Updated Sept 13, 2013, to correct some details.
Hey guys, I’m Shelly Tan, the latest News Apps intern. You’ll be hearing more from me later, but for now, just know that I’m still in awe of everything at NPR and have to resist keeling over in my rabid fangirling; Gerald wasn’t kidding about the shiny offices and awesome food. Anyways, back to Gerald.
I joined the News Apps team a week ago in their shiny new DC offices, and in-between eating awesome food and Tiny Desk concerts, we’ve been documenting the best way to get other journalists setup to build news apps like the pros.
The following steps will help you convert your laptop to hacktop, assuming you’re working on a new Mac with Mountain Lion OS X 10.8 installed. Each Mac operating system is a little different, so we’re starting from scratch with the latest OS.
Chapter 0: Prerequisites
Are you an administrator?
We’ll be installing a number of programs from the command line in this tutorial, so that means you must have administrative privledges. If you’re not an admin, talk with your friendly IT Department.
Click on the Apple menu > System Preferences > Users & Groups and check your status against this handy screenshot.
Update your software
Click on the Apple menu > Software Update. Continue installing and rebooting until there is nothing left to update.
Install Xcode and the Xcode’s command line tools
We don’t use Xcode everyday to develop, but it does give us some tools that you’ll need to install. This part can take a while, so feel free to grab a cup of soup while this is downloading.
- Get Xcode from the app store.
- Get the Xcode command line tools by going to Xcode > Preferences > Downloads and checking the “Install” button next to the command line tools.
Chapter 1: Install Homebrew
Start by opening up your terminal application. All Macs come with an app called “Terminal.” You can find it under Applications > Utilities. Double click to open that bad boy up, and let’s start with installing Homebrew.
Homebrew is like the Mac app store for programming tools. You can access Homebrew via the terminal, (like all good things). Inspiration for this section comes from Kenneth Reitz’s excellent Python guide.
Install Homebrew by pasting this command into your terminal and then hitting “enter.”
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/mxcl/homebrew/go/install)"
It will ask for your password, so type that in and hit “enter” again. Now, paste this line to test Homebrew.
This will test your Homebrew setup, and any tools you’ve installed to make sure they’re working properly. If they are, Homebrew tell you
Your system is ready to brew.
If anything isn’t working properly, follow their instructions to get things working correctly.
Note: If there are two lines inside any of the code blocks in this article, paste them separately and hit enter after each of them.
Next you’ll need to go in and edit
~/.bash_profile to ensures you can use what you’ve just downloaded.
bash_profile acts like a configuration file for your terminal.
Note: There are many editors available on your computer. You can use a pretty graphical editor like SublimeText2 or you can use one built-in to your terminal, like
nano. We’ll be using
nano for this tutorial just to keep things simple.
bash_profile with the following command.
Then copy and paste this line of code at the very top. This lets Homebrew handle updating and maintaining the code we’ll be installing.
Once you’ve added the line of code, you can save the file by typing pressing control + O. Doing so lets you adjust the file name. Just leave it as is, then hit enter to save. Hit control + X to exit. You’ll find yourself back at the command line and needing to update your terminal session like so. Copy and paste the next line of code into your terminal and hit enter.
You’ll only need to source the
bash_profile since we’re editing the file right now. It’s the equivalent of quitting your terminal application and opening it up again, but
source lets you soldier forward and setup Python.
Chapter 2: Install Virtualenv
Virtualenv isolates each of your Python projects in their own little sandboxes, keeping your installed software neat and tidy. Your Mac comes pre-packaged with the most stable version of Python, but you’ll need to tell your
bash_profile to use it first. Edit the file again with
nano and add this line:
Update your session again
Next, you’ll need to install
pip. Like Homebrew, it’s sort of an app store but for Python code.
sudo easy_install pip
sudo to install this software for everyone who might use your computer.
sudo lets you install things as the admin.
sudo pip install virtualenv virtualenvwrapper
virtualenv is the actual environment that you’ll be using, while
virtualwrapper helps you access the environment and its variables from your
~/.bash_profile file again,
and add this line below the line you just added:
Sanity Check: Double check your
~/.bash_profile file, and make sure you’ve properly saved your
It should look like this:
export PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH export PATH=/usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages:$PATH source /usr/local/share/python/virtualenvwrapper_lazy.sh
less, press “Q”.
Chapter 3: Set up Node and NPM
Finally, we’ll install a tool called LESS that we use to write CSS, the language that styles websites. LESS is a built with Node, so we’ll need to install that and NPM, Node’s version of
pip or Homebrew.
Install Node using Homebrew.
brew install node
Install NPM, the Node Package Manager.
curl https://npmjs.org/install.sh | sh
Finally, add Node to your
~/.bash_profile like you did for Homebrew and virtualwrapper. Copy and paste the following line below the previous two.
Save and exit out of
nano using control + O, enter, and then control + X. Then type
source ~/.bash_profile one more time to update your session. After that, you can treat yourself to a cup of coffee because you now have the basic tools for working like the NPR news apps team. Next up we’ll be getting into the nitty gritty of working with the template, including things like GitHub and Amazon Web Services.
Appendix 1: Postgres and PostGIS
We occasionally make maps and analyze geographic information, so that requires some specialized tools. This appendix will show you how to install the Postgres database server and the PostGIS geography stack — which includes several pieces of software for reading and manipulating geographic data. We’ll explain these tools a bit more as we install them.
First, we need to install a Python library called NumPy. We don’t use NumPy directly, but PostGIS uses it for making geographic calculations.
sudo pip install numpy
Next up: the Postgres database server. Postgres is a useful tool for dealing with all kinds of data, not just geography, so we’ll get it setup first then tweak it to be able to interpret geographic data.
brew install postgresql
~/.bash_profile to add a pair of commands for starting and stopping your Postgres database server.
pgup will start the server;
pgdown will stop it. FYI You’ll rarely ever need to
pgdown, but we’ve include the command just in case.
nano -w ~/.bash_profile
Add these two lines:
alias pgdown='pg_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres stop -s -m fast' alias pgup='pg_ctl -D /usr/local/var/postgres -l /usr/local/var/postgres/server.log start'
Update your session one more time,
and let’s initialize your Postgres server. We only need to do this once after installing it.
initdb /usr/local/var/postgres/ -E utf-8
Finally, let’s start up the Postgres server.
These deceptively simple commands will install an awful lot of software. It’s going to take some time, and your laptop fans will probably sound like a fighter jet taking off. Don’t worry; it can take the heat.
brew install gdal --with-postgres
Still hanging in there?
brew install postgis
Now you can create your first geographically-enabled database. For more information on how to do that postgis tells you how to do this.
Appendix 2: The Terminal
Since you’re going to be working from the command line a lot, it’s worth investing time to make your terminal something that’s a little more easy on the eyes.
Download iTerm2. The built-in terminal application which comes with your Mac is fine, but iTerm2 is slicker and more configurable. One of the better features is splitting your terminal into different horizontal and vertical panes: one for an active pane, another for any files you might want to have open, and a third for a local server.
Solarized is a set of nice, readable colors. Unzip the
Now, inside iTerm2 go to iTerm > Preferences > Profiles and select “Default.” Choose “Colors” and find the “Load Presets…” button at the bottom of the window. Select “Import” and navigate to
solarized/iterm2-colors-solarized/ and double-click on
Solarized Dark.itermcolors. After it’s been imported, you can find “Solarized Dark” on the “Load Presets” list. Click and select “Solarized Dark” to change the colors appropriately.
See? Much nicer.
Appendix 3: The Text Editor
Since your code is stored entirely as text files on your computer, you’ll want a nice text editor. Our instructions showed you how to use
nano, a text editor that you’ll find on almost every computer. However, there are at least two others that the team uses. Text editors are like the Microsoft Word of the programming world, except they come packed with all kinds of handy dandy features to make writing code a synch.
If you’re more comfortable with an editor that you can open up like Word, SublimeText2 has a sweet graphical user interface and some nice customizations available. You’ll likely want to learn some keyboard shortcuts to make yourself more efficient. You can also prettify it with the Flatland theme
Personally, I prefer vim — a terminal based editor that requires you to type rather than point-and-click to work on files. It comes pre-installed on your computer, but there’s a lot of little keyboard shortcuts you’ll need to get comfy with before you can just dive-in. Here’s a nice cheat sheet, though, you might want to keep open in a tab if this is your not familiar with it. You can add all kinds of features, but our teammate Chris recommends nerdtree and surround. Here are some videos to help make vim and those particular add-ons.
And with that you now have a sweet hackintosh. Happy hacking, and if you haven’t setup a Github account, you can try out your new tools and play with some of our code. Github provides a thorough walkthrough to get you setup and working on some open sourced projects.