Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

MS Windows and GTK+: DLL Hell; Recent Reading

Wednesday, 26 November 2003

MS Windows and GTK+: DLL Hell

I'm glad GTK+ was ported to Microsoft Windows. I'm glad various open source and free software projects are porting to Microsoft Windows using GTK+. I sure wish they could all agree on one binary runtime distribution. Or alway supply a package specific version of GTK+ so that the application will always work, although that's admittedly evil.

Recent Reading

  • Kingdom River, by Michell Smith, 2003. A generation later sequel to Snowfall (which I haven't read), this book reads fine on its own. Ok post-apocalyptic fiction that's smoother but less quirkily interesting than Robert Adams's earlier Horseclans novels, with some interesting characters.

Recent Viewing

Recent Viewing

  • Titus, directed by Julie Taymor and starting Anthony Hopkins. I watched this completely for the first time last night; I'd seen bits and pieces of it before. It's an odd, disturbing, and good adaptation of Shapespeare's play Titus Andronicus.

Markup Languages

I've always had an interest in markup and document formatting languages, and have long used troff and LaTeX for document formatting and XML and DocBook for markup, using the DSSSL DocBook Stylesheets and OpenJade along with JadeTeX to produce HTML and PDF output. I've also used a homebrewed application that produced Postscript output from Simplified DocBook using Groff.

Unfortunately, I've not been particularly satisfied with the results. Many of the tools involved are complicated to set up, some are suffering from a lack of manpower for maintenance, and often it is very difficult to customize the appearance of the generate output. Groff is perhaps the simpliest to install, but I've no desire to write in bare troff any more than I have in bare LaTeX, and groff and its macro packages lack good support for PDF - in particular, pdfmarks. LaTeX has good support for PDF (especially when you are using pdfelatex), but it is difficult to customize the appearance of the output, and there are a number of quirks when it comes to font handling. 1 And the PDF output from the DSSSL DocBook Stylesheets 2 can be very ugly when you are doing complicated things, and since it uses JadeTeX it's even harder to customize the appearance of the output than LaTeX .

While I've not found any general solution for the problem, I've have run across something that looks promising: ConTeXt. It is a TeX macro package that provides about the same level of structural markup as LaTeX but appears to be much more customizable. 3 It also has very good support for interactive documents, reasonably good manuals, and appears to have significant development resources behind it. I think it would make a more suitable backend than LaTeX. 4

As for those documents where XML markup is too much of a pain (say, things that should be easy to read as plain text, where the verbosity of XML tags overwhelms the text), I've found that the reStructuredText (part of the Docutils project) fits the bill nicely. Every since Steffan O'Sullivan produced the Fudge RPG in plain text format I've been looking for an easy way to turn something that looks like plain text into reasonably nicely formatted output. reStructuredText fits that bill nicely. It has enough structure to be useful without overloading the plain text with markup, it produces good looking output, and it's reasonably easy to process, with a DTD, an XML form, and an extensible implementation that's not too difficult to program. For things that I would otherwise be writing in plain text I'll be using reStructuredText from here on out, and I'm writing an reStructuredText to ConTeXt writer as I have time.

WYSIWYG? Well, that's a nice idea, but I've yet to find a system that works well for anything but the simpliest documents. I'd like to find a portable, open source WYSIWYG XML editor that supports DocBook, but they seem in short supply.

1

In particular, it's very annoying to have the ligatures disappear from printed output when using the standard Postscript fonts because Adobe Acrobat 's printer driver mishandles them.

2

I've not tried the XSL DocBook Stylesheets because in some ways the toolchain involved is even more complicated than for the DSSSL DocBook Stylesheets toolchain.

3

In some ways it reminds me of Victor Eijkhout's TeX macro package Lollipop, though more complete.

4

Doesn't that mean I'll be using TeX, which is rather complicated to install and use? Well, yes. However, there are easy-to-use distributions of TeX that include ConTeXt for the Unix distributions that I use as well as for MS Windows (teTeX, for instance).

Common Lisp, SBCL, and CLIM; Recent Reading

Common Lisp, SBCL, and CLIM

I finally took the time to figure out how to install McCLIM under FreeBSD. The first thing to do was install SBCL from scratch; the FreeBSD port doesn't install all the SBCL extras, but they're needed to build McCLIM, especially ASDF. The other things I needed to do were described in the INSTALL.SBCL from the McCLIM release. I had to install CLX for SBCL using ASDF. This proceeded with only one hitch: I needed a ~/.sbcl/trusted-uids.lisp for some reason. Once that was done it was easy to build McCLIM for SBCL and run the demo applications. Now that I know how to build McCLIM I'll be able to investigate CLIM.

Recent Reading

  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey. I think I must have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in 1977, when I was still quite young, and like many was captivated immediately. I read it again many times and enjoyed it just as much each time. It's one of those books that I return to and re- read every few years. I would not, however, have thought of Tolkien as the “Author of the Century”, but in this book and The Road to Middle-Earth Shippey makes a very persuasive argument for just that, pointing out that Tolkien may well have been the person with the deepest understanding of the English language in this century, and showing how his professional background as a philologist and language scholar formed his fiction. In any case, both books made me appreciate much better the subtlety and depth of Tolkien's fiction and has the best possible outcome for literary analysis: it made me want to read the books again, as well as look further into the books edited by J.R.R Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien. I've read the The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle Earth, but I've not read any of the twelve volume of The History of Middle Earth, and I think after this it would be interesting to do so.

Recent Reading

  • Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold. A indirect sequel to her Curse of Chalion, this book main character is a minor character in the previous book. Well written fantasy of the non-generic sort.

  • The Far Side of the Stars, by David Drake. This is the third book in Drake's RCN series featuring Lt. Daniel Leary and Signals Officer Adele Mundy. Well done military science fiction, with potential to be more.