From the monthly archives: August 2007

I’m always interested and impressed by good examples of design and exciting ways to display information. Here are two links you need to check out and keep around when you need inspiration:

  • 45 Excellent Blog Designs: The title says it all. There is good mix of simple and clean design along with more elaborate designs.
  • Data Visualization: Modern Approaches: There are few here that are obtuse in my opinion, but I would kill to get a graph of how my music tastes evolved and varied over the last 10 years such as this.

Popularity: 8% [?]


Every time I write a post, it seems I spend a large amount of time putting the links in. My last post contained seven links and it feels like it took an eternity to put them in. I have to open another browser window, google the page, copy the link and then paste it in my post. For some reason, it feels like a very tedious process. I’m wondering if anybody has any tricks they use to make it faster? How do you manage all the links in your posts?

Popularity: 10% [?]


Last monday was the third edition of the book club. We grew to a party of five this time. Heri talked about Building Scalable Websites, a book by Cal Henderson, lead developer of flickr. Even though Heri recommends the book, he didn’t seem very passionate talking about it. He says it covers a lot ground, but there is only one chapter that talks specifically about flickr. It led to a discussion about denormalization. People thought that few knew about it, or that they weren’t pragmatic enough about it.

Chris Lamothe then presented Textmate: Power Editing for the Mac. He liked it a lot as it allowed him to really understand the power of Textmate. I’m halfway through the book and like it, but I’m surprised that about two thirds of the book are consecrated to building your own automations. I was expecting more on the editing side.

Next book was Scrum and Xp From the Trenches, which is available as a free pdf. Fred Brunel and I had a very lengthy discussion about process in general. It’s been a while since I talked about process, which used to be one of my favorite subject. I feel I’ve read enough about Agile in general (I think I’m post-agile now), but the book seems short and contains actual experiences instead of just principles and practices, so I might take a look at it.

Other reports

  • Heri’s report
  • Fred Brunel’s review of Scrum & XP from the Trenches

Popularity: 28% [?]


Last night I attended my first DemoCamp. It’s an event where people get 15 minutes to demo one of their project.


Francois Magnan from Categorical Design Studios started the night and seemed really nervous and didn’t talk very loud. He spent five minutes talking about the semantic web just to get to say that his product uses OWL for an ontology. I guess this is good thing? Did it allowed you to do any thing cool, or something that would be very tough without OWL? (I’m sorry. I never saw anything really useful with semantic web technologies (or they have huge implementation problem) and am always fascinated why some people need to mention they used one, yet can’t explain any clear advantages.)

The presentation was hard to follow so here is what I think I understood: Braincuts is a scenario editor that allows you to mix video, images and sound. It can be used for e-learning.

I saw glimpses of a really cool UI, very impressive stuff done entirely using web standard technologies, but I’m not sure what all this tech is used for.


David Xu presented PodBean, a side project while he finishes his studies at McGill. For a side project, it is very impressive. I think the best way to describe PodBean is for podcasts (it actuallly seems to be built on wordpress). If podcasting interests you, check it out.


Mitch Cohen presented ClixConnect, which offers live chat (support / sales) 24/7 for any website. They target SME which can’t afford to have the staff for this. I think it’s an interesting business model. It’s not for everyone, but things seems to be going well for them (they just launched in april).

Josh Nursing

One of the presentation spot was left open this afternoon, so Josh Nursing put something together real quick, and it showed. Half of the presentation was about a bug he found in IronRuby, and the other half about some king of autocompletion for e (a text editor). I’m sorry, but I was bored to tears. Each could have been shown in under a minute, yet he found ways to keep rambling. I guess this depends on the technical level of the audience.


Daniel Haran finished the night with url_pipe. The idea is to bring the power of the unix command line to the web. A simple example he showed involved running a news feed to a geocode service and then displaying the results in Google Maps. He also showed a filter where you draw a shape on google maps so you could see only what’s happening in that region.

The final objective is to be able to have a command line where you could chain all these commands together. Yahoo! Pipes does something similar, albeit in a less powerful and graphical way. Daniel mentioned another use case for this utility: finding an apartment. You could search an rss feed for only 4 and a half apartments, geocode them, and then make sure they are situated in the areas you wanted on google maps. Now that’s cool!

Popularity: 9% [?]


I just changed my iMac G5 to a MacBook. There are lot of instructions on installing Ruby and Rails on a Mac on the net, some of them not quite up to date. Here is what I find to be the easiest way to do it.

  • Pop your Mac OS X install disc 1 and install the xcode tools. (this installs an old version of ruby)
  • Download and install MacPorts
  • open terminal:
    sudo nano /etc/profile

    Prepend /opt/local/bin: to PATH, so it reads:


    This is to make sure the new version we are about to install will get used instead of the old one.

  • Make sure MacPorts is up to date:
    sudo port selfupdate
  • Install ruby and rubygems:
    sudo port install ruby
    sudo port install rb-rubygems
    ruby -v

    This last command should give 1.8.6. If you see 1.8.2, this means it is still using the version installed from the OS X cd. Make you correctly updated your PATH.

  • Install Rails:
    sudo gem install rails -y

You might also want to install subversion right now using ports:

sudo port install subversion

(Note: at the time of writing, Rails is at version 1.2.3 and Ruby at 1.8.6. )

Popularity: 5% [?]


Tuesday night saw the birth of the Montreal On Rails user group in a small room on the Mcgill campus. It was a lot of fun.

The first presentation was by Marc-André Cournoyer, Standout Jobs Ruby Guru, entitled “How to make your tests faster”.
Marc-André started with a very funny introduction. I don’t know how to describe his intro. He should turn it in a video for all to see. First part was a demonstration of caching results from external apis (he used twitter as an example) to a file to make tests go really fast on your development machine. You then add a flag so the build machine uses the actual api. You get the best of both worlds: fast tests when developping, but you also validate that the api didn’t change. I just started a project monday that is gonna connect to 3 apis, so the presentation was very timely.

The second part was about a plugin he is developping called InactiveRecord to stub out the access to the database for your test. You can find the slides to his presentation along with the code here.

Second presentation was from Carl Mercier of Karabunga. It was a small tutorial on HAML, a templating engine for Rails. You can play online with HAML here. The latest version released a couple of weeks ago seems to have fixed a lot of performance problem (30% slower than rhtml instead of 1000% slower). I will have to give it another try soon, along with sass, which is haml for css.

Suggestions for improvements:

  • Bigger room for more people, but also more open space to make it easier to socialize, and a room where donuts are allowed ;)
  • Wiki on so people can post suggestions for topics that would interest them for presentations
  • Maybe we can have a round of quick presentation (2-5 mins) if let’s say you want to present a small plugin or a ruby trick. This could help orient discussions after the main presentation. It would also allow more people to talk and present themselves, in a less intimidating way than a full blown presentation.
  • Maybe someone is crazy enough to want to videotape the presentations?

I can’t wait for the next edition!

Popularity: 23% [?]


Last monday was the second edition of the book club. Once again there were a lot of great discussions on a wide range of subjects. I had the chance to catch up with an ex colleague, Mathieu Jacques, developper extraordinaire at Dakis Decision Systems. Heri and Patrick Tanguay completed the foursome.

Heri wrote a very comprehensive report if you want more details on the books discussed. The next edition will be on 27th of August, 7pm, at Laika. If you enjoy discussing around a beer, please come!

Popularity: 31% [?]