Author Archives: admin

I Miss My Old Graphics

Someone on Twitter mentioned BeOS, and that got me looking over my old pictures from the previous incarnations of my blog. This was how the site looked when I hand-coded it. I miss it.

Old Graphics (RedHat & Ximian Desktop)

I had created the graphics all by hand in a graphic editing program that came with FrontPage 97, called Microsoft Image Composer. (I still can’t drive Photoshop.)

This is what it looked like before I did a big upgrade. I still like the look of the title with the color gradient.

Old Old Graphics (BeOS)

I still use the 4-corner gradient I created with that program as my desktop background on every computer I use.

Scripture, as it Relates to Government Policy

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on various social media sites, wherein liberals support taking a lax view on illegal immigration by using scriptural anecdotes, and paraphrasing things Jesus is quoted as saying. I have to say that I find it pretty hypocritical.

After many decades of trying to remove all traces of God and the Bible from any public or legal space — and telling “bitter clingers” that any reference to scripture as it relates to sin was antiquated and offensive — people on the political left are now trying to invoke the teachings of the Bible and the words of Jesus to influence government policy, presumably to shame people on the political right into compliance.

“All scripture is inspired by God,” and I totally agree that we SHOULD be taking a “kinder, gentler,” more-compassionate approach to immigration. However, if we’re going to justify that approach *based on the Bible*, then, while we’re at it, I welcome the opportunity to go back and talk about some other things that we, as a nation, have been ignoring in the scriptures, particularly for the past 30 or 40 years or so.

Web Development Framework Trends

Back in April of 2014, I was vacillating between using Ruby on Rails, and Entity Framework on ASP.NET, for a new project. All other things being equal in programming or system administration, I like to sit on the intersection of functionality, for actual productivity, and popularity, for availability of reference material. To check on the relative amount of helpful documentation I could expect to find, I ran a comparison on Google Trends.

April, 2014

Disappointingly, Rails seemed to be losing ground to EF.NET, at least in terms of Google searches. I tried to console myself by saying that Rails was mature by that time, and EF was still struggling to find its niche, which both reflected in the results. Five years later, I stand by that interpretation.

For comparison, I wanted to see what the situation looked like today. Both technologies were trending down since the last snapshot. I took one guess as to why, and this is what I saw.

July, 2019

For the fun of it, I threw in another couple of terms…

July, 2019, with Frameworks

Yikes. The popularity of React and Angular has stomped the axis of the graph. Clearly, Javascript-based front-end technologies have taken over web development mindshare.

I find this state of affairs to be morose. Some time ago, through a series of inescapable constraints, I was backed into a corner to write a new web application in Java/Javascript. Through other, defaulting logic gates, I wound up trying to use Spring Boot and Angular 2, in particular. I found them both to be tedious, laborious, and almost utterly devoid of helpful documentation on the internet. The only consolation I can take from the graph, above, is that React seems to be winning against Angular. I haven’t tried it yet, but it gives me hope that it’s better.

In the end, after literally weeks of reading and searching, I found exactly one, non-trivial example of how to use this stack, and that was only because I sent an email to the guy who seemed to be the chief evangelist of Java/JS on the internet. While that was great, his example was so out of date, I couldn’t reconcile how to translate his approach into modern idioms. Coming from the Oracle/Java world, this stack is intended to be all things to all people, and it shows. There is no commonly-accepted way of doing things with it that people seem to agree on.

If you’re creating some sort of enterprise-y, company-wide system, containing highly-important data, I could see breaking the backend and the frontend apart along language/framework lines, to facilitate having different teams coding them. (Even though the strict typing of a JS frontend is going to drive both sides crazy.) But for a tiny, departmental web app? Containing no sensitive data? That just tracks dates? Which might be used by a handful of people? Using a Java/JS solution for this is like using a nuke to get rid of a gopher in your back yard.

Rails shines the brightest when making small, line-of-business apps like this. Fifteen years after the first release of Rails, there is still nothing in the web development world that can touch it for productivity. Ruby’s interpreted nature — while prone to being slower, compared to typed, compiled languages — is precisely what makes it so easy to use, and so flexible in the role of a database ORM.

It seems that Entity Framework never really got off the ground. Most people writing about it recommend using something else, like Dapper or nHibernate. Dapper does so little for you that you might as well just write text-substituted SQL yourself, and nHibernate is really out of date, so I’d rather just put up with EF’s limitations. And, again, I’m sad, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to get backed into a corner of using ASP.NET for another project. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s .NET Core, for future-proofing, but, for the same reason, EF Core isn’t any better.

Ruby on Rails on Windows is not just possible, it’s fabulous using WSL2 and VS Code – Scott Hanselman

I’ve been trying on and off to enjoy Ruby on Rails development on Windows for many years. I was doing Ruby on Windows as long as 13 years ago. There’s been many valiant efforts to make Rails on Windows a good experience. However, given that Windows 10 can run Linux with WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) and now Windows runs Linux at near-native speeds with an actual shipping Linux Kernel using WSL2, Ruby on Rails folks using Windows should do their work in WSL2.

Source: Ruby on Rails on Windows is not just possible, it’s fabulous using WSL2 and VS Code – Scott Hanselman

I’ve been doing Rails for about 13 years as well, and I’ve been following Scott for probably about that long. Heck, being a tech evangelist for Microsoft, it was probably him that alerted me to the fact that WSL was being put into Windows to begin with. And using it for Ruby on Rails development is precisely why I wanted it. So when it was first released in Windows 10 Insiders Edition, I hastily upgraded my gaming rig to try it out.

There were literal, show-stopping bugs that prevented doing the “normal”  kind of Rails development, where you install a Ruby version manager, then install the bundle gem, then install Rails, then bootstrap your site.

I keep wanting to say “emerge” when I mean “install.” I guess using Gentoo broke my brain, but, really, that’s what’s going on. When you’re doing this sort of thing, you’re installing software that’s dependent on your environment, which is exactly why portage was created.

I filed some bugs, and watched and waited. A couple of them were fixed pretty quickly. But then other problems became apparent, and they weren’t going to be fixed any time soon, so I gave up.

Then they announced the release of a big upgrade to the system. So I tried again. And, again, I found problems that prevented me from being able to develop with Rails. So I gave up, and stopped watching this space.

Now Microsoft has been evangelizing a total rewrite of WSL, and how they’ve made it “native,” and how this fixes compatibility problems and speed issues. But all they’ve done is make the tool a total virtualization of the environment, when the whole point of WSL was that it was not a virtualized environment!

WSL was supposed to lead “open source” development (like Rails, and Node) out of the dark ages on Windows, and make it a first-class workflow on the platform. This was easy to believe, because Microsoft was really lagging in these popular development scenarios, and it could be expected that they were motivated to create a bridge to get back on equal footing with Mac as the platform of choice for working with modern web technologies.

However, the situation on Windows is now worse than ever. It used to be such a hassle to do this kind of work on Windows that you’d install VirtualBox, create a VM, and do everything there. Now, WSL is basically doing that for you, and not even giving you the courtesy of a GUI to manage the virtualization settings. I guess the positive way of looking it is that they’ve created a VirtualBox-type Linux VM with all the file-system mapping pre-configured.

It’s telling that the workflow that Scott is proposing is to use Visual Studio Code with a plugin for remote development.

Whatever. It’s a hard pass for me, dawg. If I needed this, I’d just install VirtualBox, and be explicit about what I’m doing.

I’ve been using RubyInstaller for years now, on my work laptop, and it “just works.” I mean, sure, you’re limited to a specific version of Ruby, but I just make that my base, and “emerge” that one on my Mac and the Linux host server, and everything lines up. So my need for any sort of virtualized Linux environment on Windows has already been satisfied.

Making Windows Tolerable

I got a new job a couple months ago. I suspect that IT departments of monstrously-large, international corporations are all reading from the same playbook in how to setup and administrate their networks, users, applications, and computers. The IT overhead was pretty overbearing at the previous place, and the only changes at the new place are purely cosmetic. (I hear of places which are worse than both of them, so it can be worse.)

Perfect example: the wifi is locked down, just the same, in both places. I don’t know how they do this. It must be either certificate-based authentication, or RADIUS. The end result is that you simply cannot put a personal device on the wifi network. If a customer were to demand it, they can make an exception, but for only a week. I guess that’s better than the old place, which only gave out single-day exceptions, but both organizations are demonstrating a cutting-off-you-nose-to-spite-your-face approach to the problem. As before, I can plug a computer into the wired network, and carry on just fine, thank you very much, so what did the policy do for them or for me? The answer is: inconvenience us both. So, first tip, for free, is:

Get a cellular plan with a provider which has good coverage at your office

I switched from AT&T to Verizon, because AT&T coverage around Columbus is famously bad, and AT&T has been telling people for a decade that they are going to put up more towers, but they never do.

Next? Proxies. OMG, proxies. What gives? The old place had a single proxy everything had to go through, and it needed authentication via the domain credentials. If you didn’t use it, or didn’t authenticate, you weren’t getting to the internet. Period. The new place has a world-wide conglomeration of about 20 proxies, depending on office location, and you get passed between them depending on what you need to get to. And they, too, need authentication via domain credentials. However, unlike before, these proxies can just be bypassed! If you use one of the proxies, you can’t reach about half the internet, like YouTube or Reddit, but if you simply do not configure your connection to use a proxy, you can get to everything just fine! And faster! So, second tip, to make Windows usable, in this situation is:

Use Firefox as your main browser, and install the FoxyProxy plugin

I just configure the plugin to use the local proxy to get to the couple of corporate machines I actually need to access, and it all works out great. I had to do this sort of thing at a different previous company, so I was prepared for this particular annoyance.

Next: Working with Linux. For many years, I’ve watched Windows Services for Linux take shape, and was secretly hopeful about it, even despite my general distrust and dislike for Microsoft and Windows. After it came out, I tried using it to develop with Ruby on Rails. It failed in about 3 different ways before I gave up. I’ve continued to try it, and it continues to fail in obscure ways because it’s not, in fact, “real” Linux, no matter what the paid advocates say (nor how cool they may be). So, third tip, to develop with practical web application stacks:

Avoid WSL, and keep using VirtualBox

The second half of this tip is, of course, what to do about a terminal and SSH. I thought I had it figured out at the previous company with Cmder and PuTTY. However, at this new company, people use MobaXterm, and OMG how have I not found this before? It’s seriously great. So, third tip, part deux:

Use MobaXterm

Windows 10. Ug. I’m actually glad that Microsoft is… Microsoft, at this point, and allows companies to do unspeakable things to the registry and policies on the system that they will not expose to plebeian end users. Corporations have reined in the worst of the Windows 10 abuses. At least the playbook that big companies are using includes things like preventing the installation of game demos and requiring centralized approval of updates, which prevents a lot of day-1 update fiascos.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Windows is still Windows, and you still have to use it all day long. One thing I really have come to despise is the Windows Explorer. As time goes on, it becomes a bigger and bigger sore point to me, because it’s so jarring after using Apple’s Finder all day long. About 15 years ago, a coworker introduced me to Directory Opus. It’s not cheap, but it’s an incredible replacement for the native application. I’ve bitten the bullet, and bought it again. Fourth!

Buy Directory Opus

Seriously. Just spend the money.

The rest is a laundry list:

  • Use RubyInstaller to do Rails development. Everything else is broken.
  • Buy Sublime Text 3.
  • Install the Droid Sans Mono font. Other fonts may look a little nicer for coding and terminal work, but it works really well with the Windows anti-aliasing hinting system.
  • Buy Tower for a git client. You could use Sourcetree, which is free, but Tower is waaay faster.
  • Avoid the use of Skype wherever and whenever possible. It was great before Microsoft bought it, and now it’s just a “corporatized” trash fire. At least we get to save conversations at this company!
  • Go ahead and use OneNote, but please do not share the notebooks with your team. That way lies madness.