Rey Bango

Web developer, honey badger

Which Linux Distro for Web Development?

Total lazy web question.

If I were setting up a Linux machine for web development, specifically to learn and code with Ruby on Rails, should I go with Linux Mint or Ubuntu Desktop (or some other distro)? And why the specific distro?

Looking for some feedback in the comments.

A Time for Change

For the last three and a half years, I’ve been privileged to work at the greatest software company in the world; Microsoft. During that time, I launched a standards-based web development site (scriptjunkie.com), worked with major product teams (Windows, Windows Phone & IE), partnered to launch initiatives that offered tremendous value to developers, represented MS at many events, and became the community bridge to the Internet Explorer team. I’ve learned a lot about building products, setting expectations, customer communications, and cross-org collaboration at a scale most haven’t experienced. It’s been challenging and rewarding.

But to me, the greatest thing about MS is working with amazing people. People who care deeply about what they build and enabling users to do great things with their products. It’s easy to look at MS as a big monolithic entity and forget that there are incredibly passionate people working there WHO GENUINELY CARE. I’ve seen this first hand. So much greatness.

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of it. They even allowed me to do it remotely. At a time when so many companies are reining in their remote employees under the guise of “better collaboration” (read: we don’t trust you), Microsoft gave me the opportunity to have an excellent job while not having to uproot my family, suffer insane commutes and maintain great work/life balance. And let’s not forget the world-class benefits which are the icing on the cake.

I would recommend this company to anyone in a heartbeat because they truly care about their employees.

When Opportunity Knocks…

Even when things are going great, life sometimes throws you another option that you simply have to explore. And that’s what happened to me.

Beginning December 2nd, I will be taking on a leadership role in Telerik’s Developer Relations team working to create a unified developer outreach strategy for the company along with relevant and consistent outbound messaging for Telerik’s growing product lines. These products span enterprise and web audiences helping them target:

  • Desktop Development
  • Web apps
  • Mobile
  • Collaboration
  • Software Testing
  • Content Management

and are complemented with services and support that help upramp customers quickly and make them successful. With 800+ employees and 11 offices worldwide, Telerik is well-positioned to continue to innovate quickly and offer new solutions as the industry evolves.

It’s a career opportunity that I’m incredibly excited about especially with a company that has an established track record of success and growth while maintaining a start-up, agile culture. That I already knew plenty at folks at Telerik (some former-Softies I worked with and many others from the conference circuit) and all raved about the company made my decision substantially easier. And the fact that they embrace the remote-work culture really helped seal the deal. So on to the next stage in my career.

My last day at Microsoft will be December 1st. Thank you Microsoft for a fantastic 3+ years.

And welcome Telerik, I look forward to contributing to your continued success.

Help Choosing a Mechanical Keyboard

After Jeff Atwood blogged about building a real coders keyboard, my interest was piqued as to whether I’d see any notable difference in my typing between mechanical keyboards and my Microsoft Comfort Curve 5000. I’ve always liked curved, ergonomic keyboards and vaguely remembered mechanical keyboards from my college days in the late 80s. I’d also started getting pretty ticked off about the impact of my wireless router on the performance of my wireless keyboard and mouse and was looking at going back to wired to solve it.

Sadly, the CODE keyboard (the one Jeff worked on) is out of stock as are (it seems) all of WASD keyboards so I’ve set out to look for an alternative that offers comparable features within a similar or less price range. Key things for me:

  • This is a work keyboard not meant for gaming
  • I know they’re louder. I’ve been testing a Corsair K70 with Cherry MX Red swicthes and I’m ok with the noise since I work from home.
  • I’ve settled on Cherry MX Brown switches since I want the tactile feel but just a tad quieter.

The Corsair I’ve been using is really nice and I’ll keep it for my gaming rig but I’m a little picky about looks and would prefer to have nice clean white LEDs instead of the red ones on this KB. If it came with white or blue LEDs I would seriously consider using it for work as well.

With that said I’ve narrowed it down to the following:

I’ve heard lots of great things about the Das Keyboard but what’s holding me back is the lack of LEDs and the glossy enclosure which looks like it would be a fingerprint/smudge magnet. The Ducky seems to match almost everything the CODE keyboard has but I just don’t know who Ducky International is and don’t want to invest $150 into someone I don’t know.

And alternatively, I could just wait until the next batch of CODE keyboards come out but that could be awhile. Honestly, that’s the keyboard I want but don’t want to wait a couple of months to get one.

Would love your feedback on what you’re using and on the choices I’ve narrowed it down to.

** UPDATE: After talking to my Sage (i.e.: my wife) she said that if I really wanted the CODE keyboard then I shouldn’t settle and just wait. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ll use the Corsair for now till then.

Newsblur is my Google Reader Replacement

newsblur-logoOn July 1st, 2013, Google will officially shut down Reader. It’s something that has pissed off a LOT of people, myself included because it was a tool I had grown to rely on every day. And I personally feel this is a move by Google to push every more towards Google+ in some fashion, possibly to consolidate more content on it’s service. Of course that’s pure speculation but whatever the reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Before you think I’m just a Google basher, note that I use multiple Gmail accounts, Google Calendar, GTalk, G+, Drive, Search and multiple versions of Chrome daily. I use and depend on many of their services for a lot of things. That doesn’t mean a decision that they make won’t piss me off and in this case, it was especially bad because not only are they killing off an important app in my workflow, they did it after basically demolishing the 3rd party RSS reader business with GReader becoming a defacto standard for all intents.

When Google announced it’s decision, I honestly wasn’t sure what to use but if there was a silver lining that came out of this is that once again, the developer community stepped up and in short order has provided solid alternatives.

I’ve looked at a lot of options since Google first announced it was shutting down Reader and have decided to make Newblur.com my new RSS reader. I’ve been using it since mid-March and it provides me with everything that Reader did in a SUBSTANTIALLY better user interface.

newsblur-reader

It’s a paid service ($24 yearly) and I’ve seen noticeable improvements in the service over the last three months an obvious sign that Samuel Clay, the service’s creator, is re-investing back into the service to ensure uptime and scalability. In addition, I’ve found him to be VERY responsive, responding to all of my tweets within minutes & working with me on any concern until it’s resolved. I appreciate that and it’s a level of support I would never have received from a big company.

But the most important reason for choosing Newsblur is that Samuel open-sourced the code under an MIT license. This means that no matter what, I can roll my own service if Samuel ever decides to shut things down or just piss me off in general. It takes guts to do that and when I chatted with him, he said it was the best decision he made.

I agree and because of it, he’s given me the confidence to support his business.

UPDATE: Samuel tweeted to me about his additional rationale for open-sourcing Newblur and it’s worth mentioning here:

@reybango great review, thanks! The bus (business) factor is only half of it. External motivation and pull requests both make open sourcing great, too.

Book Review: Rework by 37Signals

rework-bookI decided to take a break from just reading development books and picked up a copy of Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hanson. If you don’t know there names, it’s almost certain you’d recognize (and probably used) their products like Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire and other goodness from 37Signals, the company they founded.

As professional developers it’s important to not only think in zeros and ones but also in how to make what you’re building great; both from a technical and customer perspective. The latter is really what I think the book is about. It’s definitely a business book and if you get it (which I recommend), you need to shift your thought process a little to understand how your development skills can be applied to building a business that’s successful and that customers love.

What I loved about the structure of this books is that it’s broken down into quick hit sections. There are no LONG, drawn out chapters that put you to sleep. The book is setup in main topic sections, each broken down into the quick-hit subtopics I was referring to. A main topic would be something like “Competitors” followed by sub-topics (usually a page or two) that dives into an area such as not copying another product or allowing your company to form it’s own culture as opposed to trying to dictate it.

I will say that in every major section, I got something valuable out of it and I could relate to a lot of the writings. For example, in the “Own your bad news”, I absolutely loved the advice of taking ownership when you mess up and being honest not only about the problem but how you’re going to fix it. And even something as simple as how to say you’re sorry resonated immensely. They were spot on with how annoying it is to hear someway say “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.” How about something like, “I’m really sorry about this and we’re going to make it right.” Jason & DHH nailed that one.

And the list goes on and on. I came away with a different perspective on how I look at product development, customer relations, time management and more. The great thing is that it’s an incredibly easy read. You could probably finish it in a day. Overall, I think it’s a great book for anyone to read and if you’re starting up your own business, I would say it’s a must read.

Where do you get your web development information from?

At JSConf, I posed this question to a group of developers (in a pool no less):

“What are your primary sources for the web development information that you use, need and value?”

The reason for this question is because I’ve been trying to come up with better ways of ensuring that developers know about the new features in Internet Explorer. I’ve used the example of how I’ve had several conversations where developers didn’t know that IE10 supported such features as WebSockets, Transitions, or (gasp!) border-radius. It got me motivated to figure where you, the dev community, goes to get the most relevant info on new browser features and web development techniques. Hacker News and MDN were two immediate resources mentioned.

So I’ll ask you, the reader, the same question:

“What are your primary sources for the web development information that you use, need and value?”

Answer in the comments.

JSConf: It’s about friends and family

jsconf-nav-logoAs a developer advocate, I spend a lot of time at conferences. In most cases, especially with REALLY big ones, the ability to really connect with someone is incredibly tough just due to the shear number of people you see and meet.

JSConf is different. It always has been and I hope that it always will be. It’s specifically meant to allow you to connect with “people“. Notice that I didn’t say “developers”. At JSConf, I don’t feel like I’m there to talk with “developers”. I’ve become friends over the years with many of the attendees and every event has allowed me to meet new and awesome people. The conversations may at some point get technical but also focus heavily on our personal lives, be it careers, kids, health or even man-hair crushes (I’m looking at you Anton). And the best part is that most want to hear about that and we’re all seeing each other grow as human beings as the years go by.

It’s what I love about JSConf because there’s no pressure. When you see your friends bringing their families to enjoy the beach or parks, it really puts a different perspective on things. It helps to slow things down and allow you to appreciate the short time that you have to catch-up with those who you may only see once a year, but in some cases have had a profound impact on your life.

I’m grateful to Chris, Laura, Virginia and Cameron Williams for helping me feel that way. You guys are wonderful and looking at you during the event made me realize how special you are and how amazingly special JSConf is. Thank you.

Thoughts about the Google Pixel Chromebook

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft. This is my own personal review of the Chrome Pixel and is not associated with my employer in any way.

I recently got a Google Pixel Chromebook at Google I/O 2013. All attendees were given this device as a giveaway as part of their registration and I wanted to share some observations after having it for a little while.

Packaging

One thing I love about Apple is that they’ve forced OEMs to rethink their packaging and make it a key visual and emotional aspect of their devices. Google did a nice job of boxing up the Pixel so that it feels like a luxury device. =I took pictures of my unboxing and posted them below. If you’ve ever opened an Apple MacBook, it kind of seems similar.

Hardware

Google PixelHaving used both PCs and MacBooks, I think I have a fairly well-balanced expectation of how devices should respond. I’m very pleased with the hardware for the Pixel. It “feels” solid with no cheap feeling areas that were immediately visible.

You can tell that Google took a lot of cues from Apple when they built this device. I love the MacBook keyboards because they’re light on the fingers and backlit. The Pixel keyboard feels the same way and when my wife saw that the keys were backlit, that was a big plus for her.

The trackpad is responsive and attaching an external mouse was easy. I enabled bluetooth and it discovered my Microsoft bluetooth mouse. The mouse settings didn’t seem as granular so I couldn’t really dial-up the mouse speed as much as I liked but it was passable.

One thing to note is that the audio plug is a little tight. When I plugged in my headphones, I initially thought that the jack was broken because the headphone plug just kind of dangled inside loosely and wouldn’t output my audio. After some online searching, I found I just needed to push it in just a little harder because the laptops jack is a little tight.

The nicest aspect of this device, by far, is the screen. I mean OH MY GOD what a gorgeous display. It’s one of those that makes you realize how nice things could look and how you wish all your devices looked this nice. I have to believe this is the reason the Pixel is so pricey.

And on top of that, it’s touch-based which in my opinion puts a nail in the coffin to all those silly “gorilla arm” comments.

ChromeOS

This is my first foray into ChromeOS. I’ve tried it out sparingly in the past at Best Buy but that’s about it. I think it’s an okay experience for someone who solely wants to surf the web or do some basic documents using Google Apps. At this point, power users may feel that this device is anemic for their needs and I’d have to agree. Being a developer, there’s a host of tools that I need local access to that ChromeOS just can’t handle. With that said, it seems like more than a suitable device for a consumer to have on their kitchen counter for general browsing, especially if it’s a user that takes full advantage of Google’s ecosystem. I spoke with Joe Marini of Google and he feels that Chrome Packaged Apps will be a big plus to ChromeOS bringing feature-rich native-style apps.

The tie-in to Google Drive is certainly nice (along with the 3-years of 1TB cloud space) but I think it takes some getting used. For me, I still like having access to local documents, especially since I travel frequently. It’s the whole “living in the cloud” thing and Microsoft and Apple are heading down that route as well so it’s not a stretch to imagine everything just living on the Internet. For me, though, some old habits die hard. Yes, I know I can do some things offline and the Pixel comes with some (limited) disk storage but the expectation is clear that you will use this device while connected to the Internet. Hence why they offer a Verizon LTE option in this device. That way, you can connect whether WiFi is available or not.

Price

The Pixel comes in two flavors: 32GB w/Wi-Fi ($1,299) & 64GB w/Wi-Fi & LTE ($1,449). While the device is gorgeous, I can’t picture myself (or most anyone else) dropping that amount of money of it especially when there are feature-packed touch devices like the Samsung Series 7 & Toshiba Kirabooks and Apple’s great lineup of MacBooks for similar pricing. And I’m not alone in this opinion. This feels like a nice reference device for Google. A kind of “look at what we can do when we want to build something really nice” type of thing. And I think Google did a good job at this. I just don’t think they’re going to sell a lot of them; at least not at those price points.

Conclusion

Great, gorgeous hardware. Love the high-dpi touchscreen. Fast startup is awesome. Would I buy one? No way, not at this price point. There are just too many other equally awesome machines out there that offer a whole lot more for the money.

Note: I updated this post to reference the fact that I received the Pixel at Google I/O 2013.

Gallery

Interested in Ember.js? Check out my Tutorial Series.

ember-productivity-smWith the concept of web-based single-page apps really picking up steam, I started looking into frameworks that would make building them easier. Ember.js is one of these and I’ve really grown to like it. It does have a learning curve but it’s power and flexibility make it worthwhile. I’m also good friends with Yehuda Katz & Tom Dale who are the leads for Ember so I can ping them for feedback regularly.

As I’ve gone along learning Ember, I’ve created a series to help others based on my experiences. If you’re interested in Ember, checkout my tutorials below:

Getting into Ember.js – Part 1
Getting into Ember.js – Part 2
Getting into Ember.js – Part 3
Getting into Ember.js – Part 4

Ember Support

If you need help, be sure to join the Ember discussion forum. Lots of smart Ember developers there.

Google Glass Packaging and Dimensions

I was lucky enough to get a pair of Google Glass to play with for a couple of days. Pretty nifty device and I could definitely see the potential, especially after a great chat with Matt May about them during Google I/O. The possibilities, especially in warehouses and retail operations, are really promising.

I was recently asked about the dimensions so I took a tape measure and took pictures of the device at various angles trying to give decent views of the dimensions. I live in the States and of course we don’t use the metric system so you’ll have to convert measurements on your own. :)

The gallery shows both the packaging of Glass and the measurements. Note that I don’t have the device with me at the moment so I won’t be able to give you more details.

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