conclusion

In several (technical writing) job interviews recently, people asked me about my programming experience, and my answer varied a lot.

I know how computer programs work, I know how people write computer programs, I understand how software testing and debugging works, I understand the kinds of designs that lead to good programs and the kinds that lead to bad software. I don't write code--really--but I can sort of hack things together in shell scripts when I need to.

The answer to the question, these days, is "I'm a programmer in the way that most people are writers: most people are comfortable writing a quick email or a short blurb, but get stuck and have trouble really writing longer or more complicated kinds of text. Reasonably capable but not skilled."

The above code examples work: they do what I need them to do, and particularly in the case of the mail script, they work much better than the previous iteration. I need to do more work, and I feel like I'm reaching the boundaries of what can be comfortably done in shell scripting. My next big programming project is to go through these two scripts and port them to Python and see if I can add just a little bit of additional functionality in the process.

I'm sure I'll report to you on this as my work progresses.