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Archive for March, 2011

Pandoc – an essential tool for Markdown users

March 23, 2011 6 comments

Pandoc is a great tool to convert between various text based formats. For instance, with a single input Markdown file, I can generate an HTML page of that document, a LaTeX document, and a beautifully typeset PDF.

I had troubles installing it on Mac OSX via MacPorts; a simpler solution for me was to download and install the Haskell package and then use the commands:

cabal update
cabal install pandoc

This assumes, of course, that the cabal program that the Haskell package installs is accessible from your path.

The next step for me was to install the excellent Pandoc TextMate bundle. This gives you the standard things like syntax highlighting of your document, as well as a variety of useful snippets. For instance, when I am in Pandoc mode and press ⌃ ⌥ ⌘ P, I get the following popup from which I can easily choose options via mouse or keyboard:

Easy way to preview your document in various output formats

Easy way to preview your document in various output formats

Before you can start using the Pandoc TextMate bundle, you must ensure that the Pandoc executable is on the PATH exposed to TextMate, which is different than your global system path. In other words, just because you can execute pandoc in a shell and have it work, this doesn’t mean it will work in TextMate. For instance, on my computer, Pandoc is located in:

$ which pandoc
/Users/ndunn/Library/Haskell/bin/pandoc

Go to TextMate -> Preferences -> Advanced -> PATH and append :/Users/ndunn/Library/Haskell/bin to the end of the PATH variable.

Appending the Pandoc path to the PATH variable

Appending the Pandoc path to the PATH variable

Pandoc makes a few extensions to the Markdown syntax, which I really like. For instance, you can designate a section of text to be interpreted literally by surrounding it with three ~ characters. Furthermore, you can specify what language the source code is in, and the Pandoc converter will syntax highlight it in the final document (assuming the correct extensions have been installed).

I like this setup because it allows you to specify the language of the block of text, which means that you can force TextMate to interpret it the same way. As I’ve blogged about previously, one can add source code syntax highlighting embedded in HTML documents. I added the following lines to my HTML language grammar in order to have a few different languages recognized and interpreted as source code within these delimited blocks.

Here is the relevant section:

    {   name = 'source.java';
            comment = 'Use Java grammar';
            begin = '~~~\s*{.java}';
            end = '~~~';
            patterns = ( { include = 'source.java'; } );
        },
        {   name = 'text.xml';
            comment = 'Use XML grammar';
            begin = '~~~\s*{.xml}';
            end = '~~~';
            patterns = ( { include = 'text.xml'; } );
        },
        {   name = 'source.shell';
            comment = 'Use Shell grammar';
            begin = '~~~\s*{.shell}';
            end = '~~~';
            patterns = ( { include = 'source.shell'; } );
        },
        {   name = 'source';
            begin = '~~~';
            end = '~~~';
            patterns = ( { include = 'source'; } );
        },

(One tricky bit to get used to is that you need to have at least one blank space between surrounding text and a ~~~ delimited block, or else the ~ characters are interpreted as strikeouts through the text.)

Here is a screenshot of this working in TextMate:

Syntax highlighting of sourcecode within the Pandoc document

Syntax highlighting of sourcecode within the Pandoc document

Finally, just to get really meta on you here’s a screenshot of the text of this document

Text version of the document

Text version of the document

followed by a screenshot of the HTML that Pandoc produces: HTML version of the document

followed by a screenshot of the PDF that LaTeX formatted via Pandoc: PDF version of the document

I hope this has piqued your interest in Pandoc. I love the beautiful output of LaTeX but hate working with its syntax. With Pandoc I’m free to compose in Markdown, a language with a very lightweight syntax, and then convert into TeX when and if I want to.

CodeSchool / Rails for Zombies impressions

March 23, 2011 2 comments

CodeSchool is a site designed to teach programming skills in an interactive fashion. I went through their free course offering, Rails for Zombies, yesterday and was thoroughly impressed with the offering.

Rails for zombies image

Rails for zombies image

The course consists of 5 sections, each introduced by an extremely well-produced video segment. At the end of the video there is an interactive lab in which you must successfully code solutions to questions covering what was just discussed in the video. For instance, in a section on Rails Routes, it might ask you how to add a global redirect from /all to the page /tweets.

Right now the site is very web development focused, but I’m looking forward to when they start having classes on other topics/languages.

I recently completed a course on School of Webcraft, and while the experience was a good one, it was nowhere nearly as nice as that of CodeSchool. In particular, the awarding of badges for having completed certain tasks is automated and instant on CodeSchool; in P2PU a human must manually acknowledge that you’ve completed all the requirements. In my case I’ve been waiting over a week for that recognition.

I highly recommend checking out CodeSchool, even if you don’t plan on paying for a course. The Rails for Zombies example is free and definitely worth the approximately two hours it took to complete.

NetBeans Platform – Duplicate pair in treePair error

March 5, 2011 Leave a comment

I have previously written about the NetBeans Platform
I’ve been using a lot recently at work and so have found a lot of pain points when using the APIs. I’ll try to document some of the more vexing problems here for other programmers who might be facing the same problem.

One problem you will probably face while using the NetBeans Platform is an inscrutable error message when you start up your application, something to the effect of:

java.lang.IllegalStateException: Duplicate pair in treePair1: java.lang.Object pair2: java.lang.Object index1: 55 index2: 55 item1: null item2: null id1: 16309239 id2: 4ecfe790

    at org.openide.util.lookup.ALPairComparator.compare(ALPairComparator.java:83)
    at org.openide.util.lookup.ALPairComparator.compare(ALPairComparator.java:54)
    at java.util.TreeMap.put(TreeMap.java:530)
    at java.util.TreeSet.add(TreeSet.java:238)
    at org.openide.util.lookup.AbstractLookup.getPairsAsLHS(AbstractLookup.java:322)
    at org.openide.util.lookup.MetaInfServicesLookup.beforeLookup(Met…

While it’s impossible to know from this error message, this really indicates that you had some sort of exception in the initializer of one or more of your TopComponents, leading to duplicate null entries in some internal set that NetBeans Platform maintains, leading to this error message. Fortunately, there is usually a “Previous” button on the exception window so you can see what caused the real problem.