mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)

Recently I started reading this Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl. It's pretty good; very hands-on, and doesn't assume that you know Ruby (that's a programming language; Rails is a web development framework). It does assume that you know enough about software development and web technology to be dangerous. And if you're not dangerous yet,...

It points you at a web site where you can learn enough to be dangerous. Starting from knowing nothing at all.

It's the author's contention that Tech is the new literacy [and] [l]earning the basics of programming is only one piece of the puzzle. LearnEnough to Be Dangerous teaches [you] to code as well as a much more powerful skill: technical sophistication. Part of that technical sophistication is knowing how to look things up or figure things out when you don't know them.

There are seven volumes in the series leading up to the Rails tutorial, giving you an introductory course in software development. I haven't gone to a bootcamp, but I'd guess that this is roughly the equivalent. More importantly, by the end of this series you'll be able to work through and understand just about any of the thousands of free tutorials on the web, and more importantly you'll have learned how to think and work like a software developer.

The first three tutorials lay the groundwork: Learn Enough Command Line..., Learn Enough Text Editor..., and Learn Enough Git to Be Dangerous. With just those, you'll know enough to set up a simple website -- and you do, on GitHub Pages. You'll also end up with a pretty good Linux or MacOS development environment (even if you're using Windows).

I have a few quibbles -- the text editor book doesn't mention Emacs, and the author is clearly a Mac user. (You don't need a tutorial on Emacs, because it has one built in -- along with a complete set of manuals. So you'll be able to try it on your own.)

The next three books are Learn Enough HTML to Be Dangerous, Learn Enough CSS & Layout, and Learn Enough JavaScript. The JavaScript is a real introduction to programming -- you'll also learn how to write tests, and of course you'll also know how to use version control, from the git tutorial.

At this point I have to admit that after starting the Ruby tutorial I went back and skimmed through the others; I'll probably want to take a closer look at the JavaScript tutorial to see if I've missed anything in my somewhat haphazard journey toward front-end web development.

The next book in the series is Learn Enough Ruby to Be Dangerouse. (If you skip it on your way to the Rails tutorial, there's a quick introduction there as well.) Ruby seems like a good choice for a second language, and learning a second programming language is important because it lets you see which ideas and structures are fundamental, and which aren't. (There's quite a lot of that about JavaScript -- it's poorly-designed in many ways, and some things about it are quite peculiar.)

Another good second or third programming language would be Python. If you'd like to go there next, or start from the beginning with Python, I can recommend Django Girls and their Tutorial. This is another from-the-ground-up introduction to web development, so of course there's a lot of overlap in the beginning.

Another fine post from The Computer Curmudgeon (also at

NaBloPoMo stats: 593 words in this post, 1172 words in 3 posts this month.

mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)

It's time to do a little planning. As you may remember from the previous post in this series, there are some projects I want to work on. (I also need to find a job, but that's a not completely separate issue. If anyone needs an expert Java programmer or a git expert, let me know.) The ones I want to concentrate on today are the apps, specifically the checklist app and the setlist app. The first major decision about each of them is which framework to base them on.

I really want to learn both React (with React Native on the back end), and Elm (with Electron on the back end), and I think it makes the most sense to write -- or at least start -- the checklist app first, and use React for it.

Here's my reasoning:

  1. React: React is by far the more popular of the two frameworks, so a lot of jobs ask for React experience. One reason it's more popular is that it's basically just a Javascript library -- programs look like Javascript with a little bit of HTML and HTML-like tags embedded in it. It's easy to learn (not that that's really a problem for me -- see below), and there are a lot of starter kits and tutorials around.
  2. Checklist app: It's pretty clear that the Checklist app will have a much wider audience, so it makes sense to do that first. It will also be easier to monetize (possibly as a freemium app, with the free version stand-alone and the premium version tied to a back-end service).
  3. The Setlist app, which includes a lyrics viewer and playlist generator as well, is likely to start out using my rather unusual music toolchain, and would actually be more useful (and get a lot more traffic) as a front end to the and Song pages. It makes sense for it to start out as part of a website rather than as a stand-alone app.
  4. Elm is a pure functional language (I love functional languages, which is why it would be easy for me) that is closer to Haskell than to Javascript.

Next steps:

  1. Make a place in my working tree for projects. Try not to give in to the temptation to completely refactor the whole hierarchy.
  2. Pull down and install a React starter kit and some kind of Elm starter kit.
  3. Set up the projects' git repos and working trees.


2018-04-13 06:26 am
mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)

It's been just short of a year since I retired, and I don't have a whole lot to show for it in the way of programming, apart from a little work on MakeStuff. OK, a fair amount. And it has an actual user now. But still.

Somewhere around the New Year I started making a(nother) list of potential projects that I wanted to work on in my retirement. As these things do, it got out of hand -- at last count there were 86 unfinished items in it. Time to start something.

There are a few constraints. I can't start any of the woodworking projects yet, because the contents of the garage are in storage waiting for the remodeling to get finished; that includes all of the woodworking tools. So there's that. Same for the recording projects -- my good microphones have either been boxed, or vanished altogether in the last move.

More than half the "projects" on the list are ideas for articles or blog posts -- there are forty or so of those. I should start picking them off, one or two every week, but they're not really projects.

What remains is mostly software: programs (the young people call them "apps" these days) and work on my websites. These are also areas where I have a lot to learn, and where I can develop skills that will be useful if I want -- or need -- to do some consulting. And there's another factor: there's really no difference between a web app and a mobile app! Not any more: with React Native and Electron, one can now build stand-alone cross-platform applications using web front-end frameworks -- they basically bundle a stripped-down browser and a trivial server with your web"site", which is often just a Single-Page Application (SPA). And with languages like Elm that compile into Javascript,...

I can haz apps

One app I want to write will be for managing checklists. (There's an existing app called Checkmate -- my first choice for a name; grumble -- that looks worth mining for ideas.) Beyond being able to have multiple, named lists, I want timing information so that one can ask questions like "how long ago did I last take my pain medication, and is it safe to take another dose?" That needs to work for both scheduled items, and "as-needed", floating items that can start their timer going at any time. More like a combination checklist and reminder system. I'd also like to be able to track the time it takes to go through a checklist, both so that I know when to start if I'm getting ready for something, and so that I know how much I'm improving with practice. Eventually it would be nice to link this to both a website and an Alexa skill -- the website will be easy, since almost the entire app will be usable as the front end.

It would be nice to have a combined lyrics viewer and a setlist planner. (I used to have a setlist planner, but it was in Perl and kept its state in the HTTP query string - bad news for caching and sort of search-engine pessimization.) There would be some overlap with the checklist app, since they both involve going through a list of things in sequence, with associated times. It would be especially useful on a tablet for performances, but it would be most effective combined with a website that hosts lyrics and music, which brings us to...

What a mangled web

Another thing I've been looking at is "Responsive Web Design" -- making websites that adjust smoothly between tiny mobile devices and large-screen desktops. This has long been a design requirement of mine anyway -- almost all my sites do this, but they do it by simply not having much of a layout, and they look bad both on very large screens and very small ones. It's time to take this to the next level by adding responsive CSS and mobile.

There are several websites that need work:,,, and at least. The first one is by far the simplest; just songs, concerts, (proposed) albums, and a gig schedule. adds writing and software projects, but there's still a lot of overlap.

It would make sense to do the others using different responsive design frameworks, just to get experience with a few of the options., in particular, is my "portfolio" site; it's also the only one that has a sidebar at the moment. It might be a good idea to turn into a GitHub Pages site. is my "commercial" site, and it would make sense to use a CMS like Joomla or Drupal for it.

(I have some other sites, e.g. and, but they're simple enough to simply copy the CSS from one of the others. The Interesting.Places sub-site would be worth some attention.)

Now, here's my plan...

The underlying reason for picking this particular set of projects is to market myself as a blogger, consultant, and developer, in hopes of making a little money on the side. That suggests that I should start with the checklist app, and probably start the site makeovers by moving to a GitHub site (which would give me an obvious home for projects like MakeStuff and my development-focussed blogging). On the other hand, making over would probably teach me more about responsive design, especially if I make into a GitHub site. It might make more sense to keep as a separate site, and build the GitHub site from scratch.

In any case, my main blogging site will remain here on Dreamwidth; most likely I'll just cross-post development-related blog entries to (and GitHub, if it's separate). Or would it make more sense to keep all of the blogging concentrated here?

Comments? Ideas? Suggestions? Over to you folks.

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