Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interview with Topher Cyll, Author of Practical Ruby Projects

Topher Cyll, author of Practical Ruby Projects and I have traded a couple of emails since his book was released by Apress. Here's what we talked about:

What makes a Ruby project ‘practical’?

Topher Good question! I think the first requirement for a “practical project” is that you actually want to do it! Whether you do it for work, enjoyment, or just to learn doesn’t really mater. All the projects in this book are meant to be fun and intellectually engaging (art, games, algorithms, theory), but I think they all touch on useful, real world skills.

My other big requirement for a “practical project” would be that you can finish it in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially important in a book. We read books because it’s fun or we want to learn. There’s nothing practical about a project that you’re trying to do in your spare time, but just can’t seem to finish! Each of the projects in this book is well defined and easy to complete. Not to mention all the source code from the book is freely available (and MIT licensed), so you can take as many short cuts as you like.

Who are the eclectic programmers you’re trying to reach? What makes them eclectic?

Topher Seriously, this book was inspired by all the great Rubyists I’ve met at conferences and user groups. In general Ruby folks just seem to be curious, reflective, light-hearted, and (almost uniformly) working on some project in their spare time. Everyone I’ve met loves to tinker and try out new things. That makes them eclectic, and it also makes them amazingly fun people to write a book for.

How did you settle on the projects in the book?

Topher Every single project was something I’d always wanted to do. A few predated the book, but many were written right along with the chapters. I’d start by asking myself, “Is this cool?”

  • Live coding music. Cool?
  • Animation with SVG. Cool?
  • Beautiful Mac applications. Cool?
  • Implementing Lisp. Cool?
  • And so on…

If the answer was yes, it went into the book! (Hint, all those made it in).

Now, I can’t promise my definition of “cool” is exactly the same as yours, but if you like to play around with interesting and creative projects, I bet we’re pretty close.

Can you tell us about any projects you were thinking about including but which didn’t make the cut?

Topher* A couple did fall along the wayside. For example, I wanted to do a chapter on Mousehole (Why’s cool web rewriting toolkit), but the timing with the newer 2.0 codebase just wasn’t going to work out.

I also really wanted to do a chapter about BioRuby, but didn’t have the right expertise to present a convincing project (maybe someday, with the right collaborator and written as an article).

But the eight best made it in, and I think they present a pretty unusual array of subjects!

Any plans for a followup book/blog/website?

Topher Now that the book is finished, I’m going to resume blogging on my website. I came up with a lot of great ideas for posts while writing the book, and it’ll be a nice to work on some smaller units of writing for a bit.

What’s the next step for a budding Ruby hacker who’s just finished your book?

Topher I say dive into coding something that you’ve been meaning to build! Thanks to all the great Ruby libraries out there, there aren’t many projects that can’t be written in Ruby. And, personally, I learn best when I’ve got a practical application in front of me.

I hope everyone that’s interested has a read through, and I also hope all of you eclectic programmers out there keep blogging, speaking, and sharing. You’re what makes it so much fun to be a Rubyist right now!

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