Guest at the Frontend Friday podcast

If you understand Finnish, you can enjoy an episode of the Frontend Friday podcast with the theme of Hypermedia APIs. I was happy to be invited to discuss about what Hypermedia APIs are, why I find them interesting, how would you start implementing them and other Hypermedia API related topics.

You can download the episode and view the shownotes at the Frontend Friday website.

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Exercise is a canary of a coal mine for the body

I've noticed that for me exercise works as a canary of a coal mine for the body. When the body is getting overstressed, it is first noticeable during exercise.

Things like flu, small aches and stiffness in the body are normal in human life. Urban life and stationary jobs strain the body. Usually these smaller things pass on their own and you don't pay too much attention on them. But sometimes those are a signal of something bigger. A disease that needs treatment or overstress that you should react to.

For me exercise works great on separating the signals that are meaningful and need to be reacted to. Exercise stresses the body in different way than home and work life. I do CrossFit exercise twice a week and have been doing for three years. If for many workouts in succession I don't feel normal, it is usually a sign that it is not the normal everyday things going on. I notice it from being out of breath easily and muscle pain after workouts being greater and taking longer to pass.

I also follow my workout results (using our own workout journal app WODconnect). My memory for results is horrible so having a place for the results that makes them comparable over time is very valuable. Sometimes not being able to get the results I have been previously been capable of is also a sign of something more severe (sometimes it is just being tired from previous workouts or something else).

Listening to your body is never stupid but it is especially important when exercising.

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Reading list 2013

2013 was a good reading year for me and I thought I'd share the books that influenced me the most during the year.

Overall I read 55 books (of which 10 were comic books). I use GoodReads to track my reading so you can view my full reading list there and even follow my "reviews" if you are really interested.

The books

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

So Good They Can't Ignore You

The title sounds rather self-helpish but reading the author's Study Hacks blog made me interested. Newport has been studying remarkable careers and the book formulates rules based on the that.

Perhaps the most controversial bit is the idea that you should not follow your passion but start learning valuable skills. Newport says that passion is dangerous because having passion is so rare that it being a precursor for a great career is depressing and confusing. After you have advanced skills and knowledge on an area the passion will come automatically. Waiting for the passion to appear is not an effective strategy. Working right trumps finding the right work.

Book offers a models for improving your skills, steering your work choices to maximize control, and on formulating an underlying mission for your career. I had bunch of light bulb moments with this book and would recommend it to anyone pondering where she is going next with her work life.

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen

Buddhism Plain and Simple

I've been reading some Buddhist material during the past few years and I found this book to be great summary of many Buddhist ideas. It is stripped from any extra layers and presents the ideas in a clear way. I would recommend it to people who are interested in Buddhism on all knowledge levels of the subject.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Great stories from one of my favorite scientist. I've watched videos and read stories about Feynman earlier but this was the first book I read about him. I also read the second book What Do You Care What Other People Think? but didn't enjoy it as much because it was more fragmented collection of random events from his life.

Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro

Design Is a Job

Mike Montero has a unique speaking and writing voice which I enjoy. Book is about his learnings from running his design consultancy Mule Design. Book has good points to be applied on my own work, especially on client relationships. I would recommend it to anyone running a business that serves clients with professional services.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow

The book is a summary of research done by the author on the area of cognitive biases, his work on prospect theory and on happiness. Underlying idea of most of Kahneman's research is based on separation of two modes of thinking: faster, intuitive system and slower, logical system. He goes through how the systems work in unison and what kind of behavioral patterns emerge from that.

The book is a bit long to my taste but it is easy to follow and I think knowing about the biases of our own thinking has is beneficial to everyone.

Comics

Fok_It by Joonas Rinta-Kanto (books 1-4)

Fok_It 1

Only available in Finnish. I enjoyed the whole available catalogue of Fok_It albums. It is just my kind of humour.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi

A love story set in Islamic world. The visual design is really great and with over 600 pages you get a lot to see. Anyone who enjoys great illustration and graphical storytelling should grab this one.

Extra pick

DJ-kirja by Matti Nives & Iina Esko

DJ-kirja

I actually finished reading this on 2014 but I'll include it anyway. This one is also only available in Finnish. The book includes essays about DJ culture, interviews of DJ's and a section on club flyers from Finnish point of view. As a music nerd I really enjoyed all the view points and stories from familiar faces.


Next year I'm going to aim for 50 read books and try to start a habit of writing notes or mini-reviews of the books I read. It takes some work but in the long run you get a quite nice library of good notes you can read to remind you on the important points. For example checkout out Derek Sivers' book notes with short summaries and longer notes.

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Kippt gem 3.0 released

Kippt logo

I've been working on the Kippt gem this December and this release bundles all the work together.

Biggest change that calls for the major version number bump is changing all the APIs to return proxies so that the user of the library gets full control on what is loaded from the server. Backwards compability has been kept when possible but here it couldn't be kept.

Feature additions are mostly providing methods for actions that the library didn't support before like favoriting clips, checking if authenticated user follows a list, more filtering options when loading clips and so on. Non-feature related changes are removing total count from fetched collections because it has been depreacted by Kippt, deprecating support for Ruby 1.8.7 because it is not supported any more and improving test coverage of the library.

Read about all the changes from the CHANGELOG and install from RubyGems.

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Signing and encrypting data with tools built-in to Rails

I have released that many people working with Ruby on Rails are not aware that it provides classes for signing and verifying messages and encrypting and decrypting them. ActiveSupport::MessageVerifier and ActiveSupport::MessageEncryptor are used by Rails to implement encrypted session stored in a browser cookie, but you can use them yourself to encrypt data.

Using both classes is simple. Here is an example of using MessageVerifier:

verifier = ActiveSupport::MessageVerifier.new('your-secret')
message = "String that is prevented from tampering."
# Sign the message...
signed_message = verifier.generate(message)
# and verify it.
verified = verifier.verify(signed_message)

# Verified message equals the original message
verified == message #=> true

If the string is tampered #verify will raise ActiveSupport::MessageVerifier::InvalidSignature exception.

MessageEncryptor works in similar way:

salt  = SecureRandom.random_bytes(64)
key   = ActiveSupport::KeyGenerator.new('password').
          generate_key(salt)

message = "Encrypted string."
encryptor = ActiveSupport::MessageEncryptor.new(key)
# Encrypt the message...
encrypted_message = encryptor.encrypt_and_sign(message)
# and decrypt it.
decrypted = encryptor.decrypt_and_verify(encrypted_message)

# Decrypted message equals the original message
decrypted == message #=> true

If the string is tampered #decrypt_and_verify will raise ActiveSupport::MessageEncryptor::InvalidMessage exception.

Documentation is available for both MessageVerifier and MessageEncryptor. For real world example of using these facilities you can view how Rails uses them to implement encrypted cookies.

So the next time you need to encrypt data, you don't have to implement your own (probably insecure) solution but you can reach for ActiveSupport.

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