Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Link: Good Ruby-gems patterns

RubyGems patterns Gives you five good tips to follow to write better ruby gems:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Link: schedule your sidetiq jobs for a specific timezone

Currently, "UTC" and "not UTC" are the only options available for scheduling your sidetiq workers...

Now, UTC is great if you're lucky enough to live in London - in which case, you can stop reading now. Or if all your systems happen to be set that way... though it doesn't let you accommodate local things such as daylight savings time-shifts.

So the only other option provided by sidetiq is "not UTC" which means you default to whatever timezone is set on your server... which is great if your server's local time is set to the timezone you actually live in... but, if, like most of us, your server is in an amazon cluster somewhere in Randomville America or somewhere on the sub-continent, you may not have that luxury either.

Then you need some way of making sure that your sidetiq workers run at 2am *for you*... instead during the middle of the midday-rush, slowing your servers to a crawl right when your users need you most...

Thankfully, here is a useful gist by toolmantim that lets you set the sidetiq time zone to whatever you'd like. eg it lets you do something like the following

  schedule_time_zone "Australia/Sydney"
  recurrence { daily.hour_of_day(2) }

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Classic: Beating the Averages by Paul Graham

Beating the averages by Paul Graham

It's a classic. It's about lisp as a secret weapon, the building of viaweb and the blub paradox.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


No, that's not me expressing my current frustration with Sidekiq not playing nice with mandrill-mailer... It's a real method on Sidekiq...

[1] pry(main)> Sidekiq.❨╯°□°❩╯︵┻━┻
Calm down, bro
=> nil

I found it while scanning the sidekiq test suite

  describe "❨╯°□°❩╯︵┻━┻" do
    before { $stdout = StringIO.new }
    after  { $stdout = STDOUT }

    it "allows angry developers to express their emotional constitution and remedies it" do
      assert_equal "Calm down, bro\n", $stdout.string

<3 <3 <3

Friday, 26 September 2014

Shellshocked vulnerability bigger than heartbleed - run the fix right now!

TL;DR: run apt-get update; apt-get upgrade

Right now

Then keep doing often over the next few days...

If you're on MacOS, here's a good guide on How to patch OSX in the wake of shellshock

"Remember Heartbleed? If you believe the hype today, Shellshock is in that league and with an equally awesome name albeit bereft of a cool logo (someone in the marketing department of these vulns needs to get on that). But in all seriousness, it does have the potential to be a biggie and as I did with Heartbleed, I wanted to put together something definitive both for me to get to grips with the situation and for others to dissect the hype from the true underlying risk."

Everything you need to know about the Shellshock Bash bug

"Which versions of Bash are affected?

The headlines state everything through 4.3 or in other words, about 25 years’ worth of Bash versions. Given everyone keeps comparing this to Heartbleed, consider that the impacted versions of OpenSSL spanned a mere two years which is a drop in the ocean compared to Shellshock. Yes people upgrade their versions, but no they don’t do it consistently and whichever way you cut it, the breadth of at-risk machines is going to be significantly higher with Shellshock than what it was with Heartbleed.

But the risk may well extend beyond 4.3 as well. Already we’re seeing reports of patches not being entirely effective and given the speed with which they’re being rolled out, that’s not all that surprising. This is the sort of thing those impacted by it want to keep a very close eye on, not just “patch and forget”."

heroku are (at this time of writing) working to resolve it on their servers: heroku shellshocked status page

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Classic: Why nerds are unpopular By Paul Graham

Why nerds are unpopular is one of Paul Graham's classic essays and well worth reading again. This essay made me re-evaluate my terrible memories of high-school (I think now I wouldn't have changed a thing); and will no doubt shape any recommendations I have for other young nerds who suffer the same terrible problems that come with massive unpopularity at school.

"When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity. This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."
"We sat at a D table, as low as you could get without looking physically different. We were not being especially candid to grade ourselves as D. It would have taken a deliberate lie to say otherwise. Everyone in the school knew exactly how popular everyone else was, including us."

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Stone soup with elephants

Motivation can be a problem sometimes.

For example - some days I really just *don't* want to cook. I come home exhausted, and just wish that somebody else would make dinner for me instead... but if I don't do it... I'll be nibbling raw rice and feeling miserable.

Sometimes that calls for pizza... but too much of the unhealthy stuff and I could end up in a downward spiral that makes me feel even worse.

and sometimes I can use one of my motivation tricks to kickstart myself into something more healthy.

I'm sure you've heard the story of stone soup - where a hungry traveller starts with some water and stone, telling the villagers that she's making soup with the stone. They don't believe her, but she asks if they are willing to contribute a carrot here, some parsley there to add to this stone soup - in order to make it the best stone-soup possible, of course... and eventually they all end up eating a thick and tasty soup.

I like to use that story to tempt myself. In my case - I'll pull a jar of pasta sauce out of the cupboard - but its not quite enough on its own, so I figure "well, I'll just add a few vegies"... before I know it, I've cut up enough veggies to make another two meals... and put the pasta sauce bottle back in the cupboard unopened. Stone soup well in hand.

You see, really the trick is just to get started. I generally then find it's not as hard as I first thought.

So where's the IT angle? Well I have found that a lot of my past clients have let things slip... UI-bugs, code reviews, test suites... the usual.

of course, the first step is to recognise that there is a problem... but often they end up doing little more than that, and promising themselves that "we really need to do the Thing"... but it never goes beyond that.

Then they have a big meeting and tell all the developers that "the Thing is really number one priority now". But after the meeting, nothing on their end changes - all the other priorities are still there. Clients need to "just get this one thing fixed, and then you can start on the Thing"... "we just need a few more features to go out the door to keep our customers happy while we work on the Thing"....

and somehow no time actually gets allocated to the Thing.

Sometimes there's a big meeting where blame gets slung like mud "why didn't you work on the Thing? when we said it was priority number 1?"... but that doesn't change the fact that the Thing... really isn't a priority at all. if it was, you'd be allowed time to work on it, instead of all the other urgent things.

Luckily, the stone soup kicker can help here too. Say your Thing is to build a test suite. Your app has 100,000 lines of code... that's a big Thing. But it's not too hard to promise yourself "just write one test for one model"... and you get caught up in it and before you know it, you've cleared out the tests for a whole section of your app.

I think oftentimes the motivation problem is really that you're looking at a whole elephant, wondering how the hell you're going to eat it all... and have forgotten that the way to do it is "one bite at a time". Once you're elbow deep in solving a small piece - it's often easy to get so caught up in the details that they stop bothering you any more, and you can just get on with it.

So - whatever it is, however big it is... just get started. It doesn't have to be a large piece - just one wafer-thin bite...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Gotchas: rspec expect change gives: "nil is not a symbol"

*sigh* There's a small, but meaningful difference between:

   expect {
   }.to change(my_thing.my_value).to(some_value)


   expect {
   }.to change{my_thing.my_value}.to(some_value)

(note the braces on the last line...)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

gotchas: require/permitting an array of ids

This one got me the other day... it seems that sometimes the following won't work:


When the set of ids is expected to be an array, instead use

params.require(:my_thing).permit(:widget_ids => [])

Sunday, 31 August 2014


 class String
   def gollumize 
     self.pluralize + "es" 

=> "pocketses"

...just because :D

Monday, 25 August 2014

Life at 38

When I was 5 I liked to do jigsaw puzzles upside down (to make it harder) and blow bubbles off the balcony -- watching them drift over the street. I liked to walk to school by myself (one block) and learn Origami from the lady in the flats behind us.

When I was 7 I wished on every star that I could have a baby sister. When I was 8, I got one.

When I was 10 I liked to explore the backways of Oyster Bay, picking flowers to make perfume (which smelled terrible). I played fantasy make-believe games with my cousins - involving magic and unicorns, where we saved the world.

When I was 12 I got another sister.... I stopped wishing. :)

When I was 13 I liked to play make-believe with my sisters and all the younger cousins. Gordy and I plotted adventures for us all, in-amongst the bamboo.

When I was 15 I liked to climb up on the roof and watch the clouds drift by. I liked to ride my bike home from school and play LARP in the park across the road.

When I was 17 I liked to swim in the backyard pool, drifting underwater with my hair floating loose around me. I liked to frantically scribble in my diary and day-dream about movies; making up adventure stories or inserting myself as a character in my favourites.

When I was 20 I loved the freedom of being independent, waking up in my own flat to the sound of Cockatoos in the pine-trees. I liked being free to wake up in the afternoon and go for a walk in the twilight, or in the quiet time after the curfew painted the streets with night. I liked staying up all night, having coffee with friends, as television got progressively more idiotic. As the sky began to warm with first light - I went out again. I liked feeling the expectant hush of the cool dawn, then retiring before the hustle woke up.

When I was 22 I loved my writing diary - pouring out my heart or playing with words, crafting new worlds on a page. I liked learning new things -- drifting from subject to subject. I liked psychology, programming and the occult. I loved my cats. I liked it that I got married and was somebody's wife. I liked meditating with my husband -- humming toneful chords without meaning. I liked learning martial arts with him.

When I was 24 I loved my garden. I spent days drifting through it and tending to the plants. I liked picking silver-beet and herbs and cooking up a meal that I'd taken from seed to table. I liked shopping at Bunnings for fruit trees. I liked spending Saturday nights with the Druids, singing, meditating, drinking mead and telling stories. Then the morning-afters, skinny-dipping in the wading-pool as the sun climbed the sky.

When I was 26 I moved interstate by myself, to see the Big City. I liked exploring the back-areas of Chatswood in search of great food. I loved hacking together brilliant solutions for colleagues desperately late on their projects. I liked rock-climbing with my work-mates and playing network games in the training room until late at night. I wrote a dictionary of elvish (quenya).

When I was 28 I loved freedom. The freedom to choose my own time, to choose what to learn, to work on my own projects. I liked smiling at my young class-mates who complained about the work - knowing this was easy compared with Real Work. I liked the meditation of archery. I liked spending my time reading while sipping coffee, or eating noodles at the local hole-in-the-wall. I liked long walks in the evening, scoping out my local territory.

When I was 30 I liked building my own small business, knowing I owned it and I could achieve whatever I wanted. I liked learning medieval crafts alongside eager students, and feasting with friends in a medieval campsite. I liked reading books, sipping coffee after a good workout at the gym. I liked watching myself learn how to walk again.

When I was 32 I enjoyed being a senior developer, being at the top of my form as well as earning high pay. I enjoyed choosing my first major investments in shares and buying my first property. I loved planning what to do with my life, and choosing to gather interesting experiences around me - New Zealand, the Northern Territory, Thailand. I learned photography, spanish and investing. I watched a *lot* of DVDs.

When I was 34 I moved internationally by myself. I loved exploring in a new country: visiting ancient ruins and watching Shakespeare at the Globe. I enjoyed getting better at photography, meeting new people and seeing new places. I built my own startup with friends. I enjoyed my morning coffee at the local in Windsor, and walking past a castle on my way to work in the morning. I loved pottering around in my allotment late into the long, english summer nights.

When I was 36 I loved getting about europe in my first car; learning French, and then eating my way around the French countryside. I enjoyed picking fresh fruit/veg from my allotment and making blackberry pie. I loved the lazy schedule allowed by working from home, and lazy Sunday afternoons drinking velvety latte with a Cranberry-and-orange muffin at my local cafe in Windsor, in view of the castle.

When I was 38 I loved being in the thick of things in the medieval group - I was president of the NSW branch (200 paid members, 10 direct and 8 indirect reports). I helped coordinate others who were running feasts and balls and camps and craft classes. I taught a class of newbies to build websites in Rails in 12 intense-but-rewarding full-time weeks. I enjoyed dinners with my cousins, and weekends going to the markets with them and then spending the day cooking preserves, jams and soups to feast upon in the weeks to come.

This post began as an exercise: "for every five years, write what you enjoyed doing". It helps you find out what you most enjoy - and how your tastes change over time. I also like to do it to remind me of the good things in life - which can be so easy to forget sometimes.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

STOP YELLING! or how to validate a field isn't in ALLCAPS

TuShare lets people give away things they no longer need. It turns out that some people think that putting their headings in ALLCAPS will get more attention... but we think it just annoys people (nobody likes to BE YELLED AT!). Here's a quick snippet that lets you validate that your users aren't YELLING AT YOU! in any given field.

1) create a custom validator in app/validators/not_allcaps_validator.rb with the following code:

# we don't want our users YELLING AT US!
class NotAllcapsValidator < ActiveModel::EachValidator
  def validate_each(record, attribute, value)
    if value.present? && (value.upcase == value)
      record.errors[attribute] << (options[:message] || ""is in ALLCAPS. Please don't YELL AT US (we're sensitive types). Instead, just use normal sentence case. I promise we'll still hear you from over here. :)")

2) use it in your model like this:

   validate :name, :description, :not_allcaps => true

3) Add a custom matcher for rspec:

# validates that this field has the "not_allcaps" validator
RSpec::Matchers.define :validate_not_allcaps do |attribute|
  match_for_should do
    match do |model|
      model.send("#{attribute}=", "AN ALLCAPS VALUE")
      !model.valid? && model.errors.has_key?(attribute)
    failure_message_for_should do |model|
      "#{model.class} should validate that #{attribute.inspect} cannot accept ALLCAPS VALUES"
    failure_message_for_should_not do |model|
      "#{model.class} should validate that #{attribute.inspect} can accept ALLCAPS VALUES"

4) test each field in your model specs with:

    it { should validate_not_allcaps(:name) }
    it { should validate_not_allcaps(:description) }

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Link: Why I am leaving the best job I ever had

an awesome post by Max Schireson to remind us of our priorities in life: Why I am leaving the best job I ever had

"Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO..."

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Link: Guidelines for growing a stable codebase

"Software projects need to evolve over time, but they also need to avoid collapsing under their own weight. This balancing act is something that most programmers understand, but it is often hard to communicate its importance to nontechnical stakeholders. Because of this disconnect, many projects operate under the false assumption that they must stagnate in order to stabilize.
"This fundamental misconception about how to maintain a stable codebase has some disastrous effects: it causes risk-averse organizations to produce stale software that quickly becomes irrelevant, while risk-seeking organizations ship buggy code in order to rush features out the door faster than their competitors. In either case, the people who depend on the software produced by these teams give up something they shouldn't have to."

Guidelines for growing a stable codebase covers six useful techniques for keeping your codebase stable while it increases in size. Well worth a read.

Friday, 1 August 2014

10K on Stack Overflow


This morning I finally got the 10k moderator tools privilege on StackOverflow. You can see it here: Taryn East on Stack Overflow

Pardon me while I blow my horn for a moment, but it's taken me nearly five years to get here...

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Link: Getting rid of intermittent feature spec failures

Intermittent feature spec failures are the bane of testing experience.

They cause builds to fail at random (which really screws with you when you have continuous deployment based on master-branch merges). But more insidiously, they lead to bit-rot in your test suite - because once you get used to tests failing at random, you tend to overlook it when they do... which leads to bad code falling through the cracks at the worst times.

Patrick Bacon's article: These Intermittent Test Failures Will Not Stand, Man has a small selection of useful things you can do to address these failures and root them out for good.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Rails migrations for zero-downtime sites

At TuShare we have a zero-downtime site with continuous deployment (ie, you merge to master, and away it goes to production...)

The zero-downtime part means that as the new code goes out, the old servers are still up and running until the new code is fully loaded and ready to roll... and they only then get pulled down.

This is great for uptime, but does mean you have to be extra careful about any migrations. The database must work with both the old code and the new code.

My colleague pointed me at this article: Rails migrations with no downtime. which has some in-depth coverage of the topic. What kinds of things cause errors, what you can do to reduce the pain of change-over.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Working with TuShare

So, I've got a job at TuShare.

TuShare are a little like FreeCycle - people login to either give away their excess clutter, or get some free stuff from others.

But there is one main difference - instead of having to pick the items up yourself, TuShare offers seamless integration with a courier system for any items smaller than 5kg. You still have the option of going out to pick the item(s) up (which you still have to do for furniture and large objects), but you also have the option of a door-to-door courier service for only $10 within your capital city, or $25 for city-city service.

Personally, that extra convenience is extremely appealing to me, and I used it about a month ago to get myself a brand new-to-me juicer. Since then I've put up 6 items of my own, from random old computer bits to a futon left with me by a friend who moved house.

TuShare has a small dev team, but there's a lot to work on - especially after the boom in users following the Global Sharing Day events held last week.

The people are lovely and I'm really looking forward to working with them.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Link: Open-plan offices don't work

Just read an interesting article by Maria Konnikova called The open-office trap

The TL;DR version is that while open-plan offices give employees a feeling of belonging to an open, laid-back company. The actual measured performance of employees shows that they are "damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction."

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Link: Service Objects in Rails

Steve Lorek has written a nice overview of Service Objects: What They Are, and When to Use Them.

"There has been a lot of discussion within the Ruby community around the service objects pattern. The term "service objects" may be unfamiliar to even seasoned Rails developers, because Rails itself implements the Model-View-Controller design pattern. There is no concept of a 'service' in a new Rails application. So it's understandable that this concept may seem foreign, and indeed non-obvious. However, I believe that the service objects pattern is well worth considering for any non-trivial Rails application."

It's a quick read, and gives a very good introduction/overview to when and why to use service objects in Rails.

Further to the above. If you have a Railscasts-pro account, you can watch this video on Service Objects.

It starts with an example of modularising out the functionality of a FAT model, using concerns. He then describes why he doesn't prefer that approach (my first introduction to the brilliant phrase "grep-driven-development") and finishes up with an alternative using service objects instead.

It's Rails-3 oriented - so you know you don't have to do anything special to include the concerns directory anymore... but otherwise his examples are still quite relevant and a great intro to the practicalities of how to actually go about a simple service-object and/or modularisation refactor.

Finally, don't forget some of the classic articles on this subject from DHH's Put chubby models on a diet with concerns to Bryan Helmkamp's 7 Patterns to Refactor Fat ActiveRecord Models

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Link: programming sucks

Programming sucks

"Every friend I have with a job that involves picking up something heavier than a laptop more than twice a week eventually finds a way to slip something like this into conversation: "Bro, you don't work hard. I just worked a 4700-hour week digging a tunnel under Mordor with a screwdriver."
"They have a point. Mordor sucks, and it's certainly more physically taxing to dig a tunnel than poke at a keyboard unless you're an ant. But, for the sake of the argument, can we agree that stress and insanity are bad things? Awesome. Welcome to programming."


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Classic: The Law of Leaky Abstractions by Joel Spolsky

Joel Spolsky's classic: The Law of Leaky Abstractions is still well worth a read today.

Many of today's high-level tools abstract away the low-level details to such an extent that 99% of the time, you don't even need to know they're there. But it's that 1% of the time that's the doozy. When everything suddenly blows up because you accidentally crossed an invisible line you didn't know was there... how can you figure out what went wrong and how to fix it?

The low-level detail leaks through.

So often, even though you're using an abstracted, high-level tool, you often still have to learn all the lower-level stuff it was helpfully abstracting way.

An example would be a need to learn sql in order to understand joins and includes (and how they go wrong) in Rails' Active Relation

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Link: Female Founders by Paul Graham

Paul Graham (of Y-Combinator) writes some amazingly worthwhile essays. One of his recent ones is about what he's learned about Female founders

Read to discover:
Is YC anti-female (spoiler: no)
Do female founders fare differently in startup culture (spoiler: sometimes, but that should rapidly improve)
What can we do to encourage more females to be founders?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Heartbleed: openSSL has been compromised test your site!

So, you may have read that there's a security vulnerability in OpenSSL called Heartbleed. It's pretty serious and potentially affects everyone. You should change all your passwords right now.

Read more about it here: Here's How To Protect Yourself From The Massive Security Flaw That's Taken Over The Internet

You can use this site to test any site you care to try: Heartbleed test

Friday, 4 April 2014

Quit being so negative!

Interacting with other people is all about perceptions. For better or worse, we can't see inside of other peoples' heads and have to infer what's inside of them based on their actions... and also on (get this) *our* past behaviour.

You thought it would be *their* past behaviour, yes? but actually unless you've known somebody a really long time - your perceptions of another person are more based on what you have done in the past, than on what they have.

It's way too easy to totally miss this point when it comes up in reality - because what you think another person is doing... just seems so obvious. Surely they're doing X, it's just obvious they are...

What you don't see are all the subconscious micro-decisions that got you to that point. What exactly did you base your observation on?

Could you be mis-interpreting something? Just because you (or your sister, your boyfriend or your old teacher back in high school) used to do X and that meant they thought Y - doesn't mean that this person you're talking to right now... thinks Y - even if they're quite clearly doing X.

This all stems from a bit of an example from my own life (I'm T):

P comes up to T and tells her all about a friend of his who's developing a new javascript library.
"it's gonna be awesome!" P enthuses.
"interesting," T says. "so what does it offer over jquery?"
"what do you mean?", P asks, looking taken aback.
"well, jquery is pretty bog-standard in the web-world right now. What does your friend's library do, that would make me choose to use it over jQuery?" T replies.
"why are you asking me that? It's a great library, it's going to be the best!", P asks

We'll stop here and see where everybody stands, because I know from later discussion that P is thinking that I'm not interested in hearing about this new project. He thinks that *I* think it's only worth doing a project if it's better than jQuery. Why else would I demand what this new project had to offer and whether or not it was worth pursuing? How dismissive of me!

Hang on a tick... what did I *actually* say?

None of the above, it turns out. From my perspective, I was curious about the project and wondering what it might have to offer.

It think it all hinges on what part we both assume the role of questions plays.

I assume that questions are to elicit information on something of interest.
P assumed that questions were a way of poking holes in an idea and dismissing it.

Both of these are assumptions based on our own past history of using questions.

Perhaps when P questions something it's because he has strong reservations about it, or because he's decided it's a bad idea and he wants to highlight all the flaws in it... but assuming that that's the reason why *another* person asks questions... will lead to very great misunderstandings.

No doubt there are downsides to my own assumption - obviously that other people will get the wrong idea about my reasons for doing so... perhaps thinking that I'm attacking their idea instead of finding out more about it.

The biggest part of the problem is that that these assumptions are pretty-much invisible to us. To us it just feels like "the way it is"... not "my perspective". it's only when we brush up against somebody else's different perspective that we even notice they're there at all (like two people with different-coloured sun-glasses finally swapping notes about the colour of objects they see).

I haven't got a solution to this problem yet... I'd be curious if any of you readers out there do. feel free to comment and let me know.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Speaking Eloquent Javascript - learn javascript (and programming) for free

Eloquent javascript seems a nice site for learning programming for free, by working your way through a free textbook.

I've only skimmed it myself - I've been working my way through Code School's Javascript path.

Another that's just come out is Speaking javascript (an O'Reilly book that's also online for free)

I've heard good things about both of these.

Have you tried either one? If so, tell me what you think, or if you have a better (free) source, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Link: Australia's top female programmers

Pollenizer has posted a list of what they call Australia's top female programmers.

I apparently made the grade... but it's a little scary to see my name amongst some of the most awesome women coders I've met over the years...

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The failure of the ruby community - and what we can do about it

Sam Peters holds up a dark mirror in which our community reflects more poorly than I'd have hoped to see.

Her post on ruby meetups and the developer community is particularly worth a read for those of us happily ensconced inside that echo chamber.

Some representative quotes:

"[at ruby meetups] people who knew one another would connect, catch up, and spend the time excitedly discussing the latest news. To one another. Exclusively."
"Upon my attendance [at ROROSyd] I was immediately struck by the small, tight groups of people scattered across the venue – something that felt quite intimidating as a new learner"
"My more unorthodox theory implies that this community is merely an illusion"

The words "scathing indictment" spring to mind.

Clearly this is not the kind of community that we want.

As a mob, we can be pretty intimidating - and we need to work on better outreach and inclusiveness at our meetups.

I remember the earliest days of the rails community in Sydney. I remember when everybody was a beginner, and we came together to share our solutions to the hard problems we faced, to welcome newbies and help each other grow into skilled rubyists.

One particular observation of hers at rubyconf gives an example of what we can do better:

" I also experienced a bit of community on a personal level too – one particular lunch time, a pair of developers invited me to their table with no pretence or expectation. It resulted in a rather pleasant lunch, and opened my eyes a little. I felt a little more welcome."

In other words - it doesn't take much.

If there are people at your local meetup looking new and alone, go over and say hi. Ask them about their experience in ruby, invite them to sit at your table. Just start the conversation and include them.

I'm personally hoping to help break down that barrier-to-entry with Ruby Women - to provide at lest one extra avenue into the scene via a smaller, more beginner-friendly meetup and more open network of friend

The full article is well worth a read and some careful self-reflection. We should take note and work hard to build something better.

My Students

So, I've been teaching the General Assembly Immersive Web Development course for the past two months now.

It's going great and has been a really rewarding (if highly challenging) experience for me

They've recently finished their second (of three) projects, and the results are pretty amazing - especially considering that most of them had never touched a line of code, two months ago.

Here are links for some of their blogs to see how they've been coping over the past two months...

Sam Peters

Sam is a creative developer and her humour punctuates her work. Her blog showcases her particular mix of creativity and humour, with quite pointed insight into the development process and community

Her first project was: Forage, a website built to let gardeners swap their excess produce with others.

Alberto Forni

Alberto moved here all the way from Italy with his girlfriend in order to learn development. He's studying full-stack development, and his girlfriend is in the classroom next door studying User Interface Design. So I expect them to make a formidable development team when they're done.

His first project was: Alfred lets you keep track of expenses and wishlists - and share your wishlists with your friends.

Luke Schoen

Luke is always overflowing with ideas. No sooner do I describe some new topic and he thinks of five new applications for it in various combinations with other things he's learned.

His first project was TrendMyHunch, a site to share your ideas, pick your favourites and see if they're currently trending on google.

I have plenty more students, but they haven't shared their blog-urls with me yet... I'll come back and add them if/when they do :)

Here are the links to their recent, group-projects:

Expense Tracker

Split and track expenses with your friends or housemates

Autism Connect

A community for carers of the Autistic, allowing sharing of autism-related events, documents, links etc

Rick Rampage

A javascript, scrolling shooter game (the scores are stored in the rails backend)

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Classic: Making Wrong Code Look Wrong by Joel Spolsky

The article Making Wrong Code Look Wrong by Joel Spolsky is a classic take on a programming concept that you should still, always keep in mind when writing your code:

You should try to write your code so that it's more difficult for things to go wrong...or at least more obvious when things do.

It was written Some Time Ago - so take his prescriptions with a pinch of salt and apply your intelligence and ingenuity.

It's the vibe of the thing that matters here :)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ruby Women - a new meetup group

TL;DR: come to the Ruby women Sydney meetup (if you're a woman in Sydney and into ruby and/or rails), and please spread the word

I've been kicking around this idea for a while now.

You see, once upon a time I was a regular at the Sydney Linux Users Group - a formidable group of uberhackers. I knew almost nobody there, and due to the high skill-level of the members found it overwhelmingly scary to even think about presenting.

I was simultaneously looking into issues that women face in the workplace, and came across a couple of different books that pointed out that women, in general, tend to be more self-critical and less self-confident than their male counterparts.

It helps to have a network of other women to support you... but where can you get one in the traditionally male-dominated arena of IT uber-geekery?

Well - shortly thereafter, a number of us women in linux geekery began organising a local version of Linux chix. We just got together about half an hour before the SLUG meetup - and chatted and gave mini talks on interesting and basic linuxy topics... (nothing special)... and then all walked en masse to the SLUG meetup.

It doesn't seem like much, but it made a huge difference.

It provided a safe, conducive environment to women-geeks to introduce them to the linux community, without diving right into the deep end. It also provided a network of other women to serve as colleagues and role-models.

A couple of short years later, Sydney hosted a Linuxconf(.au) that had a remarkably large percentage of women for conferences of the kind - along with a whole mini-conf on topics relating to women in IT.

Linux-geekery was now something that women participated in too - in large (if not yet equal) numbers, and I'm quite certain that the strong networks formed at linuxchix helped with this

then I went away to the UK for three years...

Coming back to Sydney again, now part of the ruby community... I went to my first rubyconf.au and was overjoyed to hear of RailsGirls - a hackday-style initiative designed to help non-dev women get their first Rails site up and running.

...but it has come to the attention of many, that there's not much to keep interested women going after this. RailsGirls is currently working on RailsGirls-Next - to help Rails Girls participants continue working on their apps and slowly improve their skills... and alongside that - I've been working on something much more akin to the linuxchix concept:

Ruby women

It will be a group dedicated to women in the ruby/rails community - providing exactly the kind of supportive network and easy transition into the ruby/rails community that I think women still need.

Our first dinner meetup/discussion will be held on Wednesday 19th of March in Sydney

Please feel free to publicise the meetup far and wide, and to invite any and all women you may know.

To head off a couple of obvious responses:

What about a ruby men group?

Feel free to start one. There's nobody stopping you, and I'd certainly welcome that too.

I'd be really interested in hearing about the issues facing men in the IT industry too. I've heard especially about issues regarding fatherhood and balancing concerns of needing to appear dedicated to your job, as well spending time with your children... and also tales of unfair paternity laws (ie women are more likely to get time off for children than men are).

Can men come too?

Good question. We probably won't drive you away with pitchforks...

Personally, I'd be curious why you wanted to come. If you're there to pick up chicks - I'd be strongly against you coming. If you're there to support the needs of women in another group you run I'd happily welcome you...

but this won't be just *my* group, so others may have differing ideas about that.

Isn't it kind of exclusionary?

Yes. So is a group catering only to the interests of ruby programmers (as opposed to, say, python programmers)

Meetup is being DDOSed

I just checked meetup.com - it appears to be under a DDOS attack right now.

Check the meetup blog for ongoing details

Friday, 28 February 2014

Startups for the unexotic underclass

If you're an entrepreneur looking for ideas, consider looking beyond the city-centric, navel-gazing, youth-obsessed mainstream.

The unexotic underclass in a fascinating read for startups looking for meaningful ideas for new apps.

It's a call to action for us to stop wasting our time developing the next fashion-hunting twitter-app for our manicured dogs...
and instead start looking at solving some real problems that affect real people that we tend to mostly overlook, because they're just not treated as *interesting* enough by our society.

Really worth a read

Friday, 21 February 2014

Vale David E.

There's too much death going around right now.

The ruby world has been rocked by the death of of Jim Weirich (kind man, great teacher and original writer of rake)...

But for me, I have to say this is overshadowed by two deaths much closer to home.

About 3 weeks ago, my grandfather died.

I was never really close to him, but his passing sent ripples through my family. Even my close family came back from the states to attend the funeral and be with my grandmother.

But my grandfather had made it to 96. He was well-travelled and had managed to complete his book on lay evangelism - which was the end result of his life's work in his church. He lived a long, full life.

This morning, my uncle gave up his struggle with cancer.

He was only 70, and the world is that much less bright without him in it.

He was kind and generous, and always made me laugh. He brought joy and love back to my aunt - whom he married only a few short months ago (right after the diagnosis).

He was way too young to die.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Link: Stack Overflow Goes Down, Programmers Around The World Panic

StackOverflow went down on Sunday. It's back up now, but it sure serves as a reminder of how much we've come to rely on this truly awesome resource.

The article above shows some of the (inevitable) humour that flowed from the event... but it does leave me with that feeling that we're whistling nervously in the dark - what if it went away for reals?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Link: a deeper look at ruby's enumerable

Have you ever needed to load a VERY large file in ruby? No I don't mean your 500 line rails model. I mean a several gig binary or text file.
Try it. Watch your machine become unresponsive. Cry a little inside. Then reach for enumerable.
Ruby's Enumerable module gives you a way of iterating over collections in a lazy manner, loading only what you need, when you need it. But it gives us so much more than that.

rubylove has written a great, in-depth look into enumerable with: A Deeper Look at Ruby's Enumerable

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Gamification on coursera

Kevin Werbach's coursera course on gamification is restarting again!

He's the bloke who wrote For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business - and the gamification course had amazing reviews.

I started it too late last time to fully participate - and now I get another chance!

it's only just begun - so there's still time to sign up without missing out on any of the assignments or the option to get a certification.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Teaching at fishburners

If you're wondering why I've been so quiet... I'm currently teaching the "Immersive web development" course for General Assembly at fishburners, in Ultimo

This is a 12-week course covering the full stack of web development. Students learn ruby, HTML, CSS, SQL, sinatra, rails, javascript and several javascript frameworks.They complete three personal projects as well as many small homework projects. They also get an introduction to the ruby/rails and startup communities (especially via fishburners).

I'm teaching the course - and teaching is, for me, a brand new skill. While they learn rails, I get to learn how to structure and plan lessons, and how to deal with multiple levels of understanding.

It's tough - which is what I expected. I have to plan 40 hours of talking... every weekend - and brush up on every aspect of what I'm teaching so I can answer the tricky questions.

This essentially means I'm working 6 days a week, and the teaching itself drains a fair bit out of me.

So if you're wondering why I'm a bit quiet atm... that's why

Monday, 16 December 2013

Open Source Software is Anarchism*

There is No Governing body

People come together purely through enlightened self-interest to build something useful

Yes there are freeloaders
yes there is chaos
yes standards vary

But some amazing stuff gets built despite all that.

* Note: anarchism != anarchy... go look it up, if you've never heard of it before...

No. it wouldn't work as a form of government for obvious reasons (ie people are still people)... but that isn't the point I'm trying to make here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

In the land of the blind

In the land of the blind
the one-eyed man is burnt at the stake
for asserting the heresy of light in our land of blessed darkness

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Twitter bootstrap - for quick and easy design

If you're anything like me, for a graphics designer you make a great web developer.

My past attempts at design have run the gamut from "geocities" to "unicorn vomit", and I've become increasingly minimalist in an attempt to rectify that

-> less design == less unicorn-puke == win!

But it still leaves my sites looking like crayon-drawn whitesites

It's a long way from there to the current industry requirements of a clean, flexible, responsive design - able to handle mega-huge desktop-monitors and tiny smart-phones alike while looking sleek and professional... and I had resigned myself to basically just not sucking too badly and hoping my sites were useful enough for people to get past the ugly-duckling look.

but now I've found bootstrap. It lets you quickly and easily build a fully-responsive all-devices-ready design with very little graphic-design nous required. From a full grid-based system (to easily build columns that will nicely collapse on smaller screens), to all sorts of components - navbars, breadcrumbs, panels, lists of linked thumbnail images... the list is pretty huge.

Don't be put off by the "oh my god PURPLE" look of their website - this is a tool worth using.

The getting started guide is where to begin.

There's a number of pre-built templates on bootply templates that even if you don't like, you can cannibalise for the various pieces you want.

You can also buy a whole bunch of pre-packaged, professional themes (for about $12 each) from WrapBootstrap to kickstart your website design. Though be aware they are mostly built on Bootstrap 2

If you're building this stuff in rails, there's a whole bunch of bootsrap-related gems - which mean you don't have to download the css/js versions of bootstrap and mix them all into your assets directory.

Ryan Bates' railscast (see below) uses seyhunak / twitter-bootstrap-rails, which seems to have a whole bunch of neat generators for quickly throwing up layouts. I prefer not mixing bootstrap's Less with the existing SASS, and so have gone for the sass-based gem: bootstrap-sass gem.

I suspect you can combine these two powers for good by using the generators of twitter-bootstrap with the sass-based assets of bootstrap-sass... but have yet to try it (let me know if you do).

There's also a great overview of rails and twitter bootstrap with a related RailsApp that goes into far more depth (I haven't had a look at that yet).

and Ryan Bates has done a railscast on twitter bootstrap basics, and a pro-only railscast: more on twitter bootstrap


Note: Bootstrap version 3 has recently been released, and a lot of the tutorials, railscasts etc are based on version 2. Bootply has a Bootstrap 3 migration guide if you want a reference to what has changed.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Link: loading-icon generator

Load info is a neat website that lets you generate your own loading icon.

The first page has a hypnotising array of load-icons to choose. Click on one and it'll bring up a box that lets you choose the size and colours you want and it'll generate you a customised animated gif you can use.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Zen and the Art of Western Rationality

Zen seems to have, as central to its dogma, a mystery tradition. ie it makes all its teachings appear incredibly mysterious in what appears to be an effort to make it seem harder to attain - and thus weed out those not willing to work for the enlightenment it proffers.

at least this is how it seems to western thinking. I've known a number of people who have fallen into what I believe is the trap of thinking that zen actually *is* a mysterious hidden secret that can only be approached in a non-rational way...

The reality is that zen is a very good way of switching off that part of the mind that gets in the way of thinking about the things that zen teaches... however, its not the only way.

As they say in zen - zen is not the way, but it approaches the way.

ie it's a good way of starting out, but it won't get you all the way there.

and (unlike the smugness of certain woo-woo types would lead you to believe) it's not the *only* way of reaching The Way.

It's my contention that it is just as possible to work your way there, starting with traditional western rationality/philosophy.

Here's an example pulled from zen:

A teacher once said "this is my short staff. If I call it a short staff, I deny its reality, but if I do not call it a short staff, I deny its fact, so what do I call it?"

It sounds incredibly mysterious. It's a mind-puzzle that you must work out for yourself - and if you are starting from scratch, it may take years of meditation to get to an answer... or you may grasp it in a second.

This is why it seems mysterious, like a great hidden secret that must be very valuable and thus you can feel all smug about knowing...

However, this koan contains some truths which are quite easily expressed in Western rationality also, and I believe it's more valuable to share those truths than to remain "terribly mysterious".

This koan, to me, expresses the map vs territory problem.

The map is not the territory, and yet it is the territory - just not *all* of the territory. The territory is represented by the map, but it is not defined by the map. Change the map (say, pencil in a new road) and the territory will not change (the new road does not spontaneously appear). Change the territory, and the map must be changed to match or lose it's connection with the territory.

Yet the map (if properly drawn) is the territory also - that road connects to this one in just such a way. If you follow the pattern of roads on the map, you will arrive at the destination that the map says you will.

The territory contains those facts that are within the map, but it *is not* the map itself. The map contains facts which are defined in the territory. You can recognise the territory by looking at the map - but the territory is so much more. It contains trees and roof-tiles and many other things that are not in the map.

The map is not the territory, and the territory is not the map

If I look at a map of england and say that this is england I will deny the reality of england. But if I look at the map and say that it is not england, then I deny the fact that the map is of england.

The map is the territory and is not the territory

but using the map you can approach the territory, but it is not the territory.

It does and does not have "england-nature"...

To get back to the koan... the object that the teacher is holding out is a short staff - that is the fact. If he said "this is not a short staff" then he would be denying the fact of it actually being a good example of a short staff.

However - if he broke it in half (so that it was no longer a short staff), it wouldn't be like there was no longer any short staves in the world. Thus you cannot say that is is "the" short staff. Other short staves are not defined by the properties of the object in the teacher's hand.

The name "short staff" is just a reference to it... but not a definitive one. It is not the same short staff as, say another one lying on the floor over there. If I can point to each and say "this is a short staff" then you are not naming a thing, only categorising it.

Therefore if you name it "short staff" you deny the reality of it being something *more* than a short staff.

The phrase "short staff" is the map that lets us recognise "things that have the short-staff property"... but it is not the short staff itself.

Now - perhaps you got something different from the short-staff koan. If so, instead of being "all zen and mysterious" about it, I implore you to figure out what it is you've learned... and share it with the rest of us.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Link: Awesome guides to building a functional rails app

Rails girls is a group dedicated to training up the next generation of Rails developers... who happen to be women.

They tend to run over a weekend and get women of all backgrounds (but without rails experience) to build a rails app from scratch.

They have a set of materials that is brief, but quite impressive - and if you follow them through step-by-step it's a quick tutorial on how to get a pretty decently functional Rails app off the ground.

Start with the App tutorial to get it up and running with a simple scaffold, to add some basic styling with bootstrap, and add picture-uploads with carrierwave.

Then follow the set of guides (links are at the bottom of the app-tutorial page) to get it up on heroku, to add authentication with devise, to use geocoding to add your widgets to a map, to create thumbnails for your uploaded images and more.

With just the above you can get a fairly decent rails app built for most purposes in a day or so.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Putting your heroku repo on github

When I set up a new quick-and-dirty app on heroku... I often also want to put my code up on github.

I was really surprised this simple process wasn't covered in the otherwise pretty excellent Getting started with Rails 4 post on heroku.

It's pretty straightforward, so here it is.

If you follow the instructions as per the getting started guide (above), you'll have a local git repo, and it'll be tracking the heroku remote as "heroku". which means there's no problem with using the bog standard "origin" for your github repo version.

So from there

Step 1 create a new repo on github

  1. Go to your github page eg this is the github page for me: taryneast's github
  2. Click on the "repositories" tab
  3. Click the green "new" button
  4. Give it a name and, optionally, a description
  5. Click "create repository"

Step 2 - link it to your heroku app

  1. Go to your heroku app's settings page. this will be something like: https://dashboard.heroku.com/apps/<myapp>/settings
  2. About halfway down you can add your repo-name. It'll be <mygitusername>/<mygitrepo>
  3. Click save

Step 3 - link your local repo to the github remote

  1. open a terminal in your rails app's root directory
  2. type git remote add origin git@github.com:<mygitusername>/<mygitrepo>.git
  3. git push -u origin master

Your heroku app is now on github.

You can continue to push to heroku with:
git push heroku master
and to github with:
git push origin master

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Levelling up in Ruby/Rails - for free.

So, I've recently found myself back on the job market... at least I will be, but I first want to re-sharpen my skills. I've been working in legacy Rails for a while now, and I want to make sure I'm au fait with the latest and greatest the ruby+rails world has to offer.

But when I went looking for courses - there's not a lot on offer for experienced rails devs. Most rails courses are pitched at complete beginners wanting to become a rails dev. Fair enough, but what can I do to polish my existing skills?

Thankfully, some more digging produced a nice set of related online tutorials and screencasts that will get me ship-shape in no time, and for far less than I expected

NewRelic CodeSchool offer

NewRelic currently has an offer whereby if you deploy a new site with NewRelic installed, you can get a free month of CodeSchool. Now, NewRelic is an awesomely useful tool for giving you extremely useful metrics for your site. They even have a free account - and to set this all up, you can roll out a simple site to heroku (also for free) with the new_relic gem installed and away you go.

You can then sign up for a free CodeSchool account (which will give you access to the basic level free courses), and sometime in the near future - you'll get an email from NewRelic with a special promotion code to give you your free month at CodeSchool.

CodeSchool = Rails for Zombies!

So once you've got a month of code school - you can start to work your way through the courses. Starting with the simple "Try ruby" course and through their funny "Rails for Zombies" courses all the way through Rails testing and best practices and some advanced topics of Ruby.

I was happy to discover that even in the simplest ruby course there was one or two things I'd never seen before - so they're all worth the time (but you can skip ahead to the challenges if they're too simple for you).

But the courses don't just cover Ruby/Rails, they also have a series for Javascript, HTML5, CSS3 and even iOS development. Which I'll be availing myself of for the next month - and will almost certainly spring for longer until I've done them all!

From zombies to RailsCasts

I was even happier to discover, that as a "prize" for finishing the "Rails for zombies 2" course, you get one month of a Railscasts Pro account.

Now RailsCasts was where I was planning on heading next anyway - I followed RailsCasts religiously in my early years of developing Rails, and learned a hell of a lot thereby. The number of screencasts that Ryan Bates has done by now is simply staggering. They cover a huge range of topics from detailed aspects of developing Rails (eg tagging or nested forms), to most of the commonly-used tools, and it's great place to go if you want help on a particular topic. To get access to a free month of these on a pro account is wonderful icing on top of the CodeSchool month.

Other CodeSchool courses give you other freebies, and discounts on books etc too, along with lots of links to other amazingly useful resources - so my reading list has suffered a cambrian-explosion this week. I'll keep you tuned if I dig out any further fabulous free offers.

Update: you can now get 3 months of code school for free

It's a limited offer... here's a link: 3 months of codeschool

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Putting a price on your technical debt

Ben Orenstein has written an interesting article: How much should global variables cost?.

It's basically a price-list for different kinds of technical debt, and you can use it to calculate the "cost" that each of your commits adds to your codebase. By actually putting a dollar amount on each "violation" - you can get a good, visceral feel for what you're doing.

As he points out - you can still choose whether or not to keep something (sometimes you really do need to do something that would otherwise be considered a no-no), as long as you can "afford" it.

I think it's an interesting way of looking at the problem. I'd like to see you regaining points for fixing/refactoring similar code-violations out of the project too :)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Link: don't publish your secret keys on github

I probably don't really need to tell you that it's dangerous to publish secret keys on a public website... but which key am I talking about here?

  # this one...
  MyApp::Application.config.secret_key_base = 'fb636477f014943b9cf2d202f9da4349a580fbb9521ef38d8dc0111ae933a10bfec732ce7d563a854db1663ba00af1db21d06d6764d84a88d0a6286bcd2299e2'

It's one of those things that often gets overlooked...

  rails new
  git add .
  git push


But if you're on heroku, rather than deploying to your own hosted site (where you can easily drop config files into a shared directory), how do you have a secret key?

Here's a great little gist that will show you how to set it up on an environment variable.


Don't forget, that if you put more than one of these into your .env file... you need to append to the file or you just overwrote your secret key (oops)

Further update

If you're on heroku and putting one of these environment variables into code that will be evaluated at compile-time (eg config/initializers/devise.rb for instance) you will need to switch on heroku's "compile time environment variable" option: user-env-compile or you will not even be able to deploy your site.

This feature allows your environment variables to be available during compilation of the slug (which is when things like bundler, asset-compilation etc are run)

Note that this is an experimental heroku:labs feature - so blah blah use at your own risk blah...

Friday, 16 August 2013

Gotcha: irb, multi-line strings and "Display all 309 possibilities? (y or n)"

Small thing I figured out. I was in irb and trying to copy/paste some text into a multi-line string to play with gsub, and it kept exploding halfway through and showing the message:

Display all 309 possibilities? (y or n)

instead of actually allowing me to create a multi-line string.

Turns out, irb still responds to tab-completion even if you're halfway through creating a multi-line string.

This kinda sucks if you want a string that contains tabs - but don't want to manually type the whole string (including tabs) yourself as you go along.

To fix it, I copy/pasted the text into vim and used :retab to replace the tabs with spaces before copying it back into the string in irb... its a hack, but it worked for my purposes.

Any thoughts on a better solution?