Practicing Code with the DevChix


In February I finally decided to do something I always wanted to do with DevChix. I wanted to lead a group project intended for those who wanted to learn and could commit to 2 hours a week. I had 3 volunteers.. then two.. and then one! But thats ok, I know people get busy and other things going on, so no big deal. But cool thing is, even those that left said they learned something. So, my goal was still reached!

The Project

I had this idea in my head for awhile. One thing with lists is, you need to write down something if you want to do it today. We all have todo lists, and there are somethings we want to do every day. You may try to remember them without a list, or maybe you write them out. I thought it would be cool to have a todo list app that will give your list, allow you to check them off, then next day you have the same list. Bonus to have a graph of how many you did each day of the week. I think its motivating to see a graph of my progress.

Getting Started

Its my experience, when I start an app, I add user login and I get hung up on the authentication, tests and stuff and never get to the meat of the app. So I wrote a simple login system with just a username (no password), threw it in the session and wrote some simple methods to check to see if logged in. Later we replaced it with Devise with not much trouble at all.

What we learned

  • git, making branches, push and pull
  • erb and haml
  • grid 960
  • HighCharts a javascript graphing library
    devise, we added a whitelist so we can have a beta with only certain email addresses allowed to sign up.

  • publishing with heroku
  • rails of course


Summer got busy, including a cross country move for me and new job! We still managed to meet about every 2 weeks. We used github for our code. We put our tasks in Pivotal Tracker and that worked fine. We used Github wiki to record meeting notes, what happened since last meeting and who is doing what for the next week. We’ve been able to meet weekly the past month or so as the summer is winding down.

Whats next?

We are deploying the app to DevChix for beta testing. From there, not sure.

Remote Pair-Programming

AgileApprenticeshipDesign processSoftwareTestingThoughts

Seems like Pair Programming is “all the rage” lately in my circles. I haven’t exactly done it before but after hearing about the success and rapid knowledge growth amongst those that pair program…I was almost dying to try it! Especially after i saw David Chelimsky and Corey Haines at WindyCityRails in Sept 2009. I saw them pair and do BDD with Rspec/Cucumber and it was so fascinating, It was like I was watching a ballet as they hopped from RSpec to Cucumber and back and forth. I was like, wow…I wish I was that good! I would have paid good money for a recording of that so I could watch it again and again! I see Corey Haines traveling around pairing with people too. Some people get together and play cards, but Corey gets together to code!

So ok, I like code, I like people, I want to try it! I live a little south of Chicago so its a long commute and it seemed everyone was so busy to pair in person when I asked. I asked on Devchix mailing list for suggestions on how to do pairing online. I had found a few, and the group had some good suggestions. I even had a volunteer to try it with me! This week aimee and I set a few hours aside to try it and see if we could do it!

This article was also sort of “paired” as it was written from my perspective with input and suggestions from aimee!

We asked on Devchix mailing list for suggestions on how to do pairing online. I had found a few, and the group had some good suggestions. I even had a volunteer to try it with me! This week aimee and I set a few hours aside to try it and see if we could do it!

After introductions on Skype we set about getting a shared environment in which to code together. Ideally, we wanted some kind of desktop sharing so we could run tests, console and editor.

We had heard of a few tools and got suggestions from the devchix list:

IChat desktop sharing – we couldn’t get this to work, we did different things and it would appear to connect but then it failed. I tried to mess with settings for Sharing on mac, but nothing doing.

Rio seems to be a library to make collaborative apps, not to use in a pair programming environment.

BeSpin was hard to use.. we couldn’t figure out exactly how to use it. It almost seemed to offer to import the git repository we were working on, but then it said it only supports Subversion and Mercurial, not git.

SubEthaEdit worked but we would have to open each file individually and share each file… unless I was missing something. This would be fine for collaborating on a single file but then we could not share the test runs, terminal commands or view the browser together.

Etherpad – we didn’t end up trying this but I have used it before to debug some code or try out ideas with a friend. They recently got bought by Google, so it would be interesting to see what they do with it. This would suffer the same limitations as SubEthaEdit in that it’s just a text editor.

GoToMeeting (which is $40-50/month) its a little steep for the open source work I want to do. But people say it works really well.

VNC and Unix Screenaimee had used this successfully before but since we weren’t on the same network, just our laptops at home, we weren’t sure it how we could make it work easily.

Then we came to TeamViewer which worked brilliantly! We shared desktop and I could type in aimee’s console window, see the tests running and type in textmate. Even with aimee on her Dvorak keyboard and I on Qwerty! I could type fine but couldn’t copy/paste with keyboard shortcuts so I used the mouse to copy/paste and it worked fine.

All in all, it was an awesome experience and I picked up on a few tidbits of knowledge from aimee on git, and rake! I had some bits of code from another project i was able to quickly copy/paste and get us rolling. We had a few discussions about coding style as we went.

Since aimee was more familiar with the codebase, she mainly wrote the behavioral specs and I wrote the code to satisfy them. We plan to switch around next time, when we pair on a different project that I’ve been developing for a while.

I Love Python: BBC Language web scrape and encode to disk in 54 lines.


This module scrapes the BBC language web site (
for sample text from all 35 languages offered. It encodes the text snippets and writes to independent files, then test-reads one sample file.

The encoding requirements took some digging through obscure docs, but the rest wasn’t so bad. If you want to know how to do unicode language support to file in Python, this is for you.

import urllib2
import codecs
import BeautifulSoup
import re
import pdb
import os

class GetBBC:
	def __init__(self):
		print "In constructor"
		self.language_links = []
		self.dir = 'BBC_Language_pages'
		except OSError:

	def getLanguageChoices(self):
		lang_page = urllib2.urlopen("").read()
		self.soup = BeautifulSoup.BeautifulSoup(lang_page)
		# match langtexttop too
		links = self.soup.findAll(attrs={'class':re.compile('^langtext*')})
		for x in links:
			print "Appending %s with link %s " % (x.a.string,x.a['href'])

		print "There are %d language choices for the BBC news page!" % len(self.language_links)

	def archiveLanguagePages(self):
		for x in self.language_links:
			lang_page = urllib2.urlopen('' + x.a['href']).read()
			clean_page = BeautifulSoup.BeautifulSoup(lang_page).prettify()
			rawfile =,'wb+','ISO8859-1')
			print "Saved the %s page." % x.a.string

	def readLanguagePage(self,language):
		rawfile =,'rb','ISO8859-1')
		file =
		return rawfile

if __name__ == "__main__":
	y = x.readLanguagePage('Portuguese')

There are languages for which ISO8859-1 encoding may not work, so you may need to experiment with encoding codecs for languages not supported by the BBC.

I wrote this in May 2007, as a language support test for GrrlCamp, which is an online Open Source development group for women. We will be recruiting again in late June. If you are female, interested in volunteering development effort in exchange for learning, and have at least 6 hours free each week to do cutting edge fun Python design and development in a supportive and great online community, please post your email address and we will get back to you.


The unmodified code

Programming from the (under)ground up


Hello. Welcome to my first article.

And my brand spankin new, made-from-scratch stab at programming. It’s going to be a bumpy ride: bumpy like fun-old-rollercoaster-bumpy not trainwreck-bumpy (universe willing).

Please allow me to rattle off some quick background facts so you know what planet I’m coming from. I’m a 26 year old retired bartender. I did that for more years than I care to say (ok fine, 8). I fancy myself an amateur artist; basically, I paint for therapy and fun. I’ve always liked things of a nerdy nature (i.e. writing very basic html in a webshell on angelfire when I was 13, Magic the Gathering, guys who majored in Astrophysics, etc). I consider myself very confident and intelligent, and it’s a shame that went to waste for so many years. That being said, years of bartending with no substantial plans for the future wore me out and made me feel quite desperate for awhile.

Then something changed. I got beat down so much by the universe’s way of telling me to stop f’ing around, that I got fed up with being fed up. Well, Desi McAdam happens to be one of my favorite people on the planet and a very close friend, and she had always offered to teach me programming…intensively. She and my other longtime friend/ROR evangelist Obie Fernandez had always told me they thought I’d be a great programmer. I didn’t know what they were talking about. So I called up my dear Desi and said “I’ll do whatever it takes. Let’s do this thing.”

I thought I was going to be learning in my off time while still bartending and getting tutored whenever Desi was in town. I knew this would take a very, very, very long time, but I felt ready for the challenge.

As it turned out, she and Obie were down here in Florida on the beach working with this fabulous guy Mark Smith. I had met him some weeks before, and we all had a great time together. They wanted to bring an apprentice on to the small team, so voila! Here I am. I am now in full on training starting with nothing but my instinctual and intellectual abilities and no experience. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have, and I intend to give back to Desi and Obie by trying hard to be a bad ass programmer.

Desi is putting alot of effort into being my personal, full-time tutor, and I think she rocks socks for it.

So I’m offering up myself, my victories, and my many future foibles here for your musing and amusement.

Cheers and enjoy

RubyEast Recap, Slides, and Other Thoughts


I spoke at RubyEast this past Friday and I think the presentation went pretty well. It was my first presentation in a speaker/audience type setting so I was very nervous. I have presented at Agile 2006 but it was a game (interactive) and was co-presented by several other people. This presentation was the first time I stood in front of a room full of people and spoke and everything went very well. Like I said I was really nervous but as soon as I got started the nervousness went away. I think I am very lucky because I was able to present to a room full of very nice/cool people and that made the experience a great one. I want to actually thank the people who came to hear me present and who gave me great feedback and encouragement afterwards it really made my day. If you are interested here are the slides for the presentation. A Tour Of Rails Testing using RSpec

I didn’t get to see many of the sessions because I was busy preparing for my talk but I was able to catch Obie’s presentation – Advanced ActiveRecord which was really good (and I am not just saying that because he is my boyfriend). I also caught the ending Keynote where Nap (I actually don’t know his real name) announced the Rails Rumble winners. There were several screencasts and it made me wish that Obie, Clay, Nick and I would have had time to get the video that was shot of us over the weekend edited and ready for prime time. We had a blast doing the competition and while we didn’t win (we got honorable mention) we learned a lot and I think we all grew closer in those 48 hours. The teams that did win did a tremendous job on their apps and well deserved the loot. Take a look at the winners there really are some great apps. Rails Rumble Winners

Friday evening a bunch of people got together after the conference and played several games of Werewolf which is a really fun game to play. I got to know a lot of people during that game and it was a great way to wind down.

Couple of other thoughts before I end the post. ShesGeeky (un)Conference sounds like it is going to kick major ass so any of you ladies out there who can attend make sure you get registered. Additionally, ladies if you want to talk during the conference please contact the organizers.

GrrrlCamp seems to be getting a good footing. I was lucky enough to meet THE Gloria this past Friday and I look forward to being a part of GrrlCamp.

I have taken on an apprentice and she will soon be posting to the blog about her experiences. I am in the process of trying to see if creating an apprenticeship type program run by DevChix is possible because after speaking with Sonia (one of the women on DevChix) she helped me figure out that I would really like to have a program that fits the apprenticeship model rather than a mentoring program. Look for more to come on this in the future.