Category Archives: code

Two Questions

Recently I was talking with a friend about coaching and specifically the act of helping younger developers improve themselves. I had a sort of microepiphany when I realized that I’ve been improving myself for over two decades with the same pair of questions, originally unconsciously and only recently in my active consciousness. The next time you do something you want to get better at, ask yourself these two questions:

What about this makes me feel good? This is a VERY specific question, and it is NOT “what do I like about this?”. It’s often hard to answer. You are not allowed to say “I don’t know”, and you are not allowed to settle for answering the much easier question “what about this do I like?”—although that can be a great guide into discovering what it is that makes you feel good. If you wrote an elegant passage of code, or did something clever, or shipped a really nasty hack but saved the company (thus buying them time to refactor your nasty hack) by shipping on time, that’s what you like. But go beyond this. What about that makes you feel good? Did it make you feel smart? Did it make you feel artistic? Did it make you feel like a hero? Did it make you feel like somehow, against all the odds, you might just be starting to “get it” as a programmer?

Take a moment and really just let yourself feel good about what you did. If you can find that and tap into it, you have just found a well inside yourself that you will return to again and again in the future. Congratulations, you’ve just found the reason you’re going to spend the rest of your life getting better at this.

If you can’t answer this question, don’t sweat it. But don’t be surprised if your life ends up going a different direction. Find something else that makes you feel good, and do that instead.

What about this could I do better? Most days, you’ll think of something right off. There was some duplication, or a lack of symmetry in the code, or your variable names were kind of awkward.

Other days it’s a bit harder. “Writing this bit felt a bit grindy, like I was pushing out lots of boilerplate. I don’t see how to fix it, but does it really have to hurt this much?”

The best days are the days when you try and try and just can’t answer it. Important: this doesn’t mean you did something perfect. Far from it, and far better: it means you’ve actually managed to see your blind spot. “This”, your brain is telling you, “this empty space, here… is where more knowledge will fit.” Those are the days that herald “getting it” on a whole new level.

So, them’s my questions for you. What made you feel good? What could do better?

Felt any good or done any better recently?

Donkeypunching Ruby Koans

Do you want instant enlightenment? Sure, we all do.

And now you can have it!

Tonight I presented Ruby Koans at URUG. It started out simple enough, but then we got on a weird quirk about trying to make the Koan tests pass without actually satisfying the test requirements. We monkeypatched Fixnum, then started playing with patching Object#to_s… basically we were looking for TMAETTCPW: The Most AEvil Thing That Could Possibly Work. I spelled Evil AEvil because it’s extra evilly.

Mike Moore had the bright idea to just break off all the assert methods in Test::Unit; after that it just became a challenge to discover how to get the rest of the koans to run at all.

With sincere apologies to Matz, Jim and Joe, here is the result:

https://gist.github.com/1108850

CoffeeScriptCookbook.com: How YOU can help!

CoffeeScript is awesome. There’s a HUGE problem with The CoffeeScript Cookbook, however: it does not exist.

Want to help me fix that? Please say yes.

I just bought the domain coffeescriptcookbook.com, and I want to give it to YOU. I mean it. I want to open-source the website code and crowd-source the cookbook content. Partly because I know a lot of folks are WAY smarter than me and partly because I just don’t have enough time to make the CoffeeScript Cookbook as awesome as I need it to be.

Ideally I want to build a sort of “vettable wiki” or perhaps a very trusting git-based website, where people can submit code samples quickly and easily (but still have some way to prevent people publishing XSS attacks without any kind of safeguard). Here’s a short list of what I would like. If any of this enthuses you, please send mail to my gmail account, “ratgeyser”. [Edit: added Geoffrey Grosenbach’s excellent tips]

Getting the Cookbook code/site off the ground:

  • Cookbook versioning. As of this writing, CoffeeScript is at 1.0.1. When it updates, I’d like people to be able to see in the cookbook what version introduced or changed a feature, or even to say “I’m using version x.y.z, please only show me valid recipes for that version.”
  • Syntax highlighting. Sort of obvious there, I guess.
  • Examples runnable in-browser, the same way they are on The Main CoffeeScript Website.
  • Automated recipe testing. Essentially, if you submit a recipe that’s supposed to evaluate 3 + 4, you should be able to put something like # => 7 underneath it, and if the code DOESN’T evaluate to 7, the recipe should be flagged as broken.
  • With automated recipe testing in place, we now have the ability to check a recipe against various versions of CoffeeScript. You write a recipe for version 1.1.0, and the site can immediately say “works in 1.1.0 and 1.0.2 and 1.0.1 but not in 1.0.0”. Then it can add those recipes to the cookbooks for those versions. Also, when a new version of CoffeeScript is released, all recipes can be checked against it instantly, and you immediately get a working Cookbook for that version.
  • Website design that doesn’t suck. I’m a programmer, I draw boxes around everything and every website I design looks like ass. And not just regular ass, I mean ass from 1996.

Contributing CoffeeScript Examples

  • Promotes good CoffeeScript style (as opposed to code that compiles but isn’t idiomatic)
  • Helps new programmers learn how to get over common roadblocks
  • Self-checkable examples where possible (see the bit above about automated testing)

Thoughts? Ideas? Offers to help? Let me know!

Tourbus 2 is Out!

I just released Tourbus 2.0! You can get it by cloning the tourbus repo in that link, or by simply installing the gem from rubyforge.

What’s TourBus?

TourBus is a ruby framework for stress-testing a website. You define “Tourist” classes that “tour” their way through your site, and then tell tourbus to send a load of them at your site.

What’s New

Better Syntax, and tested support for most rubies. TourBus 2.0 has been tested and found worky on:

  • JRuby 1.6.0 <– strongly recommended, as it has better threading
  • MRI 1.8.7p334
  • MRI 1.9.2p180
  • REE 1.8.7-2011.03

Upgrading from Tourbus 0.9

  • Your tour classes will change; they are now called tourists and they go on tours, instead of being called tours who run tests (which really never made sense anyway)
  • Open your tour class, and change it to inherit from Tourist instead of Tour.
  • Change before_tests and after_tests to before_tours and after_tours.
  • Rename all your test_ methods to be tour_ methods. E.g. “def test_simple” => “def tour_simple”
  • That’s it! Tourbus should now run normally.

Quick and Easy Setup

gem install tourbus

Okay, let’s say you have a website running at localhost:3000 and you want to test that home.html includes the text “hi there” even when being pounded by hundreds of visitors at once. Let’s install and set up everything all at once! cd into your project folder, and do the following:

mkdir tours
 
echo 'class Simple tours/simple.rb

That’s it, you now have a tourist ready to wander over to your site and request the home page. Let’s run him and see that everything’s okay:

tourbus

You should see a clean run followed by a text report showing what happened. If that worked, let’s make your tourist go through the website 10 times in a row. But let’s ALSO make 100 different tourists to the same 10 laps with him, all at once:

tourbus -n 10 -c 100

Happy server stressing! Check out the README for more info.

Bonus: Isolating Tourbus

Here’s how I like to install tourbus. I cd into my development folder, and then do:
rvm install jruby-1.6.0
rvm use jruby-1.6.0
rvm gemset create tourbus
rvm gemset use tourbus
git clone git://github.com/dbrady/tourbus.git
cd tourbus
gem install bundler
bundle install
gem build tourbus.gemspec
gem install tourbus-2.0.1.gem # (update version if it changes)

Next I cd into my project and do

echo 'rvm use jruby-1.6.0@tourbus' > .rvmrc

This lets me run tourbus under jruby and its own gemset, so even if my website is running rails on MRI, I can still get the lovely JVM native threads when tourbussing my site.

James Edward Gray: Associative Arrays and Ruby Hashes

Yesterday I put out a little screencast showing some ways of Creating Ruby Hashes. James Edward Gray II pinged me on Twitter and basically said “Great screencast! Ooh, but you forgot this! Ooh, and this! And this!” and so of course there was nothing to do for it but invite him to do a pairing screencast with me.

This video is a bit of a weird hybrid. You get 7 minutes of podcall, then 18 minutes of screencast, then another 12 minutes of podcall. James shows off some of the “hot new awesomeness” of Ruby 1.9, and then points out that this awesomeness has been around for a couple of years and nobody’s using it, in spite of it having been in the current Pickaxe for nearly as long. Along the way we talk about regular expressions, testing dogma, and the importance of never squashing creativity in the open source community. All in all, an incredibly fun time for me. James threatened to come back and do another one with me on regular expressions, and I’m mentioning it here in writing so that everybody knows I plan on taking him up on that offer.

No podcast, because half of it is us typing into a shared screen session. But here’s the video. You may need to watch it on Vimeo or download it to see the font clearly.

Associative Arrays with James Edward Gray II from David Brady on Vimeo.

CRAZY Bash Programming with Wayne E. Seguin

Okay, let me start by saying “holy freaking crap”.

I met Wayne E. Seguin at MountainWest RubyConf, and we immediately hit it off, much to the dismay of many onlookers. At one point Evan Light said “It would be interesting to find out which of you two has the most disturbing sense of humor.” Both Wayne and I immediately shouted “OKAY!” and then I didn’t hear what either of us said after that because everyone around us was screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”

Now, Wayne created the incredible rvm, or “Ruby enVironment Manager”, and what’s more, he created it all in bash rather than using a “real” programming language like Ruby or Python. It turns out that Wayne’s been doing a lot of bash scripting, writing BDSM which doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for and instead stands for “Bash Deployment and Server Manager”. Then again the project image is a penguin dressed in leather cracking a whip over a 4U server wearing a ball gag. So maybe it also means what you think it means.

But I digress. The point is, Wayne’s been doing a LOT of programming in bash lately.

A few weeks ago, I tried to add rvm-prompt to my bash prompt, and found that I couldn’t. I learned enough bash scripting a couple years back to write a totally sweet bash prompt that showed my git branch in different colors based on the name. Master and Production branches show in an alarm color, story branches in a calm cyan, etc, like so:

But while my prompt was sweet, my bash prompt programming was… well, not so sweet. It chained half a dozen sed scripts together to inject the ANSI color codes for each branch name, and like I said, was so complex I could not debug it. I showed it to Wayne with a mutter about “I should probably extract this to a function or something”. Wayne looked at it and made this sort of incoherent cry of alarm and dismay. In his defense, this was the prompt:

A few hours later, he called me on Skype and said, “Can I help you with your bash prompt?” I said “Sure!” and Wayne turned on screen sharing.

What I didn’t know is that he had Haris Amin on the line as well, and he had prepared an entire bash programming lesson for us.

What HE didn’t know is that I have been in the habit of recording my Skype sessions. When Wayne switched us to his Adobe Connect sharing session, I said, “Hang on, you’re not sharing this with Skype, I need to start my OTHER screencast recorder.”

And here it is. The most awesome hour I spent last week:

CRAZY Bash Programming with Wayne E Seguin and Haris Amin from David Brady on Vimeo.