Using Blender for Cover Design

One of the fun parts of writing Juggling JSON with jq, is that I can experiment with various things. From the technical writing side, working with Sphinx has forced me to learn the ins-and-outs of that technology. Also very likely I will need to get into working with LaTeX for more of the advanced PDF parts.

The book cover provided me with an excuse to work on my graphic design skills. I decided that I wanted to do something more than just use a stock photo or old-timey engraving (a.k.a. O’Reilly’s book covers). Instead I decided to use Blender to create a compelling cover image. Yes, it may sound like overkill, however using Blender harkens to past times. Before I settled on studying computer science at the University of Toronto, and working as a programmer, I considered becoming a 3D graphics artist. I played with 3D Studio Max in high school, and learned about drafting and animation. When faced with the reality of being proficient but not amazing at drawing, and the very real possibility of competing with many more talented and experienced artists in the market I decided against that career path. However this decision did not dissuade me from taking drawing in university or enthusiastically learning Maya to make an animation for a visual computing course.

So I took the excellent Youtube video tutorial by Blender Guru. After a few hours of watching the tutorial I came up with a final image like so:

Blender Doughnut scene

] Doughnut and cup scene created in Blender. Created on August 14, 2017

And boy did I learn a lot from the tutorial: navigating Blender’s confusing UI, modeling, texturing, lighting and rendering a final image.

As for the book cover I am working on a cell-shaded, low-poly scene involving penguins and juggling. The process has been pretty fun so far, even though quite time consuming. However I have finished my low-poly model of a penguin, and added rigging (internal skeleton with joints for movement):

Low-poly model of a penguin

] Low-poly model of a penguin for the Juggling JSON with jq book. Created on August 23, 2017

Rendered pose of a juggling penguin

] Rendered pose of the juggling penguin for the Juggling JSON with jq book. Created on August 23, 2017.

Juggling JSON with jq is Out Today

Apologies for the late post but it has been a busy day. As of today you can buy the early edition of Juggling JSON with jq on Gumroad. I am very excited since this is my first attempt at self publishing a book. Naturally the journey is still continuing as I work towards the final release of the book. All buyers of the book will get updates including the final version when it comes out.

I plan sending out an update on the book and the companion site/API that I am working on.

Getting Started with Writing a Technical ebook

The early release of my ebook Juggling JSON with jq comes out tomorrow! However this post is more about the process of writing the book itself.

Getting started on an technical ebook, (such as Juggling JSON with jq), requires a bit of upfront setup. On the ebook side, I decided to go the route of writing the book in Markdown, and generating the various formats using Sphinx. While I feel most comfortable using Markdown, and yet Sphinx uses reStructedText by default. So I had to coax Sphinx to accept Markdown by using a project called m2r. Generating the PDF version of the ebook took a bit to get working. Sphinx uses LaTeX to generate PDFs, and LaTeX while powerful can be clunky to work with. I wrapped everything up with an invoke script, and now I can quickly generating new versions of ebook in the various formats I want to support.

Something unique to writing technical books, is the need to have actual working examples. You can learn by reading, but working through exercises and examples re-enforces that learning. In the case of Unjumbling JSON with jq, I needed an example REST API that readers play with. I searched for some nice open APIs, but nothing seemed very compelling. Many of the open APIs require some form of user registration and non-trivial authentication method that would complicate the examples in the book. So I setup a simple demo API for the book. Thankfully with Docker and Flask, that isn’t a particularly daunting task. (Dockerizing most of my webapps definitely made my live easier overall.)

Finally using Gumroad made marketing and selling the book a lot more approachable. Getting everything setup for e-commerce is a daunting job, if you plan on doing it yourself. Thankfully for ebooks, and similar digital products, Gumroad solves most of the problems one can encounter. I definitely recommend using them if you are planning to do something similar.

Book Announcement: Unjumbling JSON with jq

jq is an amazing tool for querying and manipulating JSON in command-line, that I learned about from one of my good colleagues, Eric Olsen. And I feel that jq deserves a good book describing how to use this tool. Hence I am writing a book called Unjumbling JSON with jq on the topic.

As mentioned in a previous post, I originally planned on writing a single book on both jq and httpie. I divided the original book in two, because there is only a small overlap between the two. I wanted to show examples of grabbing a REST API response via httpie, and parsing the JSON output with jq. However basic querying a REST API is something that could be covered in a short section. By writing the books separately, I will be able to release them faster, and the books will be much more focused.

I plan on selling early drafts of the ebook on August 10th. Buyers of the ebook will get regular versions of the evolving drafts of the ebook, and a free upgrade to the final version of the book. I want to release the early drafts to get early reader feedback. In addition readers of the book will have access to the REST API that accompanies the book.

You can order the early version of Unjumbling JSON with jq from here].

WordPress Password Resets via MySQL

I have not completed the switch away from WordPress completely, (as this site and the justCheckers site show). I might switch to using something like Django CMS or Wagtail. Unfortunately I have not had as much time as I’d like to, to work on Rookeries, my own Flask based CMS

Still in the meantime, I managed to accidentally lock myself out of my own WordPress sites. Thankfully there are a few ways to reset passwords in WordPress. The most surefire way I found was to reset the password using MySQL. (Using the wp-cli tools looks interesting, but I didn’t feel like setting up get another PHP tool.) Most of the time you don’t need to do this. However if you’ve managed to forget your only admin password… well this will get you out of that problem. So what does resetting a WordPress password via MySQL, you ask?

  1. Log into your server via SSH (or to MySQL via a SSH tunnel if you have that enabled)
  2. Login into MySQL: mysql -u $MY_DB_USER -p
  3. Get the username if you have not already. You can look those up in the ${MY_WP_SUFFIX}_wp_users table.
  4. Finally reset the password, using the MD5() function and an update SQL statement: UPDATE "wp_users" SET "user_pass" = MD5('new_password') WHERE "wp_users"."user_login"= "username";
  5. Log in with the user using the regular WordPress login (e.g. https://my-wordpress.example.com/wp-login.php). Remember to change the password, as that will use a stronger hash than MD5 internally and is more secure.

And there you go!

Notify Me when Done “X” in KDE

One of the few Java webapps I work on at work, has a very long startup time. Unfortunately since the server startup code is proprietary and owned by the vendor, there is not much I can do about that. However it is easy to forget to check if the server has started up, I decided to that I needed a way for my computer to notify me that the webapp was up. Here is how I came up with a simple and quick way to do just that in KDE.

So my webapp has an health endpoint that can be easily queried via HTTP. With httpie the HTTP query was very easy, however to script httpie to keep querying until the result came back, meaning the server was up. At first I tried do a while with negation of the return code, and then I found on StackOverflow that the bash until command will do just that. (Without needing to figure out the appropriate negation).

The second part was figuring how to create notifications in KDE via the console. Turns out that kdialog will create both notifications and general popup alerts.

Putting the two together I came up:

until http :8080/my_health_endpoint; do echo 'Waiting...'; sleep 10; done; kdialog --passivepopup "Ready to go!" 10`

I added a sleep in there, to throttle the number of times that httpie would run. The second parameter on the kdialog dictates how long the notification popup will be around. Alternatively I could of used --msgbox if I wanted a dialog that I had to press ‘OK’ on.

Resources

Approaching Inbox Zero in Gmail

Earlier this year (yes I meant to send this out much earlier) I went to a meetup hosted by my local PyLadies group. There Tracy Osborn of Wedding Lovely and Hello Web App fame gave an amazing talk about marketing for developers. I was truly inspired by the talk, and I feel it was very relevant for me, especially as I try to launch my first product and startup Amber Penguin Software. I could write a series of blog posts just on the content from this one meetup alone, and I probably will over time. But today I’ll focus on one thing in particular that I’ve learned from Tracy.

Getting to Inbox Zero

Nowadays I try to not organize my day to day tasks, by either my inbox or even one of my many, many Trello boards. Rather I try to bite off a few urgent and important tasks each day. Still I end up spending time on tasks initiated from emails in my email inbox. Unfortunately my inboxes seems to fill up faster than I can manage them at times. I would love to have a clean inbox as in Inbox Zero technique but more importantly I want to be much more responsive to the emails I get. Also opening up my email can be overwhelming when I see the number of emails in my inbox.

Using Multiple Inboxes in Gmail

One of the things I learned after the meetup, while browsing Tracy’s site was a technique to get my inbox under control at least in Gmail. In essence, you need to enable the “Multiple Inboxes” lab experiment in the Gmail Labs settings. Then you need to write a few filters such as is:drafts || label:follow-up (which happens to be my filter for follow-up emails) for each particular inbox. Et voilĂ ! You have a much more manageable inbox that is subdivided into categories, and the actions you need to take.

Where it works and where it doesn’t work

Unfortunate this technique only works in Gmail at the moment. Some other webmail providers maybe have a similar multiple inbox solution, but unfortunately ProtonMail does not but it is a suggested feature. So my ProtonMail will probably lag behind in terms of how quickly I respond, unless I or someone else implements the multiple inbox feature in ProtonMail.

However where I can use multiple inboxes like in my Amber Penguin Software email (managed by Gmail) it has drastically improved my email experience and my own responsiveness. My Gmail still needs some love to get everything under control, but once I do I will be much better at replying to emails. Ultimately this technique helps you become more confident in categorizing your email, and then acting up on it when the time comes.

Post PyCon, ebook and Freelancing Plans

PyCon US 2017 has come and gone, and the past few weeks have been busy with renovations and family related activities. So I have not been able to write as much as I’d like to. But now life is starting to gain some normality, and I look forward to more regular blogging.

I really enjoyed PyCon this year. I ended up spending a lot of time in the so-called hallway track, meeting old friends, new folks and learning about interesting projects and companies. I still have quite a large queue of talks to watch on Youtube on the PyCon 2017 channel. I did get to talk to Guido, and ask him about how one should approach development with the new async/await functionality in Python 3. In general, I am floored how friendly everyone was, and how many amazing conversations I had.

I stuck around for the coding sprints, as I try to for every PyCon. I worked on APIStar (a cool new simple Python 3 web framework that uses type annotations), Paramiko and Ansible, and managed to be fairly productive. A bunch of PRs were addressed in the docker_* modules for Ansible. Paramiko finally got some Flake8 love. And APIStar now has better support for reverse routing.)

Aside from meeting with people, I enjoyed spending time in and around Portland. I do have to hand it to Portlanders, they have a lot of great restaurants and micro-breweries. Some of my friends involved in Fabric fact got me on the Untappd app just to keep track of the various brews I got a chance to try out. Another pleasant surprise was the swing dancing scene in Portland, especially everyone involved with Stumptown Dance. But definitely the most fun I had was visiting some friends I made in Portland, and also hiking outside of Portland. (Namely going to the Pacific Coast, and the various falls around Multnomah Falls.)

I do miss Portland, and I do hope to be back there sometime in the near future. In the meantime, I plan on trying something new. While my attempts at building a product have been informative, they have stalled simply because of the amount of work and long time of getting to market. So I’ll be trying something new: I’m open to working freelance on mobile (Kivy), Python web app and API projects through my startup: Amber Penguin Software. Feel to contact me if you have an interesting projects that you’d like me to work on.

More important I will be working on an ebook about two modern web dev tools that I use: (jq and httpie). If there is interest in this ebook, then I have ideas for other ones on Kivy, Ansible and Docker. If you are interested, please subscribe to the mailing list using the form below and I’ll keep you up to date on my progress. I will also be doing this through my startup just to keep things organized, and to enable me to bring on people as needed.

Pythonistas in Portlandia – PyCon US 2017

Apologies for being silent these past few months. I tried to concentrate on launching a product earlier in the year, and I was hopeful that I would get it out soon. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and I will have to shelf development.

That said, I am looking forward to going to Portland and PyCon US 2017 this weekend. I will be also at the sprints next week too. Not presenting a talk this year, but I am looking forward to meeting everyone attending. Message me on twitter @dorianpula and maybe we’ll be able to meet up if you are going.

So much Writing and Coding… so Little Time

I must apologize to regular readers of my blog, that I have been slacking. I plan on writing a blog entry once a week, and even though this one is late, I am trying to keep my promises. At least one should keep promises to one self. And I apologize if this entry is a bit sparse. It is a bit “phoned in”, I guess.

Anyways, I have been keeping busy with my many projects. Because of this I feel like I am pulling myself in a bunch of directions at the same time. This feels counterproductive and progress is slow. But I’m not sure of a better way to progress forward. I fear concentrating on one project, will just make everything else fall behind. Basically what I’m saying is that I’m trying to show some real progress on my open source projects, my not-so-open-source product, my writing, and bunch of other things… but yeah… it may be a while before I have anything substantial to show. Sorry.

Don’t even ask about all my emails… it is all a bit overwhelming. I will try to get back to everyone… but there really is so much to do. And only one of me… sigh…

In the meantime, I will try to keep up with the blogging. Maybe about some tips and tricks, but no real long articles for now. At least until I feel things get more manageable.

Anyways, take care and see you next week!