software development

New job and no task tracking make Dan something something

So the big news is a new job for me! It’s pretty crazy, being the second week and all, but I’m still in the steep end of the learning curve. So I’ll let that discussion pass for now.

The thing that is really killing me though, is no JIRA. I had gotten so used to having JIRA there to organise myself/others in, that without it I am stuck with (gasp) actual to-do lists. The humanity! There’s an installation of Gemini somewhere that is disused; which as far as I can tell is a feature-clone of JIRA, but, well, it’s a bit of a mess really. Needs a good ol’ DELETE FROM TASKS WHERE 1=1 I think.

The upshot of this is that everyone in dev land is a bit unsure from day to day what is supposed to be happening, which inevitably leads to meetings. Oh meetings; stealer of time, destroyer of fun.

Gemini seems ok, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that to the untrained eye (aka non-technical folk) it’s a bit complicated. Which, seeing as the only way to placate the meeting monster is by making reports, that’s not good. I don’t want to trade the time I spent in meetings with the time generating reports. I’d like it if someone wanted to know how that thing that has to be done by the end of the week, you know, that thing, was going, they could just check.

Maybe JIRA is complicated to the untrained eye too. I dunno. But save me from meetings!

software development

The importance of open discussion in software development

I jsut finished reading an interview with Zed Shaw on O’Rielly called and I have to say it was very enlightening. It was interesting and encouraging to ‘hear’ him say: My motto here is “If I KMFU (Know My F*ing Users) they won’t have to RTFM.”

I think that this principle is so often overlooked in the programming world – and not just the Open Source world either. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a go at some program or other and just been lost without the docs. I do try to keep it simple for my stuff but sometimes you kinda get caught up in some idea (yours or someone else’s) and you end up implementing some crap that does the job, but that’s about it. It doesn’t ‘just work.’

This relates to something else I read today, called The Art of No. As professional coders on deadlines that usually ‘cannot move,’ there seems to be a strong inclination to say ‘no’ to any change request or feature enhancement. While this makes the deadline less distant, it makes the client/your superior/the user more distant and lowers your rapport with them all. After all, they’re paying you! So, the article above says “ask why,” so you open a dialogue into the problem and see the other side of the story.

I’ve found that telling them that “you’ll see what you can do” works wonders too. This has the following benefits:

  1. You can talk about why they want it done in a non-meeting format; the less structured the meeting the easier it is to get points across because you are less limited in time
  2. It gives you a chance to make sure that the feature they are asking for is not somehting that you were expected to build anyway
  3. You can discuss the impact on the timeline
  4. By not saying ‘no,’ you can get more work for yourself/company and thereby invoice more hours

This last point is important – none of us can work for free, but customers can sometimes forget that. Bring it back to the bottom line. Underlying this has to be a strong spec of some kind, or a time-and-materials (per hour) agreement though – otherwise there’s gonna be pain when you get to talking about what was supposed to be delivered at what tie for what cost. Get your ducks in a row at the start, and everything else is a lot simpler.


Capistrano, Mongrel, and Mongrel_cluster

EDIT 2007-06-05: An updated version of this is up here

After my hiatus on posting it seems appropriate to get back into the meaty stuff…

Ever since I started using Debian (instead of FreeBSD) I’ve been having weird problems with my rails dispatch.fcgi processes multiplying in the night. Nothing shows up in the logs, but I spawn 2 externally of Lighttpd, and in the morning i’ve got 6 of the little blighters. Of course, at 20-30 meg a pop, the poor little Xen VPS isn’t too happy about that, so I have a nightly job that kills them all and restarts them. And then, 12 hours later, 4 more than I asked for are there. It seems to be a load issue, but I digress.

So ever since I noticed that I’ve been wanting to use Mongrel to run my Rails apps. For those not familiar with mongrel, it’s a Tomcat-style application host for rails apps that avoids (huzzah) the FCGI palaver that we ordinarily have to deal with. The problem was that according to mongrel, a USR2 signal should fully restart the daemon, and it does, but it’s a tiny little bit funny in a way that makes it totally painful to use with Capistrano for automated deployment.

You see, on restart, it doesn’t re-evaluate what the ./current symlink is pointing to. So when it’s restarted over a ./current that points to ./releases/2006xxxxxxxxx1 that’s fine, but on a redeployment through Cap when this symlink is repointed to ./releases/2006xxxxxxxxx2, the mongrel instance still points to ./releases/2006xxxxxxxxx1

So that’s not so good. Btw, Zed, you’re an awesome coder and I in no way mean you disrespect here. I’m just telling the problem I faced.

Along comes mongrel_cluster. Totally fixed the issue for me, and here’s how.

1. Install mongrel_cluster, and then (in ./current) run “mongrel_rails cluster::configure”

2. open the new ./config/mongrel_cluster.yml and edit the line that starts with “cwd:” like so:

  • change “cwd: /path/to/app/releases/2006xxxxxxxxx1” to “cwd: /path/to/app/current”
  • change the port to the first one you want for this cluster, and select how many you want (defauts to 2 which should be ‘enough’ for most cases)
  • change from “development” to “production”

3. Add the following tasks to your capistrano deploy.rb file

desc “The spinner task is used by :cold_deploy to start the application up”
task :spinner, :roles => :app do
send(run_method, “cd #{deploy_to}/#{current_dir} && mongrel_rails cluster::start”)

desc “Restart the mongrel cluster”
task :restart, :roles => :app do
send(run_method, “cd #{deploy_to}/#{current_dir} && mongrel_rails cluster::restart”)

4. Rejoice!

5. Before you do anything else, add to your crontab an @restart task to start the mongrel instances when your server comes up! Very important!

Now “rake remote:cold_deploy” and “rake remote:deploy” work for the mongrel cluster! I used the instructions on the mongrel site on how to integrate with lighttpd at but there are equally good Apache 2.2 docs out there (why Apache 2.2 isn’t available for Debian is anoher question entirely…)
Much kudos and thanks to Zed Shaw for the excellent mongrel server and to Bradley Taylor for mongrel_cluster. Oh, and Jamis Buck for Capistrano!



I’ve decided to change hosting providers. There’s no one thing that caused me to want to leave TextDrive, but lots of little things. Like getting accused of causing problems that you didn’t create. Or getting abuse in support tickets.. you know, that kind of thing that you should never do to your customers?

So after making the choice beween and, I went with Rinuhosting mainly because they responded to my requests within HOURS of me making them, while PlanetArgon took 3 days. RimuHosting is a Xen based VPS provider, so I’ve got my own Debian instance (was Sarge, but – thanks Rob – now is running Etch)

And I couldn’t be happier! Now, the fun fun task of migrating my PeopleHub domains…


Started Prince2 today

Well, when I wanted to do some Project management training I looked around and decided on Prince2.. and I just had my first day today. It’s good stuff – final accountability does not rest with the Project manager – yay!

But they really cram in that info… it was non stop all day, and 3 days to go!



A while ago, in a moment of inspiration/impulse purchase, I bought the domain “” thinking it’d be great to put stuff there about Rails dev from, well, Oz. As of today, that idea is postponed and integrated with this site, “” mainly because I started to doubt whether it was actually all that clever. It could be a bit wanky. So, Dreamhost mirror configuration, here we are!



As my first post it seems appropriate to start with my main programming tool at the moment – Ruby On Rails. Over the years I’ve dealt with many of the most popular web programming languages including ASP and PHP, and while they are ‘ok,’ it’s just not the same as rails. The biggest thing that gets to me with languages like that is that it’s not hard per-se to get things done, it’s just that you need to do the same things over and over again. And god help you if you want to change the way you’ve been doing it… testing?? what’s that? In rails, it’s all built in, and you don’t have to muck about with the dreary boringness of the simple stuff like DB connections, it’s all there for you so you can get on with writing the app!

Pure genius.