ASCII Bar Charts for Quick & Easy Visualisation

So you have some data. Let’s say it’s a record of the number of instances of some things. Let’s say it’s the number of movies you own, grouped by the year they were released.

Let’s say you have those data in the form of a dictionary in Python, like so:

years = {2000: 2, 2001: 9, 2002: 10, 2003: 9, 2004: 14, 2005: 11, 2006: 8, 2007: 10, 2008: 14, 2009: 19, 2010: 16, 2011: 17}

The following loop will print out an ASCII bar chart for a quick & easy visualisation of these data:

Which looks like this:

Note I used the ‘pipe’ character in this example. First I used ‘o’, which worked well, but I tried a few others ('O','x','X','*','@',':','/','#','[]','+','-','=','_',':)',…) and liked this the most.

That’s the end of what I wanted the blog post to show, but I may as well throw in how I got my data in this case. I have movies saved in a folder, and by convention I name them with the year in brackets at the end so I used glob to loop through the files in this folder, extract the year, and increment the counter in my years dictionary. I have another blog post in draft about using glob to edit filenames in batch. Coming soon.

PHP 5.4 Released

So the other day, Rasmus tweeted that PHP 5.4 was fully released (following several release candidates):


There are some great additions, the highlights (other than a huge increase in speed, apparently) being square bracket notation for arrays, array dereferencing and the ability to use traits.

I’m quite excited (sadly) about the use of square brackets to initialise an array, and to be able to code up their contents in this way:


// PHP 5.3
$arr = array();
$arr2 = array('a','b','c');
$arr3 = array('a' => 2, 'b' => 4, 'c' => 8);
$arr4 = array(array('abc','def'), array(2,4,8), 16);

// PHP 5.4
$arr = [];
$arr2 = ['a','b','c'];
$arr3 = ['a' => 2, 'b' => 4, 'c' => 8];
$arr4 = [['abc','def'], [2,4,8], 16]];

This is similar to the way we do lists in Python.

Array dereferencing means we can now access particular elements within an array upon creating it:


function makeArray() {
    return [1,2,3];

// The PHP 5.3 way
$arr = makeArray();
echo $arr[2];

// The PHP 5.4 way
echo makeArray()[2]; // returns 3

This works the same way with Objects:

There’s now something called Traits, which is a concept brought in to PHP 5.4:

This allows a trait to be reused by any objects which refer to it in this way. It’s to save on copy and pasting blocks of code. The compiler now does that for us!

Also, up to and including PHP 5.3 we could attempt to echo an array without a notice given, but the word ‘Array’ would be echoed instead of any of the array’s content. Now in PHP 5.4 a notice is given:

Although it does still echo the word ‘Array’.

Here’s a great video (the keynote at PHPUK Conference in London) of Rasmus talking about the PHP project from the beginning, and about PHP 5.4:

Ternary Operator and Other Shorthand Code

The ternary operator is a shorthand way of writing an if/else statement where a particular action occurs in both cases, but the value associated with that action depends on the condition stated.

For example, the traditional if/else construct (C/Java/JavScript syntax):

if (a > b) {
   result = x;
else {
   result = y;

can be rewitten as:

This in itself is a huge benefit to clean, concise code. I use it wherever possible. Here’s an example in PHP:

A particularly cool Python example utilising the idea of a function of a comprehended list:

If you want to return/echo true or false depending on the condition, there is no need for the ternary operator as a shorter operator is available: simply echo the boolean result of the condition, i.e. rather than:

This will produce the same output:

There are various other implementations of this idea in different languages, but the reason for this blog post is because while talking about these with my colleague Mike and I came up with an interesting manipulation of this on the train to work the other day. I had a program which incremented a value by 1 if and only if a condition was true:

In my opinion this is good because it’s on one line, but bad because the else 0 should be unnecessary. Unfortunately Python requires an else here. The obvious alternative doesn’t use a +0 but requires 2 lines:

Anyway, the thing we thought of was to increment by the integer value of the boolean, i.e. 1 if True, 0 if False:

Evaluating a condition, say x>0, returns True or False, which when added to an integer is equal to 1. Another implementation of this is to multiply the value of the condition by a scaling factor: