Tag: programming

Vim 7 code completion

I may work at Zend, but I've never been a fan of IDEs. They simply don't suit my programming style. I can usually keep track of file locations in my head pretty easily, and what I really need is a blank slate on which I can write, and one that doesn't consume resource that can better be used running web servers and other programs. Syntax highlighting, good indentation -- these are important, but you can get these from good, minimal text editors very easily. Vim is my editor of choice.

I will admit, though, that one area where I have had IDE-envy is the area of code completion. I often find myself doing quick lookups to php.net or perldoc to determine the order of arguments to a function or method call, or checking for the expected return value. Most of the time, this doesn't take much time, however, so I just live with it.

Today, however, cruising through the blogosphere, I came across an article showcasing some new features of Vim 7.0, and discovered Vim 7's code completion.

Basically, while in insert mode, you can type <C-x> <C-o> to have vim attempt to autocomplete the current keyword. If more than one possibility exists, it shows a dropdown, and you can use your arrow keys to highlight the keyword that you wish to use.

But it gets better! Not only does it do this kind of autocompletion, but it also opens a small 'scratch preview' pane showing the function/method signature -- i.e., the expected arguments and return value!

I thought I had little need for IDEs before... now I have even less! Bram and the rest of the Vim team, my hat's off to you for more fine work!

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Serendipity upgrade

I upgraded Serendipity today, due to the recent announcement of the 1.0 release, as well as to combat some rampant issues with trackback spam.

I've been very happy with Serendipity so far; it just runs, and the default install gives just what you need to get a blog up and running, and nothing more; any extra functionality comes via plugins which you, the blogger, get to decide upon.

Additionally, it's incredibly easy to upgrade. Unpack the tarball, rsync it over your existing install (I rsync it, because I don't use 'serendipity' as my directory name), visit the admin, boom, you're done. I've upgraded several times, and never lost data, nor configuration settings.

My primary reason for the upgrade was, as noted earlier, to combat trackback spam. As of this morning, I had 15,000 pending trackbacks, none of which appeared to be valid (if any of them were, and you're not seeing yours, I'm very sorry; I deleted them en masse). These had accumulated in less than a month -- that's an average of about one every 3 minutes.

Since upgrading, and using the Akismet service, I've received not a single spam trackback. Needless to say, I'm happy I performed the upgrade!

If you're a Serendipity user, and haven't upgraded to 1.0.0 yet (or one of it's reportedly very stable release candidates), do it today -- you have nothing to lose, and a lot of lost time to gain!

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The light has not set on PHP

I ran across a blog post entitled "Why the Light Has Gone Out on LAMP" earlier today, and felt compelled to respond.

First, a rant: somehow, this article got posted on Slashdot. I've never heard of the guy who posted it, and some quick googling shows that he's a pythoner. He's simply fueling the language wars, and the slashdot post opened up a huge debate that need not have occurred. I think it was irresponsible of the Slashdot editors to post it.

In the post, the author makes an analogy of using PHP + MySQL as the equivalent of using BASIC, and then uses a quote that claims BASIC "has become the leading cause of brain-damage in proto-hackers."

I'm sorry, but using a language doesn't cause brain damage. And there are many levels to programming. And using Python, Ruby, C, C++, Java, etc., does not automatically make you a better programmer than those using one of "those other languages". You can write crap code in any language. You can also write great code in just about any language.

Programming takes practice; programming well takes a lot of practice. You get better at it by learning more about programming practices, and applying them to your language. Part of programming is also learning when a particular language is suited to a task, and when it isn't. Python works for the web, but it's not particularly suited to it; similarly, you can write web servers in PHP, but that doesn't mean you should.

Stop the language wars already! Stop writing incendiary pieces about a language you don't use regularly or never gained particular proficiency in, and code already!

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Telcos are Attacking the Internet

I generally try to stay out of politics on this blog, but this time something has to be said, as it affects anyone who uses the internet, at least in the US.

Basically, a number of telcos and cable providers are talking about charging internet content providers -- the places you browse to on the internet, places like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, etc. -- fees to ensure bandwidth to their sites. Their argument is that these content providers are getting a 'free ride' on their lines, and generating a lot of traffic themselves, and should thus be paying for the cost of bandwidth.

This is patently ridiculous. Content providers already have to pay for their bandwidth -- they, too, have ISPs or agreements with telcos in place, either explicitly or via their hosting providers. Sure, some of them, particularly search engines, send out robots in order to index or find content, but, again, they're paying for the bandwidth those robots generate. Additionally, people using the internet are typically paying for bandwidth as well, through their relationship with their ISP. What this amounts to is the telcos getting paid not just by each person to whom they provide internet access, but every end point on the internet, at least those within the US.

What this is really about is telcos wanting more money, and wanting to push their own content. As an example, let's say your ISP is AOL. AOL is part of Time Warner, and thus has ties to those media sources. Now, those media sources may put pressure on AOL to reduce bandwidth to sites operated by ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Disney, PBS, etc. This might mean that your kid can no longer visit the Sesame Street website reliably, because AOL has reduced the amount of bandwidth allowed to that service -- but any media site in the TWC would get optimal access, so they could get to Cartoon Network. Not to slam Cartoon Network (I love it), but would you rather have your kid visiting cartoonnetwork.com or pbskids.org? Basically, content providers would not need to compete based on the value of their content, but on who they can get to subscribe to their service.

Here's another idea: your ISP is MSN. You want to use Google... but MSN has limited the bandwidth to Google because it's a competitor, and won't accept any amount of money to increase that bandwidth. They do the same with Yahoo! So, now you're limited to MSN search, because that's the only one that responds reliably -- regardless of whether or not you like their search results. By doing so, they've just artificially inflated the value of their search engine -- without needing to compete based on merit.

Additionally, let's say Barnes and Noble has paid MSN to ensure good bandwidth, but part of that agreement is a non-compete clause. Now you find your connections to Amazon timing out, meaning that you can't even see which book provider has the better price on the book you want; you're stuck looking and buying from B&N.

Now, let's look at something a little more close to home for those of us developing web applications. There have been a number of success stories the last few years: MySpace, Digg, and Flickr all come to mind. Would these endeavors have been as successful had they needed to pay multiple times for bandwidth, once to their ISP and once each to each telco charging for content providers? Indeed, some of these are still free services -- how would they ever have been able to pay the extra amounts to the telcos in the first place?

So, basically, the only winners here are the telcos.

Considering how ludicrous this scheme is, one must be thinking, isn't the US Government going to step in and regulate against such behaviour? The answer, sadly, is no. The GOP doesn't like regulation, and so they want market forces to decide. Sadly, what this will likely do is force a number of content providers to offshore their internet operations -- which is likely to have some pretty negative effects on the economy.

The decision isn't final -- efforts can still be made to prevent it (the above link references a Senate committee meeting; there's been no vote on it). Call your representatives today and give them an earful. Tell them it's not just about regulation of the industry, but about fair competition in the market. Allowing the telcos to extort money from content providers will only reduce the US' economic chances in the world, and stifle innovation and choice.

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XP + Cygwin + coLinux == Productivity

I wrote earlier of my experiences using Windows XP, a move I've considered somewhat unfortunate but necessary. I've added a couple more tools to my toolbox since that have made the environment even better.

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Using Windows XP

Those of you who know me well know that I've been using Linux as my primary OS for many years now. At this point, for me, using Windows is like deciding I'm going to use a limited vocabulary; I can get the idea across, but not quite as well.

Due to the nature of where I work and the fact that I'm telecommuting, I've been having to maintain a dual-boot system. I use Ubuntu for my daily OS, and boot into Windows when I need to interact with people at work via Webex or Skype (we're using the new Skype beta with video, and it only works on Windows XP at this time).

This week, however, I've had to stay on Windows quite a bit -- lots of impromptu conference calls and such. So, I've been customizing my environment, and been pretty pleased with the results.

Continue reading for some tips on customizing your Windows XP environment to work and feel a little more like... linux.

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Transitions

Life is in transition for me now. Two weeks ago, we got to bring our handsome baby boy home, and I haven't been sleeping much since (though more than Jen). On top of the sleep deprivation, however, comes more exciting news: I've been hired as a PHP Developer by Zend Technologies!

I was approached by Daniel Kushner in late July regarding another position at Zend, and was flown out at the beginning of August. While I felt the interview went well, I harbored some doubts; work got fairly busy shortly thereafter, and then, of course, Liam was born, and the interview went completely out of my head. Until about three days after Liam's birthday, when Daniel contacted me again about the PHP Developer position.

Work started yesterday, and I was flown to Zend's offices in Cupertino, CA, for orientation and to sit down with both Daniel and others to prepare for the projects on which I will be working. Thankfully, the job will not require that I move, and I will be working out of the 'home office' in Vermont when I return later this week.

The decision to leave NGA was difficult, but the opportunity to work with Zend is just too good to miss. I am honored to be selected by them, and hope this is the beginning of many good things to come.

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New Cgiapp Site

I've been extremely busy at work, and will continue to be through the end of March. I realized this past week that I'd set a goal of having a SourceForge website up and running for Cgiapp by the end of January -- and it's now mid-February. Originally, I was going to backport some of my libraries from PHP5 to PHP4 so I could do so... and I think that was beginning to daunt me a little.

Fortunately, I ran across a quick-and-dirty content management solution yesterday called Gunther. It does templating in Smarty, and uses a wiki-esque syntax for markup -- though page editing is limited to admin users only (something I was looking for). I decided to try it out, and within an hour or so had a working site ready to upload.

Cgiapp's new site can be found at cgiapp.sourceforge.net.

UPDATE

Shortly after I wrote this original post, I figured out what the strength of Gunther was -- and why I no longer needed it. Gunther was basically taking content entered from a form and then inserting that content (after some processing for wiki-like syntax) into a Smarty template. Which meant that I could do the same thing with Cgiapp and Text_Wiki. Within an hour, I wrote an application module in Cgiapp that did just that, and am proud to say that the Cgiapp website is 100% Cgiapp.

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Dreamweaver, Text Editors, and Webmasters

I picked up on this article on Friday, glanced through it and moved on, but noticed this evening it had been slashdotted -- at which point I realized the author is the current CGI::Application maintainer, so I looked again.

At my first glance through it, it appeared the author was looking for a nice, easy-to-use pre-processor script for generating a site out of templates and content files. To that end, he, in the end, recommended ttree, part of the Template Toolkit distribution.

However, the real gist of the article -- something that should probably have been summarized at the end -- is that the author was looking for an free and OSS replacement for DreamWeaver's Templates functionality. This functionality allows a developer to create a template with placeholders for content, lock it, and then create pages that have the bits and pieces of content. Finally, the developer compiles the site -- creating final HTML pages out of the content merged with the templates.

Now, I can see something like this being useful. I've used webmake for a couple of projects, and, obviously, utilize PHP in many places as a templating language. However, several comments on Slashdot also gave some pause. The tone of these comments was to the effect of, "real developers shouldn't use DW; they should understand HTML and code it directly." Part of me felt this was elitist -- the web is such an egalitarian medium that there should be few barriers to entry. However, the webmaster in me -- the professional who gets paid each pay period and makes a living off the web -- also agreed with this substantially.

I've worked -- both professionally and as a freelancer -- with individuals who use and rely on DW. The problem I see with the tool and others of its breed is precisely their empowerment of people. Let me explain.

I really do feel anybody should be able to have a presence on the 'net. However, HTML is a fragile language: trivial errors can cause tremendous changes in how a page is rendered -- and even crash browsers on occasion. The problem I see is that DW and other GUI webpage applications create, from my viewpoint, garbage HTML. I cannot tell you how many pages generated by these applications that I've had to clean up and reformat. They spuriously add tags, often around empty content, that are simply unnecessary.

The problem is compounded when individuals have neither time nor inclination to learn HTML, but continue using the tool to create pages. They get a false sense of accomplishment -- that can be quickly followed by a very real sense of incompetence when the page inexplicably breaks due to an edit they've made -- especially when the content is part of a larger framework that includes other files. Of course, as a web professional, I get paid to fix such mistakes. But I feel that this does everybody a disservice -- the individual/company has basically paid twice for the presentation of content -- once to the person generating it, a second time to me to fix the errors.

This is a big part of the reason why I've been leaning more and more heavily on database-driven web applications. Content then goes into the database, and contains minimal -- if any -- markup. It is then injected into templates, which go through a formal review process, as well as through the W3C validators, to prevent display problems. This puts everybody in a position of strength: the editor generating content, the designer creating the look-and-feel, and the programmer developing the methods for mapping content with the templates.

There's still a part of me that struggles with what I perceive as an elitist position. However, there's another part of me that has struggled heavily with the multitasking demands made on all web professionals -- we're expected to be editors, graphic designers, programmers, and more. In most cases, we're lucky if we're strong in one or two such areas, much less passionate about staying abreast of the changing face of our medium.

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Sign of a Geek

It's now been confirmed: I'm a geek.

Okay, so that probably comes as no shocker to those of you who know me, but it's the little things that make me realize it myself.

I've been frequenting Perl Monks for a couple of years now, mainly to garner ideas and code to help me with my personal or work projects. I rarely post comments, and I've only once submitted a question to the site. However, I do frequent the site regularly, and the few comments I've put in -- generally regarding usage of CGI::Application -- have been typically well-moderated.

Well, yesterday I made a comment to a user asking about editors to use with perl. I was incensed by a remark he made about VIM not having the features he needed. Now, as I said in my comment, I've used VIM on a daily basis for over two years, and I'm still discovering new features -- and I've used all of the features he was looking for.

This is where I discovered I'm a geek: my comment made it into the Daily Best for today, peaking around number 5. The fact that that made my day indicates to me that I must be a geek.

Oh -- and VIM rules!

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