The making of solitr.com (source at github.com/joliss/solitr), a CoffeeScript solitaire, in one 18-hour hackathon:
9:15 am: Shreeeek-shreeek-shreeeeeeeek! Get-up-get-dressed-have-breakfast-coffee-go-go-go.
9:50 am: Sit down at laptop. What do I name my project? What CSS syntax do I use? What CSS libraries?
10:45 am: Too much reading, let’s just decide and keep moving! “rails new solitaire” (it’s 100% static, but I need Rails’s asset handling with Sprockets), drop in yui-reset. Make controller, route root to play#index.
12:15 pm: Microwave-yesterday’s-food-have-lunch-coffee-go-go-go-keep-moving!
12:35 pm: Finish up data model. Make presentation layer. Code up CSS for makeshift card rendering. Drop in Underscore.js for more coding sanity.
4:00 pm: Work-in-progress (completely static): 1db97387. Next up is event-handling. Read up on jQuery’s .on. Figure out how to drop in jQuery 1.7 without making frickin jquery-rails unhappy with its outdated jQuery. Code up some easy events.
6:30 pm: Put-pizza-in-the-oven-go-jogging-yes-it’s-cold-but-you-gotta-keep-running-for-30-minutes-or-your-brain-will-be-fried-by-midnight. Get-back-exhausted-pizza-ready-house-not-burnt-down-very-good-let’s-eat-eat-eat. Coffee. Back-to-coding-no-time-to-waste!
7:40 pm: Brain in reasonable condition. 7.5 hours to go, still on schedule I think. Time to start reading about dragging and dropping. Painful stuff as expected.
10:35 pm: Houston! Problem! The way I set up the DOM structure is not looking to work out with drag’n’drop. Check in work-in-progress and revert to 7:40 pm instantly. Three hours lost, I think I’m off schedule now. Let’s try again, using HTML/CSS only as a dumb rendering canvas, with less DOM structure.
11:05 pm: Yup, looking better. Now for dragging and dropping, fingers crossed. Time’s tight.
2:25 am: First working version: c475ae9e. Tired, but brain’s still producing reasonable code. Time to drop in a pretty card deck with CSS sprite handling, test, fix undo handling, add double-clicking, “you win” message, “new game” buttons, make production environment work, test some more.
5:35 am: It got late, but I’m done: 18961aa1. More than 2h over budget, my 18h hackathon has become a 20h hackathon. And dragging of multiple cards has a rendering issue. Still, I’m very happy with the result. Brain is fried, off to bed.
(And the next day I set up solitr.com and pushed the code to github.com/joliss/solitr. But I’ll blog about the whole domain/DNS/deployment thing some other time in detail.)
Oh my gosh. This was so much fun. I’ll definitely do hackathons again. Being able to whip up a webapp on a whim is such a good feeling. Also, I picked up a lot of CoffeeScript and jQuery that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
I’ve found that by doing a hackathon, I’m forced to just keep working, so I’m producing code all day. I’ve rarely gotten so much output from my brain in one day.
Pulling 18 hour work-days, of course, is rather not sustainable, let alone the 20 real hours that it turned into. But when you’re writing an app from scratch, it’s only satisfying if at the end you have it actually working, so compromising on scope is not really an option. I think the better alternative is trying to get faster at creating new apps. Now that I know my way around the basics of CoffeeScript and jQuery, I think I might be able to do the same thing in 16 hours, which seems much more reasonable.
Next time I’ll try to get started faster at the beginning (less agonizing about things like the name or the CSS library — it’s all trivial to change later), and I’ll also try to be more disciplined in the last 2 hours to not let non-essential features creep in.
Update Feb 2012: Read up on how I rewrote Solitr around MVC.