I recently worked a Rails project in which I had to automate the process of filling out a PDF form from the app. To do so I utilized a gem called pdf-forms which worked great. If this is something that you need to do, I would recommended checking out the article Pre-Filling PDF Form Templates in Ruby-on-Rails with PDFtk which gives some code examples on how to structure your code when working with pdf-forms.

The key dependency which pdf-forms utilizes for working with PDF files is PDFtk which is a command line tool for interacting with PDFs. As such, in order to use pdf-forms you’ll need a binary of PDFtk which pdf-forms can access. On my local dev environment this was no problem, just a matter of downloading and installed the binaries for my platform. However it was a different story when it came to deploying the app on heroku and getting it working there.

It took a bit of digging but I eventually got it working and thought it would be worth sharing here in case someone runs into the same issue.

I’ve always had an interest in education and learning. This has naturally fit well with my profession as a software developer / programmer. These days most professions require some level of continual improvement and ongoing education, however with programming ongoing “professional development” is our bread and butter.

To some (and I would fit into this category), this is an attractive element of the job as it keeps things challenging and the work rarely gets boring. To others it is a wearying trend, knowing that what you learn this year will most likely be obselete by the next year, or at the very least, will have gone through significant evolutionary development. If that’s you, then you probably want to find another career because it’s not slowing down anything soon.

My interest in the field of education is not limited to my own self improvement, but rather it extends out into a passion of mine, which is to teach others about technology, and specifically programming. As such, I take a keen interest in various websites, courses and tools which have been created to teach programming. Throughout the years of using and interacting with various educational materials, I’ve found that I’ve always been left wanting, but I never felt I could express what exactly was missing. Thanks to Bret Victor’s incredible article Learnable Programming, that has now changed.

UML Distilled Cover

About a year ago I took a class entitled Advanced Object Oriented Software Development, a significant portion of which was spent drawing UML (Unified Modeling Language) diagrams for the software we were designing. I needed to get up to speed with UML in short order and the materials given by our professor were painfully obtuse. To the rescue came this fantastic book UML Distilled, the contents of which are indeed true to the title. It takes a very large and dense subject like UML and distils it down to the essential aspects. If you are a working software developer and want to start utilizing UML in the design of your projects, then this is the book you should get.

I had great hopes that I would be writing regularly on this blog and yet I’m looking at it now and realize that I haven’t written anything for 4 months. 4 months. It all feels like a blur to me these days. This is indeed one of the busy seasons of life.

I can’t remember a time of life when I have been more busy than the last year or two. It certainly has been a self-inflicted form of busyness, but it is busyness none the less. This is what you get then you work full time, go to university part time to finish off a degree, have a growing family that you want to spend time with, and yet still have interests, hobbies and somewhat of a life.

What does 5 years feel like? That was the question that I found myself pondering this morning.

Today my eldest son Jonathan turned 5 and one of the first things I did after he woke up was to sit him on my lap and tell him the story of when he was born. It’s one of his favourite stories, and he loves to hear how that day transpired. From the time that my wife entered into labour at about 5am up until when we held our precious newborn in our arms around 10pm. It was a long and wonderful day. One of the best days of my life.

Personally, Ruby is my favourite programming language and whenever I have a choice in the matter I’ll be using Ruby for any projects. Likewise, when building a web app I’ll turn to Ruby-based frameworks like Rails or Sinatra. However, I know for me I don’t always have a choice in the matter.

Currently one of my largest projects is maintaining and improving a very large and complex PHP / Zend Framework web application. To even think about porting this app to Rails would be off the table and despite such limitation, I want to make the process as comfortable as possible. To do so, I will still attempt to use the tools I’m familiar with whenever I can. Enter Zend Framework deployment with Capistrano.

I’m sure they’re out there, but I’m not aware of any PHP or Zend Framework based deployment tools that even come close to the functionality of Capistrano. The great thing about Capistrano is that you’re not limited to using it with only Ruby and Rails based projects, but it actually works beautifully for any kind of project. In my case, it was an ideal deployment solution for this large PHP web application that I manage.

In this post I will detail exactly what you need to do to get your Zend Framework apps deploying with Capistrano. To play along you will need to have Ruby and Git installed on your system.

Several years ago now, I started on a journey that I found to be intimidating and humbling. After being out of school for the past 12 or so years, I decided to return and complete something that I had begun those many years ago - my undergrad degree. While I’m not yet done, as the finish line draws ever closer, I am now able to start looking back on this experience and understand how important this journey has been.

There were many times throughout the past year and a half that I really felt that what I was doing was basically insane. Here I was, a 33 (now 34) year old man with a wife, two kids, a great full-time job and over 12 years of experience as a professional software developer. What benefit could an undergrad degree ever serve at this point in my life?

The journey to return back to school began several years ago during a period of dissatisfaction with my career as a software developer. I found myself starting to ask the question: can I really see myself doing this for the rest of my life? Sure it had been a fantastic ride so far, and I really did enjoy writing code, but I had a hard time seeing myself still doing this in my 40s and beyond. It was this time of personal re-evaluation that I began to think about some other options for myself in the future.