Python Community Support

There are many issues to consider when choosing a programming language. Python is no exception. Just because I feel it’s the right tool to meet some of my needs doesn’t mean it will work well for you. That’s why the Understanding Why Python is So Cool section of Chapter 1 in Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies is so important. This section tells you why I see Python as an important programming language and why you might want to use it too. I break the problem into three parts: what Python can do for your application needs, how Python can benefit you personally, and which organizations are using Python for specific tasks. (Another blog post, Python as a Learning Tool, augments the Chapter 1 information.) Between the three sections, you can make an intelligent decision as to whether Python will actually serve your particular needs. I really don’t want you to take my word for it—I would rather know that you selected Python based on your own research.

No matter how interesting a language is, no matter how many features it provides, and no matter how much you personally like it—you can’t typically support a language that lacks broad community support. If no one else is using the language and contributing to it in some major way, the language will eventually die. Fortunately, Python doesn’t have this problem. Chapter 20 of my book discusses ten essential libraries for Python, none of which come with the language when you download it. In fact, the introduction to this chapter lists a number of places where you can find even more libraries to use.

The thing is that Python keeps attracting ever more attention. A recent InfoWorld article, “Hidden gems: 10 Python tools too good to overlook“, provides you with access to still more libraries. The point about libraries is that they represent an essential form of community support. As people use a language, they start to build places where others can discuss it with them. However, that’s only one form of community support. Libraries represent a significant increase in support because creating, debugging, and supporting a library requires time and effort that most developers don’t have in abundance. Someone really has to believe in a language to provide this sort of language support.

The fact is that Python is poised to become the next “must learn” language. It has great community support, provides a broad range of functionality through libraries, and is fully supported by the academic community. Even though other languages have had these advantages and eventually failed, the chances are far less likely that Python will experience problems. In fact, many rankings sites show Python as being the 4th to 8th most popular language out there right now.

Community support is an essential determinant of programming language popularity. How do you rank Python in your toolbox and why? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Tell me about your favorite Python library and how you use it as well. I’m interested in discovering just what makes some languages so incredibly popular (Python being one of the most popular).

 

Using 3D Printing for Urgent Medical Needs

The uses for 3D printing technology continue to amaze me. For example, it’s estimated that 2/3 of manufacturers now use some type of 3D printing technology. This technology has the potential for significantly changing how doctors practice medicine. More importantly, it has the potential for changing how emergency services are offered. I actually started this series of posts by looking at some potential uses for 3D printing in the Thinking About 3D Printing Technology post. In fact, this is my sixth post about 3D printing technology.

The interesting thing about 3D printing technology is that it can be used to create body parts that won’t suffer rejection because the parts are made from the recipient’s own DNA.The latest use of 3D printing technology is to create skin for burn victims and others that will completely match the person’s own skin. The interesting part is that the skin can contain hair follicles and sweat glands, just as the original skin did. This means that there is a potential for creating new skin that looks completely natural because it won’t actually be any different from the person’s original skin.

It won’t be long and people will be able to get a replica of nearly any body part printed for various uses. Of course, the first use that comes to mind is as a replacement part when an older body part because dysfunctional. However, the uses go well beyond simple part replacement. By creating replicas of existing body parts, a doctor can test for drug interactions and other potential problems before starting a patient on a course of treatment. Many of the issues that patients face today will go away simply because the treatment can be tested fully before it’s applied to the person in question.

What intrigues me most is how this technology will eventually affect emergency services. Imagine what would happen if a first responder was able to apply a bandage created from skin printed from a person’s DNA right in the field. The temporary skin has the potential for decreasing all sorts of problems that people experience today because bandages sometimes just can’t do the job fully. A recent Smithsonian article, Inside the Technology That Can Turn Your Smartphone into a Personal Doctor, put an even stronger emphasis on things for me. When you think about the potential for advanced diagnostic equipment in the field combined with the incredible potential of technologies such as 3D printing, you start to understand that things are going to change in a big way in the next ten years or so. You may not even recognize today’s paramedic any longer. A paramedic may carry a tricorder-type device, rely on a robotic helper coupled to a doctor at a hospital for advice, and perform life saving measures that we can’t even dream of today.

I sometimes look at how computers, computer hardware, and other kinds of technology are being combined today and I’m just amazed. Even though many people view 3D printing as a fad that won’t last very long, I’m beginning to think that it will eventually become an essential part of daily living. Just as PCs were once viewed as toys (useless toys at that), some of the technologies that are in their infancy today will eventually prove themselves.

Where do you think 3D printing is heading? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. What I’d like to hear about most is how you’d like to see this technology covered in upcoming books (or whether you have any interest in it at all).

 

Herbal Harvest 2014

Every year I dry the herbs found in the herb garden for use during the winter months. You can see the technique used in the Drying Herbs post. I’m still using my American Harvest dehydrator to get the job done. However, since the time I wrote that original post, I’ve found a way to improve the potency of the resulting dried herbs. Each layer now has a solid sheet on the bottom. The solid sheet is supposedly designed for fruit leathers and for drying other liquids. The reduction in air flow means that the drying process takes longer, but it also means that fewer of the oils (and other useful elements) found in the herbs are wafted away by the air flow. As a compromise, you can always use the screens instead. The screens keep small particles from falling through, but they also reduce the air flow that robs your herbs of their flavor. The most important issue when drying herbs is to ensure you check their status often and keep the temperature at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees C). A higher setting will cause the oils in the herbs to dry out and make your herbs less effective as a result.

I’m also finding that keeping the herbs as whole as possible for storage prolongs their life. You can’t store the herbs very well without crumbling them a little, but keeping the leaves as large as possible appears to help retain the oils. Crumble the leaves or even grind the herb to powder immediately before you use it to maximize the flavor. The less you process the herb, the longer it’ll store.

This year’s herb garden didn’t do well in some areas, but it did exceptionally well in others. The lime, orange, and chocolate mints were all quite potent this year. I tried a few cups of tea to see how they’d brew and I ended up using less than normal. My personal favorite is the lime mint. The chocolate mint is suitable for use in tea, cooking, and jellies—lime and orange mints are characteristically used for tea.

Herb potency varies from year-to-year based on environmental factors, so it’s essential to consider potency as part of using the herbs. I’m thinking about trying to come up with some sort of rating system that I can put right on the package before I store the herb so I have some idea of how much to use later. As a contrast to these three mints, the grapefruit mint hardly tasted like mint at all. Given that it has proven hard to grow, I’m thinking about using the space for another kind of herb.

Sage also had a wonderful year this year. The plants grew fairly large and are robust in flavor. I grew both golden pineapple and common sage. The golden pineapple sage has larger leaves and a stronger taste. It also takes a lot longer to dry than the common sage. In most years, it appears that the common sage actually produces more output, but this year the golden pineapple sage was the winner.

The thyme and rosemary were disappointing this year, but still usable. I actually have three kinds of thyme: lime, lemon, and common (also known as English thyme). Of the three kinds, the lime has the strongest taste when used fresh, but the common works best for cooking. I find that the lemon has a subtle flavor, but can be hard to grow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any lemon thyme this year, but I did get enough of the other two to make up for it. The only kind of rosemary I can grow is common rosemary. I’m thinking about trying again with some other varieties next year, but the rosemary definitely doesn’t overwinter here in Wisconsin (as contrasted to thyme, which overwinters just fine).

I’ve talked about lovage before (see the Loving that Lovage! post for details). This year I ended up with a whole pint of seeds that I’ll use for canning and for dishes like cole slaw. It was also a decent year for leaves that will end up in soups and other kinds of cooking where a strong celery flavor is desirable.

Weather, soil, and overall care of your herb garden all determine what kind of crop you get each year. Working with herbs can be quite fussy, but also quite rewarding. The quality of herb you get from your own garden will always exceed anything you buy in the store, so the effort is worth it when you want the best results from cooking. Let me know about your herb experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Avoiding Unwanted Spaces

Some time back, I created the Adding a Location to the Windows Path blog post to help readers make better use of some of my book examples. Adding a location to the path makes it possible for Windows to locate applications with greater ease. However, that post didn’t make it clear that a space in a path would cause problems. For example, a path such as, C:\Windows; C:\Python33 (note the space) won’t work. In order for the path to work, each individual path must be separated from the others with just a semicolon, such as C:\Windows;C:\Python33. If you’ve added a path to your Windows setup and find that Windows can’t locate the applications you want to use, please check for an unwanted space in the path.

The limitation on using spaces in a path makes sense because you also have to restrict their use at the command line. For example, typing Dir /A D (with a space between the A and the D) will produce an error. In order to obtain the correct results, you must type Dir /AD and press Enter. The reason the space causes a problem is because the command processor treats spaces as a delimiter, a separator between command elements. The space tells the command processor that one element has ended and a new one has started.

Spaces can creep into commands with relative ease. All it takes is a relatively simple tap on the spacebar at the wrong time. In addition, spaces can be hard to spot when you use certain fonts. When working in an editor to create batch files or other permanently stored command forms, always use a mono-space font, such as Courier New, to make spaces easier to spot. The point is to look for unwanted spaces when a command line feature doesn’t work properly and you know you have typed the correct command.

As a reminder from my books, the command line can also be case sensitive in some cases. Make sure you check your commands to ensure they’re formatted correctly. Let me know about your book-specific command line issue at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Getting Wood for Winter

It’s that time of year again-time to get the wood ready for winter. Of course, cutting, splitting, and stacking wood warms you twice: once when you do it and again when you burn it. With our weather being so beautiful, I really did get quite warm over the last couple of weeks getting my wood ready. It is definitely easier if you use quality wood axes, though, and now the piles are finally finished. I have a little over two cords of wood outside and four cords in the basement. I’ll eventually bring the outside stack up to three cords.

As I mentioned in The Many Appearances of Firewood, I use three different cuts of wood for my pile: slab, log, and disk. Each kind of wood has its own advantages. For example, it’s extremely easy to get slab wood started as long as it isn’t wet. In addition, I buy slab wood, rather than cut it, so the slab wood is less work because I only have to stack it. Logs, the traditional firewood, are easy to stack and burn at a moderate rate, which makes them a good option for maintaining a fire. Using disks has the advantage of a slow, long lasting burn of larger pieces without having to split them. I generally put a disk in the wood stove before I start it up in the morning to keep the fire burning at a nearly even temperature. Larger disks are hard to add later, but you can easily add smaller disks to a wood stove.

Of course, there is the question of what precisely a cord is. A full cord is always 4 feet deep, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long (128 cubic feet). I generally cut my logs 2 feet long, so my cords are usually some combination of dimensions that add up to 128 cubic feet. For example, my outside stack is 2 feet deep, 4.5 feet high (actually, a little higher), and 14 feet long. The stack in my basement is 2 feet deep, 8 feet high, and 8 feet long. Any set of dimensions that adds up to 128 cubit feet is one cord. Purists will insist on the standard measurement, but really, the wood doesn’t care how its organized.

Ask specific questions when you buy wood. Some sellers will try to tell you that they’re selling you a cord of wood when you’re really getting a face cord, which doesn’t have a precise size. Most face cords are one-third to one-half the size of a full cord. The pieces of wood are sometimes only 16 inches long to accommodate smaller wood stoves and fireplaces. You need to ask how much you’re getting when comparing prices between sellers. If a seller won’t tell you how much wood is in a load, it’s probably a good idea to go somewhere else.

Beware of the fluffy load. Someone will drive up with what looks like a full load of wood, but the wood is ill stacked with a lot of air gaps in it. A poorly stacked load won’t contain as much wood as you might think it will. Another trick that some wood cutters use is to include a lot of smaller pieces that tend to add air gaps and don’t burn very well. You can obtain your own kindling with relative easy, so look for sellers who provide larger pieces of wood in a well-stacked form so that you know the amount you’re actually getting.

When I cut wood, I know precisely what kind I’m getting. This year I’ll be burning a combination of American oak and white elm. There is a little maple and black locust mixed in, but the majority of the wood is oak and elm. The wood you get determines how much heat you get. After you find out what kind of wood you’re getting for your stove, make sure you consult a wood heating chart. A load of wood with great burning characteristics may actually be a better deal, even if it costs more, because you get more heat from it. As an example, let’s say that one seller offers you a cord of white oak at $120, while another seller offers you a cord of birch at $100. The white oak is a better deal because it only costs $4.124 per million BTU (120 / 29.1 million BTU), compared to $4.808 per million BTU for the birch (100 / 20.8 million BTU). You also want to verify that the wood is actually dry (some people will try to sell you green wood, which won’t burn well).

Some people neglect to factor in the amount of smoke and ash that the wood creates. Of the two, the amount of smoke is the most important factor because you have to call a chimney sweep if your chimney gets clogged by wood that produces too much smoke. This kind of hassle often leads people to make the decision to have central heating installed, from a site similar to this one, rather than having to buy and chop firewood. However, I think a wood-burning stove creates a kind of homely atmosphere you can’t replace with a heating system. The ash is an annoyance, but you can always clean the ash out of the wood stove as needed. Even so, getting wood that produces less ash means less ash for you to clean up later. Let me know your thoughts about getting your winter wood supply together at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Warm Apple Cake

 

When I came home tonight, there was a warm apple cake
Home made, with mixed nuts, that my lover just baked.
How did he know that I would need such a treat
To finish the day with such comfort and sweet?

He had gone off to bed but had left me a note
With a sweet little message that he personally wrote.
As I toddle my way to my own warm repose
Such sweet dreams will I enjoy that no one else knows.

The sweetness of mind comes from knowing for sure
That the man that I married has the ultimate cure
For the trials and frustrations that are part of the day
When he shows me he loves me in this special small way.

So I came home tonight to a warm apple cake.
I will sleep in such peace from the love that I take
Up to bed with me now. I will plan while I lie.
Cause I know that his favorite dessert is fresh PIE!

Copyright 2014, Pegg Conderman

 
Warm Apples Cake 001

 The original recipe was found in a St. Mary’s Catholic Church cookbook from Muscatine, IA printed in 1988. 

My husband adapted it and I am sharing his version below (as he remembers it).

Fresh Apple Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter or margarine. (Cream together)
2 eggs

In a separate bowl, blend or sift together:

2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of ginger
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of allspice

Set aside and cool 1 cup of coffee

Dice 4 cups of fresh apples into small chunks and set aside with a little lemon juice on them. 

Topping:

1/2 cup of any kind of nuts mixed with 3 Tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of each spice used in the batter.

Instructions: 

Beat the sugar and butter until they are very creamy. Add eggs and blend well. 

Alternately add the cold coffee and the dry ingredients to the bowl, mixing them between additions. Be careful not to overbeat the batter, because this cake batter will be naturally lumpy. 

Drain moisture from the apples. Fold them into the batter. Pour into  13×9 cake pan that has been coated with grease (or Pam) and flour. 

Bake at 350 F for 50 to 60 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center  of the cake until it comes out clean.

This recipe is best served to a loved one while it is still warm with a little ice cream or whipped cream. And it is also great cold for breakfast, like Pizza!