Ruby or Rails?

Last Friday I finally managed (been too busy lately) to visit Rotterdam’s super bookstore, Donner, to pick up a copy of Programming Ruby. I will easily spend an hour or two roaming Donner’s eight or nine floors, browsing through all their new books, discovering old ones I hadn’t seen before, sitting down for a while to read through the contents of some books to see if I should really spend the small fortune they sometimes cost these days… Usually I start by going straight to the third floor (computer books), then slowly all the way up (passing the cd department, books on art, design, movies, music etc.; top floor has books on sale); and finally I go back down again (law, economics, philosophy, magazines, gardening, food, photography, and the huge basement with fiction, Dutch & English). Anyway, there I was on the third floor, only one copy of Programming Ruby left (is it that popular or doesn’t it sell at all?)… and I didn’t buy it! Instead I took home Agile Web Development with Rails, in the true Ruby spirit: I want to create something right away, build a web site now, with Ruby. I know myself, eventually I will buy the other book and meticulously read about all the language intricacies. But for now, it’s Rails.

2005-12-05. 2 responses.

So many Java web frameworks… Can we get some Clarity please?

Today I was talking with my co-worker Ravan about the various web frameworks there are now in the Java world. There’s Struts, of course, Spring MVC, Spring Webflow, Tapestry, Beehive/Netui, JSF, Shale… and undoubtedly many more. One or two years ago it was obvious which one you were going to use (Struts); right now it’s hard to tell where to put your money. Chances are, the framework you’re building your enterprise application with today, will be out of fashion (or worse, out of existence) next year. Three years from now, who’s going to maintain all that code written with, by then, outdated frameworks?

By coincidence I came across some half-hidden postings later today, about a newly proposed framework called Clarity–the one framework to replace them all. Representatives from several of the existing frameworks (Spring, WebWork, Struts Ti and Beehive) have joined the initiative. Clarity’s goal is “to unify WebWork, Struts, Spring MVC, Beehive, and Spring WebFlow in to a single project that establishes clear leadership in the web development space.” Right now there seems to be little more than a mailing list and a mission statement. It does sound promising though. Think of it: the best of Spring, Struts and Beehive united. If it’s done well (easy to use, easy to code) it could well be the Java answer to Ruby on Rails. (No, let’s not go there; Rails and J2EE are for different kinds of applications, that won’t change).

I see only one potential problem: that Clarity will fail to replace the existing frameworks, and will become just another framework coexisting with the others. If that happens, we’re all doomed. This initiative might be more important for Java than these few cautious postings seem to suggest…

2005-11-30. No responses.

Why, if reading Ruby is like reading natural language, unless it’s not?

Yesterday, a familiar Ruby coder showed me a piece of Ruby code that used Ruby’s programmer-friendly if-construct, where you can place the if clause after the conditional block of code. It was something like this:
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2005-11-29. 3 responses.

First snow

Last Friday, Holland was surprised by heavy snowfall. The result was chaos on the roads, people being stuck in their car until late in the evening, people stuck in train stations… And all this because of 10 centimeters of snow. I shot (in my car, hands-free of course!) this rather dramatic-looking photo yesterday, on my way over from the office (which is located directly in the heart of the snow area), when it was still snowing continuously:

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if this first snow of the season will also be the last. I’m sure I was born for a warmer climate than this. Snow is great–for one week a year maximum, and provided I’m in a little hotel somewhere in France or Switzerland, sitting by the fire, with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, knowing there’ll be a good meal on the table later on… in that scenario, I don’t mind looking out the window seeing some snow flakes falling.
Our last winter vacation came close to this perfection. M. and I and some friends drove down to the tiny village of Bois Barbu, in the French Vercors region. We stayed in the Ferme du Bois Barbu, a small hotel with friendly owners. We made some great walks through the snowy landscape, and we even tried cross-country skiing (which was fun… for a day). This is a picture (actually two photos combined) from one of our walks:

2005-11-27. One response.

Now reading my favorite books

I’ve been using Rob Miller’s Now Reading plugin to show a list of books I’m currently reading in my blog’s sidebar, as you can see. The plugin allows you to show sublists of books you’re reading, books you’ve read, and books you’re planning to read. However, I wanted more, so I’ve done some hacking. What I’ve added is:

  • a new category, ‘Favorite books’;
  • an option to display only the category/categories you want;
  • a text field for each book to store and later display your own review.

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2005-11-22. 8 responses.

Is Ruby the new Java?

About eight or nine years ago, I first read about Java in Wired Magazine. At the time, I was mostly programming in Delphi, C, and, if I really had to, in Oracle Forms. It wasn’t altogether clear what role Java was going to play; any examples you ever saw were applets, doing image animations on a web page. I bought a book that promised to explain it all, but did little else but list the standard libraries api docs. Although over time, more and more people were saying Java was going to be the next great thing, I didn’t have a clue what to do with Java, there & then. (Until 2000, when I did my first web app with Java, with EJB’s, and started wondering why I had ever wanted to be a part of this next great thing).

Right now I’m having a strong feeling of deja vu. This time, it’s about Ruby. Everyone probably knows by now that Ruby is a scripting language, developed nine years ago in Japan, became very popular in the rest of the world in the last year or so. Recurring discussions on TSS revolve around the question if and when Ruby is to be preferred over Java, and if it will be the next great thing. Surely the language looks interesting enough, and so does the web framework, Rails. But in order to really get to know it, I have to use it in a real project, doing real stuff (I have not enough patience or spare time to just code something for the sake of it).

There’s several books written about Ruby, of which Programming Ruby comes recommended by Remco, my local Ruby guru (and by none other than Martin Fowler, I read at Amazon). Until now, I’ve done it the cheap way by reading Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. This free ebook explains the basics of the language in the form of a rather insane story, illustrated with equally wacko comic strips. It tries to offer memory aids through its story for Ruby’s language features. Unfortunately, most of these memory aids are so far-fetched that I’m having trouble remembering _them,_ let alone the language elements they’re supposed to remind me of. But it does make for entertaining reading, offering an easy introducting to Ruby.

2005-11-21. 5 responses.

Eating and drinking in Slovenia

We loved the food and wine in Ljubljana. Since we were in a hotel, we had to eat out all the time; which I don’t complain about, but it’s always nice to do some cooking yourself in another country, to get a better feel for the ingredients and recipes there. From the Lonely Planet site, I got the impression that horse meat is very popular in Slovenia. And indeed, most restaurants serve one or two dishes with horse in them. We never ate that though, don’t know why, it’s just not done where I come from. Still, there were enough alternatives to choose from. A lot of meat, game, saucages; fish now and then; but also enough vegetable-based dishes (I’m not vegetarian, but I love to eat veggies). There’s quite a number of Italian restaurants, serving pasta dishes, gnocchi, risotto; and again, meat.

And the wine! Great wine all around; very young red wine that we drank at lunch in Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café; fresh and fruity white and sparkling wines; and more aged reds, it was all there, all Slovene. Someone told us Slovenia doesn’t produce enough wine to export, so it will be hard finding any abroad. And as we travelled by train, we couldn’t take any with us. Another reason to come back some time, by car.

The restaurants we liked most:

  • Sokol, serves Slovene dishes; I had a big plate with all sorts of saucages, as well as the braised cabbage we often got; a bit like sauerkraut, but less sour. Nice young house wine served at the right temperature: cold.
  • Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café is an Italian restaurant, always crowded at lunch time, though we always managed to find a table. Good simple pasta dishes, but they also have a daily changing menu that will bring some variation when you’ve got to know the regular menu, when you come there rather often. As we did. Their young house wine comes from a tap, and I could drink this every day. As we did.
  • Špajza has a large choice of Slovene and Italian dishes as well as an extensive wine list. We ate there on our last evening in Ljubljana, and a good choice that was. We loved the venison with berries (maybe a bit too hefty for the Merlot).

2005-11-20. No responses.

Pictures of Ljubljana

For me, the first picture is Ljubljana-in-a-photo: the castle on the mountain in the background, the eastern-looking church towers, one of the many art nouveau-style buildings in the foreground, and the central Presernov square, with the three bridges over the Ljubljana river behind it. (Click on a photo to enlarge it:)



Early Sunset

2005-11-19. No responses.

Slovene lessons

Finally the gray blanket over Ljubljana has lifted and we’re seeing some sun today for the first time, our last day in the Slovene capital. Yesterday, we visited the school museum; a tiny little museum in an old school building. We were asked to join a Slovene school class in a ‘lesson from the past’, a writing lesson as it would have been given in 1930. A very strict teacher first checked everyone’s hands to see if they were clean, then proceeded to teach how to write different letters–with old fashioned ink and pen. It was all fun to watch, even though we didn’t understand a word (it was all in Slovene).
In the evening, we were invited to the home of M.’s Slovene colleague for dinner. It’s strange how you expect everything to be different in another country, when so much turns out to be so recognizable and familiar. That’s something to realize when you read about faraway countries: people there work, and eat, and have children, and enjoy themselves, just like people do in your own environment. Another very pleasant evening.
Tomorrow we’re off on an excursion touring the country, so we’ll see some more of Slovenia outside its capital. And after that we’re on the train back home…

2005-11-17. One response.

Down and out (of plums) in Ljubljana

Am I addicted, beyond hope, if I spend half an hour of my vacation in Ljubljana in an Internet café? My friends and colleagues seem to think so. Go visit some local plum factory to taste some old wives’ plum juice, one of them wrote to me. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many plum factories around here (there must be something to do with plums here though, cause we get very juicy, tasty plums for breakfast every morning). And after two, three days, I believe I’ve seen all the major attractions of the city. Great city, don’t get me wrong; very relaxed and easy-going. The temperature and the temperament remind me of a small Dutch city. But I like a bit of rest as well, after so many months of working hard to implement the new Dutch health insurance system for a health insurance company. So I don’t mind spending an hour a day in the hotel sauna/pool, as well as coming to this Slovene Internet café (very cool place, with trendy looking people behind pc’s, I hope I fit in) for half an hour. Ok, I promise I’ll do something seriously touristy this afternoon. Even take my camera. Maybe visit some shady plum factory and taste the local plum juice.

2005-11-15. No responses.

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