Guy Royse

Work. Life. Code. Game. Later. Rinse. Repeat.

Coding in the Clink

One of the people I have the distinct pleasure of working with at Pillar is Dan Wiebe. He loves to code more than anyone I have ever met. He is smart, focused, and just ever so slightly crazy.

And every Tuesday evening Dan goes to prison.

No, he’s not on work release. He’s there to teach about a dozen inmates how to code. In all fairness, Dan isn’t actually teaching them to code, they are doing that themselves. However, he is there to provide direction, experience, and wisdom. He is there to provide the perspective of the outside as it relates to coding, to help give them a skill that they can use if and when they get out, and – I think – more then anything to provide them some hope.

Prisoners are people that much of the world wants to turn their back on. If people think of them at all they assume that they are all “bad people” and they deserve to be there. I can’t refute the argument that they deserve to be there as, in many cases, it is true. However, in my experience, there are no “bad people”. There are only bad choices. And when you start to interact with prisoners you quickly realize that the number of steps between you and them really isn’t that many. A bad choice or two and you could end up in the same place as them.

My father spent time in prison when I was a kid. He made plenty of bad choices and I know for a fact that he deserved the time he spent in prison but I would never say that he was a bad man. He wasn’t even my biological father, but he raised me as his own and cleaned up his life because of his love for me and my sister.

In most cases, prisoners will be released one day and they need to be able to function in society. They will need a job. They will need to be able to work with others. Technology may have passed them by while in prison and they will need time and assistance in adjusting.

My cousin spent ten years in prison. I remember when his sister and I first picked him up. We gave him a cell phone so he could talk to his mother. He kept moving the cell phone from his ear to his mouth and back again because he didn’t understand how the microphone could pick possibly up his voice without being in front of his mouth. He had never used a phone without a handset.

While in prison my father got sober and it helped to keep him that way. While in prison my cousin studied horticulture and was able to get a job within weeks of getting out. They were able to do this because people were willing to go inside and help them.

So, last month, I decided to help Dan and go to prison too.

Fortunately, Dan has a good forum for introducing people to working with prisoners. He calls it “Coding in the Clink”. In a sense it is like a Coderetreat in prison. Lots of people gather for the day to practice their skills. There is food provided. We test drive our code. We pair.

But the pairing is always aligned prisoner to visitor. The prisoners code with each other all the time, they need an outside perspective. A visitor could pair up with another visitor any time they wanted. There is no reason to come to prison to pair with someone you could meet with at Panera.

The format is also different. The coding is in Java for reasons Dan explains elsewhere. We normally pair on a machine for an iteration and the next pair on that machine picks up the code where it was left off instead of deleting and starting over. At the end of the day we come back to our original machine with our original pairing partner to see how the code we started changed over the course of the day.

Also, we do not code the Game of Life as the longer format requires a longer exercise. At the Coding in the Clink that I attended, I was quite please to be working on the Evercraft Kata that George Walters (who was also in attendance) and I put together a couple of years ago. That made this event a little extra-special.

But it wasn’t the only special thing. Uncle Bob was there as well as his son Micah. They paired with the prisoners and provided instructive feedback during the retrospectives. Muy cool!

I personally paired with five prisoners that day. Three stand out in my mind. One had been a programmer before he came to prison – he was sharp and we wrote much code. One had been programming for a week – we spent our session teaching him some basics. Another was studying electrical engineering at college when he came to prison 20 years ago – I worked with him last and we spent our session refactoring a mess we had inherited.

Lunch was pizza and pop, another way in which Coding in the Clink varies from a Coderetreat. But we socialized for a good bit and talked about what we were learning and teaching and doing. It felt like a Coderetreat as we were just geeks discussing what we enjoy.

Looking at all this from the point of view of the prisoners, this was a wonderful day. They got to meet and pair directly with Uncle Bob, they had a room full of visitors (some of them women – woohoo!), they got to work on an exercise with the folks who created it, and they got pizza and Mountain Dew for lunch.

From my point of view, the whole event wasn’t about my kata, or Uncle Bob being there, or hacking all day, or even pizza. Those things were cool and I enjoyed myself very much. But really, I wasn’t there for those reasons.

I was there because there are no bad people just bad choices. I was there because the people on the inside needed my help. I was there because they are people.

I’m going to continue going to prison with Dan. Others helped the people in my life when they were in prison. People that I don’t even know. People that wanted to be part of the solution. I want to be part of the solution too.

— February 13, 2014

Client-Side Session Handling

OK. Let’s say you’ve got some big, bulky, enterprisey application. This application consists of an outer page (probably called index.jsp or something like that) that never moves and assorted iframe tags for portlets and tabs.

The first through you probably have is “Ewwww, iframes, really?” You’re second thought is probably that this is an application very much like the one Guy works with. And, I hope, your third thought is one of sympathy for me since I have to work on such an application. But I digress, como siempre.

Also, this application has session data that needs to be shared between portlets and tabs and across tabs and all other sorts of complex interactions. And, you want to do this client side for performance reasons. How, pray tell, can you do this without writing spaghetti code?

If you’re really smart (and you are, right?) you’re probably just saying that I should use HTML5 Local Storage and be done with it. Great idea! I even wrote ProtonDB, a framework to make this sort of thing super-easy. But, alas, I’m stuck in Enterpriseland and HTML5 is not permitted because it’s new and we fear newness because it is fraught with risk and uncertainty.

But, I do have an elegant solution to the problem and the key lies in the fact that the parent page doesn’t move. And since it doesn’t move it can simply hold my session state in a JavaScript object. I can define this object with one line of code and import the .js file in all HTML pages (i.e. each portlet, tab, and the outer page)

var session  = session || parent.session || {};

This code is simple and complex. Make sense of that! It assigns session if it hasn’t been assigned yet. Since the outer page loads first, it gets defined there initially because session doesn’t exist, and parent.session doesn’t exist. All of the iframes then evaluate this same code and session doesn’t exists but parent.session does. And, just in case someone has defined this already we’ll always assign session to session if it exists.

To use the code simply modify the session object. For example: = 'bar'

Now I like to know what I’ve put in session so that I have a feel for how big it is. So I actually use a slightly more complex pattern. I define a session object with explicit accessors so the code tells me what’s stored there. And I use a closure so no one can mess with my internal state and they have to go through the defined session object. Here’s the code:

var session = session || parent.session || (function() {
  var sessionValues = {};
  return {
    setFoo : function(value) { = value;
    getFoo : function() {

In this case, you would use the code like this:


A little extra code, sure, but I think the value add is worth it.

While I hope you don’t have to use this pattern and can instead just enjoy HTML5 goodness, if you need it, here it is. Enjoy!

— March 10, 2011

Disconnected HTML5, JavaScript, the iPhone & I

I’ve been working on a simple test case for a disconnected HTML5 application for the iPhone/iTouch off and on for the past couple of weeks. It’s a points calculator for a popular weight loss program who shall remain anonymous. Anyhow, I thought this would be a handy tool for my wife and I and it would be a nice and simple application to test a disconnected HTML5 application from the iPhone.

So, I present to you Puntos. Full source code is available on github but here’s how I wrote it.

Step #1: Write an HTML5 and JavaScript Application

The application I developed is not remarkable. In fact, it is a simple math problem. Peruse the source if you want details on how it works. The important part is that it has the following files:


Just create the files for your application (or copy mine) and make it do what it does. I’m assuming you know how to program in JavaScript and HTML.

Step #2: Make it iPhone Friendly

If you want it to be a cool iPhone HTML5 application, you have to provide an icon from the iPhone desktop. You can do this by creating a file called iphone-icon.png and placing it in the root of you project. This little file is the favicon.ico of the Apple Mobile world. It is a 45 pixel by 45 pixel PNG that your iPhone or iTouch will use if you decided to save a link to a website on your desktop.

So, just create this file with your favorite image editing program (I used Gimp) and save it with the other files.

Step #3: Add the Caching Magic

Here’s where the fun comes in. We can finally make the application disconnected. The magic lies in an attribute on the html tag pointing the browser to a cache.manifest file. This file then tells the browser which files to cache and serve up when there isn’t a network connection.

So, simply add something like this to your HTML file.

<html manifest="cache.manifest">

This tells your browser to load up the file in the manifest attribute. The filename can be anything but I would recommend having it end in .manifest as this makes setting up the content type later much easier.

The cache.manifest is simplicity itself:


It simple contains the words CACHE MANIFEST at the top and lists all the files needed by the application.

You might note that I did not include the index.html and you would be correct. This is because the browser will assume that the file you loaded in the initial request is part of the cache.manifest. No need to specify. However, if you have several HTML files, you will need to specify them all in your cache.manifest as there is no way to know which file you entered the application from.

Step #4: Serving Up text/cache-manifest

It turns out that the cache.manifest file must be served up with a content type of text/cache-manifest. It also turns out that most web servers aren’t configured by default to do this since this is all bleeding edge and stuff.

So, you need to add it yourself. If you are using an apache server you can add the content type to your .htaccess file. Add the following line and you should be golden.

AddType text/cache-manifest .manifest

Step #5: Access the Application from Your iPhone & Troubleshoot

Your application should now work. So go access it. Then turn on Airplane Mode and refresh the application. I should reload gorgeously. If it doesn’t, go back and troubleshoot. But you knew that already.

One caveat though. I had a hell of a time trying to get the application to work disconnected until I rebooted my iTouch (I don’t have an iPhone because I’m lame). So, if everything looks like it should work but isn’t then you might want to try turning off your iPhone by pressing and holding the power button until it shuts down completely.

So, those are the steps I followed to get my first disconnected iPhone application working with HTML5, JavaScript, and some cache.manifest magic. Now go out and write me a game or something.

Also, for more information on HTML5 and disconnected applications check out this fine website.

— February 23, 2011

Fun With Windows

OK. Just spent 3 hours of my life that I will never get back trying to troubleshoot and issue with Windows 7 and USB devices that I was having. Figured it out so I thought I would share the problem and solution.

The Problem

Whenever I would plug a new USB device in, it would not be detected by Windows. Instead I would get a driver not found error and no amount of troubleshooting on Windows’ part would help. This affected a new keyboard and mouse I purchased (Logitech MK520) and an old headset that I had lying around. It was also affecting my iPod but I didn’t realize that until after the fact.

In the case of my mouse and keyboard I would see in Device Manager a device names USB Receiver with an annoyed looking yellow icon resting upon it. No amount of messing with the icon helped.

All very frustrating because the hardware would detect the new keyboard and mouse. When I booted the system and accessed the BIOS menu the keyboard worked. The mouse was listed as detected. Everything seemed fine.


After much searching of the web in frustration. (Did I mention it was frustrating) I finally found some people actually having the same problem. No solutions, mind you, but the same problem. I determined from the gist of all this posts that it was something to do with the USB drivers. Not the mouse drivers or the keyboard drivers or the headset drivers but the core USB drivers from Windows 7.

So I removed them all in Device Manager and rebooted so they could be reinstalled. This worked – briefly. When the drivers were gone the mouse started working. But Windows quickly fixed that and reinstalled the drivers and I was back to a non-functioning mouse and keyboard.

The Solution

Finally I came across some forum posts suggesting that usb.inf and usb.pnf should exist in Windows\inf and if they didn’t that would cause this issue. So, I Googled to find the files and copied them in. Then I removed the annoyed USB Receiver driver and detected new devices.

Voila! It works.

Hope this helps someone else.

— February 03, 2011

The Rules of Code Club

I hereby establish the rules of Code Club.

  1. The first rule of Code Club is, you always write tests first at Code Club.
  2. The second rule of Code Club is, you ALWAYS WRITE TESTS FIRST at Code Club.
  3. If someone says stop, gets stuck, gets bored, the pair switches.
  4. Two coders to a keyboard.
  5. One keyboard at a time.
  6. No mice, no copy and paste.
  7. Coding will go on as long as is has to.
  8. If this is your first time at Code Club, you have to code

Carry on.

— September 14, 2010