• Week 329

    28 April 2019

    A four-day week after the bank holiday.

    Two days at Highrigg. Last week, I was forcing myself into a deep dive on in React, building a prototype front-end that talked to a third-party API. This week, I decided it was worth introducing our own server-side API between us and the third-party.

    This decision - which my colleague Lachie helped me come to, in a highly useful brief rubberducking session - came about for a few reasons. Firstly, so we could separate some responsibility, and make the front-end code a bit less brittle. It also meant that if we wanted to start using other service - notably, some internal data-sources - rather than making growing number of calls on the front-end, we could keep front-end calls down and instead combine all the data from multiple server-side calls into a single payload. That also means we can take a little bit of responsibility for caching in the right place - the server-side.

    With that decision made, I wanted to write just enough code to confirm that I’d picked appropriate tools, as well as architecture. I began exploring building a small GraphQL service. GraphQL is very trendy right now, but it feels like an appropriate fit. I’m making something resembling a small mobile app, and being able to serve up all the data for a ‘page’ or ‘view’ in a single lump is ideal. My data model is also fairly hierarchical, and largely read-only, which made life simple.

    Unlike last week’s battles with React, this work went more smoothly, and it turns out that I don’t just like the idea of GraphQL, I also really like the implementation. By the end of the second day, I had the beginnings of a service shelled out. More to the point, I’d done enough to decide that this felt like a viable technology to use for the project going forward. I finished up my technical review documents with this knowledge, and updated some architecture diagrams.

    On Thursday and Friday, I finished bagging up a run of Foxfield kits for Thonk, and spent some time in the workshop - firstly, starting to brush up some woodwork skills, and secondly, building up an electronics prototype. This second electronics prototype was another SAMD21-based build, which I’ll probably write up, to share my approach for building these boards. It worked first time - and also confirmed that a new footprint was highly viable for what I wanted to do with it.

  • Week 328

    22 April 2019

    Lots of meetings at Highrigg, across a range of projects; some good time thinking through design interactions with colleagues, and then, around that, spelunking an API I’m coding against.

    At the same time, forcing my brain through the React mincer possibly faster than is ideal. I am finding getting up-to-speed with React challenging, and often end up frustrated.

    Learning new things is hard, yes, and it’s of course sometimes the work of a technologist to stay up-to-date. What I’m finding hard is the gulf between the basic tutorials and guide (which I’ve completed and re-read a few times) and the real-world project I have to operate in. I know this means I haven’t fully internalised the information - going from knowing to knowing - but it’s a while since I’ve felt like this. It doesn’t help that it feels like something I ought to have some faculty with, as a former front-end developer.

    Why am I putting myself through this? Because I think it’s important even if I’m spelunking or prototyping to work in the platform other colleagues are most familiar with, and inside a React+Typescript shop, I think it’s reasonable to work with those. (They also, lack of familiarity aside, seem like highly reasonably technology choices). There’s real internal value to playing ball, especially in a larger organisation, and so a balance between ‘output from prototyping’ and ‘lasting value of prototype’ needs to be trod.

    We’ll get there. But a frustrating few hours trying to achieve things I know I could do in other platforms or languages, and resisting the urge to chuck in the towel.

    On Thursday, I found that Fedex had failed to deliver parts for a Foxfield run, so delayed that until next week. I spent some time in CAD and lasercutting, wrapping up a prototype panel, and then finishing the electronics of the prototype I’ve been working on. This went well: my workflow from panel to cutter is much tighter now, and a single iteration got things spot on. The prototype is working well, too. Time to make a decision about that prototype soon.

    And then, a long weekend. Back Tuesday for a four-day week 329.