Andre Roberge: Friendly-traceback, Real Python, Pycon, and more

After an interruption that lasted a few months, I’ve finally been able to return to programming, more specifically working mostly on Friendly-traceback. For those that do not know Friendly-traceback: it aims to replace the sometimes obscure traceback generated by Python with something easier to understand. Furthermore, Friendly-traceback is designed with support for languages other than English so that, in theory, beginners (who are the main target audience for Friendly-traceback) could benefit no matter what their native language is … provided someone would have done the translation into that language, of course.

As of now, 75 different cases have been tested; you can find them in the documentation.  [If you have suggestions for improvements, please do not hesitate to let me know.]

Recently, a post by Real Python on SyntaxError has given me added impetus to work on Friendly-traceback. I’m happy to report that, other than the cases mentioned dealing with misspelled or missing keywords, all of the other examples mentioned in that post can be analyzed by Friendly-traceback with an appropriate explanation provided. Note that these are not hard-coded examples from that post, so that any similar cases should be correctly identified.

Friendly-traceback works with Python 3.6, 3.7 and 3.8.  As I included support for 3.8, I found that some error messages given by Python changed in this newer version, and were generally improved. However, this meant that I had to change a few things to support all three versions.

Working on Friendly-traceback, and on AvantPy, has been so far a fun learning experience for me. I was hoping and looking forward to submit a talk proposal dealing with both these project to the Pycon Education Summit, as I thought that both projects would be of interest to Python educators. However, the call for proposals is focused on people’s experience with actual teaching case studies about how teachers and Python programmers have implemented Python instruction in their schools, communities, and other places of learning … So, definitely no interest in talks about tools like those I create. I certainly do understand the reason for this choice, but I cannot help but feeling disappointed as I was definitely hoping to get an opportunity to give a talk on these projects, and exchange ideas with interested people afterwards.

I did submit a proposal for a reasonably advanced and more technical talk dealing with import hooks and exception hooks, to share what I have learned (while working on Friendly-traceback and AvantPy) with the Pycon crowd. The last time I gave a talk at Pycon was in 2009 and the “competition” to have a talk accepted was much less than what it is now.  Giving a talk is the only way that I can justify taking a leave from my day job to attend Pycon, something I really miss.

Back to Real Python … I remember purchasing some books from them some time in 2014, and, more recently, I did the same for the “course” on virtual environments. I had never bothered with virtual environments until recently and thought that, if I actually paid to get some proper tutorial, I would have no excuse not to start using virtual environments properly.  The “course” that I bought was well put together.  Compared to standard books, I find it a bit overpriced for the amount of material included. 

As a pure Python hobbyist, I appreciate the material Real Python make freely available, but do find their membership price rather steep.  However, I did note that their tutorial writers could get free access to their entire collection … 

😉 Perhaps I should offer to write tutorials on 1) using import hooks; 2) using exception hooks; 3) designing libraries with support for translations in a way that they “play well together” — all topics I had to figure out on my own.  While there are tutorials about translation support, I found that all of them give the same gettext-based approach of defining a global function named “_” which works very well for isolated packages, but can fail spectacularly in some corner cases as I found out while developing Friendly-traceback and AvantPy. 

However, writing clear tutorials takes a lot of time and effort, and is not as fun to me as writing code. So, I think that, for now, I’ll just go back to add support for more Python exceptions in Friendly-traceback – and hope that I will have soon to focus my entire free time in putting together material for a Pycon talk.

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