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I'm Ryan Lowe, a Software Engineering graduate living in Ottawa, Canada. I like agile software development and Ruby on Rails.
I write this blog in Canadian English and don't use a spell checker. Typos happen.
» Full-time Ruby on Rails freelancer
» Full-time with Rails since May 2005
» Former committer for RadRails (now Aptana)
» I also have a few Rails side-projects in development:
1. wheretogoinTO.com Toronto nightlife
2. Hey Heads Up! TODO list and sharing
3. Layered Genealogy family history research
4. foos for foosball scoring
5. fanconcert for music fans (on hold)
Hiring Rails developers? I can telecommute by the hour from Ottawa, Canada
»» Email: rails AT ryanlowe DOT ca
Now hosted on Hey! Heads Up -- check it out!
Derek Lowe's (Ryan's older brother) words at Ryan's funeral
[email protected] no more
Forging Email Headers: Good, Bad or Ugly?
Sarcastic Dictionary (Part 1 of Many)
Twisting Rails is Risky Business
Risky Business? My Take on Early Alphas
Whoa, it's August 2007
A Postscript to "Growth at the grassroots"
»» All Blog Posts
David Heinemeier Hansson
James Duncan Davidson
Signal vs. Noise
Amy Hoy: (24)slash7
Luis de la Rosa
# Thanks, Everyone
I just wanted to say thanks to everyone. I've gotten a lot of positive support lately and it's helped tremendously.
Ruby and Rails have been all I expected and far more. I'm looking forward to releasing the first iteration of my first Rails project very soon. I'm aiming for the end of June.
# Noise on PlanetEclipse
As PlanetEclipse gets larger it will get harder to sift through all of the blog posts that fly by every day. It's just a simple scaling problem.
After a few weeks of watching the site, I'm noticing that there are quite a few posts that aren't related to Eclipse on PlanetEclipse. This makes it even harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. With this kind of signal noise the scaling problem will only get worse. I'm not sure that we were completely clear about the kinds of things that were intended to appear on the PlanetEclipse site but maybe now is a good time to do that.
Hey Ed, maybe PlanetEclipse needs some brief and informal posting guidelines? Or at the very least ask people politely to submit a separate RSS/Atom feed of posts only in their Eclipse-related categories, instead of their normal blog feed with everything. That's what I did and it's quite easy to do with a blogging tool like Movable Type.
If you've submitted your blog on PlanetEclipse and need help getting an Eclipse-only RSS or Atom feed set up, I'd be happy to help. Just give me a shout.
Just to be clear: if the unwritten rule is that anything goes on PlanetEclipse then that's cool with me. I just think we should say that somewhere, so that people know what to expect.
At the same time, after a certain amount of growth I think it will be harder and harder to extract value from the site if it continues along its current path. That's just my opinion and there are precedents. The same thing happened with Microsoft's blog aggregators last year: they just became bloated and generally useless.
# The Path Forks
After resigning last week, today is my last day at Agnovi. I don't think my blog is the place to talk about why I resigned, so I won't.
What does the future hold? I'm not sure. I have a few half-baked ideas, no debt and few responsibilities (no mortgage, car lease, alimony or child support payments).
It may be a good time to take a big risk or at the very least take stock of the current situation. I've realized I'm physically not very good at sitting in one place and hacking on code for more than eight hours a day, so that kind of limits my options on that front. I was always more interested in process anyway, but I'm not sure being in meetings all day is the solution that problem is looking for either.
Unfortunately the ideas I'm working on will have to stay out of the public eye for at least a little while. I won't be able to blog about the software and process problems I run into, which I really enjoyed doing with AudioMan/Durham. So I may not have much to blog about at all! I guess you can't have everything.
Right now I'd rather do something I love for a decent salary (if possible) than get rich. The most important thing though, was that I realized I'm in control of what I do with my own life and what options I explore -- and where I spent eight+ hours a day. I'm in the driver's seat. I have a choice.
Here's to the future!
# The PVR is Nicey but Pricey
I've had Rogers digital cable and a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) since I moved into my new place last December. Overall I'm impressed with the service but the cost is far to high to justify having it.
A PVR is like a VCR: it records TV shows. However, a PVR has a hard drive in it instead of recording to tape. You record shows straight from the integrated digital TV guide with the remote. You can set the PVR to record your favourite shows every time they air, which is awesome. I never miss an episode of The Daily Show.
After a few months of using the PVR I found I was watching less and less live television and more of the taped shows that were recorded automatically and stored. When I watch a taped show I skip commercials. For an hour-long program, this shaves off about 10-15 minutes in viewing time.
I personally did not watch that much TV before the PVR. Now I watch a few hours a day but those hours are spent watching shows I actually want to see, which to me makes TV more valuable.
But I'm going to get rid of Roger's digital cable and the PVR. It's just too expensive. I pay over $75 CAN a month. That's $2.50 a day! It's an insane cost for entertainment. I don't need TV that much, especially over the summer. So adios PVR! I might see you again in October.
Why not just go back to the cheap regular cable, you ask? I don't think you understand. Once you start using a PVR you can't ever go back to regular TV -- you'll find it to be truly useless and inconvenient. I'd rather go without TV than have a TV without a PVR.
Shows I Recorded
Star Trek: TNG reruns on Space
# Merit is Earned, Grasshopper
How do I get into this without sounding like a completely arrogant and naive gasbag? I'm not sure it's even possible. I'm going to try anyway because I think it's necessary to flesh this out.
I've been thinking a lot about my career and what the possibilities are. Up until graduation from university I was on a path and that path was straight and well defined. What they don't tell you is that the path leads into a sprawling meadow with waist-high grass and from there you're free to do whatever you want.
Was I honestly surprised about this? Yes, while I was on the path I don't think I realised the magnitude of possibilities at the end of it. After years of being shuffled from system to system, I am in control of my life. Me. I could move to Alaska. Why, you ask? Why not? The point is not why, it's that I could. So could you.
I'm going to admit something: I program for fun. I read about technology and software process for fun. I enjoy it. I think it's really interesting, like a paleontologist thinks old bones are interesting. Everyone else looks at people with arcane interests and wonder why on earth they'd do such things for fun. We just smile.
The fact that I program for fun has a lot of impact on what I choose to do for a career. If there's anything I learned after taking eight months off to program (for fun) after graduation, it's that programming and software development is and always was my hobby. It's my passion. Being shuffled from one system to the next distracted me from it but it was just latent, not lost. Now it has bubbled to the top of my mind again.
I realized that I need to find a job that emphasizes and exploits these passionate feelings in a positive way. I can't say that I've found such a job yet but I've really just started to explore the possibilities. I'm optimistic that I can find a place that's right for me.
I've been thinking about large and small companies, how they operate and why, what software processes they use and whether or not I fit into their corporate culture and software process. Ultimately, the responsibility is mine to ensure that I fit in properly, it's not the company's. I can't think that I can go into a company and change everyone's mind with what I think is logical or practical, because I can't -- I'll just end up swimming upstream against everyone else. They're already established and their ideas make sense for them.
I've been reading about other corporate cultures on the 'net, especially on blogs. It gives me a better idea of the types of things I could expect from larger companies like Microsoft, Google and Sun. I've also worked at big companies and government organizations on the bottom rung. I'm familiar with that perspective.
My problem seems to be that I have no explicit merit but a desire to be in a meritocracy. I have delivered no products. I just have my brain and a sheet of paper from the end of the path. I want to prove myself but no clear path to follow. Real life ain't easy, is it sport?
I may have to take a big risk and try to manufacture this merit myself without the help of a large organization. I don't see this as a gamble, rather as a necessary step. So I am prepared to do it. Even if it fails as a product or business I would still see it as a positive step career-wise (and hobby-wise) and that is the most important thing.
On this journey of self-discovery I have to determine: Is it possible to find such a job? Am I being realistic about the opportunities available to me? Am I setting reasonable goals and expectations? These are all good questions that need answers.
I get emails occassionally from HR reps that found my blog or resume searching for keywords in Google. They want to get me into their company's HR system. I resist replying because finding the right development team seems almost impossible through HR. It would be an incredible coincidence. Ironically, this is why I started blogging about software in the first place: to get noticed by big companies.
In big companies it seems like finding the right project manager (PM) is the most important thing. The PM is going to be the one that protects the team from the necessary corporate bureaucracy operating above him and keeps the project moving. The PM sets the tone of the project and determines the process. He's the leader and the rest of the team buys into his philosophies or finds another PM or company to work for. Everyone swims downstream. Across a single organization, PMs can have a wide range of philosophies even though the company has a single corporate culture. It seems obvious to me that I need to find the right project manager, not necessarily the right company.
To be honest an email from HR doesn't show much interest from a company. It doesn't impress me and it shouldn't impress you either. It doesn't take a lot of effort to use Google or to get a blog or resume noticed by Google. HR reps just want to get you in the queue of possibilities, where they probably hire one in one hundred after that person makes it through four or five levels of interviews. I don't blame them for doing this, in fact I see it as the only practical way for them to make hires. It doesn't mean that I have to participate if I think the odds of success are stacked against me finding the right PM.
An email from a programmer or project manager that works for the company would impress me, however. If a company is really serious about getting you, they will go after you. The company will show a personal level of effort that is uncommon. Yes, it does happen. There are blog accounts of this happening and none of it involves HR until the employee is already hired.
Will that happen to me? Why would it? What have I done to deserve such attention? Blogged about software for two years? Ha, anyone can do that. I think the solution is clear then -- make something that will earn merit, if that is what I'm looking for.
It's a nice dream, isn't it? Is it possible? Yes, I think there's a small chance it could work. But that isn't going to stop me from trying. Even if I fail, I will be happier working under a process I've bought into than working for a company or PM whose culture or process I don't buy into.
I'm not in this business for a high salary, or even a job. I'm in this business because I'm passionate about software. I need to find a PM that understands that and I guess I wrote this blog post so that others would understand that too.
Good luck on your own personal journey through the meadow.
Update 2:00 PM Travis had a good point that my Project Manager (PM) isn't really a PM. Job titles are a bit ambiguous that way. When I say PM, I mean someone in control of the software process and the culture of the team. When we took Software Project Management in school, software process was a big part of it and that is my rationale for calling this person a PM.
That person also makes the tough decisions, sets the tone for the project and handles team dynamics. In some organizations this role might called be a Project Lead (PL) instead. In others the PM and PL roles belong to the same person. Whatever way you slice it, I'd like to be on the same page as this person.
As Travis pointed out, the business manager above this person I'm calling the PM/PL has no impact on the project's process. In some organizations THIS business person is called the PM, and I didn't intend to refer to that role.
Travis had another good point that I'm a bit jaded on my view of big companies and organizations, which is largely based on my bottom-rung experiences. I won't deny that at all and that opinion probably won't change until a large company proves me wrong. I can't change my opinion if I've never experienced anything else.
Update 2:25 PM I should also mention that I tend to blog what I'm thinking right at that moment. That opinion may not be well-informed or correct but I'm just being honest with the limited amount of time and space I have to blog. I'm definitely open to other opinions that could change the way I see things. Travis has already changed my mind on a few points and I definitely welcome that.
# Adios Silicon
I'm going to junk all of that extraneous hardware and software I mentioned a few days ago. If you want something let me know today.
# iTunes' Playlists Miss the Point
I have a problem with iTunes: it doesn't want to help me manage my collection. It only seems to want me to accumulate more and more songs.
On an iBook with a 30GB hard drive this is impractical. Eventually I'm going to have to start deleting songs and I want iTunes' help doing it. So what the heck, I'll ask for this new feature on my blog. I got playlist algebra so why not try again?
Playlist algebra is where you base a playlist on the union or intersection of other existing playlists. I use it for a very practical purpose; to separate the albums in my iTunes music collection from the singles. In my collection album tracks outnumber singles approximately 5 to 1.
To do the seperation I have a regular playlist called "albums" that I drag whole albums into after I rip the album from CD into iTunes.
I have a dynamic playlist called "singles" which does some playlist algebra. It just takes the whole collection and subtracts the albums playlist from it. As I add new singles to my collection this playlist is updated automatically with no additional work. I just have to remember to add albums to the albums playlist as they are added to the collection and the singles playlist is always correct.
So what's the problem? I can't delete tracks from the collection while I'm in the albums or singles playlists. For albums, this isn't such a big deal -- I can just browse to the album while I'm looking at the whole collection and delete all of the tracks there.
Singles are different in my collection; they are grossly outnumbered. I want to see all of the singles together when I'm managing them. That makes my singles playlist almost useful: I can see all of the tracks I'd like to delete from my collection, I just can't delete them. Why not?
Apple, I have a request for iTunes 5: Please, please, please let me let me let me ... delete from my hard drive while browsing a playlist this time.
# Panther ReInstall
More than two years after acquiring my G3 iBook, I'm going to restart with a clean slate. I experimented a lot with it and probably borked some settings I shouldn't have. I'm especially suspicious of the Darwin-level hacking I did at the command line. Even though it runs perfectly fine, I'm still going to take the time to install a fresh copy of Mac OS X on it, just to be sure.
Why not just upgrade to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, you ask? Well, I'm hesitant. I need my Mac to do important work. While I have faith in Apple to deliver a quality product I'm still going to wait until at least 10.4.1 before I start using Tiger. Call me cautious, but I don't have the time or interest to deal with quirks.
Besides, all of the documentation for using tools on Mac OS X hasn't been updated and refined for Tiger yet, while Mac OS X 10.3 Panther is a well known beast. I'll let the early adopters do their thing and visit Tiger when the time is right.
Here's what I've done so far...
0. Backed up all of my data on my new external hard drive.
# Old Silicon
At transition points in my life I, for some reason, always have the time and/or motivation to sort through the crap I've accumulated. This time I'd like to get rid of all of my unneeded computer hardware and software.
Every time I move to a new place I cart around boxes of this old "backup" stuff but I never end up using it. I've moved five times in the last three and a half years.
Don't ask me why I still have parts dating back as far as 1995. Maybe I'll need to make a really shitty computer some day. Oh wait, I already have two and they still run: a Pentium 166Mhz from 1995 and a Pentium II 266Mhz from 1997.
I'm going to make a list of the stuff I don't need at the end of this post. If you actually want any of it (and can pick it up) let me know. No guarantees that hardware will actually work.
Fujitsu MPD3043AT 4.32GB
BTC BCD 20XA CD-ROM 20x (Sep 1997)
ATI Rage IIC PCI (1998)
Linksys EthernetCard EC2T PCMCIA network card
AcerMagic FX-3D REV.A Audio-1816
Windows 95 Manual w/ License
Red Hat 9 (3 discs)
Retail Box for Pentium II 266 Mhz (carried around since 1997)
Stuff I found but I'm not giving away:
Quite the trip down memory lane!
# Link Blogging and the Next Redo
Over the last six months I've been closing in on how I think this blog should look but it still needs adjustment (now in progress). It looks OK but not great. I'm no web designer so I can't pull off spectacular -- but I should be able to shoot for great. With a little CSS, a lot of tweaking and a self-critical eye it's not that hard.
"Link blogging" has really taken off. Lots of people are posting their favourite links publicly in various formats, just like I've been publishing my bullet blog (on the left side of the main page) for the past two years. It really has been that long: two years this Thursday, 556 posts and 271 comments. Yeah, it snuck up on me too!
I'm considering going with one of these newfangled link blogging services. I'm trying out del.icio.us/ryanlowe right now. These services are specialized. They are faster and easier to use via browser bookmarklets and are more flexible than MovableType.
BUT I really like the ability to make comments on my Bullet Blog links because I found that I could put small thoughts there and leave my main blog for bigger, article-length thoughts. If I can't make comments on links in these other services I don't know if I'll find them as useful.
I'm also making a big career change. The ryanlowe.ca website and blog always seem to follow that cycle. I'll have to leave more details until later, unless you just want to ask me in person.
Update 9:12 AM Just the front page for now. What do you think?
Update 11:41 PM Done the archives and comments now too.
# Week 11 Status Report
Yep, there was no status report last week. I've been learning/battling with SourceForge for the last two weeks. I finally have a wiki up in Durham's project webspace and I'll be moving the audioman.org website over there. Then I'll just forward audioman.org to SourceForge and save some hosting costs. The wiki still needs some polish, but it's a start.
There are a few things going on that I can't announce publicly yet, which is why the Durham project is suffering lately. To all the people that have listened to my crazy ideas in the past month and given feedback: Thanks! I've gotten a ton of support and helpful criticism.