PowerShell news

I found out some PowerShell news by listening to the PowerScripting podcast this morning. Here are a couple things I found interesting. See the podcast show notes for more news.

First, a new version of the PowerShell Community Extensions came out last week, version 1.2. See Keith Hill’s summary of the changes.

Second, Bruce Payette is working on a second edition of his book PowerShell in Action. You can get an “early access” version of the book through the publisher, Manning.

Adding fonts to the PowerShell and cmd.exe consoles

The default font options for the PowerShell console are limited: raster fonts and Lucida Console. Raster fonts are the default, though Lucida Console is an improvement. In my opinion, Consolas is even better, but it’s not on the list of options.

Mastering PowerShell by Tobias Weltner explains how to expand the list of font options for the PowerShell console. The same trick increases the list of font options in the Windows command prompt cmd.exe as well. The book is free for download. See page 16 for details. However, I have two comments about the instructions it gives.

First, the book says “The name must be exactly the same as the official font name, just the way it’s stated under [registry key].” However, the Consolas font is listed in the registry as “Consolas (True Type)”. You should enter “Consolas” and leave out the parenthetical description.

Second, the book says “the new font will work only after you either log off at least once or restart your computer.” When I tried it, logging off was not sufficient; I had to reboot my computer before the font change would work.

Update: In order to make this post self-contained, I’ve added below the necessary information from Mastering PowerShell.

Run regedit.exe and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionConsoleTrueTypeFont.

Right-click in the panel on the right side and create a new string value. Name that value “0” or “00” or however many zeros you need to create a new key. That string’s value is the name of the font to add.

Update: See Necessary criteria for fonts to be available in a command window

Related posts:

Improved PowerShell prompt
A couple thoughts on typography
Better R console fonts

Comparing the Unix and PowerShell pipelines

This is a blog post I’ve intended to write for some time now. I intended to come up with a great example, but I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it and let you come up with your own examples. Please share your examples in the comments.

One of the great strengths of Unix is the shell pipeline. Unix has thousands of little utilities that can be strung together via a pipeline. The output of one program can be the input to another. But in practice, things don’t go quite so smoothly. Suppose the conceptual pattern is

A | B | C

meaning the output of A goes to B, and the output of B goes to C. This is actually implemented as

A | <grubby text munging> | B | <grubby text munging> | C

because B doesn’t really take the output of A. There’s some manipulation going on to prepare the output of A as the input of B. Strip these characters from these columns, replace this pattern with this other pattern, etc. The key point is the Unix commands spit out text. Maybe at a high level you care about programs A, B, and C, but in between are calls to utilities like grep, sed, or awk to bridge the gaps between output formats and input formats.

The PowerShell pipeline is different because PowerShell commands spit out objects. For example, if the output of a PowerShell command is a date, then the command returns a .NET object representing a date, not a text string. The command may display a string on the command line, but that string is just a human-readable representation. But the string representation of an object is not the object. If the output is piped to another command, the latter command receives a .NET date object, not a string. This is the big idea behind PowerShell. Commands pass around objects, not strings. The grubby, error-prone text munging between commands goes away.

Not all problems go away just because commands pass around objects. For example, maybe one command outputs a COM object and another takes in a .NET object. This is where more PowerShell magic comes in. PowerShell does a lot of work behind the scenes to implicitly convert output types to input types when possible. This sort of magic makes me nervous when I’m programming. I like to know exactly what’s going on, especially when debugging. But when using a shell, magic can be awfully convenient.

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For daily tips on using Unix, follow @UnixToolTip on Twitter.

UnixToolTip twitter icon

PowerShell browser toolbar

Shay Levy created an amazing browser toolbar for PowerShell. The toolbar works with IE and Firefox. It updates itself using data that Shay maintains. It lets you do Google searches tailored to PowerShell sites, lists popular PowerShell blogs, and has a menu for a wide variety of PowerShell resources. Shay released his toolbar back in June 2008, so this is old news to people more in the know than I am, but I just found out about it yesterday.

I’m not a big fan of toolbars. I installed the toolbar but will keep it hidden most of the time. But I’m glad I installed it just to see Shay’s list of resources.

Shay created his toolbar using Conduit, something else I’d not heard of. Looks like Conduit makes it easy to create other similar toolbars. (Easy in the sense of programming effort; I’m sure a lot of work goes into keeping the resource lists up to date once you’ve created the toolbar.)

Unicode function names

Keith Hill has a fun blog post on using Unicode characters in PowerShell function names. Here’s an example from his article using the square root symbol for the square root function.

PS> function √($num) { [Math]::Sqrt($num) }
PS> √ 81

As Keith points out, these symbols are not practical since they’re difficult to enter, but they’re fun to play around with.

Here’s another example using the symbol for pounds sterling

for the function to convert British pounds to US dollars.

PS> function £($num) { 1.44*$num }
PS> £ 300.00

(As I write this, a British pound is worth $1.44 USD. If you wanted to get fancy, you could call a web service in your function to get the current exchange rate.)

I read once that someone (Larry Wall?) had semi-seriously suggested using the Japanese Yen currency symbol

for the “zip” function in Perl 6 since the symbol looks like a zipper.

Mathematica lets you use Greek letters as variable and function names, and it provides convenient ways to enter these characters, either graphically or via their TeX representations. I think this is a great idea. It could make mathematical source code much more readable. But I don’t use it because I’ve never got into the habit of doing so.

There are some dangers to allowing Unicode characters in programming languages. Because Unicode characters are semantic rather than visual, two characters may have the same graphical representation. Here are a couple examples. The Roman letter A (U+0041) and the capital Greek letter Α (U+0391) look the same but correspond to different characters. Also, the the Greek letter Ω (U+03A9) and the symbol Ω (U+2126) for Ohms (unit of electrical resistance) have the same visual representation but are different characters. (Or at least they may have the same visual representation. A font designer may choose, for example, to distinguish Omega and Ohm, but that’s not a concern to the Unicode Consortium.)

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For a daily dose of computer science and related topics, follow @CompSciFact on Twitter.

CompSciFact twitter icon

How to grep Twitter

Twitter has an extensive search API. To build the URL for a query, start with the base http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=. To search for a word, just append that word to the base, such as http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=Coltrane to search for tweets containing “Coltrane.”

To search for a term within a particular user’s tweet stream, start with the base URL and append +from%3A and the user’s name. (The %3A is a URL- encoded colon.) See the search API page for other options, such as specifying the number of requests per page to return (look for rpp) or restricting the language (look for lang).

As far as I can tell, the API does not support regular expressions, but you could loop over the search results programmatically. Here’s how you’d do it in PowerShell.

First, grab the search results as a string. Say we want to search through the latest tweets from Hal Rottenberg, @halr9000.

$base = "http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q="
$query = "from%3Ahalr9000"
$str = (new-object net.webclient).DownloadString($base + $query)

Now $str contains an XML string of results formatted as an Atom feed. The root element is <feed> and individual tweets are contained in <entry> tags under that. The text of the tweet is in the <title> tag and the other tags contain auxiliary data such as time stamps. The following code shows how to search for the regular expression d{4}. (Look for four-digit numbers.)

([ xml] $str).feed.entry | where-object {$_.title -match "d{4}"}

In English, the code says to cast $str to an XML document object and pipe the <entry> contents to the filter that selects those objects whose <title> strings match the regular expression.

The search API limits the number of entries it will return, so it’s best to do as much filtering as you can via the Twitter site before doing your own filtering.

Related posts:

Regular expressions in PowerShell and Perl
Table-driven text munging in PowerShell

DSLs in PowerShell

In an earlier post, I quoted John Lam saying that one reason Ruby is such a good language for implementing DSLs (domain specific languages) is that function calls do not require parentheses. This allows DSL authors to create functions that look like new keywords. I believe I heard Bruce Payette say in an interview that Ruby had some influence on the design of PowerShell. Maybe Ruby influenced the PowerShell team’s decision to not use parentheses around function arguments. (A bigger factor was convenience at the command line and shell language tradition.)

In what ways has Ruby influenced PowerShell? And if Ruby is good for implementing DSLs, how good would PowerShell be?

Update: See Keith Hill’s blog post on PowerShell function names and DSLs.