IRLs

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NiteoWeb is a remote-first team. While we do have a physical office in Ljubljana, few people go there regularly. Most of us prefer to work from home, from coffee shops or from the beach. Wherever and whenever we feel we are the most productive.

While remote work certainly has its benefits, it does indeed have its challenges. Building rapport with coworkers is harder over digital channels than it is in person. While we do have a daily stand-up meeting on Google Hangouts where we all gather around a digital campfire for a few minutes every morning,  it isn’t enough.

About once a month those of us living in Slovenia try to get together for lunch, a picnic or a local tech meetup. These in-person gatherings are fantastic, but they are geographically limited. It does not make sense for people outside of Slovenia to travel for hours just to attend a lunch.  So we started doing semiannual gatherings where the entire team converges on a single physical location to talk, socialize and rant.

We call these gatherings IRLs (“In Real Life”).  In the summer we do it in Slovenia (or close by) and during the winter we do it in some warm place around the world. This summer we booked an AirBNB villa in Vodnjan, just across the border with Croatia. What a fantastic place we got!

The summer IRL was two days filled to the brink with insightful talks from the team, mindblowing idea pitches and great discussion about anything and everything. Besides politics, SpaceX and latest hacks we talked about what we as a company should do in near- to mid-term future. We updated our internal policies. And we had tons of great BBQ by the pool. I can’t wait what batshit crazy things we come up with at our next IRL, due in January 2017. In Bangkok!

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Lessons Learned from PyMunich 2016

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At the end of October there was a Python conference in Munich (PyMunich). For a regional conference it was quite big in my opinion. There were 3 tracks and more then 40 speakers.

As always I won’t cover all the talks just the ones that I found the most interesting and educational. After all this is the biggest reason why I go to these conferences.

The first talk I attended was by Dmitry Trofimov. He talked about profiling (“Profiling the unprofilable“). There are 2 approaches you can profile your code and it is important to know them both so you know which one to choose. The first one is statistical or sampler profiling (e.g. vmprof) and the second one is deterministic profiling (e.g. cprofile). For more details about the differences I strongly suggest to do some research on your own.

When you need to optimize your code you should be aware of the optimization levels. Often developers want to be smart and they go straight into optimizing their algorithms. But this doesn’t have the biggest impact. The biggest impact on the performance has the design (architecture). So this should be your biggest focus. After that you can start looking at algorithms and data structures and at the end line profiling. See “Effective Python” section in lessons learned from europython 2016 blog post for more details on this.

You can also use Cython for even better optimization (i.e. when you would need to write C code) but in most cases this isn’t necessary when building for the web because the bottleneck is network I/O. Stefan Behnel had a great talk about “Getting Native with Cython” and he showed us how easy it is to write pure python code and then transform it to Cython. If you have performance issues and you have already done all the optimization you could think of I strongly suggest to try with Cython. I realise that it is probably harder than Stefan showed us but still it is worth looking into in my opinion.

Encryption is awesome. We all like it, but are we all using it? I admit that I don’t have it on my site but I should. And now with Let’s Encrypt Certificate Authority there are no more reasons why any of us don’t use encryption on their site(s). Markus Holtermann who had a talk about SSL encryption (“SSL all the things“) pointed out a few things that we should probably all know:

  • SSL 2 and 3 are broken, so don’t use them,
  • also don’t use TLS 1.0/1.1,
  • get fresh certificate every 90 days,
  • disable (make redirect) http because it can leak some information you don’t want.

There are many open source tools that can help you achieve nice and tidy encryption on your site. One of them is `acme-tiny` (https://github.com/diafygi/acme-tiny). It is very small script (less than 200 lines) which means you can easily read every line of the code which you should because you need to trust this tool with your private keys.

The last talk I want to mention was by far my favourite one. Philip Bauer showed us how to debug like a pro (“Debug like a pro. How to become a better programmer through pdb-driven development“).

His bread and butter tool is `pdbpp` or `pdb++` which is a drop-in replacement for `pdb`. This means that you create break point just like with pdb but if you have pdb++ installed it will automatically get called instead.

Here are the basic commands for pdb that Philip highlighted:

  •  l[ist] (list source code of current file)
  • n[ext] (continue execution until next line)
  • s[tep] (execute the current line, stop at the first possible occasion)
  • r[eturn] (continue execution until the current function returns)
  • c[ontinue] (continue execution, only stop when a breakpoint is encountered)
  • w[here] (show stack trace, recent frame at bottom)
  • u[p] (move up the stack)
  • d[own] (move down the stack)
  • b[reakpoint] (set a new breakpoint. `tbreak` for temporary break points)
  • a[rgs] (print the argument list of the current function)

The nice thing about pdbpp is that it has a long list method (`ll`) which displays the whole function you are in (Note: ipdb also has long list method).

Other python debugging tricks you should know about are:

  • use ?for getting additional information lib/class/function/… (e.g. os?)
  • use ??for displaying the source code of the lib/class/function you want to inspect (e.g. os.path.join??)
  • pp(Pretty-print) is already in pdb so you should always use it
  • pp locals()will pretty print local variables

One of the best tricks is the `help` function which accepts object and returns generated help page for the object. !help(obj.__class__)command will generate help page which will contain all the methods including class methods and static methods with docstrings, method resolution order, data descriptors, attributes, data and other attributes inherited and much more.

Note: The reason you need to put ! before help function in pdbpp/ipdb is because is you don’t put ! you will call pdbpp/ipdb internal help function which is not the python build-in help function.

You can also use --pdboption when running unit tests with pytest or nosetest and this will cause to drop in a pdb whenever a test fails or errors. From there you can write a code that will pass a test, copy paste that code into your file and you are done. This is the basic principle of Test-Driven / Debug-Driven Development (TDD).

Any questions? Send us an email.

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A dev’s MacBook from scratch

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I’ve been a long time Apple user. I hate a lot about the company’s policy and how they treat their power users, but I love the tight integration between their software and hardware. Another thing to love is their migration tools. You buy new hardware, you click Restore from backup and you are done. Safari even opens up the tabs you had open on the old device. However recently, I’ve splurged on a new MacBook 12” and decided to set it up from scratch. For the fun of it. Here are some notes of how I’ve set it up for myself, for future reference and if someone is in a similar position.

Tips:

  • Don’t sign into iCloud during installation as that starts syncing everything to iCloud and you might not want that.
  • I moved over some files manually from a Time Machine external disk and they got “locked” i.e. I had to enter the admin password for any change to them. This is how I “unlocked” them: xattr -c -r FOLDER_WITH_LOCKED_ITEMS/ && chmod -RN FOLDER_WITH_LOCKED_ITEMS/

System configuration:

  • First off, update to the latest version of OS X, since every major update overwrites some system configuration and you don’t want to duplicate your work.
  • Turn on auto updates. Doh.
  • Go through all System preferences panes and see what works for you. Take your time to see what’s there, it pays off.
  • I disabled Location services, because I use VPNs a lot and then Location Services get totally confused.
  • Enable sending/receiving SMS and calls on OS X — a killer Apple feature for me.
  • Disabled Document Handoff because I don’t want all my docs in the cloud by default.
  • On a MacBook 12″ moving the Dock to the right makes the most sense in my eyes.
  • Set a nice “return for reward” message to be displayed on Locked screen. Something along the lines of “If you have found this laptop, please call me on MY NUMBER or send me an email to MY EMAIL and get a sweet reward! Thanks!”
  • Check Require an administrator password to access system-wide preferences. Doh.
  • Turn on FileVault and Firewall. Double-doh.
  • Firewall -> Advanced -> enable Stealth Mode. Though need to remember to turn it off when diagnosing network problems.

Finder preferences:

  • Show extensions.
  • When performing a search: Search the Current Folder, otherwise it searches the entire computer by default and almost kills Finder.
  • New Finder windows show: my home folder. I hate the “All My Files” default view. Absolutely hate it.

Various tools and apps:

  • Resilio Sync: fantastic app for sharing files among team members, based on bittorrent.
  • Slack: team communication, we use it religiously.
  • Crypho: secure team communication. I’m looking forward to the day when we can replace Slack with Crypho, so we have all communication secure, but as it is, Slack is just way more convenient for everyone to use.
  • LittleSnitch: allow/disable connections per app/port/protocol/address. Fantastic to prevent apps from contacting ads/tracking services and getting more insight into what goes on in the background.
  • Alfred: great productivity app, “replaces” Spotlight and then some!
  • Bartender: get that Menu Bar under control!
  • Flux: same as Redshift on Linux, adjusts screen colours for late night hacking sessions.
  • AppTrap: automatic cleanup of files that apps leave laying around after you delete them
  • iStat menus: to always be able to see what my system is doing with a glance.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-20-44-24
  • Seashore: GIMP/Photoshop clone with a Mac-style UI. But seems an abandoned project, need to find a replacement …
  • Calibre: eBook management.
  • iBank: keeping my finances in check.
  • LibreOffice. And removed Apple’s Numbers & Pages.

Development environment:

  • Homebrew: the quintessential package manager for OS X.
  • Twitter: funny as it sounds, but Twitter is a great way to stay on top of latest patches/releases/news in tech.
  • Colloquy: a lot of Open Source still happens on IRC and this is how I keep in touch.
  • Chrome: been using it a few years now for browsing and development, but I want to switch back to Firefox soon. Extensions I cannot live without: BackStop, The Great Suspender, Send to Kindle, StayFocusd and Full Page Screen Capture.
  • Tunnelblick: the OS X OpenVPN client.
  • ExtFS for Mac: so I am able to mount ExtFS volumes (Linux drives, Raspberry PI SD cards, etc.)
  • pgAdmin3 and pgweb: admin interfaces for PostgreSQL, lately pgweb sees way more usage than pgAdmin3. Also sqlite browser for SQLite.
  • dotfiles: I keep a private git repo with all my “dotfiles” so history is tracked.
  • travis-cli & heroku-cli: working with Travis and Heroku from the comfort of the terminal window.
  • Vagrant: for simple virtualization needs, when I want to test out something without polluting my main environment.
  • Shush: a vital tool for any remote worker, to keep unwanted background noise from polluting teleconferencing.
  • Sublime Text: I’ve been a TextMate user for quite a while but I jumped ship when I saw how much faster ST is. That was years ago and I’m sticking with ST for now, got used to it and it works for me. I did migrate to ST3 recently though. The list of plugins I use:
    • GitGutter
    • SideBar Enhancements
    • Requirements Txt
    • Color Highlighter
    • CSS3
    • jQuery
    • SublimeLinter
    • SublimeLinter-annotations
    • SublimeLinter-pydocstyle (sudo pip2/3 install pydocstyle)
    • SublimeLinter-flake8 (sudo pip2/3 install flake8)
    • SublimeLinter-jshint (npm install -g jshint)
    • SublimeLinter-shellcheck (brew install shellcheck)
    • SublimeLinter-pyyaml (sudo pip3 install pyyaml)
    • SublimeLinter-json
    • BracketHighlighter
    • Jedi – Python Autocompletion
    • theme: SoDaReloaded Light.sublime-theme
    • pdb snippet: https://gist.github.com/phalt/72117041fbb7cf4c4697
    • starting ST from the current dir in console by typing subl -n .: https://www.sublimetext.com/docs/2/osx_command_line.html
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Writing The Docs – Prague 2016

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On September 19th and 20th Write the Docs Meeting took place in Prague. This year I had the pleasure to attend. More than 250 people came which is about 40% more compared to last year.  On my surprise the majority of the people were actual tech writers or ‘documentarians’ as they called themselves (well there were several talks were they pointed out that they actually don’t have a good, recognisable name).

All of the speakers were tech writers so there wasn’t much correlation with the actual coding or development from the software point of view. Nonetheless there were quite a few tips that I have picked up.

One of the first talks that I found interesting was about writing as a non-native speaker (by Szabó István Zoltán aka Steve). Although his main focus was on language differences and how they affect non-native speaker when he needs to write something (e.g. documentation) he also gave a few tips on how to write in generally. He said you should “Write drunk; edit sober” which I think is a very interesting idea (unfortunately I’m not drunk while writing this). The more technical suggestions were: First do the writing part and then the editing part. In the writing part you should:

  1. Create the structure,
  2. estimate the word number
  3. focus on the flow, don’t mind the grammar.

And in the editing part you should:

  1. Self-edit,
  2. grammar checkers,
  3. read out loud,
  4. send to the editor.

He also suggested in order to improve your language skills you should start writing your own blog, attend IRL events / conferences and of course read lots of books.

Another interesting talk was about screenshots. Apparently there are some people who can’t create proper screenshots so tech writers must do them themselves. He suggested that we should have screenshot policy style guide which I think is actually a good idea.

There was also one talk about documentation quality and what actually documentation quality is. We have structural and functional quality. Structural is about grammar, style, navigation, etc. Functional quality answers the following questions:

  1. Does it do what it’s supposed to do?
  2. Does it satisfy requirements?
  3. Achieve what it sets out to achieve for users?

Functional quality brings value and this should be our goal. Our goal as a technical writer shouldn’t be that our text is full with nice words that makes average reader harder to understand. It should be plain and simple so that it transports the information as quickly as possible. We should be avare that every sentence has a “user journey” so when you read a sentence your brain actually needs to interpret its information. And the more complex the sentence is the harder is for our brains to do that. We usually label this as “light” (e.g. comics) and “heavy” (e.g. Tolstoy, War and Peace) reading. Let us look at this sentence: “The defendant examined by the lawyer was unreliable”. When we read this sentence we first think that the defendant was doing the examination but then after we read the whole sentence our brain realizes that actually the lawyer was doing the examination. This is called “temporal ambiguity”.

The last talk I want to mention is about (mental) checklists. I found this talk interesting because people (including me) often confuse checklist with todo list. But they are very different. Checklists contains tasks that are repeatable. Checklists are used on a daily basis in a lot of industries. E.g. when airplane pilot takes off or lands a plane he uses checklist to check if he did everything he is suppose to do before taking off or landing.

We have 2 types of checklists: Read-do and do-confirm. They are pretty self explanatory so I will not discuss the differences here. One of the things about checklists we should always have in mind is that if we are using them we should keep them up to date. One of the worst thing that could happen to a checklist is that it contains incorrect items and that in the current process we are actually checking for different things (because we found a better way of doing things but we didn’t update the checklist). That is why I still prefer automatization over checklists (e.g. when deploying, I prefer to use TravisCI).

 

To wrap up this post I would like to mention a comment that someone (unfortunately I don’t remember his name) on the conference said about github projects. He said that when you are looking at some github project one of the most important things about that project is README file. Then we discussed how many README files are incomplete and/or not updated. In fact every user that opens a github project will first look at README file and if he doesn’t see it there is little chance that he will actually look into the sourcecode (you know this is true).

 

So to help you out, here is a nice README.rst template that you can use for your projects:

$project
========

$project will solve your problem of where to start with documentation,
by providing a basic explanation of how to do it easily.

Look how easy it is to use:

    import project
    # Get your stuff done
    project.do_stuff()

Features
--------

- Be awesome
- Make things faster

Installation
------------

Install $project by running:

    install project

Contribute
----------

- Issue Tracker: github.com/$project/$project/issues
- Source Code: github.com/$project/$project

Support
-------

If you are having issues, please let us know.
We have a mailing list located at: [email protected]

License
-------

The project is licensed under the BSD license.

 

And if you want to read more about writing documentation this is a good place to start. I must warn you that if you choose the blue pillow there is a high chance that you will start writing better documentation :).

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WP Meetups

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A few months back I noticed we actually have regular WordPress Meetups in Ljubljana, our base town. We attended one in April, where David talked about theming and Emanuel about bringing WordPress into the Public Sector. On the second one, in June, we were active participants: Janez and myself delivered a talk titled Lessons learned running 25k WordPress blogs describing how we scaled Easy Blog Networks to 25k blogs running on several hundred servers.

Both events also had a Lightning Talks section, which is what I normally enjoy the most. So many great ideas packed into such a short timeframe. Looking forward to the next meetup that should happen sometime in Autumn!

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