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First LAT app (or the butterfly on my windowsill)

http://projects.latimes.com/prop8

So, there’s that. First launch!

My checklist:

  • Figure out what part of journalism inspires me. CHECK (Data, programming)
  • Find place where I can learn about it from others, but have freedom to try out my ideas and learn from knowledgeable and patient folks. CHECK (LAT)
  • Use this opportunity to learn enough about programming to create at least one app. CHECK (See first line of post)

That was a good time.

I’m planning a post on best practices for creating a searchable database application like this, with examples, and technical geekery, and all that, and I’d love your thoughts in the meantime.  Let me know if you have specific questions.

But in a moment of self-reflection, I’d just like to say this.

I was sitting in my apartment this morning, and found that a butterfly had somehow gotten in (blame a broken screen, maybe).  It sat on my windowsill, facing the outside world.  It would feel around the window, trying to find an opening.  After circling the perimeter of the window, it laid back down, almost motionless, just searching.  An hour later, the cycle repeated.  Wanting to help the poor butterfly, after watching it struggle, I tried to capture it in a small box to take it downstairs.  It was too smart for that.  Fine.  What actually worked?  Covering all the windows and opening the balcony door.  You can’t force the butterfly out, even though you’re helping, it had to find the path out on its own.

Why do I bring this up?  Am I slowly going insane after spending the day with Dive Into Python (rec’d)?  Perhaps. But I have a point.

Let’s take the common journalist, yearing to know more about data-driven apps.  (I can’t be the only one, I just can’t!)  I search for the answers, voraciously read, alternate between laying still while observing the space and wandering around the perimeter, feeling it out, trying to dip my toe in the water.  I jump into the pool, head-first, realize it’s not working.  Can’t do it on my own.  Many people who’ve already made the journey try to help.  But they just can’t just give me the knowledge, can’t just take me to my goal, can’t just make it happen.  They must lead me there, give me the same resources they used.  Recommend the books, the sites. But in the end, I’ve got to find my own way out of the house, the prison of not knowing enough coding basics to begin.  Pushes in the right direction, guiding me away from those false starts, this is essential.

I’d just like to take a moment to thank the experts, who guide me away from the false starts, who don’t give up when I keep turning the wrong way.  In particular, in terms of the programming skills I’m learning, it’s Ben Welsh (who I happen to have been working most closely with), who exercises that kind of patience.  Who never tells me not to fly into that closed window, because while it was closed for him, I might discover a way to get out.  Of course, I don’t, and he’s no less interested in helping me get back on course. Thanks!

Still a long way to go.  So, what’s changed?  Now, I’ve gotten outside.  I made my first app.  When someone asks me what steps make up a project, how long it’ll take, I can give a legitimate answer, or know how to find one.

I still remember wondering if I could ever build an application.  And Derek said to me, “There’s only one way to find out.”  Derek, who I used to bug on a daily basis about this stuff.  Derek, who I haven’t asked a Python/Django question of since March.  I’m the LAT’s problem now!

Well, as Derek said, find out we did.  Time to push it further, I say.

There’s a whole world to explore now that I’ve escaped being stuck inside.  LAT folks, prepare yourself, the questions you’ve seen so far are only the beginning.

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Fighting for my life: The largest battle I ever won » »