Follow Through and Fundamental Immovables

15 Nov 2014

You can imagine an end result without knowing about fundamental problems. If those fundamentals are core to your business or idea and they are immovable then you probably can’t pivot without fudging what pivot means.

Stay with me for a second and take this lead and gold atom.

alchemy atoms

Now if we could just remove three protons from the lead nucleus then three electrons would just float away it would turn to gold. How useful! How wonderful! Gold has many industrial applications. Lead is poisonous although it also has industrial applications. We could create a lead recycling center! My imagination is running wild with ideas even before we’ve gotten anywhere!

Hmm. So what if we had tiny tweezers? Oops, there’s our tweezers.

alchemy tweezers

Oops! Our tweezers are made of atoms too!

Our tiniest breakthrough, patent winning, best mankind could produce tweezers. Imagine you haven’t gone through any class / book / information that would give you a keyword like “Alchemy” or chunked knowledge like “Alchemy is bogus”. Wouldn’t it seem tempting to try these tweezers? To build these tweezers? When the tweezers don’t work, try pliers?

alchemy pliers

Pliers aren’t the problem. We have an fundamental immovable.

Here’s a wall. You can imagine walking up it can’t you? Well, how would that work exactly? Do you put your first foot on the wall and now you feel like you are doing splits? Or can you remove your foot as easily as a handshake? See, in physics there’s something called perpendicular force (relative to gravity). If I push a car, it’s easy. If I lift a car it’s hard. So are you stepping onto the wall? How hard is it to step up on a table? What transition is there? If you don’t strain like stepping up on a table, could you fall off the wall onto the floor? If you could, wouldn’t that create energy?

walking up a wall

We don’t know. Let’s find out together. This is why I like the TDD loop. Not just testing or test-first but actual TDD. I feel that it guides me. It allows for team discovery. How many more complicated problems like this are there? TDD is a like a science that mitigates human fallacies. More than TDD. Many things do. Science, Agile (whatever that meant before it died), feedback loops, Kanban. They are feedback systems that correct human bias.

It’s not about testing really, it’s about iterating and least-complexity. I really like this picture of shipping a minimum viable product.

agile car

I think this is also a function of diversity. If our team is made up of pliers, we’re in a tight spot. And I don’t even mean racial or gender diversity specifically. Think of this like a portfolio. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket but also make your eggs happen fast while not caring about eggs.

Where Do You Put Your Go Code?

14 Nov 2014

One of the most confusing parts of starting Go was learning the project layout or what Go calls the workspace. It’s changed a little bit in past releases (eschewing $GOROOT etc) but the confusion I think remains if you come from other languages and tools.

Internalize these things:

  1. Your code will go in a folder next to all the libraries you download.
  2. You probably cannot put your Go code next to your Java/Python/Ruby/Javascript/… unless you luck out on naming conventions that you’ve already started.
  3. If you are starting out and you don’t put stuff in ~/bin then just set $GOPATH to your home.
  4. If you don’t like that last rule, just create ~/gocode and set $GOPATH to that.
  5. You probably should not put your Go code in Dropbox.

You also do not need to create a account to put your projects in ~/gocode/src/{username}/hello_world. You can just go ahead and start your project. It’s just a namespace. If something else needs{username}/hello_world then it will import it. If it can find it in the GOPATH then it will work. That’s all this is.

When I started Go, I was worried that I was polluting system paths by starting projects in $GOPATH/src/{my_username}. You’re not. Don’t think about it.

I can’t put my crap code next to the likes of Docker!

It’s impostor syndrome. Just start your project. Just do it.

YAML and Maps in Go

13 Oct 2014

This wasn’t exactly clear. When using the (or packages, I was confused as to what to do with my data structure.

Let’s say we start off with this file.yml:

description: fruits are delicious
    - red
    - sweet
    - yellow
    - sour

Here’s a complete example to read this file in and you get a parsed data structure out of it:

package main

import (

type Config struct {
  Description string
  Fruits map[string][]string

func main() {
  filename, _ := filepath.Abs("./file.yml")

  yamlFile, err := ioutil.ReadFile(filename)

  var config Config

  err = yaml.Unmarshal(yamlFile, &config)

  fmt.Printf("Description: %#v\n", config.Description)
  fmt.Printf("Fruits: %#+v\n", config.Fruits)

func check(e error) {
  if e != nil {

What is Fruits map[string][]string in the Config type? It’s foo: ['a', 'b', 'c'].

This is roughly equivalent to what I would do in Ruby. Of course the Ruby code is much shorter because in Ruby, typically we abuse hashes. :) The surprise I had is this: when the YAML changes, we have to update our type Config. I’m ok with this. I was just surprised by a few things.

First, the keys are significant. If we change the YAML to be:

description: fruits are delicious
    - red
    - sweet
    - yellow
    - sour

It won’t work. But HOW it won’t work is confusing.

Description: "fruits are delicious"
Fruits: map[string][]string(nil)

You’ll get an empty map until you change your type to have Tambourines in it. You can’t just access .Tambourines either. The type/struct won’t have a method on it. So this is the trick and benefit the package gives you. You just model your YAML and it maps the keys for you. But you have to “know” what your YAML (dare I say schema?) is. So would you then validate that it loaded correctly by checking lengths etc?

Now what happens when you get it really wrong?

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Ruby Slop Example

25 Sep 2014

One of my favorite features of slop is the automatic help generation. But it’s not intuitive. It doesn’t print out the help when the parsing fails. This isn’t very unix-y. So every time I want to use slop, I have to look up this snippet I saved for myself. So I’m posting it here. This is the only slop example you’ll ever need.

Unix style CLI program in Ruby

require 'slop'

opts = true, help: true) do
  banner 'Usage: slop_test.rb [options]'

  on 'resume=', 'Your resume file', required: true
  on :s, :skill=, 'Skill Name', as: Array, arguments: :optional
  on 'v', 'verbose', 'Enable verbose mode'  # same as adding required: false


  # validation passed
  puts "Here's the data"
  puts opts.to_hash
rescue Slop::Error => e
  puts e.message
  puts opts

Calling it like this will fail:

$ ruby ./slop_test.rb
Missing required option(s): resume
Usage: slop_test.rb [options]
        --resume       Your resume file
    -s, --skill        Skill Name
    -v, --verbose      Enable verbose mode
    -h, --help         Display this help message.

Great! Then using it correctly will do this:

$ ruby slop_test.rb --resume hechicero-del-relámpago.doc
Here's the data
{:resume=>"hechicero-del-relámpago.doc", :skill=>nil, :verbose=>nil, :help=>nil}

The resume flag is the only required one, so in this case that’s how it’s run correctly.

Update: I was very happy that @lee_jarvis (the slop author) accepted my pull request to put this example into the README.

Redis and 595 Timer States

24 Sep 2014

I wanted to learn about how a 595 timer chip works. I’m a code dude. So when I see this integrated chip and all its pins, it’s scary. I’m sure an EE major is giggling right now but that’s just Impostor Syndrome. For no reason beyond this, I wanted to visualize and grok a 595 timer’s state at any given point by having it’s pins mapped to Redis key/value pairs.

Here’s a quick video explanation of the project.

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Positive Change

17 Aug 2014

I’ve been in Portland for a week. So far, it’s amazing. I really don’t want to blather on about how great it is because, to be honest, I’m afraid of boyish optimism. This town, like college, will probably give back whatever I put into it. So I’m pacing myself. I think it will be good though.

Our house is completely empty while we wait for our movers to arrive and that’s ok. I’ve been getting a lot done without all the distractions. One of my favorite pictures of Steve Jobs is where he is sitting in an almost empty room with nothing but books. I’m not trying to be Steve Jobs but I appreciate the minimalism because my house looks very similar to this picture right now.

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Default DC Tech is Just Bad

06 Jun 2014

The opinions of this blog, but especially this post are mine and not my employers’.

I’m done with DC. I need to archive the reasons why for myself. I hope this serves as a free field trip to the DC area for anyone outside the beltway.


If you move to DC for the tech jobs, you are going to have to prune a lot of C-minus government work if you are good. All the while, you will be paying for local benefits you are not taking advantage of. This is the land of politics, military, intelligence, big government and lobbyists. I tried to influence from within but now it's time for me to GTFO and move to Portland to try to find "actual reality" jobs.

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19 May 2014

On a Ruby Rogues podcast about Passion, Avdi continued to enlighten and entertain me with his insights. I’ve really been enjoying his speaking style and voice lately through tapas and talks. If he reads this, I hope he understands I don’t disagree with what he is saying; I thought he would enjoy a related story.

Honestly, this topic is so massive I don’t think I can really offer too much more than the Rogues did on the podcast so I encourage you to listen to the episode yourself. It has almost nothing to do with programming or Ruby. I feel that philosophies and stories about passion are so close to the difficult and inevitable goal of “master yourself”, which is both complicated and personal, I can just barely approach the topic and then a rat’s nest of anecdotes and advice explodes all around us.

With that context laid out, here are a few stories.

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DRY up Methods with Ruby Blocks

14 Sep 2013

Let’s do something terrible by hand. First, here’s our data. It comes from a database.

db_results = [
  { id: 1, login: 'mjay', roles: ['user'], projects: ['muffins'] },
  { id: 2, login: 'rroke', roles: ['admin', 'user'], projects: ['security'] },
  { id: 3, login: 'tpain', roles: ['user'], projects: ['muffins'] },
  { id: 4, login: 'ghaz', roles: ['admin', 'user'], projects: ['muffins', 'cakes'] },
  { id: 5, login: 'bbarker', roles: ['user'], projects: ['pies'] }

Now when working with these people, we probably could get away with doing something like this for a while:

# find all admins
admins = {|user| user[:roles].include? 'admin' }

Which is fine. Until you want to find out what people are on the Muffin Project:

# find all people working on the muffins project
people_on_muffins = {|user| user[:projects].include? 'muffins' }

But as you keep working, you might be getting a feeling of deja-vu. The two methods above are very similar. You might be inspired by other Ruby libraries which give you a tiny DSL or at least allow you to pass blocks into methods to be more expressive.

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Problems with "The Cloud"

27 Aug 2013

I've been thinking about the problems with The Cloud outside it being a raging buzzword. It really comes down to Control and Connectivity. That's the problem but allow me to elaborate.


Google Wave is a great example of control loss. If you really put a lot of energy, stock and trust into Google Wave as a content store for your team, brain or idea then you might feel deflated by its cancellation. Even as an idea and a disruptive alternative to E-mail or SMTP crappiness, it's a shame it had to die. So what now? Wait for an open source version? Host your own?

The idea was to "put it in the cloud" and forget about it. But when the cloud changes outside your control, you have to be aware of it again. Now you really have to think about the cloud itself. It's not such a vague black box which is what the cloud diagram really means.

Another example of control is YouTube. I use YouTube favorites as a persistent list. I see a cool video, I favorite it and I feel like I sort of own it, or at least it's in a list that I can refer to later. But take a look at this:


What were those things? Who knows! Now, I have to think about "the cloud" again. These are temporary videos that someone else ultimately controls. I'm just adding references to a list. I don't own the clips. They are transient. They are ephemeral. I'm out of control again. I don't even know what media I've lost. Do I mitigate again? Do I suck down a list periodically and do a diff?


I recently got a Roku box for my TV. It's a great box. During registration it does a bunch of sign up and account creation. But it doesn't work without uPNP enabled on the router. This isn't even a connectivity outage thing, it's a connectivity assumption that I have a certain kind of firewall that can't have holes punched in it ... or that I'm not capable of punching the holes myself. I don't even really know why Roku does this uPNP thing. All I know is, it wouldn't even finish the setup until I made this change. Now here's a device that doesn't work without connectivity or a clear path to connectivity.

Think about how picky that is for a second. If it's not picky then think about how many technical barriers there are to pure or uniform Internet. Everyone brings their own quilted environment and it's a mess.

IPv6 Spike

28 Jul 2013

A spike is when you play around with something and then throw it away for the purposes of learning. So, let’s play around with IPv6. I had read a little bit about it but essentially my working experience with IPv6 was nothing except for disabling it. Let’s learn some stuff!

I'm going to skip over all the history of IPv6 and assume that you agree with me and think that this is important and relevant to the future of the Internet.


First, build 4 Ubuntu VMs. I'm using 13.04 but any current Linux distro should work, just the packages and paths will change. I found the best way is to build a simple VM and then clone it 3 more times (in Fusion this is copy/paste and resetting the MAC address). You'll need four machines to simulate a local network. You won't need any network hardware and VMware will be able to simulate everything we need. You can actually do this whole experiment on one real box (cool stuff)!

The goal of this spike is:

  • Build 4 VMs
  • Make a router, a web server, a dns server and a client
  • Hit a web page between two network boundaries over IPv6 only

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The Best Way to Read CSV in Ruby

16 Jun 2013

CSV is awful. CSV isn't well formed. It isn't hard to use because it's bloated and slow. CSV is hard to use because it's just a dumb data format. However, sometimes all you have is stupid data and who cares, let's do this thing and blot out the memories.

I assume you know how to use the CSV module that's built into Ruby. It's pretty easy. You just read a file in and you get some 2D array back. It usually comes out pretty horrible with long methods and little room for nice abstractions.

So what if you want to polish it up a little bit? Maybe you aren't just going to kludge this thing again and hate yourself later? What if you aren't just going to load this into a database? What if you want to do some quick CSV analysis but at the same time make it come out sort of readable?

Let's take a look at an abstraction layer and see how we could write a CSV loader for a guest list. We're going to have a dinner party and evite gave us a crappy CSV dump of who's responded so far. Well, it's what we have. But how many people are coming and how many groups aren't allergic to peanuts? We want to know how many peanut M&Ms to buy.

Here's our data:

Name, Plus, RSVP'd, Peanut Allergies
Tom DeLuise, 1, No, Yes
Mel Brooks, 3, Yes, Yes
Lewis Black, 5, Yes, No
Jon Stewart, 3, Yes, Yes
Jim Gaffigan, 0, Yes, No

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Rails Dev Shops in Washington DC

10 Jun 2013

What shops, companies, consultants, startups or other folks are using Ruby or Rails (on any level)? Contact me on twitter if you want to be added or you have corrections: @squarism or leave a comment below.

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The Supermodel Ruby Gem Loses Data

03 Jun 2013

Actually no.

I love Supermodel. It might be overcome by ActiveModel::Model in Rails 4 but until then Supermodel is a fantastic in-memory database for Ruby that has a lot of advantages over using just a plain hash or trying to roll your own.

However using it with a large amount of data, we noticed it loses data. Sometimes, a few records. Other times, a few more. It was really random. We were confused. Looking at the docs, this is the default class maccman has in his README.

class Test < SuperModel::Base

That works no problem. We looked at the IDs that it uses and saw that it's using the Ruby ObjectID which is about 14 digits long.

#<Test:0x007f80e41dbd18 @new_record=false, @attributes={"bacon"=>"tasty",
 "id"=>70095779847820}, @changed_attributes={}, @validation_context=nil,
@errors={}, @previously_changed={"bacon"=>[nil, "tasty"]}>

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Super Interesting Talks from RubyConf 2012

29 May 2013

Trying to summarize someone's 30-60minute talk is really hard. So apologies go out to anyone I'm trying to paraphrase here. I took it upon myself to watch every single video from RubyConf 2012 which started airing in November. It's May now. There's a lot of content there and you can't just slurp it down and expect to process it all. So I thought I'd leave little breadcrumbs to myself noting which things were super interesting to me.

Real Time Salami - Aaron Patterson
Any presentation by @tenderlove is great and this one was fun and interesting as expected. Aaron talks about parallelism, streaming and making Salami (actual salami).

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Hi, I am
Chris Dillon