Thoughts on Chicago

CHIRP Radio Is Looking For Android Developers

CHIRP Radio in Chicago is looking for someone to help us build a custom Android application so that our listeners can have a better experience on their Android phone. There are already a few Android apps for radio but they are clunky. Also, we have some plans to better engage listeners on phone apps with currently playing tracks, click-to-request-a-song, and other ideas like that.

We already have a pretty slick iPhone application created by volunteer John Carlin and after only a few months it already has 1,000+ downloads...

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PyCon Happenings

I really like PyCon. It's been said many times but is worth repeating: the hallway track is what makes PyCon such a fun unconference. With that said, here are some happenings:

  • I'll be talking Friday after lunch about some fun I've been having trying to test Ajax web applications: Strategies For Testing Ajax. I'm pretty excited about it because there are still a lot of unsolved problems so I'm interested to hear about how other people are testing Ajax.
    • slides are here
    • and a recent video of my talk is here
  • There will be a Testing In Python BoF (birds of a feather). Not really sure what we'll do but a lot of people seem interested in it. There have been murmurs of a mock library shootout. Hmm ... I better bring my gun :)
  • I'll be on a panel Sunday to discuss Functional Testing Tools in Python. I'll be offering the Nose perspective.
  • Ian Bicking will be talking about Topics of Interest which sounds mysterious. As it happened I got a hot lead that there may be ... shall we say ... refreshments to aid in conversation (or instigate heckling?). Don't miss this!
  • One of my colleagues Kevin Boers is giving an ambitious talk called Building a Simple Configuration-driven Web Testing Framework With Twill. It's pretty neat.
  • Another one of my colleagues, Terry Peppers, is giving a very entertaining talk called A Configuration Comparison in Python
  • Too many great talks to mention! I'm psyched about the Windmill talk, Jesse Noller's talk on Multiprocessing, and pretty much everything tagged with testing.

See you there.

Oh! I almost forgot. If you are coming in from out of town, check the wiki for cool restaurants and bars in Chicago. I love this town.

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Chicago JavaScript Meetup: JS.Chi()

I went to my first Chicago JavaScript meetup on Thursday (the 4th meetup they've had so far) and it looks like a promising group. The topics were pretty basic but the speakers seemed very deep into JavaScript so I'm looking forward to future meetings. By raise of hands we decided to split into two groups, an advanced and a beginner, which was an excellent idea. The turnout was incredible — about 60 (or more?) people showed up. The original venue that got canceled only held 40 so some of those people were actually on a waiting list ...

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Glögg, Swedish mulled wine, the Chicago recipe

Now that it's -5 F in Chicago with a windchill of -25 F I thought it was an appropriate time to share one of the secrets to surviving a Chicago winter: Glögg! If you live in the old Swedish neighborhood (Andersonville) like I do then you can sip Glögg at most local bars but with weather like this, why even leave your house? Here's my recipe...

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Are you hiring web developers?

As the US economy spins into a death spiral I unfortunately now know some highly skilled web developers (Python, Ruby, JavaScript, etc) in the Chicago area who are looking for work. And I mean highly skilled people whose ninja like qualities will be sorely missed. Most hiring budgets are probably frozen — at least until next year — but they will soon thaw. Those that thaw sooner will make space for big prizes of talent. I can make introductions over email or via Linked In.

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Chicago's Google App Engine Hack-A-Thon Recap

Today was Chicago's Google App Engine Hack-A-Thon and I managed to get some good work done. Well, I had planned to make packages more ephemeral on the PyPi mirror since it quickly hit the 500MB limit as is. But instead I decided to add Datastore support to the fixture module so that loading sample data is easier when testing an App Engine site. It was very easy to do so I spent most of the time writing some documentation with a complete example for how to go about testing an App Engine site with fixture, WebTest, nose, and NoseGAE.

Here it is: Using Fixture To Test A Google App Engine Site.

Big Thanks to Marzia Niccolai and Mano Marks for trekking out to the Windy City and to all the folks at the Chicago Google office who helped make it happen. As for the hackers, I think we were a shy bunch; there wasn't much show and tell afterwards. I know Ian Bicking got damn close to making a Datastore version of enough builtin file I/O methods for Moin Moin to run on the App Engine. Maybe you'll hear about that soon. Someone did demo a cool iPhone app (literally passed his phone around). It analyzes geo location to provide users with a local message board. I didn't catch the name or a URL — can you drop a comment if you have the info?. UPDATE: The name is Puppyo. Oh yeah, and Harper Reed was hacking on, an App Engine site that is complimented by a jabber bot allowing you to simply send an IM to post to twitter.

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Unicode In Python, Completely Demystified (slides available)

Big thanks to everyone who attended my talk at PyCon today, Unicode In Python, Completely Demystified. It was an ambitious title; I highly doubt I "demystified" everything, but I was happy with how it went. There were a ton of great questions — even some I couldn't answer, of course. If you have any other questions feel free to comment here and I'll try my best to answer.

For those who couldn't make the talk or those who just want to refer back to the talk and / or source code, I've posted the slides here: The audio / video should be available soon so I'll re-post a message when that's available.

Also, for reference, here is the primer:

This talks aims to make every single last person in the audience understand exactly how to write Unicode-aware applications in Python 2. If necessary, we will move to a Birds of Feather gathering, to the bar, to your hotel room, I'll start hanging around your cube at work -- whatever it takes -- until you completely "get it." But it's really simple so bring an open mind, a notepad, and get ready to create bullet proof Python software that can read and write text in Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Klingon, et cetera. As a citizen of the Python community you have the responsibility of creating Unicode-aware applications!

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Leapfrog Online is looking for some Django developers (Chicago area)

Leapfrog Online is looking to hire several Python developers to work on a Django site. If you know Python but not Django, this is an excellent opportunity to learn. If you know Django but want to learn how to use Python in other contexts, you'll get to do that, too. You'll be working on a high traffic website that hooks into several web services to help customers find Broadband Internet connectivity based on geo location (just US and Canada at the moment). Surrounding that basic function are all kinds of front-end and back-end features, services and systems.

The Software Engineer position is outlined in detail here.

You can send your resume to or send it through the site above. These are full-time positions but if you'd rather work with us as a contractor that may be possible.

What Do We Do?

Leapfrog Online does performance-based customer acquisition, which translates to "we don't make money unless our clients make money." Because of this our software has to work well and we need to collect lots of structured, sensical data so our analysts can build the right marketing strategies. In a more abstract sense, the interesting challenges we face are building high-availability websites, fault-tolerant web services, pushing and pulling at hundreds of gigs of data, and accounting for tight security all along the way. As for the atmosphere, we're still a small company but we're not a struggling startup.

We Care About Open Source

We use open source tools that are right for the job. Currently we use Python or Ruby for websites / web services (Django, Pylons, Paste, Ruby on Rails), Python for backend tools, PostgreSQL for databases, and Trac for our projects. We use rich web interface libraries like Ext JS and we even wrote a distributed content system in Erlang because it was a good fit.

We have contributed patches to most of the projects listed above and maintain our own projects like nose, a few nose plugins, fixture, wsgi_intercept, and sv. We give talks at conferences like Pycon (see #24, #85 and #127). Also, Jeff Cohen (one of our senior developers) runs a popular blog called Softies on Rails and teaches and writes books about Rails.

Scrum: You'll Like It

We started with Extreme Programming a few years ago and have moved towards Scrum and other Agile methods as our approach to software development. We are constantly refining our process, keeping what works, discarding what doesn't. The company is on board with Scrum all the way up to the principles and we are always working to improve how Scrum is integrated holistically (a training program is in the works).

We think you'll like Agile for development. We have several teams of no more than three developers who work in two week "sprints." The sprints are planned out by product owners, developers, and project managers with user stories estimated in "story points" so that the business gets what it needs in order of priority. A sprint is exactly what it sounds like -- you just work! At the end of each sprint the work is released and you attend a retrospective meeting to see what was good, bad, and ugly, and how much work you did. Nothing is perfect so, of course, there are emergencies and derailments here and there but for the most part Scrum keeps things moving at a productive pace. As a developer, I find this discipline empowering and highly motivational.

You Must Test It

We are nutty about automated testing (in case you didn't notice). All code must have automated regression tests so if you're not familiar with this way of writing software, you will learn! We have a fairly involved continuous integration process running in buildbot (though probably moving to Bamboo soon) that performs several builds of each app, one with stable 3rd party libs, the others with trunk versions of 3rd party libs. As well as getting immediate feedback when a bad change is checked in, this also helps us pinpoint bugs in our dependencies before they are released. Our QA department is also different than most in that it consists of developers who are writing functional and/or integration tests in code and adding these to the build process. They are essentially software engineers like the rest of us.

Your Time Is Valuable

No one has a sleeping bad under their desk here; we work until 5 or 6 (weekdays only) to achieve a "sustainable pace." Most of us have been through the "death march" routine at other companies so we know it doesn't work long term. Scrum helps us maintain this ethic.

No Pigeonholes

While we are currently looking for Python/Django programmers, we are always interested in meeting people who think in Ruby/Rails, PHP 5 and other open source web technologies, too. We're especially interested if you're feeling ecumenical and want to learn about and work with, say, both Python and Ruby. You might only work in one language most of the time, but we think it is important for developers to stretch themselves and understand what tools are best for the job.

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Pycon in Chicago, Excited Yet?

I freaking love this town.

Who's up for a sprint at the Billy Goat Tavern??

Pycon 2008 site

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Industry of the Ordinary

I'm picky about art because most of it is boring (the nature of experimentation, I guess) but someone showed me this site for an art group in Chicago, The Industry of the Ordinary, and their projects are great. The site itself looks really nice too (I like the smokiness).

Reading the manifesto I thought, oh, hasn't this idea been beat to death already? But their projects are clever. In fact, I think the first photo is amazing (great colors), and that's important in a photo layout.

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Coffee! ... and python

I'm going to try my first Tech Coffee—early morning coder's meetup—this Thursday to work on the fixture module somewhere other than the purple line to and from work. When Tech Coffee first started it was on Mondays. That was the worst idea, ever. The last thing I am is a morning person but I am negatively-last a Monday morning person!

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New Chicago City Sticker

It's that time again to vote on the new Chicago City Sticker. Well, voting is now over unfortunately but I am really impressed by the contestants this year (each done by high school students interested in design). I can't decide which one I like best. Wow.

And the winner is ... a little disappointing if you ask me. Oh well. Here was last year's sticker to give you an idea of its context.

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