…And We’re Back!

Or rather I am back.  As in I am going back to blogging.  I apologize for the months of silence.  Moving houses, and migrating web hosting providers will do that to a person.  Migrating the web hosting to a completely self-managed environment was quite a learning process, and took quite a bit of time.  I did not realize at the time, that my websites would be down for months.  Fortunately everything is back to normal now.

I won’t commit to posting on a regular schedule, since that is simply not realistic.  However I missed quite a few excellent opportunities to blog in a timely manner.    Especially everything surrounding PyCon and all the new things I’ve learned since that time.  I will try to make that up by writing articles about events, knowledge and ideas.

It is good to be back.

Now a Professional Pythonista at Points!

I have been working for the past month as a Software Development Engineer at Points International.  While my role is not officially as a Python developer, a large portion of my work is building Python applications, services and libraries.  Also I get to develop in Java as well and maintain some very well engineered systems as well, so I get to deal with both worlds.  Even after a month, I am super excited to work at such a cool company and with awesome people.  It really feels like a bit of a dream job, in terms of what technology I get to use (Python, Linux desktops and distributed version control systems, w00t!) and the processes (yes Agile and proper software engineering totally works when done right).

But it is the people within the company that really makes it shine.  I get to be surrounded by smart, savvy, and welcoming coworkers, including a number of important and active Pythonistas that I look up to.  My team is just amazing, supportive, and I feel that in this short time span I’ve become a much better developer thanks to them.  Even on stressful days I feel motivated and excited to come to work and give it my all.  I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to be at Points. :)

Distro Hopping

Sorry for the much delayed update, however this year has been an hectic and busy one. (New job, new house, lots of random unexpected events along the way, like two funerals and two weddings in a single month, etc. Long story.) Plus I really hoped to change blog platforms, but that is a story for another time.

Explaining the Journey

With so many things changing in my life, I decided to change up the Linux distribution I’m running. Now I have a large set of requirements being both a developer and gamer. I need a distribution that can handle Python, Java, Android and Qt Linux development. Also I want my distro to run Steam, and handle the Nvidia Optimus graphics card in my laptop, properly.

(Sidenote: A word to the wise, avoid Optimus cards as they are a pain to setup under Linux. I got mine because I naively assumed that all Nvidia cards are easily and nicely supported under Linux. Recently I heard that Nvidia promised to help the Nouveau devs to make the Optimus experience under Linux nicer. But I would not hold my breath to wait for things to get better soon.)

Long Story Short

The shortest version of the story: After doing a fair bit of distro hopping including using some uncommon distros, I am back to using Kubuntu.

Specifically the path I took was:
Kubuntu → openSUSE → Mageia → Debian → Linux Mint → Sabayon → Kubuntu u2192

The rationale behind all this? Well read on. :)

Kubuntu → openSUSE

After hearing about Canonical’s plans to use their own display manager “Mir” instead of “Wayland”, and experiencing random breakage with Kubuntu I decided to change distros. When I heard that the main dev behind Kubuntu was not going to be funded by Canonical, I decided it was time to jump ship.

I decided to retrace my steps, and try new versions of distros that I used in the past. Technically before I started using Kubuntu I ran on Gentoo Linux. But I was not about to go back to compiling and configuring everything on my system. So my first stop was openSUSE.

SuSE and now its community driven variant openSUSE, always has been a very slick distro in terms of supporting KDE.  The version I was running was no different. I was also encouraged by the large number of packages available including a nice setup for both Steam and bumblebee (this being the program that adds decent support for Nvidia Optimus under Linux).

openSUSE is a gorgeous distro overall, except for one very important issue… openSUSE feels like it was built for a corporate desktop. The number of PolicyKit warnings that I received whenever I tried to suspend and resume was surreal. While I am familiar with the lingo and ideas behind SELinux, AppArmour, etc, I could not for the life of my figure out how to get my laptop to resume and suspend without some silly PolicyKit message blocking me. openSUSE was not meeting my needs.

openSUSE → Mageia

With openSUSE failing me, I decided to go further in time to my original distro Mandrake/Mandriva. I found out that some Russian firm had bought out the French made Mandriva and as part of a general restructuring effort laid off some of the maintainers. These maintainers started their own version of Mandriva called Mageia. While the distro and its infrastructure is still fairly young, I was encouraged by the fact that some experienced maintainers were behind the project.

I was amazed with the amount of polish but into a budding community driven distro. I ran against some rough edges with Python support, but those were resolved with some help and new updates. I was impressed and I took my first steps to becoming a maintainer myself. The community was very receptive and welcoming. While I ended up using Mageia for weeks, I did not stay with the distro.

Why didn’t I stay with Mageia? I could not get bumblebee running on my machine. I could of fought some more, learn how to maintain a package and help build out the distro. But after some introspection, I realized that I simply do not have time contributing as a maintainer to a distro. There is a lot of work involved, and considering everything going on in my life right now, I needed to get a distro I could rely on and work with right now.

Magiea → Debian

Debian seemed like the logical choice for a stable Linux. The distro is entirely community driven, and has been around forever. So after a bit of haggling with the network installer, I managed to get a KDE desktop running on Debian. Debian definitely run on mature, stable software, which is perfect for someone running a server or managing a desktop configuration that has been around for years. Unfortunately the Linux desktop has only become very stable and usable in past while. Also the Debian community are sticklers when it comes to open source licenses, and how distributable
the software is legally. Unfortunately again, closed source firmware and other software makes things much more difficult. Getting my Broadcom wireless network card, and my Nvidia graphics chip working was just not happening.

Also I assumed that since Ubuntu worked so well, that Debian would be just as well setup from the get-go. I realize now how much work Canonical put into configuring their Debian base and smoothing all the wrinkles out. However I was not up for doing all that work myself, just to stay with Debian.

Debian → Linux Mint

Debian stayed installed on my laptop for a mere two days, before I got fed up with it. The next logical choice to avoid Ubuntu, but get some of the niceties of the platform was to try out Linux Mint. One of my good friends runs it and she enjoys using it thoroughly. I also watched and read some good reviews about the latest stable release of Linux Mint 15, and how much polish the devs put into the KDE desktop. I was intrigued, so I tried it out.

Linux Mint 15 definitely has a lot of polish. However nothing that spectacular that does not come standard to KDE. Except for the extra System Settings panel to handle PPAs (private Ubuntu repos), which is pretty darn cool. I did run into issues with trying to run packages originally meant for Ubuntu. There were slight and subtle incompatibilities, and I eventually gave up trying to fix things.

Linux Mint → Sabayon

By now I had run into a moment of madness. No good easy-to-use RPM based distros remained to try out. Fedora sounded too experimental for my liking. The Debian universe had been pretty much a let down. I debated using Netrunner, a KDE distro, by Blue Systems. (Blue Systems being that weird German company that somehow funds KDE development on Ubuntu, Linux Mint KDE and Netrunner. But no one has an idea how they fund themselves. Maybe by European Union funds, which seems to be the popular way to fund nebulous entities and projects in Europe.)

So I had a moment of madness, and despair brought on by no new leads while looking at potential distros on DistroWatch (http://www.distrowatch.com/). In that moment I decided to try a system not based on the traditional package systems. That left systems in the Arch or Gentoo families. Arch itself fell into the too much maintenance category. Gentoo did as well. Manjaro looks promising, but I’ll wait until it matures or fades way due to its small team. I tried Sabayon Linux, something I did not expect to do.

Sabayon Linux is definitely much nicer than Gentoo to maintain. Everything worked out of the box too. Except Sabayon felt very much like an early adopters hobbyist distro. An update or a new package installation, downloaded half the universe. My laptop ran faster… and ate its battery so quickly that it would just shutdown… randomly while running on battery. I could run Steam and my development environments, just never without worrying about my laptop suddenly powering off.

I realized I could not continue on like this…

Return to Kubuntu

Now I am back to running on Kubuntu, and everything just works well enough. I could of gone back to Mageia, and hoped that the upcoming release of Mageia 4 would of resolved most of my issues. Ultimately I went back to Kubuntu, since for right now it works well enough and meets my needs.

I work with Ubuntu at my new workplace, plus I support a couple of other Kubuntu machines running at home. I no longer use the tools that caused me grief when some libraries changed in Ubuntu. For better or worse, support for new applications or hardware is targeted at Ubuntu. Also it is a bit of a relief that Blue Systems stepped in and now funds development of Kubuntu. Canonical’s plans for transitioning to Mir, still do not affect me at least on my current version. Also this might change in the upcoming release, and I maybe stuck on this version of Kubuntu for a while.

Or things maybe change, maybe Canonical will change its mind and work with the Wayland community. Maybe Nvidia will fix up their terrible driver support due to market pressures. Or maybe I will have to move off to Mageia or Manjaro eventually. In the meantime I can be productive, and once things will calm down again, maybe I’ll go on another round of distro hopping.

Update (2013 October 18): Just upgraded to Kubuntu 13.10 yesterday!  I am encouraged by the news that the Kubuntu devs will push forward on using Wayland and support Kubuntu into the future.  So it looks like I will continue using and enjoying Kubuntu well into the future.  Now I’ll just need to learn how to package DEBs, and I’ll be able to help out occasionally too. :)

Spring Cleaning for 2013

With Easter just around the corner and possibly spring coming shortly after–Canadians have to wait a bit longer for spring t0 properly arrive and winter to make her final exit–that it would make sense to update my blog.   Many things have changed in the past few weeks .  Like we have a new pope, Pope Francis, just in time for Easter.  (I’m not going to weigh in on my opinions of the decision of the Conclave, other than I have mixed feelings.  And each passing day does not ease my general feeling about unease.)  Some things have not changed.  Like most things in the world I guess.

With the slow coming of warmer weather, I have a good excuse for a bit of spring cleaning and growing myself.  In terms of spring cleaning, I have meant to really organize my activities and my surroundings.  Unfortunately since I had to make do without my laptop for a few weeks, that has not helped me get more things done.  Especially when it comes to dealing with my overflowing inbox.  Apologies for everyone expecting me to get back to them.  I’m getting there slowly.

I did get to play around with setting up Python on my hosting environment and with Clojure.  Clojure, while definitely useful still feels like an exercise in academics than industrial programming.  (Still one can write a full implementation of Snake/Nibbles in Clojure in under 100 lines of code?  Madness!)  Python on the other hand is too much fun to feel like work.  I considered using something like a static website generator like Nikola or benjen to port some of my websites.  But I think for kicks, I will go the route of using Flask and craft my own mini-site just because working with Python is a such a joy.

One unfortunately necessary bit of spring cleaning will be changing Linux distros again.  It seems that Canonical is doing a fair bit of wild experimentation nowadays.  Too wild and it smells like they are suffering from NIH (not invented here).  The idea to chuck out everyone’s hard work on replacing X with Wayland, with their own thing was just too much.  So it looks like I’m going back to openSUSE for good.  It is just a matter of when I get around to migrating all my systems over.  I have no real issue with Canonical doing what they want with their own distro Ubuntu.  I just don’t agree with the philosophy, and the needless experimentation, especially since I am quite happy with using a relatively standard KDE 4 desktop.

Hopefully once I finish all the spring cleaning I’ll get to finish up and show off some the projects I’ve been working on.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See Y’all in 2013!

Just a quick post this time, since this is one heck of a busy day.  Actually the whole year has been kept me super-busy beyond my wildest dream.  While I could of made do with less stress, it definitely pushed me to grow out of necessity.  I definitely am a stronger professional than in the beginning of the year.  I can consider myself a senior developer and be confident in my technical, communication and inter-personal skills.

And I learned to dance, no kidding.  I learned to do things I did not imagine I could do.  I feel that I am calmer, stronger and better person overall.  Of course I can not sit on my laurels.  There is still so much to do, learn and explore.  I look forward to this coming year.  Hopefully you do too.

I wish everyone a Happy Belated Christmas and Happy New Year!  See you all in 2013!

PyCon and Beyond

Last weekend I went to the first ever PyCon Canada.  What an incredible event!  I met so many friendly, amazing, smart and talented people.  I learned so many new things, that essentially my knowledge of Python, and web technologies practically jumped to the next level over the course of 2 days.  The entire event left so inspired, that I’ve been hacking on a Python web application that I hope to release into the wild sooner than later.  Another fun Django Toronto night followed, and I learned so much there too.  I really can not wait to try out all these new technologies.  I have not gotten in touch with everyone from PyCon and Django Toronto, that I would like to.  Just been so swamped.  But I promise to do so shortly.

In the meantime, I hinted at a Python based web application that I am working on.  I won’t go into the details of the site in this post, since I’d rather show it off than talk about it. :)  I plan on building it out using Flask, SQLAlchemy and Jinja2.  Currently I am working through those technologies to build a particular website, and hopefully mastering them as I work out the details.  More details will follow soon…

For those who missed out on PyCon CA 2012: the videos of the talk are already up!  Check them out!

Now Accepting Tips via Gittip

I know this is totally an artsy thing to do but… you can tip me now!  So if you find my blog entries or the code that I put up on Github useful, feel free to tip me for my efforts.  Thankful my day job at Bluerush pays for my day-to-day.  But I would appreciate even a minor tip or a tweet, if you find these things useful.  It is almost like buying me a coffee or a beer. :)

Cheers!

The Python Scene, Accepting Javascript, and Lots of REST

Life continues at a breakneck pace.  Despite my best laid plans, the surest way of getting things done at the moment is in a sort of out-order manner.  However I did want to share a brief update on my journey into the Python and web application development world.  Instead of separate long form articles, I will briefly touch upon various topics.  (Note that this post itself has been in my work queue for over 3 weeks.  Mea culpae.)

The Python Scene in Toronto: Django Toronto and PyCon

I’ve now gone to two Django Toronto meetups and really enjoyed meeting with the Python community in Toronto.  The majority of web application developers in Toronto, deal with Java, Ruby or PHP (and of course Javascript).  However the Python community is there and growing.  They are very welcoming, and I have enjoyed each of the Django Toronto meetups I have gone to.  Also I feel like everytime I go there, I learn a lot and come back a better (or at least better informed) developer.  At the last meetup, I gained a deeper insight into crafting REST web services.  Something that I immediately applied to my day job the next day.  The one funny thing about Django Toronto, is that while the Django framework is an amazing platform, many Python developers move away from it once they scale up.  That is reflected in the meetups, since the topic of different platforms such as Flask come up.

The most exciting thing that is happening in the Toronto area for Python developers is PyCon.  This will be the first year that PyCon comes to Toronto.  I will definitely be there and I have been preparing by working on some real world Python applications.  If you will be there, I’d love to meet up with you!

How I Stopped Worrying and Started to Like Javascript

Javascript has been a language and platform I have avoided as much as possible.  If I can I try to stick to fancy tricks that one can pull off HTML5 and CSS3.  However one can only go so far without adding scripting to a web application.  Plain old Javascript still is a pain in the neck in a browser environment.  In other environments, it might be different as a scripting language.  However in such cases, I usually reach for Python rather than Javascript.  In a web app environment most of my experience has been with Sencha ExtJS.  While ExtJS is a remarkably powerful and flexible platform, it is problematic.  Aside from the licensing confusion of the original versions of ExtJS, I found that ExtJS contains a lot of automagic.  Building a ExtJS application consists more of configuring a number of components, and getting them to do more or less what you want to do.  Finding the right configuration has resulted in many stressful hours for myself and many other developers that I know.  Given all that developing with Javascript has left a bad taste in my mouth, until recently.

Two main things have changed my mind about Javascript.  Aside from the fact any sort of more advanced web application requires a full-on Javascript powered client, Javascript is not an entirely evil language for the web.  Doug Crawford (of JSLint fame) makes a good claim in his book Javascript: The Good Parts, that Javascript has some nice parts.  Yes, there are some ugly parts and needs a lot of love in the coming version.  But it is quite good for what is essentially a Schema-like functional/prototype language with Java-ish syntax.  Especially considering how quickly it was created at Netscape, it is not a terrible language.  If you are not convinced, I highly recommend watching the video below:

 

 

The other thing that changed my mind about Javascript is jQuery.  After fighting with ExtJS, the minimalist approach to Javascript development espoused in jQuery is refreshing.  I essentially learned the basics of jQuery overnight, trying to firefight a work project where office politics had gone amok.  (Aside: My take on politics in general is avoid it.  Get stuff done, not argue about it.)  Yes you have to know what you are doing with jQuery, and you don’t get a fancy MVC/MVT/etc. framework with jQuery.  But if you don’t fear writing Javascript by hand, and you want a library that abstracts the cross-browser stupidity, then jQuery is the answer.  For the next big web application that I am currently writing I will definitely be using jQuery.

Lots of REST and JSON

As mentioned earlier in the post, I have been dealing with a lot of REST service and JSON.  It is an infinitely nicer and simpler manner to talk with a server application, than via SOAP and XML.  (XML has its place, but it has been overused and abused in the Java world.)  When working with Java I’ve worked with Jersey and SpringMVC for building REST services.  Spring in general just works better, aside from its crazy arcane configuration.  In Python I’ve started working with Flask to handle building REST services, which I find a lot lighter than Django that sort of thing.  Also JSON is an awesome idea.  More people should use it for more of their data interchange needs. :)

IntelliJ IDEA Makes It All Better

Not to sound like a promotional campaign (since I work in what essentially amounts to the advertising industry, it happens more often I’d like) but one of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to switch IDEs.  I used to swear by Eclipse as the be-all-end-all of development environments.  Then I discovered PyCharm for Python.  Soon after that I got to meet Jessamyn Smith at a Django Toronto meetup.  While were talking about the joys of switching away from Subversion to Git–Jessamyn wrote a great article about her own experiences of migrating to Git–she convinced me to look into IntelliJ IDEA as it had a better interface for managing Git operations.  She was pretty convincing, as that is my primary IDE nowadays.  No more mucking around and wasting time with Eclipse’s temperamental setup.  Things.  Just.  Work.  Meaning I can do work.

Hitting the Flask

Somethings die hard.  One of those things is my own insistence on having lots of control over my computing environment and development platforms.  This led me to using Linux late in high school.  After playing around with Django, and wanting to build my own applications I found myself hunting down various odd ways to get around Django’s defaults.  Do not get me wrong, Django has a ton of nice pre-build features and default that just work.  Unfortunately being a web application developer, I have my own experiences, expectations and assumptions.  They are not always right.  However I prefer frameworks that I can plug-and-play and give me a finer grain of control.  (Hence I prefer using Spring in my Java web apps.)  So I’ve discovered Flask, a great micro-framework for Python.  I like how it makes web programming easy, without making a whole wack-load of design assumptions.  It very much reminds of me of the best parts of Spring, and apparently it is very “Ruby on Rails” like.

Keeping Track of Time – Part 1 – Recognizing the Problem

I have a confession to make.  Like many other software developers, my time estimates are seem to vary from real time.  Yes, giving accurate time estimates are a difficult task, especially ones that are over long extended periods of time.  Add on top of that time seems like an illusion at times, and you have a perfect storm for inaccuracy.  However one of the hallmarks of a good senior developer are good time estimates.  So what to do?

Well you have to fix that problem like any else.  First lets do some research on the problem:

From the looks of it, the problem consists of breaking down a project or a problem into reasonable amounts.  Then one can build time estimates on the design, implementation, integration and testing of the components.  Sounds easy, yes?  Not quite, but that is a skill that can be developed.  How?  Well track the components needed to perform a certain task, measure the time it takes to finish the task and finally do analysis on the results.  Sure you can do this by hand, with nothing more than a pen, paper and stopwatch.  However this is far too tedious and onerus when developing.  Humanity invented and built computers for tasks just like this.  Again after a bit of searching online I found the following tools:

Over the next couple of days and weeks, I will play with each tool and try to figure out which works for me.  Finally I will write about which worked out the best for me overall.