Technology Toolbox


One of the biggest problems I see among practitioners of the tech arts is the square peg — round hole problem. Too many developers, for example, will use only one language to solve every problem they encounter. I am a Java expert — there isn’t anything I can’t write a Java program to do. However, there are things for which Java just isn’t well suited. A few years back, I needed a program to download several hundred thousand audio files. As a Java guru, my first thought was how I would solve this problem in Java. Since the server used REST services, I would need to either include REST client libraries or write my own client software. I would need to iterate through the hundreds of thousands of record numbers to download. And, of course, I would need to keep track of state, distribute across numerous servers, parallelize the process, and deal with recovery should the program crash. All of these things end up creating a rather large code base in Java that would have also required substantial testing. Then it occurred to me, why not use a shell script? I can output the audio file id numbers into a text file and split into chunks using the split command. I can use curl as the rest client. Then, I can just have multiple windows open and assign each running instance a chunk of the original list. The solution involved almost no code, the individual pieces are production ready, and recovery would just mean reprocessing the incomplete files. This is just one example, but this problem happens every day in the tech world — developers resorting to the single tool in their toolbox to solve a problem when far better solutions can be crafted with far more ease using a different tool. Ultimately, while I know every programmer will have a language they are most competent in, I believe everyone should have skills in a variety of other tools so they don’t end up wasting time crafting solutions for which their tools aren’t well suited.

RapidWeaver 7

There are countless technologies for web development running both on the desktop (Muse, Dreamweaver, etc) as well as the server (WordPress, Drupal, etc). I think one of the most underrated solutions is RapidWeaver 7. My first web page was a video game site hosted on GeoCities in the 90’s. Since then, I’ve had a hand in countless websites ranging from simple sites for local non-profits to complex e-commerce sites for major corporations. With 20+ years of web experience, what do I like about RapidWeaver 7? I think my favorite feature of RapidWeaver is how approachable it is for people without web experience, yet it’s easy for the web expert to get in and change almost anything. Options to override CSS, enter custom JavaScript, add code to the head of the document, add metadata, or anything else you can imagine are just a click away. I also like RapidWeaver’s built-in blogging framework, options to enter HTML, markdown, or to use a styled text editor. No matter how you want to create content, RapidWeaver supports it. RapidWeaver has countless plugins and themes that can be added. One of the most common is the Stacks plugin. With Stacks and RapidWeaver, it is trivial to create a responsive website that will look great on any device. Another amazing feature of RapidWeaver is how easy it is to integrate with PHP. If you have content that needs to be programmatically generated, but you still what the style to match the rest of your page, no problem — simply change the page’s extension to .php and enter your code in the HTML editor. I love how you can enter your content and change your theme with a simple click of the button. In a world of Software as a Service, it’s also nice to see that I can still purchase a license for RapidWeaver instead of a subscription. Note, as a developer, I rarely pay for software — most things I want are freely available for download. RapidWeaver is a piece of software I am all too happy to pay for. The features above don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the richness of the application and I believe it is worth every penny I paid for it.

Why am I a Mac user?

For most of my life, I viewed Macs with great disdain. They had little software, and I just didn’t see them as particularly useful as a developer. My first experiences with computers were all with Unix machines — and I loved them. The ability to program them with built-in tools as well as their stability meant they were all around great machines. But as a home user, I didn’t have the luxury of a Unix Sparc machine. Like most home users, I was forced to use Windows and grew accustomed to the issues they always have — registry problems, boot problems, driver problems, on and on the list goes. After a while, I got tired of the endless problems with my Windows machine and, when Linux became a viable option, I switched my home computer to RedHat. I got the stability I wanted, and substantially fewer problems than my Windows computers presented. But, there has always been one big problem with Linux – it doesn’t always have the software you want. For example, you can’t run Photoshop on Linux. When I started doing iOS development at work a couple years ago, I had to use a Mac, and I fell in love immediately. The stability of Linux as well as most of the same command line utilities, shell scripting, and the addition of an excellent graphical interface made for an amazing user experience. Even better, most of the software I want to use is available on my Mac – the Adobe Creative Cloud, Android development tools, Java environment, and Unity. In addition, most of my favorite command line tools are there including C, C++, Python, Shell, and countless others. It truly is the best of both worlds AND it’s remarkably stable. That doesn’t even mention how lightweight a MacBook Pro is, it’s amazing battery life, or any of the other reasons I use a Mac. I don’t look back at the Windows world. While I often need to use Windows for development (Visual Studio projects, for example), I do so while sadly longing for my Mac.

My Favorite Technologies

As I start my blog, I thought the first thing I would write about is some of my favorite technologies. As a tech guy, I have experimented with a variety of technologies throughout the years. Some have been wins (Java, Unity, Docker, REST), and some have not (Delphi, IIS, SOAP). What are some of the technologies that really stand out to me? First, I love Java. The fact that I can write web applications as well as desktop applications that will run anywhere is amazing. I used to write C/C++ code, and while the promise of write once run anywhere is there, your mileage will vary. Java actually delivers flawlessly. The fact that Google chose Java for Android was just icing on the cake. Second on my list is Unity. For 3D game development, nothing is better than Unity. Not only can you create awesome 3D games, but you can do so with a modern, easy-to-use language (C#). In addition, Unity can export games to just about every platform imaginable including various consoles! Third would be the Adobe Creative Cloud. I must admit I am a relative newcomer to the Creative Cloud, but their tools are amazing. I doubt there is any creative endeavor in the digital world that their products won’t work to create. Not only is the breadth of their products amazing, each individual product is an industry leader – Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are best-in-class products. There are lots of other technologies available, but these three represent some of the best tools I believe the IT world has to offer.