Friday, 25 May 2007

Scope out your models

Just found a nitfy plugin called AutoScope. It lets you define scopes for a model. For example:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
   auto_scope \
       :fresh => {:find => {:conditions => ['activated_at IS NULL AND destroyed_at IS NULL']},
       :active => {:find => {:conditions => ['activated_at IS NOT NULL AND destroyed_at IS NULL']}},
       :archived => {:find => {:conditions => ['destroyed_at IS NOT NULL']}}

These set up some scoped methods

 new_count = User.fresh.count
 old_users = User.archived.find(:all)
 User.fresh.find(:all).each {|u| u.update_attribute(:activated_at,} 

I've found these great for filtering collection views that group users distinctly, but span across multiple columns.

    def filter_users
      return default_search unless params[:user_scope]
      scope = params[:user_scope].to_sym 
      case scope
      when :fresh, :active, :archived
        # scopes we recognise
        users = User.send(scope).find(:all)
        users = User.find(:all)

Do note, though, to be careful what to name your scopes. I started out by calling my "fresh" scope "new". Unfortunately this overwrote the "new" function on my User model... not a Good Thing.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Don't flash your partials!

Random Rails tip #1: Don't use a partial named "flash" (well: "_flash.rhtml" to be specific) if you don't want to be flooded with deprecation warnings.

Rails auto-magically creates an instance of @flash for you. This triggers an avalanche of warnings for you in your functional tests :P

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

RubyFit that works...

We're setting up a FITnesse server and intend to use RubyFIT for it. I tried using Cory Foy's tutorial to help get them talking to each other - but found it was out of date. The differences:

  • Get your Rubyfit from sudo gem install fit instead of "grabbing" (because no longer exists on the Interweb)
  • Instead of !define COMMAND_PATTERN {ruby -I %p ruby/bin/FitServer.rb -v} use !define COMMAND_PATTERN {ruby -I %p <path to your fit gem's bin>/FitServer.rb -v}
  • ignore the fact that FITnesse seems not to be as verbose with reporting the details of exceptions as Cory Foy's tutorial suggests - just move on to the "path" step

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Exuberant programming

My colleague (Peter Merel) is the sort of person to get enthused at trying new stuff out. He is an Agile-evangelist, and has been trying all different ways to make this process fit into corporate-land. The main issues involved in this tend to be getting buy-in from the usual management-types who have never been exposed to this methodology, and finding ways to interpret it into the sorts of controls and reporting guidelines that they are used to.

Don't blow up the universe

The kind of "No, no! everything you're doing is wrong, get rid of it all and work our way!" approach tends to be frowned-upon as disruptive to standard operating practice. For good reason - it is.

Changing over an entire system of business practice (such as how to develop software) is a Big Thing for any company. Techie types will often scoff and refer to the inertia of corporate behemoths, entrenched dinosaurism and a corresponding lack of corporate flexibility, but the managers at these places actually have a good point. Changing systems involves time, effort and risk of failure (whether total failure of the system or simply setbacks that cause loss of market share).

A bigger company has more systems and people involved - and so more chance of breaking something valuable. They will generally have an entrenched and provably working system of practice. It may not be the best that is out there, but it has gotten them to where they are now. It's up to you to prove to them that what you're offering is not only better, but that it's worth more than the pain and effort involved in changing over.


A complete re-write of corporate practice tends only to come onto the books once the proverbial hits the fan. At which point the company is desperately flailing around for any lifeline they can reach. But most companies actually aren't in this position, which means you have to actually, you know, convince them that what you're doing is a good idea (wierd huh?).

This requires an ability sadly lacking in most techie-types... the ability to speak with management in their own language.

There are a number of supporting tools that assist managers to get a handle on a project - tools they are used to and understand. The requirements spec, the gantt chart, todo lists and regular meetings. They not only understand thse, but know how to integrate them into a working whole. They use them to to juggle tasks and developers, to track project progress and momentum and to basically Get Things Done.

If suddenly you arrive on the scene like some animated furry-toothed geek enthusing wildly about "user stories" and index cards and stand-up meetings; sneering at the locals with their endless requirements specs, gantt charts and deliverables; refusing to work with management unless they change all their habits to match your own... you'll undoubtedly gather some resistance to your methodology ideas... even if they would be better off in the long run.

Bridging Mount Learning-curve

So what can you do to bridge the gap? Is there a way to implement all of our agile programming practices, yet still present the incumbents with the tools they are used to seeing? Can we apply the Principle of Least Surprise to our stakeholders too? Can both worlds co-exist in joyful harmony?

This is what we're currently working on. We call it "exuberant programming". It's a set of tools that allows us to be "abundantly fruitful" with our productivity (using the latest in agile methodology), while still giving joy to the more traditional managers.

The project managers are already productive and don't have the time to scale Mount Learning-curve. So let them have their requirements specs, but instruct them how to structure them using user stories, with each sentence a function point that can be fed into the priority planning-game. Let them have their Gantt charts - but use them to show User Stories. Update them at the stand-up-meetings and generate burn-down charts for the managers to let them see the project velocity.

We can work together. We can have peace in our time! We are the world... <waves lighter in air>

er, sorry, got a bit carried away there...

You can see the potential of what we're proposing. We're still working on the details. I'll post more about it as we develop it.