As noted on the about page, I decided to write my own software to run
The following technologies were harmed in the making of this site:
VPSLink has good deals on VPS hosting. I pay \$24 per month for a 256mb
VPS, with impressive uptime. I originally intended to go with Slicehost,
but they had no slices available at the time (and didn’t for several
months as I recall), but I have not been dissapointed with VPSLink.
I haven’t found a better platform for developing web applications yet,
although I’m keeping my eye on the up-and-coming web frameworks in Ruby,
Clojure, and Scala. With the merging of Merb into Rails 3, Ruby on Rails
looks to get even better.
Actually, I like PostgreSQL better, but I run a Wordpress site on my
server that needs MySQL so I’m using it for this site instead of running
two database servers. I actually tried deploying with SQLite originally,
but I ran into issues with it. It takes some doing to make MySQL run
well on a memory-constrained VPS, but it’s possible (tip: don’t use
Developing complex layouts that work cross-browser is painful. Blueprint
is a CSS framework that makes it less so. It’s currently only used on
the administrative portion of the site, but I plan on reworking the main
layout with it as well. I’m also planning on playing with
960gs, which is similar (better, in the opinion of
JQuery is really, really good. I could go into all the reasons why, but
Chris Wanstrath and PJ Hyatt already
did. I’ve used
Prototype for a number of years, and JQuery just seems to fit better.
There’s a huge library of plugins available as well. The only downside
is the somewhat light documentation available for it, although that
seems to be changing.
Here’s my rule for web application deployment: Automate the Very
First One. This really makes all the difference in the world,
especially for side projects like this. When deploying is trivial you
will do it all the time. As I was working to get this
new site out the door, I spent part of an afternoon at the local coffee
shop to fix the few
remaining issues with the code and get the server configured. In that
time, I deployed the site 6 times. My point: deployment has to be easy
or you won’t do it. Capistrano makes it easy.
I’ve always used Mongrel for hosting Rails apps but Passenger (aka
mod_rails) is the new hotness in Rails hosting, and with good reason.
Once it is configured on your system, web deployments become very easy.
There’s almost no setup, and you don’t need all of the monitoring
infrastructure that mongrel requires. It runs under Apache, and as a
result uses somewhat more memory. This is certainly offset by the ease
of use and administration.
Provided by the same folks who brought you Passenger, REE reduces the
memory usage of your Rails application by roughly 30%. On a memory
constrained VPS such as mine, this is a huge deal. I was a little
concerned about running a different version of Ruby than the one I was
accustomed to, but lots of people are running REE these days, and to
date I have had no issues.
So that’s the tech behind this site. As I add some additional
functionality here, I will be bringing in a few other things, and I will
write about it as I go.
Git has a steeper learning curve than Subversion, but it’s definitely
worth learning it. It’s blazing fast, clean, and has some impressive
features, particularly around merging. For this project, I just used it
locally, without ever pushing to a server. I’d recommend using it even
when you’re not collaborating with other developers.
So, what did you use to build your latest project?
I’ve maintained a blog since sometime in May of 2005. As with many
blogs, posting regularity varied. Sometimes it was daily, sometimes a
month or two would go by with nothing new at all.
This is something different.
The content on the old site changed over time, just like it’s author.
Interests come and go, technologies that were once shiny and new have
lost some of their shine. I stopped writing short posts that were mostly
links to other people’s content, and starting writing longer articles. I
did some interviews, and a bunch of book reviews.
Then, as is prone to happen, I got busy. In the time I’ve been writing
this I’ve gone from having one child to having three. My job
responsibilities have changed. This site got a bit neglected as a
So a while back I started thinking about the site, and what I wanted it
to really become. And I thought. And then I thought some more. My
thoughts evolved over time, and I’ve settled on what I’m launching here
I’m a curious person, and always have been. My interests are varied, and
change often.This site is a reflection of those facts. Some of the
content from the old site has been migrated to here, much of it was not
as it was either not relevant or didn’t fit well with the new site. The
focus of this new site will be whatever happens to have my interest at
the time: mostly technology, software development, and entrepreneurship,
but extending into other areas as well. I will continue to do interviews
and book reviews, and have several of both to publish in the very near
I hope to write here on a more consistent basis, but they will be longer
articles and as such it’s not likely to exceed more than once or twice
per week. I’ve created a new section just for links to interesting
things, called Curiousities, and there will be content there daily.
Twitter bashing has become a bit of a
past-time for some
people. I don’t think that the
criticism leveled at Twitter is fair or accurate. It is generally based
on a misunderstanding of the technical problems they are facing. In the
case of TechCrunch, it’s a desire to drive traffic to the TechCrunch
website by fabricating conflict and making personal attacks.
Twitter has had a hard time scaling. This is obvious to anyone that uses
the service, and is readily admitted by the people behind Twitter. The
present problems have brought out all of the Armchair Architects, and
I’ve seen a lot of commentary stating “I don’t understand why this is so
hard, all you need to do is [insert gross over-simplification of the
problem here]”. It’s very easy to apply some 20⁄20 hindsight to this
problem, but another thing entirely to be in the trenches day after day
working to keep Twitter up and running while trying to make large-scale
changes to fix the underlying problems.
Here’s the thing. Twitter was started as a side-project inside Odeo. It
was developed in Ruby on Rails, the same tool that they had used
successfully to build Odeo. While this choice is a major discussion
point for their critics, it seems to me to have been a very reasonable
decision. Ruby on Rails was what they were familiar with, and at first
glance seems to be a good fit. I suspect most people would have made the
same decision, given the same situation. The bottom line: They made the
best decision they could, based on what they knew at the time. Keep in
mind that nobody even knew whether Twitter would gain any traction -
certainly none of them could have anticipated the warm reception it has
Obviously their existing architecture isn’t working. The fine folks at
Twitter have figured this out, and they are busy rebuilding the system
to handle the current load and scale accordingly. This isn’t an
overnight fix - it will take time to rebuild Twitter with all-new
innards. Let’s be patient. Frankly, the internet needs to take a
collective chill pill on this topic.
If you’re not following me on Twitter, you can remedy that
One of the most useful ideas I’ve seen in the past few years was
Dashboard. Dashboard was an open source
project launched by Nat Friedman of Ximian (since acquired by Novell).
It’s aim was to provide a “dashboard” of information relevant to you
while you were doing work. If you were having an IM conversation with
your friend Bob, it would show you the last few emails Bob had sent you,
previous IM conversations with Bob, Bob’s contact information from your
address book, etc.
I had always thought that Dashboard was an intriguing concept, and one
of the few examples of real innovation on the desktop that I have seen
in a while. It was a bit dissapointing to see the project get sidelined,
but these things happen.
A project emerged
for OS X that is based on the same concepts, although implemented
differently. It’s called
is written by Tom Insam who is a developer at
Dopplr (though all indications are that this is an
independent project and not supported or endorsed by Dopplr).
Shelf watches the applications you are using in OS X, and displays
relevent information from applications local to your computer as well as
web sites (like Dopplr, naturally). Here is Tom’s own description from
the Shelf website:
Shelf is an app for MacOS that looks at the current foreground
application, and tries to figure out if what youâ€™re looking at
corresponds to a person in your Address Book. Then itâ€™ll tell you
things about them. … Just run it. Itâ€™ll sit in the background, and
watch the foreground application. If it can tie something youâ€™re
looking at (the current url in your web browser, for instance, or the
target of an open chat) to a person in your Address Book, itâ€™ll open
a window and show you their name and picture, and itâ€™ll try to fetch
RSS feeds for any URLs in their address card.
Although it’s a newer project (only at version .13), Shelf seems to be
off to a promising start. It provides hooks into a number of different
applications on OS X already (according to the Shelf site):
- Safari - looking at the foreground url, and for microformats in the
source of the current page.
- Firefox - looking at the foreground url.
- Mail.app - From the email address of the sender of the currently
- NetNewsWire - From the homepage url of the currently selected
- Twitterrific - From the homepage or twitter page urls of the
currently selected tweet.
- Adium - From the IM username of the current conversation.
- iChat - From the IM username of the current conversation.
- Address Book - The currently selected person.
This is an idea whose time has come, I think. There are obviously some
gaps here, for example if you use GMail as your email application (as I
do), or Google Reader for RSS feeds. Integrating with all of these
applications is a tricky problem, but it’s not insurmountable. I think
it’s certainly worth solving though, as the benefits could be huge.
I hope this project doesn’t fall by the wayside, as it has too much of a
potential impact on the way we work. It’s possible that Apple will
implement something similar, it seems like the next logical progression
Are there any other tools like this out there?
I’ve built up a big backlog of links. Here’s the first batch.
33 Pages of command line goodness. I’ve been rocking the command line
for almost a decade, but there’s a ton of stuff here I didn’t know.
Update : Hal Pomeranz, who created this document, sent me an email
with a link to the PDF version of the document. You can find it
I want to experiment with both of these languages.
The title is self-descriptive, and as you would expect from Ruby Inside
there are a lot of nice shortcuts here.
This has been pretty well publicized, but here it is in case you missed
it. Community Engine allows you to add social networking capabilities
(profiles, photos, blogs, forums, and more) to any application simply by
adding this plugin. Extracted from live websites, so it is real-world
Awaken is a slick little app for OS X that I picked up as part of the
MacHeist bundle. I’ve used it as a timer for those occassions when I
need to force myself to work on something for “Just 10 minutes”, but
here are some other uses.
I stumbled across a great site tonight, chock full of the geekiest
videos I’ve seen. The main sources seem to be university lectures. Very
good stuff, and in a variety of disciplines such as Computer Science,
Business, Chemistry, and Mathematics.
Check it out: Video Lectures.
In my time as a developer, and now managing a team of developers, I have
come to realize that there are two kinds of programmers: the Journeyman
and the Craftsman. These terms aren’t mine - I’ve seen them used other
places - but they describe the developers I’ve worked with pretty well.
…knows one programming language.
…knows one operating system.
…can’t be bothered to learn something on their own.
…doesn’t know anything about the operating system or hardware their
applications run on: “Someone else takes care of that”.
…never masters his tools. “I know my way around my IDE, that’s good
…doesn’t refactor: “It’s ugly, but it works. Leave it alone!”
…only learns about the part of the system they are working on. No need
to learn the rest of the system: “That’s not my job”.
…doesn’t want to take on an unfamiliar technology: “I haven’t had any
training on x”.
…knows a handful of programming languages, and is always on the
lookout for the next one he should learn. He knows that learning any new
language will stretch his mind and make him a better programmer in the
language he uses day to day.
…devotes time to learning about new technologies, and helps to make
others aware of them.
…understands the platform and operating system his applications run
on, because he knows that’s the only way to diagnose many problems.
…masters his tools. He can perform magic in his chosen editor, and is
always looking for ways to make himself more efficient.
…rarely passes up an opportunity to broaden his knowledge of the
system he is working on.
…is always willing to take on something he’s unfamiliar with. He can
pick up most things pretty easily, and enjoys the challenge of learning
One craftsman is worth three or four journeymen. Easily.
It’s the journeymen whose jobs often end up moving overseas (and
rightfully so, they add little, if any, value).
The longer I manage development projects, the more I value the craftsmen
I have around me.
I’d heard (first from Joel
believe) about a cool new travel planning site called
Tripit. I’m making arrangements for a trip to St.
Louis later this month, and so I thought this would be a good
opportunity to try it out. To say the least, I’m impressed.
The first thing that I noticed was the registration process: there
isn’t one. All you have to do is take any travel-related email
(hotel confirmation, airline itinerary, etc) and forward it to
email@example.com. If the email account you sent it from isn’t already
registered with Tripit, they create an account for you and send you your
registration details. Most sites would have you create an account first,
filling out a lengthy form before you could use it. Tripit’s strategy on
this is brilliant as it removes all barriers to entry to their service,
making it completely painless.
Tripit then takes that email and creates an itinerary. I emailed it a
hotel confirmation, and it was able to extract out the hotel name,
arrival and departure dates, the city I was staying in and more. It
builds a nice itinerary out of this data, and adds some useful
information to it like weather and maps.
Tripit also allows you to collaborate, sharing your trip information
with others in your party. There’s also a social networking component.
If you add contacts who also use Tripit, you can see who else might be
close to you on an upcoming trip. I don’t really travel enough to
probably get much use out of that, but I can certainly imagine that it
will be useful to a lot of people.
One other nice feature is that it can publish your itinerary in
iCalendar format, for
consumption by Google Calendar, Outlook 2007, or Apple’s ICal. It also
appears to have good support for mobile devices, though I haven’t had a
chance to try that out. One other nerdy item to note is that they’ve
marked up many of their pages with
All in all, Tripit is an impressive service so far.
I would definitely recommend giving it a try - it’s as easy as it gets.
A list of random and assorted things I have found lately
“A blog about open source technology at The New York Times, written by
and primarily for developers. This includes our own projects, our work
with open-source technologies at nytimes.com, and other interesting
topics in the open source and Web 2.0 worlds.”
There are a lot of nice posts in there, including one on how they used
EC2 to convert their archives to PDF.
Desert is a component framework for Rails that allows you to seamlessly
define in your plugins: * Models * Controllers * Views * Helpers *
Routes * Migrations * Plugin Dependencies
I’m going to check this out for something I’m about to start on.
Five Runs is conducting a series of
5-question interviews. So far they have interviewed Chad
Cote and Peter
Paul Graham has released Arc, his
long-awaited Lisp dialect.
Arc is designed above all for exploratory programming: the kind where
you decide what to write by writing it. A good medium for exploratory
programming is one that makes programs brief and malleable, so that’s
what we’ve aimed for. This is a medium for sketching software.
I’ve owned the Macbook Pro for a little while now, and am getting
comfortable with OS X. I think it’s time to dig a little deeper though,
so I’m going to buy a book or two.
I’m a long time computer user, and have a lot of *NIX experience, so
I’m not looking for something too basic. I’d like something that will
teach me the ins and outs of the whole operating system, and let me go
from being “comfortable” to “power user”. I’m leaning towards Mac OS X
Leopard: The Missing
Manual, but I thought I would ask here if anyone else has any other