Noel Rappin Writes Here

June 15, 2011: Six Sigma Tyrannis

UncategorizedNoel RappinComment
Hey, twice in one week. I might be actually getting back on a pattern here...

1. Popular Crime

Catching up on books, I started off last month with Bill James' Popular Crime. James, known mostly for his writing about baseball, has written a labor of love book about, well, popular crimes.

There's a whole 'nother essay to write about how the way James approached both writing about baseball and what you'd have to call the scientific method warped my brain way back when.

Anyway, what I was expecting here was something like James' book on the Baseball Hall of Fame -- a mix of history with a meta-level talking about why things are the way they are. That's mostly what we've got here, it's a book that careens back and forth from, say, arguing Lizzie Borden's innocence, to trying to classify types of evidence, to the Lindberg baby, to a taxonomy of what makes a crime catch the public interest. You've probably never read anything like it.

I can't quite say it has the level of insight of James' baseball books, and judging from the Amazon reviews, it's clearly not for everybody, but I thought it was mostly riveting. James is great when he gets opinionated and cranky, which is a large part of the book. The biggest failure is a lot of the individual stories kind of end abruptly.

2. Six Sigma, Tyrannis

Excuse me while I giggle over my own obscure headline joke.


Coming from the weird intersection of technogeekery and politics is this item about Republican candidates embracing Six Sigma as a way to cut government spending.

As a former employee of a company intimately associated with Six Sigma, I can have no other reaction but to shudder uncontrollably.

3. Teaching Rails or Off The Rails

I believe this is what they call in the biz a "grabber", by Steve Coast

Ruby on rails used to be about elegant simplicity, now it feels like it’s about disappearing up its own asshole.

Okay, you have my attention.

Coast goes on to claim that Rails is leaving newbie developers behind:

But it just feels like we’re making this herculean effort to write elegant code and disappearing off on our own cloud of perfection, leaving behind anyone who wants to learn rails.... Rails is busy optimizing for the anal superior coder who wants to learn things for the sake of learning things, which is neat and cool but not worth it if you just want to make a website.

I am of two minds here.

On the one hand, it is objectively true that it is harder to teach Rails than it was in the 1.x time frame. The REST stuff adds a layer of indirection to everything that is not intuitive, there are a lot more library choices, you actually have to know a JavaScript library to get started now, and so on.

I can make that claim because I've taught Rails on both side of the divide. I can't make a strong claim about Rails vs. other frameworks in this case, because I haven't put in the effort to try to teach them to newbies.

I'd argue, though, that there has been a reason why Rails has gotten more complicated, and I don't think it's because the Rails core team likes complexity or because they have let things get away from them.

I think web applications turned out to be complicated.

I think that, although the path from novice to initial website is probably harder than it was four years ago, the path from initial website to good, actually practical website is much, much shorter. There are a lot of things in the Rails ecosystem that are much easier to do in 3.1 than in 1.x, and most of them have to do with the difference between the 15 minute blog app and a real web app that can handle complexity and traffic.

Later update: It wouldn't be a RailsRx daily update without Yehuda Katz. He explains some of the technical issues behind Rails changes referenced in the earlier article.

4. Pipeline Those Assets

In a related story,
The Flowdock blog has a nice post about the new Rails 3.1 asset pipeline.

One thing to call out for updaters that wasn't mentioned is this:

stylesheets and asset helpers are broken and should be replaced with call to relative helpers, e.g. image_path /images/subdir/rails.png should be asset_path "subdir/rails.png".

5. SpiderMonster

And, just 'cause, here's the Sesame Street parody of the Spiderman musical.