Long Time No See

Hello again everyone! Soooo much has happened since I last posted on my blog. I figured it was about time to check in and actually be active on my own site again. What follows is just a summary of what has happened in our lives since the beginning of February this year.

Leaving ScienceLogic

First of all, my wife and I decided toward the end of 2011 that it was time for us to move away from Virginia. For reasons that we did not quite understand yet, we both wanted to move to Utah. I applied for my first Utah-based job opportunity just before Christmas 2011. Several of my friends in the Salt Lake City area were kind enough to get me a few interviews here and there, but none of the opportunities were very serious.

Probably about the time I wrote my last blog post, I was contacted by a recruiter in Boise. I would have loved to move back to Idaho, but my wife would have nothing to do with me if I did that. When I shared this information with the recruiter, he said he had a recruiter friend in the SLC area and that he'd pass my information along to him. Within a day, his friend had me set up with a screening problem for a company just outside of SLC.

I was a little hesitant about that particular opportunity, because it was a Ruby on Rails development shop and an advertising company. However, our timeline was getting smaller and smaller--we had to be out of our apartment by the 1st of April--and I didn't see any other serious opportunities on the horizon. So anyway, I completed the programming problem in both Python and Ruby and had a few video chats with some guys with the company. I guess they liked my work, even though I hadn't touched Ruby in several years.

Sometime in the middle of February, the company extended me an offer letter, which my wife and I considered for a few days before accepting. My last day with ScienceLogic was the 30th of February. My first day with the new company was the 12th of March, so we had a couple of weeks to pack everything up and drive across the country. Packing was ridiculously stressful, but the drive was actually quite enjoyable (my wife wouldn't agree). I drove my Mazda 3 with my 2 year old son in the back, and my wife drove the Dodge Grand Caravan with our 7 month old twins.

The New Job

We arrived in Utah on the 10th of March and immediately fell in love with the little town house we're renting and the surrounding community. It's a really nice area. We spent the first couple of days exploring the area and learning our routes to various locations.

My first week on the new job was interesting. They didn't have much for me to do, and we were all scheduled to go to a local tech conference for the last three days of the week. Very appealing way to begin a new job!

As time went on, I did a bit of work here and there, but most of my time on the job was just spent warming a chair in between requests for things to do. Eventually, I just got fed up with the amount of work I was (or, rather, wasn't) doing. By the beginning of May, I was already looking for another job where I could feel useful.

I got in touch with a guy I worked with for a couple of weeks before he quit working for the company that brought us to Utah (I'm intentionally avoiding the use of the company's name). This guy was only able to stand working for that company for about 3 weeks before he quit and went back to his prior company. He referred me for an interview with his managers, and by the middle of May, I had a new job lined up.

The Better New Job

While I was initially hesitant about the job (test automation), I looked at it as a major step up from what I had been doing since March. That and it cut my commute in half. And they provide excellent hardware. Anyway, I started working for StorageCraft Technology Company at the end of May as a Senior Software Engineer in Test.

My task was to build a framework to make the jobs of the manual testers easier. I had no requirements document to refer to, or any specific guidance other than that. I was simply asked to build something that would make lives easier. StorageCraft had recently hired another test automation developer, and the two of us worked together to come up with a design plan for the framework.

We built a lot of neat things into the framework, gave a couple of demos, and it seems like people are really quite pleased with the direction we've gone. I gave a demo of the (Django) UI just the other day, and my supervisors basically gave me the green light to keep building whatever I wanted to. Since the other test automation guy got the boot for being unreliable, I will get to see many of my plans through exactly the way I want! I'm really excited about that.

Enough About Work

Aside from all of the excitement in my career decisions, things are going very well with the family. We live about 3 hours away from my mom, and we've been out there to visit a few times already. It's really fun to see the kids playing with their grandma! The last time we were out for a visit, for my grandmother's 80th birthday, my son and I took my dad's Rhino for a spin. We got stuck, and it was sooo much fun!

Mudding in the Rhino

The twins are growing so well too. They're crawling and getting around very well now. Jane has started to stand up on her own, and she tries to take a step every once in a while. Claire prefers to sit, but she loves to wave, clap, and repeat noises that she hears.

My wife is planning on starting up a new website soon, and she keeps taunting me with the possibility of having me build it for her. Yes, taunting.

Okay, Back to Hobbies

My wife also picked up a Dremel Trio for Dad's Day. To get used to it, I made some little wooden signs with the kids' names on them. Being the quasi-perfectionist that I am, I'm not completely satisfied with how they all turned out. I suppose they'll do for a "first attempt" sort of result though!

First project with the Dremel Trio

I've still got various projects in the works with my Arduino and whatnot. A couple of months ago, I finished a project that helps me see where I'm walking when I go down to my mancave at night. The light switches for the basement are all at the stairs, and my setup is on the opposite side of the basement. I typically prefer to have the lights off when I'm on my computer, and it was annoying and horribly inefficient to turn the lights on when entering the basement, go to my computer, then go back to turn the lights off.

To solve that problem, I re-purposed one of my PIR motion sensors and picked up a LED strip from eBay. I have the motion sensor pointing at the entrance to the basement, and the LED strip strung across the ceiling along the path that I take to get to my desk. When the motion sensor detects movement, it fades the LED strip on, continues to power it for a few seconds, and gradually fades them out when it no longer detects movement. It's all very sexy, if I do say so myself.

Lazy man's light switch

I've tried to capture videos of the setup, but my cameras all have poor light sensors or something, so it's difficult to really show what it's like. The LED strip illuminates the basement perfectly just long enough for me to get to my desk, but the videos just show a faint outline of my body lurking in the dark. :(

One project that is in the works right now is a desk fan that automatically turns on when the ambient temperature reaches a certain level. The fan's speed will vary depending on the temperature, and there will be an LCD screen to allow simple reporting and configuration of thresholds and whatnot. I'm pretty excited about it, but I want to order a few things off of eBay before I go much further with it.

Obviously, much more had happened in the past months, but this post is long enough already. Things are calming down quite a bit now that we're settled in, so I hope to resume activity on my open source projects as well as this blog.

Review: Hacking Vim


Some of my faithful visitors may have noticed that I have a thing for Vim, one of the oldest and most powerful text editors in the world. In the past 15 or so years that I've been developing, I have spent quite a bit of time in several different text editors. It seemed like I was continually on the quest to find the fastest, most feature-packed editor out there, while still being cross-platform compatible and having it stay out of my way. Speed has always been very important to me.

I have been using Vi and Vim regularly since about 2000, when I began dabbling with Linux. I could certainly hold my ground in either of the two programs, but I was by no means proficient. The more appealing text editors for me offered syntax highlighting and code completion. At the time, I was under the impression that Vi/Vim didn't offer either of these two features. It wasn't until around the middle of last year, however, that I really started putting effort into learning and using Vim. After asking some of my Vim-savvy friends a lot of questions to get me kickstarted, I began to see the power that lies in Vim.

Before long, Vim had replaced all other text editors as my preferred editing environment. I learned that Vim could satisfy just able every single one of my personal qualifications for the perfect editor. I dumped all other editors in favor of Vim, and I even opted to use Vim over a several hundred dollar IDE at work.

Anyway. I received a review copy of Kim Schulz' "Hacking Vim: A cookbook to get the most out of the latest Vim editor" a couple of months ago and have been rummaging through it since then. I have learned a ton of fantastic tips from this little book! Being a cookbook, you're not expected to read the entire book start to finish. Rather, you can dig right into whatever section interests you and feel right at home.

Brief Overview

Packt Publishing printed this book back in 2007, but all of the tips are still very much up-to-date. The book starts off with the obligatory history lesson (which is actually quite interesting if you're a nerd like me), and the target audience is described as such:

New users join the Vim user community every day and want to use this editor in their daily work, and even though Vim sometimes can be complex to use, they still favor it above other editors. This is a book for these Vim users.

After the history lesson, chapter 2 of the book digs right into personalizing Vim to fit your own preferences. Topics covered include:

  • changing fonts
  • changing color schemes
  • personalizing highlighting
  • customizing the status line
  • toggling menus and toolbars in gvim
  • adding your own menu items and toolbar buttons
  • customizing your work area

Chapter 3 discusses better navigation techniques. Topics covered include:

  • faster navigation in a file
  • faster navigation in the Vim help system
  • faster navigation in multiple buffers
  • in-file searching
  • searching in multiple files or buffers
  • using marks and signs

Chapter 4, titled "Production Boosters" discusses the following:

  • templates using simple template file
  • templates using abbreviations
  • auto-completion using known words and tag lists
  • auto-completion using omni-completion
  • macros
  • sessions
  • registers and undo branches
  • folding
  • vimdiff
  • opening remote files using Netrw

Chapter 5 introduces some advanced formatting tips. You can learn how to put text into nicely-formatted paragraphs, aligning text, marking headlines, and creating lists. For code, this chapter discusses several different indentation options.

Vim scripting is the topic of chapter 6, and Schulz covers a wide variety of useful tips to get anyone started on scripting Vim to do their bidding. Tips include:

  • creating syntax-coloring scripts
  • how to install and use scripts
  • different types of scripts
  • basic syntax of Vim scripts
  • how to structure Vim scripts
  • debugging a Vim script
  • using other scripting languages (Perl, Python, Ruby)

Appendix A describes how Vim can be used for much more than just text editing. Several different games, including Tetris and a Rubik's Cube are briefly introduced, along with how to use Vim as a mail client or programmer's IDE. Appendix B suggests miscellaneous configuration script maintenance tips, such as how you can maintain the same configuration script across several different machines.

My Thoughts

I was very impressed with this book. I was afraid that, being published in 2007, it might be a little too out-of-date for my personal tastes. Since the book is about Vim, though, I wasn't overly concerned (the editor has been around for decades, and it doesn't change drastically from release to release anymore).

Just like the last book I reviewed, I found several typos in this book. A lot of the typos were in the first few pages of the actual content, and some were definitely more minor than others. This sort of thing doesn't really detract much from the material covered, but it sure does stand out as a distraction for people who pay attention to details.

Here are some of the things that I truly enjoyed reading and learning about (many of which actually made my jaw drop in awe of Vim)

  • Specifying multiple fonts for GVim, just in case your first choice isn't always available:

    :set guifont=Courier\ New\ 12, Arial\ 10
  • Specifying different font faces based on the extension of the file you're editing:

    :autocmd BufEnter *.txt set guifont=Arial\ 12
  • Highlighting the line your cursor is currently on, and the column the cursor is in:

    :set cursorline
    :set cursorcolumn
  • Limiting the number of suggestions that the spell checker offers:

    :set spellsuggest=5
  • Navigating to different words based on whitespace instead of "regular" word separators:

    • W to move to the beginning of the next word
    • B to move to the beginning of the previous word
    • E to move to the beginning of the previous word

    I knew about the lowercase variations of these commands, but not the uppercase.

  • Navigating up and down in the same long, wrapped line:

  • Opening a file that is referenced in the current buffer:


    I learned that this even works on Python imports! Just like the description says, it will work on the import module, not classes or other objects from inside the module. Not quite that intelligent!

  • Incremental searching:

    :set incsearch
  • Searching up/down in a buffer for any occurrence of the word under the cursor:


    I knew about the usual # and *, but those two will only match the same exact word. When they're prefixed with g, they will match any occurrence of the word, be it whole or part of another word. For example, hitting g* while the cursor is over the word foo would would match both food and foobar, while * would match neither.

  • Using markers to jump between specific points in different open buffers (mA through mZ)

  • Prepopulating empty files based on their extension:

    :autocmd BufNewFile * silent! 0r $VIMHOME/templates/%:e.tpl
  • Formatting a paragraph of text:

  • Formatting all paragraphs of text in a file:

  • Smart indentation:

    :set smartindent
  • Enabling paste mode, so smartindent doesn't try to format code that you paste into your buffer:

    :set paste
  • Prettifying XML and HTML using Tidy:

    :autocmd FileType xml exe ":silent 1,$!tidy --input-xml true --indent yes -q"
    :autocmd FileType html,htm exe ":silent 1,$!tidy --indent yes -q"


All in all, this is a fantastic book. I will be keeping it near my workstation as a quick reference book when I want to do something crazy with Vim. I've already recommended the book to several of my friends and acquaintances, and I will make the same recommendation here. If you are mildly familiar with Vim and at all interested in getting more out of this fabulous editor, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book.

Why I Like Python

For the past 8 years or so, I've been very much involved with programming using the PHP scripting language. It is a powerful scripting language that suits building websites very well. PHP has a huge set of useful built-in functions, and more recent versions support object-oriented programming. I first started teaching myself PHP when I got tired of having to build each and every web page on my site manually. I hated having to change dozens of web pages just because I added a new link to my navigation. All sort of reasons like this prompted me to investigate PHP. Little did I know then that this language would occupy so much of my time in the future.

I rapidly learned that PHP offered much more than just allowing me to update one part of my website to change all pages. I started tinkering with all aspects of what PHP offered, and I'm still learning about it. After many years of searching, I finally found a programming language that was easy, fast, and efficient for my needs.

Through the years, I continued to develop various applications using PHP. I attempted to write my own forum/bulletin board software while I was still in high school. If I may say so myself, the forum really had some awesome concepts behind it. But my problem was that I lost interest too fast. I also built a very large application that reduced a 1.2GB MS Access database down to less than 15MB using PHP and MySQL. The new application offered many enhancements over the previous system. For one thing, it was much faster. Second, it allowed multiple simultaneous users to modify the database. Three, so far it has lasted more than 3 years, compared to the 1 year maximum that the MS Access solution always seemed to hit before it crashed.

Using PHP, I helped revolutionize the way one of the companies I work for developed websites. I built a simple in-house web framework that supposedly reduced development time by allowing us to forget about the mundane details involved in virtually every website and just get to the developing. In a matter of two weeks (with a full class load and another job), I managed to write an e-commerce solution for the same company using PHP.

Basically, PHP has treated me well over the years. But this post is not supposed to be about PHP. If that's the case, why have I rambled about PHP this whole time, you ask? Well, it's mostly to demonstrate that I have a lot of experience with the language. I have a pretty good feel for what it's capable of and how I can accomplish most anything I need.

With all of that in mind, I've encountered my frustrations with PHP. They may seem petty and moot to most people, but they have turned out to be the determining factor in what scripting language I prefer. Here is a short list of things I now despise about PHP:

  • dollar signs ($) to signify variables -- while this is a useful feature, it becomes quite bothersome when you're programming all day long (at least it does for me). I'll get to why later.
  • using an actual arrow (->) to access attributes -- most other modern programming languages simply use a period (.) for this functionality. I'll comment more on this and why it frustrates me later as well.
  • lack of true object-oriented constructs -- in other object-oriented languages, like Java, if you have a string and you want to determine its length, you call the length() method of that string. In PHP, you call a function such as strlen($var). This sort of behavior plagues the language.
  • too many unnecessary keystrokes -- as I mentioned before, all mutable variables are preceded by a dollar sign ($). That is 2 keystrokes (shift and 4) every time you want to refer to a variable, wheres most languages nowadays have none). Likewise, accessing attributes of objects in PHP uses an arrow (->), which is three keystrokes (minus, shift, and .). Most other object-oriented languages only require a period (one keystroke) for such functionality. The main reason I make such a big deal out of the number of keystrokes is simple. The more keystrokes a program requires, the more likely you are to have bugs. The fewer keystrokes a program requires, the less likely it is that your program will be broken. It boils down to maintainability. Also associated with the number of keystrokes is the pure laziness within me and most other programmers.

These frustrations have been bothering me for several years now. I continued using PHP mostly because it's so widely supported, but also because I could not find a suitable replacement for it. I investigated a few others, but they apparently didn't have a great influence on me right now because I don't remember any names.

When the whole Ruby on Rails bandwagon was rolling through town, I decided to hop on to see what all of the hubbub was about. I started studying the Ruby script language, and I found that it had some really neat things about it. It uses a more solid approach to object-oriented programming, which I really liked. I also noticed that it employs some intriguing structures for accomplishing things in ways I've never seen before. Despite these things, Ruby still didn't seem like a viable replacement for my PHP. It didn't come up to snuff in performance in many cases, so I essentially abandoned it.

For at least a year now, I've been interested in learning Python. I've heard a lot about it over the years, but I just never seemed to make the time to actually sit down and study it. That is, not until about the beginning of August of 2007. After I made my decision that Ruby and Ruby on Rails weren't quite up to par for my needs, I stumbled upon the Django Project, which is a web framework similar to Ruby on Rails, only built using Python.

I decided this was my chance to actually sit down and learn a little about this "Python" so I could see what it had to offer. I mostly used Django as my portal to Python. As I started learning Django, I became more and more familiar with the way Python works and how I work with Python.

At some point in time, I decided that I actually liked Python, and my wife let me buy some really cool books to help me learn it. By the beginning of October 2007, I had convinced my supervisor at work to let me start building websites using Django instead of our home-grown PHP framework.

And here comes a story. This is the main reason I blabbered about my experience with PHP so much at the start of this article. Again, after all these years, I feel very confident that I can do just about anything I want efficiently and elegantly with PHP.

Back in October of 2006 (after using PHP for some 7 years), I was asked to write a PHP script to parse some log files and output various bits of information in a certain format. After maybe a week, I had a script that did the job fairly well. Most of the time it worked, but there were occasions when it didn't and I had to fix it. The script turned out to be 365 lines of code with very few comments scattered throughout. It's also a maintenance nightmare, even for me.

In October of 2007, I rewrote that same script in Python. After only a couple days, the script seemed to be perfect. It did its job, and it did it well. With comments for just about every single line of code, the Python version of the script took up a mere 118 lines of code. Take out the comments and it is 56 lines of code. The script is several times more understandable and maintainable than its PHP counterpart. I also believe that it is much more efficient at doing its task. Keep in mind that I had only been using Python for about 2 months at this point in time.

It's been through various experiences like the log parser that I have decided I prefer Python over PHP. Obviously, I'm not quite as comfortable with it as I am with PHP, but I don't feel too far behind. Now, less than 6 months after deciding that we'd use Django at work, I don't think my supervisor could be happier. Building a typical website with our PHP framework takes between 1 week and a couple months. Thanks to Python and Django, most of our websites can be "ready" within just a few hours. That time assumes that the website's design itself is ready for content to be put into it and also that the client does not require custom-designed applications.

Python and Django have helped revolutionize the way we do things at work, and I can hardly stop thinking about it. Python fixes nearly all of the frustrations I had with PHP. The frustrations it doesn't take care of are worth the sacrifice. Python is capable of object-oriented programming. It uses a period (.) to access object attributes. Variables are not preceded by some arbitrary symbol.

Also, the fact that Python code can be compiled to bytecode (like Java) is enormously beneficial. Each and every time a PHP script is executed, the PHP interpreter must parse the code. With Python, the first time a script is executed after an edit, the program is compiled to bytecode and subsequent executions are faster. That is because the bytecode is processed directly by the Python Virtual Machine (as opposed to being compiled to bytecode _each_ time and then executed). Python also offers a vast amount of standard library functions that I would really appreciate having in PHP. But from now on (at least for the foreseeable future), I will try to do all of my scripting in Python and leave PHP for the special cases.