New SPN Post: Halfway

I was so busy yesterday I didn’t have a chance to send out a link to my new post in Silicon Prairie News. Take a look. I talk about how far we’ve come in the first half of class.

http://spne.ws/s0M


Omaha Code School Wiki

A week ago we wrapped up our first group project. My team decided to create a Omaha Code School Wiki. It’s a wiki about anything related to Omaha Code School. Anyone can read the articles we put together so far. You have to sign up for an account in order to add or modify the articles, but anyone can do it. Make sure you provide a legitimate email, because we figured out how to send email to confirm before we activate your account. We’re pretty proud of that.

Here is the link for your enjoyment. Let me know what you think. It’s on a free hosting service, so I apologize in advance if it’s a little slow to respond.

http://project-ocs-wiki.herokuapp.com


Projects and Presentations

Last week we spent the majority of our time working on our first big group project. It was pretty open-ended, so we could come up with anything we wanted to do. I teamed up with Matt and Cara. After some brainstorming, we came up with the idea of creating a Omaha Code School Wiki. We could create pages about each of the classmates, teachers, projects, and topics we are covering in class.

Omaha Code School Wiki

Omaha Code School Wiki

On Monday, we pitched the idea to the rest of the class. That’s when we realized just how unprepared we were. Compared to the other groups, we were behind. The other groups had detailed wireframes for each page, and a flow already figured out. As soon as we got back into our groups we tried to catch up. Cara has a design background, so she volunteered to handle the front end development. Matt and I would handle the backend.

One problem I knew we had to solve was the actual content of an article. When we started, all we knew how to do was collect very plain text from a user through a form. This wasn’t going to look good when another user wanted to read it. It wouldn’t have any headings or organization, so I needed to find a better way. One idea was to copy what we do on GitHub readme pages. For our project, we create a readme page that describes what the project does and why that matters. We edit the page in a syntax called Markdown. It allows you to use a common syntax that then gets rendered into formatted HTML when someone else views the page. After some digging, I found exactly what I needed. Turns out GitHub uses a GEM called RedCarpet to render markdown on their site, and we could use RedCarpet too. After some reading and a little trial and error, I got it working. Now if you view one of the pages, it can have organization, links, images, and is much more readable than plain text.

We also used a GEM called FriendlyID. The URL in the browser is very important in Ruby on Rails. Developers use it to pass information from one page to another. Most of the time, the information is pretty cryptic to the user, maybe just a random number. FriendlyID changes the numeric ID for an object into a readable string. Here is an example:

Twitter could have used ID’s…
http://www.twitter.com/509309843

Instead, they wanted it to be usable, so they used handles…
http://www.twitter.com/andyvondohren

This is exactly what FriendlyID does. It converts an ID in the URL into a username or title, and makes it much easier to understand. Once you get it setup, it’s really easy to use. Check it out.

We wrapped up our time on Friday and presented our product to the class. It was really cool to see what everybody had been working on for the last five days. Everyone got theirs working and had all of the functionality they set out to accomplish. Some of the other projects included…

  • Flipbook (Upload pics through Instagram and automatically create a flip book animation)
  • The Nag (To do application that nags you if you do not complete your tasks on time)
  • Work Hang (Checkin at your favorite remote working location, others can see where you are and come work with you)

We are pretty proud of our projects, and our group is even working on it some this week to get some of the rough edges taken care of. Hopefully I will be able to send a link out to the live program later this week so you can take a look yourself.


Downtime

We work hard at Omaha Code School. We show up every morning at 9, and sometimes don’t go home until 8pm, then go home and work some more. Throughout the day we need small breaks to keep our mind fresh and give our minds a break. I thought I would elaborate on some of the things we do during our down time.

A bunch of us have put together a puzzle. We’ve officially branded it “Puzzle Club.” Our first puzzle was a picture of a cat coming out onto some grass. We worked on it every day over lunch until it was done. Each person who wanted to contributed their own part. Johnathan is supposed to be brining in another puzzle for us to work on, but he keeps forgetting. Hopefully we will have another one to work on soon.

By far the most popular way to waste some time is an online game called 2048. It’s one of those mesmerizingly simple games that you get hooked on. If you haven’t played it before, you have numbered tiles. You have to slide them back and forth. If 2 tiles with the same value collide, they combine and the number doubles. The goal is to get a tile with the value 2048 on it. So far Cara is the only one to have made that happen, but we are all desperately trying to be the next.

Sumeet likes to play chess on his small breaks. He plays speed chess online in quick little 3 minute games. He says that he plays a pretty unconventional game when going fast and because of that his ranking has dropped quite a bit. He jokes that he gets upset when he gets a draw because he’s probably playing against a 6-year-old, and he should be able to beat a kid.

My personal favorite is flying quad-copters. Omaha Code School is meeting in a 8,000 square foot retail space with 18 foot ceilings. That makes it the perfect space to fly small, light-weight remote control vehicles. Brandon introduced me to the Syma X1. It’s a cheap, $30, quad-copter that comes completely ready to run. It’s remarkably stable. Once you get a little practice, you can zip from one end of our space to the other pretty quick. We have even started to stack objects and practice flying between them. It’s the perfect break activity since you have to get back to work once the battery dies.

As you can see, even though we put in a lot of work, we also find time to have a good time. I would love to know some of your favorite activities for when you need a little break. Leave a comment below and we can debate which is best.


New SPN Guest Blog: A third of way home, with a lot more to learn

A third of the way done, a lot more to learn

New SPN Blog Post

Today Silicon Prairie News(SPN) published my new guest blog recapping the first four weeks of class. I’m writing a post about every-other week as a way to get the word out about what we are doing at Omaha Code School.

Please give it a read. http://spne.ws/q0c

If you don’t know about SPN, they are a technology blog that focuses on the midwest. Primarily Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City. They are pretty well-known and have very loyal followers, so having the opportunity to write for them is a huge blessing.


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