Ruby on Rails

I’ve been watching Ruby on Rails for a while now. It seems to be gaining some momentum.

Ruby seems like a nice language, and the Rails framework appears to add some WebObjects-like functionality. It looks like it’s got some stuff that approaches Direct-to-web. It still doesn’t look quite as elegant as WebObjects, but it is definitely interesting, and tries to be pretty cleanly MVC, which is nice. It’s also just sitting there at /usr/bin/ruby begging to be dusted off and called into action…

Basecamp was the first “real” app that used Ruby on Rails (and it’s a beauty app, to be sure). I’m sure there will be some others going live Real Soon Now.

I’d be interested in developing an app using it, except I’d have to throw away all of the java libraries I’m using (including APOLLO and PXFoundation). When/if I get a chance, I’ll work up a simple app to act as an alternate front end to the Asset Management Database, to see how well it works.

I’ve also been rolling around the idea of building more stuff in PHP, but haven’t found a decent framework to use, and I really dread having to roll everything from scratch. To be fair, I haven’t really looked very hard, either…

Update: MacOSX 10.3 ships with Ruby v. 1.6.8. The latest version is 1.8.1 (downloadable here).

Update: ImageMagick is available in Ruby via RMagick – there’s one dependency I don’t have to worry about…

Update: A Slashdot article comparing Ruby on Rails to Java Spring/Hybernate – sounds promising for RoR

Ear infections suck

If it was my ear, it might not be so bad. But Evan’s been inflicted by a nasty pair of ear infections. Poor little guy didn’t sleep more than an hour last night (therefore, mom and dad didn’t sleep at all – no sir, no way in hell are we having another one – we had some serious colic flashbacks last night :-) )

We’ve pumped him full of Tylenol to control the fever, and now he’s on yummy banana-flavoured antibiotics to wipe out the little critters filling his eustachian tubes.

One thing that I realized today is just how much I love the health care system in Canada. Janice called the family doctor this morning, asked for an appointment, and we got fit right into their schedule. We had a nice visit with the doctor, without having to pay a cent. Then, we got the prescription filled at the local pharmacy, without having to pay a cent. Sure, we’ve technically already paid for it all thanks to higher taxes, but it’s nice when the system works. Not once did we even have to consider cost today – just on doing the right thing to get The Boy healthy again.

He’s passed out upstairs in his room right now. I hate seeing the little guy suffer – he was so out of it this morning that he didn’t want to have a bath. He normally goes ape shit when he gets a chance to get in the tub. Today, he just wanted to sink into mommy’s or daddy’s arms.

On Permanence (of content)

As we’re creating more content on and for the internet (and computers in general), we’re placing more of our culture into what is really an ephemeral medium. There is no 1000-year archive plan for the internet. The closest thing we have to that is The Internet Archive – but even that is subject to politics, business, and personal goodwill (of Brewster Kahle).

Backups of content are created, sure, but on formats like CD-ROM or DVD – which may have a lifespan ranging from 5-100 years depending on the specific media and storage conditions. They are also stored in (dozens? hundreds? thousands?) of unique storage formats (.Mac backup, proprietary backup tools, custom hacked tools, etc…) which may be difficult/interesting to interpret after the originators have shed their mortal coils.

Personally, I’ve got a stack of a couple hundred CD-ROM and DVD-R disks on a shelf in my office. Eventually, the media will start to degrade (or a fire will melt them into cool forms unreadable by any optical drive).

This is no way to preserve a culture. It struck me pretty hard earlier today when I was iChatting with Josh – we were joking that if something isn’t online (and more recently, if it doesn’t have an RSS feed), it doesn’t exist. But – the stuff that is online will not exist in 100 years, let alone 1000…

That may be a good thing for 99.9% of the cat blogs out there. But I’m hoping there is something worth preserving, that may be of interest to those who will follow.

Is the solution to trust in and hope it does not follow the same fate as the Library of Alexandria which inspired it? Sure – the petaboxes are mirrored eventually to 3 locations. But it’s not inconceivable that all copies could be wiped. An EMP would do that quite easily. Then what? We’re back to the 1950′s, before stuff started getting fed into punch cards.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I just have trouble relaxing about this, when I can’t read the documents I wrote on my Vic20, nor the C-64, nor the Amiga, nor the Apple II, etc… Sure, I can emulate the software, but the media is lost…

Update: Looks like I’m not alone in thinking about this recently. ArsTechnica just posted a related article on the longevity of optical media.

Update: Hah! And now even Slashdot is getting onto the story…

Yahoo 360 Thoughts

Thanks to Stephen, I got hooked up with a Yahoo 360 invite. I wanted to kick the tires to see what they’ve come up with in their big fancy social networking system.

The coolest thing I see so far is the concept of friend-of-a-friend. I imagine it’s completely compatible with FOAF, but they expose preferences settings to let you restrict access to stuff (your blog, commenting on your blog, photos, etc…) to a list of options:

  • Everyone
  • Third Degree
  • Friends of friends
  • Private (just me)

I couldn’t find an Official Description of “Third Degree” – but I think that’s “Friends of friends’ friends” – which could be a really interesting way to build up a microcommunity based on people you know and/or trust. Either that, or it’s a bright spotlight being shone on an intimidated suspect sitting on a cold metal chair. Either way, it’s pretty cool to have that at your fingertips.

I have to agree with Joshua’s comment on this: “It’s funny it took [them] this long to release a blog service.” I wonder what they’re planning on doing with it. Between this and their recent acquisition of Flickr, they are sure trying hard to get some momentum back in the social software game.

Anyway, here’s my Y360 blog – with the icky GUID-inspired URL and all (the setting to generate friendlier URLs appears to be borked at the moment).

On time “off”

I’m taking this week to spend with the family. Janice is out of town for much of the week, so it’s just Evan and myself baching it. It’s been absolutely great being able to hang out with the boy – we spent the morning at the zoo, and it was fun watching him get all worked up about the efants and muhkees. He’s almost able to carry a conversation, and it’s so cool to be watching him progress. He keeps surprising me about what he understands, remembers, or figures out.

Obligatory photo from the zoo:

Elephant at Calgary Zoo

Of course, my infojunkie addiction is so bad that I’m probably online almost as much as when I’m in the office. And I’m getting “volunteered” to be doing stuff in meetings that I’m missing ;-)

John Carmack Blogs – without RSS?

OK. A rant taken from Robert Scoble‘s playlist.

John Carmack – the guy that wrote Doom, Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3 Arena, Doom 3, and is trying to get into orbit with his own personal venture – has a blog.

But no RSS. WTF? Is he hand-rolling the pages in EMACS? Using some POS app that doesn’t do RSS? Have enough rock-star-zillionaire-programmer-groupies that he can’t imagine people not camping on his page waiting for updates?

I’m perfectly fine with his once-per-season posting routine – but when he does post something, I’ll want to read it, and I’ll never know about with without an RSS feed…

New Theme for Blog

I’d been using the Kubrick theme since well before WordPress 1.5, when it became the default theme. At first, it was a nice, clean theme that stood out from the rest of the other blogs out there. Now, it’s a nice, clean theme that everyone else is using. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I’m getting tired of seeing Kubrick everywhere.

I just changed the theme to Wuhan (which I ever so slightly modified), which is based on Kubrick, but also takes some design cues from Macromedia.

I’ll be tweaking it a bit over the next few days (I’m “off” for the week, so I’ve got a bit of time to play with WP while Evan sleeps). I’m not really happy with the header/banner graphic, so that’s where I’ll start. It just looks kinda thrown in there. I want to keep the text background generic enough so that I can switch the background image at will (or randomly, as I was doing with my modified Kubrick theme). And perhaps the banner graphic is too tall… A bit gratuitous now that the tabs are above the banner…

Other than that, I’m pretty happy with Wuhan.

Update: I’ve added in the calls to the extra plugins: Subscribe to Comments, Technorati Tags, and Related Posts. Now to figure out what I want to do with the banner graphic…

SubEthaEdit vs BBEdit

I’ve been a hard core BBEdit user since BBEdit 6 (way back before MacOSX). It’s a great text editor, and has many awesome features. I’ve actually stuck at BBEdit 7, since the Big New Features in BBEdit 8 weren’t that big to me, and I couldn’t justify allocating budget for the upgrade license.

I’ve also dabbled with SubEthaEdit, but only seriously as a collaboration tool, never for serious text editing on my own.

However, I was just using it to edit some files, and it’s really nice as a standalone editor! It’s got just about everything I like about BBEdit, has a great UI, the collaboration stuff, and it’s free for non-commercial uses.


The command line tool works nicely (without spewing up extra untitled documents if the app isn’t running when a document is opened via the command line tool), and integrates as a standard EDITOR, so I can use it for subversion commit messages. It’s got syntax colouring for any language I care about, which is nice.

The only thing I’m left wanting for with SubEthaEdit is code reformating. BBEdit has a great tool for reformatting HTML (and XML), and that’s invaluable when writing that. It’s also handy to be able to clean up the formatting on a chunk of java code, so the curly brackets all line up nicely so I can follow flow more easily. I suppose a separate reformatting tool would work fine, especially if it’s callable from within SubEthaEdit.

I’m going to try switching to SubEthaEdit as my primary editor for a while to see if it works as well as BBEdit in practice. I may even set XCode to open files for editing in SubEthaEdit (although XCode has a nice – but not perfect – code reformatter built in).

Now, if only I could find an efficient, well designed editor like SubEthaEdit, with the powerful code cleaning/formatting of JEdit

Update: Holy. Crap. Check out the demo movie of “block editing” – this could come in extremely handy!

Update: Well… One day with SEE, and I’m still pretty happy with it. I keep catching my reflexive command+option+shift+f to reformat html, but that’s not fatal… Besides, I’m supposed to be off for the week, so I should be spending less time reformatting HTML anyway :-)

Network Problems at the U of C

If you’re trying to access any services on campus at the University of Calgary – it looks like our network connection took the Easter weekend off… All servers are up and running fine, but the pipe is plugged, so it’s slow going if you are trying to connect to anything on campus.

Which means I’ll have to put my tweaks to on hold for a bit. Perhaps it’s a sign?

Hopefully it gets ironed out quickly, but everyone should be home eating chocolate bunny ears, so it may wait until Tuesday :-)

Update: Sunday morning, and things appear to be more-or-less back in operation. At least and the wiki are responding again…

Subscription Management in NetNewsWire?

I might be missing something obvious, but it seems to be more difficult than necessary to organize subscriptions in NetNewsWire. I’ve got 377 feeds, and sometimes I need to go into my subscriptions list to find stuff, rather than just living in the “New Items” folder (where I do spend about 98% of my time in NNW).

One problem I’m having is that there doesn’t seem to be a “list all subscriptions” view. I can use Smart Lists to list blog posts, but I can’t seem to list all subscriptions anywhere.

Also, I can only put each subscription in one (and only one) folder. That can be a problem. Yes, I can make folder hierarchies, but what do I do with a subscription like Brian? His blog could go in any of the following folders, but they don’t fit into a hierarchy, so I have to choose…

  • eLearning
  • campus bloggers
  • canadian bloggers
  • northernvoice attendees
  • friends
  • careo users
  • xserve owners
  • new parents

So? Which one folder would he go into? Back when I was using Shrook, it had some really nice subscription management features. It was modeled more after iTunes than Mail. All subscriptions were in a “Library”, and I could manually drag them to folders, and I could make Smart Folders to automagically pull subscriptions and feeds together.

Which leaves me stuck. I’ve got some feeds that I want to update info for, but I have no idea where they are in my subscription folders. And I can’t search for subscriptions, only for blog entries. So, how do I append someone’s name to their blog subscription title, if I can’t find their subscription?

Shrook also has a nice UI innovation that is like a dynamic column view – the leftmost column shifts out of view to make more room for the content I’m trying to read.

If I spend 98% of my time in “New items”, why does the subscription folder hierarchy need to take up screen real estate, when what I really want to see is the entry list and post display pane?

Update: Yeah. I just installed the latest version of Shrook, and while I don’t plan to switch back, NNW could definitely be improved by the column view and “library” model of subscription management…