Dan Newcome, blog

I'm bringing cyber back

React reactions

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One of my past articles commenting on the future of Web development has gotten consistent traffic in the years since I wrote it, and now I feel the need to follow it up because I think I was way off about a few things.

Just to be clear up front, Reactjs is eating the Web when it comes to front-end development. I’m aware that Angular and Emberjs hold sway in many shops, but I think that the virtual DOM model that react is based on will eventually become a standard way of dealing with front-end Web development.

Most frameworks and methodologies in the past have centered around data binding or observers of some sort to implement some variant of the MVC stack. React really just implements views. The difference is that the views are much simpler than the average MVC view (in which case the view really has some complicated state-management code along with it that makes it more like a view+viewmodel to handle updates to its state).

React views still have state, but the view is re-rendered fully every time the state changes, rather than having some kind of JS functions for things like adding/removing items from a list. This fact makes the nuts and bolts of keeping a dynamic view up to date trivial. No sequence of add/remove/updates need to be tracked in order to manipulate the DOM into the state needed to accurately reflect the current application state.

This isn’t without its problems though, since many things in the DOM don’t like to be manhandled (iframes). Also, React basically has full control of your DOM. If you don’t want React to mess with something on the page, you are out of luck unless you want to put it outside of the React render tree.

Apart from views, the Reactjs model is a little more ambiguous. Facebook prescribes the Flux architecture, which essentially leaves everything up to you other than the enforcement of single-direction data flow.

I’m going to save Flux for another article, but just to give you a teaser I think that functional programming is finally winning. Neckbeard nerds have been blabbing about functional forever now (I love me some Clojure) but I think that when the tide turns (as it has) away from Ruby-style mixins to higher-order components we are going to see things really starting to shift.

Written by newcome

November 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm

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Quantified blogging

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I’m starting to look through my blog stats after a while of not paying much attention to them. I posted the first post in over a year recently and it has only garnered two views. This basically tells me that nearly 100% of the traffic here is residual via search and maybe old Hacker News link juice.

The funny thing is that even after not posting for a while, I’m still getting traffic. It probably takes quite a while for traffic to fully taper off, if ever. As long as Google has some of these articles indexed, I think there will probably be traffic indefinitely.

Anyway, there seemed to be a lot of pressure in the past to hit my high water marks, but now I guess the best thing to do is just get a cadence back and see where things go. Just as a parting note, here is what WordPress is telling me about my best traffic day ever. I think it’s worth posting since this is what an artificial bump gets you, and it’s 100% unrealistic to live up to something like this without Hacker News or maybe Reddit.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 1.16.26 PM

Written by newcome

November 6, 2015 at 1:23 pm

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Hello again

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I realized some time back that it has been a really long time since I wrote any blog posts. I’m trying to rectify this, but I’m not sure where to even start. I’ve been working for a large Silicon Valley tech company now for the last two years, so I’ve accumulated a lot of new knowledge working at scales that I only read about previously.

However, a funny thing started happening. I’m surrounded by people that are way smarter than me and know way more than I do. So it’s a bit of a task to figure out what is interesting knowledge that I can and should share. I’m working primarily on a Web framework based on Node and Reactjs so look out for some new articles hopefully soon.

As for .NET topics, it is unlikely that I’ll be writing much about this since I no longer use it in my daily work. I check in from time to time out of interest but I’m far from what’s currently happening in that world.

Written by newcome

November 3, 2015 at 1:36 pm

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Scripting Pure Data

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Graphical programming languages like PD are great for high level tweaking and live modding of programs, but they all seem to suffer from the problem where things get tedious when building some simple low-level constructs like loops or building data structures.

Pure Data has always been extensible by creating your own externals in C, but there is another step in between building subpatches and building first-class externals and that is scripting using a dynamic language like Lua or Python.

Lua vs Python

There are two main scripting languages in use with PD. I’m sure there are others, but they aren’t very common. I was actually looking initially for a way to script PD using Javascript and I didn’t find anything. I’m considering building something that embeds V8 into PD in the future. Or maybe even… gasp… the .NET framework. The choice between Lua and Python came down to the ease with which the language embedding was implemented and how smoothly I was able to get things working, rather than my own choice of language (I was rooting for Python since I already know it pretty well).


The first thing I did was try to install Thomas Grill’s famous pyext. The prebuilt binary for OSX was crashing for me and I couldn’t figure out why. I got the sources and built my own binary but I was still getting crashes as soon as I loaded the library in PD. I later realized that this was something with my installed version of Python. I had a later version of Python installed using homebrew. I’m not sure if maybe I had a 64bit version installed. The only 64bit version of PD for OSX right now is highly experimental and doesn’t include things like GEM. So I’m running a 32bit version. All externals need to be 32bit as well. So I’m wondering if that was part of the problem.

Anyway, once I reverted back to Python 2.7.2 that shipped with OSX pyext worked fine. I still have some crashes with some of the demo patches though.

Installing pyext involves dropping py.pd_darwin under ~/Library/Pd. Then I was able to open the demo patches from the source tree. Note that many of the patches require the library to be loaded already, which can be done using the -lib py startup flag or by simply instantiating the [py] object in any open patch. When it loads you should see some text printed to the PD console window.

Instantiation looks something like [pyext <script> <object> <args>]. As we’ll see this is a little more cumbersome than Lua.


Having never had experience with Lua, I was hesitant to try this out but I’m glad I did. Actually the only reason I did was that I couldn’t get Python to work right away. Lua is interesting in that it has only one built-in data type: the table. Fortunately tables can represent just about any other data type like arrays and maps. The code for generating PD objects is very concise, even more so than some of the Python examples, which is somewhat hard to believe. Also there are easy provisions for registering names directly to PD so that objects built using Lua can be instantiated without any sort of extra syntax, which is pretty awesome. Loading a single Lua source file can register any number of externals that can be instantiated as if they were normal PD abstractions. Read that line again and rejoice.

Installing Lua isn’t necessary, as it is already part of PD-extended. Simply instantiate [pdlua]. We can open a file then with a load message sent to [pdlua].

Going forward I’m going to be using Lua, mostly for its ease of registering names in PD and nice clean instantiation of abstractions built it in. I’ll cover some programming issues I encounter in later posts.

Written by newcome

December 29, 2013 at 9:56 am

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BASH shell navigation hacks

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I love the shell for the most part. Modern systems ship with the fantastic (for the most part) BASH shell, which includes tab completion, sophisticated line editing modes and many nice usability features (try using a shell without history or line editing support and see what a difference this makes).

There are still some places where the shell falls down in my opinion though (ahem), but it mostly has to do with just getting around the filesystem. I started writing some tools like g (go), url (open urls), and r (recent). I had an ugly tool for Windows that I called shelper (shell helper?) that I used to set up environment variables for Visual Studio and the C++ compiler (cl.exe) among other things.

These tools occupy an uncanny valley between simple configuration and actual applications/utilities. I’m never sure if these things belong in my dotfiles or if I should maintain them as projects. One also gets the distinct feeling of reinventing the wheel or just plain ignorance that you are just reimplementing something that already exists in your shell but you just don’t know what to even search in the docs.

Then the floodgates opened. I saw the j (jump?) command for fast directory switching. Which led me to fasd and then z.

I’m not sure what the granddaddy of all these commands is (pushd/popd maybe?) but they all have some similarities.

Going back to my own set of hacks, I don’t know if it’s better to just keep using my own stuff or try to convert to, say, fasd.

Recently I’ve been writing some blog posts with Jekyll, so I have directories of long files that have dates prepended to them. It’s tedious to do built-in BASH completion on these files, and I never got tab cycling to work in BASH for some reason (and I’m not convinced that this is really what I want anyway). So I thought why not reference files by number? I’m sure that one of these fasd clones will do this, but I have no idea which one.

So of course, I wrote a shell script to do it anyway. I give you lsn:

# lsn lets you select a file by number on the shell

if [[ $# == 1 ]]
	# print the file with number n
	ls | sed -n $1p
	# list files with numbers starting at 1
	ls | cat -n

That lets me do something like this:

$ ./lsn
     1	2012-07-21-nanopad-teardown.markdown
     2	2012-07-30-iph-midi-looper.markdown
     3	2013-02-08-unboxing-the-keith-mcmillen-softstep.markdown
     4	2013-05-21-gridlok-drum-sampler-for-ipad-review.markdown
     5	lsn
$ vi `./lsn 4`

It’s questionable whether the backtick notation is more painful than copying the filename or muddling through tab completion though. Of course I could have a command called vin, or maybe have lsn take a the command as an argument.

Although this all seems incredibly lame, it serves to concretely describe a small bit of friction I encounter, to enumerate some others’ solutions (that I seem to forget or be unable to find again) and because I’ll probably misplace lsn at some point in the future or forget it even exists and this is the only way I’ll find it again (unless it gets bigger and I put it on github). One hack at a time (one hack in front of the other?). Or something.

Written by newcome

May 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

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The Zen of Pure Data

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I have been mulling over the idea of writing a guide for Pure Data aimed at developers proficient in at least one other more mainstream programming language. Pure Data is so different than many other programming environments, yet its utility is such that I keep coming back to it despite the difficulties in managing code written in it using traditional techniques.

I’ve written a couple of posts in the past dealing with things like connection order and event processing precedence. However, the little oddities of PD run pretty deep, and I’m afraid that it is quite an involved subject to start in on.

Plenty of other books have been written on PD in the past, and I don’t think I want to write just another PD book. I think there has been enough written on general signal processing techniques and also on programming PD in general. There are some idiomatic things in PD that come up again and again, and I don’t think I’ve seen a concise guide for PD aimed at programmers that already code in other languages and already are familiar with signal processing in general.

Here is a rough list of topics I might cover if I write such a guide:

Processing order


Bang vs everything else

Lists, atoms and messages

Top down, left right (sort of)

Functional PD

That’s a good start. I’ll add to this list soon hopefully.

Written by newcome

May 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

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Goodbye Posterous – a migration story

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Many of you know (or should know, if you have anything still on Posterous!) that Posterous is shutting its doors following its acquisition by Twitter. I was one of the first Posterous users in 2008, and they even gave me many more blogs than were usually allowed on the service at the time. Heady days, those.

Anyway Posterous turned out not to be the ideal host for my blogs, and I continued with WordPress. However, I still maintained a few specialty blogs there (Alewright, for one).

One by one I have been moving blogs to the open-source static blog software, Octopress, which I’ve been hosting on Heroku instances. However, now that Posterous is shutting down, I need to move the last few off, so I’m writing up this post to help anyone else that wants to do the same. Sure you can use their export tool to get a tarball of your stuff, but if you are lazy like me, and just want to get stuff over to Octopress, look no further than this ruby script.

I’m on a Mac, but I’ve used rvm to bump my ruby version up to 1.9.3. I installed the posterous gem using:

$ gem install posterous

Log into Posterous, go to the api page and get an API key by clicking on “view token”.

You need to know then name of your blog, the username and password, and the API key. Then run:

$ ruby posterous-export.rb username password apikey

I had to patch the Posterous gem to get things working. Otherwise I got this error:

/Users/dan/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.3-p374/gems/ethon-0.5.12/lib/ethon/easy.rb:234:in `block in set_attributes': The option: username is invalid. (Ethon::Errors::InvalidOption)
Please try userpwd instead of username.

Running the script gets you a file layout on disk including images and HTML-formatted post files, ready for use by Jekyll/Octopress.

To get the new Octopress blog running, just clone the repo and copy the images/ and _posts directories under the octopress/source directory.

I’ll do another post probably about working with/customizing Octopress so I won’t go into configuring Octopress here. Presumably the API shuts down on April 30, so don’t wait too long!

Written by newcome

April 27, 2013 at 7:54 pm

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