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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sun, 08 Jun 2014

The Programming Project, Part 1: What's this all about

Now is the time. I'm going to really learn to program.

I've been dabbling in programming for awhile now. I've mostly stayed within the friendly confines of the Bash shell on my local Linux system and the Linux servers on which I run various scripts and services.

I've been meaning to get deeper into real programming, whatever that is, for at least a couple of years. I would say it hasn't happened, but to a small extent it has. Now I'm ready to take the next step.

So what did happen?

A couple of years ago, I began writing little Bash scripts to automate my rsync-driven backups. With these little one- to two-liners, I didn't have to remember the exact syntax to do the rsync backup correctly and remember where my "exclude" file was living.

I also had trouble with screen blanking in Debian Wheezy. I finally figured out how to fix the problem with xset, and wrote a little Bash script to automate that process.

I have also written a bunch of scripts to automate posting and create an archive of this Ode site. Among these Ode-related scripts is a local Perl program that generates an Indexette date stamp. You can copy/paste it into your post file, or call the script from within a text editor, which is what I do with Gedit.

It's still a simple two-liner, albeit with more than a dozen lines explaining what's going on.

About a year ago, I started a more complicated programming project at my day job.

So what do I do at this job? I work for a bunch of local news web sites. I push content. I create web pages in an arcane CMS. I create blogs in a common CMS (WordPress). I fix broken things and solve problems. I take things that are separate and mash them together.

The project, the thing I've wanted to do, was to script together data from various sources, more specifically election results for the nine web sites I work on.

I wanted to do it in Perl. But when I finally decided to do it, I just didn't have the chops. But I did know Bash, and I learned (or learned more) about such Unix/Linux utilities as wget, cat, cp and sed to turn my data into HTML pages I could generate with cron and iframe into my various web sites.

Thus far I've been re-reading "Learning Perl", this time noting things that will help me in my election-results project.

I'm somewhere in the 40s in terms of pages, and I'm making notes in the book -- it's a real book, not an ebook -- in pencil.

  • Search and replace is pretty much a core function in Perl, so I can safely say goodbye to sed.

  • Concatenation can be done with a dot (a .) between items, so that takes care of cat.

  • I would really like to pump data into an array and use Perl's foreach to process each line.

  • Grasping scalars and arrays is going to be key.

  • I'll have to look into grabbing data over HTML and bring it into the scalar or array. The LWP::Simple module looks like a good candidate for this. I could also use the full LWP.

  • I'd like to code a date stamp into the data. I've already experimented with that in Perl for my Indexette date-stamper script.

  • Eventually I'll need to write the results out to files on the web server. That shouldn't be too hard.