Aggregated online interactions

This blog hasn’t seen much action lately, but that’s a misrepresentation of my online interactions. Most of my interaction in the past few months has been on Stack Overflow Q&A, and some on Stack Overflow “Documentation” as well as a small amount on GitHub. I wanted to aggregate some of those interactions on my blog, as well as perhaps cross-post bits and pieces here, mainly for my own reference.

Let’s start with the first: aggregating the bits and pieces that I want to have easy links to.

Stack Overflow Documentation

  • Showcasing all common Angular constructs“. I’m linking to the most up to date version. I wrote V1 of that article, which was subsequently improved by various other folks. It’s the tutorial (and equally important: the style of tutorial) I wish I’d had when I started learning Angular.
  • KnockoutJS “Equivalents of AngularJS bindings“. Linked page summarizes the state SO Documentation is currently in, at least for low-traffic tags: little and poor collaboration, and some frustration because some decent examples I wrote just don’t get reviewed (neither approved nor rejected). Thinking I might turn my content there into a (series of) blog post(s) here. Not sure yet.

Stack Exchange Q&A

At around 20 questions and 200 answers in 2016 so far I’d say I’m “moderately active”. Here’s a few that stood out when I browsed through my recent history:

I also gave SoftwareRecs.SE another shot, posting some questions, but they fit right into my question history: lots of unanswered tumbleweeds. And not for lack of trying, as I spend a lot of effort on making my questions there as good as they can be. The main reason I do that (and the reason I keep coming back to softwarerecs.se, in spite of the tumbleweed-factor) is that thinking carefully about your wishes and requirements at the least will help you find something yourself, if no-one else recommends anything.

And even though I haven’t interacted with Cooking.SE much lately, every stray upvote now and then to my “Cooking fish in a dishwasher” answer makes me smile.

GitHub

I don’t interact as much here yet as I’d like. I specifically wish I remembered more often than a measly four times to create gists, because the ones I did create are ones I tend to go back to. In addition to gists, I’ve gotten to creating only very few issues and pull requests, something I want to work on.

One shoutout by the way to the DefinitelyTyped repository, because that community has to deal with a really scattered committer base, and seem to do so pretty well. My pull request (though small) was reviewed and merged quite quickly.

In Closing…

What to do next? The tags I followed on Stack Overflow for answering seem to have dried up a bit. Perhaps some more interaction on GitHub, as well as re-editing some of the above links into blog posts? Then again, a few weeks of vacation to Hawaii are coming up as well, so it might be a while again before posting…

Nested Elastic Explorations – Part 2

Reusing a properly modelled domain for storing data in Elasticsearch does not work well out of the box. Let’s examine a problem scenario. Consider this mini-domain:

Mini Bieb Domain

This ties in with my last post, where I mentioned that loops are a pain for serializing to json. Here’s the loop, visualized:

Mini Bieb Domain Loop

The problem is that NewtonSoft (used under the hood by Nest) will start serializing “The Greatest Book”, and recurses through all properties. In the end it’ll try to serialize “The Greatest Book” again as part of “Richard Roe”‘s AuthoredBooks property.

Breaking this serialization loop is actually pretty simple with NewtonSoft, and since a while you can inject the appropriate NewtonSoft setting in Nest as well. Something like this:

Problem solved, right? Not so much. Here’s why. Suppose I use the LoopHandling “fix” and load up the mini-domain with this integration test:

This will create a document in Elasticsearch of a whopping 71 KB / 1364 lines, see this example JSON file. Not so good.

The simple solution which would do for now would be to index only Book items, and all related people (authors, editors, translators), but not those people’s Books (AuthoredBooks, etc). We somehow need to let Nest and Elasticsearch know that we want to stop recursion right there. The question is how to be explicit about how they should map my domain objects to documents. I see two courses of action I like:

  1. Declarative mapping, with Attributes. This would (to my taste) require separate DTO classes to represent the documents in Elasticsearch, and have an explicit transformation between those DTO’s and my Domain objects. (I wouldn’t like to litter my domain object classes with persistence-specific attributes.)
  2. Mapping by code. This would seemingly allow me to keep using domain object classes for persistance, having the “Mappings” in code as a strategy for the transformation in separate files. At this point though I’m unsure if this approach will “hold up” once you start adding more complex properties and logic to domain objects.

I lean towards option 1, even though it feels like it’ll be more work. Guess there’s only one way to find out…

Nested Elastic Explorations – Part 1

After my previous post on what to explore next I’ve dabbled with option 4 “Linux” (but got frustrated so I set it aside), worked some on option 2 “More Gulp!” (bu that was mostly at work). However, I think I’ve settled for now with putting some effort in learning Elasticsearch and Nest. So let’s start a series of posts on this venture. (No promises though, this “Part 1” post might end up being the only part…)

About this venture…

Elasticsearch can be seen as a NoSQL database, more specifically as a document database. I’ll be using my Bieb pet project (or at least its domain) for testing its features. Bieb’s domain should be familiar to everyone: books!

Specifically I’m writing this post because I quickly ran into a fundamental challenge with document databases, and I hope to gather my thoughts on the matter by writing about it. To set the stage, I’ll be talking about this part of the domain:

  • A Book has multiple Authors (of type Person).
  • A Person has authored mulitple Books.

The classic many-to-many relationship example. The challenge then obviously is how to express this in the various tools.

Setting the coding stage…

Before I dive into the Elasticsearch bit, let me first describe how I got this going in C#, SQL, and NHibernate. First, the SQL bit:

Run-of-the-mill stuff, with a many-to-many table. Obviously, we don’t want to see BookAuthor show up as a class in our code. That is, we want this kind of C#:

As you can see, the Book is the “main” entity and the “boss” of the relationship with authors. Apart from the virtual keyword everywhere, little to no SQL or NHibernate know-how leaked into this domain.

The NHibernate mapping looks like this:

The important bit, and the link to Elasticsearch, is the inverse="true" bit. With NHibernate, you have to indicate which entity is “in charge” of updating the many-to-many table. With document databases you have to do the same thing.

Moving to Nest & Elasticsearch…

Diving head first into throwing these entities into Elasticsearch, I tried to run the following Nest integration test:

It’ll fail, because Nest internally uses JSON.Net to serialize the Book, which means you’ll get this:

Newtonsoft.Json.JsonSerializationException : Self referencing loop detected with type ‘Bieb.Domain.Entities.Book’. Path ‘allAuthors[0].authoredBooks’.

A problem that was to be expected.

With SQL self-referencing loops are just fine, handled by the many-to-many table. In NHibernate it’s a minor nuisance, simply handled by the inverse="true" bit. However, with document databases this is somewhat less trivial, in my opinion. In fact, it may be the hardest part of using them: how do you design your documents?

What I’d like to do…

The solution obviously is to break the self-referencing loop somewhere. Simply not serializing a Person’s authored books should do the trick. (On a side note, it occurs to me that graph databases would not need this trick, and would be great for a scenario with endless Book-Person-Book-… traversal, but that’s for another time.)

However, I don’t want to hard-code the loop-break into my domain object, e.g. by marking AuthoredBooks as not-serializable. The first and foremost reason is that this would mean my storage layer leaks into my domain layer. The second reason is that I may want to break the loop at different places depending on the Elasticsearch index I’m targeting. That is, I’ll probably have an index for Authors as well as Books, and want to break the loop in different places on either occasion.

Questions…

So some questions remain. How could we do this with JSON.Net without altering the domain layer? Or is there a way to do this with Elasticsearch + Nest? Or should we bite the bullet and have a seperate set of DTO’s to/from our domain entities to represent how they’re persisted in Elasticsearch? Or do we need a different approach alltogether?

Good questions. Time to go and find out!

A New Hope

Did I mention before that I write here to collect my thoughts and as writing practice? Well, in any case, after my previous monster post, and given that it’s the start of a new year, I figured I’d do a “New Beginnings” post. Then the sci-fi addict in me awoke and typed “A New Hope“, even though I’m a Trekkie at heart. But I digress.

I wanted to summarize which technologies and experiments I’m most interested in pursuing next. Let me try to list them in order of current preference.

1. Elasticsearch …. and Nest?

Elastic as a (primary?) data store intrigues me. It feels like a second chance for Lucene towards me (experimenting with Solr didn’t “click” for me). There recently was a major version released so it seems like a great time to start investigating. I’m hesitant about Nest though, which you’d kind-of have to use if you want to access Elastic with .NET: during my first few experiments I felt like I was “wrestling” the API.

2. Gulp, or: More Gulp!

I’ve done quite some work with Gulp recently, and it was a very (and surprisingly) fun experience! In the past, most devops tasks felt like chores to me, but not so much with this Gulp. So this point would actually be “More Gulp” (as I’ve done quite a bit of it recently already), but I still have quite a list of things I want to try out, like for instance setting up JSCS.

3. Node

Yes, yes, I know: I’d be a hipster-after-the-fact if I’d start on Node now. Even so, I enjoy writing Javascript, and Node would be a way to do even more of it in my pet projects. Not sure how I would be utilizing Node yet: with ExpressJS, for custom (Gulp) packages, general scripting, or perhaps something like project Euler.

4. Linux

This one’s been on my mind for a while now: perhaps I’ve been stuck too much in my Windows-comfort-zone. It would be good to shape up my base knowledge of Linux as a development environment.

5. Grunt

Why yes, in addition to Gulp there’s also Grunt on this list. Gotta know what’s on the other side of the fence to be able to compare, right?


I’m placing a short but distinct separation here, because these are currently mostly “in reserve” kind of ideas.


6. Couchbase

Working a little with this at work as well. There’s a few things I’d be excited about to try at home, mostly features from version 3 and 4. Would need a “subject” though to make it interesting…

7. Study three-way-diff-tools

For some reason I never got my mind wrapped around these tools. And that’s frustrating. I should just spend a few hours trying to understand the details of these tools… I guess.

8. Raspberry / something IoTish

This one’s on the list because it nags me that I don’t see what all the rage with IoT is (or is it “was”?) about, and for that reason I feel like I have to “make Slackbot call a webhook that calls my webserver that calls my Raspberry which turns on a LED strip and autopilots a drone around in my room”. Or something.

9. Android app

I’m curious how the Android-dev-experience compares to my short experiments from around 2011. This would also allow me to revisit Java. But on a whole I feel I’d have to invest a lot of time or not do this one at all.

10. Closure Compiler

It’s on the list because I find the idea of it intrinsically interesting. It’s low on the list because I’m not sure if I work on things personally or professionally at the moment where this would be worth the investment.


Wow, that worked like a charm! Apologies for the stream-of-consciousness post, but now I do know what to do next! And I’m not even going back to adjust the (order of the) list accordingly, I’m just gonna leave you all hanging out there, guessing at what’s next…

Finishing Bieb

I’m calling it. Bieb is now officially wrapped up.

I’ve accomplished the bare minimum I set out to do with Bieb, and learned a lot of extra things along the way. But motivation to continue any further has dropped to near zero. And I’m okay with that.

Fair warning: this is a long post. Consider the above to be the TLDR version, and whatever’s below as a peek into my personal notes and thoughts. Read on at your own risk!

Still here? Allright, here goes.

Conclusion

So let’s start up with a preliminary conclusion annex Table of Contents:

  • Bieb was a fun project. Now it’s “wrapped up” / abandoned.
  • Azure sucks I disliked working with Azure for a hobby project. Great tech, but that learning curve…
  • Proper errors in ASP.NET MVC are hard.
  • ASP.NET MVC is a nice framework in general though.
  • Database integration tests for NHibernate are useful and easy to set up.
  • Bieb is a successfull TDD experiment.
  • Razor is great for static content. You need nearly zero JavaScript for views.
  • Designing (the domain logic for) an entire application is fun!

You want more details you say!? You shall have them! Moving on…

Elevator Pitch

First up, the elevator pitch. There actually was something of the kind (though not in typical pitch-format) on the project home page:

Website project based on ASP.NET MVC for managing and displaying your personal book collection on the web.

At the bottom of the page, the (equally important) secondary objectives are mentioned:

  • Finding out more about Codeplex
  • Experimentation sandbox for MSSQL, ASP.NET MVC, NHibernate, Ninject, html5, css3, jQuery, and Modernizr
  • Experimentation sandbox for trying out competing and additional frameworks
  • Having this website project available for anyone who’s interested
  • Real-life events such as BBQ’s and drinks to “discuss the project”

And that was actually pretty close to what it turned out to be.

Note that Bieb is not solving a new problem, nor is it solving a problem in new ways. There’s GoodReads, which is a great site that does 90% what Bieb does and more. Bieb was not meant for us to get rich with a “next big thing”; it was meant as a fun project to toy with technology.

The Negatives

Before I get to the positive things about this project, first some negatives.

Azure is no friend of mine

Bieb had to be a replacement for a version of this app I’d hacked together in PHP. With PHP however, it’s very easy and cheap to get some hosting, and very easy to set up a deployment. With .NET, there is no such luxury. Private / shared hosting of .NET sites is expensive. The best option seemed to be Azure (as I had a MSDN subscription that comes along with some Azure credits), but Azure has a very steep learning curve compared to getting a PHP site up and running.

Put in another way: Azure feels solid, but it also feels big and “enterprisey”. There’s just so many buttons and settings and “thingies” that it feels impossible to get started. Watching tutorials doesn’t help much, because your choices are (a) a very specific 20 min tutorial that doesn’t cover all your needs or (b) watching a 6-hour Pluralsight course and still being covered only 80% of the way. Add to that the fact that it’s still under heavy development (which mostly is a good thing, but doesn’t make the learning curve any better), and you’re set up for frustration.

One particular anecdote worth mentioning is as follows:

  1. I tweeted that I found it confusing that one Azure portal redirects me to yet another Azure portal.
  2. Azure support tweets back redirecting me to MSDN forums.
  3. In the forum thread, I get redirected to yet another forum where I should post my findings.

I think I would now like to redirect Azure to a place where the sun don’t shine.

Don’t get me wrong though: I love .NET development and Windows hosting in general. Both Azure and hosting yourself are fine options for business-type projects. However, I’m deeply disappointed in using Azure and .NET for web hobby projects. It’s probably the main reason I’m abandoning wrapping up Bieb, and the main reason I’ll be focussing on other tech for hobby projects in the near future.

Great error pages with MVC are hard

A very specific “negative”, but one that annoyed me to no end. I think I’ve tried to attack this problem 5 times over, and failed every single time.

This is what I wanted to accomplish:

  • No YSODs. Ever. Making sure that if your app fails it does so elegantly is very important IMHO.
  • Proper HTTP status codes. That means 404s for non-existent static resources, MVC routes that can’t be resolved, but also “semantic” 404s for when a domain item (e.g. a “Book” or an “Author”) was not found.
  • A nice error page. That means a proper MVC page when possible, one that gives options (like a Search partial view) and relevant info. Failing that, a nice, styled static html page.
  • Proper error logging. The logging and error handling code should be unobtrusive to the business logic. If a request fails (i.e. a 500 error) it should be caught, logged, and the user should be directed to a meaningful, useful page with proper content but (again) also a proper HTTP status code.

Whenever I tried to tackle these requirements, I would fail to do so, and clicking through the online resources about this problem I would inevitably end up at Ben Foster’s blog post on this problem. That excellent post notwithstanding, I have never gotten this to work on IIS or IIS Express.

And having failed to get this working locally, I dread the thought of having to get this to work on Azure…

The Positives

There were also many positive aspects about fiddling with Bieb. Here are the main ones.

NHibernate Database Integration Tests

I continued to work on a way to run database integration tests with a unit testing framework, based off an approach we took at my previous job. Here’s what the base test fixture looks like:

The Factory has some more bootstrapping code for recreating the database schema from scratch. All this setup allows you to write this kind of test:

Which is a nice way to fix a database issue in a test-driven manner.

Currently my approach has one big flaw though: the tests are not isolated. Each test has to account for previous tests possibly having left data in the database. For the tests written so far that doesn’t matter, but it’s an accident waiting to happen nonetheless.

I see basically two solutions for this:

  1. Drop and recreate the database before each test. But that’s probably slow.
  2. Wrap each test in a transaction, and roll it back at the end. But that exludes the option of testing things that require actually committing transactions.

Truth be told, I wrote most database integration tests because I was unsure of how NHibernate would function and/or handle my mappings. And for that (i.e. learning NHibernate) the current set up worked just fine. If I were to continue with Bieb there would most likely come a time where I’d go for option 2. I think Jimmy Bogard typically advocates a similar approach.

PS. For what it’s worth, I’ve written a GitHub Gist with a minimal setup for creating NUnit+NHibernate tests, specifically geared to creating minimal repro’s to share with colleagues or on Stack Overflow.

ASP.NET MVC is a very nice framework

I quite like the kind of code you have to write to get pages to the user with MVC. Here’s an example of a Controller action in Bieb:

It’s short and to the point as it delegates the other responsibilities to (injected) dependencies like the Mapper and Repository. In addition, Razor views are also pretty easy to write. At the least, they are a breath of fresh air after WebForms.

So, if you want to create web sites with a big C# component, ASP.NET MVC is a fine choice. However, I do ponder if a more SPA-like approach (with Web API or similar + an MV* client side library) or a full-stack JavaScript solution are better choices for new web development projects…

Having said that, I’m very pleased with how Bieb was a great way to learn ASP.NET MVC.

Test-Driven Development

Bieb Code Distribution

I went to great lengths to stick to TDD development, even when things got ugly. In particular, I’ve had to learn how to deal with several awful dependencies:

  • Random
  • HttpContext
  • HtmlHelper (and all the things it drags along)

To show the length I went, here’s a summary of the Visual Studio code analysis for LoC:

  • 49% (1.564 lines of code) for unit tests
  • 8% (253 lines of code) for database tests
  • 43% (1.371 lines of code) for all the rest

Even though Lines of Code is hardly ever a good metric (it would be easy to inflate these numbers one way or the other), in this case they do reflect the actual state of the code base. Note that this does not include view code (obviously), nor does it include client side code (there isn’t nearly any; more on that later).

Looking back at the code, I’m also pretty pleased with how the tests turned out. There’s very simple, early tests like this one:

As well as tests that border on not being unit tests anymore, but serving IMHO a great purpose:

Which tests your haven’t forgotten any attributes like these:

Which is worth the fact that it’s not a “clean” AAA-style unit test, in my opinion.

Where’s the client side code!?

But wait a second: where is the JavaScript? The answer: there isn’t (nearly) any! All the custom JavaScript for Bieb is this inline bit of code:

This may seem silly anno 2015, and truth be told: it is!

Bieb was a vehicle for me to learn mostly server side tech. Most of my hobby projects, as well as the larger part of my day job includes client side programming. I’m confident I could improve Bieb (a lot) with rich client interaction, but haven’t found the need to do so (yet). I was aiming to get a 1.0 release out with mostly MVC code, and work on improved client side components after that.

One important thing to note: I was very pleased with how far you could get with just Razor in creating html. I was also pleased with how much fun it was to generate static content, which Bieb is mostly about.

The admin views of Bieb suffered most from the lack of JavaScript. The UX is bad, at times even terrible. However, with me wrapping up this project that will likely never change.

How are things wrapped up?

So, how are things wrapped up? Well:

  • You can check out bieb.azurewebsites.net, at least as long as my free Azure credits last.
  • The CodePlex Project will go into hibernation, but will remain available for as long as the wise folks at Microsoft keep it up and running.
  • Some screenshots can be found at the bottom of this post.

And that’s that. Which brings me to say something…

In conclusion

Bieb was a great learning experience. There were things (apart from aforementioned struggle with Azure) I did not really enjoy coding, including:

  • Setting up Logging. A real website needs this, but setting it up is a chore. Setting it up so that it’s unobtrusive can even make it a tricky chore.
  • Setting up a Dependency Injection Framework. DI itself can be a great help, I find that it kept my code clean and testable by default, but choosing- and learning how to use a specific DI container didn’t feel particularly interesting.
  • A proper Unit of Work pattern. It’s necessary, but certainly not my favorite bit of coding. And it probably shows in my codebase, too.

But this is vastly outweighed by the things I did enjoy coding:

  • Razor Views were fun to write.
  • Designing the Domain and its logic was fun, even though unfortunately sometimes the underlying persistance layer leaks through.
  • Project and Solution structure: fun things to think about, even though Bieb is just a small application.
  • Routing: it feels good to have nice, pretty URLs.
  • Controllers: because I did spend some time on the things I did not like, the controllers did end up looking pretty good.
  • Database structure, written through NHibernate mappings that actually is used to generate the database from code.
  • Design. Truth be told, the design is at most 49% mine, but that doesn’t make me any less proud of the end result.

Bieb was a fun project to do. I learned a lot. And even though I had many more plans, and even the start of a big backlog, it’s time to move on.

Farewell Bieb, slumber in peace!


Bieb - Home - LG View

Bieb - Book Index - LG View

Bieb - Book Details - LG View

Bieb - Book Details - XS View

Bieb - Book Edit - LG View

Bieb - Person Index - LG View

Bieb - Person Details - LG View

Bieb - Person Details - XS View

Bieb - Series Index - LG View

Bieb - Series Details - LG View

Bieb - Publisher Index - LG View

Bieb - Publisher Details - LG View

Bieb - Search - LG View

Finishing Bieb – Prelude

I will finish version 1.0 of Bieb in 2015!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You know that awkward feeling you get, when you’ve committed to some idea, merely by expressing it out loud or putting it in writing, and you can’t get yourself to do it? Yeah, “guilt” of some sort. I know, I get that too. I’ve had this for some time now, because I publicly stated I’d finish things.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion There’s a fantastic book on the subject which explains in detail how you should let rational thoughts trump previously stated intentions. I have applied this advice to my own situation, and rationally evaluated my publicly stated intention of finishing Bieb before doing anything else.

So here are the facts I gathered:

  1. I haven’t posted for 5 months, and I feel bad about that, because I’ve had ideas and things I wanted to post about.
  2. Hunting for a possible new job took a lot of time (I wasn’t even sure whether I should be looking for one), giving me a reasonable excuse not to work on a “big” pet project like Bieb.
  3. More recently, having found a new job, I’ve been spending almost all my free time studying new technologies I’ll be using soon. This is a very reasonable excuse to postpone blogging and pet projects.
  4. I’ve been tempted to start off new pet projects, but didn’t dare because I felt it would’ve been Bieb’s death sentence.
  5. The Windows Azure dashboard overwhelmed me. I want and perhaps even need to use it for rolling out Bieb, and it’s probably great, but wanting to do everything right the first time around doesn’t combine well with how extensive it is.
  6. I’m going to try out speaking at small events by giving a Lightning Talk at the next DomCode meetup, which takes away time from other hobbies like blogging and pet projects.
  7. I really, really, want to actually finish a 1.0 version of Bieb.

Okay, I was lying. Those were not “facts I gathered”. Those were thoughts, more or less chronologically ordered. And they can be summarized as:

  1. I want to give up on Bieb.
  2. I have all sorts of excuses for at least postponing it.
  3. But wait: I do not want to give up on Bieb!

So, ratio tells me: ignore wanting to give up, postpone finishing it for a reasonable while, and then finish it. Basically, I’m publicly restating my intention of finishing it, this time even attaching a deadline.

I will finish version 1.0 of Bieb in 2015!

You can hold me to that promise. I know I will.

Finishing Things – Intermezzo part 2 of 2

So, like I wrote, Google is “bidding farewell to Google Code“. So my recently “wrapped” up projects needed some post-wrapping-wrap-up (you still with me?!). I’m using this as a good excuse to partially move from Mercurial to Git, because I suspect Google Code’s export to GitHub is probably the migration path they’ve put most effort in.

So, here’s my first (active) day at GitHub:

GitHub Contributions

I’m a little afraid that -given GitHub’s popularity- many will see this and consider it to be my current status on code hosting services (disregarding commits to those repo’s being done over a larger time span, and disregarding activity on CodePlex). However -given GitHub’s popularity- I guess my GitHub activity will increase anyways over the coming years.

As a related side note: moving projects from Google Code to GitHub was extremely easy. The web-based tool required nothing besides a link to my Google Code project, and me authorizing Google Code in GitHub through OAuth. The only downsides I personally found during this automated conversion:

  1. My old commits in the migrated GitHub repo’s don’t get attributed to my GitHub account, because the user details were different. Also, apparently TortoiseHg “helped” me commit unwittingly as “jeroenheijmans <jeroenheijmans@localhost>”. I guess if I’d payed attention I (sh/w)ould’ve at least used a valid e-mail address. (Yes, given that probably no one has cloned my repo’s (yet) I could probably rewrite history to change this, but it’s not that big a deal I guess…)
  2. My repository includes some Mercurial-specific files, i.e. a .hgignore file. I might’ve stripped that if I had done the Hg-Git conversion manually.
  3. The project home page from Google Code was not automatically added as a README.md file in the GitHub repo. I think that would’ve been nice. Then again, this omission gave me a chance to check out Git(Hub).

And so my move to Git(Hub) begins. I’ve already enjoyed reading through other people’s thoughts on (Git) commit messages, had my first dealings with Atlassian SourceTree, as well as a combination of the two. You’d almost wonder how I got the actual migration done at all.

I feel excited about getting to know more about SourceTree, Git, and GitHub. However, I’m also still very determined to finish Bieb, which will remain on CodePlex. We’ll see how that plays out in the coming weeks / months. Stay tuned.

Finishing Things – Intermezzo part 1 of 2

In the beginning of 2015 I declared I was wrapping up my open projects. I’ve since quickly wrapped up BattleTop, TimeLine, and DotaGrid. After that I’ve started to work on my somewhat bigger project: Bieb. I haven’t had as much time to put into that project as I wanted, but there has been a thin stream of commits.

However, all this has been brutally interjected by Google: they’re “bidding farewell to Google Code“.

Google Code was very barebones, but in a sense that was its charm. I like BitBucket and CodePlex too, but for small projects Google Code was just fine. Especially since I’ve shut down those projects. However, now I need to make a choice: do I put effort in moving my discontinued projects? And if so, do I move them to another Hg provider, or do I bite the bullet and convert them to Git?

Guess I’ll bite the bullet. Let me do so right now, and get back in a fresh post with the results…

Finishing DotaGrid

Let’s start off similar to Finishing BattleTop, with the elevator pitch that I would have created for DotaGrid at the start:

I’m hacking a web app together to quickly create a well-aligned grid of heroes for the picking-stage at the start of a Dota 2 match, so I have something to use while dota2layout.com is down.

There’s a few important things to note here:

  • “hacking”: Yes, this is throwaway code, even though it’s open sourceHeck, the main code files are called myMonolithicApp.js and tempHeroesJson.js.
  • “well-aligned”: I prefer my hero layout to be aligned to a grid with some very minor spacing between items. I.e. there’s no option to turn off “snap to grid”.
  • Dota 2“: Yes, this entire pitch and the tool itself assume you know and play Dota 2. Or that you know me personally and are willing to struggle through the Dota 2 specifics of this post.
  • so I have something“: The key word being “I”. Even though I’ve shared the app and its source, it was mainly something I created to satisfy my own need.

That last point is really rather important here, and it greatly affects the way I want to “wrap up” this project. But before I talk about that, let’s first look at something that seems to be in big contrast with this point.

Reddit

Even though my first ever Reddit post was well-received, Reddit has always felt as a moderately hostile environment. Depending on the particular subreddit, folks can be rather harsh and direct, not always in a well-founded fashion. But there was only one way to test that assumption and face my public-reddit-humiliation-fear: by posting something. I felt my DotaGrid tool was decent enough to be of some use to others as well, so I decided to post it on Reddit. Here’s a screenshot of my post:

DotaGrid Reddit post

This got me some decent votes and upvote percentage…

DotaGrid post Reddit vote count

…some friendly remarks…

DotaGrid friendly Reddit comment

…some suggestions…

DotaGrid add techies comment

…and some low-on-details bug reports…

DotaGrid bug report without info

…but in any case, overall comments felt friendly. So even though I wrote the tool for my personal use, deciding to share it seems like a good idea in hindsight.

The Code

Looking at the code now, a few months after I wrote the tool, I must say I’m not too disappointed. Sure, it’s “hacked together”, and according to Feather’s definition it’s legacy code, as it doesn’t contain unit tests. However, the code’s structured well enough to add those after all and work from there. For example, have a look at this typical view model property:

Not quite great code, especially that final (rather frail) line of code, but at least it’s concise, clear, and potentially unit testable.

If I were to rewrite the tool I do think I’d need to separate things a bit more. Especially the fact that the internal grid model (which hero sits where) and the rendering bit should be decoupled. This would also be necessary if I were to create a more responsive version that possibly doesn’t use a table for layouting the grid (but either a canvas or a div instead).

Then again, I’m not rewriting the tool. Instead, I think I’m going to wrap it up by:

  • Putting a disclaimer on the Google Code project, the app itself, and the Reddit post;
  • Annotating a few bits of the code, should I or anyone else care to continue the thing;
  • Keeping it up to date with new heroes as they come out, but only for as long as I feel like it (which highly depends on the amount of Dota I’ll play).

That last point does remind me to make one confession: I did not anticipate too well what would be needed to add heroes to the app. I feel rather dumb about that, since my tool is a direct response to the fact that dota2layout.com broke precisely for that reason. But oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

In conclusion

So in any case, that’s how I’m going to wrap it up, effectively “closing down” this project. Which clears the way for me to reboot and start finishing my final “open” project…

Finishing TimeLine

Oh my, that code… where to begin!?

Before you read on, perhaps you should have a 30 sec look at what I’m talking about. I’ll wait here, go ahead!

Current thoughts about this project

TimeLine’s at prototype status, but hopefully it’s clear what the app was meant for: visualizing experience over time, using grouped, parallel timelines.

I look back at this mini-project, and directly notice a few things. First and foremost: I still like the idea of such an app! Visualizing work experience is great for a résumé I think, it allows the reader to instantly get a “feel” for what you’ve been working on. Much better than dreary text.

The second thing I realize is that I clearly had no idea and/or time to quickly scaffold an editor (“yes”, I thus resorted to using a textarea with JSON; so sue me!). Today I’d use KnockoutJS for this, even in a mockup. Or, barring KO, I’d use some other plugin for it. But then again: “first make it work, then make it work better”, so I’m happy I chose something and moved on.

The final thing I realized: it’s a decent prototype, and to get there I sacrificed a lot of code quality. With 140 SLOC it’s not much code, but what’s there is rather bad.

Finishing things

This leaves me a bit in a tight spot. What am I to do with this project?

First I thought about deleting the thing entirely, praying no one would ever find out about the JavaScrippaghetti I had unleashed on the world. Then again, that would be silly: everyone needs to write a fair share of bad code to get better at writing code.

My second thought was to rewrite the thing from scratch: right here, right now. Nearly started working on it too. Guess I wasn’t lying when I said I still like the idea. Then again, that would be silly: I still have two other projects left to “wrap up”, one of which is much more deserving of my time.

My third and final thought was to wrap up by doing a loose “code review” of my own code. In addition it feels good to “stamp” it with a disclaimer and message that it’s “wrapped up”. And that actually seems like the best idea.

Code review

The html is not really worth going through. It’s a plain html-reset-based file, that uses semantic markup (header, nav, article, etc), and has a placeholder div where Raphaël will draw the timelines. The html contains a link to timeline.js, and some basic bootstrapping code to call timeline jQuery-plugin-style on the placeholder div.

Let’s dive into that one code file. It’s starts off with some good signs:

Apparently the code’s being linted with a more sane version of Crockford’s jslint, and the code declares ES5 “strict mode”. Guess the author did forget to run the linter recently, because currently it seems to still cause a few errors. Anyways, moving on we see:

Not exactly globals, but a definite hint the author’s struggling with JavaScript closures. Except for paperPadding perhaps, which hints at a feature for settings that’s just not implemented yet.

Moving on the code follows a typical jQuery plugin template, first with all the plugin’s methods defined within a seperate closure, then at the end of the file exported in a typical fashion:

What you can already see here though is that the plugin relies on one single god method: init. This method in itself isn’t all too interesting. It just loops through the grouped timelines, and renders them one by one. To find some things that are of note I went through a mix of Dutch and English comments (not a good thing for something intended to be public). Here’s one that’s particularly interesting:

Phew, at least the author realized the code could not go on like this for much longer. This is further clarified by the presence of this kind of code (abbreviated):

Yikes! The break statement is IMHO often a code smell (smells of goto), surely there’s an OO-approach for the problem being solved here.

Let’s finish on a positive note though, having a look at some of the variable names in use:

  • categoryHighway
  • lane
  • segment

This makes me smile. Having the UI of the app in mind I instantly know what these mean. A segment is one piece of timeline, a lane is a horizontal area where segments can be placed, and a catgory highway is a set of lanes for segments from one category. Close-reading the code I find this is in fact mostly correct. And with that I feel there’s a great OO (or more prototypical) way to reboot the code for this app.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, or perhaps more appropriately “in summary”, I can say this is a fine and above-all inspiring prototype. The code’s short and bad, but not even that bad for a quick prototype.

With a proper disclaimer and “wrap up” message I feel can safely leave TimeLine be for now. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit it.