My new love: Python + wxPython

I have a new love. It’s Python with wxWidgets. Add xwGlade, and I think I’ve found programming nirvana.

I’ve been programming in Python for a couple of weeks now. I find it very easy to learn, writing code is super fast, I don’t have to waste my time writing things that the language already understands, it’s well documented, and it’s pretty to look at and read. That also happens to be pretty much everything I’d read about Python. As an interpreted language, I’d also heard that Python is slower that C, but I certainly haven’t noticed it being slow.

I also started using wxPython about two weeks ago. It was easy to learn and make a GUI with, and the GUI I made looks great on both Linux and Windows.

wxGlade was dead simple to learn. I was able to throw together a GUI really quickly and start adding functionality to it.

Here are some of my favorite sites for learning wxPython:

I have very little time to work on personal programming projects, but working with Python + wxPython + wxGlade has been extremely fast and fun.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion reactions

Some of the features of the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion were announced today. I am very disappointed in the changes Apple is making to the OS and the UI.

I used to really like Mac OS X, but in recent years I have been liking it less and less. I don’t actually use Mac OS X, except when I visit my mom and use her iMac with version 10.3 on it. Even so, I like to follow its development.

It’s been hard for me to describe, but I think today’s announcement finally made it clear to me. I think the original idea of Mac OS X is wonderful. There is a windowing UI with lots of drag and drop. It has great default settings and appearances. There is pretty much one way to do everything: UI is Aqua, software installation is drag and drop, and so on.

What I mainly don’t like about recent versions of Mac OS X is the “layers”. Apple keeps adding layers and layers to the UI, and it looks like a mess to me. Spotlight adds search to the desktop which should be in the file manager. Dashboard adds a literal extra layer of tiny applications that run on top of your other applications. Time Machine “takes over” your entire desktop with a space theme. That springy thing in the dock is the “answer” to having too many icons down there, and it isn’t even consistent in appearance with itself all the time. Newly announced features include super-fullscreen mode for some applications that breaks the established window model, a new method of cycling through open applications (while leaving the old methods), and a new screen to store and launch applications from. It all looks very nice and flashy and like a load of crap to me. You see this screenshot from the Mac OS X early public beta? It looks fabulous. I wish it still looked like this.
Macosxpb

Another thing I greatly dislike is the tendency for applications to do everything. iTunes, the music player, now plays movies, stores mobile applications, and includes a store. iPhoto, the image viewer, connects to Facebook and can send emails. Garageband, the music writing software, now teaches you how to play an instrument.

Lastly, the “transition” from Aqua to brushed metal is terrible in my opinion. The UI doesn’t look nearly as nice and consistent as it used to.

My general feeling after hearing about the updates was for how grateful I am for Haiku. I started using Haiku because it was free and open source software and it was unified like Mac OS X. Now I’m thinking Haiku is a better Mac OS X than Mac OS X.

Mechanical keyboard

I finally saved up enough money and bought a mechanical keyboard. It arrived yesterday.

I decided to buy the Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless with Cherry MX Brown switches, from elitekeyboards.com. It appears to be extremely popular for first time mechanical keyboard buyers.

My reasons for choosing this keyboard include:

  • The small form factor fits on my desk better. It allows me to reach and use my mouse more easily. I never use the number pad.
  • It has a very high build quality and will last a long time.
  • Mechanical keyboard users say that almost any mechanical keyboard is better than the cheap membrane keyboards that come with most computers. I decided to get the Cherry MX Brown switches because they are very quiet but still tactile, meaning you feel a slight “bump” as you press the key down.
  • It is relatively inexpensive. I paid $125 USD. That’s more expensive than a $70 Unicomp buckling spring keyboard, but less expensive than a $265 Happy Hacking keyboard.
  • I bought replacement keycaps for the Windows keys from Das Keyboard. Although they are made for the Das Keyboard, they work very well on a Majestouch keyboard. They fit perfectly. The size difference is unnoticable. The replacements are a bit more shiny than the other keys. If you use one of the replacements that have lettering, the font is different.
  • It has full n-key rollover. I’m not sure I would ever really need this feature, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
  • I like the key layout. All of the keys are in the right place and are the correct shape. I can’t decide where I prefer the control key, so the bottom left corner is fine for me.

I’ve only had it for one day and have been too busy to use it a lot, so I don’t really feel like I can give it a “review”. But here are my immediate opinions:

  • I really like the size, although it is taking some time to get used to.
  • The build quality does feel great. It’s kind of heavy.
  • The keys are very light and easy to press. I feel as if I can type quicker without having to worry about missing keys.
  • The replacement keycaps for the Windows keys work fine. They don’t look “perfect”, but they work perfectly, were a relatively cheap solution, and were super easy to install.
  • I now understand why mechanical keyboard users describe cheap membrane keyboards as feeling “mushy”. The Cherry MX Brown switches feel sort of “hollow”, as if there’s nothing under the key. Even so, I can easily press every key even if I don’t hit it “straight on”, I feel a nice “bump” as I press it, and it immediately springs back up when I release it.
  • I am happy with my purchase and feel it was worth the money.

Other notes:

  • I am using it with the included PS/2 adapter.
  • I got the (standard) black model.
  • The cord seemed a little short when I unpacked it, but the length is just fine. I think I’m just used to a super long keyboard cord.
  • I don’t think many people would be convinced that a mechanical keyboard is a whole lot better than a cheap membrane keyboard and worth the extra money IF they only try it for a short test. I get the feeling it’s something a person would have to experience for an extended period of time, and then try going back to a cheap keyboard to really feel the difference, and to feel that it’s worth buying. Of course, there will be people that love it from the beginning, and there will be people that never really like it, but that’s the general feeling I get after purchasing and using my first mechanical keyboard.

Social networking privacy

I, like many people, have accounts on many different social networking websites. I, also, like some, am very unhappy with the terms of service and lack of privacy on them.

Privacy

The way I see it, there are two issues in regards to privacy. First, there is the issue of who sees my content. Even if I post photos to a website such as Shutterfly and password protect them, I still don’t know what Shutterfly is doing with them. (for the record, I’ve had a fine experience using Shutterfly) Also, even though Shutterfly offers unlimited image uploads of unlimited resolution, I found out they still reduce the file size by lowering image quality. Boo.

Second, there is the issue of who controls my content. When I post a blog entry to a website such as Blogger, I don’t even know what I agreed to let Blogger do with it. I assume it is being scanned for information to increase advertisement revenue for them. Also, whether it be images or blogs, once the website goes down (and all websites eventually go down) then all of my content goes down with it. I can’t imagine too many people save a local copy of their long (emotional, personal, thought provoking…) blog entries, and I think many people are beginning to not even save a local copy of many of the images they post. (such as from mobile phones) All of that will be lost.

As long as I’m ranting, I also think it’s ridiculous that so many people post photos on Facebook when Facebook saves them at such an incredibly low resolution and quality. Yuck.

I was excited to hear about projects such as Diaspora, but was very disappointed at their lack of quality and progress.

I give up

I gave up. I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. I setup my own website from my personal computer using my regular DSL internet connection.

I had never done anything like this before. I started with the simple instructions for setting up my router and , and signed up for a free domain name with DynDNS and ddclient. That took a couple of hours one morning. I then spent a few hours in the afternoon and followed the simple instructions on the Arch Linux wiki for setting up a LAMP server. Then I installed the AUR packages for Zenphoto and WordPress. I put a simple password on Zenphoto as a way to simply control who sees our family photos, and may or may not do the same on WordPress. I also haven’t decided if I’ll host my own WikiMedia site.

Conclusion

I don’t plan on using Shutterfly, Blogger, Myspace, or LiveJournal anymore. I still plan on using Facebook, but simply as a way to keep in contact with many people easily. I might not move my Archlinux.me posts to my own website, since I don’t think my wife appreciates my nerdy rants.

So, I now have a beautiful website for blogging and posting photos that has no EULA, no privacy concerns, no size or quality limits, and no advertisements. It uses free and open source software, and didn’t cost any extra money to setup and run. I own my content, and I can share it with whomever I want and do with it whatever I want.

Free music

I really dislike the RIAA, the major music industry in the United States. I decided to stop buying music from them.

About two years ago I decided to completely stop listening to music from the RIAA. I deleted all of the music I had from them. I now only download (and pretty much listen to) music that is available for free by the artist. Also, I’m not against paying an artist for music, as long as they are not associated with the RIAA. Here are some of my favorite websites.

ccMixter

Not only does all of this music cost no money, but you are also free to do (almost) anything you want with it, including adding it to a movie soundtrack or making a new song with it.

muzie

This is a website for Japanese musicians. It is easy to navigate and there are many different styles of music. There is music of MANY different styles available. I contacted some of the artists and thanked them for their work.

OverClocked ReMix

This website hosts tons of video game music remixes. If you don’t know where to start, try downloading some of the albums they have produced.

Magnatune

Magnatune hosts many different types of music from around the world. It is possible to find free music to download from them. Most of the music there can be purchased and is inexpensive, and much of the profit goes to the artists.

If you are interested in removing any RIAA material from your music collection, you can use the RIAA Radar.

At first I was worried about if listening to only free music would work. It’s been a great experience. I don’t feel like I have any shortage of good music to listen to.

Duck Duck Go

Thanks to the Arch Linux forums, I learned about the internet search engine Duck Duck Go. I have replaced it as my default search engine at home and at work. I’ve been using it for six months now. It’s been a good experience. Here are some of my favorite features:

Cleaner and better results – The information I’m looking for is often automatically displayed at the top of the page. If it isn’t, it’s usually one of the first few links. In my experience, if Duck Duck Go doesn’t find what I’m looking for, Google doesn’t either.

Automatic new results – There are no “pages”. Instead, the results appear as you scroll.

Privacy – There is better privacy compared to Google. (as far as I know)

Bang commands – “Arch Linux !images” or “tile based game !sourceforge” or “drcouzelis !google” or “Terminator !wiki”. I usually can guess a new bang command without looking it up.

The only thing I don’t like about it is that, compared to Google, the site-search functionality seems a little weak. So instead I usually do something like “drcouzelis site:bbs.archlinux.org !google”.

I haven’t figured out how to use Duck Duck Go as a verb yet. (“Try googling it” vs “Try duckduckgoing it”) Instead, I just say “Try doing an internet search”.

Somebody already made that!

I wanna write an application for Haiku, but every time I think of something to make and begin writing down ideas for it, I find out it already exists!

I was all excited to start working on a personal finance and budget application when I found out about BeFinancial. Recently it’s even been released as open source software.

With Linux I think of it as normal to have many different applications that have very similar functionality, but with Haiku that just doesn’t seem to happen as much. Reasons that happen with Linux include:

Different toolkits – On Linux there is GTK+, Qt, FLTK, Fox, GNUStep, and on and on. On Haiku there is one standard toolkit.

GUI vs CLI – Haiku was designed from the beginning to have a fast and easy GUI, although it is still simple to a terminal window with BASH.

Heavy vs light – Haiku applications feel fast and light, even when they are “heavy”. Haiku applications are written to use functionality provided elsewhere as much as possible. For example, emails are saved simply as files in a folder.

Maybe I should think simpler. Maybe I should think, “What do I want to use my computer for that could be made easier and faster by having a special application?”

Stable, pretty, convenient GUI

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to find a simple, nicely pre-configured graphical user interface for Linux.

I’m used to spending a lot of time setting up things on Linux. I’ve done it for years. It’s been a fun hobby. I remember the first time I started using my mom’s new iMac, many years ago. I remember thinking it was so boring. There was nothing to setup or configure. It didn’t bother me, though, because I thought the default configuration and appearance was really nice.

I want something like that for Linux. I want a GUI that:

…has attractive default settings.

…includes complete window management functionality.

…has only one way to do everything.

…requires little configuration and maintenance.

…does not look like Windows 95.

I really want to like KDE.The recent 4.5 release behaves a little strangely with my video card, but it works. I’ll probably stick with it for now.

I’m also a big fan of Window Maker, but I always end up “using” it too much instead of “doing” stuff with it.

As for other operating systems, Haiku meets the requirements of the kind of GUI I’m looking for. Maybe instead of trying to find the perfect GUI in Linux, it would be easier to write all of the software I need for Haiku and use that.

Why I started using Haiku

I have dual boot setup on my computer with Arch Linux and Haiku. Arch Linux is my primary operating system, but when I want to relax or have a little more fun I boot into Haiku.

I started using Haiku about six months ago, and for a pretty simple reason. It’s an entire operating system made by one group of people.

GNU/Linux is made of different pieces of software written by different people from different places at different times. It’s a collection of multiple options for kernels, window managers, desktop environments, libraries, sound systems, boot managers, and on and on.

GNU/Linux works, and works very well in my opinion, but I was looking for something different, something with more of a complete design in mind. I wanted something that had the consistency of Mac OS X with the freedom of a free and open source license. FreeBSD meets that criteria if I exclude a graphical user interface.

I looked into alternative operating systems and Haiku fit my criteria well. It’s a complete and unified operating system from boot to GUI, including an API for everything I need. It has very active development, and a nice, yet small, set of applications to use, including a native WebKit web browser.

Haiku is a remake of BeOS. I have never used BeOS before, but found out I really like using my computer the “BeOS way”. Compared to other operating systems and user interfaces, I prefer to use Haiku. I like the consistency between applications. I like the responsiveness of the user interface. I like the clean look and nice default settings. I like the simplicity of installing and uninstalling applications. I find that the user interface better fits my work flow.

I’m excited about Haiku having a stable release some day, whenever that is. I’m also excited about writing some applications for it, but I can’t really think of what to make. I’ll probably start by just converting my video game to native Haiku code.

Objective-C in Linux

I am a big fan of the Objective-C programming language. Since I love it so much, it makes me frustrated to see people spread misinformation about it that isn’t true.

First of all, what is Objective-C? It is a programming language that allows a programmer to use objects in C.

How does it compare to C++? C++ and Objective-C were both created to allow for easier object oriented design. Even so, they are very different: C++ is a new language based on C, and is mostly compatible with C. Objective-C is C, but with objects.

Let me restate that. A program written in C might compile and run fine with a C++ compiler. With an Objective-C compiler, a C program will compile. It’s guaranteed, otherwise it’s not an Objective-C compiler.

So, what libraries are available for Objective-C? GTK+, Allegro, OpenGL, SDL, glibc, the Linux API… Any library written in C is by default an Objective-C library, and there are a lot of libraries written in C. A programming language may be considered as good as the libraries available for it, and as you can see, it would be silly for anyone to suggest that there are no libraries for Objective-C.

What about GNUstep? GNUstep is a toolkit, including GUI widgets, written in Objective-C. I haven’t used it.

Is Objective-C tied to Apple? Objective-C is a well defined language that is well supported by GCC. Realistically, Objective-C doesn’t seem to be used much nowadays except for Mac OS X and iOS applications. I have never written an application for an Apple product. Also, I don’t have any comments about Objective-C 2.0 or Objective-C++, because I haven’t used them.

Is Objective-C slow? It might be slower that C and C++, but not to the point where I think it matters, nor do I think anyone would be able to tell the difference. In my opinion, the ease of use more than make up for any loss in speed there might be.

Isn’t the syntax for calling a method in Objective-C is obnoxious? Nope. It’s just different, and certainly has its own benefits and drawbacks.

C++:
window->addButton(okButton, 50, 75);

Objective-C:
[window addButton:okButton x:50 y:75];

Why would someone choose to use Objective-C? Objective-C can be compiled for all major operating systems. (for example, anything that supports GCC) It is a compiled language that produces executable files, just like C. It can natively use all C libraries. It is as “simple” as C, but with objects.