Archive for September, 2006

Cutting Edge – Bleeding Edge

Friday, September 29th, 2006

We’re a Rails shop. We like new technologies. Especially ones that save us on development time. But riding on the cutting edge of technology can sometimes have the rather undesired effect of cutting yourself and bleeding a little. So let me save you some pain by introducing you to a set of tools indispensable when developing Ruby on Rails web applications:

  • Firefox Web Developer – This excellent toolbar is more than meets the eye. At first you might think that it’s just a regular toolbar with a bunch of buttons whcih serve as shortcuts. Sure it does that but there is so much more. Some of my favourite tools that come with this utility are:

    • Validate Speed Report – this little gem submits the URL of the current page to a site which evaluates the speed with which the given page loads. It gives you a comparison between dial-up and various flavours of broadband. It warns you if you have too many script files or images.

    • Resize – ever wondered what would your page look like at 800×600? Any other res? Not a problem, this tool resizes Firefox window to any resolution you pick.

    • Outline – how many times have you put “border: 1px solid red;” into your CSS to see the outlines of your container elements? Now this essential function is just a mouse click away. You can show outlines of pretty much anything, including tables.

  • Firefox FireBug – this extension is simply indispensable when you’ve got a lot of JavaScript in your web application. So what do you get?

    • You get an interactive JS console which lets you execute arbitrary JS expressions including methods on your objects.

    • You get an interactive JS debugger. The console has a bunch of really useful features, such as the ability to track and report all XMLHTTPRequest objects. This is simply indispensable when you’re developing AJAX applications.

    • You get a DOM inspector. Switch into interactive inspect mode and as you mouse-over your page the appropriate part of the DOM tree gets highlighted. Or you can go through the tree manually and select the node of interest.

  • Firefox HTML ValidatorHTML Validator is a Mozilla extension that adds HTML validation inside Firefox and Mozilla. The number of errors of a HTML page is seen on the form of an icon in the status bar when browsing. The details of the errors are seen when looking at the HTML source of the page. You can evan tell it to fix your page at which point you will get a copy of your page with all validation errors resolved the best that they can be resolved.

  • Rails script/console – I think that many people don’t know about this, don’t understand this tool or simply forget about it. Yet this is one of the more useful tools wehn writing a Rails app. Basically what you get is an interactive Ruby console (IRB) which hooks into the guts of your application and lets you interact with yourmodels. You can create new instances, inspect existing instances and run any method on any model instance. And if you runthe console with —sandbax argument all database changes will be rolled back on exit.

    Here’s another goodie, press TAB to auto-complete method names. If you type in something like “User.” and then press TAB you will get all the methods for the User class.

    This command Dispatcher.reset_application! allows you to reload all your model definitions.

    I saved the best till last. Once you’re in the console the application object is is available as app. Once you know this, you can do really useful things like:

    app.url_for :controller => 'some_controller', :action => 'some_action'

    or how about this:

    >> helper.pluralize 2, "foo"
    => "2 foos"

    There is so much more. I urge you to just play with it. Experiment. Learn. Enjoy.

  • tail -f log/development.logtail is a UNIX shell command which lets you monitor contents of a file as it grows. The development log contains all sorts of really useful information about the execution of your application, such as SQL queries being executed, which controller actions are being called with what parameters and of course error messages

This is a long post but I really wanted to list all those tools in one place because they all complement each other. Happy development!


Friday, September 29th, 2006

Inspiration comes in many forms. As a startup, we are always facing challenges from every direction. Every once and a while you find inspiration that reminds you that you’re on the right path even though everything around you is crazy. If you have passion and a strong vision then you can change the world.

Tim from Decisive flow has written an outstanding post on vision: stay inspired and have amazing days. Tim has articulated a Zen approach to finding and living your vision.

I am reminded of George Leonard’s book “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”. Here is a snippet from the book that to me captures the spirit of Tim’s post.

“Goals and contingencies, as I’ve said, are important. But they exist in the future and the past, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. You can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most esssential and enduring in your life.”

In other words, embrace the journey and celebrate the wins along the way. Business is hard and its fun if you only take the time to enjoy it!

Want to share an office with cool Wellington companies???

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Spikefin and Calcium are looking for a company to share their office space.

They are based in Pipitea House.

If you’re interested, have a look at this pdf.

Arrgghhh bloody spam

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Having just read about Splogs in the September wired magazine, my last post got 3 spam comments within 30 minutes of being posted. ARRRRGGHH bloody spam!!!

I used to use google blogsearch to track blog interest in ProjectX and ZoomIn. Unfortunately now 80% of the results are spam blogs. It is really annoying!

On the subject of spam, I have decide to shift my personal mail to google mail’s hosted domain service. I get over 50 spams a day. That doesn’t count the thousands of attempts to send spam to every possible address combination that may reside at my domain. I have been really unhappy with the spamassassin filters of late and after spending last weekend trying to tune them, I have finally given up.

I have basially shift the spam burden to google. I figure that they have a high vested interest in sorting it out. And as an added bonus I have to maintain one less thing. I am testing it out over the next week and then I’ll convert the ProjectX mail across.

A new way to find a VC?

Monday, September 25th, 2006

I have been catching up on my reading. I have just finished reading this month’s Business 2.0 magazine which had an interesting article on
The 20 smartest companies to start now

The article details several high profile VC’s (Vinold Khosla, Steve Case and others) who are outlining ideas that they are interested investing in. What’s different about this article is that they are asking for entrepreneurs to pitch their solutions to them! ie. the VC’s have ideas and they are shopping for entrepreneurs ! In its almost like the whole pitch process in reverse. The VC’s have even given an indication of what they are willing to spend and what they want for the cash. The investment areas are quite diverse from software, energy, health services, social / mobile networking and even games.

I find the approach really refreshing. What better to match a passionate VC with a energetic young startup? If any of you have watched Dragon’s Den, you’ll often see that the VC’s have different interests and often won’t invest outside portfolio. (Side note: Is it me or does the NZ version of Dragons Den seem to be giving away more money ? Is it that we have better ideas or are kiwi VC’s willing to take more risk ?)

I wonder if New Zealand VC’s would be interested pitching their ideas to budding entrepreneurs? Maybe that’s some for the NZVCA to think about.

Off and racing…

Thursday, September 21st, 2006


I was just browsing around the New Zealand site and I spotted that NZTR has added over 50 racecourses to the site. From Ruakaka racecourse in the north to Winton racecourse in the south.

A big thanks to NZTR for adding all racing information to the site.

Hullo Hullo Hullo….

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

We’ve started adding new data to the ZoomIn. With the new maps comes a lot more data.

So far, we’ve added:

  • Emergency services like: Police Stations, Fire Stations and Ambulance depots
  • Golf courses
  • Car Parks

Coming soon:

  • Schools and Educational Institutions
  • Places of Worship
  • Hospital and Medical centres
  • Parks and Recreation areas

We’re adding all of the places to map, so you can access the zoomin goodness ie adding comments, and pictures etc.

Birth of a web 2.0 app

Friday, September 15th, 2006
I have been building a new application over the last week. I was doing some mundane data entry and realised that I could easily automate the whole process. So as a personal project, I am working on converting this idea into a new Web 2.0 site. I won’t give too much details about the site until later in the week.
To make sure that I am fully web 2.0 compliant, here’s my checklist:

    <font color=”green”></font> Select web 2.0 programming language: No brainer, we’re a Ruby on Rails shop, so I whacked together a prototype really quickly.
    <font color=”green”></font> Select Web 2.0 name: I thought of a name and added r on the end 🙂
    <font color=”green”></font> Design Web 2.0 Logo: Easy – I went to Web 2.0 Logo Generator, put the application name in and generated a new shiny logo with beta badge!
    <font color=”green”></font> Select Web 2.0 HTML design: I didn’t want too spend much time around on the design, so went to google and found Web 2.0 generator which gave me a shiny new CSS layout.
    <font color=”green”></font> Use external API’s: I’ve hooked into some Amazon API’s and have been customising their XML feeds.
    <font color=”green”></font> Community Interaction: I have added tags to allow users to customise their view of my data.

The site is progressing rapidly and it should be live some time next week.

New maps on ZoomIn

Thursday, September 14th, 2006



We’ve completed the first stage of our map upgrade. We are now using our new maps based on Terralink data. The maps are now cleaner and easier to read. We have street directions, intersections and some points of interest such as schools and parks.

During the upgrade some of the suburb data was changed to accomodate the new data, all inbound links have been updated to redirect to the right place.

The second phase of the update is due to be complete by the end of the weekend. If you spot any errors, please let us know.

ProjectX and Smaps in the news…

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

ProjectX and Smaps are in the news…

  • Online maps show the way to success – NZ Herald (5th Sept 2006)
  • Trade Me’s new services a hit (4th Sept 2006)
  • Trade Me’s Referral Traffic Propels Smaps to Top Travel – Maps Site (25th Aug 2006)