Brackets – My New Favorite Code Editor

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Brackets IDE symbolA couple of months ago I started searching for “the best” code editor for web development. I wanted to see what was out there and how it compared to what I have used and was currently using.

Since most of my co-workers live in the .NET world I have access to Visual Studio, which I actually like as an IDE. I’ve used it to do a good deal of development over the last couple of years. But I wanted to explore more of what was out there for code editors that might be more lightweight, fun and available wherever I might want to use it (work, home, on the road…).

For web and desktop work at home I’ve used Notepad, Notepad ++ and Aptana and have never been really happy.

Notepad ++ actually works really well but I hate the interface (it’s boring and ugly rolled into one). Besides, it would be nice to use something platform independent for portability. On the plus side (sorry), in Notepad ++ you can configure styles and keyboard mappings and there;s a lot you can do with the preferences to make things work the way you want them to.

That’s actually the story with the majority of editors and IDEs out there today. Most of them have customizable settings and functionality either built-in or available through plug-ins or extensions. Some of them are geared toward specific languages or uses but most of them seem to handle the most common languages.

No Magic Bullet

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no “best” editor. There are only ones with fewer annoyances than others. Out of the editors I have been trying lately there are a few I have only used for a few seconds (like Atom) and some I’ve done some heavy lifting with (like Sublime Text). My favorite so far has been Brackets, the open source project from Adobe.

Brackets

I really like the look and feel of Brackets. It has a nice flat design. It doesn’t overwhelm you with controls and menus. But that led me to pause and question – where are all the controls and menus? It turns out, a lot of your customizations are done directly through json files or through extensions. That’s great because I love working in json.

Changing the keymap is not as straight-forward as most code editors and IDEs but it is intuitive and simple. You just have to override the default mappings in the keymap.json file. I set up my block and single line mappings because the defaults almost always annoy me.

I’ve been using Brackets both at work and at home. In my home setup I use the live preview feature all the time. It’s only available through Chrome which is not a problem for me. I usually like to debug my HTML, JavaScript and CSS in Firefox (Firebug) but the Chrome developer tools work just fine for most things. Live preview is great because the Chrome page refreshes automatically every time you save your HTML file. I have a different setup at work which doesn’t allow for the live preview to work but I might be changing that soon.

Brackets really shines with its extensions manager. This is where you can install/uninstall user created extensions or Brackets themes. You can also search Github for extension, download the zip file and drag the zip right into the extension manager. It only took a few minutes to search for and install a few extensions to make development easier. These included Grunt, indent guides, code folding and code beautification(formatting).

I have notices some of the extensions can slow Brackets way down so that’s something to watch as you’re loading new ones up. Now I’m just looking for a reason to create an extension of my own or some reason to hack Brackets itself.

Shapefile as a Multi User Editing Environment?

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I had a ArcGIS user that I support come to me with a corrupted shapefile the other day. It had the old “number of shapes does not match number of table records” error. It turns out, he’s still using this shapefile as his layer’s main data source and he and several others regularly edit it! In this day and age?

I tried to convince him using a file geodatabase would be more stable for editing but he had been using shapefiles so long I don’t even think my comments registered. He just wanted a tool that could fix the shapefile.

I pointed him to the shapechk tool by Andrew Williamson. I’ve used the tool for years because <sarcasm>for some odd reason</sarcasm> I often run into people with corrupted shapefiles after people edit them over long periods of time. The shapefile works OK as a data exchange format but doesn’t always hold together under regular heavy use.

In the words of Pete Seeger, “when will we ever learn?”

Are Linkedin Background Photos Worth the Trouble?

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With Linkedin allowing background photos for your profile you now have one more way to express yourself creatively on the platform. But Linkedin isn’t Facebook. It’s a professional network and is typically understood to have professionally presented profiles. Having a clean, flat layout with a simple blue and grayscale color scheme has helped keep Linkedin profiles in line with that strategy.

Before background photos the worst offense a user could do visually was insert Homer Simpson as their profile picture. Now we are given the power to screw up a much larger portion of our profile’s real estate.

Is it worth possibly reducing the professional look of your profile just to “express” yourself on one more social channel? Or is it worth the time and effort it will take to produce an image that will still project the professionalism that a plain background already does? The answer to both of these questions is – probably not. I doubt that a connection, employer or recruiter will give a second thought to your profile header not having some sort of graphic behind it. A good head shot as your profile picture will, however, still be expected.

But that doesn’t mean that you absolutely shouldn’t use a background photo. If an image is well thought-out and conveys important information upfront to someone viewing your profile, it could be very worthwhile. Putting in a picture of balloons, sunsets or your dog will probably only serve to distract viewers. However, a picture of you speaking at an event gives the impression that you’re an expert in your field and have experience with public speaking. Likewise, a picture of a map might strengthen the profile of a cartographer or GIS professional.

When someone views your profile, your title and profile picture are usually the first things they see. As we all know, first impressions can make a real impact. If you can influence that first impression positively, then the extra profile eye-candy could be an asset.

I’m still on the fence about whether to put a background photo on my own Linkedin profile page. At this point in time I think Linkedin background photos are a bit of a risk for both Linkedin and its users. While profile customization can make your page look nice, it also runs the risk of making it look like a wannabe Facebook page. That’s not in keeping with the feel of Linkedin. If you do decide to add a background photo, keep it simple and above all, relevant to the rest of your profile.

C is for Crash

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There are those moments when you realize that certain sports just aren’t worth it. I spotted this encouraging sign in a pile of old junk while hiking a local ski resort in the off season. It does encourage me not to crash but mostly by convincing me not to take up skiing.

Cookie Monster with Broken Arm

 

I wonder how long it took for someone to realize that instilling terror in your patrons isn’t a good marketing ploy.

 

Installing Setuptools and PIP for Python

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Python logoI’ve installed a lot of Python packages over the years using Distutils, SetupTools/easy_install and PIP. Distutils is Python’s built-in package distribution module and is pretty easy to use. However, it has some limitations, primarily that you have to manually download the package dependencies and there is no method to uninstall packages.

The Setuptools easy_install script takes care of downloading packages and package dependencies but still lacks certain features you would want from a fully functioning package manager. It doesn’t provide version control support, package tracking and uninstallation. There is a lot more to the Python package discussion but there is no point in bringing it up.

Anyway, while I use package distribution tools I rarely have to install the tools themselves since they only get loaded once. When I do have to set up a new machine or upgrade someone elses, I always forget the steps to get Setuptools and PIP installed. So I thought I would document the steps here. Now I just have to remember to come back here when I need them.

 Installing Setuptools:

1. Right click on this ez_setup.py link and save the file to your Python Scripts folder (If you have ArcGIS loaded you will usually find this at C:\Python27\ArcGIS10.x\Scripts).

2. Open a command prompt and change into the SCRIPTS directory.

3. Type

python ez_setup.py

then hit enter to execute the code. This will run the script which will download and install setuptools on your system.

For the official installation instructions for setuptools, which includes instructions for installing on Windows 8 with Powershell visit https://pypi.python.org/pypi/setuptools.

Installing PIP:

1. Open a command prompt and change into the C:\Python27 directory.

2. Type

easy_install pip

then hit enter to execute. Pip should now be installed on your system.

To actually install a package using PIP from a command prompt you simply type

pip install "PackageName"

and everything will be taken care of for you. To explore the more than 54,000 packages that are available for Pip to load visit PyPI – the Python Package Index.

Be Different with Custom Styled Google Maps

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[iframe src=”http://ryanrandom.com/maps/GMExample.html” align=”center” width=”500″ height=”400″]
map style by Tracy Elliott on SnazzyMaps.com

If you are developing with the Google Maps JavaScript API you’re already creating custom code so you might as well go the extra mile and change the default style of your map so it doesn’t look like every other Google map out there.

Getting a unique looking map that fits well with the style of your web page is actually really very easy. The Google API gives you the option of re-styling the existing standard map types or creating new map types containing your styles. Either way, if you are comfortable with the Google Maps JavaScript API you can put a fresh face on your map in no time.

Click here to see an example of a custom Google Map style.

For detailed instructions on how to custom style your map, you can see the Styled Maps section of the Google Map JavaScript API Developer’s guide.

If you would rather use a tool to generate your code you can use the ones listed below for free. Some of them even have pre-built styles that are ready to be plugged into your code.

Styled Map Wizard

Evoluted Style Tool

MapStylr

SnazzyMaps

Google Maps Colorizr

Custom Google Maps Style Tool

 

Tourist Pine to Fly Drones in Antarctica? Weird!

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antarctica

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators is cautioning all potential travelers to Antarctica who pine to fly a drone to check with their travel agent or tour operator before packing their device.  – The Washington Times

Tourists are pining to fly drones in Antarctica? What kind of tourist pines to fly drones in Antarctica? The bigger question is who uses the word pining anymore?

Is IE on its Last Legs?

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Internet Explorer logo

Tidings of a new browser coming from Microsoft have some wondering whether IE is on its last legs. The sad news is that there are still so many old versions (7, 8 and 9)  sitting on millions of computers, and their users don’t know any better. So even if Spartan, or its children, eventually displace Internet Explorer, front-end developers will be playing patty cake with old versions for years to come.

It’s interesting that Microsoft is coming out with a brand new browser when IE11 has so many improvements and seems much less maligned than its older versions. Makes me think maybe this is just the start of a rebranding effort.

 

Further Reading:

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2863746/what-microsofts-fresh-start-browser-strategy-means.html

Use Python to Keep Your Brain Sharp

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“Use it or lose it” certainly applies where brain function is concerned. The experts tell you to exercise your brain to keep it in shape and ward off forgetfulness and possibly dementia when you are older.

One way to exercise your brain is to do computations in your head. Not long ago I read a book called The Power of Forgetting by Mike Byster that introduced several tricks and methods for doing these mental computations. One that stuck with me was how to multiply two, two-digit numbers in your head. Here’s an excerpt from the book explaining how to do it:

addnumbersThere are probably easier ways to do mental multiplication but Byster’s method is meant to be an exercise in remembering and forgetting numbers at will to make your brain stronger.

I wanted to find a way to challenge myself with the above multiplication method on a regular basis. My solution was to write a very small Python script that would generate random two-digit by two-digit multiplication problems and display them on screen. Here is what I came up with:

from random import randint
from ctypes import windll

firstNumber = randint(10,99)
secondNumber = randint(10,99)

problem = str(firstNumber) + " x " + str(secondNumber)
answer = str(firstNumber*secondNumber)

windll.user32.MessageBoxA(0, problem, "Can you multiply these in your head?", 0)
windll.user32.MessageBoxA(0, "The answer is: " + answer, "How did you do?", 0)

The script simply generates two random two-digit numbers, displays them to the user, then displays the correct answer when the user closes the first message box. I used Python’s ctypes library to create Windows message boxes,so you would need to make some adjustments if you wanted to use it on a different operating system. I also set up my task scheduler to run the script automatically every hour. Now, throughout the day at work and at home I’m reminded to exercise my mind in a way I wouldn’t normally exercise it.

Efficient ArcServer Cache Management with a Staging Server

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Getting a cache built can sometimes be a challenge but caching an ArcServer map service can be important if you want your web apps to display fast. Depending on the subject of your cache and what scales you cache at you can end up with tens or hundreds of gigabytes of data.

Art Tiles

In my office we cache both vector and imagery data for an entire county. We have 20 aerial mosaic data sets dating back to 1937 and several vector data sets that also cover the entire county. Caching all of this can put a real strain on a server and takes up limited server resources that can cause the server to perform poorly.

I’ve found that the best solution is to cache on a staging server and then transfer the cached tiles to a prepared production server. Here is how you can easily do the same:

  1. Create a service on your staging server.
  2. Set up caching in the Services Properties dialog.
  3. Create a service on your production server that has the same name as your staged service.
  4. Set up caching in the Services Properties dialog. From the “Tiling Scheme” drop down select “An existing cached map / image service” and navigate to the staging service. This will import all of your cache advanced setting that you defined on your staging service like scale levels.
  5. Run the Manage Map Server Cache Tiles tool to create the staged cache.
  6. Now you just want to copy your level folder (L00, L01, L02…) located in \arcgisserver\directories\arcgiscache\[your map service name]\_alllayers to the same location on your production server.

At this point your production server should have a full working cache. If you have a cache service that will need to be updated regularly you could even script the whole process and schedule it to run at night or on the weekend.