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The Explorer
Less is More, or How to Publish Articles on Artima
by Michele Simionato
August 10, 2008
Summary
I describe my publication toolchain for Artima blog posts. I also argue that the absence of features in the Artima blogging platform is its best feature.

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I am pretty happy with the publication process on Artima. The reason why I am so happy is that the user interface for making a post in the blog is dead simple. You log in, you post your article the first time, you repost it if you need to correct something, and that's it.

You don't need to specify keywords or a category. You don't need to set a publication date. You don't need to specify a citation. You cannot post pictures, only link to pictures. The system does not keep track of your revisions, or at least the interface for viewing the revisions is not exposed to the blog author.

This absense of features is in my opinion the best feature of the Artima blogging platform.

I personally keep my articles on a Subversion repository so I can see the history of revisions with my own familiar tools (i.e. the command line interface and Trac) and it would not make sense for the blogging platform to duplicate (badly) that functionality. I have my own website where I can copy my pictures with a simple scp command, so I don't need and I don't want to be forced to make a manual upload of a file (I hate upload forms).

When I write an article containing snippets of code, I just write the code with the text of the article contained in the docstring (for articles about Python) or in a top-level comment (for articles about Scheme and other languages). I have a tool that extracts the text from the script and converts it into HTML/Latex or other formats. Since Artima does support reStructuredText (I love reStructuredText, everything I write is in that format) I don't even need to convert it before posting it. That was a very welcome surprise.

This morning I looked at the structure of the edit page for the posts. It is so simple and plain that it took me just 10 minutes to write a script to post my articles with Twill. Now I don't need to cut and paste from my editor (Emacs) to the browser. I do have a Makefile which extracts the reStructuredText and posts it to the blog. Everything is so incredibly simple compared to the publication process I was used to.

In the past I have published many articles on Stacktrace, which is an Italian webzine about programming and Internet technology. Stacktrace uses Django as its underlying technology. Django is a framework which was created exactly for publishing articles on the Web so it should do that job well, you would think. Perhaps it does a good job for non-technical writers, the people it was written for. But for developers, especially GUI impaired ones like myself, it made publication much more complex than needed. The edit page (I mean the admin page) was so complex that I renonced from the start to scrip it. Moreover, I could not submit reStructuredText directly: I had first to convert my source file into HTML and then post-process the output by stripping many tags inserted by reST. I did so by writing and HTML parser for that, spending at least a full morning on the job.

I know that I am not being fair with Django here and that there are reStructuredText plugins for Django: unfortunately, the editorial board decided to accept only plain HTML submissions. But this is beside the point. The point is that neither Django nor the Artima blogging platform were intended to be used by as I wanted to: nevertheless the simple no-fuss no-nonsense interface of Artima could be perverted much more easily than the complex interface of Django. Semplicity has its advantages. Always.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts. Did you experienced the same less is more feeling? In what circumstances?

---

Here is the script I cooked up for posting my articles, for the curious guys among you (obviously, you are supposed to change <USERNAME> and <PASSWORD> with your credentials):

$ echo post.py
"""
A script to post articles on my blog
"""

import sys
from twill import commands as c

if __name__ == '__main__':
   try:
       rstfile, thread  = sys.argv[1:]
   except ValueError:
       sys.exit('Usage: post <rstfile> <artima-thread-number>')
   text = file(rstfile).read()
   c.go('http://www.artima.com/sign_in?d=%2Findex.jsp')
   c.formvalue('1', 'username', '<USERNAME>')
   c.formvalue('1', 'password', '<PASSWORD>')
   c.submit()
   c.go('http://www.artima.com/weblogs/editpost.jsp?thread=%s' % thread)
   c.formvalue('1', 'body', text)
   c.submit()

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About the Blogger

Michele Simionato started his career as a Theoretical Physicist, working in Italy, France and the U.S. He turned to programming in 2003; since then he has been working professionally as a Python developer and now he lives in Milan, Italy. Michele is well known in the Python community for his posts in the newsgroup(s), his articles and his Open Source libraries and recipes. His interests include object oriented programming, functional programming, and in general programming metodologies that enable us to manage the complexity of modern software developement.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2008 Michele Simionato. All rights reserved.

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