Domain-Specific Languages vs. Notation

Programming languages often advertise themselves as being well-suited for writing domain-specific languages (DSLs), languages within the programming language that express the concepts rather than the mechanics of the code. Ruby is probably the most popular such language, but many others—such as Scala, CoffeeScript, and Io—also try to make it easy to write code that’s human-readable.

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Setting Up a Project Workspace in Tmux

As a developer, I spend a lot of time working in the terminal. Besides starting long-running daemons such as web servers in the terminal, I also use Git, Vim, and other command line tools throughout the day, and terminal sessions tend to pile up. On any given day, I can have more than a dozen terminal sessions open at a time, and that’s just for one project. Read more on Setting Up a Project Workspace in Tmux…

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Stow Your Dotfiles – GNU Stow for Managing Symlinks

If you’ve done much work with command line tools, you’ve undoubtedly wrestled with dotfiles, those pesky configuration files in your home directory that are hidden from view by having a dot at the beginning of their name. Bash uses a .bashrc configuration file. Vim uses a .vimrc file and a .vim directory for additional scripts. Tmux uses a .tmux.conf file. Git uses a global .gitconfig. Untold other tools follow the pattern.

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Technical Spikes – Rehearsing Your Software

At AgileConf 2014, John Krewson presented “The Show Must Go On: Leadership Lessons Learned from a Life in Theater” in which he outlined parallels between the stage acting and software development. Among his points on how project management is like directing and hiring is like casting, John remarked that when a director is preparing a performance, they don’t assemble the actors, distribute scripts, and say, “We’re all professionals. See you on opening night.” Even when everyone on the team is an A-lister, they still need to rehearse.

The same goes for software development.

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Agility is about Accuracy

When you work with Atomic Object, you’ll hear a lot about Agile software development. Agile takes many different forms, but all of them are, at heart, about writing better software faster. Agile is part philosophy, part methodology, and part discipline. The Agile Manifesto emphasizes people instead of mechanical processes.

But before diving into the specifics of how Agile works, let’s back up and look at the problem Agile is trying to solve. Why come up with a new system in the first place?

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Plays Well with Others – Lessons in Reusable Tooling

I’ve used many languages for my scripting needs, but my favorite — believe it or not — is probably Bash. Bash may not have any types, and scripting with Bash may be fraught with pitfalls, but sometimes the problem at hand is solved most succinctly and elegantly with small focused programs that compose well.

Bash’s composition comes in the form of piping one program’s output into the next program. No program needs to know where its input comes from, just like Lego blocks don’t care what block they stack on. This is an incredibly useful approach. For instance, take a look at how easy it is process the contents of the clipboard:

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pbpaste | base64 | pbcopy

We just base64-encoded whatever was in the clipboard (at least, on Mac OS X; Linux has similar programs under different names, and on Windows you may need to write your own versions of pbpaste and pbcopy). You can use pbpaste and pbcopy and the rest of the Bash toolbox to do whatever processing of clipboard text you have in mind, and thanks to pipes, you can do it very concisely. Read more on Plays Well with Others – Lessons in Reusable Tooling…

Doodles with Meaning – The Art of Sketchnoting

When I went to college, I had no idea how to take notes, so I did what I thought I was supposed to do: I wrote everything down. For four years of college, I wrote paragraphs and outlines of class lectures, and other than studying for tests, I never looked at those notes again. When I graduated and said goodbye to all those lectures and tests, I stopped taking notes. Life’s tests, after all, are open-book.

But last October I started taking notes again. Midwest UX was held here in Grand Rapids, and one of the workshops was titled “Drawing What You Mean – In Real Time”. The presenter, MJ Broadbent, revealed the secrets of a kind of note-taking I had never heard of. It was called sketchnoting, and I was shocked that no one had told me about it sooner. Read more on Doodles with Meaning – The Art of Sketchnoting…

The Proper Care & Feeding of Your Mental Story Machine

Humans are story machines. We think in stories. We process in stories. We store in stories. When you add up all the television shows, movies, books, jokes, rumors, and gossip we tell, story-telling is in the running for our biggest industry. We require stories. We’re so hopelessly bad at dealing with information that isn’t in story form that we invented computers, which of course gave us whole new things to tell stories about.

We need stories because even with billion-word languages, there are still experiences we can’t express with lone words. Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to make up words, but even he resorted to tiny stories. Characters “fought fire with fire” or went on a “wild goose chase” or learned that “all that glitters is not gold.” Four hundred years later, we make up words at the drop of a hat, but we still haven’t come up with catchier ways to express the dozens of tiny stories Shakespeare inserted into our language.

“Accumulate idioms… The only difference(!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list – not the size of his vocabulary.” – Alan Perlis

Unlike computers, the mind’s memory is also its processor. The stories we know affect how we think. Sometimes, where we don’t have a story, we have a blindspot. That’s why it’s valuable to accumulate metaphors, like cleaning dust from our mental lens. Stories help us perceive the world more clearly and more memorably.

As adults it’s easy to think we have the vocabulary we need, but just because we have the words doesn’t mean we have the stories. Here are a few perspective-shaping stories to get you started. Read more on The Proper Care & Feeding of Your Mental Story Machine…

Graduating from CoffeeScript to LiveScript

CoffeeScript is a nice syntactic alternative to JavaScript and, in the end, that’s all it is: syntax. CoffeeScript doesn’t offer anything not already found in JavaScript, no standard library nor any new operators. Looking for more in a compiles-to-JavaScript language, I stumbled across LiveScript.

Where CoffeeScript is a Ruby- and Python-inspired version of JavaScript, LiveScript is a Haskell-inspired version of CoffeeScript. Like CoffeeScript, LiveScript compiles to readable JavaScript about the same size as the original source file.

Here are a few reasons to explore LiveScript. Read more on Graduating from CoffeeScript to LiveScript…