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Gadgets, Security, Technology

Palm + WiFi + SSH + vi = geek2

March 1st, 2007 by Jeff | Dump Core

Last night, I was working on one part of implementing the GPF update changes previously mentioned. Since I’ve been having some trouble getting a response from the Keen Tech Crew (who I assume have been as busy with real life things as I have), I decided to try and implement a backup plan in case they couldn’t get their part done by Monday. It’s all rather technical… but then you guys probably enjoy reading my technical ramblings from time to time. (Either that, or you ignore the Technology category altogether. Take your pick.) Unfortunately, it involves some intimate knowledge of Keenspot’s update mechanism, Autokeen, which most of you probably don’t have.

Long story short, Autokeen uses templates that are parsed by a massive Perl script that replaces certain “tags” with actual content. For example, the tag ***todays_comics*** gets replaced with the necessary HTML to display any images or text that have been designated as “comic” files. This obviously includes the images for the dailyweekly strip, but it can also use text and even Flash. The GPF News is treated as a “comic” by Autokeen, even though it’s all text. Unfortunately, while there can be multiple “comics” under one account (for GPF, they include the main comic, the News, the Sketchbook, the High-Def archive, and a few others), the way these templates are used means that each “comic” is pretty much autonomous and self-contained. There are ways to get cross-comic content (like how I get the most recent News date and blurb automatically on the main and High-Def pages), but it’s definitely not trivial and it stretches Autokeen’s capabilities beyond their original intended functions. Autokeen is incredibly flexible, which is a credit to Darren Bleuel’s design, but you can tell when you’ve taken it places it’s never been before.

Anyhoo, I was building a Perl script that would be run on a cron to do some of this cross-comic work for me, just in case my original pure-Autokeen design didn’t work as expected. I was connected to the GPF server via SSH, editing the file directly on the server via vi. I tested it pretty thoroughly and was happy with the results. By this point, it was getting late, Ben was already asleep in my wife’s arms, and we were both ready to go to bed. I shut down the laptop, we took Ben back to his crib, and while she brushed her teeth and performed other nighttime preparations, I climbed into bed.

It was then that I realized I had a fatal flaw in my code. (Nobody ever said inspiration was either punctual or convenient.) While it would successfully build some symbolic links on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I forgot to limit the code that removes the symbolic links on the other days of the week. Thus, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday it would undo all the changes it made the days before. It was getting late and I had to get up early in the morning to head off to work. I didn’t have time to fire up the laptop again and I didn’t want to go into the office to log into one of those machines and leave my sweetie waiting up for me.

I grabbed my LifeDrive and fired up its WiFi connection. I have a small SSH client for Palm OS called pssh and used it to log into the GPF server. Now pssh is a wonderful little tool, but anyone who has used a PDA probably knows that entering text into one can sometimes be… challenging. Palm has used Graffiti for years, but it can sometimes be a pain when working with applications that are very sensitive to text input mistakes (such as, say, vi). I elected to use the on-screen keyboard instead, and only switched to Graffiti when I discovered the keyboard didn’t have a pipe symbol (required to do a boolean “or” condition). Switching back and forth between edit and command modes was <sarcasm>fun</sarcasm>, even though pssh includes a nice little “ESC” button on the screen for emulating the Escape key. Old hands at vi will know you can always hit ESC multiple times to ensure you’re no longer in edit mode and that you’re back in command mode, but it seems I left the volume on the Palm up pretty high from listening to MP3s earlier. The default “bell” was embarrassing loud, especially with a sleeping baby lying a few feet away.

It took some work, but I finally got the changes incorporated and saved and compiled the script. As soon as I logged off, I realized just out absurdly geeky the entire experience was. I probably could have done things faster if I had just walked into the office across the hall and fired up PuTTY, but instead I decided to do things the hard way: working on a tiny little battery-powered device, connecting wirelessly, and fumbling with awkward text input mechanisms to use what is arguably one of the most complex text editors to make what would have been a ten-second change anywhere else. For some reason I found that obscenely amusing. You could probably care less, I’m sure, but I thought I’d share anyway.

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