The Rails project on top of which I needed to build some dynamic jQuery features had evolved over time into a hulking Frankenstein’s monster, bristling with obscure nuts and bolts and dragging bits of clanking functionality behind it. I had started way back in the Sinatra section with an already fairly complex model (described here), and then made matters worse by indulging in some attempts at cleverness (described here). As a result, when the time came to add jQuery on top of it, it felt a little like trying to erect a cathedral on top of a house of cards. Before I could get started with the jQuery part, I had to undo a lot of stuff I’d done previously and get back to a solid foundation. And before I could do that, I had to identify the stuff that needed to be undone and figure out how to undo it. It was overwhelming.
Slowdown factor #1: Overwhelmed Brain
So I started drawing diagrams and making lists. I needed to wrap my head around the pieces I wanted to render using jQuery instead of Rails, how everything was currently tied together, and what I needed to re-engineer to get where I was going.
Slowdown factor #2: Wrapping my head around the task
First, I had to figure out which pieces I couldn’t just build jQuery on top of. One example was how the creation of reports was handled. It started with this screen:
The user selects the date, then adds the first banding record into the table. Clicking Continue does several things: 1) creates the report, 2) creates an instance of birds_of_species (which is the join table: reports have many birds_of_species and have many species through birds_of_species), and 3) redirects to the edit page:
For one thing, I had to figure out how to separate the creation of the report from the creation of the instances of birds_of_species, since I only wanted to create the report once but a report could have many birds_of_species. I suppose I could have used find_or_create_by but I decided to make the report creation a separate step instead, mostly because that approach seemed less clunky and more elegant, but also because I could fix a couple of other things while I was at it. So now the first step in creating a report looks like this:
Clicking continue creates the report instance then redirects to this page:
Here, jQuery takes over. Once the user enters a banding record and clicks Add More, jQuery creates an instance of birds_of_species, appends the new record to the DOM, and adds a blank line for the next record:
A couple of other things changed in the process. As mentioned above, in the Rails-only version of the app, entering the first banding record created the report and the first instance of birds_of_species and then redirected to the edit page. This was problematic because the process of editing already-entered data got jumbled up with the process of adding additional banding records, which was suboptimal from both a programming and a user experience standpoint. So, in the process of separating the creation of the report from the creation of banding records, I created an add_birds action, separate from the edit action. This not only made more sense separation-of-concerns-wise, it also improved the user experience. In the Rails-only version of adding banding records everything on the screen was editable and it wasn’t clear what would happen if the user made changes to existing information and added a new record. In the current screen for adding birds (above) the only action that can be taken on that screen is adding a new banding record. In the current screen for editing existing birds (below), the only action that can be taken is editing existing information.
Slowdown factor #3: Fixing things that didn’t need to be fixed
Technically, not all of this stuff really needed to be fixed in order for me to meet the requirements of the jQuery project. I could have just created a separate page, thrown together a little html, and created the necessary jQuery there. However, I almost certainly would have learned less from the process and the app definitely would have suffered for it. Whether it was worth such a lengthy detour, I’m not entirely sure…