Why do geeks love the wilderness?


Tom Christiansen, a Perl guru whose documentation has helped me out more times than I can remember, recently shared his personal photo site with me. There's some beautiful shots in it, like the one above from Alaska, some from Crested Butte or this fearless fox. It got me wondering about the connection between hackers and the outdoors. Maybe it's the circles I move in, or the demographic of most techies, but most of the really good programmers I know are crazy about getting out into the wild.

I guess what really surprises me is that comparatively few Los Angeles residents even know they're surrounded by a massive wilderness, but it seems like geeks are much more clued in. For myself it opens up different ways of thinking. Biking or hiking hard, surrounded by beauty, empties my mind and brings a sense of wonder. That often leads to insights on problems I've been staring at for too long. I notice the quality of my decisions dropping when I've been stuck indoors too long.

Easily sort and share emails with Taglocity, and goodbye Sandy


I was recently shown Taglocity, a new Outlook add-in that lets you search, organize and share your mail messages. I haven't used it in depth, so far I have been impressed by their well-crafted interface. While some of the features have appeared before in other tools like Clear Context, their focus on collaboration leads to a very smooth workflow.  I'll be posting more once I've dug further into it, but it's great to see another innovative email tool appear.

On a sadder note, I Want Sandy is shutting down as Rael Dornfest will be joining Twitter. I'm sorry to see the service disappear, it was a fresh and quirky approach to calendars and to-do lists. It's great news for Twitter of course, I was lucky enough to share sushi with Rael a few months back, and he's bursting with interface smarts. I look forward to seeing Twitter heading in some interesting directions under his guidance.

Where’s the best place to buy cross-country skis?


Photo by PĂ„sketur

Liz has been teaching me to cross-country ski, and we decided it was time we bought our own equipment. No stores in LA had them stocked, and we didn't want to order online since we needed help finding the right type and sizes. As it happened, we had an upcoming family visit to Liz's home town of Hayward, Wisconsin, home of the Birkie and the US capital of Nordic skiing.

We headed to the New Moon ski and bike store once we arrived, and were greeted by Joel Harrison. Like me he fell for a Hayward siren, and moved from Idaho to join her, and has a lot of cross-country experience. He was very knowledgeable and helpful, spending a lot of time helping us pick out the right equipment. We tend to prefer ungroomed but not too gnarly trails, so he steered us toward some intermediate skis that would still fit in groomed tracks, but still had enough width to float in wilder snow.

Once we'd picked, New Moon runs a thriving mail-order business, and was able to post them off, so we didn't have to struggle with them on the plane. Joel couldn't have been more helpful, their customer service was top-notch. Even if you can't make it to Wisconsin, I'd recommend buying online from them.

How to check PHP syntax from a shell script


Photo by 500CPM

I really like the philosophy of making small incremental investments by solving frequent problems, and Eric Ries' article on the five whys inspired me to look at my development process afresh.

I edit my PHP code on my MacBook, and then upload it to my EC2 server to test, since there's a lot of data I can't replicate locally. Often there will be a typo in my code, but I don't find out about it until I have uploaded all the files, refreshed the browser, and then checked the server error log. Catching simple typos early would save me a lot of time, so I looked around for an automated solution.

The shell script below is what I ended up with. It runs php -l on all my source files to look for syntax errors, and then runs the upload process if that check passes. I've only tested it on OS X, and you'll need PHP installed locally. You can either cut and paste the code, or download it here.

# Pete- Script to upload the PHP source code to the server, checking for syntax errors first

# Insert the path to your source directory here
# The path to your ssh key. If you don't have one, remove the -i argument to ssh
# Put the username, domain name and path to the remote server's folder

SYNTAX_RE='No syntax errors*'

echo "**Checking PHP syntax**"

ls $PHP_FILES  1>/dev/null  2>/dev/null
case $? in
   set `ls $PHP_FILES`
   for args
     SYNTAX_OUTPUT=`php -l $args`
     if [[ "$SYNTAX_OUTPUT" != $SYNTAX_RE ]]
     then echo "$SYNTAX_OUTPUT"
     exit 1
* ) echo "No files found"

echo "**Uploading files**"


Staring into the Goretex vortex


Photo by Finneye

I'm considering a move to Boulder, and I'm thankful to Stan James for pointing me to this Outside magazine article for mental preparation. No matter how hard I'm training, there's always some friend who runs 67 miles through the mountains in a day. Out here that's just a warm-up.

On that topic, me and Stan are planning to stretch our flabby sea-level lungs with a hike near Boulder on Sunday. We'll probably tackle part of the Eldorado Canyon trail that heads up toward Walker Ranch, scene of my near-death biking experience a few months back. Drop me a mail or add a comment if you're interested.

If you like this blog, you’ll love…


Photo by mdezemery

Startup Lessons Learned. Eric Ries only started blogging a few months ago, but he's already written some cracking posts, like SEM for $5 a day, using the 5 whys to focus your development investment, and when not to listen to your users. These are all obviously tales from the trenches. He's able to dig into the subtleties of tricky topics like agile programming and give advice based on experience.

His focus on building a lean startup is especially useful these days, and I love his focus on the engineering nitty-gritty, I can relate to The Engineering Manager's Lament especially. Go subscribe and make sure he keeps up the good work!

Oblong now means ‘blog on’, not ‘no blog’


I'm extremely happy that my friends over at Oblong have finally decloaked and publicly revealed what they're up to. I was introduced to Kwin and John several years ago, and was instantly blown away by the potential of their technology, their infectious enthusiasm, and their scarily large brains. It's wonderful to see them reach this milestone.

Check out their videos to see for yourself, but they're offering a seductively easy but powerful new way of interacting with computers. They're building a system capable of precisely capturing mid-air hand gestures, with no data-gloves needed. Use it once and you'll be hooked.

On a personal level, they've been incredibly supportive of my own startup dreams, even though that's left me less time than I'd like to help them technically. At every step of the way, they've been cheering me on, they are utter mensches, and I'll be cheering them right back as g-speak conquers the world!