Ruby and web applications: surfing the nerd’s waves

My life is stop and go. My latest: reading all about household employee’s tax. Took me two days, but I think I got it. The forms to send, the amount owed… First there is social security and medicare, kicks in at 1400$/year, then federal and state tax, kicks in at 1000$ per quarter, then there is worker’s comp, kicks in at 16 hours/week. As I am getting more help for my mother, there is more and more to do… beyond paying the person.

I got the agile rails book, so I finaly had a chance to look at it. Luckily, I had tried to install a wiki before, so I had php and mysql installed. All I had to do was reinstall mysql because I could not find the passwords. Then I found a Rails installation incantation which worked for my computer, and I was able to follow the examples — more or less. This is when I found out that unlike Ruby which folks who know a computer language can understand immediately, Rails is for web based computer experts only. Like RubyCocoa it is a giant pre-written code which is way beyond my means to fathom.

OK, so I can’t run a big powerboat, but I found Ruby, and it can still lead somewhere. After all the reason I got started with Ruby was Rails, and the reason I wanted Rails was because I wanted to know how to run our experiments off the web, without learning Java, Perl, pithon… Ruby it turns out is enough to write web applications with something called cgi.
There is even a book written on how to write experiments with cgi, “How to Conduct Behavioral Research over the Internet: A Beginner’s Guide to HTML and CGI/Perl”.

Of course learning ruby cgi may not be easy: “A lot of the focus on Ruby Web development these days is on the Rails platform, so it can be hard to find much for plain old CGI. There’s a very simple article…), the Ruby/Web chapter from “Programming Ruby 1st Edition”…). I had trouble finding anything else when I dug around on Google.”

And then, there is the matter of the web server. Apparently, Tiger runs on Apache. But that is not the only choices: “lightTPD is the BEST webserver out there, much faster than apache and much much much more flexible/configurable/secure than tux, and its fcgi php support is simply unbeatable”. Well, but remember I am surfing the waves of the pros, and Apache is installed on my tiger, while lighttpd isn’t. But already it is suggesting that while apache ruby cgi is probably the way to go, I may get better result with lighttpd, ruby and fcgi… another install delight at the horizon.

And then there are other webservers, mongrel, webrick, which is compared to cherrypy for python and Lua!!! and also apache and lighttpd. again, I am getting too far into the wave “Zed and I worked over the weekend on smoothing out the divide between Camping (the 4k web framework) and Mongrel (the slim new Ruby web server mentioned last week.) In just a few days, Mongrel has caught the scent and is totally Campnivorous. Development gems await you.” This web server was written this week-end! On the internet, you can get lost because you are off the beaten path and there is not enough information to get going, or because you are too close to the beta crest and even the installation instructions are greek.

How strange to immerse myself in this noisy world of nerds. There is a physical web, with emails going from computer to computer in search of their destination. And there is the verbal web, with advice and information thrown into the air and connections established between folks who understand each other, while the rest falls back into nothingness. Folks like me get sucked in by mirages that shimmer out of reach, but our personal disappointments and setbacks are but a day on the beach surfing the waves, while the water carves out our future landscape!?

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