Mind-boggling blogging

Tagline: Blogging is a very easy looking activity, until you _actually_ begin with it…

Most probably even the irregular readers of rubyrailways have noticed a 3 month period of silence during the summer, which has just ended a few days ago. In my opinion it is generally not a very good idea to temporarily abandon a blog, without even announcing a summer holiday or posting a note like “to be continued after an undefined period of blogger’s block” or something. Why did I allow it happen then?

Well, there are a handful of reasons for this: summer holidays, though days at the work, lot of stuff to do on my PhD but mainly a kind of a blogger’s crisis. Although all the reasons are very interesting, I would like to elaborate on the last one a bit.

The first problem stems from the relative success of my previous entries: Tutorials like Install Internet Explorer on Ubuntu Dapper in 3 easy steps, Data extraction for Web 2.0: Screen scraping in Ruby/Rails or Getting Ruby on Rails up and running on Ubuntu Dapper were quite popular and set a standard which was not easy to top (or at least to maintain) in terms of equally interesting topics.
Unfortunately I can pursue Ruby, Rails and even screen scraping/web extraction only in my spare time which is a scarce resource (it’s kind of hard to work full time, roll a PhD and blog simultaneously :-)) and therefore I do not bump into an interesting topic just every second day. However, this eventually got me into a kind-of an inverse Concorde-effect: If I have waited a week, then I can wait another to deliver something sexy. After a month: Now that I have waited a month, I surely have to come up with something *really* juicy… You get the idea.

I believe I am not the only one around with this thinking pattern, and I am not sure how are others handling this problem, but I have decided to give up this habit – in the future I would like to blog regularly, even at the cost that not every post will be a top-notch blockbuster :-).

The second problem is that I am kind of a renaissance guy: I am interested in new technologies, programming, science research, economics, reading books just about everything, photography, traveling, computer games, sports…
However, since rubyrailways is my first attempt at blogging, I am quite unsure how to deal with this amount of information: what should be the ratio of not-necessarily-correlated topics (e.g. Ruby, travelling and PhD research). I am nearly sure though that it is not a good idea to blog about everything, since then every post will be uninteresting for most of the readers.

Yes, I know that categories were invented to workaround this problem. However, in my experience most of the people today are using feed aggregators and/or personal start pages like bloglines, netvibes or pageflakes, and hence are facing this problem nevertheless. Yes, they could ignore the posts that are not interesting to them, but after doing so a few times they will potentially ignore your whole blog.
So how to find the golden mean?

A possible solution is to have a separate blog for everything: In my case this would mean at least a software development (mainly Ruby/Rails), general technology, Linux/Ubuntu, Science/PhD research and a travelling blog. Well, I certainly would not have the time to keep up all of them since I am struggling even with rubyrailways :-)… I could of course ignore what people think about my blog and just write it to myself, but that would deprive me from knowing what other people think about the things I am after, which is a very valuable information for me.

I would be very much interested in your opinion on this topic: How do you solve this ‘feature creep’ on your blog – by maintaining more blogs, focusing on just one topic and ignoring the others, or trying to balance somehow?

Please leave me a comment or send me a mail, I’d really like to hear your opinion…

The Sadly Neglected Pickaxe-killer

I have just finished reading Ruby for Rails: Ruby techniques for rails developers from David A. Black. Here is my (WARNING: highly opiniated) review…

I have been a Python fanatic for quite some time, and decided to give Ruby a shot. After some googling, I found most references pointing to a book called the ‘Pickaxe’. Quite a strange name for a programming book, thought to myself, but picked it up nevertheless. I have been instantly converted after a few dozen pages – mining Ruby with the pickaxe was an awesome experience! Since then, I have finished reading the second edition and became a Ruby enthusiast.

After lurking around a bit, I have learned that the common standpoint is that every newcomer/beginner should grab a copy of the Pickaxe to get started. Based on my previous, positive experience I could not agree more – until I came across R4R.

Ruby for Rails is awesome: The technical depth is just right to not distract beginners, yet detailed enough for even the more advanced readers. I did not skip a single page (though years of programming experience and tons of similar programming books I came across during that time could allow me) and finished reading it in no time.

I could write some more about how cool this book is (and it would deserve every bit of it), but I think you can read about that just anywhere (a nice review can be found here), so I would like to point out something different: If we consider the Pickaxe THE book for newcomers, then IMHO R4R is a Pickaxe killer.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a great fan of the Pickaxe, which is another very high-quality technical book – but if someone wants to apply the ‘right tools for the right job’ principle, I think newcomers who already decided to learn Ruby should grab Ruby for Rails. Programming Ruby’s Part I is absolutely well suited to get the ‘feeling’ of Ruby, and it’s next chapters are great to learn the advanced stuff – however in my opinion, the leap between the first and the next chapters is too big for an absolute beginner. Ruby for Rails is there to fill this gap.

Maybe someone might not advice this book to a newbie eager to learn Ruby, since it has ‘Rails’ in it’s title. However, R4R is still primarily a Ruby book, and while I found the Rails parts to be very helpful, I can recommend it to anyone who would not like to learn Rails at all – though the full potential of the book comes through if one would like to learn both.

Conclusion: Ruby for Rails is an awesome book on Ruby. If you are beginner, would like to get a solid understanding of the Ruby principles, or your goal is to polish up your Ruby knowledge to grasp the Rails framework – R4R was made just for you! Check it out – you won’t be disappointed.