By Nathan L. Walls

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Reading and Learning: Sept. 8, 2015

Here’s another long update, with lots of worthwhile reading and listening. I’m still working on my processes and tooling so these are less cumbersome to edit and publish and consequently less effort to read.

Articles and books

I read the following:

Stationed on the West Coast of the United States, flanked by the blue hues of the Pacific Ocean, is a city that’s home to some of the greatest companies in the…

Humorous take on San Francisco startup culture.

Q: How do I convince my client to pay for research? If I have one FAQ, this is it. Every time I talk with other designers about research, someone asks this…

Erika Hall of Mule Design covers getting essential project research paid for. Similar to her book, Just Enough Research, which is very valuable.

If you haven’t seen byebug before, I recommend that you check it out. It’s a great debugger for Ruby 2.x. … The basic setup is pretty simple. Just install the gem. If you use the byebug method anywhere in your code, execution will stop at that point and you’ll be dropped into a debug console. You can ever set it up to use pry.

Byebug and Pry are two essentials in my toolkit. This is a nice write-up of using Byebug when you’re running a Rails app on Pow.

When I joined Atomic fresh out of school 11 years ago, I didn’t realize I was making the best career decision a young software developer could make. I was…

Switching contexts every two or three months, particularly early in a development career makes for great seasoning. Learning how to learn business domains is an incredibly valuable skill.

Dunbar’s Number is a favorite blunt diagnosis for the pains that affect rapidly growing teams. The number, which is somewhere between 100 and 250 describes a…

An older Michael Lopp piece on the difference between layers of employees. Don’t think like Manager and Direct Reports. Think about who was in early and who arrived later. It’s the difference between the first 5 people at a company, the second group of 15 and the third group of holy crap, who are you people!?

I’ve been on both sides of this at the same company and it is very interesting territory.

Model level caching is something that’s often ignored, even by seasoned developers. Much of it’s due to the misconception that, when you cache the views, you don’t need to cache at the lower levels. While it’s true that much of a bottleneck in the Rails world lies in the View layer, that’s not always the case.

The Internet recently fell in love with picture-parsing websites that guess your age, and whether someone is your twin. Now it offers another spin on novelty…

Like lots of problems we attempt to solve with technology, identifying whether or not a picture has naked people in it sounds easy until you have to identify and handle context. Then, it gets a lot more complex.

When we type something into our terminal program, we’ll often see output. For example:

$ echo hello

As we can see, echo hello is a command that means “output hello”. But…

Gabe Berke-Williams covers the ins and outs of STDIN, STDOUT, and STDERR.

When you use a rescue clause in Ruby, you can specify what kinds of exceptions you want to rescue. All you need to do is provide a list of exception classes…

You’ll notice more Honey Badger links showing up more in this listing. Their blog is pretty great.

Ruby application servers are typically used together with a web server like nginx. When user requests a page from your Rails app, nginx delegates the request to…

Nothing could be simpler and more boring than the case statement. It’s a holdover from C. You use it to replace a bunch of ifs. Case closed. Or is it?

Nice exploration of some great uses for case.

Pyotr Stolyarsky died in 1944, he was considered Russia’ s greatest violin teacher. He counted among his pupils a coterie of stars, including David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein, and a school for gifted musicians in his native Odessa was named after him in 1933. But Stolyarsky couldn’t play the violin anywhere near as well as his best students. What he could do was whisper metaphors into their ears. He might lean over and explain how his mother cooked Sabbath dinner. His advice gave no specific information on what angle the bow should describe, or how to move the fingers across the frets to create vibrato. Instead, it distilled his experience of the music into metaphors his students could understand.

This article is coming up on two years old, but I only saw it come up recently. Thoroughly engaging on improving machine learning in a way I still can’t quite wrap my head around.

It’s becoming more and more common to see malware installed not at the server, desktop, laptop, or smartphone level, but at the router level. Routers have become quite capable, powerful little computers in their own right over the last 5 years, and that means they can, unfortunately, be harnessed to work against you.

I write about this because it recently happened to two people I know.

Watch your router firmware, everyone.

Here’s a little conference speaking tip: don’t introduce yourself. Nobody cares who you are or what you’ve done. At least, not yet.

I saw Avdi speak at RubyNation 2014 and he structured that talk very well.

A common Ruby pattern for injecting values from an Array into to a Hash is to use the Enumerable#inject method and pass the hash as the memo.

Good info on working with Enumerable data structures in Ruby, something that I’m still building my experience with, because they are awesome.

Fair warning. You’re going to hate this one. I want to stop pushing the web forward for a while. I want a moratorium on new browser features for about a year or so

I understand the sentiment, but believe this to be a futile request.

In 1969, Milton Packin was pulled over for speeding on a New Jersey highway. He appealed the ticket, claiming that he wasn’t driving the car; it was the cruise…

One of many aspects I find interesting about what looks like a future of at least partially autonomous personal vehicles.

First things first, AWS and Heroku are different things. AWS offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) whereas Heroku offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS).…

Start with Heroku when you’re evaluating whether or not an MVP has traction. If it does, you can afford the time to prepare it for AWS.

One creative writing teacher from Montana’s reinvention of Western thought, and why it’s undergoing a renaissance

Rails 5 is right around the corner (currently targeting Fall 2015) and there are some exciting features coming up.

Best practices for great multi-device web experiences Create flexible, not fixed, layouts. Make your projects look great and interact beautifully.

All too often, I sit in a meeting with a client and conversation goes a lot like this. Me: “Okay, looks like we have 4 features fully fleshed out here. When do you need each of these by.” Client: “We need these yesterday”

Favoring a list of prioritized items is very instructive about what a developer should work on. The project sponsor or business stakeholder’s vote on priority is a clear signal to the development team.

MongoDB is evil. It… … loses data (sources: 1 , 2 ) … in fact, for a long time, ignored errors by default and assumed every single write succeeded no…

Yep, it’s a polemic. I was a MongoDB skeptic going in. I remain a MongoDB skeptic.

RSpec is an excellent test framework with a large community and an active team of maintainers. It sports a powerful DSL that can make testing certain things…

Older piece from Joe Ferris, talking about structuring RSpec tests for understandability over making use of all of RSpec’s features. Learn what a Mystery Guest is, if you don’t already know.

A lesson I learned early in my career as a programmer was to be wary of accidental creativity. If you’re the type of person who really cares about getting the details right, it’s critical to first decide which details truly matter. Not doing so is a recipe for endless frustration, as one will inevitably be distracted and defeated each day — sweating more arbitrary decisions than meaningful ones.

I use sets now…

I’ve been using Ruby for quite some time, but it was only recently that I found a hidden gem in the standard library, the Set class . If you are familiar with…

…sets are cool.

Ruby 2.0 introduced support for keyword arguments. If you’re already familiar with keyword arguments, feel free to skip to the next bit! Keyword arguments…

This is the journey of designing & coding this site, continuing from part 1. I will share how I went from the early mockups to the final site, with the many…

This is the first chapter of how I designed this site. I will share some sketches, deleted concepts and old prototypes explaining how it evolved along the way.…

An ongoing struggle I’ve wrestled with all my career is regarding estimations and their purpose in software development. A key component of SCRUM is that,…

When testing a Rails application with RSpec, there are many different test types to from. When should you pick each type and how do you combine them into…

The find_all/select methods take an enumerable collection return a new array of only the elements for which the given block returns true. It’s the simplest way…

Quick, what’s wrong with this Rails migration? Yep - it can be null. Your Boolean column is supposed to be only true or false. But now you’re in the madness of…

Many developers hit a point 5-10 years in where they feel like becoming a manager is the only way up. And at that point, they’re dangerous. 5-10 years exp?…

This tweet starts a chain with a worthwhile thread to think on. How do companies encourage career growth in their development staff? What do developers look to do when they want to level up?

When you use something as much as Ruby developers use Hashes, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all.

But I’m here to tell you that the humble ruby Hash has a few tricks up its sleeve. Far from being a dumb key-value system, the Hash object gives you the power to do some very interesting and sophisticated things.

Weather plays an important role in many failures of engineering systems. Snow can overload a roof, ice can build up on transmission lines and towers, rain can infiltrate electrical boxes, and low temperatures can make oils viscous and difficult to pump.

Dr. Drang explains the import of weather data to his engineering practice and how he retrieves and processes data in a way he can use it easily in his work.

I always knew this day would come. The day that Facebook decided my name was not real enough and summarily cut me off from my friends, family and peers and left…

These last two pieces are worth reading and thinking about the consequences of decisions we make as developers, designers and companies. Algorithms and policies are as neutral and benign as the people that write them. Which is to say, not at all. It’s very easy to imagine our positions as neutral and positive because we – generally – have good intentions. But good intentions are not absolution from bias. Workplace diversity, equality, and a generous sense of empathy are necessary to reduce as much bias as possible.

Screencasts and presentations

I watched or attended the following:


I listened to the following:

For some background on what’s going on here, see the first tool sharpening post