My February 2009 Goals – Wrap Up Special.

Back on February 1st, I posted my goals for the month. I only managed one status post, but I did manage to hit most of my goals.

10% More with RSS and Twitter

These were harder to hit than I expected, but was a good exercise because I had to work on it every day to get there. I did get there though:

1500 Rank in Yahoo! Games Reversi

This one was my big failure. I made a mad dash the past few days, but it wasn’t meant to be. Coming into the month, I was playing very well, and expected to hit 1500 pretty quickly. I’ve had some stress and a large lack of sleep lately, and I think it’s thrown me off. I’m going to take a break from Reversi and hopefully be better when I come back.

Put Danika to Bed as Much as Possible

I had a few people single this goal out as not S.M.A.R.T., and the way I phrased it, it wasn’t. That was to protect myself — I was worried if I wrote down my actual goal and didn’t hit it, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself! The actual goal was 15 days. I ended up doing a lot more than that. I did it every day! There was one night that my wife had to put her to bed, but she woke up during the night and I had to get her back to sleep.

10 Blog Posts

Check it out! This bad-boy is #10! One of the posts (guess which one) was a total punt, but they can’t all be gold can they? I could have managed my time a lot better than I did on this goal, but I didn’t save it all for the last minute – and THAT means more than any of you can possibly know!

Lessons learned and a look ahead

I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t achieve all my goals, but very very happy with what I was able to accomplish. I’m very happy with how much I got done, and even though some of the goals were arbitrary, I showed myself that I can do it if I try.

Going forward, I’m going to continue to publicly set goals, and I’m going to continue to make images for my iPhone background (that worked great). I am going to tweak a few things for the next cycle though — more on that tomorrow!

The “Throne” usability factor

Some technology you don’t want in your bathroom.

If you have one of those new, shiny 17-inch macbook pros, you probably aren’t bringing it into the toilet anytime soon. A Dell Mini 9, on the other hand probably goes great.

The Kindle is perfect for the bathroom. Better even than a paperback (which usually requires two hands). What other gadgets go well in the bathroom?

Talk accepted at Rails Conf 2009

My talk, “INTERFACES ARE DUMB (AND THAT’S A VERY GOOD THING)” was accepted for the 4th annual Rails Conference in Las Vegas. I’ll have more to say about this talk soon, but I wanted to let my friends know right away!

Speaking last year at RailsConf was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again this year. If you’re able to come to the talk, please do!

Link up the site you’re looking at in TextMate

My buddy ReinH asked me in an off-handed way if I knew how to link up a url dragged from safari into TextMate.

I couldn’t think of an easy way, so I hacked something up. It doesn’t do the original goal, but gets pretty close. It grabs the url of the foremost safari window, and makes a textmate link (like how command+shfit+l does).

If you want to download it, you can grab the “My Junk Bundle”. If you’d rather just put the code into your own bundles, here it is:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby -wKU
require ENV['TM_SUPPORT_PATH'] + '/lib/escape.rb'
require 'erb'
require 'open-uri'
require 'net/http' 

def entity_escape(text)
  text.gsub(/&(?!([a-zA-Z0-9]+|#[0-9]+|#x[0-9a-fA-F]+);)/, '&')

url = %x{osascript <<\EOF
tell app "Safari"
  return the URL in document 1
end tell

title = url
if url =~ /^http:\/\// and url != ''
  eval 'title =<title>([^<>]*)<\/title>/i).to_a[1].strip rescue nil' if fp = open(url) rescue nil

input = title

Binary Game for the iPhone

My good friend John Kassimatis informed me today that I never wrote about the game he released a little over a week ago: Binary Game. After swearing he was nuts and must have just missed it, I checked and saw that, indeed, I haven’t written about it yet!

Let’s rectify that now

Binary game is pretty sweet. You’re given a target number and have to hit buttons with set values (like 128, 64, 32, etc) to match the target. It’s one of those “take a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” games. Well for me at least, looking at the High Scores, some people are much more masterful than me! (Seriously, 24 seconds to solve 16 of these things? I’m in the 60 second range…. jeeze!)

Beyond just being a cool game, I got to help John out (with our good friend Brian Woolley) with code, graphics and Word Press Hacking (the plugin I built is here: gist 64298). I really enjoy iPhone hacking. It’s tough and not intuitive in places, and there are plenty of hoops to jump through to get your app released, but where else can you go from idea, to running code IN YOUR POCKET so quickly? We live in the future!

So check it out, and let me know on twitter (@kastner), if you’re faster than my 60 seconds in speed round.

Jamis Broke Open Source!

What a jerk that Jamis Buck is, right? He’s abandoning Capistrano and related bits. At least, that’s the position some very vocal people are taking in response to his announcement (both points it seems).

From what I’ve seen, there are two main public positions people are taking:

  • Massive amounts of thanks and well wishes
  • Major pushback that Jamis is “abandoning” Cap, or at the very least that he didn’t beg for someone to take it over.

And while I always wish Jamis the best (and thank him for all of his contributions, both code and otherwise), I don’t see why the first position is predicated on his announcement. And that second viewpoint? I just don’t get it even a bit.

Let me explain, my reaction (and since I’m the one writing, we just assume I’m right, of course), was pretty much, “Oh, Ok?” So what? If I want to use capistrano, I’ll keep using it. If I find a bug that I can fix, I’ll fix it. I doubt I’ll even need to though. With our without Jamis “blessing” a specific version, there will be updates, plain and simple.

And I think that gets to what these people are really most hurt over, that Jamis didn’t follow their idea of how OSS should be transitioned. He didn’t follow an outdated, broken, pretty much anti-open-source practice of finding a successor, training them, then reluctantly giving up control.

Here’s a brilliant comment Jamis made on Hacker News:

If you’re this traumatized by my decision, then honestly, I blame you (and people like you) for my burn out. Where were your contributions to the library, your documentation patches, your discussions of better ways to implement things? Have you been in the IRC channel, daily, helping people troubleshoot problems? Have you posted frequently on the mailing list in response to questions? If you’re so dependent on Capistrano, where have you been? If your silence was because it all “just worked”, then why are you so disgusted now? It all still “just works”.

It’s a bit defensive, but if you follow the comments leading up to you, you’ll see that’s downright tame for the amount of crap being slung his way.

I’m not going to claim that this new model of Open Source is 100% attributable to GitHub, but for me, it’s the project that embodies it, as well as opened my eyes to it’s posibility. It’s still got a long way to go (mostly with regards to authority), but I think the shift has been made, and going back to what we had by default before would be a huge step backwards.

It’s been pointed out before, but I’m gonna give the very very short version of one possible path that Capistrano could take.

  • Someone very passionate about the project, and how much it’s helped them (and trust me, there’s a lot of us) realizes there’s a gap in what it provides and wants to plug that hole
  • They fork the code on github and bring the code up to their vision
  • They tell people about this change and why it rules
  • More people spread the word about this great new functionality
  • This becomes the defacto new capistrano
  • It gets fuzzy here because there are so many paths it could take:
    • Jamis could add our mystery coder as a contributor to the “main” capistrano project
    • Jamis could give the rubyforge project over to this person, and they’d update all the info to point to their code
    • Jamis could do nothing, and people will STILL FIND THE CODE (github could feature the project, DHH can say it’s what he uses now, WHATEVER)

We are in a meritocracy (with a bit of popularity thrown in), and this new model of shifting ownership and authority is just the next logical progression. What if, instead of just being burnt out, Jamis when on an 18 month world-wood-carving-tour? Would Cap just be frozen in that time? What if he decided that coding was so last century and walked away from everything?

I think what someone should be really scared of is someone coming along and making their projects better, and since they’re a control-freak jerk-face, they don’t allow someone else to contribute, and the new version becomes the standard (*cough*emacs*cough*).

Kindle 2 first impressions

I got my Kindle 2 yesterday and I wanted to jot down my first impressions before I form any long-lasting feelings.


The first observation is literally the first thing you see — the packaging.

I’m not usually one for unboxing pictures or stories, but Amazon killed it with this one. They’ve clearly taken a page from Apple, and spent considerable effort and thought on the experience of getting and opening up your Kindle. One area where they surpass apple is in packaging material. The device is shipped in mostly reconstituted paper (that injection molded almost plastic-like paper packaging). And once you get to the device, there’s a really cool easter-egg with the instructions (plug in your device to the wall, slide the power at the top — that’s all I’ll say!)


I never played with the first generation of the Kindle, so my thoughts aren’t colored by that experience…

The hardware is cool. So thin, small, light. Great for reading in bed or other places you’d take a paperback. This, however, is an area where Johnny Ive clearly wasn’t involved. The keyboard is awkard, the menus aren’t the easiest things to navigate. But it’s well past the “Good Enough” threshold (at least after a few hours of playing with it)!

Buying Books…

Amazon has never been shy about making it easy to spend your money. From 1-click, to Prime, buying on amazon is easy, and the Kindle continues (and extends) that tradition. Using the “Whispernet”, you could spend a LOT of coin very easily. It’s also very very easy to buy something on the site and have it show up on your device automatically. Again it reminds me of apple with the appstore, but is very much it’s own experience.


One thing I haven’t heard much about is the “Experimental” menu. One of the things they offer in there is a web browser! This changes the entire experience of the device. I only loaded up one webpage (mine of course), and it doesn’t really render much CSS, but so what? It, in a way, unlocks the device from Amazon’s grips and allows you to decide what you see on that gorgeous screen!

>No Clock

It’d be easy to put a clock on the device. There’s a menu bar. Refreshing just that part of the screen every minute wouldn’t be distracting. It’s powerful enough to have a clock. It could stay in sync over the network. But no. They decided to keep a clock out, and it’s the nicest little touch I’ve found so far! Why would a clock be bad? Amazon’s stated goal with the Kindle is to replicate the book experience as much as possible. When you get INTO a good book, time melts away and having a reminder always in your field of view would ruin that experience. I think it’s a bold choice (EVERYTHING has a clock!), and one I appreciate a whole lot!


I don’t underline passages in books. Something about forcing my observations on the next reader really turns me off (when I was first formulating this thought, I was going to say something about affecting the physical book, but that’s not it, I dog-ear ALL the time!). However with the Kindle, I’ve already marked two passages in the first book I’m reading. The UI isn’t great for it, but it’s not bad enough not to do it, and it’s just for me (and my twitter followers who I’ll be subjecting quotes to shortly).

The highlighting is, in my mind, the perfect metaphor for the device as a whole. It’s like reading a book, but not exactly. I still love paper, I think we’re a long way off from replicating the experience 100%. Despite what they say, I think Amazon’s ultimate goal isn’t to replicate reading a book, but surpass it, and that’s a tall order, but one I think they’re making baby steps towards.

So far I’m blown away by this thing! I’m finding lots of niceties still.

Counters in partials, a little-known rails feature!

I don’t normally post rails tips that are New To Me, because I always feel like I’m late to the party and everyone knows the tip already. This one however, I vetted through some very experienced rails developers and it was new to them as well. Which is strange, because looking back, I think it was first added in 2004!

The feature I’m talking about is counters in partials used in a collection. Let me show you:

<%= render :partial => “book”, :collection => @books %>

As you know, that will loop through the array of @books and use the template _book.html.erb (by default) each time. Let’s take a look at that file and see how we can use the counter:

  Number: <%= book_counter %><br/>
  Title: <%= h book.title %><br/>
  Author: <%= h %><br/>

That will give us output like this:

  Number: 0<br/>
  Title: Promises in Death<br/>
  Author: J. D. Robb<br/>

  Number: 1<br/>
  Title: One Day at a Time<br/>
  Author: Danielle Steel<br/>

  Number: 2<br/>
  Title: First Family<br/>
  Author: David Baldacci<br/>

What’s this useful for?
I can think of two things off the top of my head:

  • Zebra Tables
  • Special classes for first or last elements to change them visually

Let me know here or on twitter (@kastner) if this was helpful (or any other little-known tips)

A week into February

It’s been a week since I posted my goals for February. I’m trying to make sure I don’t slip on these, so here’s how I’ve done so far:

  1. 10% more RSS / Twitter
    Twitter: 765->768. Not great
    RSS: 353->381. Not so bad
  2. 1500 On Yahoo! Reversi
    I’m now at 1437. When I made the post, I was on the 1300 range. Really tracking well on this one
  3. Put Dani to Bed a Lot
    7/7 :)
  4. 10 Blog posts
    Well. This is the second one. I have a few ideas for bigger posts. One is the coming inflection point for twitter. Another is about different personality types and how they market products.

Overall, not great progress, but I feel that looking over them like this is going to be hugely helpful.

February 2009 Goals

I’m going to approach my goals for this year a little differently than last year

Month by Month

The plan for this year is simple. S.M.A.R.T. goals. Each Month.

Day by Day

Even more importantly, I’m going to remind myself of my goals several times each day. A concept I was sure I came up with all on my own, until I noticed Damon Clinkscales‘s comment on my post from last year.

So how am I going to do this day by day stuff? With Magic Computer Voodoo™. I’m going to put my goals on my iPhone’s background image. Each time I look at them I’m going to see if I’m working towards them.

But First… a Look Back

Let’s see how I did with last years goals (which I didn’t look at until now):

  1. Finish the blog post
    This was a gimme. A quick one to get one and done. And I did that. Didn’t really build the confidence I was hoping for.
  2. Be the best father and husband I can be
    I think I did alright on this one. 50% at least.
  3. Ship 10 projects
    Not so great on this one. Let’s see:

    1. Highlite
      This was actually launched on EC2.
    2. Color Wars 2008

      (Color Wars 2009 coming in april!)
    3. elastic css textmate bundle
    4. Obama FTW!
    5. Flickr Tickler
      I haven’t written this one up yet, I actually haven’t promoted it much at all yet. It’s a Flickr viewing interface that uses your keyboard and has “infinite” scrolling. This is launched on Google’s App Engine.

    So, 5/10… again 50%

  4. Drop 20lbs of Fat
    Wow. Did I ever mess this one up? I had mistakenly thought the goal was to gain 20lbs of fat. Which I did. And then some. I Rule.

New Goals

I have some overarching goals for 2009 and beyond, but I’m going to focus just on this month for now.

Here they are:

  1. Gain 10% more RSS subscribers
  2. Gain 10% more twitter followers
  3. get to 1500 rank in reversi on Yahoo! Games
  4. Put Danika to bed as many nights as possible
  5. 10 blog posts

10% More with RSS and Twitter

These are purely ego based and not useful to anyone but me. For too long, I’ve been blasé about the brand that is “Erik Kastner”. I’m going to try and work on that a little bit. And while it doesn’t matter how many followers or subscribers I have, it acts as a proxy for the real goal.

As of today, I have 765 following on twitter and 353 subscribed here. For those of us how hate mental math, that means I want to have (at the peak) 842 followers and 389 subscribers.

1500 Rank in Yahoo! Games Reversi

I used to play a lot of Reversi (Othello) around 2000. I picked it back up a few months ago (thanks iPhone!), and I’ve found it has changed how I approach all kinds of problems. It gets me in the mindset to think ahead a few moves, while still keeping options open. It also makes me insanely happy.

Put Danika to Bed as Much as Possible

My favorite new habit is helping Amy with Danika’s bath, then putting her to bed. The wrinkle is that sometimes I get home too late. By making this my #1 priority, I’m going to keep it in my mind and get home as much as possible.

10 Blog Posts

Since the first of the year, I’ve been blogging a lot more, both in frequency and content. I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying doing this again. This also happens to be the 4th year of Meta | ateM, as good a time as any to really get back into it.

The Image!