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October 14, 2012

Filed under: tech»coding

Repo Man

Although I've had a GitHub account for a while, I didn't really use it much until last week, when I taught my Seattle Central students how to use version control for project sharing. That lesson was the first chance I'd had to play with GitHub's Windows client (although I develop most of my web code on Linux, I do a lot of JavaScript work on my Thinkpad in Windows). It seemed like a good time to clean up my account and create a few new repositories for projects I'm working on, some of which other people might find interesting.


Code is my personal JavaScript utility belt--I use it for throwing together quick projects, when I don't want to hunt down a real library for any given task. So it provides a grab-bag of functionality: Futures/Promises, an extremely limited template system, shims for Function.bind and Base64 encoding, basic object/array utilities, and a couple of useful mixins. I started building this at CQ and took it with me because it was just too handy to lose. While I doubt anyone else will be using this instead of something like Underscore, I wanted to put it in a repo so that I can keep a history when I start removing unused portions or experimenting.


Grue is undoubtedly a cooler project: it's a small library for quickly building text games like Zork. I originally wanted to port Inform7 to JavaScript, but found myself stymied by A) Inform7's bizarre, English-like syntax, and B) its elaborate rule matching system. The fact that there's no source to study for the Inform7 compiler (not to mention that it's actually recompiling to an older version of Inform, then compiling from there to z-machine bytecode) puts this way beyond my "hobby project" threshold.

Instead, I tried to think about how to bring the best parts of Inform7, like its declarative syntax and simple object heirarchy, to JavaScript. Instead of connecting items directly to each other, Grue provides a "Bag" collection type that can be queried by object property--whether something is portable, or flammable, or contains a certain keyword--using a CSS3-like syntax. Objects also come with built-in getter/setter functions that can be "proxied" to temporarily override a value, or change it based on world conditions.

It takes about 30 lines of Grue code to write the opening scene of Zork I, which is not quite as concise as Inform7, but it's pretty close. I figure Grue is about halfway done--I still need to add more vocabulary, regional rulesets, and some additional types (Regions, Doors, Devices, etc)--but it's close enough to start dogfooding it. Feel free to pull the repo and open "index.html" to see what I've gotten so far.


My fork of KeepassDroid exists entirely to scratch a particular itch: I like the Android port of Keepass, but I find its UI to be functional, at best. The fonts are often too small, and forms end up underneath the virtual keyboard more often than not. So I've changed the view styles, and some of the layout XML, just for my own use (there's a .zip with the compiled application package, in case anyone else is interested). The main project doesn't seem interested in my changes, which is fine by me, but it does mean that every now and then I have to merge in changes from trunk if I want mine up to date. Increasingly, I don't bother.

Urban Artistry

And then there's one project I've been working on that's not located on GitHub, but went live this weekend. Ever since I started maintaining the web presence for Urban Artistry, it's been a mess of PHP files accreted since they first went online. There was an abortive attempt to move to WordPress in 2010, but it never got anywhere, and it would have used the same theme that someone once described as "a bit like a dark nightclub."

When UA went fully non-profit in the state of Maryland, and asked me to be on the board, one of my goals was to turn the site into something that would be a bit more appealing to the typical grant donor. The new site is intented to do exactly that: my design takes its cues from the UA logo with a lightweight, modern feel. The site is also responsive across three sizes--phone, tablet/netbook, and desktop--and since it's built on WordPress, it's easy for other members of the company to log in and make changes if they need to do so. I'm pretty happy with how things turned out, but the design was the easy part: content is much harder, and that's what we're tackling next.

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