Rails software development

Ruby, SOAP4R and WSDL

For PeopleHub, we interface with a service provider to process payments with the banks. They, conveniently, have started to provide SOAP services, which is awesome. So, the question for me then, was how to integrate with them.

For some reason, I had trouble getting documentation on SOAP4R. The website itself is quite sparse, and there wasn’t much to see, until I found Ruby + SOAP4R + WSDL at Brendan, much kudos to you.

Basically, using SOAP without using the WSDL to generate code is a right pain the arse. Visual Studio does some nice intgrated stuff that generates code for you, as does the Apache stuff for Java. So, in ruby land, I was lost. Of course, Rails does have ActiveWebService and ActiveResource, but these were for producing services and using REST service from Rails respectively – no good for ad-hoc stuff.

The only thing I would caution the reader about is that although Ruby comes with a version of SOAP4R as part of the standard library, it DOES NOT come with the wsdl2ruby util from the distribution. Follow all of Brendan’s suggestions and you’ll be laughing.

rant software development

Friggin Mambo

I know Mambo has been pretty popular in the past. Personally I never warmed to it, because once I got past the fancy veneer it was excruciatingly difficult for a newbie to discover how to write a >1 page module.

Apparently, I am not alone in that difficulty. For the last week I’ve been trying to get a bit of Mambo work done at my new job and it seems that Mambo developers are so scarce that anyone who is worth their salt has a job in it while no-one else knows diddly about it.

Personally I’d be happier if I could get the sites redeveloped in ANYTHING, but that’s a bit hard when the customer actually likes the admin side of Mambo and sees no reason to change. Can’t blame them for that, really…

Anyway, what a PITA. Thanks to my buddy over at though, things might come good. But why is this ‘big thing’ from a year ago now nothing but a blip on the radar? I guess from the standpoint of a CMS-only website there are new frameworks out there like Drupal, but ferchrissakes, you’d think people would want to cash in those skills for which they worked so hard. Although, from what I’ve seen, it’s not worth the pain.

software development

Software Designer != Interface Designer

What is it about we IT folk that makes us so crap at interface design? Personally, I can sit down and crack out some sweet code without too much drama, but man I am shit at making the UI any good.

It’s not that it doesn’t work – it’s just that it’s not particularly pretty. Or intuitive.

One of the guys at my new work is case in point for this. He’s made a CMS style thing in dotnet for the internal projects and he had it up and going nice and quick and he can put a new version in a template in a day or two. Unfortunately it’s the biggest hunk of shit to use ever. If you update a page, when you go back to the menu it puts a javascript alert on the screen saying “Page Updated” Thanks for letting me know it’s updated – but did you really need to interrupt me to do it?

As a reminder for those who don’t remember, the Javascript ‘alert’ function is a modal box with a message that you MUST click before doing anything else. So when you’re going through updating all this content it’s

  1. Select page to change
  2. Edit content
  3. Click save
  4. Try to select next page but there’s that stupid alert again
  5. Click alert
  6. Swear
  7. See (1)

You know, nothing personal, good coder, but what a magnificently moronic choice for a way to tell the user something has happened – interrupting them.

For me, I don’t really want to be a UI designer. It’s too subjective for me; English, for example, was always secondary to Physics. But I’d like to think I get some of those things right…

On that topic – I need a new design for the PeopleHub Payments website. If you know someone, let me know.

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.