“Work”

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing Nushell documentation. The Nushell core team has been banging out new features rapidly and the documentation hasn’t always kept up; improving the documentation feels like a high-impact way to help out.

Nushell’s got a big release coming up later this month and it has the potential to attract many new users. I want the documentation to be in a better place by then, I’m going to keep spending time on this.

I’ve tried to make a few commits to Nushell itself, but I keep bouncing off Rust. I’m reasonably familiar with Rust, but this is my first time working on a big Rust project. The compile times are painful and they inhibit rapid iteration; I haven’t found a development approach that I like yet.

Reading

Anthony Bourdain’s Typhoid Mary was pretty disappointing (3 stars?); you can tell that Bourdain was short on source material so most of the book is him imagining what Mary might have done.

I started rereading the Wheel of Time series in December and I’m on book 9 now. My interest started to wane around book 8; I think I’ll press onward but I’m really looking forward to the later books (written by another author).

Other

I think I’m a Dance Dance Revolution guy now. I ordered a fancy mat from Poland and have been playing Club Fantastic. I’m still pretty bad but it’s a lot of fun.

I’m officially unemployed again 😎. In the interest of self-accountability, I’m going to try to document what I’m up to on my break; expect more frequent updates to this blog.

HYTRADBOI

I bought a ticket to Have You Tried Rubbing A Database On It?, which could loosely be described as a hipster database conference; lots of people using databases in unusual ways, not much in the way of enterprise RDBMSs. The speaker list is like a Who’s Who for offbeat database work, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Nushell

I’ve been using Nushell as my shell on both Windows and Linux, about half the time. Nushell is a fascinating project; it’s a shell that operates on structured data like PowerShell, but without PowerShell’s (many) pain points.

Nushell has recently seen some massive upgrades (the parsing and evaluation engine was completely rewritten) and it’s a very good time to give it a try. It’s still early days, but I’m hopeful Nushell will be able to displace POSIX shells; it’s liberating to work with much richer data types than plain text:

Nu is a way of saying “what if we didn’t need tools like awk so often?” Since you’re working with structured data, as we add more support for file types, it’s less often you need to reach for “awk”, “jq”, “grep”, and the array of other tools to open and work with common file types. In a way, it’s taking the original spirit of Unix — where you use pipelines to combine a set of tools — and imagining how that original spirit would work today, with what we know about programming languages and tools.

Building data-centric apps with a reactive relational database

This essay touches on a lot of my favourite things: SQLite! The intersection of native apps and web UI! iTunes clones! In a nutshell, it’s a very cool approach to building GUI applications in which all of the application’s state lives in a local database.

It’s more of a provocation than a fully finished system, but I think it shows promise. I’d like to see a bit more investigation of “escape hatches”; how hard would it be mix in a little imperative code when SQL/SQLite aren’t the right fit for a task? Also, this was a bit depressing:

One challenge has been inter-process communication. When the reactive graph is running in the UI thread and the SQLite database is on a web worker or native process, each query results in an asynchronous call that has to serialize and deserialize data.

This would have been a non-issue in traditional GUI code (just query SQLite on a background thread in the same process); one more thing we lose as web UI takes over, I guess 😞.

I handed in my notice; my last day at work is next Wednesday. My employer for the last 2 years has been excellent to me, but I’ve been itching to try something new.

I don’t have a new job lined up yet; I’m planning to use this time partially as a sabbatical, and partially to see what’s out there on the job market. A “serendipity break” during which I will actively explore different possible paths.

One of my plans is to explore the intersection of native apps and web UI; I’ve done some promising experiments with that and it would be a good excuse to overhaul ReiTunes. I’d also like to build some new tools for working with the best database. Here we go!

.NET has been taking huge leaps and bounds in the last few years, and not everyone is aware of it! We’re now able to build small fast single-file .NET applications; this is arguably Go’s biggest strength, and now you can do it in C# and F# too.

Meanwhile, the .NET community has been making excellent libraries to make console applications slick, polished, and easy to write.

The conditions seem right for a .NET renaissance of sorts; all the pieces are in place for us to build great CLI-first software. Here are some useful+easy things you can do in .NET today:

Publish Small Zero-Dependency Executables

In .NET 6 it’s easy to build your application as a single file with no external dependencies (even the .NET runtime!). Applications that include their own runtime are called self-contained. Self-contained apps can be trimmed to remove unused code; trimming reduces a Hello World application from about 60MB to 12MB.

Trimming is well-supported by nearly the entire standard library. Ecosystem support varies; if a library makes heavy use of reflection, C++/CLI, or COM interop then it might not work with trimming yet.

The easiest way to build a trimmed self-contained single-file executable is dotnet publish with the args --self-contained=true -p:PublishSingleFile=true -p:PublishTrimmed=true.

dotnet-releaser makes publishing your app a breeze; it can build for multiple platforms+architectures, then publish the resulting artifacts in a GitHub release.

Console UI

Spectre.Console is a great replacement for Console.WriteLine() and friends. Coloring text with Spectre is as simple as:

AnsiConsole.MarkupLine("[blue]Hello[/] [yellow]World![/]");

It can also do much more; if you need to print tables or prompt users for input, Spectre.Console has you covered. But if you need to build a full-blown terminal UI, check out gui.cs.

Running External Processes

The System.Diagnostics.Process APIs built into .NET are clumsy, to say the least. Thankfully we have much better options these days! Here’s how to run git status with the excellent SimpleExec:

var (stdout, stderr) = await RunAsync("git", "status");

For a more powerful solution, check out CliWrap; anything you can do in a Bash script, you can do in CliWrap.

I recently spent a bit of time messing around with the Postgres wire protocol. I’d like to build a library that lets any application accept connections as if it were a Postgres database; many database clients and databases speak the Postgres wire protocol, and it seems like a practical way to expose tabular data over the network.

Implementing the protocol isn’t too bad; the docs aren’t great but the protocol itself is relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, client behaviour seems harder to accommodate. Clients can issue arbitrarily complex SQL queries to the database to inspect its schema, and sometimes they expect accurate answers. For example, Npgsql issues this beast and then disconnects if it gets an invalid response.

So I’m stuck with a question: how far should I go to support legitimate client behaviour outside of the protocol? The easiest approach for now is to test with a few popular clients and hardcode responses for any queries that they need implemented, but that will leave a long tail of unsupported clients. On the other end of the complexity scale, I could try running schema queries on an in-memory SQLite instance with database objects that mimic Postgres (certainly a massive yak shave, but tempting nonetheless).

I think my next step will be to dig through the source of a few Postgres-compatible databases to see how they solve this.

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I'm a programmer in Vancouver, Canada. I'm interested in databases, urban planning, computing history, and whatever else catches my fancy.

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