Search Results: "Eric S. Raymond"

24 September 2013

Simon Josefsson: BLURB: Software repository metadata convention

As a maintainer of several software packages I often find myself copying text snippets from the README file into different places (savannah, github, freecode, emails, etc). Recently I had a need to generate a list of software packages that included every project s name, brief summary, license and URL. I could have generated that list manually by copying the text from every project s README and COPYING files. However then I would have to maintain my list manually to keep it in sync with all the projects. This easily leads to stale information, so I thought a better approach would be to put the information I needed into each projects source code version control system. The advantage is that the manual work to extract the information may be automated by a script, since the data is in a usable format. I ll explain here how my solution works. To be able to find the information using only the URL to the repository, I needed a filename convention. The filename I chose was BLURB; for the etymology, see Wikipedia s page about Blurb. The data format in the file is similar to normal email headers. An example illustrate the principles well. Below is the BLURB file for one of my projects.
Author: Yubico
Basename: libyubikey
License: BSD-2-Clause
Name: Yubico C low-level Library
Project: yubico-c
Summary: C library for manipulating Yubico YubiKey One-Time Passwords (OTPs)
The format is simple: UTF-8 text with each line starting with a header followed by a colon ( : ), some whitespace, and some content. If a line starts with whitespace, it is a continuation of the previous line s content (trim leading whitespace). The following table describes the fields that I use. I may update this blog post in the future with new fields or improved explanations (for reference, current date is 2013-09-24).
Header Meaning
Project Short identifier for the project (e.g., gcc , emacs )
Name Official name of the project in English
Summary Brief one-line summary of the project s purpose in English
Author Origin of the project
Homepage URL to the project s website
License License keyword, preferrably using one of the SPDX license identifiers
Basename The tarball basename, if different from the project name
Finally some reflection of the solution. After quick design, I thought that I couldn t be the first one with this problem, and I tried to find other similar efforts. I haven t been able to find any standardization effort that have the following properties: The related efforts that I found were SPDX which at first look seemed to offer what I wanted. However on closer examination it failed to deliver on all the requirements above, and appeared to have somewhat different goals. However I found the SPDX license list useful and refer to it. Another effort is Eric S. Raymond s freecode-submit and shipper but its primary focus is to encode information about each release. The design of the BLURB file is clearly influenced by these tools. Another influence has been Debian s specification for machine-readable copyright information. The Free Software Foundation s list of software projects seemed like another candidate, but it doesn t suggest any way to store the information in the upstream project itself. flattr this!

28 July 2012

John Goerzen: How to get started programming?

I have been asked for advice from several people recently on how to get started programming, or how to further develop a nascent interest in coding or software engineering. The people asking the questions range in age from about 10 years old to older than me. These are people that, for various reasons, are not very easily able to take computer science courses right now. One would think that, since I ve been doing this for somewhere around a quarter century (oh I do feel old now), that I d be ready to offer up some great advice. And offer some suggestions I have. But I m not convinced they re good ones. I have two main tensions. The first is that I, like many in the communities I tend to hang out in such as Debian s, have a personality that leads me to take a deep dive into details of anything that holds my interest. Whether it s Linux, Haskell, or amateur radio, I want to do more than skim the surface if I m having fun with it. Many people are not like that. They may have a lot of fun programming in Visual Basic, not really caring that other languages are out there. Or some people are not like this yet. I feel unqualified to provide good advice to people that are different from me in that way. To put it a different way: most people don t want to wait 4 years to be useful, and want to start out right away and get better over time (and I was the same way too.) The second is related. I learned programming at a time when, other than BASIC, interpreted languages were not really available to me. (Yes, they were available, but not to me.) I cut my teeth on BASIC, Pascal, and C. Although I rarely use C anymore, I can still drop into it at a moment s notice and be perfectly comfortable. I feel it was a fundamentally valuable experience, and that it would be very hard to become a great programmer without ever having lived and breathed something like C, where memory and pointers must be managed manually. Having said that, it is probably possible to become a good coder without ever having touched C. Here, then, is an edited version of some rambly advice I sent to someone recently, where learning OOP was particularly mentioned. I would welcome your comments and suggestions. I may point people that ask to this post in the future. For simply learning how to write code, Dive Into Python has long been a decent resource, though it may assume more experience than some have. I haven t read them myself, but I ve also heard good things about the How to Think Like a Computer Scientist series from Green Tea Press. They re all available as free PDF downloads, too! Eric S. Raymond s The Art of Unix Programming is another work I ve heard good things about, despite having never read it myself. A quick glance at the table of contents makes me think that even if people don t wind up working on Unix, the lessons and philosophy should be informative. It seems that many Computer Science programs are using Java for the core of their instruction, or even almost exclusively. Whether that is good or bad, I m not completely sure. It certainly gets people into OOP more deeply, but I m a right tool for the job kind of person. Despite the hype, OO like everything else isn t the right tool for every job. It is fine for people to dive straight into OO and become good programmers/engineers. However, I think it would be difficult to become a great programmer/engineer without ever having a solid understanding of a more low-level language, such as C in particular. I did my CS work when it was mostly based in C, and am glad for it. If someone never has to manage memory or pointers, I suspect they will be at a disadvantage in the long run for not being able to understand or work with the system at a more fundamental level. If a person knows C, plus some concepts of OO and Functional Programming (FP), it should be easy to pick up just about any other language out there. I used to think Python was a great first language, but during the 2.x series they added so much fluff and so many special cases that I m less enthusiastic now, though I don t know how much of that got cleaned up in 3.x. I am not too keen on Java as a first language, because too many things that should be simple aren t. I have a fondness for Haskell, and its close relationship to mathematics could make it a great first language or maybe a poor one, depending on your perspective. One other thing I think it s important for good programmers to have experience with all three major models of programming (procedural, OO, functional.) Even if a person winds up working mostly in one universe, knowledge of and experience with the others is important and informative and, in my experience, leads to better algorithms and architecture all around.

8 December 2011

Tanguy Ortolo: Return codes

According to Eric S. Raymond, one rule for Unix programming is the Rule of Silence: When a program has nothing surprising to say, it should say nothing. Since return codes are a form of information, I would like to add: when a program has carried out its task with no surprise, it should exit(0).Take xscreensaver-command -lock, for instance. That command is meant to make a running XScreenSaver to lock the screen. I have never seen it fail in doing so, however I sometimes get a non-zero code:
% xscreensaver -lock
xscreensaver-command: could not frobnicate window 4212
zsh: exit 1   xscreensaver-command -lock
Well, xscreensaver-command, I have the deep regret to announce you that despite of your surprising return code, you successfully succeeded to lock my screen. But that return code is wrong and annoying. Wrong, because as a user, I do not care if xscreensaver-command -lock failed to frobnicate some window he would have loved to as long as it does its job and locks my screen. To the user's point of view, locking the screen is binary: either it is done and it is a success or it is not done and that is a failure. And it is annoying, because it makes the return code meaningless and prevents you from using it to do things like:
% # Lock screen and suspend to RAM (only if locking was successful)
% xscreensaver -lock && sudo pm-suspend
With xscreensaver-command sometimes returning a non-zero code with no apparent reason, you end with a locked screen and your computer still running, and have to unlock it and try again. This looks like this meaningless dialogue: So please, when you write a utility, design your return code for the user, not for you. If your utility has done the job, it should exit(0). What happened inside does may interest you as the developer but it does not matter to the user as long as the job is done, so it should not be reported to him, especially not with a misleading failure code.

19 September 2010

Asheesh Laroia: When "free software" got a new name

On January 30, 1998, gushed about the ethical underpinnings of the free software movement. The movement was growing:
Netscape's bold move last week [was] to free the source code of its browser is a prime-time endorsement for no-cost, build-it-yourself software.
The free software movement was in its second decade. In the first decade, corporations learned to tolerate it. In the late '90s, a transition was underway. Red Hat was one of the first companies ostensibly founded on free software principles. But as free software grew, some were concerned that its name was holding it back. The article explains with a link to a page within
But "free software" is an ambiguous term - there is a difference in meaning between the cultures of PC-based proprietary systems and the Net-centric UNIX worlds.
Michael Stutz, the author of the piece, surveyed the writing of Eric S. Raymond and interviewed luminaries like Bob Young, Russell Nelson, and Marc Andreessen. The article is about the creation of a new term for the freely-reusable code produced by the free software movement.
As proponents of free software often point out, while this software can be free-of-cost - that is, gratis - the real issue is about freedom, or human liberty. So it is really freed software.
Yes, that's right -- freed software. The emphasis is in the original. Most of us know the names Eric S. Raymond and Russ Nelson as people involved early-on in the Open Source Initiative. I guess January 1998 is before they decided on the "open source" name. Today, the community is divided into people who think it's important to say "free software" and the rest who call it "open source." We'd all agree with the following statement from the article:
"Freed software is a big win for society in general," said Russell Nelson.
And that's today's random page from the history books.

26 October 2008

Biella Coleman: When did the term cracker arise?

Seegras asked
Until Eric S. Raymond turns up in 1990 with this: CRACKER (krak r) n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined c. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of HACKER,
see definition #6. And I ve never heard before of this; so I presume ESR himself decided that people who break into systems are now called by a name which some other group had already applied to themselves. I anyone has some documents referring to this kind of crackers from before 1990 and not from ESR, I d be happy to hear of. And I ve got plenty of documentation on the other crackers , those who crack copyprotection, from 1980 onwards
Does anyone know the answer? Have any thoughts? I penned a few comments below as well but won’t repeat them here. His comment as well as Nona’s reminded me of this brilliant shirt crafted by Mathew Garret.

18 July 2007

Romain Francoise: NewVC: Emacs VC with changesets

Eric S. Raymond has apparently begun work on a new version of Emacs' built-in version control (VC) mode which addresses one of VC's historical shortcomings: its file-centric model. VC was originally designed for RCS, which tracks each file individually.

"NewVC" now has the basic infrastructure to manipulate changesets for backends that support them (Subversion, Arch, Bazaar, Mercurial); there's no UI yet but it looks promising... This change was long overdue, committing several files in one go is a must-have nowadays even with less advanced tools like CVS and having a common framework can only be good. Over the years, a number of more advanced interfaces like PCL-CVS and psvn.el have been developed to compensate for VC's defects, all with subtly different keybindings, which makes for a rather annoying experience.

I bet the folks over at DVC aren't too pleased though, since NewVC will probably make DVC mostly irrelevant.