I’ve decided to start discussing the things that I’m actively working on (most of which will unlikely be related to my day job). It seems the best hooks for this sort of thing are those open applications I find on my desktop each morning, remnants of the night before.
Today I find that I have the NetBeans IDE open to an ERb file I’ve been reviewing. I say reviewing because it was auto-generated using the Rails framework rather than having issued forth as instructions from my own conceptions. I’ve begun working with Ruby and Rails (gee, I’m only six years late to the party) in an effort to expand my understanding of the latest and greatest (yes, irony) in development tools out there. I came to Ruby because Martin Fowler suggested it as a viable alternative to my old stand-byes: Java and C#. In a past life I found myself alternating every three to nine months between the two programming language behemoths as a result of my day job. Ruby had been mentioned to me by an employee as something I should look into but I chalked it up to his 23 years of age (way too sexy and unproven) and kept on with my Java product development. As it turned out, the product source was purchased, shelved, and rewritten in C#, an example of the predation of enterprise software development. Sort of like that snake that is eating itself in an infinite and recursive loop of a meal.
In any event, all things come round full circle. Case in point, I actually received a job offer of sorts from this former employee who is now heading up a major product development effort of his own (has it really only been four years?) and it must have been his return to my life from my own personal BC (Before China) that caused Ruby to resurface. He actually wanted me to come work with PHP, another interpreted language I failed to learn (although I did dabble with Python if that gets me any cred).
Ruby and Rails began to seriously intrigue me because, as I worked through the inevitable Hello, Indifferent Spheroid, I found myself deeply impressed by the level of ease and degree of productivity welling up before me. I’ve also been dabbling with “the Cloud” and discovered Heroku, a fantastic service that sits atop Amazon Web Services and makes deployment into the cloud a, wait for it, breeze. I think I have found my prototyping tool of choice for web applications. More on that when more of it makes it to my desktop.
I also find I have the Homesteaders rule book open. The Homesteaders is a board game in the vein of Puerto Rico but with an auction element and some other neat little twists. I played it last week with some old gamer friends of mine and found it very enjoyable. But that’s not why it’s open. I realized over time that I have read many more game rules than actually played games. Reading game rules is sort of my thing. I have to believe it has something to do with my love of story coupled with a strong compulsion to see systems in everything. In rules books I find a distillation of a universe into, ideally, a balanced set of codifications that facilitate the ultimate in education, play. So I read them to see how designers boil concepts down into expressions that can be engaged in. In particular, I am reading these because I have been toying around with natural language parsing and domain specific languages (another reason to be interested in Ruby) and these concise documents remind me very much of software specifications. I also have a PDF of a design document for a semi-popular Text Adventure authoring tool’s framework open. The framework allows for the authoring of text adventures along the lines of Zork all in a robust and very natural language. Perhaps you have a glimmer of the arc of my thinking. More when I am ready.
The Thoughtworks Anthology from The Pragmatic Programmers is also open. I read this collection of articles at the beginning of 2009 and I recalled a particular article on Ruby DSLs that I thought might be helpful. As often happens, I found myself wander off to another topic (Project Vital Signs, a going concern for me these days) and, in any event, the article on Ruby DSLs was a bit too involved for me at the moment. I’ll have to circle back after I have my Ruby sea legs.
Man, I must be in a Thoughtworks frame of mind because a friend forwarded to me their 2010 Technology Radar report and that is also on my desktop. I wish he had forwarded it before I started this Ruby voyage. While Thoughtworks are true believers in Ruby there is only one mention of it in the whole document (referencing the rspec and Cucumber test gems) while C# 4.0 actually gets recommendations. This while I investigate Ruby and begin to become disappointed with the .NET Framework in general. Impeccable instinct, eh?
The good news though is that the final document on my desktop is a Scala tutorial. Because learning one new language and web development framework is not enough. In my investigation into Rails I discovered the LIFT framework which lead to ravings regarding Scala. In fact, there’s a reason I said “prototype” in reference to Ruby on Rails. It turns out that there are performance reasons for considering alternatives. Even Twitter arrived at the moment I happened on by happy coincidence. A quick look at Google App Engine boards and I discover that there is a recommended alternative to Ruby on Rails. So I will continue with Ruby and then move on to Scala and LIFT in order to make my comparisons. Look for more on that as the war between Ruby, Rails, and Amazon Web Services versus Scala, LIFT, and Google App Engine heats up. It will all hang on the ease of development and productivity comparison. I suspect I will end up with a hybrid approach to my long-term plan for world domination.