Spread RIBBA Awareness

For many years, IKEA’s Ribba frames have been the dirty little secret of artists, collectors, and decorators. Modern gallery frames can be expensive, but with Ribba, you could easily toss up as much art as you liked as often as you liked. And, unlike many inexpensive art store and big box frames, Ribba’s affordability didn’t mean it was going to immediately eat your artwork or encourage bad mounting practices: every frame includes a precut, acid-free mat with totally reasonable margins.

Buuut nothing can stay perfect forever, and Ribba fell victim to IKEA’s safety PR blitz and increasing shipping costs.

From its inception, Ribba had shipped with good-quality glass glazing. During 2018, IKEA phased in a new, polystyrene glazing that has the benefit of not being a weight hazard and not being breakable, but it comes with one major flaw: it’s only slightly more durable than room-temperature butter.

You may be thinking “oh, I’ve had old-school acrylic glazing before, I know how to be gentle.” If only that were the case.

If you dust your artwork, no matter how carefully, no matter if you use a fancypants no-scratch carbon duster, you will scratch the polystyrene glazing. The scratches will be visible, and they will get worse over time.

It’s not all bad news, though: IKEA hasn’t changed the dimensions of the Ribba frame at all, so it’s still a good cheap frame into which you can insert your own glazing and artwork (including better-quality styrene glazing, if you so desire).


I love a good local coffee shop as much as the next guy. Probably even more than the next guy. I can rattle off a good dozen or so that I’m happy to frequent when I’m in the area. Around home in Chandler, Peixoto Coffee is my jam. Julia brings a passion for her family’s coffee and flavors inspired by her Brazilian heritage, and Spencer is a badass barista-ninja. I’ve enjoyed many a sunny or rainy day drinking the latest iced or hot beverages Peixoto’s pumped out.

Around Phoenix, I’ve got a laundry list of joints I frequent. Lola has the delicious Mexican-inspired Matador and some ridiculously low prices for the area. Street Coffee has badass art and a genuinely friendly staff serving up solid standards. (And pie!) Lux is your definitive hipster coffee paradise, with chunky-spectacled Gen Y women serving up lattes in giant mugs that you drink at picnic tables full of typewriters. (Also the in-house baker is a total pastry badass and if you don’t eat one of her creations you’re missing out.)

But as a working creative, there is no more vital part of my workday than Starbucks. It’s everywhere. It’s consistent. Wherever I go, the menu is the same, the beverages are consistent, the bathrooms are clean, and Starbucks is open. Up at 4:30 in the morning for an early call time? Starbucks is there, the café is empty, and the staff are unnaturally perky and happy to see you. Crew coffee run during a break? There are probably a half-dozen Starbuckses within a mile. Coming home after putting in your 15 hours, and every other coffee shop has shuttered for the night? The green maiden invites you in with her welcoming glow and the aroma of a fresh-brewed caffeine injection.

And when you’re barely awake at the beginning of your day or barely awake at the end, that welcoming glow and the knowledge I’m getting something generally palatable are exactly what I need. Solid community involvement and support of causes I believe in are just the whipped cream on top of my latte.

One month down…

With the first month nearly wrapped up now, I’ve had plenty of time to appreciate the beginning of the new year. In the spirit in one of my good friends (an absolute blog list maven), here’s what I’ve learned in January:

  1. On winter road trips, there are few things better than a Jeep heater core.
  2. No matter what your insurance alleges, your ER coverage sucks.
  3. You will seriously reconsider your definition of “emergency” (even though it was an actual emergency) when the hospital bills arrive.
  4. “Deductible” is a truly malleable term favoring the insurance company.
  5. Being able to share holidays and birthdays with your nonagenarian grandfather is amazing.
  6. Sonicare toothbrushes are fantastic (but will ruin you on every other toothbrush forever).
  7. The first rule of Sonicare Club is close your damn mouth.
  8. If you forget the first rule of Sonicare Club, those tiny droplets of toothpaste dry instantly and stubbornly everywhere they land. But they look great spread across the top of a t-shirt. People will compliment you and want to know where you bought your shirt.
  9. Obamacare: Fuck yeah. Free physical? Free labs? Even on my grandfathered plan? What a world.
  10. Now and forever, I will always bruise uglily after a blood draw.
  11. Uglily is, in fact, the adverb form of ugly.
  12. If you have a self-deprecating sense of humor, you should probably dial it back about 100% when dating. (The things that came out of my mouth. My God.)
  13. Meditating is not as difficult as making the time to meditate.
  14. A good walk is a great way to start the day.
  15. Multiple-computer imaging workflows are still a pain.
  16. When AirPlay, Handoff, and Continuity work, they’re magic. When they don’t, they’re an evil curse.
  17. Modern pop music is satisfying in the same slightly-filthy way that junk food is.
  18. While driving with the right person, I can sing along to far, far more pop songs than I’d ever willingly admit.

getNearest(RethinkDB Upgrade);

With last week’s release of version 1.15.0 (appropriately codenamed “Lawrence of Arabia”), RethinkDB has finally (did I just say finally?) added one of the most-requested features: Geospatial support. Sporting a shiny new set of geo types, functions, and indexes, it’s harder than ever to find excuses not to try RethinkDB.

Several of my current skunkworks projects involve geospatial data in one way or another. RethinkDB’s lack of support was sending me back to Postgres, which, while mature and feature-filled, is also a bit of an overcomplicated mess. Attempts to make PostGIS easier to use, like ORM add-ons, instead tend to make things even more complicated. (The ActiveRecord adapter, for example, wants to store geographies — but for many applications, many of the functions you’ll want operate only on geometries, meaning you have to cast every. single. query.)

RethinkDB’s geo support, on the other hand, is a reimagining of what people actually want in geospatial functions in today’s applications. Want to do a KNN search? No sweat. getNearest has you covered. Need to find some intersecting areas? getIntersecting, duh. Circles and points are easily created with circle and point. It’s so humane it will blow your mind.

Postgres with PostGIS is currently a lot faster for nearest neighbor searches—we’re talking at least an order of magnitude—but I still find RethinkDB more pleasant to use. Not only is ReQL’s getNearest much easier to remember, but the way ReQL is evaluated means I don’t get the SQL Injection Heebie Jeebies every time I have to work with location data from the big bad outside world.

Curiously, getIntersecting does not suffer from getNearest‘s performance issues. It’s instead right on par with PostGIS, and — if the very idea doesn’t make you feel dirty — can even be used to get near-PostGIS KNN performance out of RethinkDB in most applications. (Imagine for a moment you’re making a Yelp competitor. We don’t care about the true K nearest neighbors so much as what’s immediately around the user. If you’re scoping to, say, 5 miles anyway, who cares what the query looks like as long as the results are useful? Call getIntersecting with a 5 mile circle originating at the user’s location. Bam!)

It’s an exciting time to be playing with location-based apps! While I haven’t used every data store out there, RethinkDB 1.15 has made things much simpler than anything I’ve used to this point.


In my discussion of RethinkDB, I mentioned that ReQL is inspired by functional languages.

What I neglected to mention is that this will serve as an initial stumbling block for some developers. Being functional, it makes use of chaining, and results from one function are fed into the next. This means that order matters in ReQL.

This does open up some power you don’t have in SQL (and some non-SQL query languages too), but simultaneously introduces a potential for error.

Let’s take a look at a simple use case: We want the results ordered, but we only want 5 of them.

In standard SQL, this is unambiguous. There’s only one allowable way to write the query. If you try to LIMIT before ORDERing, your DB (PostgreSQL, in this case) will drop the hammer:

SELECT avg_max_f FROM heat_index_data WHERE state = 'Arizona' LIMIT 5 ORDER BY date DESC;

ERROR:  syntax error at or near "ORDER"
LINE 1: ...M heat_index_data WHERE state = 'Arizona' LIMIT 5 ORDER BY d...

Write it correctly, with LIMIT at the end, and we’re good:

SELECT avg_max_f FROM heat_index_data WHERE state = 'Arizona' ORDER BY date DESC LIMIT 5;

weather_dev=# SELECT avg_max_f FROM heat_index_data WHERE state = 'Arizona' ORDER BY date DESC LIMIT 5;
(5 rows)

But ReQL is functional. It doesn’t care where you stick your limits or orderBys and it doesn’t care how many of them you have. You can orderBy(r.asc(date)).orderBy(r.desc(date)) for all it cares. Data comes out of one function and is fed into the next.

So we can limit before orderBy:

r.getAll('Arizona', {index: 'state'}).limit(5).orderBy('date').pluck('avg_max_f')

    "avg_max_f": 48.81
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 44.35
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 56.4
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 66.15
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 57.04

And we can orderBy before limit:

r.getAll('Arizona', {index: 'state'}).orderBy('date').limit(5).pluck('avg_max_f')

    "avg_max_f": 48.81
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 41.85
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 40.26
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 45.54
  } ,
    "avg_max_f": 48.79

…and as is plainly visible here, you get different results because they’re different queries.

Wanting to limit before ordering is certainly an edge case (which is why SQL doesn’t allow for it), but it — along with many other unconventional queries — is perfectly possible with the limited constraints of ReQL. If you run into unexpected results working with RethinkDB, take a step back and ask yourself: “What am I really asking for here? Does it make sense?”

RethinkDB: Your Next Next Database

So some developers walk into Y Combinator with an alternate MySQL storage engine optimized for SSDs, and… No, wait! This gets better than it starts out!

Along the way, MySQL is cut out of the picture and something new and more interesting springs up. RethinkDB the SSD-optimized storage engine becomes RethinkDB the human-optimized NoSQL database. It attracts some brainy talent, conquers some nifty problems, and uses MongoDB’s list of pain points as a checklist of things to do better. What emerges is a newer, smarter source of document store. One that’s agile while valuing data integrity and stability. (Novel idea, right?)

RethinkDB may not be the first NoSQL database out of the gate, but that’s exactly why it’s so good. It’s the much-overlooked advantage of not being the first mover; Apple’s been succeeding on this basis for decades. Apple built an empire around the iPod, which was an extremely refined product in a market analysts had declared “mature” and “crowded.” They did it again with iPad, kickstarting a market Microsoft had been trying and failing to create for two decades. Now RethinkDB has come into a “mature” and “crowded” niche to build on the shortcomings of the prevalent NoSQL solutions.

But as a developer, what’s the draw of yet another document store? Don’t we have enough? It’s been discussed to death that PostgreSQL is frequently better than MongoDB at being MongoDB. Postgres features a pedigree and modern performance numbers that are the stuff of dreams. It’s taken years to get there. So why in the hell bother with a database that’s a tender 3 years from its 1.0 release?

Because it’s awesome. Not perfect for all applications, and perhaps not perfect yet for any application, but awesome.

Admin Interface

The first feature of RethinkDB that most users will encounter is its beautiful, modern administrative web interface. At a glance, you can see the status of your server or cluster. With a few clicks, you can perform nearly any administrative task you like. There’s even a live query console.

RethinkDB Admin UI
RethinkDB’s included administrative console

I’m not going to replicate effort here, so if you want to see the admin interface in action without installing RethinkDB, give their screencast a spin. Sharding, replication, and multi-datacenter management are truly only a few clicks away. Even many grotesquely expensive commercial products don’t offer cluster management this easy.

For the small team that’s dev and ops rolled into one, this level of control and accessibility is breathtaking. While I have a copy of Panic’s Prompt SSH client on every mobile device I own, there’s power in being able to administer your database from literally any browser.

Query Language

RethinkDB dispenses with SQL-style query languages in favor of its own language, ReQL. While distinct from SQL, it has most of your familiar features — including joins — and can be picked up enough for basic use in all of 5 minutes.

Assuming you have some grounding in set theory and databases, it’s simple and well-documented enough that you can get started even without an SQL background.

ReQL is functional in its construction, building queries through chaining rather than monolithic command strings. This, among other design decisions, also helps minimize (but not eliminate!) injection and similar attack vectors; unless you’re doing something very foolish, like passing user input to RethinkDB’s JavaScript engine, it would be quite difficult for a typical attacker to achieve the kinds of malfeasance easily accomplished with SQL.

By now there has to be a thought lurking in the back of every reader’s mind: What’s the catch? And, in fact, I purposely helped plant that seed with the title.

There are a couple catches and it’s important to be aware of them. For some users they’ll be unimportant; for others they may be a deal-breaker. But by being aware of them, you can make an educated decision and focus your testing when evaluating RethinkDB. You want to choose a data store on its merits and weaknesses, not whether or not it’s webscale.


While performance is a priority for the RethinkDB team, you may find it’s not quite where you need it right now. Thus the “next next database.” I’ll touch on this in some detail in a later post, but performance ranges from as fast as or faster than Postgres (on very simple queries) to dreadfully slower than Postgres (on more complex queries).

Tolerance for RethinkDB’s performance will vary with your expectations; based on my own testing and experience, many MongoDB or MySQL users will likely find it acceptable or even an improvement. Pragmatic Postgres users with the right usage patterns may even find response times perfectly acceptable (more so if you can take advantage of caching). It’s frequently slower than Postgres to be sure, but there’s a sizable gulf between “slower” and “slow”. And Postgres itself has seen some massive improvements in performance over the past several releases, so certainly it’s not fair to act as if RethinkDB will never see a speed increase.

Query Optimization

RethinkDB doesn’t currently have a query optimizer. If you want to use an index, you need to explicitly request the use of that index in your ReQL. If you’re doing a series of expensive operations, it’s up to you to determine the best order (and identify any redundancies or stupid code). This is a significant difference from modern SQL servers, most of which have extremely intelligent query optimizers, allowing excellent performance from even half-baked queries.

A developer today can adopt a popular SQL ORM — or even raw SQL — with no or very little knowledge of SQL and still get great performance.

A developer today using RethinkDB has to put some thought into his queries and develop an understanding of functions’ performance through experience.


There are also some gotchas (for SQL users, anyway) surrounding secondary index use; as RethinkDB functions can only utilize an index when operating on a table (which you generally cease to have after the first function in the query chain), a good understanding of your application’s usage pattern is required for both index creation and querying. Whereas SQL will generally gleefully assemble an optimized query across multiple conditions and multiple single-column indexes, RethinkDB’s functions can only use an index when acting directly on a table. This means that, in many cases, you get to use one index and it has to be in your first function. It thus becomes important to both create appropriate compound indexes and determine what portion of your query will actually benefit from using your one available index-enabled call.

To be fair, ReQL and RethinkDB are well-designed and this isn’t nearly as painful as it might first sound. Coming from SQL, though, it does initially feel a bit clumsy and dated.

Circling back to “a good understanding of your application,” index creation times are — at least currently — quite long. While index creation is not a blocking operation, the expense does mean you want to get it right the first time.

Try it out!

Go on, give it a whirl on a side project. Work through a tutorial. Check out the excellent docs.

The RethinkDB team is also super friendly and super accessible, so if you have any questions or suggestions, link up with the community.

Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t, but in either case it may start to change your mind about what your database needs are and how a NoSQL solution should work.

orm_adapter + NoBrainer = <3

After trying and falling in love with RethinkDB, I began using the NoBrainer ORM with some of my Rails side projects. And while the combination is fantastic and productive, I’ve hit many of the roadblocks that frequently come with straying from ActiveRecord.

One of those roadblocks has been the lack of orm_adapter support for NoBrainer. Used by a variety of gems (chief among them the popular Devise authentication framework) to provide ORM abstraction, orm_adapter support is a necessity for easy growth and development.

And today, it’s here with orm_adapter-nobrainer. Written to scratch my own itch, it’s available on GitHub and pushed out to RubyGems for wider distribution and use. While not entirely complete — it doesn’t yet address the writable associations NoBrainer doesn’t implement — all other tests are passing and it should be a drop-in implementation for most real-world uses.

Similar work still needs to be done for Devise itself, but this is the foundation for that work (and a whole bunch more).

Hopefully it makes someone’s life a little easier. Pull requests and issues are always welcome.

OneNote Lives!

In a move that left bits of skull and gray matter littering offices around the world, Microsoft has finally—unexpectedly—released a native OneNote for Mac OS X. More surprisingly still, it’s completely usable for the princely sum of $0. Microsoft has been making some weird plays lately, but let’s not question their generosity. OneNote has been a fantastic tool on Windows (and a slightly-less-fantastic tool on iOS) for years now. Mac OS X is finally joining the party and I think OneNote will find a place in many Mac users’ toolboxes for years to come.

Microsoft OneNote for Mac OS X

In a glorious development, the UI sports a less garish version of Office 2011’s Ribbon interface.

Download it, give it a whirl, and see if it’s something that can’t find a place in your daily life.

Isn’t this just Microsoft Evernote?

One common response to the release has been “too little, too late; I’ve already got Evernote.” Thing is, they’re not really the same tool at all. While you can use either one as a really poor simulacra of the other, they have very different approaches to managing your information.

It helps to remember that OneNote came about as a tablet seller: It was a freeform note-taking app with some Newton-esque data intelligence features. You could—and still can—insert content anywhere, on a discontinuous basis. This is distinct from Evernote’s “word processor in the cloud” approach. If you work in mind maps or another spatially-oriented method, OneNote can do that. Evernote can’t.

OneNote also has much, much more robust organization features. True, a Book roughly corresponds with Evernote’s Notebooks. Things get crazy from there, though. OneNote has Sections, which can then be organized into Section Groups. Each Section can have a Page, and each Page can itself have a Subpage. You can take or leave any of these; you must have a top-level Book, but beyond that you can organize however your own twisted brain happens to function.

Even Roses Have Thorns

While I’ve been positive to this point, ultimately this is still a post-MacBU product. It’s great that the UI is more attractive. It’s fantastic that 10.8/10.9 full-screen is properly supported. There are still a bunch of rough edges.

You cannot, for example, drag pictures into OneNote—even though it accepts the drag-and-drop. The dragged content simply disappears into the ether as if you never dropped it. Pictures must be added from the ribbon or menu bar, and the experience from that point is extremely rough.

OneNote has also adopted the “utility application” paradigm despite otherwise behaving like a document-based application. If you hit Command-W, it’s gone. No “open notebook” dialog, no confirmation; OneNote just packs it in and takes off. This is especially jarring if you use other Office applications, none of which behave this way.

There was a time I would have been optimistic and said the variety of flaws will be gradually refined away, but, like many, I had the same optimism when the redesigned RDC appeared. Wow, there are a lot of things wrong here, we thought, but clearly Microsoft is committed to making a better RDC! I’m sure they’ll be fixed in no time. Not so much. It’s possible OneNote will fare better because Microsoft aims to make it a halo product, but I’m a little more cautious about throwing around the benefit of the doubt at this point.

It’s an Ecosystem

Alongside the Mac OS X release, Microsoft is also putting out a (much-needed) iOS update. The overall strategy is one OneNote to rule them all, though Microsoft platforms get some preferential features. Your notebooks live in The Cloud and you can get at them whether you’re on a Mac, a Windows desktop or notebook, a Windows Phone device, an iOS device, an Android device, or—should would be unicorn hunting—a Microsoft Surface tablet. For extra-exotic platforms or systems without OneNote installed, there’s also web access.

Microsoft is also expanding OneNote to third parties through an API, allowing it to do more than ever before (and more than many vaguely-similar applications).

If they can zero in on the quality refinements, OneNote will likely end up nearly untouchable for the demanding note-taker. As it stands, it’s a good solution with some really annoying missteps.

SB 1062: Say whaaat?

I often find the nonsense coming from our state legislators’ mouths to be distressing, but SB 1062 has brought out a special brand of crazy. Let us turn now to the wire services:

But Senate President Andy Biggs said he sees no chance of a lawsuit. He said women are not a “protected class” under Arizona law.

Your Senate President, ladies and gentlemen. I’m not sure which possibility here is more disheartening: That he simply doesn’t know what the protected classes in Arizona are, or that he doesn’t know what “sex” means.

Instead, Biggs prefers the example of a Catholic art gallery owner who refuses to put on display a painting of a crucifix immersed in urine. He said an argument could be made that being forced to display such a painting burdens the owner’s religious beliefs.

This is not how galleries work.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, the prime sponsor of SB 1062, prefers a different example: A corporation formed by some devout Jews to provide kosher catering that is asked to provide pork products at the event.

This is not how public accommodations laws work. Yarbrough should know this (and, like many legislators working on this legislation, probably does). Public accommodations laws require that, if you provide a product or service in your regular line of business, and you offer that product or service to the general public, that you offer it equally to all customers, regardless of their race, religion, national background, sex, or disability.

A Kosher catering service is not going to offer pork products in the course of their business. It it thus irrelevant what color, faith, nationality, gender, or ability the customer is. You are not owed pork by a Jewish caterer any more than you are owed top-notch surf & turf by McDonald’s.

Better RDC: Coming to a Mac near you!

Microsoft’s Macintosh Remote Desktop Client has been… neglected for quite a while. It still generally works, but it’s never been much of a looker, it’s behind in features and performance, and some basic functionality (like trying to save a connection) often leaves users completely baffled or frustrated.

But take heart: a new Remote Desktop will be available on Mac OS X, iOS, and Android later this month. It’s a Halloween miracle, and one that may make Azure services slightly more palatable to cross-platform developers and users!

For Microsoft products that are great, I can’t say enough good things about Exchange Online/Office 365 for Business. If you’re looking for managed push email (and calendaring) and have already scratched GApps off the list, check it out.