Saturday, March 28, 2009

In the Frame II: Intentions

The Application:
Having announced my ambitions, I had better announce my intentions: what application shall I write?

My trusty Rails reference is Dave Thomas and David Heinemeier Honsson :'Agile Web Programming with Rails', which describes a simple shopping cart application. A little copycattish to do that again, I think.

Instead, since I am going to be developing the application in triplicate, I shall choose something that caters for multi-user interaction: I shall create a conversation whiteboard.

What this will allow is for each version of the application to interact with each other (in theory!).

Important stuff first
What to call it?

Well, it's a chat application with multiple varieties, so a starting point of 'N-chat' leads naturally to calling it:


How do I imagine it operating?

Starting with a conversation board, a user can select which of several groups they might like to join.
(There might even be a snatch of overheard conversation to help them decide)
On selecting that conversation, the user then sees a number of views*:
  • one for what is typed in
  • one for the general buzz of conversation
  • a few extracted streams, associated with user.
Oh yes, they will probably want to be able to leave as well!

There are any number of refinements that can be added to all this, but I think this will be more than enough for a training exercise (especially if muggins here is going to be doing it in triplicate!)

OK, what we have already suggests a number of design issues:
  • two main displays: the main listing, and the conversation area
  • A database (which isn't strictly necessary for casual chit-chat forums, but which might prove useful for playback. This poses a small problem in that I don't actually have a database that is accessible we may dispense with that. That would be a pity, since ORM is a major support feature of these frameworks)

Tackling the main listing first, it should handle the following use cases:
  • view conversations (default)
  • create conversation
  • join existing conversation

The conversation space should handle the following, at least:
  • add to conversation
  • update conversation
  • leave conversation

In the spirit of Agile programming, we will leave the list at that, and add to it as time and experience suggest.

*You will note a few mixed metaphors going on here, as I try and cram square pegs into round holes, and describe a visual application for what is, traditionally, an aural/oral activity. This isn't an idle observation: I think it's a major issue of chat sessions, which we will not be solving here)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In the Frame I: Ambitions

After a prolonged absence from this motley collection of tidbits, and faced with a prolonged period of inactivity known as 'unemployment', I have decided to embark on a bit of self-education.

The focus of my interest is going to be web frameworks, and I shall be describing my efforts at creating an application.

The trick is, I shall be investigating, not one, but three:
  • PHP Cake
  • Python's Django
  • Ruby on Rails
They all purport to do the same things, and that is:
  • Provide a 'Model-View-Controller' (MVC) architecture for your (web) application
  • Provide 'Object-Relational Mapping' (ORM) by which your application can talk to its database.
While these are clearly useful and worthy things (after all, a number of people went to the effort of putting these things together, presumably for a reason) I am going to be taking a slightly different tack, and assess their friendliness, both to the seasoned developer, and to the newcomer who has to contemplate the height of the technological 'entry bar' that a proliferation of applications and their associated buzzwords appear to be doing nothing to keep low.

Tall order? Well, as a former supervisor once said to me, 'In order to develop, you need to exceed your comfort zone.' (It's a pity glass wall wielding recruitment agencies haven't heard that, but that's another story I will not dwell on here.)

My intention is that I shall be developing an application (the *same* application) using each of these frameworks, and describing how my attempts are going in these entries. How technical all this will get remains to be seen.

It may launch careers. It may peter out in an ignominious puddle of dazed confusion.

That is the nature of experiment! Finding out what works.