May 2003 archive

reStructuredText and AT&T 386 UNIX

Since I’ve been trying to get active in Python development, I’ve noticed the proliferation of reStructuredText into the world of Python documentation. I’ve taken an interest in reStructuredText. It seems to be an easy way to write documentation and other text that can be converted into HTML painlessly. It is much easier to write than HTML, and yet it provides just enough flexibility for most activities.

I’ve added reStructuredText as an option within Growlmurrdurr as a way to write weblog entries. This entry is the first to be written in reStructuredText, other than my test entries. Thanks to the wonder of XML-based file storage, my reStructuredText entries can co-exist with HTML entries without any problems. Yay!

I’ve converted MOOzilla’s documentation out of the much more dreadful DocBook format and into reStructuredText. Section 3 of the MOOzilla documentation, Building with MOOzilla, is nearly complete due to my renewed documentation efforts. It looks like another MOOzilla release with documentation might happen sometime this century! Qa’pla!

Alright, off the ReST discussion for a minute. Cecil and I had a trying lunch hour. Our local network administrator referred an associate of his to us for help with a ‘Linux, version unspecified’ box which was supposedly failing to boot at a local law firm. Cecil and I went out as Linux consultants to take a look at the problem. Well, it turns out Linux wasn’t involved at all.

The law firm had an ancient AT&T 386 UNIX box with a terrible green monitor. This box occasionally would poll a device attached to it and get accounting information, and store it locally. A nearby DOS machine would connect to the UNIX machine through a serial connection, using kermit, and download files that had accumulated daily, where they could be transferred to a disk.

It was an ancient, awful setup. And it didn’t work. We set about diagnosing the problem, trying to figure out how the ugly AT&T UNIX worked relative to our modern Linux experience, and so on. Within a half hour, we were pretty sure of one thing: We weren’t getting anything done. It was around when I was about to loose all hope that Cecil discovered the problem. "Shouldn’t that machine be connected to something? I see power, and keyboard, and monitor…" Sure enough, the serial connector into the DOS machine was disconnected, laying on the floor nearby underneath a garbage can. Qa’pla!

The moral of the story is: check the hardware too, not just the software.