Presentation Help Office Hours

When I joined IBM this summer, one of the things I was most looking forward to after years of being self-employed was having a team around me. Well, that team continues to meet my expectations on that front but there's one thing we do as a team which really stands out for me - and which I think others could replicate. Continue reading

The RETURNING Keyword in PostgreSQL

The RETURNING keyword in PostgreSQL gives an opportunity to return from the insert or update statement the values of any columns after the insert or update was run. I mentioned this in passing in a few of my talks that touch on PostgreSQL recently, and it often gets twitter comment so here's a quick example of the RETURNING keyword in PostgreSQL. The newest releases of PostgreSQL are excellent and I'm seeing many teams considering moving their traditional MySQL setups over - this is just one of the extra goodies that you get when you use PostgreSQL! Let's look at an example. Continue reading

Switching To Reveal.js for Presentations

UPDATE: I presented at one event using reveal.js and have since rebuilt all my presentations in my original toolchain (rst2pdf). One presentation completely resized itself (I used rem units but that didn't help) so code samples were unreadable/missing. Also each presentation has all the dependencies INSIDE the presentation folder, so any backing up or syncing to dropbox becomes impossible (I ended up tethered to my phone with 250k files to sync ...). I like backups AND I like my Dropbox to work. So, no more reveal.js, it's just not fit for (my) purpose. Continue reading

Vagrant and Ansible for Dev Machines

With my new job came, of course, lots of new projects. They cover quite a wide range of system requirements and so I've been creating ansible-provisioned vagrant machines for each one to make it easy to set up on other platforms. I thought I'd share some examples of my setup, in case anyone is interested, but more importantly so I can swiftly look this up when I start the next new project! Continue reading

Use Ngrok Dashboard from VM

I'm a huge fan of ngrok, a tool that allows you to open a secure tunnel from your machine to the outside world to enable testing APIs and things. Mostly I use virtual machines for development, but by default the ngrok dashboard is only available when requested from the machine that ngrok is running on ... and I want to be able to see the web interface from my host machine.

This is a config setting but it can't be supplied on the command line, instead create a file called ~/.ngrok2/ngrok.yml and add the following line:


This will enable you to then reach the web interface at [VM IP or hostname]:4040.

Zap to Schedule Adding Todo List Items

I won't admit to being a productivity nut but I am a pretty busy person :) I manage my tasks with the excellent TodoTxt system which is a simple line-per-task textfile that lives in dropbox and can be accessed by all my various devices (I'm usually a linux/android user). One use case that I've never really had a solution for is when I need to do something, but not now. Continue reading

Vagrant Box With This Name Already Exists

Due to the unique approach of Canonical to packaging vagrant boxes, the current ubuntu/xenial box has a hardcoded machine name which causes an error when you try to bring up a second VM using the same base box:

A VirtualBox machine with the name 'ubuntu-xenial-16.04-cloudimg' already exists.
Please use another name or delete the machine with the existing name, and try again.

There's a stackoverflow question about this and a good answer (not the accepted one, the highest-voted one) which helped me a bit but it still wasn't completely clear to me how to fix my problem and I had to dig about a bit. Continue reading

Heroku "No app specified"

I've been having a maddening problem where one (but only one) of my heroku apps doesn't know which heroku app it is, which means I need to append --app app-name to every single command. It seemed to happen when I moved my app to an organisation rather than having it on my personal account, but in fact the problem was that at the same time I did that, I set up the build server to deploy it - and so I removed the old heroku git remote and then never added the new one because I exactly shouldn't be pushing to heroku from my laptop as we now deploy via Jenkins.

I was looking for some config file or something that heroku would read but what it actually does is look at whether any of your git remotes are heroku and if so, assume by default that you mean that project! The git URL is on the "Settings" screen from the Heroku web interface, and you just need to add it as a remote to your local project:

git remote add heroku [paste git url from settings screen]

Hopefully this helps someone else stop having to type --app app-name every time they need to do something with their app, it was a tiny problem but quite an annoying one!

MySQL 5.7 Introduces a JSON Data Type

There's a new JSON data type available in MySQL 5.7 that I've been playing with. I wanted to share some examples of when it's useful to have JSON data in your MySQL database and how to work with the new data types (not least so I can refer back to them later!)

MySQL isn't the first database to offer JSON storage; the document databases (such as MongoDB, CouchDB) work on a JSON or JSON-ish basis by design, and other platforms including PostgreSQL, Oracle and SQL Server also have varying degress of JSON support. With such wide adoption as MySQL has, the JSON features are now reaching a new tribe of developers. Continue reading

Documentation First: A Recipe for API Success

I've shipped a handful of greenfield APIs in recent months for different clients, and in each case I've been building the documentation before the API. I hadn't really recognised it as a pattern until someone else commented on it, but I do find this approach has worked well for my projects, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on this in a bit more detail. Continue reading