Archive for the ‘web’ Category


This project started out as a list of books in a text file.


When I think about a book, I think about its content, the people who talked about it and how it made me feel. Central to those thoughts is the visual representation of the book itself: its cover. A list in a text file was not the best way to think about books. Over time, I realized that it would be the kind of problem suited for a small web application.


I spent many hours working on this project. It used to be an excuse to play with Ruby on Rails. It used to be an excuse to play the limits of rich-client Javascript applications. It used to be an excuse to play with client and server-side optimizations, not by necessity but by a conscious effort to want to try things on a project I fully understand.

This is an application I designed for myself and that I use, for the lack of a better word, religiously. Hearing about books I want to read, buying a book, starting a new book, or finishing one, these are events that make me want to go to my profile and update it.

This application was initially meant to replace a text file. But the nature of a public display of books created new possibilities. When it comes to people I know, I want to know what they are reading so that we can talk about it the next time we meet.

“How was that book?”

Also, you can look at what people have read and discover what interests them. I have had a lot of interesting discussions after people browsed the books I have read.

Finally, this is also meant to be a portfolio piece. I can send people to the site to have a look at what I can do. The project is open-source and people can read the code and reach their own conclusions.

I’m open to comments and suggestions. Let me know what you think.

Code: http://github.com/jpalardy/bookpiles
Live app: http://bookpiles.ca


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The Mac Mini and the Soldering Iron

I had been planning to buy a Mac Mini for a while now. I wanted to turn it into a web application server. I was going to install Gentoo on it and drop it somewhere/anywhwere in the house. These plans came to fruition 3 weeks ago when I dropped by the Apple store.

I took my time and configured everything just the way I like it. I rebooted it a few times to check that all services just started by themselves. When I brought it to the living room and pressed the ON button, I sat back in the couch and kept an eye on a “ping” to see how long it would take to boot up. The ping never was answered.

I brought the monitor and the keyboard to the living room (read: hassle) and booted the Mini. It booted without problems. I took out the keyboard and rebooted: no problem. I took out the screen and rebooted: no dice.

I knew the answer before google came back: the Mac Mini was never designed to run headless—the firmware wants a monitor.

This is not for the faith of heart but I found a few links with the same solution: a VGA dummy.

I resisted the idea at first, I knew my soldering skills were not excellent. I had never understood the explanations from the books I had read. I recruited youtube on this one, here are the good videos I found:

“how to solder”

How did we ever get anything done before the Internet?

The soldering itself is a long story: wrong solder, bad soldering iron, soldering cup technique and all. I managed to get it done, however.

Then came the moment of truth. I held my breath and closed my eyes and pressed ON again. Imagine the sweat rolling down my face as I waited to see if it would burst into flames OR have ping print “64 bytes from icmp_seq=141 ttl=64 time=1.255 ms”.

Yes, it worked.

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I have only recently been fully aware of the joys of bookmarklets. Of course I had the del.icio.us bookmarklets for quite a while now, but, the idea had not fully sank in until recently. I didn’t “get” bookmarklets.

Yesterday I re-discovered Google Reader and with it came its own, very useful, bookmarklet: Subscribe….

Today I decided to wrote my own: booktrack…

Booktrack is a web application to keep track of the books I read. It keeps track of what I want to read, what I’m reading now and what I’m done reading. This was inspired by librarything.com.

When it came to data entry, I had integrated with the amazon search API and it was working great. However, when people talk about books they usually link directly to the entry at amazon. Being on the page and having to log into my application to look for the exact same book seemed like a task that could be automated.

This was a spur-of-the-moment idea. A what-if that needed answering. 5 minutes later, I had it and it was working. It is relatively crude, but I’ll take the iterative approach on this one.

Now I’m wondering what else I could do with that? What else needs a bookmarklet? What have I missed? This is all part of me trying to keep an eye out for stupid and repetitive tasks.

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