I’ve been doing a lot of Django coding lately, and I’ve been doing it very well. But I’ve felt bit of stagnation settling in. I’ve only been coding what I know. I needed to explore, experiment.
So I picked a couple of technologies I’ve heard about but haven’t tried, and started coding. The goal wasn’t to make something useful, it was to learn some new APIs and frameworks. I accidentally made something useful.
So here I present Prickle. Prickle is a time tracking tool for freelancers written using Pylons, CouchDB, and Jinja2. (Those are the technologies I chose to play with.) I decided to write an app to replace Freckle, a stay-out-of-your-way time tracking tool that has been highly recommended to me by favorite alternate freelancer, Dan McGee. Freckle is a great service, but I have a couple problems with it: I hate hosting my data on other people’s machines, and I hate paying money to use a service. Granted, at $12 a month, it’s going to take me years to earn back the hours I put into developing Prickle, but that’s not the point. Replacing Freckle in my daily use was just a little bonus I got while studying Pylons and CouchDB.
All Prickle does is allow me to enter the number of hours I’ve worked on a project, along with a description. It makes entering hours as simple as possible; the date is selected semi-automatically. Hours can be entered in a variety of formats (0:30, 30, 0.5, and .5 all map to 30 minutes 1, 1:00 1.0 all map to 1 hour), so it tends to “just work”. Project names are autocompleted, so it’s just a few keypresses to get to the description box. Now I type a description, press and I’m done.
There are a bunch of views of the timesheets that allow me to see how much uninvoiced time has been spent on a particular project or during a particular month or day. If I set a rate for a project, I also get a summary of how much money I’ve earned on a given day or month, or how much I’m going to have to bill a client for a specific project.
And Prickle does invoicing. It’s very simple invoicing, but very simple is all that I need. It summarizes the hours since the last invoice was created, displays them in an invoice template (I currently use print to pdf to generate the invoice. Maybe later I’ll automate sending an e-mail to clients). Even here, Prickle has some handy helpers to speed up the process. It keeps track of billing addresses for a given project, so I don’t have to enter it each time, and it guesses what the next invoice number should be so I often don’t have to type it in.
Prickle doesn’t have all the fancy graphs and reports that Freckle has, but it quickly answers the primary questions that I ask of my data: How many hours have I billed today? How much money have I earned this month? Am I on target for this project’s budget?
Prickle is open source, and I’m hoping some people will find it useful enough to contribute back to it. I use it daily already, and don’t really have any complaints. Some things I intend to add include:
* A timer with a pause button. I hated this when I first tried Freckle, but it grew on me.
* improved historic view of invoices
* editing or deleting time entries
Some things I invite others to add include:
* authentication. I like to run things locally, so auth wasn’t important to me. It’s also confusing to implement in Pylons.
* styling. I applied some semi-random CSS rules, but I know it’s ugly.
So, Dusty, now that you’ve played with Pylons and CouchDB, what’s your take?
CouchDB is pretty cool to work with. Map/Reduce based queries take some getting used to, but once you’ve learned them, that’s all you have to know. There’s no tuning SQL, the ORM is a very thin layer, it just works. If CouchDB is as scalable as they say it is, I think I’d like to use it some more.
Pylons is kinda nice. Formencode sucks, but other than that, the libraries bundled with or suggested for pylons are pretty intuitive. I’m finding Django is a bit over-engineered these days, or maybe I’ve just been pushing its limits. I was hoping Pylons would be a less bossy solution, but I don’t think I’ll be switching to it or suggesting it to my clients anytime soon. It seems a bit rough around the center, and doesn’t seem any less complicated than Django, in practice.
Next on my list of tools to play with is node.js. I also want to play with web2py, and I may try a zope 3 app just for fun someday, too.