Maybe back to the drawing board…

I had this idea for an app to handle registration and results for kayak races. I had the following requirements in mind:

  • It must work when off-line
  • It must work on laptops and tablets
  • Preferably, it will sync up with a server when it is on-line
  • It must not require any installation or other technical futzing around because my target audience (the people who run kayak races) are not all very technically sophisticated.

After that, my idea was to make a proof of concept, and incrementally improve it as I got more ideas and maybe got some interest from others. I also wanted it to be a web page (with supporting JavaScript and CSS files), one that I could just give people a zip file and they could unzip it and open index.html in their browser and be good to go.

I discovered PouchDB, which would take care of the storing information locally in the browser when off-line, and also would sync to a server when it came time to do that. And so off I went programming away. My little proof of concept was humming along, it could accept registrations and display and edit existing registrations, and I was well set to add results entry and display, when I thought to try it on the bane of every web developers lives, Internet Explorer.

First problem: IE reports the ‘fetch’ is not a valid function. Fortunately, the documentation for PouchDB warns you about that, and says to install a polyfill. So I install it, and now IE reports ‘Promise’ is not a valid function. Hmm, no mention of that in the PouchDB docs that I can find.

Can I just mention as an aside that the PouchDB docs do say that it supports IE 10 and IE 11? Yeah, about that…

Thanks to an answer on StackOverflow, I find another polyfill for Promise. Now IE reports that you can’t use IndexDB on web pages that are loaded as files rather than as URLs. Not sure what to do about that except tell people to stop using IE. It appears that with my polyfills and stuff, it does work in Edge, at least. Small mercies.

2018 Look Back

2018 started out pretty shitty. I was unemployed, and my unemployment insurance had run out. Depressed due to the long employment search and other things, I started the year out of shape and overweight, only to be hit with two massive bouts of sickness that pretty much wiped out my winter training and dieting, meaning I hit the racing season with very few miles under my belt and a lot more fat under there.

I got a job in February, and while it was interesting the pay was quite low – I’d actually earned more as a full timer with benefits in 2001 than I was earning as an hourly contractor with no benefits at this job. So midway though the year I left that job for another which paid much better. I hate to be a job hopper like that but the difference in pay was hard to believe.

Because of the reduced financial circumstances this year, I didn’t do a lot of the “away” things I’ve done in previous years – no TC Surfski Immersion Weekend, no Canadian Surfski Champs, no Gorge, no Lighthouse to Lighthouse. Instead I concentrated on doing as many NYMCRA races as possible, even camping out to save money instead of getting hotels for away races. I did several races I’ve never done before, including the two days of Madrid and the lovely Blue Mountain Lake race.

Even better, the USCA national championship races were held in Syracuse. I had two really good 10 mile races – unfortunately both races were 12 miles. Both times I lead a pack of racers for the first 10 miles, then faded and got passed by all of them in the last 2 miles. Definitely something to work on this year.

I started the season completely out of shape with the intention of racing my way into shape, hoping to peak with the USCA Champs. It worked pretty well, and in spite of my tactical errors there, I had a really good race at Long Lake. I was hoping to continue with the final race of the season, the Seneca Monster, but it got cancelled.

In other good news, I really dialed in my video production workflow, aided by the fact that I now have a high end iMac. Also, I got a really amazing carbon fibre GoPro mount for the front of my kayak – not only lighter than my older aluminum one, but also more aerodynamic. After the end of the season, GoPro released a new camera, the Hero 7 Black, with a much touted “Hyper Stabilization” mode. I bought one and tried it out and it is pretty amazing. I can’t wait to use it for races next year.

I also bought a new boat – I did some side work for a pilot friend of mine and used part of the money to buy a V8 Pro, a more stable boat than my V10 Sport, but still pretty fast. During interval workouts on the bay, I found I could just put the power down instead of bracing and trying to keep upright.

One of my daughters got engaged this year. I really like her fiance and they seem really good together.

Both of my parents had health setbacks this year. I think this coming year’s travel plans will have to mostly involve visiting them.

AWS Training

So over the Thanksgiving week, Udemy had a sale on video courses. Since my job search is going so slowly, I thought I’d maybe occupy the time by doing some of these courses, and I decided to start with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification training, starting with the AWS Certified Developer – Associate. Here are some impressions I’ve had after watching 10+ hours of course video:

  • The AWS offerings change so fast that it’s really easy for the course to fall behind reality. That might be one reason why they were selling the courses so cheap
  • AWS itself is very inconsistent in the way the UI for each individual web service is structured in the console. Some of them are very “here’s a list of options, pick one and configure it and launch it” and others are “here is a wizard to walk you through a bunch of steps that hopefully will lead to something you can launch”. It’s hard to describe exactly what I mean by that. That’s probably a result of how fast things are changing. Unfortunately, sometimes the course module was made when the console was the first way, but now it’s the second way and you basically have to watch half the video then try and remember everything he did on the first screen so you can do it on the Nth screen instead.
  • A couple of times, things in the AWS console have just failed. Sometimes it’s failed silently with no indication of why or even that it saw the “Create [blah]” button press. Other times it’s given very cryptic messages like “You have requested more instances (1) than your current instance limit of 0 allows”. (In that case, changing an obscure parameter from t2.small to t1.micro was the solution). The silent failure happened mostly in the Cloud Formation module when I was attempting to create a “Stack”, but after it appeared to fail silently (and nothing was shown in the list of stacks), and I tried to create it again, it complained that there was already a stack of that name and suddenly it’s there in the list of stacks again.
  • Other than the way the video is out of date in some place, my main complaint is that he is obviously reusing modules between the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate course and the AWS Developer – Associate course and so he’ll say “for this module, just use the S3 bucket named [blah] that you created in the last module” when you didn’t create anything of the sort. So then you have to hurriedly pause the video and create an S3 bucket and hope he didn’t expect any special permissions on it or any content in it.
  • A secondary complaint about that is that he never tells you when you’re done with a resource. I try to clean up all the S3 buckets and EC2 instance and whatever when it appears we’re done with them. I occasionally guess wrong. I wish at the end of a module he’d say “OK, we’re done with that bucket, feel free to delete it.” Sometimes he does, but mostly he doesn’t. I wonder if that’s an artifact of the fact that he’s mixing and matching modules? I’m probably over paranoid about leaving stuff around and getting charged for it, although when I started doing this course I discovered that a few years back I’d created an EC2 instance, stopped it, but never terminated it, so I guess their “free threshold” is high enough that I’m unlikely to hit it.

Give it a REST

As you might know, I’m currently looking for a job. And one thing you see in job ads is a requirement for experience with “REST APIs” or “RESTful services”. And as far as I can tell, it’s nothing more than a naming convention for your basic CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) web services. If you write four URL handlers for the URLs “/item/create”, “/item/{item id}/read”, “/item/{item id}/update” and “/item/{item id}/delete” then you’re a filthy normie and unemployable, but if instead you make one URL handler for “/item/{item id}” and check the request type and do the read, update and delete based on the request type being “GET”, “PUT”, or “DELETE” respectively, (creation being done with a POST to the URL “/items”) then you’re a “RESTful” guru and will be showered in money.

Can we just agree that being a naming convention, it takes approximately 5 minutes to train somebody how to do this? And if my former employer would give me back my login for an hour or so I could go back and change all my AJAX calls to fit this naming convention and join the ranks of the REST API experienced.

Reimplementing Part 3

This is part 3 of my self-imposed project to reimplement the UI for an old website. You can read part 1 and part 2.

After some playing around with the “Step 2” interface, I realized that I really needed better error checking. I had error checking on the individual fields of the Geographic Panel, but no “overarching” check that all the fields were filled or all were unfilled. Plus I wanted the user to see the errors on the Geographic Panel even if you’ve closed the panel, and I also wanted to disable the “Start Generating” button until the errors are cleared. While I was at it, I added an error message if you don’t have any waypoint types selected. I’ve made those changes and pushed them to my GitHub project as the fourth commit and I’ve pushed it as a replacement to the previous mockup here.

I haven’t worked on this all week because of other calls on my time (work, job search, kayaking), so I haven’t made a start on the backend yet. But I’m thinking I’m going to be doing it in Python with Flask or Pyramid and SQLAlchemy. The original website is written in Perl, and frankly, I think the job market for Perl programmers is pretty rapidly shrinking and nobody is doing modern websites in Perl. But speed is of the essence, so that leaves Python or Java. The decision will probably come down to whichever of those two frameworks has better support for PostGIS.