Friday, October 20, 2006

Rails for fun

After months doing other projects at work, I've been "drafted" for some Java this week. Specifically, I'm making a middleware servlet. Since I knew I was going to do the Java-thing again, I bought Head First Servlets and JSP. Like the others books in this series, it's really really good. Yes, I have mentioned this series twice before, but rest assured that I am not getting any money from this. People who know me know that I have trouble not mentioning the things I love.

Java is still not great, but it's not as bad as I remembered it to be. And maybe it's the machines we have at work, but it feels insanely fast. INSANELY fast. But I digress.

I've been programming in Rails for about a year now. I have 4 fully-functional personal webapps to my count. I also have forkmapit.com that I coded part of. However, much of the credit goes to my friend Daniel.

I eat my own dog food. All the applications I developed, I use on a daily basis. I coded my applications to solve actual problems that I was having. Application development, however, is an iterative process. You release something and your users tell you how close (or far) you are from what they thought they would get. I am my own customer, and I am pretty demanding. When you're forced to use your own application, you soon discover the annoyances and the many ways you could make it better. Tonight, I hit the mental threshold where I decide to fix bugs, streamline and improve.

After a week of Java, going back to Rails is a much needed break. I code in Rails for fun. Like myself, a lot of people using Rails have normal 9-to-5 jobs where they code in whatever technology will ensure a regular paycheck. In many ways, Rails is double-edges sword. It's a pleasure to work with ... but a curse to those who have to "go back" to, say, Java for work. I mentioned to coworkers that going back to Java after having used Ruby felt like having your hands tied behind your back and trying to program by typing with your nose...

The application I was working on, I call "tvguide". With "tvguide", I keep track of the episodes for the TV shows I watch. It was a plain application with a little bit of AJAX to update the numbers in a table.

It was a glorified spreadsheet.

No more... I implemented photo upload to the application, thumbnails for my listings, I completely changed (and improved!) the presentation, I took out pre-RJS DIY AJAX. Best of all, I have a much better application now, with more features and LESS code.

I want the tools I use to empower me. Rails and Ruby are such tools. As for "fun", I would say it's a side effect of using good tools.

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