Computers, Events, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Software, Web

You Found Me!

Sorry for any confusion to the few who read my slice of the web. My old DNS name, provided to me through expired leaving me stranded. Looking back through my emails it seems that I had 5 days to reply to continue my account and I failed to do so. Instead of just being a simple fix of creating a new account, they have moved my domain name to a premium service. Instead of forking over my cash, I have decided to stop being lazy and buy a real domain name. So for all who have made it this far, welcome to my new home. The bathrooms are two doors down on the right.

Apple, Computers, Linux, Open-source, Software

Tell Tar to Auto Compress Those Files!

Just discovered a handy shortcut when working with the GNU utility “tar”. Like many other Unix utilities, the switches that you can pass tar change its behavior. To create a “plain” tar file (compressing multiple files down to a single tape archive format – similar to zip) you can execute the following:

bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ echo "test" > test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -cf test.tar test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ file test*
test:     ASCII text
test.tar: POSIX tar archive (GNU)

The “c” switch creates a new archive, and the “f” switch tells it that the name of the new archive follows. Similarly, we can untar this using the “x” switch, mutually exclusive with “c” for its create counterpart.

We can also apply compression to these new archives:

bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ echo "test" > test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -czf test.tar.gz test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ file test*
test:        ASCII text
test.tar.gz: gzip compressed data, from Unix, last modified: Tue Jan 11 22:31:34 2011

Or alternately, we can provide the bzip2 compression:

bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ echo "test" > test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -cjf test.tar.bz2 test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ file test*
test:         ASCII text
test.tar.bz2: bzip2 compressed data, block size = 900k

All well and good, however tar allows you to specify the compression (or lack thereof) based on the new filename. You call it what you want, and tar will figure out what compression to apply. Consider the following:

bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ echo "test" > test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -caf test.tar test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -caf test.tar.gz test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ tar -caf test.tar.bz2 test
bsimpson@Saturn:/tmp$ file test*
test:         ASCII text
test.tar:     POSIX tar archive (GNU)
test.tar.bz2: bzip2 compressed data, block size = 900k
test.tar.gz:  gzip compressed data, from Unix, last modified: Tue Jan 11 22:24:43 2011

As a side note, these do not stack. For example “test.tar.gz.bz2” just produces a bzip2 encoded ASCII test file. If you *really* wanted this, you could use the pipe command to chain your compressions.

Hope this saves some time!

Linux, Open-source, Ruby, Software

Rail’s Acts_as_revisable now summarizes changes

If you are a frequent reader, please congratulate me next time you see me on my first ever GiHub commit. I have been a long time user of GitHub, but I haven’t contributed anything back yet. I decided to start with the project acts_as_revisable, because I have some ideas for it that I think are useful.

The commit tonight adds a “revisable_changes” column, which records the attributes “before” and “after” values in the revision record. This data is calculated from the ActiveRecord instance method “changes”. To demonstrate:

# User.create :username => 'ben'
#[nil, "ben"]}>
# User.find(1).update_attributes :username => 'bob'
#["ben", "bob"]}>

This should serve as a good base to build summaries in a human readable format in an application. After tossing around a few different word choices to describe the changes, I decided that the better approach was to just record the data that changed in a structured format and leave it up to the implementation. Such an implementation may look something like this:

  def changes_summary do |attribute, values|
      before, after = values[0], values[1]
      if before.blank? and after
        "Added #{attribute} as #{after}"
      elsif before and after.blank?
        "Removed #{attribute} value of #{before}"
        "Changed #{attribute} from #{before} to #{after}"
    end.join('; ')

Using our user instance above, this method out return: “Changed username from ben to bob”.

Other plans for acts_as_revisable in the future include tracking associations of a model. For example, if a user has many permissions, and the permissions change, the revisable information will include the permissions for that user at that point in time. I haven’t worked out the specifics of this yet, as it could potentially generate a lot of unwanted data. I plan on parsing the data from ActiveRecord’s “reflect_on_all_associations” method to gather the associations. I will then provide a way for a user to configure which associations should, or should not be tracked. Then I will iterate through these objects using ActiveRecord hooks and somehow record the state. Either a shadow table, or by serializing the associations in a column. The trick here will be to marshal the objects back to the live data when a revert is called. More soon…

Apple, Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Ruby, Software, Windows

Living in an Apple World

Welcome readers to what is a first here on my blog – a review about Apple’s OS X. As some of you may know, part of my new job is working on a Mac for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Someone asked me about my experiences, and I feel up to sharing my findings. I want to be fair in my assessments, so if it sounds like I am starting to get a little slanted, keep me in check with a comment!

First things first – the initial impression. I have a 27″ iMac and I was initially impressed by the appearance of the machine. The iMac screens and case are one piece, so I have plenty of room to kick around beneath my desk with minimal cord entanglement (not that it matters because I sit cross-legged all day). The compact style keyboard has an aluminum casing, which matches the iMac. The mouse is the Mighty Mouse. Both are wired, which I appreciate – especially on the mouse. I hated the compact keyboard since it feels shrunken, and the addition of the “Fn” key in the bottom row meant every time I tried to press “Control” I missed. After swapping this out for a full-sized keyboard I was much happier, and even unlearned some bad habits. The Mighty mouse absolutely sucks. The tiny wheel stops responding all the time from the slightest spec of dirt, and you have to turn it over and rub it back and forth on your jeans, or the mouse pad. Its one saving feature is the ability to vertically, and horizontally scroll which is occasionally helpful. I am a right click fan, and though invisible, the region on the mouse that registers as a right click versus a left is about 10 times smaller. It feels like the edge of the mouse.

The keyboard on a Mac is different in important ways from its PC counterparts. The “Windows” key is replaced with the Command key, which is utilized far more than the Windows key ever was. In fact, most of the operations of the machine are done using Command (copy, paste, new tab, close window, etc) effectively making it closer to the “Control” key in Windows. However, the Control key remains, which actually introduces a whole new key combination to more effectively use shortcuts. The Command key is located next to the space bar, which is much more convenient than the extreme left placement of the Control key. I do copy, paste, etc operations using my thumb, and not my pinky finger – much less strain.

The computer screen can be tilted, which is nice since the whole world seems to be moving towards the annoying high gloss screens. I can tilt it down, and out of the florescent overhead lights. I really feel that gloss is a showroom gimmick just like turning the brightness up to max on the TVs in the store. If I wanted to look at myself, I would sit in front of a mirror. Fortunately, I have a second non-gloss monitor, and I do most of my coding on this screen. Also, it would be nice if the monitor had a height adjustment, as second monitor isn’t quite the height of the iMac screen.

Enough about appearance – lets talk hardware. This is a dual core Intel-based processor, with 2 GB of memory (later upgraded to 4GB). The video card is decent I suppose (however the interface can get quite “laggy” at times). I don’t have any idea what the machine costs, but this is definitely unimpressive hardware. 2GB of RAM is the minimum I would work with, and it being slow laptop RAM doesn’t help at all. At least there isn’t a laptop hard in it too.

As for the Operating System, it seems pretty stripped down. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I can quickly find what I am looking for, without going on a damn field trip through obscure dialog windows. The flip-side to this is it doesn’t feel very “customizable”. You use the stock features, or you don’t use a Mac. Perhaps there are a bunch of third party utilities that I don’t know about? Sometimes I am disappointed by the lack of customization options (there are just a handful of settings for the dock). To be honest, I am not sure what I would customize, but I like to poke around, and I often leave the System Preferences disappointed having not found “setting xyz“.

I really enjoy the file system indexing, and they have the best implementation for full-text search I have seen. It doesn’t bog down the computer, and the results are instantly updated. Magic. It effectively is the starting point for all my open actions. I don’t know why it isn’t available for the first 10 minutes after a boot, but I don’t shut down that much so its ok.

I was surprised by the lack of a default system-wide notification system – something that Growl has aimed to fill. I was also disappointed by the lack of package management on the Mac – again third party solutions exist. The system updates are just as annoying as in Windows which was a disappointment. Once the “restart” prompt stole my typing focus and proceeded to shut down the system. A few times the machine has “beach balled” (the Mac “hourglass” icon), and hard locked. Most of time its fairly responsive and stable which I can appreciate.

Other points of interest are the window management. I use Expose almost as regularly as I do the task switcher (Command + Tab), though admittely sometimes I get lost in the special effects and forget what I was doing. There are a bunch of other window groupings, but I don’t really find them that useful. One particularly frustrating observation is that once you minimize a window, you can’t Command + Tab back to it. Isn’t that the point of the task switcher? It even shows up in the task switcher, but when it is selected, absolutely nothing happens.

As for the software available on the Mac it is more comprehensive than Linux, and less comprehensive than Windows. Some of my co-workers commented that in OS X, there is usually one utility to do something, whether you like it or not. I use Google Chrome, JetBrain’s RubyMine, Ruby, Terminal, Lotus Notes, Adium, and Propane almost exclusively. Because of this, I can’t really assess the state of the Mac software ecosystem, but I will say that all these programs run damn well on the Mac. The only software crash I have is Flash. Flash on Linux and Windows is stable, however on the Mac probably one in ten uses causes the browser tab to lockup. I am not sure whether this is a Chrome issue or not, but something is seriously wrong with the state of Flash on my Mac. Now I understand why so many Mac users hate Flash – as a Windows user, I never experienced the constant crashing.

In summary, due to the nature of my work, I use the Mac at work in essentially the same manner I would use Linux. The terminal is where I spend my time, and I am more or less indifferent about the operating system around it, as long as I can install the system libraries I need for Ruby extensions, and it stays responsive. My next computer purchase will be a netbook and I will install Ubuntu on it, as I can’t justify spending the designer prices of Apple products to use a terminal and a web browser.  Toe to toe with Windows, and many Linux distributions, OS X excels in many areas. Its a fantastic operating system, but I am not sure that it is worth its cost. If I could throw it on my PC at home it would be worth $100. Buying a special machine just to run it is just silly.

Computers, Linux, Open-source, Ruby, Software, Thoughts, Web

Ubuntu 10.04 – Very Refined

A lot has changed with Linux since I have last visited Ubuntu. I had an old crufty version of Ubuntu 8.10 sitting on my hard drive that I hadn’t booted into in quite some time. Realizing that April was a release month for Ubuntu, I decided to go get the latest and greatest.

There was a time when the software that I used on Linux was very exclusive to Linux. It took a lot of hunting down of programs to find what the best ones were for what I was doing since the names were all unrecognizable. That no longer seems to be the case. Google Chrome, has an official Linux client that runs quite well. Bookmark syncing to your Google account provides an easy way to import your information. Dropbox has a Linux client that integrates in with the Nautilus file manager.

Rhythmbox integrates in with, Magnatune, and the new music store Ubuntu One. Empathy integrates in with Facebook chat, Google Talk, AIM, IRC, and many others. Gwibber integrates in with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Digg, and others. All of these integrate in with Ubuntu’s new Indicator Applet.

The new theme is nice, and the nVidia drivers are stable as always. The new theme does away with the Brown, and moves to a darker theme which I prefer. Compiz is running “discretely” providing effects that enhance with user experience without overwhelming it. The gravy on the cake is the new Ubuntu Software Center which takes all of the “apt-cache, and apt-get” out of the equation. The interface is revamped from the old “Synaptic package manager” and provides some nice touches such as “Featured Applications”, category views, and a seamless search, select and install experience.

If you are doing Rails development on Windows, do yourself a favor and revisit this classic to see how much improvement there has been to the Ubuntu experience.

Apple, Computers, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Ruby, Software, Thoughts, Web, Windows

Have You Had Your Daily Dose of Editors?

The Boss decided to purchase a license to RubyMine for me to use, and the rest of the office to evaluate. I wanted to share my experiences, since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of real-world experience on developing Ruby on Rails in a corporate setting using RubyMine. Also, some of my new (and past) coworkers might be curiously looking over their screens with TextMate to see what else is out there.

First, a bit about the Ruby on Rails culture. It is a very Mac OS X oriented, and the preferred editor of choice is TextMate. I really try and stay away from tools that only run on one operating system, and TextMate falls into that category. Ruby is a very terse, dynamic and simple language. Rails developers will tell you that you don’t need an IDE to do Rails work. While this is true, I find not using anything more than a text editor is like using a screwdriver instead of a power tool. If you are a good developer, and you understand Ruby a good editor will only make you more productive. RubyMine isn’t meant to be relied on like IDEs are for other strongly typed languages including C# and Java. It makes a best effort to provide its features without getting in your way when it fails.

RubyMine offers full support on Windows, Mac and Linux. RubyMine also strives very hard to make the Windows version as strong as the *nix versions. It does this by including an IRB console, and commands to run many rake tasks, and Rails generators. While these tools are a very good solution on Windows, people with the ability to run a native terminal will probably find the offerings lacking in comparison. This review will skip these Windows-audience features, since I don’t feel it represents the majority.


RubyMine does a very good job at trying to autocomplete its code. It will look inside Class definitions, and can find methods, attributes, and associations. If you are using gems that extend classes, such as ActiveRecord, RubyMine will do a fairly robust job at reading these methods from the gem files once they are attached to the project. “Attached” just means that RubyMine is inspecting these gems. It was not able to locate gems provided via Bundler, but this is supposed to be coming. Also, the auto-complete can be slow at times and freeze the editor from further input.

Inline Documentation

When you place the caret over a method, or class, RubyMine will fetch the documentation for that method and show it in the editor. This is doesn’t always locate the documentation however, in cases where the method is defined in a gem that is unattached.

Command+Click Following

You can click class names, and method names to jump straight to the definition. Also useful is clicking on associations, and named scopes. You can also jump to route definitions, and partials.

Cucumber Integration

There is auto-complete provided for your Cucumber tests, however also nice is the Command + mouse over action of displaying the definition of a scenario step. These can be Command + clicked to follow to where the step is defined. Also, if your step does not match a definition, you will be notified in the editor.

Safe Refactoring

Refactoring in this sense is renaming a variable, or a filename. The nice part about RubyMine is the ability to optionally search your project for usages of the current variable, or filename and update those references, or just notify you about them.


Not a big selling point, however many editors don’t offer strong spelling support. It checks your comments, and your variable names, but stays out of the way of your code.

Find By Filename / Class

You can pull up a dialog that will allow you to type a filename and it will return all matches regardless of directory level. Filenames can be regular expressions, and can include paths, and even line numbers. RubyMine will find them, and in the case of the line number, it will open the file and jump to that location. Searching by a class name is very similar.

Copy Buffer

Only having a clipboard with one item in it can be frustrating at times. Using the copy buffer feature, I can copy multiple sections of a file, then paste them individually later.

Code Formatting

RubyMine allows for manual formatting, or formatting on paste. You can also auto-format a complete document with a keystroke, based on your auto-format settings. It even works on HTML/ERB, HAML, Javascript, and CSS.

RubyMine isn’t a perfect tool however, and there are things about it that are less than ideal. Specifically, the footprint of RubyMine can be quite large. This seems to be a sin it shares with many of its Java IDE brothers. After watching it creep (unnecessarily) up to 400+ MB, I decided to do something about it. The solution turned out to be very simple.  On OS X, look for the file “Info.plist” in the /Applications/RubyMine directory. On Linux, change the file in the rubymine/bin/rubymine.vmoptions file. Change the value for Xmx to be 128m. This is the memory cap in which RubyMine will run. Runs like a charm now, and for days too.

Other annoyances include the default editor settings. Changing to soft tabs was more confusing than it should have been. Allowing “virtual space” after then of a line leads to a lot of accidental whitespace. The right gutter line isn’t helpful for Rails development. The font face was terrible. I had to customize the default theme to make it use the Apple default font. And finally, I don’t like the “Project” oriented state. I would rather open from within a directory in the terminal and work from there. I also don’t care for it generating a work folder within my Rails project – its just one more thing I have to pay attention to when using version control.

All in all, this is certainty one of the best editors I have seen yet for Ruby and Rails work, while I am sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this editor is capable of doing. It beats Netbeans 6.x, and RadRails. It will be interesting to see how Aptana Studio 3 turns out as the Aptana folks seem to really be putting some love into it. These editors felt like Ruby support was tacked onto what was intended to be a Java editor. The other end of the editor spectrum are hundreds of weak text-editors. I wanted something in-between. RubyMine has a clear focus, and all of its options center around Ruby and Rails work. So, if you are using TextMate as your first, and only Ruby on Rails editor, give yourself some perspective try out RubyMine’s free trial.