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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category


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Having installed Firefox 3 recently, I was having some trouble with extensions.  They wouldn’t install and those that were installed didn’t do what they said they would on restarting Firefox.  After a little headscratching, I found this article.  And Firefox is fixed.

Written by remark

June 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Posted in General, Software, Tools

Ruby Tuesday #10 Part 1 : Studying Form

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The next task I had set myself in my Ruby learning journey was to write a GUI for the Twitter client I have created.  A quick squiz around the internet reveals a number of potential frameworks.  In no particular order, here’s some I found:

FXRuby – "a library for developing powerful and sophisticated cross-platform graphical user interfaces."  I was toying with the idea of writing a weak and crude GUI, but this may still be the right choice.

Konundrum - "Very complete bindings to both the KDE API and the Qt APIs."  Very complete is clearly a good thing – none of your bog standard completeness here.  Now, what’s Qt?  It’s a "cross-platform application framework for desktop and embedded development" according to its authors, Trolltech, with "an intuitive API and a rich C++ class library."

Ruby/Tk – there seems to be Ruby bindings for the Tk toolkit. Tk is a "Tcl extension, written in C, designed to give the user a relatively high level interface to his or her windowing environment."  Tcl, in turn, is a "a powerfully simple, open source-licensed programming language."  Hmm.  Does all this sound a little obtuse and slightly recursive to you, too?

Ruby-GNOME2 –  "a set of Ruby language bindings for the GNOME 2.0 development environment."  GNOME "offers an easy to understand desktop for your GNU/Linux or UNIX computer." And lots of CAPITALS.  *nix only is a dealbreaker for me – although the documentation includes mention of Ruby/Gtk2, which uses Gtk+, which runs on Windows.  Could be clearer, but if you’re a fan of the esoteric this could be a good choice.

Shoes – "a very informal graphics and windowing toolkit."  Here’s a helpful poster thingy about it.

Of course, with IronRuby I could also use Silverlight.  I haven’t covered IronRuby yet, so I’ll leave Silverlight for another Ruby Tuesday.  For those of you who can’t wait, I’d suggest a little peek here.

Is all this choice a good thing?  Or does it distract me from building a GUI by leading me to have to find out some more about each framework / toolkit?  As good a concept as choice is, I’m not sure what the choice here really is.  I can choose between a bunch of frameworks that do more or less the same thing.  So unless anyone has a better idea, I’m going to plump for Shoes on the basis that it has the best, albeit extremely silly, name.

Written by remark

June 17, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Ruby Tuesday #7 Part 1: Even Twittier

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Having managed to download the public timeline and output in a friendly format, the next task was to access some other methods of the Twitter API.  A couple of other timeline methods exist: friends_timeline and user_timeline.  Both can take the username as part of the URL.  How hard will it be to update the code to accommodate these calls?

One of the first things I noticed was that each of the URL’s for the Twitter API have the same base (, so it’d be good to split this out.  I updated the get_url method accordingly:

def get_url(base_address, path)
  url = URI.parse(base_address + path)
  req =
  res = Net::HTTP.start(, url.port) {|http| http.request(req)}

I tried to use the join method of URI, but it seemed to strip out the http:// part of the URL.  The next step was to create a new class called Client (in the Twitter file.)  It looks like this:

class Client

  def download_public_timeline

  def download_friends_timeline(username)

  def download_user_timeline(username)


  def download_timeline(path)
    get_url(BASE_ADDRESS, path)


For those of us learning Ruby, there’s a couple of interesting things to note here.  The first is the constant – it’s denoted by the use of capital letters.  It’s not really a constant – I could change the value if I liked, but Ruby convention is that if it begins with a capital letter then it’s a constant.  Those of us coming from a C# background may be surprised to learn that this constant could be used anywhere in the program – it is not limited to the scope of the class in which it is defined.  The constant can be qualified by the class name (e.g. Client::BASE_ADDRESS) for clarity.  The second point of interest is the use of the word private.  Any method defined after the use of private will be have private visibility (instances of the class and subclasses) until the end of the class or the words public or protected.  Methods are public by default.  Once again, private is not a keyword but a method specifies that the following method definitions are private.

All that’s left is to call these methods from the main body – which looks like this:

require 'Twitter'

$KCODE = "u"

translator =
client =

translator.xml_to_tweets(client.download_public_timeline).each do |tweet|
  puts "#{tweet.user.screen_name} says #{tweet.text}"

translator.xml_to_tweets(client.download_friends_timeline('put_your_username_here')).each do |tweet|
  puts "#{tweet.user.screen_name} says #{tweet.text}"

translator.xml_to_tweets(client.download_user_timeline('put_your_username_here')).each do |tweet|
  puts "#{tweet.user.screen_name} says #{tweet.text}"

The funny looking line near the top ($KCODE…) sets the text encoding to be UTF-8.   I set this because there is some character data in the timeline that would look funny otherwise.  (I was using Netbeans when I put this in and it had no effect – garbled output for some character data – whereas at a terminal calling the program I got the results I expected, I haven’t tried this yet with Sapphire in Steel.)

It was fairly straightforward to add this extra functionality.  I fell into the trap of using C# style names, which I corrected before writing this post, so I’m clearly still thinking in C#.   And even though the Client class is fairly concise, I wonder if it could be made more concise yet.  The next step is to add the ability to tweet directly from the Ruby program.

Written by remark

May 27, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Seeing the Big Picture

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K. Scott Allen’s post on the limits to visual tools is an interesting read.  The main contention is that visual tools don’t scale and consequently have a limit.  The examples in the post back up this point.  I wonder if this is a problem with visual tools per se, a limitation of current tools or a misuse of the tools.  It may be a combination of these factors.  The first question to ask is: do text based tools scale well?  The good news is that we can split a system up into an arbitrary number of files.  This is great for understanding the contents of a file – but the system as a whole is still very difficult to understand, especially for those coming to the system cold.  Putting everything into one diagram is the equivalent of putting all our code into one text file – I’m going to assume you agree with me that that’s a bad idea for all but the most trivial of system.  With a well factored codebase, the best route into the system for most people, in my experience, is some sort of graphical overview – the key here being that it must be at the right level of abstraction.

In creating and reviewing architectural documents and walkthroughs, I’ve often faced the same issue of getting the right amount of information into diagrams.  There is a temptation to have one diagram that shows everything – this temptation should be resisted as it leads to confusion.  Having a number of views of a model (each at differing levels of abstraction and with a different perspective and focus) is the best way I’ve found of distilling the right amount of information.  What we need from the tooling is a way to link the views together.  When you think about it, the principle here is similar to that used in splitting up a codebase into multiple files.  Diagrams and models are, of course, not text free – but in the right context one diagram can save a lot of time and effort.

So, I’m not convinced that there is an inherent quality of visual tools that limits their ability to scale – but the way in which we use them and some of the functionality provided may need to change to accommodate scale.  Another thing to consider is that models can be represented with both text and diagrams – potentially allowing different people to use representations that are closest to their natural strengths.

Written by remark

May 27, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Ruby Tuesday #6 : A little XML

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Last week I wrote some code to download the public timeline from Twitter.  The public timeline is in XML format, so we need a little code to translate it into something more readable.  Before getting to the XML reading, I moved the code from last week into a new file called, very imaginatively, Twitter.rb.  I also discovered that the name I gave the method (getUrl) isn’t very Rubylike, so I changed it (to get_url).  Now, I’m not the biggest fan of underscores, but part of this learning Ruby business is to learn the culture and customs as well as the language itself.

Next, I decided that it would be good to have a class representing a tweet and another class representing a user.  I put both of them in the Twitter file.  Here are those classes:

class Tweet
  attr_reader :created, :id, :text, :source, :truncated, :user

  def initialize(created, id, text, source, truncated, user)
    @created = created
    @id = id
    @text = text
    @source = source
    @truncated = truncated
    @user = user

class User
  attr_reader :id, :name, :screen_name, :location,
    :description, :image_url, :url, :protected

    def initialize(id, name, screen_name, location, description, image_url,
    url, protected, followers_count)
       @id = id
       @name = name
       @screen_name = screen_name
       @location = location
       @description = description
       @image_url = image_url
       @url = url
       @protected = protected
       @followers_count = followers_count

I’ve used the attr_reader method to create read-only attributes which are set in the initialise method of each class.  For those who, like me, are new to Ruby the initialise method performs a similar purpose to a constructor.  The funny @ signs denote instance variables.  I could have made these classes by using attr_accessor (which creates a getter and a setter), but I like this style of object.  I expect I’ll find a simpler way of doing it as I go along.

Next we need to read XML into these objects.  I created a class called Translator and in it created a method called xml_to_tweets (and a method it calls called element_to_user.)  Here’s the class:

class Translator
  def xml_to_tweets(xml)
    tweets = []
    xml_document =
    root = xml_document.root
    root.elements.each("status") do |element|
      tweets <<["created_at"].text,

  def element_to_user(element)["id"].text,

REXML is a conformant XML processor, so if you’ve done any XML programming before, it’ll be familiar.  Three things to note here.  Firstly, this code is using the REXML library (more info here) so I had to add 2 lines to the top of the file.  Those lines are:

require 'rexml/document'
include REXML

Secondly, for my fellow Ruby noobs, note that the value of the last expression in a method is returned (no return statement needed, although you can put it in if it you like.)

Thirdly, for the noobs again, note the array syntax.  A new array is created with the [] syntax and new elements are added with the << operator.

So, all that’s required now is some code to see if it works.  I used this code:

require 'Twitter' 

translator =

translator.xml_to_tweets(get_url('')).each do |tweet|
  puts "#{tweet.user.screen_name} says #{tweet.text}"

The output of that is a lot friendlier than the XML I was outputting last week, and it was fairly easy to write.  Next week I’ll need to extend the code to call some of the other methods of the Twitter API. 

Written by remark

May 20, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Ruby Tuesday #4 : Time to Productivity

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So far I’ve concentrated on setting up an environment.  Meantime, I’ve been reading about Ruby and trying to learn the syntax.  It’s at this point that you wonder if you can ever be productive in the new language.  The syntax is relatively easy – it’s the rest that is more daunting.  The rest is the stuff you take for granted in your preferred language, stuff like how to organise and layout files, how to deploy, what’s in the standard libraries, etc.  It’s like learning a new language: despite a grasp of the grammatical rules, all you can say is “Where might I find the nearest tractor repair shop?” – and you don’t quite understand the response.  This wouldn’t be an issue if you weren’t already proficient in a language because you wouldn’t know how much more you could achieve.

So, the question is how long does it take to become productive and how best to go about learning the real stuff.  From past experience of learning new programming languages, the answer seems to be build something – in addition to continuing to read as much as possible.   What should that something be?

Written by remark

May 6, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Design, Development, Ruby, Tools

Ruby Tuesday #3 : Surveying the Rubyverse

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Last week, I installed Ruby on a PC and on a Mac.  I installed what is often called MatzRuby or MRI (Matz’s Ruby Interpreter) – but there are other implementations of Ruby.  I was already aware of IronRuby and JRuby.  Via this post on RubyInside, I found this post by Charles Nutter that covers the implementations that are available.  I’m mostly interested in MatzRuby and IronRuby, but it’s good to know what else is available, what stage they are at and so forth.

Having installed Ruby, the next thing that many of us would look for is an IDE.  You don’t need an IDE for Ruby, a text editor (preferably with syntax highlighting) will suffice.  Being new to Ruby, I don’t know whether I’ll plump for a Ruby IDE in the longer term.  There’s an interesting question here about programming habits – which come from your experience and preference and which come from the language you are trying to learn.  There are a number of IDEs for those interested – Sapphire in Steel puts Ruby into Visual Studio, and there’s a ruby specific version of NetBeans.  There is, no doubt, some way of editing Ruby in Eclipse, but I haven’t looked yet (I’ve used Eclipse before and it feels a little unwieldy to me, so the idea of Eclipse for Ruby seems somehow wrong to me.) For now, I’m going to be using a combination of text editors and IDEs to see what fits.

Written by remark

April 29, 2008 at 3:03 pm


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