The Devver Blog

A Boulder startup improving the way developers work.

Archive for July 2008

Useful Gem Shortcuts Tip

When you are working with projects in the command line all day, it can be really annoying to have to remember the exact location of everything. Often when programming against a gem in Ruby, it can be really useful to read over the documentation. Adding a couple lines to your .bash_profile can make loading up the documentation files for your gems much easier. Thanks to Stephen Celis for sharing this great tip.

Written by DanM

July 29, 2008 at 9:08 am

Friday fun: What the hell is up with ABC News photos?

ABC News is a respectable news organization, right? I thought so too. That’s why I’m mystified by the abundance of shockingly bad Photoshopped pictures on their website.

It’s been my hobby to collect these visual Frankensteins for the past few months. They range from simply poor in quality:

to tacky:

to just plain strange:

There are also not particularly subtle. If they have a story about money or the economy, they either frame an image with money:

or, better yet, just put a handful of Benjamins in front of said image.

I swear to you that all of these were taken directly from ABCs website. In fact, there was a gem featuring Obama and Hillary in clearly-Photoshopped cowboy hats (I believe it was for the Texas primary), but sadly, I cannot find it.

In fact, I’m not even sure Photoshop was involved. Given the images I’ve seen, it appears ABC executive gave a poor intern a set of safety scissors, a vat of Elmer’s glue, and an old flatbed scanner and let them go to town.

Finally, there are images that are so weird that I defy you to guess the story they accompanied.

Maybe I can get Flux Capacity to combine a bunch of images from together to give us all a terrifying vision of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’/Soundgarden-video world that ABC News lives in.

Written by Ben

July 25, 2008 at 8:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Learning RSpec and Merb

WARNING: This is basically completely out of date Merb changed very fast before 1.0. please see for current information!

We have been trying to work with some different Ruby technologies lately. We are moving to RSpec from Test::Unit, because we believe it has several advantages. It also seems all the cool projects are moving to RSpec: Rubinius, Typo, Mephisto, and of course Merb.

In learning these two technologies together, I have found a few resources that I found to be really useful. I thought it would be good to share the information for anyone looking to write specs for their Merb projects.

If you are first learning Merb and want to create a basic project and learn to test with Rspec along with development, I can’t recommend enough that you follow the Merb Slapp tutorial. This is a great source for Merb basics that is very up to date, and gives good examples of RSpec tests.

If you are new to Merb, the newest documentation will be your friend. I also recommend checking out the Merb Wiki. For RSpec, specifically check out these wiki pages: Merb Controller Specs, Merb Model Specs, and Merb View Specs.

There were some things I had to search and stumble around a bit for, session variables and mock objects. The reason I needed to mock the session was that a user is expected to be logged in verified by a session variable before allowing the action to continue. I needed a mock object of my ProjectWriter, because it normally makes live calls to a web service. These are easy to do, but are both done differently than with Test::Unit with Rails. I found out about RSpec mocking and Merb session mocking at the links provided.

Here is some code that demonstrates mocking both sessions and model objects.

#create a mock object named ProjectWriter
project_writer = mock("ProjectWriter")
#mock expects this call
@controller = dispatch_to(Project, :index) do |controller|
  #mock the session hash
  controller.stub!(:session).and_return({:logged_in => true})
  #return my mocked object
  #we aren't testing the view don't render it
  controller.stub!(:render) # don't render this action

@controller.should respond_successfully

Written by DanM

July 24, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Crappy email filtering on GoDaddy

People are complaining that GoDaddy censored a security site, bid against customers in domain auctions (more), and totally screwed up .me registrations. There’s even an entire site dedicated to exposing GoDaddy’s problems.

We had been lucky enough to never really have any problems with them. Since everything worked for us (even though we hated their UI with a passion) we have stuck around. Moving 20+ domains to another registrar just seems like a hassle. We run most of our services on our own server so we didn’t think we had much of a problem.

One service we didn’t run was our own mail servers. We didn’t want to use GoDaddy’s webmail, but thought just having GoDaddy forward mail would work fine. We forwarded all mail to our Gmail accounts, and after that it was simple to send and receive from Gmail, essentially taking GoDaddy out of the picture. We had run GoDaddy email forwarding for a few sites for over a year with no problems.

In the last couple months we started having problems with our email. We were getting reports from friends having problems emailing us. People were receiving random bounced emails, some emails when retried never would reach us, others would arrive successfully the second try. We were concerned but the issue seemed to occur rarely and usually simply resending would solve the problem.

Then it seems the problem got worse. After sending out an email and not hearing back, we received emails explaining that every time anyone responded to our last email it would bounce back. The bounce message warned that the message was a spam or virus and it would not be delivered. Hmmm… not good. We looked into it and found that we couldn’t send the original email to each other, without getting bounced error responses either. The email include a video link to download our presentation from DropBox, which GoDaddy filtered as spam. We had the same issue receiving responses to emails with RightScale’s developers. After making sure I hadn’t accidentally turned on any spam protection for our forwarded email accounts I called GoDaddy support.

Convincing GoDaddy that emails were being marked as spam by their servers, as opposed to other email servers took awhile. Finally after talking to internal GoDaddy tech support they acknowledged it was their email system. They explained that all emails including forwarding accounts go through a GoDaddy-wide spam and virus scanner which won’t let anything flagged through. I explained I wanted to disable their filtering and trust Google to do my spam filtering for me after my mail is forwarded. This was not an option as the shared filter is in place for all GoDaddy email. I then asked about the criteria of flagging emails, which I know in our case contained no spam links or viruses. I was told that if a single virus or spam message was sent from a domain it would block all emails linking to that domain. This is clearly a bad policy.

Blocking all of DropBox is an example of why this shared filter is bound to block valid emails. DropBox allows any arbitrary files to be uploaded by users, of course some virus-infected file has ended up on their domain. After some virus-infected file hosted on DropBox was emailed to a GoDaddy user, it was added to the blocked domain list for GoDaddy’s email filter. As a result we can never mail a presentation video file hosted on DropBox.

That’s pretty amazing, but the best part is there is simply no way to opt out. There was no way to get domains removed from their blacklist. One of the scariest things about this is that they only filter incoming mail, so we can email out supposedly virus-filled emails, but then if anyone hits reply it will bounce because our link will be a part of the response message. This leaves the sender blind to the problem. Who knows how many people we have emailed in the last 3 months that tried and failed to ever respond to us.

After learning all of this, I did the only reasonable thing. I switched mail providers so our email wouldn’t touch GoDaddy at all. We are now hosting email accounts with Gmail for your domain. It was easy enough to set up, and we have already seen that we can send supposedly risky emails through our new email servers. I guess I should start listening to everyone’s horror stories about GoDaddy and the next time I purchase a domain, I can slowly start moving away from the terrible beast.

Written by DanM

July 22, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Misc, Tips & Tricks

Our San Francisco Wrap Up

We had a very exhausting but incredibly useful day last Wednesday. After being invited to give a talk at Pivotal Labs, so we planned a quick trip to San Francisco and arranged other talks with various Ruby developers. We arrived in SF a couple hours before our first meeting, so we headed to a coffee shop to grab some breakfast. We booted up 15 servers so we could do a live demo of Devver. Then we headed out to meet up with Aman Gupta from Kickball Labs (no site yet). Aman contributes to various projects including EventMachine and Ramaze. We ended up discussing distributed Ruby messaging systems and Ruby web frameworks, which seemed to be a shared interest.

Next we headed over to Pivatol Labs to prepare to give our demo. Pivotal has an awesome setup so it was cool just to check out their office. I particularly liked the flat screen displaying the current status of all their projects and the Wii/Rockband setup. Pivotal recorded our entire session, so we will link to the video when they put that up on the web. I think this was the best session we have had yet talking with developers about Devver. The group asked a lot of questions, and really shared what the pain points are for their teams in terms of Ruby development. We are hoping to get a few things finished and then be able to find some more time to talk with the Pivotal Labs teams. Thanks again to Pivotal for inviting us out in the first place.

While at Pivotal, we got a chance to talk to some people from other Ruby shops around SF and a friend of a friend Todd Sampson from MyBlogLog. One person we got to talk with was James Lindenbaum from Heroku. Heroku is also working on some awesome things in Ruby, like the Rush Ruby shell. We are also a fan of Heroku because they are also a big proponent of Ruby testing, so it was cool to hear their thoughts on what we were up to.

We grabbed some lunch provided by Pivotal and started running over to Yahoo’s Brickhouse for our next talk. We met up with the FireEagle team, which is working on some cool location based stuff in Ruby. FireEagle is the largest Ruby team within Yahoo, so it was great to get to hear their opinions on Ruby development and their team’s process. We sat around talking about current Ruby tools, and what kinds of tools and code statistics they would like to see. Seeing more overall statistics on a project seemed like a minor but important theme of our SF trip.

The last part of our SF trip was a happy hour with the SF Ruby Meetup Group. Unfortunately, due to some poor planning on my part, it fell apart. Some Rubyist from the group recommended meeting at Thirsty Bear. The bar happened to have a private party that night. I arrived about 10 minutes before we were supposed to meet, with no real access to email. So I left information at Thirsty Bear about heading to the nearest bar, hoping some Ruby users would find me… only one person from the Ruby Meetup managed to find me, John Mount of Venue Software. So I guess I might have to try this again next time we visit.

Thanks to everyone we got to chat with, we had a great and fast visit. We learned so much we actually have had to take a step back and really think about the best direction to pursue. I think the information we learned during our brief trip will help shape some of our decisions for a time to come.

Written by DanM

July 20, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Devver, Misc, Ruby

Devver in the Boulder County Business Report

Devver along with all the other TechStars 2008 teams were featured in the Boulder County Business Report. It is a nice write up to give a little introduction of each of this years companies.

Devver in the BCBR

Written by DanM

July 18, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Product Management with Niel Robertson

Update: Changed Project to Product, I didn’t realize the differences. Niel pointed out that they aren’t the same in another thread.
Niel sent the actually Power Point which you can check out for yourself, product-management-v1.

We have met with Niel Robertson before, but this was the first time we got to see him present a topic. He gave a talk at TechStars informing groups why Product Management (PM) for startups is important. In fact, he went as far as saying the number one thing that goes wrong at startups might be PM. Niel described PM as a process for delivering the right features at the right time. He went on to discuss why PM can become stale, be ignored, and is often hated because it is associated with excessive documentation, which it shouldn’t be. Mentioning more than once that the best feature requests, requirements, and specs are often just one sentence.

Niel presented PM as a general evolving process, and specifically avoided specific PM systems or methodologies. Niel said he is totally document agnostic and all systems have positives and negatives in terms of PM. It came across that it wasn’t important what system was used, but that everyone at every stage of the project must write things down. He described that ideally every test case should be tied all the way back through spec, requirement, and finally feature. One thing that Niel specifically did say was worth doing was completing a feature review before QA. Have an engineer walk through the project and show each of the requirements being fulfilled, have the product manager and QA lead attend this feature review.

His basic points about why every product can benefit from PM are:

  • It takes 30 secs to write a requirement
  • 2 minutes to clarify in discussion
  • 5 min to for an engineer to spec
  • Hours or days to prototype, write code, integrate, or deploy it

Because of these points he doesn’t want to hear a team is small and agile so following a PM process would slow them down. In the long run following a process will be faster. That point really hit home with a concrete example he gave, “If a project is UI intensive absolutely do not start coding, go to a white board.” This resonated with me, because we made a huge mistake with my last startup, by getting into the prototype without spending enough time thinking about UI. He said, “Don’t tell me that product management is something you do at a bigger company that has more complexity.”

As my notes are often just a list of key points that caught my attention, I will do as I often do and share some favorites.

  • How to write a good requirement… “The user should be able to…”
  • How to respond with a good spec… “The user can do that by… doing X… List the exceptions”
  • A spec is well written when QA can figure out how to test a feature based on the spec.
  • Doesn’t encourage people to shotgun tons of things to market. “When I make spaghetti, I try not to throw all of it against the wall.”
  • On gathering data, go out and talk to people getting more data points about the problem you are solving until you start hearing the same things and can’t learn more from talking. Then go work on it, knowing all this data.
  • Niel doesn’t recommend a developer also taking on the role of PM, as there needs to be a tension between who represents the user and who implements the product.
  • “The PM should be the most empowered employee in your company… Yes, even more than the CEO”

There were a ton of other good thoughts on what exactly a PM does, and how to select a good PM, but as always I can’t really do a presentation justice. Thanks Niel for the great talk.

Update: great discussion going on at Hacker News
Niel sent his Power Point slides after a few people asked for them, product-management-v1.

Written by DanM

July 10, 2008 at 8:12 am

Posted in TechStars