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Linux, Programming, and Computing in General



 



And the current editor is - Vim?
So, as I mentioned before, I'm looking for a new go-to text editor/IDE.  So far, I've taken cursory looks at a few of the options.  These include: PHPStorm.  As I mentioned in the last post, I use PHPStorm at work.  And while it's really good in a lot of ways, I'm not in love with it.  On the up side, it's got great code intelligence and the VI-mode plugin is actually quite good.  On the down side, it's a single-language IDE (well, not quite, but it's still got a limited set of supported languages).  I guess I could just buy the entire JetBrains IDE suite, but I'm not crazy about switching back and forth.  Also, PHPStorm is kinda heavy - like, Eclipse heavy - both in terms of memory footprint and, more important, conceptual weight of the UI.  So while I don't dislike it, I don't really have any enthusiasm for it. Visual Studio Code.  I initially liked the look of VS Code.  It's got the cool Visual Studio intellisense, which is nice, and it seems to have a lot of extensions available.  The Vim-emulation plugin seemed fairly good, but not great.  The most popular PHP plugin, however, didn't seem to work out of the box at all.  I'm not sure why, though it could be its wonky install process/implementation (apparently it's written in PHP).  At any rate, I didn't care enough to look into it, though it might be worth taking a closer look at VS Code at some point. Atom.  I liked the look of Atom.  I read a little about the philosophy behind it and I really wanted to like it.  But then I fired it up and tried opening one of my project directories and it didn't work.  And by "didn't work", I mean that Atom actually crashed, consistently, on this particular directory.  So that's a no-go.  A quick Google revealed that it might be a problem with the Git library, which could possibly be fixed by changing the index version on the repo, but frankly I don't care.  If I can't trust my editor to just open a directory, then I can't trust it at all.  I mean, I don't even care if my editor has Git support at all, so I'm certainly not going to accept crashing if it sees a repo it doesn't like.   Sublime Text.  I've heard good things about Sublime.  I used to work with several people who really liked it.  Then I fired it up and immediately said, "What the heck is this?"  The UI is pathologically minimal, except for a gajillion menu items and the stupid friggin' mini-map (which I didn't like in Komodo either).  Configuration is done by editing a JSON file, but what the heck is with the weird out-of-box-experience?  The UI is extremely minimal and customization is done by editing a JSON file, which is weird (to be fair, VS Code and Atom do that too, but it's more forgivable because they're free), and the plugin manager was immediately confusing.  Seemed like getting used to Sublime might be a steep learning curve. Vim.  Yes, you read that right - Vim.  I was surprised too.  Let me explain. After trying out Sublime, my initial reaction was, "Geez, if I want something that complicated, why don't I just use Vim?"  And then I stopped.  And I said to myself, "Actually...why don't I use Vim?"  Good Vim emulation is one of my must-haves, and no plugin is ever gonna beat the real thing.  It's free, open-source, hugely customizable, has lots of available plugins, and is extremely well established. The thing is, I knew Vim could be customized into a pseudo-IDE, but I'd never really thought of myself as a hard-core Vim user so I'd never tried it.  But the truth is that I've been a Vim user for a very long time, and for the last few years I've been actively trying to pick up more Vim tricks for use in Vim emulation plugins.  So while I didn't know an awful lot about customizing Vim, I'm very comfortable actually editing code in it. And it turns out that actually customizing Vim isn't really that bad.  Heck, there are even package managers [...]



Looking for a new editor
A couple of weeks ago I started looking into new code editors.  I've been using Komodo for eight or nine years now, counting both KomodoIDE and KomodoEdit, but I'm growing dissatisfied with it.  In fact, I'm becoming unsatisfied enough that I think the time has come to move on.  However, I'm not sure I see an obvious candidate for a replacement.  So in this post, I'll talk about some of the things I find lacking in Komodo and what I'm looking for in an editor. Why the change? Let me start by saying that I'm not trying to bad-mouth Komodo here.  I have used it for a long time and it has served me well.  The people at ActiveState are nice and the do good work.  But the direction it seems to be heading in doesn't mesh well with my needs and I'm not sure the cost/benefit analysis of sticking with Komodo makes sense anymore.  Maybe this can provide some insight to the Komodo development team that can help them improve the IDE. My dissatisfaction started a few months ago, when my team transitioned to a different product.  Unlike the last product we worked on, this one doesn't belong to just us.  This one is core to the company's business, and has several other development teams working on it, not to mention all the other groups that come in contact with it.  As such, there's an existing process and structure that we needed to adhere to, and it quickly became apparent that adhering to that was much easier if you were running the standard development setup, which is PHPStorm on Ubuntu.  I was running KomodoIDE on Windows, so this was a problem.  I was able to use WSL to get around the Linux part, but KomodoIDE just didn't offer the same features that I needed from PHPStorm. So let's use that as a starting point.  What does PHPStorm offer that Komodo can't compete with at present?  Well, for purposes of the product I'm working on, here's the list: Code intelligence.  This is by far the biggest factor.  I'm not just talking about intellisense here.  I mean finding and navigating the actual places in the code where a class, function, or method is used or defined.  And not just text search, but actually knowing about the class and its inheritance hierarchy.  PHPStorm is actually pretty awesome at that.  Komodo's code intel., at least least for PHP and JavaScript, is buggy at best and totally broken at worst.  The quality of the experience also seems to vary hugely depending on the codebase you're working with.  It's nice that they have something for code intel., but you can't really rely on it. Validations.  PHPStorm integrates with phpcs, which is nice because we need to actually adhere to PSR-2.  Komodo doesn't have that built in.  This might seem like a trivial thing because, after all, I can always just run phpcs from the command line.  However, having the check done in the editor is actually hugely useful, because we have a lot of legacy code that doesn't adhere to PSR-2, which makes selectively running the checks for only the code you changed awkward.  Seeing violations in your editor gives you a nice, simple way to catch mistakes you made before they get to code review. Symfony support.  While it's not built in, PHPStorm has a pretty good quality plugin for Symfony support.  We use Symfony, so this is really nice.  Komodo doesn't have that. Those things are important, but they are specific to the new product I'm working on.  If these were my only complaints, I would happily continue using Komodo for the foreseeable future and just use PHPStorm for that one project at work.  But they're not.  The list of annoyances and things I don't like has been slowly growing over the years.  This includes actual problems and bugs, missing functionality, and road-map issues (i.e. disagreement with the direction I see Komodo going).  Here's a summary: Kinda buggy.  I hate to say it, but I'[...]



Execution policy weirdness

I discovered something enlightening and annoying this morning: PowerShell uses different execution policy settings for the 32-bit and 64-bit versions.  This is something I did not know and did not expect.

I'd seen this problem before, but could never figure out what was happening.  I'd try to run a command through PowerShell using another program, in this case Vim, and it would fail with the standard error about execution of my profile.ps1 being prohibited by the execution policy setting.  Yet when I bring up Powershell on the command line, everything works and the execution policy looks correct:

PS pgeer> Get-ExecutionPolicy -List Scope ExecutionPolicy ----- --------------- MachinePolicy Undefined UserPolicy Undefined Process Undefined CurrentUser Undefined LocalMachine RemoteSigned

Well, it turns out we're talking about two different versions of Powershell.  When I run it from the terminal, I'm using the 64-bit version.  But my Vim build is 32-bit, which apparently means that it's running the 32-bit version of Powershell.  And that version uses its own execution policy setting.  You can confirm that by explicitly opening "Windows Powershell (x86)" from the start menu and running Get-ExecutionPolicy.  

As for the fix, it's simple: just run Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned as admin, but do it in both the x86 and x64 versions of Powershell.

As for why Microsoft chose to make the different builds use different execution policies, I couldn't say.  It doesn't make much sense to me.  Although, to be honest, I'm not sure why I even need both versions on the same system.  Maybe to support interop between commandlets and unmanaged code?  Who knows?




KeePass browser plugins
In my last post about KeePass, I mentioned that you can integrate your KeePass password database with your web browser.  In this post, I'll tell you more about how to do that and why it's an extremely handy thing. Why bother? So why would you want to bother with integrating your browser with KeePass?  I mean, most browsers have a feature to remember your passwords anyway, so why not just use that?  Or if you want to use KeePass, why not just use that auto-type feature I talked about in the last post? It's true, you could just use the password manager that's built into your browser.  Pretty much all of them have one, these days.  Most of them will even secure your data with a master password.  They may even synchronize your passwords to the cloud, so you can access them on more than one device.  Granted, that's pretty handy. However, browser password managers generally just do passwords - they don't allow you to enter extra information or attach files like KeePass does.  They also don't work for things outside the web browser, like for security software such as VPN clients.  So they don't provide you with a single, secure location for all your important account information.  But more importantly, they're generally tied to a single browser.  Sure, Google Chrome can store and synchronize all my passwords, but what if I decide I don't like Chrome anymore?  Maybe I just bought a Mac and decided I really like Safari.  Is there an easy way to get my passwords out of one browser and into another?  I don't know.   By using KeePass with a plugin for your browser, you can get the best of both worlds.  KeePass itself gives you more power and features than browser password managers and allows keeps you from being tied to a single browser.  Using a browser integration plugin adds on the ability to have the browser automatically fill in your username and password when you visit a website.  It's not quite as convenient as the browser-integrated password managers, but it still pretty good.  And it's definitely a lot easier than trying to use auto-type or copy-and-paste to fill in password forms. What are my options? In general, there are a lot of plugins available for KeePass.  Just look at the list.  Or maybe don't - you probably don't care about 90% of those plugins.  The main thing you need to know about is which browsers have plugins available.  Short answer: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Long answer: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have proper browser plugins available.  The Chrome plugin also works in Vivaldi and possibly other browsers that are based on Chrome.  There are also form-filling plugins that work with Internet Explorer.  To my knowledge, there is no plugin support available for Microsoft Edge. For this entry, I'll just talk about setting up a plugin with Chrome.  We're going to use a Chrome extension called ChromeIPass.  It adds a KeePass button to the toolbar in Chrome and can automatically detect login forms on webpages you visit.  It works with a KeePass plugin called KeePassHttp. First, you need to install the KeePassHttp plugin.  Start by going to the KeePassHttp website and clicking the "download" link, or just download it directly here.  Sadly, KeePass doesn't have a nice way to install plugins - you just have to copy the plugin file to the KeePass plugins folder on your system.  Inconvenient, but fortunately not something you need to do very often.  On most computers, this will be C:\Program Files (x86)\KeePass Password Safe 2\Plugins.  So just copy the KeePassHttp.plgx file that you downloaded and paste it into that location.  Since this is a system directory, you will probably be prompted to grant access.  Click "continue" to copy the file.  Note that if KeePass is running, you will need to close and restart it [...]



Using KeePass
You should be using a password manager.  If you're a technical person, this is probably not news to you - you're very likely already using one.   This article is for the non-technical people.  People like my wife (hi, honey!) and my mom.  People who access a lot of websites and have a lot of passwords to remember. Security 101 So why is using a password manager a good idea? Well, you may have seen guidelines for cyber security that tell you things like: Don't write down your passwords. Don't reuse passwords on different sites. Don't use short, easy to guess passwords. Don't use passwords that are easy to figure out from public data (like a birthday that anyone can get from your Facebook profile). Such guidance raises the question: if I have to use long passwords that aren't related to anything in my life, and I can't reuse them or write them down, how the hell am I supposed to remember them?!? This is a totally reasonable question.  Yes, ideally we would all memorize a hundred different 32-character-long, randomly generated passwords.  But in real life, nobody can actually do that.  So a password manager is a good compromise. What is a Password Manager My mother has a little paper "password book" that she keeps in a drawer next to her computer.  When she has to create a new account for some website, she writes down all the login information in that book so that she can look it up later. A password manager is the digital equivalent of that password book.  It's an application that lets you record your login information and them look it up later.  Most password managers have lots of other handy-dandy features as well, but that's the core of what they do. So how is this different from, say, writing down all your passwords in a Word document on your desktop?  Well, a password manager encrypts all your data.  It requires a "master password" to decrypt your information, so if some nasty hacker steals that file, they won't be able to actually read it.   Is this as secure as just memorizing all your passwords?  No.  But as we said, nobody can do that anyway, and this is one heck of a lot more secure than the alternatives, i.e. reused or weak passwords.  With a password manager, you can still have strong, unique passwords for all your sites, but you're relieved of the burden of having to remember them all. About KeePass There are a number of password managers out there, but the one I'm going to talk about is KeePass.  It's a free, open-source password management application that will run on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and has compatible apps available for iOS and Android.  KeePass works offline (i.e. it requires no internet connection and doesn't depend on any online services), but it's possible to sync your KeePass passwords between devices using file sync tools like DropBox or OneDrive.  So it provides you some flexibility, but you aren't beholden to a single company that can get hacked or go out of business. KeePass creates files password files that end with ".kdbx".  You can open those files from within KeePass or double-click on them in Window Explorer.  When you try to open one, KeePass will prompt you for the master password to that file.  Every KDBX file has its own master password.  This allows you to do things like create a password file to share with the rest of your family, and have a different one for the accounts that are just yours.  (That's a topic for a different post.) One of the handy extra functions of KeePass is that each entry in your password save can have a bunch of extra data associated with it.  For example, you can add custom fields and attach files to each entry, which are handy for things like account validation questions and activation files for software licenses.  Basically, you can keep all the important information in one place.  And sinc[...]



Upgrading Mercurial on shared hosting

Disclaimer: This is yet another "note to self" post.  If you're not me, feel free to ignore it.

After God alone knows how many years (at least six, since I have posts related to it from 2010), it's finally time up upgrade the version of Mercurial that I have installed on my shared web hosting account.  This is a shared hosting account with no shell access - nothing but web-based tools and FTP.  I also don't know what OS it's running - just that it's some form of Linux.  So I've been putting this off for obvious reasons.

Unfortunately for me, the defaults for repository creation in Mercurial 3.7 turn on general delta support by default.  That isn't supported by the old version I was running (1.7), so my choices are to either use the now non-standard, older, and less efficient format my repositories, or just bite the bullet and upgrade.  So I did the latter, since the version I had was pretty ancient and I was going to have to do it eventually anyway.

Fortunately, my hosting provider supports Python 2.7, which gets you most of Mercurial.  However, there are some C-based components to Mercurial.  Since I have no shell access to the hosting server, and there are probably no development tools installed even if I did, I had to try compiling on a VM.  I was able to do that by spinning up a Fedora 24 VM (on the assumption that they're running RHEL, or something close enough to it), and doing a local build.  The only caveat was that apparently my provider is running a 32-bit OS, because building on a 64-bit VM resulted in errors about the ELF format being incorrect.

Once the Fedora VM was up and running, I was able to do a build by running the following:
sudo dnf install python-devel
sudo dnf install redhat-rpm-config
cd /path/to/mercurial-3.8.x
make local

That's about it.  After I had a working build I was able to copy the Mercurial 3.8 folder to the server, right over top of the old version, and it just worked.  Upgrade accomplished!




Fixing Synaptics right-click button

Tonight I finally got around to fixing my trackpad.  Again.

So here's the thing: like most Windows-based laptops, my little Lenovo ultrabook has a trackpad with two "button" regions at the bottom.  They're not separate physical buttons, but they act as the left- and right-click buttons.  However, rather than force you to use the right-click pseudo-button, the Synaptics software the comes with the laptop lets you turn off the right-click button and use two-finger-click as the right-click, a la a MacBook Pro.  I find this preferable, in particular because my laptop centers the trackpad under the space bar, rather than in the actual physical center of the unit, which means that when you're right-handed, it's easy to accidentally hit the right-click button when you didn't mean to.

Prior to upgrading to Windows 10, I had this all set up and it was fine.  After the upgrade, not so much.  Sure, the same options were still there, but the problem was the that option to turn off the right-click button did just that - it turned it completely off!  So rather than clicking in that region doing a standard left-click, that part of the trackpad was just dead, which was even worse than the problem I was trying to fix.

Luckily, it turns out that the functionality is still there - the Synaptics people just need some better UX.  I found the solution in this forum thread on Lenovo's site.  It turns out you can just change the value of the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Synaptics\SynTP\TouchPadPS2\ExButton4Action to 1, which is apparently the standard left-click action.  By default, it's 2, but when you turn off the "Enable Secondary Corner Click" (i.e. right-click to open context menu) feature in the Synaptics UI, that gets changed to 0, which is apparently the "do nothing" action.

Long story short: my mouse is much better now.




Line counting in Komodo
So as part of my ongoing professional improvement program, I've been working my way through PSP: A Self-Improvement Process for Software Engineers.  And by "working", I mean I'm doing the exercises from the SEI website and everything.  So far it's actually quite an interesting process - I'd definitely recommend it to any professional software developer, even if you're not interested in using the process, just as "food for thought".  You can pick up a relatively cheap used copy of the book on Amazon (it is technically a textbook, so new ones are a little pricey).  I'll have to write a post on it when I'm finished. Anyway, the PSP uses line-of-code counting to estimate program size, defect densities, etc.  So I thought it would be nice to be able to run line count reports right from within Komodo.  Fortunately, it turned out to be pretty easy.  I just lifted some code from Nathan Rijksen's "Open Terminal Here" macro as a starting point and went from there.  The macro just takes the selected files or directories in you "places" pane and appends them to a custom command.  I've used cloc as my line-counting tool of choice for a number of years, but you can change the command to be whatever you want (even "wc -l" if you really want).  I also added in a little code to calculate and run from a common base directory, so that you wouldn't get a full, absolute path for every item in the report.  The command output is sent to the Komodo output pane. The code for the macro is below.  Or, if you're feeling lazy, you can just download the tool here and drop it in your toolbox. /** * Adds a "Count LOC" menu item to items in the Places widget. * This will run a line-counter on the selected paths and display the command output. * Based on the "Open Terminal Here" macro by Nathan Rijksen. * * Usage: Update the "command" variable to contain whatever command you want to run.  The paths to the files selected * in the places pane will be appended to this command. * * If the "use_common_directory" variable is true, then the macro will calculate the deepest common directory of all * the selected files and will run the command from that directory, passing relative paths.  For example, if you * select files /foo/bar/baz/buzz and /foo/bar/fizz/fuzz.css, the command will be run from /foo/bar and will be * passed the paths baz/buzz and fizz/fuzz.css. * If this variable is set to false, then the command will be passed the full, absolute paths to all files and no * working directory will be specified for it. * * @author Peter Geer * @contributor Nathan Rijksen * @contributor Mathieu Strauch * @version 0.1 *//*global ko, extensions:true */// Register namespaceif ((typeof extensions) == 'undefined') {    extensions = {};}extensions.CountLOC = {};(function() {        var command = "cloc --by-file --force-lang=PHP,phtml",        use_common_directory = true,        label = 'Count LOC',        id = 'contextCountLOC',        sibling,        d,        mi,        callback,        longest_common_path;        longest_common_path = function(list) {        var longest_item = list[0].substr(0, list[0].lastIndexOf('/')),            i = 0;        for (i = 0; i < list.length; i++) {         &nbs[...]



Night theme in TT-RSS

Just a quick note on a small customization to Tiny Tiny RSS.  If you're not aware of TT-RSS, it's the online RSS aggregator that I switched to after Google Reader closed down.  It's got all the features I care about, has a fairly nice web UI and there are mobile apps and mobile-web front-ends available.  And despite what it says in the official system requirements about needing a dedicated server, it works perfectly on my el cheapo shared hosting account - wasn't even hard to set up.

Anyway, I recently switched the configuration for the web viewer from the "default" theme to the "night" theme, which is a white-on-black color scheme.  I decided to try that because it matches better with a lot of the development tools I'm using (Komodo IDE, Visual Studio, command prompts - all light text on dark backgrounds).  The only problem is that, unlike the default theme, which shows headlines of posts you've read in a different color, the night theme doesn't visually differentiate read and unread posts.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix.  You can just open up the preferences and there's an option to customize your stylesheet.  To change the highlight color, copy something like the following into the custom CSS box.

body#ttrssMain .hl .hlTitle a {
    color: #878787;  /* A slightly darker gray to use for "read" posts. */
}

body#ttrssMain .hl.active .hlTitle a,
body#ttrssMain .hl.Unread .hlTitle a {
    color: #CCC;  /* Normal headline color for the "night" theme. */
}

 




Upgrade time again
It's upgrade time again.  As I mentioned in my last entry, my desktop/home server had been getting short on disk space - and by "short on disk space," I mean I started to see Explorer reporting the free space as less than 1GB on my C: drive.  So it was time for a new hard drive. Since the only real problem was my 100GB C: partition, I decided to go with more of a "start over" approach and just got a modest 120GB SSD.  My Windows 7 installation was about 5 years old, so it had accumulated a fair amount of cruft.  For instance, the winsxs folder alone had swollen to almost 14GB.  So I reasoned that a clean installation would probably fix most of my problems. Along with the new hard drive, it was also time for some new software.  I started that out with an OS upgrade from Windows 7 Pro to Windows 8.1.  Yes, I know - everybody hates Windows 8.  But I think it's a good OS, damn it!  Sure, I'll grant you that the initial release had some rough edges, but aside from the questionable decision to remove the start menu (which is trivially fixed by installing Classic Start), the 8.1 update fixes every complaint I had. As a change of pace, this time I decided to try the downloadable purchase of Windows 8.1 from NewEgg rather than waiting for physical media to ship.  It turns out that this process is actually pretty simple.  You place your order and then get an e-mail with a license key and a link to a downloader program.  You run that, give it your key, and it gives you several options for downloading the installation files.  One of these is to just download a bootable ISO image that you can burn to disk.  So it's actually not as wierd as I initially feared.  Of course, the one catch is that the downloader runs under Windows, so this probably doesn't work so well if you're a Mac or Linux user. The one thing of note here is that this time I decided to save myself a few bucks and drop down from the Professional edition to the standard one.  I made this decision after considering the non-transferability of the OEM version and looking at the feature comparison matrix.  It turns out the the Pro versino contained exactly one feature that I cared about: the Remote Desktop Server.  So I reasonsed that if I could find a suitable remote access solution to replace RDP, then there was no need to buy the Professional edition.  And after playing around with TeamViewer for a few days, I decided I'd found that.  It turns out that TeamViewer actually works quite well.  For starters, it's free for non-commercial use and it's in Ninite, so there's basically zero overhead to getting it set up.  Registering for an account is also free and helpful, though not strictly necessary.  The performance seems to be pretty good so far and it has the ability to start LAN-only connections or go through their servers for over-the-Internet access.  After using TeamViewer for a couple of days, I was more than convinced that I could do without the Windows RPD server. Next on the list was a service to run Virtual Box.  As you may know, Virtual Box is a free system virtualization package.  It works pretty well, but it doesn't come with the ability to run a VM on boot (at least in Windows) - you have to wait until you log in.  To fix that, I installed VBoxVmService.  This is a little Windows service that will run selected VMs on boot without anyone having to log in and also offers a systray app that allows you to manage those VMs.  Previously, I had been using the similarly named VirualBoxService, which does essentilally the same thing but isn't quite as nice to use.  Of course, there are some limitiations, but for the most part it works well enough for my setup.  All I r[...]