Learning Ruby

RubyAfter recently using the Ruby-based s3sync tools to handle backups to Amazon’s S3 service, it seemed a good time to give the Ruby programming language a fair shake and see what all the hubbub was about.  I had a little exposure to Ruby a couple years ago using a book tutorial to create a blog in Ruby on Rails, but didn’t really learn much about the language itself in that process.  And having recently discovered The Dev Show podcast on the 5by5 network, it’s also possible their extreme Ruby bias started rubbing off on me!

It always helps to have a real application when learning something like a new programming language, and having recently completed an upgrade to my Perl Module for the QRZ Callbook API, it seemed that porting it to a Ruby Gem might be the perfect goal.  Armed with “The Ruby Cookbook” and “The Ruby Programming Language” in my Safari Books account, and some free time during the holidays, I began.

The first problem I encountered was trying to use Ruby on Debian, the epitome of stability in my opinion, and my server environment of choice for that very reason.  The Ruby package for Debian had already been installed on the system in order to use s3sync.  But when trying to do something as simple as listing the remote Ruby Gems, it produced a fairly cryptic error.  Researching the error eventually led to this post from one of the Debian package maintainers. The reputation of Ruby’s instability was immediately showing itself.

Compiling Ruby from source seemed the only realistic way to move on.  I installed the latest version, 1.9.2.  It seemed like a good idea at this point to make sure s3sync and s3cmd were still working, only now they were producing fatal errors.  Research confirmed that the s3sync tools simply do not work with Ruby version 1.9.2.  So I installed Ruby version 1.8.7 from source instead, and thought very seriously about abandoning the project.

Eventually I did finish and publish my new Ruby Gem and felt a little less behind the programming curve afterward.  (Read: keeping up with the youngstahs)  I do like the language a lot – it feels like you can accomplish many things in fewer lines than other languages, and that the code is very clean and legible.  And it does seem that there’s something just plain fun about it, similar to the way OS X feels good in a can’t-necessarily-put-your-finger-on-it way.  And RVM (Ruby Version Manager) appears to be a slick (and fun) way to manage an otherwise unstable version environment.

Fluency in both Perl and jQuery seemed helpful since most concepts in Perl translate fairly well to Ruby – such as the array and control structures – and the endlessly chained object oriented methods feel a lot like jQuery.

Time and energy-allowing, I’ll probably take a more serious pass at Rails; I have an application in mind.  I abandoned Rails the first time when it became clear that incorporating it into our Apache-based server environment at work wasn’t realistic.  This time the approach will be with an application that’s more standalone in nature.  And after learning about Passenger, I have at least some confidence that maybe Rails and Apache can co-exist better than used to be the case – and it might not even be slow!  We shall see…

Twitter vs. RSS

Twitter vs. RSSWhile reading tech news stories, I often see writers mention that RSS feeds are becoming irrelevant due to the increasing popularity of Twitter and Facebook, and the ability to get news through their feeds.  They would have you believe that RSS feeds and readers are on the way out, but I think quite the opposite is true.

It’s definitely possible that Twitter, or Facebook, or some new service will figure out a different way to format article links and titles embedded in updates in a predictable way that some new type of aggregator will be able to save for you.  But why would anybody do that when RSS is already ubiquitous.  Until these social networking feeds become strictly channelized, it’s tough to pull out every article from all your favorite news sources.  Even then, it still feels very kludgy to try and form the output of a Twitter feed into something as useful as RSS already is.

On a larger scale, I’m not convinced that the Twitter model will last in its current form anyway.  I’ve heard people whose opinions I respect say that Twitter will soon be the “new dial tone.”  It would be fun to think so, and I believe its style of communication will carve out a permanent place on the Internet, I just don’t think people will find it useful for everything.  Like so many technologies before Twitter – blogs, push, frames, chatrooms, and even RSS comes to mind – they’ve all found a their uses within the big picture, but they haven’t overtaken as some completely new and dominant paradigm like these writers would seem to imply.  They also say that the new attention-scattered generation is why Twitter will eventually take over, but it doesn’t appear that teens really care about these services more than their older counterparts.

Honestly, I’m not sure they know the scope of what they’re saying when they flippantly mention that RSS is becoming irrelevant.  Based on past experience, I wouldn’t look for the little orange RSS icons to go away any time soon.

(syndicated from blog.netcrafters.com)

Does Bing Matter?

When Microsoft first announced their new search engine and Google competitor, Bing, back in late May, I didn’t really give it much thought. I still don’t. In fact, I don’t personally know any non-techie person who has brought it up in general conversation. While that may not change, it might be worth examining a few noteworthy aspects of Bing.

  • BingMicrosoft is billing Bing as a “decision engine.”
  • It uses attractive and lightweight graphics. For people who want an interesting design on their search engine interface, this may be a plus.
  • They’re experimenting with Real Time Search. For now, this just means they’re including recently posted Twitter content from a few celebrities and tech industry personalities. But real-time search is a hot topic at the moment and they’re actually doing something with it.
  • For developers and webmasters, Bing provides an API (Application Programming Interface) and some basic tools.

It’s also worth noting that Bing has taken one percent of the search market share from Google since their announcement. From April to June, Google’s market share fell from 79.1% to 78.5%. Yahoo remained consistent at 11%, and Microsoft went from 7.2% to 8.2%.

It seems hard to imagine anybody dethroning Google as the king of search, but with a Yahoo redesign/rebranding also due in the fall, it will be interesting to see how the search engine space race continues to develop!

In the meantime, here are a few links to some of the more lively news stories Bing has been creating:

Kayak to Bing: Stop Copying Us! (wired.com)

Google mocks Bing and the stuff behind it (The Register)

Google Does Not Mock Bing (Vijay Gill)

(syndicated from blog.netcrafters.com)