As a generalist in the technology space, I’m constantly on the lookup for “Secret Weapons”. I’m not even sure when I first started using that euphemism, but that’s often how I think about a lot of technology. Ubuntu and/or Debian linux is an example. For running a service, it’s inexpensive, effective, and it has my one of favorite secret weapons:
apt-get update apt-get dist-upgrade
That’s in my arsenal of secret weapons to “keep stuff running”. There are also secret weapons for getting applications written. Cocoa is one – specific for Mac based applications, I’d even say that for Windows applications, Visual Studio and .NET is another. For web applications, Django.
One of the interesting things about secret weapons is that they’re not point and click. They don’t even necessarily have an incredibly high “ease of use” quotient. What makes them secret weapons is that they’re incredibly long levels. You might have to do a little learning to use that lever, but once you have that learning under your belt – you can move mountains.
I’ve been learning (or trying to learn) Ruby on Rails for the past week or so. Yeah, that’s not much time. I’ve had a lot of reasonably smart people describe it’s effectiveness as what I’d normally called a secret weapon for myself. I think that makes it all the more frustrating that I happened to start learning just after Rails released 2.0 of their code base, with a lot of deprecations and some lack of backward compatibility. The real bitch is that a whole bunch of written detail has just gotten significantly less valuable. It’s frustrating is all. The hard part is really not just saying to hell with it and going back to using Django because I know I can get stuff done quickly with it.
I’ve got to say though, that the Rails community could do quite a bit to learn from the Django community on it’s level of documentation. Having a tutorial to get you walking on the project web site would be incredibly valuable. Then there’s the online Django Book for getting more in depth. I’ve got a copy of the PickAxe book and Pragmatic‘s Agile Web Development with Ruby on Rails (First Edition). From what I can find online, even the latest versions of these guys aren’t going to have me quite up to date with Rails 2.0.