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Ruby, Rails, Sass, Unix. Hopefully.

Read Your Newsbeuter Feeds in Epub Format

I love newsbeuter CLI RSS reader. When I discovered it I saw that it was what I had been looking for quite a long time. Very quick and easy to navigate through the feeds, when I find one that seems interesting enough, I press the o key and I can read it in full-colors mode in my GUI web browser.

I also love calibre recipes API. After hours working in front of my computer screen, sometimes I don’t want to read anything more in it and thanks to it I can convert any RSS feed to an epub.

However, I don’t like to do things twice, so when I find a new interesting RSS I don’t want to add it first to newsbeuter and later prepare a calibre recipe for it. So I thought it would be great to have a calibre recipe which feeds are taken directly from newsbeuter url files.

The following is a dynamic calibre recipe which feeds are taken from ~/.newsbeuter/urls. It expects the lines in the urls file to be in the format:

http://address_to_the_feed.com "~Name of the feed" tags

"~" special newsbeuter tag is intended to be the feed name. In my script it must be the first to appear after the url. If you don’t like it, it is very easily modificable.

Running ebook-convert newsbeuter.recipe .epub will generate an epub with all the feeds from newsbeuter urls file.

Furthermore, you can filter by tags overusing the tags cli option (which will introduce that tags in the meta information for the e-book generated, but in fact it is good).

ebook-convert newsbeuter.recipe .epub --tags="english,newspaper"

The CSS is taken from gutenweb, a simple typographical stylesheet I developed to have out-of-the-box styles that should be comfortable to read. Even if it won’t be perfect for all those feeds mark-up, it is quick and realistic about the amount of time I can spend tweaking a recipe style.

A disclosure. I never program in Python except for some calibre recipe. So, sure the script has a lot of things to improve. So, please, I would be happy for any feedback.

Last, the icing on the cake, with the following function in your ~/.bashrc file you can do cool things like:

epub english newspaper

to create the epub file with all the feeds with both english and newspapertags. Of course, substitute in it the path to the newsbeuter.recipe file for the one you need.

Append Issue Number to Commit Message Automatically With Git Hooks

A great feature in the integration between issue tracking systems and repository hosting services is the possibility to reference an issue from a commit message. You add the issue number and everything gets nicely linked, allowing the subsequent exploration of all commits that led to an issue resolution.

But long numbers are mainly for machines, and it is a pain having to add the issue number each time you commit something, specially if, like me, you tend to commit quite often.

This repetitive and boring task is ideal for some kind of computing automatism magic, and git hooks has a lot of it.

Git comes with the prepare-commit-msg hook, which, as its man page states:

The purpose of the hook is to edit the message file in place […]

Just taking some consideration about our workflow and our preferences we can get a lot of benefit from it. Following, I explain what works for me, but it can be easily tweaked to adjust other preferences.

As I told before, I think long numbers are for machines, so I don’t want to give the issue number a prevailing visual importance. I just want it to be there for machines to use it. So, I don’t want the number to appear on the top commit message line, but at the beginning of the body, from where I can move it only if I need to.

But from where will the number be read? Taking advantage of another best practice like feature branches are, we can name them like user_auth-87369, where everything after the dash (–) is the issue number. Again, I want it to be at the end of the string.

Then, with the following script in the .git/hooks/prepare-commit-msg file, at every commit the number will be automatically taken and introduced in the third line of the message.

So, when the editor is opened and I edit the commit message, it would look something like that:

Add authentication gem

[#87369]
# Please enter the commit message for your changes. Lines starting
# with '#' will be ignored, and an empty message aborts the commit.
# On branch user_auth-87369
# Changes to be committed:
#   modified:   Gemfile
#

The script is really simple. To understand it, first it is good to know which parameters git passes to it. Again, from the man page:

It takes one to three parameters. The first is the name of the file that contains the commit log message. The second is the source of the commit message, and can be: message (if a -m or -F option was given); template (if a -t option was given or the configuration option commit.template is set); merge (if the commit is a merge or a .git/MERGE_MSG file exists); squash (if a .git/SQUASH_MSG file exists); or commit, followed by a commit SHA-1 (if a -c, -C or —amend option was given).

So, first the script checks if $2 is set. If so, it does nothing, because it would mean that the message is comming from the command line, a merge, a template… They are situations where usually you don’t want the issue number, even maybe it is not always the case (fit your needs). Then it uses sed to extract the number from the branch name and append it to $1, which is the name of the file containing the default commit message.

With this simple script in place, - can only be used in the branch name to separate the issue number, but for me its all right because for the other cases I use _, but, as I said, it is very easily customizable.

If you want this to be present in any brand new git repository you create, take a look at the git init template directory.

Distributable and Organized Dotfiles With Homeshick and Mr

dotfiles are the personality of your computer. Without them, it would be like any other computer in the world. That’s why it is a good idea to keep them in a distributable way, so that you can import them easily when you migrate to another system.

But dotfiles have a well-know problem when it comes to make them distributable: they are all scattered in your home directory, so it makes difficult to create repositories from them.

As far as I know, there are two main tools that help us with it:

  • vcsh allows you to mantain several git repositories in one single directory (home, when talking about dotfiles). To achieve it, it uses a little amount of magic through git internals.

  • homeshick creates regular git repositories with just one special condition: they have in their root a directory named home, inside of which you’ll put your dotfiles. Later, you can tell homeshick to symlink the contents of that directory into your actual home directory. Of course, applications using your dotfiles won’t notice the difference. (Note: homeshick is based in homesick, but I prefer the former because it is written in bash, while homesick is a ruby gem, so you would need more dependencies when importing your dotfiles to a pristine system.)

It is just a matter of taste which one to choose. Personally, I prefer homeshick because its condition about the home directory. That way I can put outside of it other files that I want to keep close of my dotfiles but not mixed in my actual home directory (remember only the contents of that directory would be symlinked), like some README or scripts to install the application that will be using that dotfiles.

Installing homeshick is very easy and you can follow its homepage instructions. Repositories created with it are called castles (just a name), and working with them is also very easy. Here it is what you could do to create your vim castle:

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homeshick generate vim-castle # Create a repository called vim-castle with an empty home directory inside
homeshick track vim-castle ~/.vimrc # Add .vimrc inside the home directory of your vim castle. Automatically ~/.vimrc is now a symlink
homeshick cd vim-castle # Enter castle
git commit -am 'Initial configuration' # Commit your changes
git remote add origin git@github.com:username/vim-castle.git # Add a remote repository
git push # Push your changes

Now we are able to create repositories from our dotfiles, keep track of our configuration changes and push them to a save place from where we will be able to pull when we need it. How would we recover them in another machine? Easy:

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homeshick clone git@github.com:username/castle-vim.git # When starting from scratch
homeshick pull vim-castle # To update it with the remote changes

So far so good. But we use vim, tmux, tmuxinator, zsh, newsbeuter, mutt… a lot of dotfiles, a lot of castles, a little mess… Why don’t we create a one single castle with all of our dotfiles? For some people it can be a reasonable option, but, in general, having them organized has some advantages:

  • You can keep different configurations for the same application. A ssh at home and another at work.

  • You can keep public the dotfiles you would like to share with the community (vim) and private the ones you don’t want to (mutt).

  • You can pick which castles you would like to recover. Maybe you don’t want newsbeuter at work.

Here it is when the other star comes in. It is myrepos, a tool that allows you to work with a lot of repositories at once. With it, you can push, pull, commit and other operations at the same time in a set of registered repositories.

Installing it is again very easy. It has a self-contained mr executable which only dependency is perl. You can have more details in its homepage. Once done, you can run mr help to know about the bunch of magic you can do with it.

Let’s see a possible workflow for our dotfiles. Imagine we have just two castles, vim-castle and tmux-castle. First, mr needs that repositories to exist in your filesystem and to already have a remote registered.

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homeshick cd vim-castle # Enter your vim castle
mr register # Register it to mr
homeshick cd tmux-castle # Enter your tmux castle
mr register # Register it to mr

Once done the above, you should have a ~/.mrconfig file with something like the following:

[.homesick/repos/vim-castle]
checkout = git clone 'git@github.com:username/vim-castle.git' 'vim-castle'

[.homesick/repos/tmux-castle]
checkout = git clone 'git@github.com:username/tmux-castle.git' 'tmux-castle'

Between the square brackets [] there are the local filesystem locations for the repositories (relative to home; the source used in he example is the default homeshick location), and the value for the checkout option is the command that mr will run to checkout your repositories.

Then, when you migrate to a new system, you just have to get your .mrconfig back (so, it is a good idea to build another castle with it) and run:

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mr checkout # Checkout all the repositories in one single command 

Or, if you prefer, you could also run mr bootstrap <url> to allow getting the mrconfig file from an external URL.

With any of the above commands, you have recovered all you castles without pain, and now you just have to create the symbolic links in your home directory:

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homeshick link # Create symlinks from all your castle files in the actual home directory

With mr the workflow is really easy. You can run mr push to update all remotes at once, mr commit -m 'message' to commit all the changes you have been doing in different castles…

Another very interesting option is to use its hooks to run scripts, for example, after checking out a castle to install the application using that castle, or simply to prepare scripts that setup other aspects of our system.

Having this bit of discipline with your dotfiles is highly rewarding. This way you can keep synchronized different systems where you work and, also, the next time you have to migrate to a new system you will only need the almost ubiquitous dependencies git, bash and perl to feel again at home.

Stop and Restart Easily a Rails Server

I like to start rails server as a daemon with rails server -d, because I don’t want a terminal window or a tmux pane just hanging around with the server foreground process.

But each time a new gem is added to the application or some changes are made in some configuration file, it is a pain to manually look for the pid in tmp/pids/server.pid, kill it and start again the server.

I wished if I could have convenient rails start, rails stop and rails restart commands to help me in the workflow. And it is very easy to get.

Bellow you’ll find a simple bash (or zsh) function that should be added to your .bashrc (or .zshrc). Once done, you’ll be able to do things like the following:

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rails start # To start the server in development environment
rails start production # To start the server in production environment
rails stop # To stop the server
rails stop -9 # To stop the server sending -9 kill signal
rails restart # To restart the server in development environment
rails restart production # To restart the server in production environment
rails whatever # Will send the call to original rails command

Here it is the function:

You see, the code has not too much mystery. Inside the else block, command is a bash built-in command which executes the given command (in this case rails), ignoring any shell function named as it (our function). So, we use it to default to original rails executable when the first argument is not start, stop or restart, passing any other argument with #@.

If you don’t feel right overwriting rails, just change the function name and remove the else block.