Learning Ruby: Opening Moves

As the Praxis Fellows wrapped up Ivanhoe, I turned my attention to the Praxis Network. The Praxis Network, which showcases eight like-minded, but differently enacted programs all exploring new ways of teaching humanities students, began with the goals of creating an easy way to compare a variety of programs and to provide a model for others. The success of the website, prompted new goals of better networking students within the Network as well as allied programs.

After a few conversations with Bethany, Wayne, and Jeremy, we had a basic outline for an open directory of like-minded programs and another directory of Praxis Network students. I realized pretty quickly it is easy to talk through an idea, but much more difficult for me to break the larger idea into a series of small steps. Often breaking down the big into the small makes a great deal of sense; my challenge was to realize small, in this case, means exceptionally tiny and extremely specific.

Creating the open directory of ‘fellow traveler’ programs began with a series of drawings defining (and redefining) directory. How would people contribute information? How would I collect the data and publish to the web? A sketch:

  • create Google Form
  • pull data from form and write Markdown Files
  • edit if needed
  • add to git
  • push to gh-pages and voila!, published

Simple, right? Now, the reality–I am new to Ruby and to using git. After creating the Google Form, I installed Ruby and the gems google_drive, dotenv, and rake. We, then, created a git repository and a .gitignore file. Next, Wayne and I created a .env file to keep passwords and form keys private. After the initial set up, I was ready to tackle the Rakefile.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the Rakefile. At the moment, I am working with metaphors, which is not best practice when thinking about the highly specific process of laying out a series of steps for the computer to follow. Even so, I think of the Rakefile as a scratchpad to experiment with the series of instructions. First, I defined the requirements (the gems I previously installed–ruby-gems, dotenv, and google_drive) and defined the necessary tasks (import data from Google Drive) and methods (loop over this data and make a Markdown file for each row passed to it). I am still working on defining the content to display online. The next step is to investigate using Jekyll categories as a way to filter programs.

My biggest challenge, so far, has been that I have not devoted regularly scheduled time to working. Chunking an hour or so when it was convient means I have not internalized basic commands. Worse, each time I return to the script, I need to re-familiarize myself with each element within it. To address this, I have scheduled daily time on my calendar (with reminders) and have begun Ruby the Hard Way and Ruby Koans.

The Scholars' Lab fosters a vibrant graduate community, rich with alumni, current fellows, student assistants, and fellow travelers. As the Head of Graduate Programs, I coordinate our two fellowship programs, the Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities and our innovative Praxis Program. In addition, I work with the international Praxis Network, which showcases new models of…

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