Changing the world one byte at a time

Tag Archives: Python

This week, I gave my first talk at a local Python meetup group. Granted, it was just a lightning talk, but I’m pretty happy with how it went. (I even remembered to smile!) As the topic of the meetup was Python for Beginners, I shared some advice and resources that I’ve found useful in my own journey as I’ve been learning to code.

The group is in Barcelona, Spain which added an interesting element of language to the event. It’s pretty reasonable to expect people to know two or more languages; Catalan, Spanish, English are the top 3 most common languages, and programmers especially are more likely to know English, as much of the documentation and terminology used in Python is in English. There are many immigrants in Barcelona from other parts of the world, and like most of Europe, English is used as the common language when it’s a mixed-nationality group. For this reason, at PyBCN meetups, presenters are given the option to present in any of the 3 primary languages, as long as the slides are in English.  While that policy is fine for an audience that already is comfortable with their programming skills and through programming skills comfortable with English as well, this is a fine policy. However I’m not sure it’s appropriate for beginners, who have less programming knowledge to draw from to infer things they don’t understand, and are more likely to get discouraged. Through my involvement with PyLadies, lurking in OpenHatch discussions, and other groups that are especially attuned to creating learning environments that are welcoming for beginners, choosing what language to speak for the presentation weighed heavily on me. However it was impossible to know the language composition of the audience ahead of time, and as it was my first such presentation, I decided to do it in my own native language, English.  Additionally, the theme had never been clarified as to whether it was for beginning programmers, or for people who already program in other languages and learning Python as an additional programming language.

As it turns out, the majority of the audience was in the latter category, learning Python as an additional programming language, so perhaps my presentation was too rudimentary for most of them, but hopefully at least a few people came away feeling a little less lost as to how to find help, especially when they’re working on their own projects.

You can view my slides from the presentation here:

And for those who are interested in learning more about getting involved in Open Source (per my recommendation on the last slide), I am also sharing this video presentation where Aaron Patterson goes into more detail about the why and how of contributing to Open Source technology.


My coding work lately has focused on a major upgrade to Planeteria by giving it a web framework (currently it has none).  The framework I chose was Flask, because of its simplicity, its flexibility, and its scalability.  It has a strong community and documentation, which makes our project more friendly to new contributors, and has several add-ons for features that we hope to implement/improve upon for the site down the road, which will make future improvements to the site much easier.  I’ve also done some reorganizing of the files so that there’s clearer separation of the business logic and presentation logic.  Again, this should make the site more friendly to new contributors who might want to edit the backend Python code without unintentionally altering the page content.  The page layout is in Bootstrap, which is another tool that is commonly used and well documented.  It’s often used by developers for prototyping, with some handy defaults for buttons, blocks of text, etc.   Although you may notice that many projects and websites that have a very similar look because of this, it provides a foundation that is very easy to alter through CSS that a skilled designer could do a lot more with.

This week I created a schema for the data in SQLite3 and did a crash-course in SQLAlchemy to work with that data.  Currently, Planeteria stores its data in sqlite with the help of a tiny tool that simply stashes it as if it’s a dictionary;  there is no schema.  This has been a huge frustration of mine, as it’s difficult to see exactly what data is stored in what format.  Not ideal when trying to debug Unicode issues and character escaping.

I now have planet data (name/description/slug) and a planet’s feed data (feed name/url/image/planet id) saving to a database, with the ability for a planet admin to update any of that data correctly.  With just a few sql commands, I can now check the database and see if my code did what it should with the data.  Huzzah!  This led to a few revisions of the schema, each time simply deleting the database and creating a new one with the updated schema, then more testing.  Last night, I did some rigorous testing, trying my hardest to “break” it (identify flaws).  The biggest test was using unicode characters and quotes; two things that cause problems right now if they’re entered in the admin page.  It saved and loaded the data exactly as it should!  It’s lovely when things just work as they’re supposed to.

The database does not yet save feed content data.  It’s still to be determined exactly how that will be saved.  I’ve talked before about adding tagging to the site to help people more easily identify content within a planet that is relevant to them.  Since the only users on the site are the planet admins, the planet admin would be responsible for assigning tags to each feed; but how would the admin correctly guess what tags would most interest the planet readers?  I think it just puts an undue burden on the planet admin for maintaining all the tags for their planet feed.  Additionally, admins can edit a blog’s feed data but they have no control over individual blog entries; the topics discussed by a blogger in the planet might vary greatly, making an individual tag that brings up that blogger’s entries only applicable to some, not all of those entries.

I’m not sure that adding individual user logins for readers to save personally selected tags is the right solution.  It seems overly complicated and potentially underused.  I’d want to wait to see if there is really demand for this; as it is, many readers are simply reading the feed in their own feed readers anyway.  A much simpler solution that would enable readers to find content most relevant to their interests is a Search window.

I bring all of this up because how the feed content data is used/accessed will guide the decision of how it’s saved.   A relational database would be an appropriate way to store feed tags, but if we want users to be able to search the content, storing it in a server designed for searching such as Solr or Elasticsearch might be more appropriate.

While I mull that over, there are plenty of other things to do with the Admin page functionality I’ve built so far: next on my plate is form validation, security, and error reporting.  Then, adding user logins, most likely with Mozilla Persona.

WFS Planet update:  Today, I updated a few feeds in the Women in Free Software admin page and was reminded again of a bug that makes feed images disappear or assigns them to a different person’s feed.  I’ve put those images back where they should go for now, but it may happen again.  It pains me to leave the live site in its broken state, but I’ve decided to focus my efforts on the Flask implementation instead and create a stronger foundation so that bugs like this can more easily be avoided in the future.  I’ve made sure that the javascript on the new admin page assigns unique ID’s to each feed’s data so that this can’t happen on the new Admin page once the Flask site is launched.  I can’t wait to see it in action!

2014 is well underway, and I’ve been more actively working on several projects after a busy 2013 that included selling my house, moving to another continent, getting married, and decompressing from all of the above!

While it was an exciting year for me personally, I’ve been frustrated with my lack of progress as far as learning code and other skills that will hopefully move me closer to a career in tech.  My learning has been a bit sporadic, so in the fall I completed a MOOC to refresh my existing knowledge and build upon it. Now I’m coming back to some existing projects as well as starting some new ones:

Planeteria Coding

Now I’m coming back to my work on Planeteria, the project that I started working on during my OPW internship a year ago, and am able to understand a lot of things that were a struggle for me when I started.  That doesn’t mean I understand *everything*, but I’m at least feeling less overwhelmed.

I still struggle with scope.  I’m a big-picture kind of person, and with Planeteria, there is so much to do. I have a long wishlist of things I’d like to improve, and as I start working on one, I find myself tempted to add other things to it, but I just keep reminding myself that open source is incremental. Baby steps.

Women in Free Software Planet Management

Planet management has been coasting for a while, with few changes other than adding the new OPW interns at the start of each internship round. The planet has exploded in size in the last year as the OPW program has grown in participation, which is incredibly exciting to read so many new and talented voices in the feed, but does require a lot of work to manage the feed.  I’ve flagged some improvements that can be made to the site to help streamline the process of adding feeds, as well as making a few changes to the process for WFS administration with the help of a couple new volunteers, Siobhan Bamer and Aarti Dwivedi, for whom I’m ever so grateful (thank you!!).  This year I hope to more actively manage this growing planet, and to start recruiting more bloggers doing great things in the FOSS community. I’ll be seeking requests for bloggers to add to the planet soon – so put your thinking caps on :)


I attended my first FOSDEM last weekend, which was a great introduction to the FOSS community here in Europe. I was especially curious to see the ratio of women:men and observe any gender dynamics to be aware of. This is partly due to my ongoing curiosity/personal research of what to be aware of as I enter this world as a woman. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were quite a few women there; I’m guessing around 20% but that is a very rough ballpark based only on my personal observation. However the ratio varied greatly from room to room. In the sessions I went to, I found that the Python track had only two women besides myself in an overcrowded room (perhaps because Pyladies isn’t as present in Europe as it is in the US – more on that below). The Mozilla dev room and Legal Issues tracks had a much higher ratio of women. I was especially thrilled to see such high attendance in the Women in Technology talk given by another OPW alum, Priyanka Nag, who only had 1/2 hour to address such a broad topic. I appreciated learning a bit more about WoMoz and hearing some of the questions and comments from the audience, but I’d love to see more talks at FOSDEM that explicitly address outreach both to women and more broadly. The only other talk I saw on this topic was Deb Nicholson’s talk “Non-Coders Wanted” which made the case for the value of non-technical contributors and had some great tips for how to recruit them to any FOSS project.

I appreciated the non-commercial nature and the accessibility of the event, being all-volunteer run with no registration fee at all. One shortcoming of a free conference is the lack of nametags, which can help facilitate conversations and connections with others at the conference. As someone still pretty new to this community, I could’ve really used them to identify people who would be especially helpful to talk to unless someone was introduced to me. That being said, I found most people to be quite approachable, and ended up striking up conversations with complete strangers and had some interesting and unexpected conversations as a result.

PyLadies Barcelona

After benefiting greatly from the support of a fantastic community of PyLadies in Portland and then meeting many others at PyCon last year, I moved to Barcelona with the intention of helping facilitate a similar group in Barcelona.  Concurrently, interest has been growing here in Spain.  Last November, a group of ladies met informally during the first PyCon España to discuss starting a PyLadies on Spanish soil.  We’ve held two meetups in Barcelona so far, and though it’s still just a fledgeling, it’s a fantastic group of people, and I’m excited to see where this will go.  I’m especially inspired to see that women’s participation at PyCon has skyrocketed in recent years, in part due to the efforts of PyLadies in the US.  PyLadies chapters are now starting to crop up here in Europe.  Let’s see what happens!

I just completed my registration for Pycon, a big conference for pythonistas which will be held in Santa Clara, CA this March.  I’m so thankful for the financial aid that made it possible for me.  I’m looking forward to getting to know more Python coders; almost everyone I have met so far in the Portland Python community is really cool and welcoming and I’m hoping that it extends to the larger population of Pythonistas who will be at Pycon.

This is will be my first Pycon, and someone pointed me to this very helpful beginner’s guide which gives some general conference-going tips (don’t forget to eat and shower. seriously.) as well as suggestions for beginner-friendly sessions at the conference.

I’ve signed up for a few tutorials; I’m a bit bummed to miss the session about scraping and public data hacking, but it conflicts with one that’s more directly related to my work on Planeteria, Rapid Web Prototyping with Lightweight Tools. It’ll cover two lightweight tools that I’m using for this project (Flask and Twitter Bootstrap) so I’m sure I’ll pick up some handy tips.  I’m also looking forward to rounding out my web dev knowledge with a database crash course.

As I’ve been active in the Portland Pyladies chapter, I’m looking forward to meeting Pyladies from other parts of the country at the Pyladies lunch on Saturday.  I also plan to check out the Ada Foundation’s feminist hacker lounge, which I actually learned about through the WFS Planet feed.

Finally, some folks in the PDX Python user group have convinced me to stay for the sprints.

There’s discussion of a meetup with bay area OPW interns as well; if anyone is interested who I have not yet spoken to about this, let me know.