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I've given the matter of Blog variables quite a bit of thought and also looked at the various suggestions offered by people. While Tyran's comment about putting the sidebar stuff inside it's own Blog tag to identify them as static variables is good, I don't want to use external variables just for sidebars, I want to allow people the freedom to use it for almost anything they can think of. Of course, you can still do it with the new Blog tag but then I'll have to look out for multiple sections of the same tag if people want to use static variables externally in different places on their template. So, I've decided to go a slightly different route ...
You can define an unlimited number of internal Blog variables but they'll all probably begin something like $BlogVar with an identifying name after that bit. They have to be defined internally as either dynamic or static and they can be assigned a default value. Only the static variable values get replaced so that a new value will overwrite the old and this will happen only on Server mode if you receive an entry via e-mail with a new value defined for the static variable. The entry will be parsed at the time it is received and if it contains a static variable value, it will be stripped out of the e-mail but the static variable value will get updated. Why only via e-mail? Because if you are using Blog from your desktop, you can modify the static variable value yourself by hand by going into the edit variable dialog :pWith the above solution, there are no timing issues - a static variable is always updated when you receive a new entry via e-mail with a variable value and anything newer than that always overwrites the older one - unless of course due to some vagary in e-mail delays but even that can be accounted for if you keep track of the last date and time it was updated ... unless of course, I run into some problem with time zone calculations <g> Since dynamic variables go inside an entry and are entry specific, they shouldn't be affected at all by timing issues. This seems to provide a solution which will work fine for both static and dynamic variables and both internally and externally. At least, that's how it looks to me ... but you may see otherwise :p Comments?
posted at 06:10:35 AM link comment
I had been giving the idea of customizable sidebars suggested by Duane a lot of thought since it kind of dovetailed into another idea suggested by Gene Arnold who wanted user definable variables that could be inserted anywhere in a template. The user can define default values for these variables or keep them blank and during publishing, if an variable was referenced and it had a value, it would be displayed, otherwise the variable tag will be removed from the template. Further to this, the journal entry itself was supposed to have new values for the variables defined at the top and any values defined in an entry replace the static value pre-defined for that variable (if any). Now, I heard from Duane yesterday and he further explained his idea and said that the main reason he wanted the variables was so that somebody could update their sidebar via e-mail by specifying the value for the sidebar variable - basically, allowing remote journal management without having to deal with the template at all.
Of course, as far as I understood it, Gene wanted the variable system for the Blog section where the entries are displayed so that he could have variable values in the template on a per-entry basis whereas Duane wants the variables outside the Blog section - basically the variables have to function as both internal and external Blog tags. Currently, since there is a clear demarcation between the external and internal Blog tags, I parse them separately. If the Blog variables could be in either section, the coding is going to present some problems - as well as the logic. For instance, when a static variable value is replaced by a new variable definition in an entry, is the new value permanent or is it just for the duration of that Blog session? I would say permanent thinking about Duane's needs but if we come back to Gene's needs, that might cause a problem unless the user remembers to "wipe" the variable value when he wants that variable to be empty - or rather, he will always have to define the empty variables in his entries (if they are in his template) because the variable might have been filled in an earlier post. DId that make any sense to anybody? :p
While the idea has a lot of merit and could lead to a lot of innovation with Blog, it is going to be fairly difficult to implement in a way that it would work across the board. Yes, we can come up with the framework easily enough but what I'm worried about is the coding and the performance - especially if the variables can be both external and internal. There is another problem with defining variable values in entries - when does it have effect? What I mean is, that if variables substitution is going to be static, then any new entry has to replace the existing value, right? But at what point do you decide that the new entry's value is going to substitute the existing value? At publish time? If so, then older entries with the same variable might substitute a newer variable value if you publish your journal in reverse order since the last entry to be parsed will be the oldest one. Yes, I know it might be a bit hard to grasp what I'm talking about here since I'm trying to explain something in my head and you might have no idea what I'm talking about ...Anyway, what it comes down to is that there is a fair bit of groundwork to be covered before we can come up with a working system but I think it should be done since it will allow greater flexibility with Blog. Speaking of flexibility, I'm also looking into allowing the importation of Blogger entries into Blog for those of you who want to switch :-) However, since that is a one time operation, I am not so sure that I should bundle that functionality into Blog itself. I'm always conscious of application size and am reluctant to increase it unless absolutely necessary. So at the moment, I'm thinking of keeping the Blogger importer a separate application that a user can utilize if they are thinking of coming over to Blog. What do you think?
posted at 05:46:10 AM link comment
First the travel saga ... I went back to the US embassy yesterday and they were like "of course you can't travel on an expired greencard! Who told you that you could?" and I was like "You did! Well, not you personally but another one of your people did - him!" And they simply nodded and said "Oh yeah ... sorry ... it doesn't work that way" I was getting mad by this time but decided to keep my cool since I still needed to travel. So I spoke to them a bit more and they tell me that the only way I could get into the US would be if I handed in my greencard voluntarily since then they would "consider" issuing me a temporary travel visa. I was a bit taken aback by the word "consider" but decided to go ahead since I seemed to have no other choice. I did the needful and surprise of surprises, they were pretty good about the rest of the stuff and issued me a temporary visa without the usual hassles - not even the usual interview that goes along before they grant a visa. Of course, this is just one step in the next cycle of the journey - guess we'll see how it goes ...
A Blog user who prefers to remain anonymous has been kind enough to purchase a registered copy of PlusMemo. Thanks to him, the nag dialog which pops up each time you run Blog will disappear with the next release. I was so excited that I told him that I would do a new release as soon as I had the registered copy of PlusMemo but then I realized that I'd packed up all the source and stuff in anticipation of my trip and that I didn't have anything to work on. So you'll have to be patient with me till I can sort out my travel stuff and get settled back into work. But I do thank our anonymous benefactor for doing something which I am sure a lot of you are going to appreciate. Not only that, this one copy of PlusMemo will remove nag screens from several of my other freeware apps including Cee and the as yet unreleased PostMan e-mail client :p
Duane Brosius wrote to me yesterday and had a couple of interesting suggestions - one about Blog and one about the Blog community :-) The one about Blog was a feature to automate the sidebars that a lot of us seem to have on our sites. His suggestion was to have a set of internal text variables which could be assigned different values and these could be used in the sidebar. I couldn't see the difference between having the text variables and putting the sidebar values directly into the template itself except for ease of maintenance and being able to switch sidebars easily (if you constantly switch sidebars that is ...) and so asked Duane to explain it to me more to see if this idea is viable. Any useful input that anybody else may have on the idea is welcome since while I might not see it, this might be a feature that could be useful to many ...Duane's other idea was that I introduce the people that I talk about here in my journal because somebody new to Blog would not know who I was talking about - he meant the "regulars" in the Blog community :p I think it's a good idea but besides linking to their site (if I know of it ..) I wouldn't know how to introduce the people I talk of since I basically mention anybody who's written to me with something that I think is worth writing about here in the journal. Yes, there are a few like Tyran and Nigel that I mention often and I guess it kind of confuses people when I say something about them without giving the background but then again, I probably mentioned it somewhere in the past and so think I shouldn't mention it again - of course, that doesn't help the person who's just started reading my journal ... Hmm ... I see why writers of sequels have such problems :p Any ideas on this issue? I appreciate all feedback, comments :-)
posted at 06:19:42 AM link comment
I guess I was rather cryptic yesterday when I said that I was refused entry to the US and so I had better go in to full details - especially since things are kind of up in the air at the moment and so I won't be starting any development work till I sort out where I am going and all that. So bear with the dreary tales of my day-to-day life till normal transmission resumes with details of ongoing development work :p
Anyway, it all began with me going to the US embassy here in Sri Lanka and applying for a visa to enter the US. I had a greencard but that had expired in May and as far as I knew, I was out of status and needed a visa. But the consular officer at the embassy told me that I was still in status since I it hadn't been a year since I last left the US and that I could re-enter the US even though I had an expired greencard. I showed him my greencard and asked him if he was sure and he said that I certainly would be pulled out at my port of entry in to the US by the INS but that they would hold a quick inquiry and decide my case and that while there as a slight chance that I would be deported, that most probably I would be let into the country. Of course, he preluded all of this with "I can't give you any legal advice but ..." :p I was further told that the only way I would get a visa would be if I were to hand over my greencard voluntarily.
Since I can still remember all the hassles and procedures and checks and stuff that had to be gone through to get the greencard, I decided to hold on to it if possible and so I decided to forego the visa and enter the US based on the consular officers assurance. I should have reconsidered my decision when I contacted several US immigration lawyers via e-mail and all of them told me that as far as they knew, there was no law such as the one described to me by the consular officer but by that time all I wanted to do was get to the US and I disregarded these warnings completely - yes, idiotic but what can I say, I never claimed to be in the genius category :p
When I tried to get my ticket (which was one-way ...) Continental airlines raised a fuss because it was one-way and my greencard had expired. I called the embassy and they wanted Continental to call them, they did and then they issued my ticket and said that I was a "special case". Then came the day of my journey and I got as far as Zurich on Sri Lankan (the national air line) and then had to transfer to Continental. I got my boarding pass fine and then had to go through security - they immediately pounced on the fact that my greencard had expired. I told them what the US embassy had told me but they were adamant that I could not travel with an expired greencard. Since I still wouldn't give up, they called their INS contact in the US and he said that I would not be allowed into the country either - I wanted to talk to him myself and tried to tell him what the US embassy had told me since I at least wanted to get to my port of entry (which was Newark ...) and talk to a US INS officer since I was sure they'd see some way out but it was like talking to a brick wall. The INS guy simply ignored me and said nothing doing.So that was that! I was in Zurich and Continental (who had issued me a ticket even though my greencard had expired ...) was now not letting me enter the US because if I was deported, they'd have to pay a fine of $ 3000. I was furious since they should have thought of this at the time they'd issued me the ticket and I wanted them to call everybody from Continental in Sri Lanka to the US embassy in Sri Lanka but of course it was a Sunday and nobody was there. Since I had no visa for Switzerland, I had the option of staying in the airport the whole day and trying to contact somebody the next day or coming back to Sri Lanka and trying to sort out matters here in Sri Lanka. I opted for the latter. Since it was Columbus Day yesterday, the US embassy here was closed and so I need to talk to them today. The saga continues ...
posted at 06:24:46 AM link comment
I'm back to posting but unfortunately, it's not from the US :-( I left Sunday early morning for the US but got only as far as Zurich before they told me that I could not enter the US. I was basically stranded since I had a one-way ticket to the US but was able to talk to the airlines and get a ticket back to Sri Lanka but now I am back where I started :-( I still need to get to the US and so I guess I'll start the whole routine of talking the embassy, verifying my status etc. all over again. God willing, I hope to be back on a plane within two weeks (yeah, I haven't had my fill of airplane food yet :p) but that's an optimistic estimate. Guess we'll just wait and see how it turns out ...
Copyright (c) 2001 Fahim A. Farook