Saturday, November 29

Articles that were never written

I was doing some spring cleaning of my filesystem this morning and I came across an old list of "potential article topics" from seven years ago when I was writing for JavaWorld. Many of them I eventually blogged about over the years, but here's a few gems I never got around to polishing:

"why linux guis are doomed; gui standards from apple, microsoft, sun, etc."

Having worked closely with Linux this past year, I can sadly say this still holds true.

"20 things about Java you never knew (or cared) about: the short datatype, goto keyword, int.class, java.lang.Void, etc. (re: craig)"

Apparently this stemmed from a discussion with my old friend and former colleague Craig.

"the big picture"

That's all I wrote. Apparently at the time I had "the big picture" but not enough time to write about it. Over the years I lost it.

"asp servlet follow-up (registry classpath, com object)"

Perhaps my proudest achievement as a bright-eyed ambitious young programmer was a bridge that let you run Java Servlets in IIS; no third-party engine required. I wrote about it in JavaWorld and the article was republished on IBM's developerWorks site (but was eventually deprecated, hence no link). Apparently I had a few follow-up topics worth discussing.

"array reordering trick"

I have no idea what the trick was; should have been a tad more detailed in my note.

"ejb abstraction layer (entity beans)"

This was referring to an abstraction layer I'd developed at my first dot-com for the original EJB spec in the late 90's. It's all long moot now.

I'm going to leave the list alone. Perhaps it will be twice as amusing when I read it again in another seven years... and by then I'll have forgotten about this blog post and I'll probably wax nostalgic all over again.

Monday, November 10

DIY Home Media PC Mac on the Cheap (free if you already have the hardware)

Last week, a friend of mine (wink wink) finally bit the bullet and cancelled her cable TV service and switched to entirely on-line content delivery for her viewing entertainment. Here's how she pulled it off.


Mac Mini

She had an old Mac Mini (PowerPC) sitting in her closet collecting dust. Now it's sitting under her TV collecting entertainment.

Remote Control

I think all Macs now come with built-in infrared (IR) remote control support, but her old Mac Mini predated that standard. She already had an apple remote that came with her not-quite-as-old laptop, so she just needed the IR receiver. A quick Google suggested that Twisted Melon's Manta TR1 was the popular choice, so she picked one up.



If you want to download shared media you need a peer-to-peer client. She chose Transmission as it seemed to be the simplest and cleanest alternative for OS X and it has an option in the Preference panel to "Ignore unencrypted peers" which means any nosey gnomes in your pipes aren't going to be able to see what you're downloading.

Torrent Episode Downloader

Now that you have the means of downloading torrents, you need a way to find them. Enter TED (great name, by the way) which goes out and finds your shows for you, and keeps up on them, grabbing new episodes as they are released. Keep in mind that shows don't usually appear on the torrents until the morning after they air so you're not going to be able to participate in the water-cooler conversations at the office.


Most of the shows are encoded in a video format called DivX, which Quicktime doesn't natively support, so you'll need to download and install the freely available codec. Unfortunately it includes a lot of other crap, like its own proprietary player, but you can ignore or delete it.


One of the reasons she could no longer justify her cable bill is she's rarely home; she travels a lot. When she's on the road she likes to check in on her media Mac so she needed some means of communicating with it. If you've got the time and ambition, you can get yourself a hackable router and some open-source firmware and register a domain with a dynamic DNS provider and... blah, blah blah. She wanted something dirt simple. Hamachi is the right tool for that job; it's an idiot-proof virtual private network (VPN) system. You install it on your target machine and on any other machines you wish to use for remote access and you're golden.

Front Row

Your Mac comes with Front Row. You can use it to listen to music and view photos but what you really care about here is watching shows. If you configure the aforementioned torrent downloading tools to save their files into your Movies folder, Front Row will automatically find them. And, of course, you can use your remote control to run the show from the comfort of your couch.



For the sake of preventing herself from inadvertently screwing anything up on her system, she created a separate non-administrator account on OS X named "tv" and configured it to automatically sign-in. So when the box reboots after a power outage or a patch install, it goes right back into the "tv" account.


She also added TED and Transmission to the start-up items list for this "tv" account so they run automatically.

Disk Space

Her old Mac Mini has a very small hard drive so disk space is an issue. The first thing she did was grab Monolingual and remove all the non-English resources files she wasn't ever going to need. This cleared up a good bit of space. But she also has to regularly go in and delete old/watched shows before the disk fills up - sadly you can't delete shows from Front Row.

Wednesday, November 5

Podcasts for Ruby and Rails Aficionados

I love podcasts. A two-hour daily commute will do that to you, or an eight-hour drive every few months to the "big city" for a conference or barcamp. Unfortunately I've had a hard time finding my fill of good Ruby and Rails focused podcasts. Listed below is what I currently have on my list; if you have some I've missed please leave a comment.


Rails Envy Podcast

A very short weekly newscast. Gregg Pollack and Jason Seifer - of the infamous gag videos shown at the last couple Railsconf gatherings - read through a list of highlights from the preceding week in the Ruby and Rails community. Unfortunately there's rarely any in-depth discussion of the items, just a smattering of corny jokes which may not be everybody's cup of tea.


Recordings from guest speakers at the Raleigh Ruby meet-up. Unfortunately months pass between episodes, and without the accompanying video/slides some of them are hard to follow, but many are timeless so don't be afraid to listen to the older ones.

Ruby on Rails Podcast

Geoffrey Grosenbach - the most distinctive voice you'll ever hear - interviews the who's who in the Ruby and Rails inner circles, often ambushing them at conferences, which sometimes results in less-than-stellar audio quality. Episodes aren't regular in schedule, but frequent enough to avoid disappointment.


This podcast started out rough with more of a tutorial focus but thankfully host Chris Matthieu switched to an interview format and has since managed to catch some good movers and shakers in the Ruby and Rails field. Unfortunately there's no regularity to the schedule of episodes.


Obviously I can't watch video podcasts during my long commutes... well technically I could on my iPhone, but that wouldn't be wise while driving... so when I get to the office and find a few minute to myself these are the ones I watch.


You must live under a rock if you haven't heard of Railscasts. Ryan Bates continues to amaze me with his clockwork release of high-quality tutorials on Ruby on Rails tools and techniques. His podcast has been the number one contributor to my personal knowledge advancement in the field. If I were running a Rails development team right now these would be required viewing.

Ruby Banter

Developers from the company Fingertips pair up to demonstrate clever Ruby programming concepts in a live coding session; they type in the code and run it while explaining it, often evolving the program over time to ease the viewer into a complex concept. Unfortunately there hasn't been a new episode in six months, but there's nothing stale about the back log.


Some podcasts out there aren't declaratively focused on Ruby and Rails but most of their content is undoubtedly so.

The Web 2.0 Show

Yet another podcast that tries so hard and fails so well to keep a regular schedule of releases. Josh Owens and Adam Stacoviak (and formerly Chris Saylor) corner the founders of successful and/or popular Web 2.0 start-ups and try to pry their secrets from them.

Pivotal Labs Tech Talks

The almost-self-explanatory name gives it away, they just need to throw the word "Guest" in there and it's all summed up. Pivotal records (video) presentations by guest speakers to their staff and selflessly publishes them for the betterment of the rest of us. Insert broken-record complaint here about the regularity of releases.