JCB vs Astramax? You decide

Apparently the world has a new fastest diesel vehicle – the JCB DIESELMAX. I’m not convinced. Everyone knows the fastest diesel, on the motorway at least, is the Astramax van. I should know, I drove one for a couple of years. Mine wasn’t white, but I was still a fully paid-up resident of the outside lane. Oh, those heady days….

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Cliffs, Colorado, and cameras

Short post this one – in the last couple of weeks I went to Fort Tyron Park in New York and Crested Butte in Colorado, and of course took photos. One new thing though, these photos were taken with my new Nikon D50 Digital SLR camera. Now I just have to figure out how to take good looking photos without just cheating and using the automatic modes.

Minuit – The Guards Themselves

One of the things I enjoyed about my time living in New Zealand was the music scene there. Since NZ is so isolated (geographically at least) from the rest of the world, they have a somewhat alternative way of doing things when it comes to bands. People there have this quaint thought (!) that its actually quite nice to go and see your favourite bands play live, and not have to be a million rows back in the crowd, or have to ring Ticketmaster like crazy at 9am on the day the tickets come out, or have to go cap in hand to a less than celubrious chap shouting ‘Buying! Selling!’ outside the venue on the night of the gig. Add this to the fact that not that many international bands come a-visiting, and its not surprising that you find NZ makes its own music scene.

Most kiwis (native New Zealanders) that have some interest in popular music will be fully aware of the latest goings on of 10 or 20 different home-grown bands that the rest of the world has probably never heard of. These bands put out great records, put on 500 person shows, love their fans and their fans love them. How civilised. 🙂 Occasionally these bands will even ‘break’ overseas – The Datsuns, OMC (ok, for one hit), and of course Split Enz / Crowded House are notable examples.

One such band that I brought back home in my heart were Minuit. Minuit are ‘breakbeat’ (i.e. mostly electronic-based and interesting drum rythms) with a great female vocalist (not dissimilar to Moloko’s Roisin Murphy.) I managed to pick up their debut The 88 in my time down under. Its not quite as polished as mega-budget northern hemisphere productions, sure, but I have this unnerving knack of playing it at regular intervals and whenever I do it gets me dancing around my apartment while putting a smile on my face.

I was pretty excited when Minuit released their second album, The Guards Themselves earlier this year. The one slight problem is they don’t have an international distributor, so what with moving country and Amazon taking 2 months to deliver from NZ (!!) I only just received my copy today. But it was worth the wait – mostly more of the same retro synth, nod-your-head breaks and get-under-skin vocals from Ruth but with a little more confidence.

Like any self-respecting interweb-aware band of our times, Minuit have a Myspace Page where you can listen to tunes, watch videos, and make yourself a ‘friend’ of the band (I’m a bit of a luddite and only discovered what Myspace was a couple of month’s ago when Wired had an article on it.) Myspace is taking the music industry by storm, completely changing how people find out more about the bands they like, and find new bands like them. Its with this breaking-down of geographical boundaries that New Zealand bands might be more easily able to break overseas, and if Minuit ever manage to make it to New York, I’ll be first on the TicketMaster phone line..

The power of a fast build

When I build the project I currently work on, I smile every time I see the last 2 lines:

BUILD SUCCEEDED

Total time: 9.5 seconds.

And before you start doubting, yes we do have a pretty comprehensive test suite! So comprehensive in fact that I’m quite happy making medium – large size refactorings rapidly. In fact, in the space of just over an hour I’ve been able to check in 4 such changes.

The secret to this? No out-of-process communication. All of these tests run within the code. The application communicates with a message bus and we test the actual message objects produced by the application and generate the actual messages consumed by the application, but we never actually hit the network thanks to some appropriate stubbing of the middleware vendor’s Transport API.

The only problem? At some point in the future I’ll end up on a project again with a 15+ minute build and I’ll be pulling my hair out…

Team City vs. CruiseControl.NET

I’m a big fan of JetBrains. Their IntelliJ IDEA Java IDE, which I first used 5 years ago, I think was the biggest step forward in code-editting productivity since the Smalltalk browser, and they continue to innovate on this idea while adding similar products in the .NET world with ReSharper.

Last year I was talking to a couple of the guys from JetBrains and they mentioned they were working on a Build Server product. That has now materialized in the form of TeamCity. You don’t need to look at the TeamCity web page for very long before realising that it’s JetBrains’ own version of CruiseControl or CruiseControl.NET. In fact they even compare against these projects here.

Clearly the comparison is a little biased (there’s only 1 feature in CCNet’s Web UI that they actually include in their list for example) but I’m probably biased in saying that. 🙂

There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned along the way being one of the CCNet project leads, the biggest being that a huge chunk of our time and effort is spent purely on integrating with all the different source control tools we talk to (14 at the last count) and that’s with a fairly limited Source Control interface and no UI configuration. The only reason we’ve been able to do this is through community involvement in the project and I’ll be interested to see if Jetbrains introduce a fairly open API for plugging in custom sourcecontrol bridges.

I think one of the other key benefits to CCNet is how customisable it is through plugins generically, along a number of axes. The Web Dashboard for example can be customised through adding your own XSL stylesheets or actually adding your own code-implemented plugins. The build server does similarly. If Jetbrains can get this customisation part right, I think both CruiseControl and CruiseControl.NET will see their user bases shrink dramatically.

Which will leave me to work on all those other open source projects I’m interested in. 🙂