This post is one of frustration after a day of struggling with my tools, the project environment, my computer, and bashing my head against a problem. I’m calling this day “Trampled by Yaks”.

I have been working on Rails applications for a long time. I’ve worked on them starting back in 2007, and have been doing them pretty steadily for the past several years. I’ve gone from working on projects on the host machine, usually OSX, but sometimes Ubuntu GNU/Linux as well. I’ve used tools such as RVM, rbenv, and chruby. I’ve used Vagrant and VirtualBox. I’ve tried out Docker. None of these have presented real problems for me.

But today, things just collided. I was working on my current gig, trying to get an understanding of how things needed to work for a particular feature (EPS Thumbnails in case anyone’s interested in that). However, I kept running into very strange problems.

A particular file was getting prematurely truncated, causing the entire operation to fail. This didn’t happen to anyone else on the team, nor was it happening in staging or production. The other two developers work directly on their company-provided macbooks. As a contractor, I’m responsible to provide my own hardware. There are differences in how we approach development. As this machine is my personal machine, with all my own projects, photos, music and so on, I don’t particularly want to contaminate it or jeopardize these things with work projects. This is why I use Vagrant as my development and test environments.

Things weren’t working. Even rolling everything back to the develop branch, what I was trying to do was failing in this one, repeatable way.

The key parts:

The odd behaviour was not detected by any of our tests, which all passed while running on my VM. Even casual GUI-based interaction with the sample test files worked fine. But when given another file, in particular a PDF file, the operations for thumbnailing completely b0rk3d.

My colleagues and I found examples of similar failures, but trying the fixes proferred proved fruitless.

While attempting to upgrade the various pieces, also, I ran into huge problems getting things to work. There were permission errors, download errors, and I even found a copy of vagrant in a place I was not expecting.

The struggle went on all day.

By the end, I had decided to dump anything to do with VMs, VirtualBox, and Vagrant on this project. As my colleagues were able to develop on OSX, I went that route as well.

Installing the necessary software at this point was trivial: Ruby, Rails, MongoDB, ImageMagick, and Redis were already installed, just needed to be upgraded. That was really the extent of the dependencies.

After that, things worked as expected. Only 9.5 hours into the day.

I have no learnings from this yet, and no forward solutions at this point except to keep plugging. I never did yet figure out what was causing the problem in the first place.

Perhaps I really need to invest in a work-only computer, so I can treat it like shit without worrying about breaking my own things.

Code on.


Links that helped out today: