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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My first novel is available

For those interested, I finally published my first fantasy novel. It's taken two and half years but I finally got it out there. It's based on some play-testing I did while working on my Ph.D. research, so it may sound somewhat familiar to anyone who has played 1st Edition AD&D. If the response is good, I will make it into a series.

If you would like to check it out, the links are below:
Other formats

Updated edition available in paperback and ebook

I finally figured out how to get a "clean" conversion from my original PDF manuscript to a suitable ebook format. I have updated the links on the left navbar (look for "Revised 2nd Edition") for the new Kindle edition and the paperback.

As usual, if you find anything that I should address, please let me know. It shouldn't take too much effort now to make and upload changes.

One thing I want to note is that, for some reason that I'm still troubleshooting, the Kindle version does not have the correct chapter listings. The chapters jump from 23 to 25 but there isn't actually a chapter missing. For some reason, during the conversion process the chapters are mislabeled. I spent two hours trying to manually correct it but couldn't get it to work. I'm working with the software vendor to get it resolved but, in the meantime, just be aware that you are not missing any information.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Beginning Python Tutorial (Part 12)

Getting Classier

The last time we met I told you some of the basics about using Python classes and object-oriented programming. Today we will delve more into classes and see how they make programming life better.


First off, classes allow you to modify a program without really making changes to it. To elaborate, by subclassing a class, you can change the behavior of the program by simply adding new components to it rather than rewriting the existing components.
As we’ve seen, an instance of a class inherits the attributes of that class. However, classes can also inherit attributes from other classes. Hence, a subclass inherits from a superclass allowing you to make a generic superclass that is specialized via subclasses. The subclasses can override the logic in a superclass, allowing you to change the behavior of your classes without changing the superclass at all.
Let’s make a simple example. First make a class:
Generic Code Example:
>>>class FirstClass:           #define the superclass
… def setdata(self, value):    #define methods
…  self.data = value    #’self’ refers to an instance
… def display(self):  
…  print self.data
Then we make a subclass:
Generic Code Example:
>>>class SecondClass(FirstClass): #inherits from FirstClass
… def display(self):  #redefines ‘display’
…  print “Current value = ‘%s’” % self.data
As you can see, SecondClass “overwrites” the display method. When a FirstClass instance is created, all of its actions will be taken from the methods defined in FirstClass. When a SecondClass instance is created, it will use the inherited setdata method from FirstClass but the display method will be the one from SecondClass.
To make this easier to understand, here are some examples in practice.
Generic Code Example:
>>>x=FirstClass() #instance of FirstClass
>>>y=SecondClass() #instance of SecondClass
>>>x.setdata(“The boy called Brian.”)
The boy called Brian.
Current value = ‘42’
Both instances (x and y) use the same setdata method from FirstClass; x uses it because it’s an instance of FirstClass while y uses it because SecondClass inherits setdata from FirstClass. However, when the display method is called, x uses the definition from FirstClass but y uses the definition from SecondClass, where display is overridden.
Because changes to program logic can be made via subclasses, the use of classes generally supports code reuse and extension better than traditional functions do. Functions have to be rewritten to change how they work whereas classes can just be subclassed to redefine methods.
On a final note, you can use multiple inheritance (adding more than one superclass within the parenthesis) if you need a class that belongs to different groups. In theory this is good because it should cut down on extra work. For example, a person could be a chef, a musician, a store owner, and a programmer; the person could inherit the properties from all of those roles. But in reality it can be a real pain to manage the multiple inheritance sets. You have to ask yourself, “Is it really necessary that this class inherit from all of these others?”; more often than not the answer is, “No”.
Using multiple inheritance is considered an “advanced technique” and therefore I won’t discuss it. Actually, I don’t use it; if I encounter a situation where I could use it, I will try and rethink the program’s structure to avoid using it. It’s kind of like normalizing databases; you keep breaking it down until it’s as simple as you can get it. If you still need multiple inheritance, then I recommend getting a book

Operator Overloads

Operator overloading simply means that objects that you create from classes can respond to actions (operations) that are already defined within Python, such as addition, slicing, printing, etc. Even though these actions can be implemented via class methods, using overloading ties the behavior closer to Python’s object model and the object interfaces are more consistent to Python’s built-in objects, hence overloading is easier to learn and use.
User-made classes can override nearly all of Python’s built-in operation methods. These methods are identified by having two underlines before and after the method name, like this: __add__. These methods are automatically called when Python evaluates operators; if a user class overloads the __add__ method, then when an expression has “+” in it, the user’s method will be used instead of Python’s built-in method.
Using an example from Learning Python, here is how operator overloading would work in practice:
Generic Code Example:
>>>class ThirdClass(SecondClass): #is-a SecondClass
… def __init__(self, value): #on “ThirdClass(value)”
…  self.data = value
… def __add__(self, other): # on “self + other”
…  return ThirdClass(self.data + other)
… def __mul__(self, other): #on “self * other”
…  self.data = self.data * other
>>>a = ThirdClass(“abc”) #new __init__ called
>>>a.display()   #inherited method
Current value = ‘abc’
>>>b = a + “xyz”  #new __add__ called: makes a new instance
Current value = ‘abcxyz’
>>>a*3   #new __mul__ called: changes instance in-place
Current value = ‘abcabcabc’
ThirdClass is technically a subclass of SecondClass but it doesn’t override any of SecondClass’ methods. If you wanted, you could put the methods from ThirdClass in SecondClass and go from there. However, creating a new subclass allows you flexibility in your program.
When a new instance of ThirdClass is made, the __init__ method takes the instance-creation argument and assigns it to self.data.ThirdClass also overrides the “+” and “*” operators; when one of these is encountered in an expression, the instance object on the left of the operator is passed to the self argument and the object on the right is passed to other. These methods are different from the normal way Python deals with “+” and “*” but they only apply to instances of ThirdClass. Instances of other classes still use the built-in Python methods.
One final thing to mention about operator overloading is that you can make your custom methods do whatever you want. However, common practice is to follow the structure of the built-in methods. That is, if a built-in method creates a new object when called, your overriding method should too. This reduces confusion when other people are using your code. Regarding the example above, the built-in method for resolving “*” expressions creates a new object (just like how the “+” method does), therefore the overriding method we created should probably create a new object too, rather than changing the value in place as it currently does. You’re not obligated to “follow the rules” but it does make life easier when things work as expected.

Class Methods

Instance methods (which is what we’ve been using so far) and class methods are the two ways to call Python methods. As a matter of fact, instance methods are automatically converted into class methods by Python.
Here’s what I’m talking about. Say you have a class:
Generic Code Example:
class PrintClass:
 def printMethod(self, input):
  print input
Now we’ll call the class’ method using the normal instance method and the “new” class method:
Generic Code Example:
>>>x = PrintClass()
>>>x.printMethod(“Try spam!”) #instance method
Try spam!
>>>PrintClass.printMethod(x, “Buy more spam!”) #class method
Buy more spam!
So, what is the benefit of using class methods? Well, when using inheritance you can extend, rather than replace, inherited behavior by calling a method via the class rather than the instance.
Here’s a generic example:
Generic Code Example:
>>>class Super:
… def method(self):
…  print “now in Super.method”
>>>class Subclass(Super):
… def method(self):    #override method
…  print “starting Subclass.method”    #new actions
…  Super.method(self)    #default action
…  print “ending Subclass.method”
>>>x = Super() #make a Super instance
>>>x.method() #run Super.method
now in Super.method
>>>x = Subclass() #make a Subclass instance
>>>x.method()  #run Subclass.method which calls Super.method
starting Subclass.method
now in Super.method
ending Subclass.method
Using class methods this way, you can have a subclass extend the default method actions by having specialized subclass actions yet still call the original default behavior via the superclass. Personally, I haven’t used this yet but it is nice to know that it’s available if needed.

Have you seen my class?

There is more to classes than I have covered here but I think I’ve covered most of the basics. Hopefully you have enough knowledge to use them; the more you work with them the easier they are to figure out. I may have mentioned it before, but it took me almost six months to get my head around using classes. Objects were a new area for me and I couldn’t figure out how everything worked. It didn’t help that my first exposure to them was Java and C++; my two textbooks just jumped right into using objects and classes without explaining the how's and why's of them. I hope I did better explaining them than my text books did.

There are several “gotchas” when using classes, such as learning the difference between “is-a” and “has-a” relationships, but most of them are pretty obvious, especially when you get error messages. If you really get stumped, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, we were all beginners once and so many of us have encountered the same problem before.

Beginning Python Tutorial (Part 11)

Learning Python Classes

The class is the most basic component of object-oriented programming. Previously, you learned how to use functions to make your program do something. Now will move into the big, scary world of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP).
To be honest, it took me several months to get a handle on objects. When I first learned C and C++, I did great; functions just made sense for me. Having messed around with BASIC in the early '90s, I realized functions were just like subroutines so there wasn't much new to learn. However, when my C++ course started talking about objects, classes, and all the new features of OOP, my grades definitely suffered.
Once you learn OOP, you'll realize that it's actually a pretty powerful tool. Plus many Python libraries and APIs use classes, so you should at least be able to understand what the code is doing.
One thing to note about Python and OOP: it's not mandatory to use objects in your code. As you've already seen, Python can do just fine with functions. Unlike languages such as Java, you aren't tied down to a single way of doing things; you can mix functions and classes as necessary in the same program. This lets you build the code in a way that works best; maybe you don't need to have a full-blown class with initialization code and methods to just return a calculation. With Python, you can get as technical as you want.

How are classes better?

Imagine you have a program that calculates the velocity of a car in a two-dimensional plane using functions. If you want to make a new program that calculates the velocity of an airplane in three dimensions, you can use the concepts of your car functions to make the airplane model work, but you'll have to rewrite the many of the functions to make them work. You may be lucky and can copy and paste some of them, but for the most part you'll have to redo much of the work.
Classes let you define an object once, then reuse it multiple times. You can give it a base function (called amethod in OOP parlance) then build upon that method to redefine it as necessary. It also lets you model real-world objects much better than using functions.
For example, you could make a tire class that defines the size of the tire, how much pressure it holds, what it's made of, etc. then make methods to determine how quickly it wears down based on certain conditions. You can then use this tire class to make a car class, a bicycle class, or whatever. Each use of the tire class (calledinstances) would use different properties of the base tire object. If the base tire object said it was just made of rubber, perhaps the car class would "enhance" the tire by saying it had steel bands or maybe the bike class would say it has an internal air bladder. This will make more sense later.

Improving Your Class Standing

Several concepts of classes are important to know. First, classes have a definite namespace, just like modules. Trying to call a class method from a different class will give you an error unless you qualify it, e.g.fooClass.barMethod().
Second, classes support multiple copies. This is because classes have two different objects: class objects and instance objects. Class objects give the default behavior and are used to create instance objects. Instance objects are the objects that actually do the work in your program. You can have as many instance objects of the same class object as you need.
Third, each instance object has its on namespace but also inherits from the base class object. This means each instance has the same default namespace components as the class object, but additionally each instance can make new namespace objects just for itself.
Finally, classes can define objects that respond to the same operations as built-in types. So class objects can be sliced, indexed, concatenated, etc. just like strings, lists, and other standard Python types. This is because everything in Python is actually a class object; we aren't actually doing anything new with classes, we're just learning how to better use the inherent nature of the Python language.
Here's a brief list of Python OOP:
  • The class statement creates a class object and gives it a name. This creates a new namespace.
  • Assignments within the class create class attributes. These attributes are accessed by qualifying the name: object.name.
  • Class attributes export the state of an object and its associated behavior. These attributes are shared by all instances of a class.
  • Calling a class (just like a function) creates a new instance of the class. This is where the multiple copies part comes in.
  • Each instance gets ("inherits") the default class attributes and gets its own namespace. This prevents instance objects from overlapping and confusing the program.
  • Using the term self identifies a particular instance, allowing for per-instance attributes. This allows items such as variables to be associated with a particular instance.

So What Does a Class Look Like?

Before we leave this particular tutorial, I'll give you some quick examples to explain what I've talked about so far. Assuming your using the Python interactive interpreter, here's how a simple class would look like.
Python Code Example:
>>> class Hero: #define a class object
...        def setName(self, value): #define class methods
...            self.name = value #self identifies a particular instance
...        def display(self):
...            print self.name  #print the data for a particular instance
Notice a few things with this example.
  1. When the class object is defined, there are no parenthesis at the end; parenthesis are only used for functions and methods.
  2. The first argument for a class method must be self. This is used to identify the instance calling the method. The Python interpreter handles the calls internally. All you have to do is make sure self is where it's supposed to be so you don't get an error.
  3. When you are assigning variables, like self.name, the variable must be qualified with the "self" title. Again, this is used to identify a particular instance.
So, lets make a few instances to see how this works:
Python Code Example:
>>> x = Hero()
>>> y = Hero()
>>> z = Hero()
Here you'll notice that parenthesis make an appearance. This is to signify that these are instance objects created from the Hero class. Each one of these instances has the exact same attributes, derived from the Hero class. (Later on I'll show you how to customize an instance to do more than the base class).
Now, lets add some information.
Python Code Example:
>>> x.setName("Arthur, King of the Britons")
>>> y.setName("Sir Lancelot, the Brave")
>>> z.setName("Sir Robin, the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot")
These call the setName() method that sits in the Hero class. However, as you know by now, each one is for a different instance meaning not only do x, y, and z each have a different value, but the original value in Hero is left untouched.
If you now call the display() method for each instance, you should see the name of each hero.
Python Code Example:
>>> x.display()
Arthur, King of the Britons
>>> y.display()
Sir Lancelot, the Brave
>>> z.display()
Sir Robin, the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot
You can change instance attributes "on the fly" simply by assigning to self in methods inside the class object or via explicitly assigning to instance objects.
Python Code Example:
>>> x.name = "Sir Galahad, the Pure"
>>> x.display()
Sir Galahad, the Pure
That's probably enough for this lesson. I'll cover the rest of classes in a later tutorial but this is hopefully enough to give you an idea of how useful classes and OOP in general can be when programming. The vast majority of languages in current use implement OOP to one extent or another, so learning how to use classes and objects will help you out as you gain knowledge. Thankfully Python implements OOP in a reasonable way, so it's relatively painless to learn in Python rather than something like C++, at least in my experience.

Y'all come back now, ya hear? :P