Useful Tools

I’ve been working on a lot of different projects lately, and run into a few really great tools; I thought I’d mention some of them, in addition to a new utility I’ve written.

  • Bort - one of the things I dislike most about Rails is that unlike development in Perl, there’s no centralized repository of knowledge; CPAN provides the place where everything in the Perl-verse lives. In Ruby and Rails, there’s RubyForge, yes, but there’s GitHub and a thousand other places where really necessary stuff lives– and so unlike with Perl, it takes real experience just to find the things you need to do useful development work. Bort is one of those things, however; it takes away the first 6-8 hours of scut Rails code that you need for every project, and installs the modules you’re going to need anyway, without forcing any additional conventions on you. It made finishing my Security and Privacy project so much easier; there actually wasn’t a single plugin I needed besides what was in Bort.

  • glTail - While I really enjoy Woopra for realtime visualization of people visiting my website, it only works for the sites I have keys for; since Woopra is in beta, only one site per user is allowed, which means I can’t put it on every site I run (each subdomain counts as its own site). glTail gives me insight to what all of my sites are doing– and all the time, as well, since it uses my logs rather than a JavaScript tracker (so it shows when the web crawlers come to visit). It’s also pretty to just watch the waterfall of requests (it sends balls bouncing across my screen, with bigger balls representing more data in a request), and it shows me when errors happen, and oftentimes why. It’s even easy to set up and customize for whatever system you’re using– it can understand Apache logs, Rails logs, almost anything.

  • Checkmate - In response to the news that InUrSite is stopping development, I decided to take some of the good ideas it had, and create my own utility in the same vein. Checkmate is pretty simple: you give it a site, and it crawls all over it, making sure all your (internal) links work, and that your pages are all valid (X)HTML. This latter is particularly helpful, I find, as I (as many other people) often only check the front page of a website to make sure it’s compliant, and don’t check it on an ongoing basis. Checkmate periodically rechecks, to make sure you’re still OK (and you can ask it to do so immediately). Now that I have the basic functionality down, I’m taking suggestions for what to add; I’ve already had one request for deep link support (that is, crawling websites behind a username and password, given, of course, a username and password to use), but I’d love to know other features that people would like.

In other news, less than a week before I fly home for the break; I’ll be back in Baltimore after a few weeks, but hopefully still blogging in the interim.