Saturday, June 25, 2005

Fourth SoCal Piggies meeting

The SoCal Piggies had their fourth meeting at USC on June 21st at 7:00 PM. Seven Piggies attended -- in order of appearance: Daniel Arbuckle, Howard Golden, Grig Gheorghiu, Diane Trout, Mark Kohler, Charlie Hornberger and George Bullis.

Diane presented a [WWW] tutorial on SimpleTAL, a Python-based templating language derived from Zope's ZPT. [WWW] SimpleTAL allows you to lay out dynamic content in HTML or XML form. Diane showed us examples of XHTML templates that contained SimpleTAL-specific expressions such as tal:content, tal:condition, tal:repeat. The nice thing about SimpleTAL templates is that they can be edited by Web designers using their HTML editing/authoring tool of choice, and the tal expressions will simply be ignored by the editor. This enables a clean separation between presentation and content and lets programmers concentrate on the business logic aspect of the application (written in Python of course :-). Diane also showed us a demo of a Quixote-based Web application called [WWW] CompClust that she developed at Caltech. CompClust is a bio-informatics app that uses various clustering algorithms for studying relationships between genes. The app also makes heavy use of [WWW] matplotlib to generate some very nifty graphics on the fly. The templating engine for the application is of course SimpleTAL.

The second speaker of the night was...Diane again. She presented a [WWW] tutorial on Pyrex, a language for writing Python extension modules. [WWW] Pyrex allows you to write code that mixes Python and C data types, and compiles it into C code as a Python extension module. Diane used Pyrex in her bio-informatics Web application to call C code that runs clustering algorithms from her Python code. One less known use of Pyrex is to compile Python programs into binaries that can then be used as stand-alone executables without the Python interpreter. George asked what does Pyrex do that SWIG doesn't, and Diane said Pyrex is more forgiving when it comes to interfacing with C code, and also allows you to more easily write Python code that interacts with the C function calls. For more details on Pyrex, see also this [WWW] Charming Python tutorial from IBM developerWorks.

[Note on viewing the S5-based slides that Diane put together: for the controls that allow you to move back and forth through the slides, move the mouse cursor to the middle bottom part of the screen]

We also had some lively discussions on ways to dynamically generate HTML and possibly reuse HTML snippets across an application, especially in the case when a template mechanism would be too static (a subject brought up by Mark). Several possibilities were mentioned: the htmlgen module, good ol' CGI, rolling your own acquisition mechanism similar to the one used in Zope, and of course the more heavy-weight approach of using a Web application such as Quixote. The subject of GUI widget toolkits was also brought up, especially ways to build GUIs in a cross-platform, cross-tool way by specifying for example the names and values of the widgets in an XML file. One could then ideally use any GUI toolkit in order to actually display the widgets on the screen. [WWW] XUL was mentioned as one technology to look at in this arena.

We also discussed a bit about unit testing, and I mentioned [WWW] py.test as an alternative to the standard unittest module. I think a presentation on Python's unit test frameworks would be interesting, I wrote some tutorials that I can put together as a slide show for a future meeting.

Many thanks to Diane for her presentations and to Daniel for hosting the meeting.

The next meeting will be at USC again, on a date to be announced. Topics for next meeting:

  • Demo of an interactive multi-player game written as a Python CGI application that uses AJAX techniques (Charlie)

  • Tutorial on the [WWW] py library (Grig)

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