rails capistrano deploy script OS X to Ubuntu

Ok, so in a previous post I described the rabit-hole which is switching to rails. Below’s my capistrano deploy script which solves a number of problems:

  1. The production server needs a mongrel cluster configuration file added.
  2. Deployment requires restarting the mongrel cluster.
  3. On Ubuntu the database.yaml spec has to be modified to because you need to specify a mysql socket path differently from OS X.

So here’s what I added to make it work:

desc "Restart the web server and mongrel cluster"
task :restart, :roles => :app do
  sudo "echo 'fish'" #bogus command to make sudo work in the run command
  run "cd #{current_path} && sudo mongrel_rails cluster::restart"
  sudo "/usr/local/apache/bin/apachectl graceful"
desc <<-DESC
configure the mongrel cluster
task :configure_mongrel do
  run "cd #{current_path} && mongrel_rails cluster::configure -e
  development -p 9000 -a -P #{shared_path}/pids/mongrel.pid
    -c #{current_path} -N 2 --user om --group om"
desc <<-DESC
configure the mongrel cluster
task :configure_database do
  db_config = "#{shared_path}/config/database.yml"
  run "cp #{db_config} #{current_path}/config/database.yml"
desc <<-DESC
after updating we need to add back in the mongrel configuration file so that when restart is called
it will be appropriatly launched.  We also need to update the database config file
task :after_update, :roles => :app do

A “list items won’t wrap” Firefox css fix!

The last few days working on the openmoney.info website, I’ve had a major hassle dealing with what appears to be a bug in the html renderer in Firefox.

The issue is that in Firefox, text in a list item won’t wrap around a right floated image; like this:

  1. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit,
  2. sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.


<ol style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; width: 300px">
  <img src="/images/eric.png" style="float: right" />
  <li>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit,</li>
  <li>sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
  Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi
  ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.</li>

In Safari & Opera the text in the second list item wraps just fine. After an hour of searching the web and trying various things with clear, and in-line, I discovered that the solution was to set the list item width to 100%. In other words, list items take on the width that they start at by default! Crazy. The solution:

<ol style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; width: 300px">
  <img src="/images/eric.png" style="float: right" />
  <li>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit,</li>
  <li style="width:100%">sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et
  dolore magna aliqua.  Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation
  ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.</li>

yields nice wrapping text for the second list item:

  1. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit,
  2. sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
    Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

If you aren’t viewing this on Firefox, the above two may look identical. That’s the whole point!

[tags]css,firefox,list item,wrap[/tags]

down the rails rabbit hole

The last month has been quite a trip down the rabbit hole into the new reality of ruby on rails! The promise of a powerful and well designed web application framework was just too much for me to resist, so I decided to leave my own yawaf framework behind (though it has certainly served me well).

So I’m posting this entry for those just starting down this path so you can see what might be on the path ahead of you and what I did to make my way over the learning curve.

  1. I purchased both the Programming Ruby and Agile Web Development with Rails books, and read them cover to cover. Both books are good. Dave Thomas really can write a good programming book.
  2. I dove into finally wrapping my head around the REST approach, which I also knew I wanted to switch to and was part of the reason I choose rails in the first place. To this end I found this great tutorial: RESTful Rails Development which expands on and gives clarity to the REST chapters in Dave Thomas’s book.
  3. Then it was time to install the creature on my PowerBook. The instructions in Dave’s book are pretty good, but the real place to go is hivelogic
  4. Once I had rails up I got my feet wet by implementing the bare essentials of the two projects that are the reason for switching to rails: the MANA stats project and, of course, open money.
  5. Since another reason for switching to rails was to be using an open source framework that others are well familiar with, and because open money is an open source project, and I want to get it out sooner rather than later, it was time to figure out where it should live. I find source-forge unbearably ugly, and though there are some other nice FLOSS platforms (launchpad, freshmeat), I settled on rubyforge for obvious reasons. So I spent a number hours learning my way around rubyforge (an instance of gForge) and setting up the open money project there. I realized pretty quickly that rubyforge is the right place to put up the releases of the projects and I may even use their svn repositories for a while, but gForge doesn’t cut it as a project development environment.
  6. So there I was off into another tunnel of the rabbit hole, which project development tool. So many of them… I see that lots of people, including the rubyonrails folks themselves, use Trac. However, I read many accounts of how difficult it was to install and get running, plus, I really felt that I wanted my project management tool to be in rails, to thereby leverage all my learning curve. I knew also that I was going to be modifying it out the wazoo, so it didn’t make any sense to learn yet another whole system. Dittio for various php bug-trackers, etc. After more hours of research, my options were then down to three: collaboa, retrospectiva (which is a fork of collaboa), and devalot. The first two are much more feature rich. But I ended up choosing Devalot, after talking with it’s author, Peter Jones (who seems like a real great guy) mostly because it just feels better than the others, but also because I like where it’s headed.
  7. Then I started to scratch my head about how in the heck I was going to deploy these apps. Yawaf is Perl base and deployable as plain CGI and works quite well for small sites. I’ve always known that I could switch to mod_perl if traffic increased enough to warrant it. Rails is another matter. You need to start out understanding deployment.
  8. So I read all that I could find, and tagged the good stuff for your reading pleasure on delicious. Upshot for me is apache 2.2.4 + mongrel + mod_prox_balancer + monit (not mongrel_cluster). [Update, after many hassles with monit, I ended up going back to mongrel_cluster (though I may add monit in later to monitor the cluster). See this e-mail exchange on the mongrel-users mailing list for details.]
  9. Then I realized that getting this to happen on my current VPS was going to be a nightmare, because it’s a DirectAdmin box, and getting apache upgraded to 2.2.4 was hard enough, but adding mod_proxy, etc was just not going to be doable while at the same time keeping it stable with my current apps live.
  10. So, then it was deeper down the rabbit hole into investigating Rails Hosting companies! Finding a hosting company in general is a huge pain and it is so variable according to your needs. Mine are complete control, hence VPS. Upshot: the company I wanted to go with, slicehost, is only taking reservations, and can’t fulfill orders for a month. Yow. (By the way, here’s a great writeup on rails hosting, and more delicious tagging of rails hosting in general.)
  11. So, now I’ve decided to do all this installation and testing of my future deployment environment on my basement Ubuntu server until slicehost comes through, or I find something better. For Ubuntu installation I’m taking some hints from these instructions which were missing one dependency for apache to compile for me (sudo apt-get install openssl libssl-dev). You may also want to check out this peepcode screen cast for another take on how to install the rails stack onto Ubuntu using deprec. It turned
  12. Once all the components are installed, the next challenge is configuring them to work right for your particular rails app. Enter bowtie, also by Peter Jones. Though still in development, this little utility produces configuration files for apache to use mod_proxy_balancer, and also for monit to launch and keep your mongrel instances up and running.
  13. Ok, so server is up and running, and I have a basic app on my development box, now I how do I deploy to the production server. Enter capistrano. Yet another learning curve. The trick is getting your deploy.rb script right to handle all the various problems… That will wait for a future post.
  14. Then, back into coding, I’ve realized that I just have to bite the bullet and start to use all the goodies built into ruby and rails for doing test driven development. So I started doing some background reading on good TDD practices which led me to behavior driven development which of course is why I’ve been putting of using TDD for so long because it’s BDD that actually makes sense. Here’s a great article by Dave Astels on BDD in the Ruby context. And fortunately there is rspec, a great implementation of BDD that integrates well into rails. The tutorial in the rspec documentation is very good for understanding it, and here’s the tutorial I used to get started using rspec in the rails context. Which led me to another helpful post by Dave Astels.

Solved: usb audio headphones muted when pugged in

Don’t you hate it in the computer field where something that was working fine for ages suddenly stops working? So this is what happened to me this time:

All of a sudden, when I plugged in my nice new Sennheiser USB headphones (PC165 USB) I couldn’t hear the sound. To get the sound to play, I’d have to go to the Audio MIDI Setup utility and toggle the mute button in the audio output settings. It had been working fine for a month, just plug it in and any audio output would just switch over from the speaker to th headphones.
So I called AppleCare tech support who said this was a Sennheiser problem, and I sent e-mail to Sennheiser who of course pointed back at Apple.

Well it turns out that to fix the problem, all I had to do was check the “Thru” checkbox on the audio input settings (in the Audio MIDI Setup Application). With that box checked, it works!

Go figure.

[tags]Mac OS X, USB, audio, headphones, mute, plug, Sennheiser, PC165 USB, Audio MIDI Setup[/tags]

tcsh: command not found

Have you ever gotten the tcsh: Command not found. error after installing some code? Well it happened to me today, and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I had already added the commands directory into my PATH, and set it to executable with chmod 755, but still the error kept coming up. The answer turned out to be that the command file (a shell script) that I had download had DOS line endings. Which, I quicly fixed using my trusty bbedit and bingo it worked fine.

Gnucash & Tiger

Another installment in the collective tech-support arena:
Gnucash wasn’t working under OS X Tiger (10.4.5); whenever I tried to run a report I kept getting the following cryptic error message in my terminal:

dyld: Symbol not found: _program_invocation_short_name
Referenced from: /sw/lib/libgnome.32.dylib
Expected in: flat namespace

A google search didn’t reveal anything with those error messages as keywords, so it was up to me to find the answer. Fourtunately my first stab in the dark worked! I did a fink selfupdate and then fink update-all (I’m using FinkCommander so I did those fink commands from the Source menu). I’m guessing that when I reinstalled gnucash after updating to Tiger, there were still some bugs in several of the libraries that were fixed by the fink update.
Be forewarned that this take a loooong time to complete (overnight for me on my G4 powerbook).

blogging and tech support

I’ve found that numerous times when I type into google a technical question, be it an error message that I’m seeing when installing some software package or some feature about a programming language, that where I often end up is in some person’s blog where they describe how they coped with exactly the same problem. This phenomenon seems to me a generalized solution to tech support, and also a wonderfully comunal and gift economy approach to problem solving. So I’ve decided to play the game too by creating a category for this blog called solutions, and, as often as I can, post my minor little breakthroughs in hopes that they will be helpful to someone else. And here’s my first:

I’ve been learning Smalltalk using squeak and I assumed that, like other object-oriented languages, there would be a constructor method that could take many parameters which would be used by the constructor to load up the values of instance variables. For example in perl a simplified constructure would look like:

sub new {
my $class = shift;
my $self = {};
bless $self, $class;
$self->{'FOO'} = shift; # save the constructor parameters into our data structure
$self->{'BAR'} = shift;
return $self;

which would be instantiated like this:

In Smalltalk, it appears, you don’t do that. Instead you just create settors for your parameters and chain them to the new call. So you would have two methods:

setFoo: fooVal
foo := fooVal
setBar: barVal
bar := barVal

and your call to instantiate an object is then just:
theObjectClassName new setFoo:'fish' setBar:'dog'

because the first two words create the object and the the second two are just messages that get to the object after it is created, one at a time.

I love the beautiful parsimony of notions in Smalltalk.