May 282014

cue Ozzy Osbourne laughter…

This blog is coming to you direct from Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 95, where Stoney Jackson and I are on our way to POSSE 2014 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. This is becoming an annual tradition for us.

So, why is it called the Coding Train? Because we are spending the 5 hour train ride writing code!

When we did this for the first time last year, we worked on the code for the grading scripts that I had started writing in bash ( Stoney started adding error checking, and then a Python version – neither of which he finished, but we learned a lot about how GitHub works for collaborative development.

This year we discussed a number of options for what project we would sprint on (after we spent a lot of time on professor-talk about curricula, and courses, and learning outcomes, and assessment) but we ended up back on the same project. This time our starting point was the Python conversion of the original scripts that I had started in December, and which I had just begun to refactor this month (

Stoney has been doing some serious refactoring on the code, adding one major new feature: a JSON configuration file so that I don’t need 15 different scripts – just different configuration files to pass to a single, more general script. He’s also undertaken a major cleanup of the code, and added the project’s first unit test!

I, on the other hand, have been installing tools that Stoney suggested – git flow and git bash prompt, and in the process having to debug my Mac’s installation of Homebrew and cleaning up my .bashrc file (being completely ignored by my shell) and my .bash_profile file (full of lots of cruft from previous installs.)

Stoney has just pushed his branch, so now it’s time for me to pull it, and test it on some data on my computer. And we’re almost to Philadelphia, so just in time…

  One Response to “All Aboard the Coding Train!”

  1. I’d suggest using YAML over JSON for config files. JSON is very limited and not very user friendly when it comes to editing. YAML is a superset of JSON, so all JSON can be read via YAML, but also supports user-friendly features like comments and referencing other values in the config.

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