Thanks for reading and not throwing stuff

Brian LeGros | February 16th, 2008 | useless  

Over the last few months I’ve started to notice that I’m actually getting traffic to my blog. I don’t think I’m getting that much traffic in the grand scheme of things, but it’s cool to see that my ramblings aren’t completely useless. In fact I checked FeedBurner today and found that 39 people are actually subscribing to my blog. This is great, but at the same time I need to remind everyone, while you subscribe to my blog, I subscribe to mediocrity and failure. As long as you realize I don’t have anything but low expectations for myself, what I produce will appear to be of a much greater quality.

From the analytics standpoint, I started blogging towards the end of May 2007, and as of today, I’ve reached roughly 10,500 unique visits, my average user time on site is 00:01:21, my bounce rate is 77.92%, and my new visits are 82.32%. Frankly, I’m astonished; I can only take the orange for at most 00:01:00 so thank you to the brave souls who endure. The majority of what people seem to be reading are the restaurant reviews which is not surprising considering the infrequency of and small audience for my posts on programming. That being said, I really enjoy writing up my experiences for local restaurants in the Central Florida area. Anyone who knows me, knows I like to eat. Local joints, especially restaurants, struggle enough to get their feet off the ground; if I can help them get their name out and reduce the amount of chain restaurant abuse in the area, that’s awesome. In fact, recently I’ve noticed that my wife and I are starting to repeat at a lot of places I’ve blogged about. If anyone has any new restaurants they can recommend in the Brevard area, please email me or post a comment. I have a feeling I have a lot more exploring to do.

As for those of you who read my programming posts, thanks for keeping an open perspective with respect to my thought process. I’m currently working on a few posts regarding DSLs in ColdFusion, a revisit of Grails, and different approaches to event handling in Flex. Please consider this fair warning that disappointment may be coming your way if you stay tuned in.

In all seriousness though, thank you to everyone who stops by and takes the time to read my sometimes nonsensical rants. I appreciate your average of 1.3 minutes and look forward to the day when I can provide something for you that makes you want to put in that extra 0.01 minute. Have a good one.

Podcast Rundown

Brian LeGros | February 16th, 2008 | programming  

I spend about 3-4 hours a day driving to work and back, so I listen to a lot of podcasts along the way. It’s taken a while to put together a good list, but over the last year or so I’ve been able to build up a pretty reliable set of shows. I think I’ve really been able to grow as a developer by being exposed to so many perspectives. I don’t always agree with or understand the content I listen to, but at the very least my exposure to that content has helped me learn to take more of a balanced perspective in my career. I also like to listen to technology and science podcasts, but that’s more for fun.

Below is a list of what keeps me occupied on my drive; I’ve tried to include the feed for each podcast as well. Some are updated infrequently, but I enjoy them. If you’re a developer and are interested in hearing others approaches to development, I hope this list offers some help.

Programming

Tech, Science, Fun

acts_as_conference 2008 : Wrap-Up

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed my first Ruby conference. The selection of speakers was great, the topics were interesting, and the vibe of the community was cool. The keynote presentations were a little far out for me at first, but after some thought I can definitely appreciate them for the messages they attempted to deliver. In fact, I must admit I have always had a stereotype of the Ruby community as being immature when it comes to development and overly focussed on a single web framework. acts_as_conference did a great job of helping me to douse those misconceptions. Also, I ended up winning a book at the conference on Google Maps, Rails, and AJAX, so that was cool; not sure if I’ll use it, but a nice perk none the less.

If I wasn’t always so busy planning for the Adogo, I would definitely try to get more involved in the Ruby community in Orlando, which is definitely thriving. I don’t know if Ruby is where I’ll end up for any large amount of time, but I’m definitely encouraged to work with it and am having fun in the process. Of course, I’m energized from the conference, so I’m sure my eagerness to fail will kick in over the next few days.

Great work organizers and I look forward to next year’s event.

acts_as_conference 2008 : Day 2 – Keynote

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

The conference ended with a keynote presentation from Obie Fernandez. The topic of his presentation was “Mastering the Art of Application Development”. Obie presented the perspective that software development is more of an art than anything else. He went into detail about how mastery requires practice and that a developer, similar to a craftsman or an artist, goes through, or should go through, the stages of apprentice, journeyman, and master. He shed light on a few practices that he felt were myths (e.g. – practice makes perfect may not necessarily be the case if you practice while making mistakes and learn to adopt it as perfect). Obie used the analogy of a painter and the difficulty required over the ages to work with oil paints and their respective tools. He equated this to the evolution of software development and using the right tools when building an application. To my surprise, he also spoke to Zed’s post, showing an ad from the back of an art magazine selling the promise of learning to paint without effort next to a RoR for Dummies book with the word “ghetto?” underneath. In the end Obie focussed on showing us that after the years pass no one will remember if you programmed in Rails or anything else, but they will remember the results of those efforts (e.g. – what Twitter did for communications over the Internet).

Overall it was a good presentation. The idea of walking a career path involving an apprenticeship I think is a very powerful and practical one. Many engineering disciplines require apprenticeship for extensive periods of time before you can even call yourself an engineer. Software engineering as a discipline is gaining traction at universities and with the IEEE but its true acceptance in our industry, short of everyone wanting to use the title, is slow paced. I believe our industry still has lot of maturing to do until we can even begin to solidify what would be involved in composing a true discipline (although the SEI is doing a lot of work towards this goal). Many, including myself, think that testing will be key to some sort of success, but my opinion is probably a bit naive and inexperienced, so take it for what you will. Additionally, please keep in mind that my definition of a discipline is intended to be within the context of specificity. I use it leaving room for variation such that mastery, in terms of what Obie spoke about, can occur for specific domains of software development, not the entire field. Also, I don’t think of mastery as solely applicable to programming, but the software development process. After all, the most “beautiful code” in the world is worthless unless its potential for use can been fully realized and manifested … or something like that.

Great job on your first keynote Obie; after reflecting back upon it, I enjoyed it.

acts_as_conference 2008 : Lessons from the Trenches – Learning from the Rails Bootcamp

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

I skipped the Rich Media presentation in favor of a break, so the next talk for me was done by Charles Brian Quinn on good practices when educating others on technologies with examples given in Rails. The speaker spent most of his time going over a list of 4 things (really 5) that he felt were important to focus on while teaching:

  • What is the purpose?
  • Know your audience.
  • Use relevant examples.
  • Be objective.
  • Teach how to learn, not why.

CBQ, as he called himself, suggested other tips such as getting people involved to double check work, the KISS principle, and utilizing difficult examples to make easier ones more understandable. Charles also gave a nice comparison of his experience while training with developers, designers, and managers from different backgrounds. His comments on designers struck me as really interesting; he suggested that their ultimate goal with respect to programming is to get the job done, rather than understand how. It was good to hear someone else confirm this.

Even though this talk was more geared towards those who take the responsibility to educate others in the community, Charles was able to keep people’s interest. I can definitely see the need for a talk like this in the Ruby community due to its latest boom in membership and so many taking on teaching roles. Good work CBQ.

acts_as_conference 2008 : BDD With RSpec

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

After lunch we came back to Bryan Liles presentation on BDD which he retitled from “BDD with RSpec” to “BDD for Normal People”. Bryan is definitely a kindred spirit of mine, if only in his sense of humor. He was a great presenter and put a great face on the his own approach to TDD and BDD. What I liked about the presentation was his ability to bring practicality into the mix and give his audience direction and a place to start on their test driven journey. In any case, on to the topic at hand.

Brian started out describing his own journey into testing and some of the struggles involved. He pointed out that as most of us begin to integrate testing, many of us are adopting different approaches but still writing poor tests to cover poor quality code. Brian identified that tools can help us in our journey by introducing more clear test names and concepts such as context, but we still have to apply these tools more effectively. He gave the following steps as a basic guide to BDD:

  • Get comfortable with the concepts in TDD.
  • Make it your mission to practice TDD all of the time (even when it hurts).
  • Think of your application as objects expressing behaviors.
  • Create examples of those behaviors [and use them as the basis for your tests].

He expressed that TDD is painful and there is an upfront cost, but that upfront cost is migitated by the quality of the tests you produce and the less trouble you have as the software grows.

On the practical side of things, Brian, although praising what RSpec has done for testing in Ruby, suggested looking into alternatives that work a little better under the hood. He suggested sticking with Test::Unit, shoulda, and RSpec StoryRunner as he’s had the most success with this combination. Additionally, in the questions segment, Brian said he doesn’t have much faith in code coverage tools and only uses them to show a relative change in coverage to confirm that coverage has gone up or down.

Overall, I’ve got a lot of new topics to read on, and I’m sure Dan and Tyler will be happy to see me giving TDD/BDD another shot. Great work Brian!

NOTE: I forgot to mention the most important note from the entire presentation … TDD == BDD, it’s just a matter of perspective. Thanks to Dan for reminding me of this.

acts_as_conference 2008 : Shining a Light on the Dark Magic of ActiveRecord

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

Anthony Eden gave this presentation on the inner workings of ActiveRecord. His approach was a little unconventional diving straight into the source code of the ActiveRecord::Base class. He did a good job of summarizing how AR utilized the different language aspects of Ruby to accomplish its goal. Mixins play a pretty large role in the library which didn’t seem like much of a surprise since I can definitely see their benefit when working with DSLs in Ruby. I was surprised to see that AR has a built in form of caching it uses for repetitive method calls (methods being generated at runtime and explicitly mixed into models to avoid repeat calls to missing_method); I thought this was pretty cool. Overall, I am a pretty big n00b to the world of Ruby and Rails, but from the parts I was able follow, Anthony’s presentation kept my attention.

I definitely still like GORM‘s approach to ActiveRecord over Rails’, but that’s Groovy; what about Ruby? Also, what about the issue of working with legacy databases in Ruby? With a little research, Dan was able to show me DataMapper and rBatis which, we both agreed, look like great alternatives in the world of Ruby ORMs for the ActiveRecord and legacy stories. rBatis can even be installed as a Rails plugin, so maybe working with JRuby and Rails in the enterprise isn’t going to be as hard as I thought.

In any case, great talk Anthony! Good to see a fellow Melbourne-ite involved in the Central Florida technology scene.

acts_as_conference 2008 : JRuby

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

Day 2 started out with some presentations from the sponsors of the conferences. We got to ask questions to guys at Engine Yard as well as see a short demo of working NetBeans for RoR development. Emphasis was placed on having a true debugger in NetBeans over other IDE solutions available in this particular development arena. I know a debugger is essential for the work I do with Java, so I can definitely see the benefits that Sun was trying to show; I hope others at the conference were able to come to similar realization. After these short plugs, we got into the real start of the day with Charles Nutter and his presentation on JRuby.

Charles is the recent celeb in the JVM languages world with the work that he’s done to bring JRuby to the community as well as participating in efforts to build standardized testing and set new baselines for performance in the Ruby language. Charles approached his presentation from the perspective of a developer who has only worked with MRI. He showed us a few uses cases that have been successful with JRuby and Rails including Oracle Mix and Mingle. He ran some performance tests for us showing JRuby 1.1 (trunk) versus Ruby 1.9 and how in most benchmarks JRuby was more performant after the initial startup costs of Java. He talked about the great work being done in the activerecord-jdbc-adapter project along with the benefits of using JDBC for database connectivity. For his final point, he talked about deployment scenarios comparing Mongrel and more traditional JEE servers, exemplified via GlassFish.

If you follow JRuby in the news, there was only one surprise in his entire presentation. Charles showed us an awesome gem that the GlassFish had put together to make it easier to deploy JRoR applications. I’m going to mess with the gem more, but from what I could tell, the gem allows you start a stripped down Glassfish server preloaded with your Rails app by simply calling a command that comes with the gem. It was mentioned that it’s a 0.1 beta, but the end goal is have a production quality server out of the box. Awesome.

Overall, it was great introduction to JRuby and the tools available to it. Great work Charles!

acts_as_conference 2008 : Day 1 Keynote – Simplicity

Brian LeGros | February 10th, 2008 | conferences  

To end the day, Dan Benjamin gave a keynote presentation simply entitled “Simplicity”. Dan started out talking about how the real world can effect your applications as well how the internet can effect the real world. He showed us some statistics from Twitter around the Super Bowl and then how campaign funds raised over the Internet helped to provide major increases to presidential candidates’ coffers. He went over some comparisons for growth and overall demand in the developer industry as well as conveyed an interesting statistic that Orlando is 16th in the nation for technology jobs. Dan went on to show some examples of what he considers complex user experiences versus simplistic ones. Examples were drawn from some sites he found online as well as his experience with Cork’d, citing most of his success with Cork’d due to his designer colleague and a simple user experience. A focus was placed on the ability for a developer/designer to drive design decision when the user should be the one who is really in control. Dan has a few other suggestions: don’t release a beta, apologize to users when things go wrong, and just ship the product to avoid feature creep.

Overall the keynote was a lot different than other conference keynotes I’ve seen delivered. Most people usually expect keynotes to focus on the technological topics from which the conference is based, usually with a focus on direction for those technologies. Dan took a more general approach and focussed on good design practices in a technology agnostic way. Although different, it was a good presentation and I enjoyed the talk.

acts_as_conference 2008 : Rails on AIR

Brian LeGros | February 9th, 2008 | conferences  

Peter Armstrong, author of Flexible Rails, gave this presentation which focussed on how Flex and AIR can consume REST’ful resources. Peter unfortunately had a hard drive crash about an hour before his presentation so needless to say his presentation didn’t go as planned. Although he didn’t really have any slides (because they were all destroyed) he was able to borrow the laptop of a fellow conference go’er and show us some code examples.

The code examples were geared towards introducing MXML and Actionscript to Rails developers. I feel pretty comfortable with both, but it’s always good to see different approaches to coding in Flex, especially code using HTTPService since I spend more time using RemoteObjects. I would have liked to seen, if only mentioned, the topic of component development (visual and non-visual) and data binding, but I can understand why it was omitted since most Rails developers aren’t familiar with UI practices other than your standard web stack.

Towards the end of the presentation, Peter revealed Ruboss, a Flex framework built specifically for consuming REST’ful resources. Ruboss uses a controller to expose an Actionscript interface to translate CRUD operations to their REST’ful equivalents. He said he’s going to be releasing it over the next few weeks under his new company, so watch Ruboss.com for more details.

We’ve asked Peter to give a Connect presentation at an Adogo meeting later this year on Flex/AIR and Rails. The Orlando community can definitely benefit from Peter’s work with Flex/REST and we hope to pimp that to its fullest … j/k Peter, keep up the great work.